I stood outside my house as the woman from UPS handed me my iPhone 6 Plus box. Every year there’s an “Apple Day” she tries to hit my house early to drop off my shiny new gadget. It’s like Christmas. I love it and affectionately call it “Apple Day”. I couldn’t wait to open it up and give it a shot. Of course, as life would have it, I had to head straight to a lunch meeting, so there wouldn’t be enough time to really get the phone set up. Damn.
Unlike previous years this was the first time I didn’t know what to buy for an iPhone. Upgrading from an iPhone 5s and without ever getting a chance to intimately spend time with the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 Plus beforehand, it was a painful decision when I pre-ordered at midnight on September 19th. The problem for me was simple: the 6 Plus is better than the baseline version: it supports optical image stabilization, a much larger battery, and a higher density retina screen. It isn’t simply bigger; it’s better… except for that really large screen.
First off… the 6 Plus is huge. Let me get that out of the way first. I’m 5’9 with average sized hands, and the thing is like holding a taco up to your face if you make a phone call. Remember how we all laughed at the Galaxy Note when people made calls? Yeah, well, those jokes are still valid.
My habits are fairly simple but I thought I’d call them out so you understand my primary use cases for the iPhone 5s: I don’t watch videos on the phone, I rarely play games on it, but I use iMessage, Paper (Facebook), Mail, Spotify (music), and Tweetbot (Twitter) a lot. I do basic browsing on my phone, and I take a lot of photos and videos. For most games, browsing, videos, Feedly (news) reading, and note taking, my go-to-device is the retina iPad mini.
I’m not going to lie… day one with the 6 Plus was not positive. The device is slick, large, and broke down years of iPhone usage habits all at one time. It wasn’t a “step up” but instead felt like it was the next floor. I suspect that many people will feel this way when coming from an iPhone 5/5s (or even worse a 4/4s). In fact, I would say I disliked the phone’s form factor.
The reason is probably pretty obvious: it’s big. It’s big enough that one handed usage will simply not be the primary mode for people with normal sized hands. Apple has done their best to think this through and has introduces an accessibility feature called “Reachability” that shifts the upper half of the screen down to make it available to a thumb in one handed operation. It works great and is very quick and fluid, but the second you tap on the screen, it shifts back up. Interfaces that have a lot of things at the top of the screen require a lot of double tapping the home button for Reachability, and that gets old.
But it’s not just things at the top of the screen that are hard to reach when using the phone with one hand. I’m right handed, so things on the left side of the screen are a stretch to hit with your thumb. Bottom left is really bad and bottom right is even awkward.
There’s a great chart from Scott Hurff on “How to design for thumbs in the Era of Huge Screens" that shows comfortable touch zones for one-handed operation on all the different iPhone sizes. It’s important for designers to be thinking about how this changes the way people will interact with their apps, and it’s safe to say that most apps were never designed with this size in mind right now.
The number one question I get right now from friends looking to place an order is “which iPhone to get?”
I’ve held off on answering the question until I had about a week with the phone, because I think first impressions are deceptive and judgement is rendered too quickly. The day after my enormous iPhone arrived I shifted my habits a bit. I got used to the fact that the lock button was no longer on top. I set up my phone a little bit more around the apps I use and where my thumb could easily reach. That’s right, I actually moved my home screen around based on my usage (6 Plus on left, 5s on right).
The other thing that I did was get a case for the 6 Plus. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a case on my iPhone. I simply love the naked feeling of the device all by itself, but it’s very slick. I was 100% sure I would drop the phone in short order. If you do get a case, I would highly recommend avoiding hard surface cases. Instead, opt for something that is grippy and will help you keep this beast in your hands. I ended up choosing one of the Apple silicone cases out of convenience since they don’t have much selection right now. With the case on it, the 6 Plus became considerably more comfortable to use.
Two days in I started to get my groove with the new size. The battery life is sensational. I can’t speak to the battery life of the iPhone 6, but the iPhone 5s had terrible battery life for me, requiring my nightly charge up and then top offs during the day to keep it running until the night. The 6 Plus can go for the day without a recharge, so that’s a welcome benefit from the larger phone size.
A peculiar thing started to happen on day two and three: in the mornings, when I read Feedly, I started using the iPhone 6 Plus instead of the mini. It’s pretty easy to read text on the Plus, and it’s also easier to hold one handed for reading than the mini itself. Reading on the 6 Plus is pretty delightful and the screen is large and very, very detailed. I can’t see a single pixel on it.
If there’s one habit that seems to be developing, it’s that the retina iPad mini is now perhaps too small for how I use it when the larger 6 Plus is within reach. I’m already considering that my next iPad will go back to the full sized iPad Air because the benefits will be far more clear there.
And then there’s the “phone” itself (remember phone calls?). If you hold the phone up to your head, you look like an asshole with a taco in your hand. Thankfully, I do 90% of all my phone calls from the car over Bluetooth.
Speaking of cars, I’ve found Siri on the 4s and 5/5s to be terrible for car use. Many cars simply don’t work with it and shut off the microphone before you’ve even had a chance to speak. The 6 Plus works like a champ (I’m sure the iPhone 6 does as well), so something is new. I ran iOS8 in beta on my 5s and never saw this work right, and it appears to be something new on the 6/6+.
Functioning Bluetooth support for Siri is important to me because there’s a fantastic new feature that Apple pulled over from Android called ‘Hey Siri’ (Android calls it ‘OK Google’). When the iPhone is plugged in, you can activate Siri just by speaking, so you don’t need to fumble with the phone. For the 6 Plus, this is wonderful, because you can do most things completely from voice as long as you plug in your iPhone. Siri still doesn’t have an API (c’mon Apple), so you can only open Spotify from Siri, but making calls, having Siri read texts, or sending messages is all hands free now. In a car, that’s great.
There are other benefits to the 6 Plus: optical image stabilization (OIS), special 6 Plus landscape views, a special keyboard, etc. I haven’t noticed the OIS really, and I don’t do as much in landscape view so I can’t speak to those benefits just yet. I will say I installed SwiftKey, and while 3rd party keyboards in iOS8 are still very buggy, the large size of the 6 Plus is not as problematic with swipe typing. I’d encourage you to try it out on the 6 Plus (or any iPhone actually).
Finally, yes it fits in my pockets. I don’t wear really skinny jeans, but it feels just fine. I had convinced myself before it showed up that it would stick out of my pockets or it would be really uncomfortable. I’m happy to report that it’s not. For women, putting it into a purse would be even more ideal.
So is it too big? Do I regret it? The answer, nearly one week later is ‘no’. The real test will be to see what I end up with next year, but for now I’m happy with my choice. I’m used to it, appreciate the larger screen, and have re-arranged some behaviors for the size of this thing. I’ve also resigned myself to the fact that it’s simply a two handed device that can be used for some things with just one hand. It’s not a one-handed device unless your hands are very large, and for me I’m willing to give it a year to see. If that’s not acceptable for you, don’t get the 6 Plus - you will regret it.
In some ways, the 6 Plus reminds me of when I got the very first iPhone. The phone I had before that was a Blackberry with a physical keyboard, and I made constant mistakes using the on screen touch keyboard instead of real keys. I remember thinking how much I disliked typing on the iPhone. I can remember a friend telling me that the iPhone would be perfect if they would “just make one with a real keyboard”. The 6 Plus feels like you’re learning something new again, and it’s a little uncomfortable at first. If you rush to judgement too quickly, I think you’ll convince yourself the iPhone 6 is the only option that makes sense. Give it a little time - go the Apple store a few times, try it out and see how you will use it. If you’re considering the 6 Plus, be ready to relearn how to use the phone in certain scenarios.
For me, I’m happy, enjoying the phone, and am looking forward to apps that really start to take advantage of that vibrant screen. The iPhone 6 Plus has a beautiful design, is a joy to hold in your hands, and is far more functional for a variety of uses cases than the diminutive iPhone 5s. It took a week to rebuild some habits for it, and I’m sure I’ll find other changes I do over time as well. All this being said, I really like the iPhone 6 Plus.