Something occurred to me this morning: I’ve had an iPhone in my pocket every day of my life for more than eight years, since mid-summer in 2007. Aside from my wife, who wasn’t even my wife back in 2007, I can’t think of anything that has been by my side for as long as the iPhone. Each year brought a new model and I’ve been through them all — iPhones, not wives — but no other smartphone has been able to supplant the iPhone as my main handset.
There is one model that I decided to skip, though. When the iPhone 6 Plus launched alongside the iPhone 6 last year, I passed on it. I did spend some time with the phone, but I never really gave it a shot. So in 2015, I decided to give its successor a try. In the end, I couldn’t even spend a week with the iPhone 6s Plus.
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Let’s backtrack for a moment. I didn’t really decide to try the iPhone 6s Plus, it was forced upon me.
I typically order my new iPhone for delivery through the mail each year, but this year I decided to set up an in-store reservation as well since Apple was offering them. I got to the store a few minutes before my reservation time on launch day morning, and I was only on line for about 25 minutes before purchasing the phone. Apple did a great job with its reservation system this year, and I feel bad for the hundreds of people who were waiting without a reservation that morning while I was there.
As it turned out, a lot happened in the 25 minutes I was waiting on that line. Somehow, I let my boss Jonathan convince me to buy an iPhone 6s Plus instead of the iPhone 6s I had reserved. He already had his phone as I waited in line, and we messaged back and forth about it. I’m not sure how I let him convince me to go with the Plus since I am not at all a fan of phablets, but he did it. And the worst part is that he still can’t even decide which iPhone to use himself.
So, I bought an iPhone 6s Plus.
I instantly had buyer’s remorse, but I also wasn’t very worried. The two weeks of lead time between announcement and release meant there would likely be plenty of inventory if I decided to exchange it. I also had another iPhone 6s coming in the mail as a backup; since I was reviewing the iPhone 6s for the site, I had to make sure I had one in my hand on launch day.
You know what, though? I kind of liked it. No, I really liked it.
I’ve used dozens of phablets over the years since I’ve had to review them for the site. I also always used to carry a second phone with me at all times in addition to my iPhone, and it was often an Android phablet. Lately I haven’t been carrying a second phone very often unless I’m reviewing one, but that’s an entirely different story.
There have been some phablets I’ve really enjoyed and some I’ve absolutely hated, but I would never have considered using any of them as my main personal phone because one-handed use is just too important to me. But something about the iPhone 6s Plus almost had me convinced I had been missing out for all this time. Something almost made me want to keep it and never go back to a puny little iPhone again.
First of all, the iPhone 6s Plus is a better device than the iPhone 6s. It is. The phones are nearly identical apart from size, but the key is in that “nearly.”
Apple’s 6s Plus has two features that give it a leg up on the smaller 6s. First, the display, which isn’t just bigger than the screen on the 6s, it’s better. The higher resolution 1080p panel on the iPhone 6s Plus features a pixel density of 401 ppi versus the 720p display on the iPhone 6s, which is 326 ppi. The difference isn’t night and day, but it is dusk and day. Images on the 6s Plus display are clearer than they are on the 6s, hands down.
The second and equally important difference is optical image stabilization (OIS) on the iPhone 6s Plus. Both new iPhone models use the same 12-megapixel camera sensor, but OIS on the Plus version means images are more crisp and video far more stable. In this area, the difference is indeed night and day.
The iPhone 6s Plus is better. I know it’s better. But I still couldn’t find a way to live with it.
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check my email and read the news while I’m still half asleep in bed. Efficiently typing with one hand to respond to emails on the iPhone 6s Plus is impossible for me and anyone else without giant hands, but it’s easy on the 6s. Scrolling through the news and saving stories to read more thoroughly later can’t even be done comfortably with one hand.
The stationary bike is a huge part of my exercise routine and I can’t use the iPhone 6s Plus comfortably with one hand while I ride. I can’t read my emails and respond with one hand while I walk my dog. I can’t respond to messages with one hand and read the news comfortably while I’m cooking dinner. The list goes on and on.
Here’s the thing: Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus obviously isn’t for everybody. Some people like phablets and some don’t. What’s upsetting, however, is that I want a bigger screen. I want better pixel density with a clearer picture. I want better photos and videos thanks to OIS. The problem is that I have to compromise my experience in order to get those things.
And the funny part is that I have to compromise my experience in a way that Apple CEO Tim Cook said I never would.
“We always strive to create the very best display for our customers,” Cook said on an earnings call back in 2013, responding to rumors that Apple might be working on a phablet. “Some customers value large screen size. But others value factors like resolution, color quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatibility, apps and many things. Our competitors have made some significant trade-offs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger display iPhone while these trade-offs exist.”
Guess what: Those competitors Cook is talking about all now sell phones with large displays that are more portable than the iPhone 6s Plus.
The iPhone 6s is a fantastic phone — one of the best in the world — and I enjoy using it very much. I’m not happy about the inherent trade-offs that come along with it, but to me the trade-offs are even worse with the iPhone 6s Plus. What I’m really looking forward to is next year’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. According to the world’s most accurate Apple insider, the iPhone 7 will be shockingly thin at between 6 and 6.5mm thick. This could make a larger model much more comfortable to use, especially if Apple manages to cut back on the bezel around the display, as other smartphone makers have.
Then, Apple might actually deliver the no-compromise iPhone Cook alluded to back in 2013.