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Apple iPhone 6 And iPhone 6 Plus Review

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are bigger and better than ever, but are they a worthy upgrade for existing iPhone users? What if you previously passed over the iPhone because of its small screen, does it now merit a second look?

iOS 8 Concerns And Issues

With the new screen resolutions and scaling process, I was concerned that older apps might not transition well. When Apple moved from a 3.5-inch screen to a 4-inch screen on the iPhone 5, apps ran into various layout artifacts. Also, scaling up an iPhone app to run on the iPad results in a “fuzzy” appearance due to issues with scaling bitmap graphics. Fortunately, both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are generally free of these issues. Going through a dozen or so apps that have yet to be updated for iOS 8, I only noticed a couple with minor layout issues and all of the graphics looked crisp. Even apps that haven’t been updated for the 4-inch iPhone 5 look good. It appears that these apps are rendered at their original resolution and thus don’t use the whole screen, thereby avoiding any scaling issues.

Part of the reason for the smooth transition to the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens is that they maintain the same 16:9 aspect ratio as the 4-inch screen. The previous jump from the 3.5-inch (640x960) to 4-inch (640x1136) screen involved a change in aspect ratio from 3:2 to 16:9, which is more challenging to scale.

Considering the new iPhones still only have 1GB of RAM, memory pressure is another concern. My informal test started by closing all apps and rebooting the 6 Plus. I then opened Safari and started loading websites. After opening each site, I cycled through them a few times to see if any would reload. I found I could open six to seven sites before encountering a forced reload. Next, I opened Mail and switched back and forth between apps and cycling through websites with essentially the same results. I then added Twitter to the mix and noticed random page reloads and occasionally Twitter would need to reload.

For comparison I performed the same test on the iPhone 5s, where I found I could load 13 websites before encountering a page reload. In addition to Safari, I opened Weather, Photos and App Store. At this point I did start encountering more frequent page reloads, but no app reloads. Opening the same apps on the 6 Plus produced frequent page reloads and sluggish performance from the Safari UI. App Store would consistently need to reload and switching back to Safari caused most pages to need a refresh. To be fair, the 6 Plus had more background tasks running since I was using it as my primary phone. However, it’s clear that driving the larger screens on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus places additional strain on already thin memory resources, negatively affecting the user experience.

I encountered several other annoying glitches while using both new iPhones. As of iOS 8.0.2, the 6 Plus exhibited issues with screen rotation, getting stuck in one orientation. Opening and closing different apps usually jarred it loose, but sometimes it required a reboot to fix. There were also times when I couldn’t access the camera or Control Center from the lock screen. The controls simply wouldn’t respond, although I could still swipe to the side and input my unlock pin. I did experience some app and Springboard crashes as well.

The update to iOS 8.1 seems to have solved most of these issues. There’s still the occasional app crash, but that probably has more to do with memory pressure. I still haven’t been able to get Handoff to work and there’s also a serious bug affecting the syncing and performance of iCloud Drive.

Assuming Apple can get these remaining issues resolved quickly, iOS 8 will be a nice upgrade. The new application extensions help overcome many of iOS’ shortcomings and create more efficient workflows. Features like Continuity, Handoff, iCloud Drive and AirDrop to Mac improve operability between all of Apple’s various devices, essentially turning each of them into a single device with multiple screens. While all of iOS 8’s improvements are not revolutionary, the inclusion of widgets, interactive notifications, and 3rd-party keyboards does help close the feature gap with Android.