Wednesday, October 22, 2014

iPhone 6

iPhone 6.It’s been more than a month now since I’ve gotten a new iPhone and I wanted to jot down my views and impressions to this point. This is not really a review, but a story about my personal usage of hardware and software that is available on iOS. I’ll start with the fact that I’ve bought iPhone 6 (4.7″ version) with 64GB1 (16GB was getting tight) in white. I just like to alternate my colors and I think this one looks particularly great in white.

Form Factor


As we all know this is the first time that Apple has released two new iPhones at the same time2 — iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Right from the start I knew that 5.5″ iPhone is not for me. I wasn’t quite sure how happy the fact that I had to go from 4″ to 4.7″ was. On one hand having a bigger screen was appealing. On another I really valued the portability of iPhone 5.

iPhone 6. Not possible for me to reach all places of the screen holding it this way.Now having the new phone for a while I can says that I wish it was a little bit smaller than it is. It just is big enough not to fit into my hand comfortably. I can’t grip it the way I want and as a result I end up resting the phone on my fingers when I use it with one hand and turns out I do use it with one hand quite often. The back side is quite slippery and I often feel that I might drop it. It makes it feel so insecure that I’m considering getting a leather case for it.

This is how I need to hold it to use with one hand. Unsafe.This brings me to the my next point — the actual design. It feels great. The rounded edges and tapered glass is so pleasant to the touch — a real contrast to the previous 4 hard edged phones. Sliding from the edge of the phone (back gesture for example) feels so natural. By putting a case on it this nice feel would go away. I’m not sure I want that trade off. The case would make it less slippery, a bit bulkier and would tuck the camera in. It would also hide a nice handy little mirror on the back of the phone in the form of Apple logo.

This is how I used to hold older iPhones. How tiny is this iPhone 4S though?Back to the screen size itself — it really is nice having a larger screen. Lately I have been doing quite a bit more reading on the phone since there is a lot of competition for iPad in our house between Arosha, Alena and myself. And being able to read on this new screen I don’t even have a need for iPad anymore. Also it’s amazing how quickly we get used to good things. When I had to set something up on Alena’s old 4S3 I was really shocked how tiny tiny that screen is. It really seemed astonishing to me.

iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6.The phone fits just OK in my pockets and even here it could be a little bit smaller. I’m looking forward to the day when Apple makes the screen go from edge to edge and reduce the physical size of this device just a tad. iPhone 6 Plus is just way too enormous and would in no way work for me.

New Features


Since I’m going from iPhone 5 directly to iPhone 6 there is a slew of new features for me. I’ve covered the most obvious upgrade of the screen, but there is a number of less visible (no pun intended) features. I’m really enjoying Touch ID. I’ve always had my phone locked with a pass code and having an ability to replace that with a longer password and not having to type it in is great. Touch ID works very well — it’s precise and quick.

Touch ID.The processor is much faster, but I don’t really notice it as the old phone was plenty fast. However this phone has a new motion chip (5S had it too) that tracks your steps and now stairs you climb. I found it really motivational and prefer to take the steps every time I have a chance instead of riding an elevator.

I’m also looking forward to using a new Apple Pay system with an NFC chip that is present in the new phone. Hopefully it becomes a real thing and becomes widely supported. It just got rolled out this past Monday. Adding cards was a breeze, and it seems to work in more places than I originally believed. I had a chance to try it at a no-name gas station that had an NFC enabled pay machine and it worked. And judging from the Internet buzz that will be the case — any place that has NFC machines will take Apple Pay.

But one of the biggest and most enjoyable upgrades is the camera. That one deserves its own section.

Camera


I’ll start with the fact that this phone comes with a little bit of a “non-Apple” quirk with the regards to the camera — it sticks out of the phone. It’s clear that Apple was faced with a decision of either making it flush with this thin phone and thus degrading its quality or make a sacrifice in “design perfection” to preserve and improve the functionality of the camera. I’m very very happy with the choice they made.

iPhone 6 camera and flash.My iPhone is by far my most used camera. Alena and I take tons and tons of family photographs with it. By making it focus faster and improving night time photography it gives us even more value. I’m also quite impressed with the True Tone flash Apple has introduced in 5S and carried over to this new phone. Before I would always have the camera on off and would never bother with it as it would just ruin the mood of any photograph with its cold blue light. After a few tests of the new flash I have it set to auto.

Taken with iPhone 6.The auto HDR mode also works well. It’s easier to capture a high dynamic range photograph with an iPhone than my SLR. SLR would need to be set on a tripod, and then it would take some amount of work in post to get the desired image. iPhone just takes one button press. Of course that works if the light range is a tad more than a single SLR shot can capture, but if the light range is high enough — well, SLR is your weapon.

iPhone mounted on tripod via Glif by Studio Neat.The new camera also has very cool video capabilities — slow-motion video at 240FPS is quite impressive. Actually the fact that the phone can capture video at such speed is not just impressive — it’s amazing. Fast focusing during video also works very well. I also enjoy making timelapse4 and hyperlapse videos. iPhone being our only video camera sure gets it a lot of use. And there is zero need for anything else.

Taken with iPhone 6.During our latest trip to Pocono Mountains I also have discovered the fact that it can take great macro photos. I’m using Camera+ (3rd party app) for it — check it out if you like the samples.

iPhone 6.Overall I’m very very happy with what Apple has been doing with regards to the camera. Even though it’s no SLR, I have it with me everywhere and all the time, while that is far from the case with my SLR which I still love dearly.

Taken with iPhone 6, post-processed.A side note is that I use two camera apps the most — swipe from the bottom for stock camera and Instagram. Also on some occasions I use Camera+ as I mentioned above.

Software


iOS 8 brought a lot of nice behind the scenes changes — extensions being the biggest one. I already have a lot of great apps that have instantly became much more useful once they have been updated to utilize the new extensions. 1Password is one obvious example — automatically inputs your credentials into login forms not inside an internal browser, but in Safari itself.

Before update for iPhone 6 screen.After update to support iPhone 6 screen.A lot of developers are taking their sweet time to get their apps updated for the bigger screen. Most apps run in zoom mode, which essentially rends apps in 4″ screen mode and then scales them up. I don’t really notice any blur, but the ones that have been updated do take full advantage of the bigger screen. The biggest tell if the app has been updated or not is the status bar on top. It gets blown up when any non-updated app starts.

My Homescreen


The most important thing of any platform is software. Software is what makes the phone. Now here is a list of software on my phone that I find the most useful. It’s organized in a quite simple manner — dock has my most used apps, home screen has apps that I use on daily basis, second screen has software that I use almost daily, third screen has a bunch of games my fourth screen has a collection of folders that I don’t use as often, but still like having on my phone.

Homescreen.Second screen.

I won’t go over every single one, but I will make a short list of the most interesting stuff on my phone:
  • Instagram — I personally don’t use it for its social aspects, but for its integration with Twitter. This is the fastest way for me to take a photograph and post it to our blog thanks to that Twitter integration and my blog to Twitter integration.

    I also love the fact that we can order posters and calendars from our Instagram collections with services like Printstagram. I like the map that it builds with its geolocation feature.

    Having said all that I have to point out that I use the stock camera app a lot as well by sliding to it from the lock screen.

  • Google Maps — I have given Apple Maps a go when it came out. I gave it another chance when iOS 8 came out. It still doesn’t cut it. Google Maps along with its search capability is unbeatable.

  • Fantastical — the best calendar replacement out there. With a lot of meetings and appointments spread out between different calendars stock calendar app doesn’t cut it at all. Fantastical presents you with a great visual view as to how your day looks. It also supports natural language to create and manage events among many other great features.

  • Reeder — after many years Reeder is still my RSS client of choice. I subscribe to a lot of feeds and this app is where I do most of my reading on my iOS devices.

  • Dark Sky — my weather app of choice. Simple app that uses its own weather service predicting algorithm that happens to be very accurate. Nice clean UI as well.

  • 1Password — I try my best not to reuse the same password for everything. It would be impossible without an app like 1Password. It can securely store and backup all your sensitive information. In iOS 8 it’s even better because of direct Safari integration as well as support for Touch ID. I would be completely lost without it.

  • PCalc — the best iOS calculator with infinite possibilities. I however just use it as your regular calculator. It looks great and I like to support developers who dedicate themselves fully to their work to make iOS what it is.

  • Nebulous — note taking app. It’s a bit of an overkill for me, but I use it to keep and edit my notes text file that is synchronized to all my computers and devices via Dropbox.

  • Groceries — a super fast way to create a shopping list for the time when your wife tasks you with shopping. Easy to create, easy to check off on the go.

  • Newsstand — a stupid custom folder that I have a single app in — The New York Times. We have a print subscription to it in order to get digital access to all contents. We give the print version to our elderly neighbor and do all our reading on our mobile devices.

  • Passbook — Apple Pay! It has yet to deserve its place on the homescreen, but I have high hopes for it as I mentioned earlier.

  • Gas Cubby — I have been logging all my fill ups for the past 2 years. As a result I have a great source of statistical information for my gas expenses for my cars. With amount of driving that I do I find it very helpful. It lists all fill ups, locations, prices and resulting MPG numbers.

  • Fuel Finder — a great way to save tons of money by finding the cheapest place to fill up when you need it. It uses Gas Buddy database, but has a nicer interface. It also is very helpful to just find well priced gas stations when you’re traveling far away from home. I never fill up without checking up with this app.

  • Overcast — my podcast app of choice. I spend a lot of time in the car and I listen to my podcasts over Bluetooth. What sets this application apart from the rest is a feature called Smart Speed. It actually removes all the empty moments from between the words of the speakers to speed the playback up. But it does it in such a way that you do not notice that it happened.

  • Swarm — replacement for 4SQ that was a replacement for a dearly departed Gowalla. We just like to check in into places we go for posterity reasons. Twitter integration is the reason to do it, to leave a permanent record on the blog. Very often we are able to find places that we want to revisit but don’t remember the exact name or location thanks to those saved notes. It’s also fun to see when it informs you of when you were at a certain place last time. And I follow a handful of close friends on it.

That’s it for the homescreen. Now onto my second screen:
  • IMDb — all the information on all things movies and TV. Ratings, casts. Every wondered where you know the actor from? This is the way to find out. Both Alena and I constantly checking on things when we’re watching something.

  • Find Friends — in our case it’s actually Find Family. Easy way to check on a location of a family member so we don’t have to worry if somebody is not picking up a phone. We are the family of worriers and we tend to worry that something bad happened if somebody missed a phone call. This app helps with that.

  • Tweetbot – I follow a bunch of people on Twitter sorted into various lists such as technology, politics, friends. Sometimes it’s just a good way to spend the time. This app also allows me to easily make a quick post to the blog when I’m on the go via the aforementioned Twitter integration.

  • Pandora — great way to listen to the music of the same type that you seed the initial station with. We use it on multiple special and usual occasions.

  • Authenticator — you do use 2-step authentication everywhere you can, right? I’m planning to switch this to Authy though.

  • Amazon — very useful when shopping out for pretty much anything. Scan the barcode on the product, present to the cashier and ask to match. Most of the time they will, especially at big places like Best Buy, Sports Authority, Toys “R” Us, etc.

  • Citibank — now we never have to go to the bank. We deposit all the checks through this app. Extremely convenient.

  • Health — by tracking the number of steps I take a day and floors I climbed it makes me want to do more. M8 processor at work.

  • Instapaper — I save articles I happen upon that I do not have time to read at that moment. It caches stuff up and allows you to read all the articles offline with a nicely formatted text.

  • Hyperlapse — a really nifty app from the creators of Instagram makes creating hand held timelapse videos a breeze. Quite impressive technology actually.

  • Vert — good looking converter of all kinds of units.

  • M-B mbrace — find an address on Google Maps, plug it into this app and it shows up on GPS in the car, among some other convenient things.

  • Shazam — I’m driving, listening to Sirius XM and a nice song comes on. Turn Shazam on and it instantly saves the name of the song and the artist by listening to what’s playing.

  • Clear – make all kinds of lists quickly and easily.

  1. All my previous phones have been 16GB, but the current version is a rip-off. []
  2. 5C doesn’t really fall into this category as it was iPhone 5 “recased”. []
  3. Alena got my iPhone 5 after we got it back from Apple with a warranty repaired sleep button. []
  4. Using old mini-tripod with Glif mount from Studio Neat works really well. []
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