I splashed out and got myself a new phone! After 5 long years I upgraded my iPhone 4, which I reviewed back in 2010. Gosh 5 years is a long, long time and I am proud to have made my iPhone 4 last that long. The hardware of that phone is beautiful and had it not been for how slow the phone had become with new software I still wouldn’t have replaced it. This is one of the annoying things about smartphones, they have become like PCs of the 1990s/2000s. Bulky software is built year on year to slow down perfectly good machines.
How I used my iPhone 4 over the last 5 years
The smartphone experience has been truly amazing. In the time I had my smartphone most web based applications went mobile and it is hard to imagine that at some point in time I was emailing and social media-ing and even working using a desktop PC! I used my iPhone 4 to the max, work and play. By tutoring on it on Skype and FaceTime I more than made up for its investment. I started using my desktop PC less and less, and as the world moved more towards cloud computing I even moved many of my documents and spreadsheets online. As a self employed person I have a google docs spreadsheet that does my tax return and keeps my books up to date as and when I get payments or have expenses. By entering these as and when they happen I’m completely on top of my business accounts all the time. Having my bank’s own app on my phone also helps me pay people and stay on top of my spending as I have instant access to my accounts any time of day from anywhere in the world on my phone.
I used my phone to record videos – my music, videoblogs and educational videos. I used the audio recording to record notes, talks and band rehearsals. I used apps to teach maths and Science. And travel apps such as Citymapper and National Rail enquiries are a lifesaver and it’s hard to imagine what life was like before these. Onwards and upwards to the new iPhone 6s Plus experience.
Huge Plus Size
The iPhone 6s Plus is massive. It’s a mini tablet and there’s no lying about it. It can fit into one hand, just. But operating it for the most part needs both hands.
Awesome big screen on the iPhone 6s Plus. Note the awkward one hand grip.
Gripping it firmly with one hand at first felt like a challenge and even now I don’t feel like I’ve got as secure a grip of it when just using one hand. I’m still adapting to handling the sheer size of the phone. There is a double tap function that brings the screen down so the topmost icons can be handled by one hand, but not sure if that helps too much. On the picture I have posted, you can see that one handed my thumb struggles to reach the very top icons.
Nontheless the bigger keyboard and keys are a real joy to work with, and I always felt my fingers were missing the mark with the keyboard on my old phone. I got the big phone on purpose, and it for its big clear screen, and this it certainly does not disappoint me with. Here’s why:
Screen Resolution and Size
The iPhone 4 screen was revolutionary for its time, there was nothing crisper and more beautiful than the Retina display. The iPhone 6s screen feels even smoother, but the jump from a non smartphone to a retina screen was so big that this next increment seems and feels minor. The iPhone 6s Plus screen experience is completely different to the minuscule iPhone 4 screen. Watching my old imported photos and videos showed how limited the screen capacity of my old phone was. Using Instagram makes the square sized photos that much bigger and clearer. I watch more documentaries and videos on my new phone. It has more or less even replaced my desktop for that purpose.
One thing I like is the auto brightness adjust, the brightness is always subtle but never overpowering. I found that Samsung tablets and smartphones have that overpowering glow on the screen especially when using them in low light. The iPhone screen remains easy and relaxed on the eye as it senses the light level. This is an improvement on my old phone by a long way.
Apple Pay and Touch ID
Contactless payment is revolutionary and I’ve embraced it fully. One of the best things about the new iPhone 6s is that I can pay using the phone, and unlike a contactles card I need to authorise the payment first. I feel this is more secure than a contactless card. Touch ID is simple and secure, the middle button recognises one of my fingers and unlocks the phone instantly. It also acts as authorisation for when I have to pay via Apple Pay. I now use my phone to pay for day to day grocery shopping and anything less than £20, from bookstores to guitar shops.
I have learnt a lot about photography using my phone camera, and it is hard to believe that I’ve had a camera on my phone since 2005. In 10 years I have learnt about composition, getting a good frame, and a bit about exposure and how that affects day v low light photography. Smartphone cameras are really good now, and I would say that learning how to take good photographs is way more important. A good camera helps, but photography skills, even simple ones can be learnt and are more important than getting a better camera. I am no pro photographer, but I am becoming a better amateur day by day :-)
Close up photo taken on the iPhone 6s Plus
There is so much hype on iPhone camera photos that it is hard to be objective on this. The iPhone 4 camera was miles ahead of its competition at the time. The 2014 poster campaign ‘shot on the iPhone 6’ further cemented the iPhone camera’s superiority. A lot of it may well be hype as other phones no doubt have good cameras by now. The iPhone 4 camera was extremely good in daylight already and in all honesty I find that softly lit outdoor photos are almost the same quality on the new phone. Nonetheless the contrast and sharpness on the new phone is very apparent. Additionally the camera also detects faces and optimises exposure accordingly. This is a godsend when taking an image against a white background or clouds, the old phone would try and optimise for the white background and make everyone too dark. The face detect knows exactly what to optimise for. This makes taking photos more automatic, accurate and better quality. Where the new iPhone 6s Plus wins hands down however is low light photography. It shows colours in low light with beautiful contrast and vivid bright and colourful detail. Taking photos at night or indoors under artificial light has become a real pleasure.
China Town London at night, taken on iPhone 6s Plus with no filter
There is also a higher resolution front mode camera, and while the lens does not match up the quality of the main camera, having a better front camera is very useful to me as I use it during online tuition using FaceTime. Both cameras have a flash, but I’ve never been a fan of using a flash, even on a DSLR so I can’t really write about that since I haven’t used it.
The video quality on the iPhone 6s Plus is substantially better than the iPhone 4, it works faster and can capture video in clearer resolution and even up to 4K! Personally I found the old setting of 720 just as good and there’s no reason for me to go higher than that. The new iPhone takes 720 video much more efficiently than the iPhone 4 and videos take up a lot lot less memory space. The following video clip was taken in a loud surrounding and both the video and sound quality capture are crisp and clear. I have seen this on a big desktop screen going via hi fi speakers and it sounds and looks good!
In summary for the camera, massive improvement for low light and indoor photos and a general contrast and crispness improvement overall. I was considering buying a good quality point and shoot Canon Powershot camera but now I don’t think I need one.
It took me ages to get used to this, as at first pushing too hard on the screen made me feel like I was going to break the screen. We still think of touch screens as fragile so pushing into it that bit harder felt unnatural at first. I have well and truly come to love this feature and I think this will catch on slowly as more apps become compatible. The way this works is that by pressing on the screen lightly it temporarily opens up the entire window of the preview, let go and the screen disappears again. On Whatsapp this makes browsing through messages a breeze, and CityMapper becomes almost instant to use. I’m hoping the Gmail app becomes 3-D touch compatible very soon.
Siri and voice recognition
One amazing thing about the new iPhone 6s Plus is that it can recognise voice and turn it into text much more efficiently and accurately than any other voice to text application I have seen. The old iPhone 4 was just one phone off from Siri, and at that time I felt like I had missed out. But now that I do have Siri on my new phone I can’t believe how convenient it is and this alone is a huge improvement in the way I use my phone. In fact I have just dictated this very last paragraph on my phone to prove how good the voice to text recognition is. This does also mean that I can ramble on more and my written articles are even longer than they used to be! Siri and voice to text are altering the way we interacting with phones and computers, we speak to them and it really feels futuristic. Of course Siri isn’t perfect but I’d say it gets things right 80% of the time.
Battery and Low power mode
I had become a bit of a pro in utilising the battery of the old iPhone 4 efficiently by switching off a lot of unnecessary processes in the background. Although the new iPhone 6s plus has a much better battery life than my old iPhone, on the whole I’m disappointed by the fact that I still pretty much have to charge my phone every day. I would’ve expected the bigger iPhone to have a bigger battery which would last longer, but that seems to have been outweighed by the larger power consumption of the bigger screen. Still the battery life isn’t that bad and we do now live in an area where phones are expected to be charged every day. There is also low-power mode on the iPhone which can be turned on when the battery is at 20% or 10%. So far I haven’t really found this very useful of power saving at all.I know my brother has a Samsung galaxy and it’s low-power mode really does feel like a low-power mode with the screen greyed out and all but the most essential features on Lo fi mode. So I can’t say I am too impressed by the low-power mode, however the phone performs very well even below 20% and is not to lose charge that easily. At 1% I was still able to make a 20 minute phone call, which is really impressive!
Misc – Big speaker, 4G voice and the 4G experience
In all this tech talk we forget that the iPhone is actually a phone and can be used to make phone calls. Thanks to Three’s 4G with voice technology I’m hearing calls with clarity that I’ve never experienced before. It does actually bother me that with such huge bandwidths available on mobile phones, basic phone calls are still made at a very crude and low audio quality designed for the analogue world of telephone cables. Voice calls on Whatsapp or messenger use data and are infinitely clearer so why can’t normal phone calls be? Well 4G + voice is making that happen. This brings me to 4G itself now. I’ve got a 4GB allowance and in my first month I’ve used just less than 1.5GB of data. The 4G speed is utterly staggering, this is not like the increase we saw from 2G to 3G, this is way faster. 4G is like having broadband with you all the time. Citymapper loads up and searches faster. I haven’t tried video calling on 4G yet, but even on 3G it was never a problem so 4G finally gives video calling true freedom. The only downside of 4G is that it is not everywhere (although 90% of the spots in London have it from my experience), so when you go from a 4G to 3G area it feels like a right slowdown.
The iPhone 6s Plus speaker is large for a phone and gone is the tinny distorted sound of listening to rock radio stations via the phone speaker. The bigger speaker has a much more rounded sound and clearer bass. But let’s not beat around the bush, this is still a phone speaker so when I do want to listen to good hi fi sound, I plug my iPhone to my Denon Hi Fi via the USB lightening cable. The iPhone and Hi Fi compatibility is a godsend.
iPhone 6s Plus Upgrade Summary
Upgrading from an iPhone 4 to a bigger iPhone 6s Plus is a no brainier – the experience is vastly improved and a better one by a very long way. Using my phone to make payments, as a tablet with a big beautiful screen and as a computer in which to do my actual tuition and all tuition admin means the expensive 64GB version of this phone will pay itself over many times. I wasn’t so sure about 3-D touch at first but I feel like I just got the right iPhone as this will no doubt take off. The experience of upgrading to a new iPhone depends purely on what your old phones was, but I can say that even from an iPhone 6, having the 6s gives you 3-D touch. For me the upgrade has been two fold, to a new phone but also to a much larger screen size. So the question now remains, will my next upgrade be in another 5 years from now? Only time will tell.