When a colleague upgraded his iPhone a few years ago I was a bit of a killjoy. I told him that after 5 minutes of excitement it would dawn on him that it is just another phone. He reminded me of this when I showed him my new iPhone 6S, which replaced my iPhone 5. He was right now, and I was right then.
My first iPhone was the 3G, just after it arrived in Europe (and after I arrived in Switzerland). It was totally amazing — a computer in my pocket. After two years I upgraded to an iPhone 4. A big improvement, it was much faster and had a Retina screen. The iPhone 5 had a bigger screen while the phone didn’t get much larger — it was even much thinner and lighter.
For financial reasons (I didn’t have a job) I decided not the buy the 6 even before it was announced. I frowned on some of the decisions Apple made: keeping the same battery life while making it thinner, a larger screen, rearranged buttons and, worst of all, a camera lens that sticks out. Wasn’t that what we made fun of with Android phones?
Although it was easy not to buy the 6, it would be more difficult with the 6S. The 5 started to get old and too slow (for my taste). It sometimes wouldn’t recognize touches on the lower part of the screen — the part that you use to answer a phone call. It didn’t support the new content blockers in iOS 9. And I had a job so I could afford one. Despite my doubts I decided to buy the 64 GB Space Grey 6S. Here are some impressions after using it for a month or so.
The purchasing experience was both good and bad. I first ordered the via the online store so that it would be delivered. Unfortunately, this was with UPS. In the Netherlands most delivery companies offer the option to pick up a package at a pickup point (a store, supermarket or post office). For the three major ones there are pickup points within one kilometer of my home. UPS is not one of them. Do they seriously expect me to stay at home to accept the package? I have a job! That is why I could afford the phone in the first place! In the end I decided to cancel the online order and to pick one up in the store here in The Hague. I made an appointment, I walked in, paid and left. Done and done.
Setting up the phone
I had made an encrypted backup of the 5 in iTunes (locally, not in iCloud) so setting up the 6S was not too much of a hassle. It annoys me when Apple asks for the Apple ID password during setup. I store my passwords in 1Password and it is an annoyance to enter the long password by hand. Then you get the login for iCloud, the App Store etc. I mostly skipped them and used 1Password to enter them later.
Touch ID is the most brilliant addition to the iPhone since the introduction of the iPhone. Finger on the home button and voila, you’re in. My main complaint is that I still have to enter a passcode on my non-Touch ID iPad, like an animal.
Touch ID much on the 6S is much faster than on the 6. Some people mentioned they were used to glancing at the notifications while pressing the home button, but that this was not possible anymore. I definitely understand this. I turn almost all notification off (except for things where people try to reach me) and when there are notifications, I’m too late to see which app needs its settings changed.
First the positives: the phone feels like a quality product that is nice to hold. The weight is nicely balanced. After the 3G, 4 and 5 this is what I expect and Apple delivers. I’m not entirely happy though.
I don’t really care about the larger screen. The 5 had a taller screen (without making the phone much bigger) making space for the menu bars at the top and bottom of the screen. The screen of the 6 is just… bigger. I haven’t seen any apps that make good use of the space. There isn’t a 5th app in the dock. Tweetbot doesn’t have six tabs instead of five. When I want to read a book I still prefer my iPad. I’m writing this on my iPad, because the iPhone is still too cramped. It may be better on the 6S Plus, but I’m not going to walk with an aircraft carrier in my pocket. The downsides of the larger screen are obvious. Even with my large hands I can’t reach the top of the phone anymore. More than before I need to use the phone two-handed, or run the risk of it falling out of my hands. I hope Apple at some point releases a smaller phone again.
It is difficult for me to compare the battery life of the new iPhone. The old one was 3 years old. I also work in a lab with very bad cell phone and no wifi reception. Because phones try to connect to the network by increasing the power, this really drains the battery of any phone. I still recharge my phone at work, but with the 6S it is not as essential as with the 3-year-old 5.
The place of the on/off button on the new phone is still confusing me, especially after using my iPad. The on/off button is not on the top anymore, but is now on the place were the volume buttons of the iPad are. I now try to turn my iPad on by clicking the volume button… This might be something I can get used to. Worse is the problem that whenever I press a button on one side, I usually also inadvertently press a button on the other side. It looks nice and symmetric, but damn it is irritating.
The worst thing about the new iPhone is the camera lens that sticks out like a sore thumb. A friend wrote on Twitter:
Someone should be shot over this iPhone camera lens protrusion. Obvious + useful fix: taper the phone. Would also allow for extra battery.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying “shot”, I would use a more general “killed”, but the point stands. I usually put my phone on the table, but the 6S doesn’t lie flat and it scratches the table. Before the iPhone I used to put my phone on top of my wallet to prevent wobbling and I notice I get back to that habit. Back to the flip phone days… yay?
I guess the camera is better — except for that awful lens. Even though the phone is larger, they couldn’t make some space for the type-of-photo-selector-thing. Until now I mostly used the camera to document which cables go to which connectors in the lab. The point of Live Photos escapes me because I don’t have kids/pets/other-things-that-move-a-bit-in-a-potentially-funny-way. It was remarkably unclear how to watch them on the phone (it turns out to be a 3D Touch). On my computer I now have .MOV files in my Pictures folder.
Force 3D Touch
Talking about 3D Touch, it may be an interesting addition to the way we interact with the phone but it is hard to discover, both if it is possible and what is possible. It is a pity that Force Touch sounds like sexual harassment because it is a much better description than 3D Touch. You really have to press it a bit. The phone gives a very satisfying vibration when you do this.
I hope it doesn’t end up like all the other obscure-but-useful shortcuts on iOS. There is a whole Morse code of useful things you can do with the home button, but I never remember them.
The iPhone 6S is a fine phone but, as expected, I’m not enthusiastic. The phone feels good in your hand… until you reach the camera lens at the top of the phone. Touch ID is brilliant but turning the volume up usually turns the screen off, or the other way around. I don’t care about the larger screen. Some of the features (Live Photos and 3D Touch) need some getting used to.
I seriously considered buying an 5S instead of a 6S, but it is a bit too expensive for such an old phone (509 vs 749 euro for the 16GB 5S and 6S models, respectively). Like the 5, the 6S should last me for the next three years. With the 5S I expect to replace it next year already. On the other hand, if the iPhone 7 next year has a smaller screen and no lens sticking out, then there is a big chance that one of my family members is going to be very happy with a hand-me-down iPhone 6S.
Don’t mistake my lack of enthusiasm for disappointment. The bar is very high for me to get excited. I was excited about the iPhone 3G and for the 5K iMac that Apple released last year. With the 6S I wanted a faster phone and I got a faster phone. If only they could get rid of this bloody camera lens.