Click to zoom in. It’s a very nice photo especially when you consider it was taken from a cell phone (iPhone 6).
As the editor of a major technical news website (this one) I am forced to upgrade my iPhone every year so you can read my refined opinions. Let’s do it.
Getting the review unit
The pre-order process was rough. Not only did I have to wake up at 2 AM on a weekday in excruciating back pain (different story) but the Apple Store website was having trouble – flashbacks to trying to buy World Cup tickets. I almost gave up…
— Marcos Kirsch (@marcoskirsch) September 12, 2014
… but a helpful soul on Twitter caught wind of my whining and alerted me that the website was back up and I was able to place my preorder.
The phones went for sale on Friday. I was able to skip the line at
shul The Apple Store, and that was good because it was rough:
I’ve only had the phone for a few days and so far it seems like the battery lasts longer than the iPhone 5s, which was just fine. This is not going to be a concern.
Missing in Action
Apple Pay. I like my wallets to be thin. The added bulk of a credit card kills me. So anything that helps avoid carrying more stuff in my wallet is welcome. Unfortunately, Apple Pay isn’t out yet so I can’t test it just yet. And not every place will take it so I will still have to carry the credit card for the foreseeable future. Dang.
I haven’t used it that much yet! So I can’t tell. Instead I will direct you to some reviews about the camera. In summary: it seems to be better than the previous iPhone 5s which had the best camera of all smartphones, 42 MP Nokia fat-phones be damned. This is important to me because
- I care that my photos look decent
- For the most part I don’t want to carry a large dedicated camera
- I am going to be taking a lot of photos starting in late October
So read “Apple’s iPhone 6 Has Finally Convinced Me To Ditch My Compact Camera” and look at this crazy photos taken in Iceland and watch this video taken in Disneyland which is impressive because of how there’s no shake and how quickly the video adapts to the changes in darkness and light.
The camera does have one big drawback: the lens sticks out a little bit. If you use a case, then it’s a non-issue. If you don’t use a case, the phone will wobble on it’s invulnerable sapphire lens. Me? I use a case.
It looks great, and it can fit more content in it’s 4.7″ than the old 4″ iPhones (duh!). I like reading from it. But adding a large screen it has a big drawback…
It’s big, and this is the “small” model, not the gigantic iPhone 6 Plus. I get it: the demand for a larger iPhone was huge. And then there is that dirty little secret every other phone maker hasn’t told you yet: making large phones is easier. Apple can’t keep doing both forever: competing in specs and make the phone smaller. The market has spoken loud and clear. The giant iPhones are upon us.
The phone is very thin though, even with the case. And since it has rounded corners it slides in and out of my pocket just fine and doesn’t bother me at all – which was a pleasant surprise.
But oh boy, one-handed use suffers big time. You can’t reach the top of the screen without some impressive hand calisthenics , and the phone feels top heavy, precariously close to tipping over.
In the past years while at the public restroom at work I’ve accumulated accolades from both peers and higher ups due to my ability to keep up with my RSS feed while I urinate. This is going to be a lot harder now, and just imagine the embarrassment when my phone falls into the urinal while I try to tap that out of reach button (note to self: look into this). Reputations take years to build up, but a mere instant to destroy. Reachability may help, but it’s not yet second nature to me and it still seems like an inelegant easy way out. The original iPhone was a pleasure to use with one hand – at the expense of screen real estate. The new iPhone flips the table. Perhaps modern medicine can come to the rescue?
The phone with its A8 processor feels faster, which is cool but not in a way you notice right away. In my experience, jumps in performance were similar across iPhone generations with the notable exception of the 3GS which was a much faster than its antecessor. But the speed bump is definitely there, and when you go back to use the previous phone, it feels sloooow. Every small gain in performance makes the thing more pleasurable to use and it adds up over time.
The phone now has a barometer, so not only do you know how many steps you take in a day, but how many floors you climb. I will be testing this more this week.
And I am selling my old factory unlocked pristine 32 GB iPhone 5s. Great phone, usable with one hand anywhere in the world. Supplies are limited! Hurry up!
Additions (September 22)
- The lock button was moved from the top to the right of the device. This is a good idea, because the top is hard to reach with one hand. But there’s a drawback: the lock button is now opposite from one of the volume buttons, so if you squeeze the phone to lock it, you may end up pressing the wrong button.
- Touch ID (fingerprint sensor) seems to be a lot faster and a lot accurate. This may or may not be my imagination or due to the fact that I just programmed it – but my guess is that it’s a new revision of the hardware.
- Apps that aren’t yet updated for the iPhone 6 look zoomed in. This makes everything look larger, means that the app doesn’t take advantage of the added screen space, and that the keyboard is larger. The last point is a big problem, since one relies on muscle memory for fast typing, and switching keyboard sizes is ver bad for that.
T-Mobile now supports Wi-Fi calling on iPhones with iOS 8 and higher. This is a big deal to:
- People who live in the U.S. but travel abroad
- People who live outside the U.S. but have a VoIP (like Vonage) line back in their home country, and/or have U.S. SIM cards for their travels to the U.S.
Since I know a lot of people in the first group (including myself), and a lot of people in the second group, I feel like explaining:
If you have a T-Mobile line, you can use it from anywhere outside the U.S. for voice calls to U.S. numbers as long as you are connected to Wi-Fi. No roaming charges apply. You can receive calls too. See this FAQ. And as before, you get cell-phone data and SMS messages.
And when you are in the U.S., you can of course use the cellphone normally. Including using data and Personal Hotspot. Or texting from airplanes at no additional charge. This will work on iPhone 5c, 5s, 6, 6 Plus (this has existed in other phones since before iOS supported it).
@marcoskirsch The iPhone 5s and 5c will also support Wi-Fi Calling with the launch of iOS 8. *MG
— T-Mobile USA (@TMobileHelp) September 17, 2014
See the following screenshot: phone is in Airplane Mode but with Wi-Fi, and I’m making a regular phone call to a regular phone line. To use this, upgrade to iOS 8 and enable in Settings -> Phone.
This is really outstanding.
Updates (September 12, 2013):
Since this post was published, more information has become clear. First, this MacWorld article has details about the Touch ID fingerprint reader. It’s very interesting.
Second, Apple pulled the iCloud Keychain feature from iOS 7 GM. This makes Touch ID a lot less useful. It looks like access to Touch ID is also not yet allowed for third party apps. This is a shame. My guess is that these two things have been delayed, not cancelled. Perhaps iOS 7.1 released alongside OS X Mavericks, which still lists iCloud Keychain as a feature?
Security vs Convenience
There is always a battle between security and convenience. Not only when it comes to technology, but in every aspect of our lives. Otherwise we wouldn’t have locks in our house doors that force us to carry keys everywhere.
When it comes to personal computing, the importance of security has increased exponentially. Smartphones are computers that have lots of personal data and that we carry with us everywhere. Contacts, email, apps with financial info, photographs of our family with embedded GPS coordinates… Someone with malicious intent can do a lot of damage if they get to your phone.
Not only do we carry all this with us, but we keep a lot of personal information online. Some websites may be good about safeguarding it. But many aren’t. Stolen databases are scarily common.
To make things worse, most people re-use the same password (or a few of them) everywhere. And to make things even worse, computer power and sophisticated tools for brute-force cracking of passwords are more effective than you would think, especially if you aren’t using particularly strong passwords.
Why do we do this? It’s the battle. We have limited human memories, and typing strong passwords on a phone is a pain in the ass. Tools like 1Password (I’m a big fan) are very helpful but they still add a layer of inconvenience to the user experience.
Fixing the security issue while adding convenience
Touch ID is a new fingerprint sensor that lives inside the home button of the iPhone 5s. Someone who doesn’t understand security may think it’s boring. But this both improves security (put your finger on the button, the software fills in a unique strong password for you) and removes inconvenience.
Other iPhone 5s features are important but incremental improvements: better camera, faster processor… this one is a leap in functionality. It’s a solution to one of the most annoying usability aspects of smartphones: typing passwords at all times. And it’s a solution to the most glaring problem with most user’s security: reusing weak passwords.
Why wasn’t it done before
Surely you’ve seen Lenovo or Dell laptops with fingerprint readers. Why didn’t anyone slap one on a phone before?
Because they sucked. They are large, slow, require a swipe, in a specific direction and are inaccurate. I don’t know of anyone who uses his other than when mandated by work. Just read this.
Now see the video about Touch ID.
All these technical challenges had to be solved in order to embed a fingerprint sensor into the iPhone 5s. There is a special new sensor, a sapphire crystal button, special co-processor hardware in the A7 chip for storing and decoding fingerprints, and code in the operating system to integrate the functionality. No other company could pull something like this off. Not Google, not Microsoft, not Samsung.
Anyone who is tech-savvy enough to read this blog has undoubtedly heard about the “Apple Maps debacle”. The press has written lots and lots about it – some justified, most over-simplified link bait, as follows:
- Apple hates Google ‘cuz they copied the iPhone
- Apple wants Google off the iPhone so it created its own Maps, got rid of Google Maps
- Apple Maps suck.
The reality is, of course, much more complicated. Since their negotiations happen behind closed doors, all we can do is use what we know and speculate on the rest. My take follows.
LTE service has been randomly popping up on my iPhone 5 in the North Austin area these past couple of days. Note that Sprint LTE has not yet launched in town.
It only lasts for a few minutes, and the speeds may differ from what we’ll get once it goes live. But the fact that they are testing is a sign that the launch is imminent.
Obviously, when I saw LTE, I had to run a speed test. Speeds were a little disappointing compared with what I’ve read about LTE; but are about a million times better than the notoriously slow Sprint 3G service. Boy I hate CDMA.
For comparison’s sake, here are other results I’ve gotten. They vary from run to run and each run depends on a lot of factors, like how far you are sitting from the cell phone tower or WiFi station, or how much other network traffic there is at the moment. But they do provide a good idea of what to expect:
|Provider||Ping (ms)||Download (Mbps)||Upload (Mbps)|
|Sprint LTE (Austin, test)||76||7.77||0.71|
|Sprint 3G (Austin)||332||0.21||0.44|
|Sprint LTE (Woodlands)||56||7.95||9.44|
|Home (Time Warner Cable)||85||16.90||2.18|
|AT&T LTE (Austin)||57||30.05||19.45|
As you can see, 3G is soooo slow you can almost hear this. Can’t wait for LTE to go live.
Update: Reader Rolando O. sent a screenshot of SpeedTest results in AT&T LTE. They are amazing. I’ve added the numbers to the table.
For over a decade, Microsoft — the monopolist of its era — treated its customers on Macs as second-class. Its Office suite never achieved parity with its Windows sibling, even when the differences were not dictated by platform architectures. Whether it was document compatibility, font-metrics, macros, integration with other Microsoft software or myriad other gotchas, Mac versions were always lacking. Every new version of Office promised better compatibility but never really delivered it. Worse, Microsoft never quite integrated Apple-grown technologies into Office to better blend it into the Mac ecosystem, claiming it would break cross-platform compatibility with the Windows versions.
Sadly, this wasn’t an occasional inconvenience but a source of daily frustration for millions of paying customers, corporations and individuals alike. With business so dependent on Office, Microsoft’s message was loud and clear: if you want the real thing switch to Windows.
Sufficiently annoyed by all the trouble, some users did.
Most didn’t, and haven’t forgiven Microsoft ever since.
Therein lies a lesson for Google
I should not need to spell out the analogy they are making, but here it goes anyway:
“Google Maps is to iOS is what Microsoft Office is to Mac OS”
To be fair, Mac users resent Microsoft for more than that. After all, Microsoft ripped off Apple’s groundbreaking user interface whole-heartedly when they created MS Windows.