The iPhone 6 is my new phone.

I said I’d give it some time, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t need to. After setting up our test device three days ago to see how I liked it, I went out yesterday and bought myself an iPhone 6 to use instead of the 6 Plus. It will be my daily phone going forward.

When the 6 Plus was announced, I was excited to try a completely new form factor for iOS. I was convinced that the unique size and abilities of the Plus would change the way I use my phone. In my mind, it was large enough to be a small tablet, and I would do so many more things on it, potentially obviating the need for an iPad. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons.

First, the size of the Plus is notable, but it’s just no iPad. I think that’s partially a product of the aspect ratio (16:9 for the phone, as opposed to 4:3 for the iPad) and partially a product of the software. Or more accurately, the fact that no one seems to know what to do with the Plus. Apple demonstrated a split-view that looks like the iPad in some apps, but the truth is that you end up seeing and doing less in those views because of the shorter height of the screen in that orientation. Don’t get me started on the abomination that is the landscape keyboard—extra buttons and features that shift the layout just enough to destroy your muscle memory for typing, along with an uncomfortable width make it virtually unusable.

I don’t blame developers either; the Plus is kind of an outlier in the device family. The apps that support it basically do the split-view thing and not much else, which makes sense because you probably don’t want to bifurcate your app’s phone experience too much. Between maintaining a somewhat consistent UI and the odd landscape shape of the device, I completely understand why most apps don’t go crazy with Plus features.

It runs phone software with a lot of extra room, but is constrained by that shape to not have more abilities like the iPad. As a result, it’s better at a few key things (e.g. battery life, reading, movies), but it’s worse at the things a phone excels at (quick actions, one-handed use, comfort). Throughout my use of the Plus, I was willing to make those trade-offs because I felt that I was getting value from the hardware for what it was. As time went on, I realized my behavior patterns weren’t indicating that, and I wasn’t doing anything on it that I couldn’t do on a slightly smaller screen.

In addition to its unique physical characteristics, based on my personal findings and the feedback of other Plus users, I’ve come to believe that the device is severely affected by its RAM allocation. My theory is that while it has the same amount of memory that the iPhone 6 has, the extra large screen and constant scaling the device does to manage the display put it at a serious disadvantage. I noticed apps constantly relaunching, Safari tabs being flushed extremely quickly, and states across actions and apps not being preserved the way I’d expect. In day-to-day use it gets annoying, but it’s not crippling. That said, for a device I use dozens of times a day, it becomes a pretty glaring negative. The few OS updates that have arrived since it launched have helped a little it seems, but not enough to be unnoticeable. Additionally, this impacts other aspects of use, as an app like Pebble will get flushed from memory more frequently, preventing the watch from working correctly. Any external hardware that requires an app connection to be held in memory for consistent functionality passed between devices is probably eligible for this kind of problem. (I doubt this will be an issue for the Apple Watch though, as the connection will be at a much lower device-level.)

Based on my personal use and my feelings about the device itself, I’m switching to an iPhone 6. It will not have the incredible battery life or the giant screen and spacious keyboard I’ve gotten used to. It will, however, slide into a pocket comfortably, perform all the things I usually do in a day admirably, and fit well in one hand for extended periods of time. It’s markedly lighter than the Plus, and in the past few days, I’ve not noticed the memory issues that plague the larger phone, or some strange bugs that I’ve attributed to the different display and how the software handles interactions with it. Which is not to say I’ll never notice them, but if the frequency of those issues drops significantly, it approaches zero in terms of one’s perception. That’s good enough for me.

The iPhone 6 Plus is a great device, and a lot of people I know have picked them up after talking to me. For most of those people, they’re totally perfect and the things I’ve outlined wouldn’t even show up in the negative column. For me, my use patterns have pushed me in the direction of the smaller phone and I’m very happy in spite of myself. I’m glad I spent a long enough time with the big phone to know this conclusively and I’m thrilled to have a new device to use. In the past few days, I’ve already been in situations where the 6 has been the perfect phone in the moment and the Plus would have been awkward. I so wanted to believe that the Plus was going to be a completely new device that provided a wholly new iOS experience, unlike what I’d been used to. Discovering that it really isn’t was a disappointment, but it led to finding the right phone for me, which makes me extremely happy. It’s the single device I use the most over all others, and it needs to feel like an extension of my arm. As cool as the Plus is, it just never did.

02-09-2015, 5:17 PM
Steve Streza mentioned on Twitter that what I was seeing with regard to the memory issues was not a new thing, or unique to the Plus. Wanted to mention it here as I’d done a lot of hand-waving and complaining, but Steve is actually a developer who would know more about it.

I still feel the hardware of the Plus exacerbates the problem far more than in the other handsets.

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.