Posts Tagged ‘iPhone’

Quick Review: So, How Do You Like Your New Phone?

2014.09.25 1 comment

So, a week ago, I got an iPhone 6, and since then, I’ve gotten this question a lot. Some initial thoughts/reactions:

I’m going to come right out and say it: it’s just a little bit too big. I wasn’t unhappy with the size of the 5 I upgraded from and was not one of those people clamoring for a bigger phone. In fact, I had some misgivings about the larger size. Overall I don’t hate it or anything, but it’s just a little bit bigger than I would have liked. If Apple could have figured out some way to split the difference between the 5 series and this, I think that would have been fine. The fact that it’s so thin does help offset the overall size, but I don’t have particularly large hands and I use my phone one-handed pretty often, and it’s just a smidge too big at times. The double-tap on the home button (not a double press, but a really light double-tap) to scroll the top of the display down so you can reach it one-handed is something, but just doesn’t seem like quite enough of a solution.

The one real up side to the larger phone is the increase in the number of apps that appear on the first page of home. I do like that a lot, but otherwise I’d actually like it to be just a bit smaller. I could not imagine getting a 6+, but I would guess that the people who are interested in such a thing have a somewhat different usage profile. (I already have, and love, my full-sized iPad, and I’m not really in the market for a middle-sized device. I kind of don’t get the iPad Mini, either, but again, I’m not the target user.)

Favorite Features
The top of the list is Touch ID, no contest. This is not a new feature on the iPhone, but it’s a new feature for me, since I’m coming from a 5, not a 5S. I simply love this. I understand it’s not 100% secure, but neither is a 4-digit PIN, and this is probably at least as good as that, which is what I had before. I know I can use a longer PIN, but my threat model is not a dedicated hacker, but rather me leaving my phone somewhere and a casual passerby picking it up. Touch ID is so fast and so easy. This totally rocks.

My second favorite thing is the better camera. I’m not really much of a photographer, but it’s always nice to be able to not think about it and just have the thing take better pictures. And this camera seems to do better for me, and I’m not even trying to do crazy awesome stuff like in Iceland.

The other thing I love is that it’s blazing fast. The 5 was no slouch and I wasn’t actually unhappy with the speed and itching to move up to a faster phone (I had that in spades when I replaced my first iPhone, a 3G), but this thing just screams—everything is just so responsive. I find the whole “oh, everything on the iPhone 6 has been available on Android for a year now” thing really annoying. Tell me, which Android phone benchmarked like this a year ago? And still has decent battery life? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Dumb lazy argument is dumb and lazy.

Next is the motion co-processor. I’ve never invested in a FitBit or anything, but now that we have a dog I go for a decent walk every day and it’s interesting to see the step count. Again, not new to the 6, but not something that was available on the 5, and I like it.

Oh, and one more win for Apple on this is the increase in storage. The mid-priced phone (which is what I usually get) went up from 32G to 64G, which is awesome. I was really pushing on the 32G on my 5, and it’s nice to have some breathing room.

The Display
The screen is truly excellent. The screen on my 5 was perfectly good, but this seems even better. I didn’t go with a 6+, which I’ve heard has an even better screen, but this one still seems great. Of course, it’s also bigger, but I’ve already covered that. The thing about the bigger and even higher-quality display is that I find myself slightly less drawn off the phone to do reading-based tasks, which is really what my iPad is for—serious reading. I never, for instance, read books on my phone. Now I might. The only down side here is that apps that haven’t been updated for the new screen size look a little clunky—the text looks huge on these. I’m sure most of them will sort it out relatively soon.

Battery Life
No contest that this is much better than on my 5. Battery life on the 5 was always decent, but nothing great, and so far the 6 just blows it away. In normal usage so far, I’ve never even come close to needing to charge it during the day. (I charge my phone every night while I’m asleep.) I didn’t often need to charge the 5 before the end of the day, either, but I don’t think I’ve even gotten the battery down below half. Very nice work. I guess this is the other upside for the larger form factor—space for a bigger battery.

iOS 8
Technically, iOS 8 is not really an iPhone 6 feature in that I had already installed it on my 5 and my iPad the day before I got my 6, but the 6 requires it and so I kind of think of it that way. So far, it just doesn’t seem that much different than iOS 7 (which I thought was a very mixed bag vs. iOS 6—some things got better, but some got worse). HealthKit isn’t really active yet (oops), other than the basics (although as I mentioned, I like the step tracking).

So far there aren’t enough extensions for that to be a big deal, though I am tickled to see PCalc in the “today” view. This will probably pick up as more apps are updated for iOS 8. I think photo editing on-camera via extensions is probably going to be a big deal.

The predictive keyboard is actually pretty nice. It’s not always accurate, of course, but where I find it particularly shines is when it correctly predicts words that have punctuation (for example, “we’ll”) in them, because punctuation sucks on a mobile keyboard. I haven’t tried any of the third-party swipe-based keyboards yet, and I’m not sure that I will because I don’t often type anything substantial with one finger, and as John Gruber observed, I’m not sure how much that’ll do for two-thumb typing. Plus, given the larger form factor, I think I’m even more likely to two-thumb type than before. We’ll see.

The tweaks to Messages and Mail are all nice, but not anything major. Family Sharing and Continuity are not things I can use because my Macs aren’t on Yosemite yet and the rest of my family isn’t on iOS 8 yet. Continuity seems cool, though, but we’ll have to see how it really plays out—the devil is in the details, and I haven’t yet gotten to play in the details.

The place where I think Apple really blew it is with iCloud Drive. I’m going to just come out and say it: Apple is generally not good at the whole cloud thing. I used to think Apple should have worked harder to buy Dropbox because of how awesome Dropbox is, but now I’m really glad they didn’t—I think Apple probably would have screwed it up. Anyway, when you install iOS 8 for the first time, it prompts you for whether or not you want to upgrade your iCloud account to iCloud Drive. The idea of iCloud Drive isn’t exactly new for Apple (remember iDisk?), and the warning it gives you is pretty tame, but in fact if you agree to “upgrade” to iCloud Drive, it effectively hoses your iCloud storage if you access iCloud from a Mac that isn’t running Yosemite. Since Yosemite isn’t actually released yet, this is a really bad idea. As an added bonus, this “upgrade” isn’t undo-able. Ugh. Would it really have been that hard for Apple to have put in another layer of warning that said something like “You should only do this if you run Yosemite on your Mac” and defaulting to “no, don’t upgrade” rather than defaulting to “upgrade?” Any decent UX person knows that users frequently don’t read warnings very carefully and that the default should never be to mess up something that already works.

So, while I find the new larger form-factor not quite ideal and iOS 8 to be a mixed bag, on the whole I’m pretty happy with the new phone. I’m pretty inelastic on this, because I use my phone constantly (usually not as an actual phone, of course), so I’m bad with concepts like “is it worth the $300?” but on balance I certainly don’t regret the purchase.

Background Notes
I’m on the every-other-year plan with the iPhone. I didn’t get the original but have stuck to that plan otherwise, so I have had a 3G, a 4, and a 5 previous to this. I’ve never had an “S” model (3GS, 4S, 5S), but my wife is on the every-other-year plan on the “S” cycle, but she started later, so she used to have a 4S and now has a 5S. So I’ve at least fiddled with every model except for the original and the 3GS.

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iPhone 5 and iOS6 Thoughts

I’m moving all my technical reviews and thoughts to my work blog, because (1) I use these things for work, and (2) my comments are often related to UI/human factors/HCI kinds of things.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to write a review of the iPhone 5 for a while, and I keep just not getting to it. Then something happened a couple days ago that re-ignited my desire to do so. I was chatting with colleagues and something came up in the conversation that required me to check my calendar, so I took out my phone. One of the people in the conversation kind of gawked at it “is that a 5?” was asked with something approaching reverence. Since I’ve had it for four weeks now, the novelty has worn off and I was surprised by this reaction. I looked at her and said “It’s still just a phone.” I’ve been asked a couple times in the last week or so how I like my 5, and my usual response is along these lines: “It’s fantastic, but it’s still just a phone.”

This, I think, sums up why Apple can’t seem to make them fast enough—the iPhone 5 is indeed fantastic—but also for the more or less “meh” response the iPhone 5 has gotten from the tech press: it is still just a phone.

My first smartphone was the iPhone 3G, and that was indeed a monstrous leap forward and felt utterly and totally different than any phone I had before. Of course, the leap there was going from an object that was primarily a phone (I think it was a Motorola Razr) to a mobile computer that also happens to be a phone; that’s what an iPhone always was to me.

I didn’t upgrade until the iPhone 4, and that also seemed like a very different device. That was, at the time, the best display I had ever seen on anything, period, and that made a real difference. My 3G was also starting to feel sluggish as newer software had been coming out that made it feel long in the tooth and that upgrade still feels big in retrospect.

I did not get a 4S—yes, there’s a pattern here, I’m on the “every other iPhone” trajectory—and so upgraded from a 4 to a 5. The 5 is indeed better on every criterion I can think of: the display is even better (and bigger, too), the phone is markedly thinner and lighter, the camera is better, it has LTE so data is much faster, the CPU is faster, the build quality is pretty much amazing (you have to hold one to really get this), it has Siri (which my 4 did not) and so on. It is an upgrade in pretty much every way. The iPhone 5 is a terrific phone and I have no trouble understanding why Apple is selling them as fast as they can make them. I have die-hard Android friends who have switched just because of the iPhone 5 hardware—it really is that good.

However, having said all that, I understand the overall yawn from the tech press. The iPhone 5 is a fine device, to be sure. It is not, however, revolutionary. I am very happy to have all the things it has that are better than my 4, but it simply does not feel like the major qualitative leap forward that my two previous iPhones were. It is still a phone, and while it does all the mobile computing things better than my previous phone, it does not fundamentally change how I do anything. I mean, yes, there are a few small changes here and there—I had to reorganize my springboard because the iPhone 5 display is bigger—but nothing that feels revolutionary.

It is, of course, ridiculous to deride a computing product that is an overall excellent product for the simple failure to be radical. I think that’s what’s happened here and it’s a mistake by the tech press, but it’s an understandable mistake. When I got my first iPhone, it was amazing. When I got my 4, every time I looked at the screen, my thought was how amazing it was. My iPhone 5 is terrific, but I never have the same “that’s amazing” reaction to it. (The closest to that is the thinness, which is quite impressive but still doesn’t quite generate the same “wow” response.) I didn’t get an iPad right away because I didn’t see how I’d really use it, and within two weeks of getting it, I couldn’t imagine not having one. I didn’t get an iPad 2 (there’s that “every other” thing going again) but I got a third-generation one because the display is more than just a “wow” feature, it’s one that actually changed my work habits. (I don’t read manuscripts or journal articles on paper anymore, ever—it’s all iPad now, which it was not until the Retina iPad.) The total iPhone 5 package is excellent, but there is no single thing you can point to that evokes the “wow” response, and I think people have begun to expect that from Apple, even if that is an unreasonable expectation.

I think the other thing that’s a factor here is iOS6. I upgraded my 4 to iOS6 before my 5 had arrived, but I think in the heads of the tech press and many consumers, the two things are likely to be heavily conflated. I have to say that I had some reservations about iOS6 based on my last MacOS upgrade, which was from Snow Leopard to Lion. I’m still not sure what the point of Lion really was; it offered little in the way of new and useful functionality and it broke a hell of a lot of software. (I haven’t upgraded to Mountain Lion yet—I’m hoping that’s less painful.) I’m sure Apple’s sales numbers said that Lion was a success, but as far as I’m concerned Lion was the first OS X “upgrade” that wasn’t really an upgrade at all. So I was perhaps a bit reserved about going to iOS6.

iOS6, furthermore, will probably always be marred in people’s minds because of Apple’s Maps app. Maps is interesting in that I think the UI in Apple’s Maps is an improvement over the old Maps in a number of ways, but Apple has been bitten pretty hard by the poor quality of the data. Unfortunately, the experience of many users is tainted by that, and their experience is negative, regardless of whether the actual UI is better or not. There have certainly been commentaries out there suggesting that the map data isn’t that bad for many users in many places, especially those in big cities. I live near a big city (Houston), but not in it, and the suburb where I live has been experiencing monstrous growth over the last decade. As a result of that, we have many roads, schools, and parks that are only a few years old. Google maps was on top of this, and everything in the old Maps app was up to date for anything more than about a year old. Apple’s Maps, on the other hand, seems completely ignorant of everything in the community less than about three years old and surprisingly still ignorant about many things that are now more than a decade old. It’s kind of amusing to flip back and forth between the map view and the satellite view and see roads vanish and re-appear. (Note: This is a community of over 100,000 that generates so much wireless traffic that the local AT&T store just gives away micro-cells free to their wireless customers because the local towers cannot always handle the load. It is not a tiny little town.) Hopefully now that it’s out in the field the data problems will get sorted out as users bring in more data, but for now there are places where Apple’s Maps are so inaccurate they’re nearly useless.

The problem there goes beyond the fact that it gets things wrong, but it generates a trust issue. I don’t actually need the maps in my local area to be highly accurate since I know the area anyway. However, what about when I travel? Can I trust the data for where I am when it’s not somewhere familiar? I know Google Maps wasn’t always right, either, but the omissions in Apple’s Maps are pretty glaring around where I am—in places where Google has it right—and that makes me wary. “Wary” is not how you want to feel about your maps.

Other than Maps, though, iOS6 seems like a general improvement, though some of the touted features are completely pointless as far as I’m concerned. I do use Facebook, but there is no way that I want Facebook to have access to the stuff on my phone (particularly my address book) so system-level integration with Facebook is a non-starter for me, as are changes to FaceTime and things like shared photo streams. Some of the new phone features seem useful, and some of the improvements to Siri, Safari, and Mail are pleasant (though minor), but again, this is a refinement more than a big jump forward. Maps is the most visible change and that hasn’t exactly been a big win.

So, yes, the iPhone 5 is terrific, and I like it a lot. I’m glad I bought it. It is, however, still just a phone. A great phone, but still just a phone.

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