Adapting to change: a review of Apple's larger 4.7-inch iPhone 6 vs. the smaller 4-inch iPhone 5s

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2015
The jump from the iPhone 5 series's 4-inch form factor to the 4.7-inch display on the iPhone 6 is a big change that might not appeal to everyone. Thankfully, Apple offers a 14-day return policy, and still continues to sell the 4-inch iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, for those who might find themselves with an oversized case of buyers' remorse.




I really like the iPhone 6, but I want to love the iPhone 6. Unfortunately, in my first days of using Apple's latest flagship phone, I have found myself struggling to come to grips with it.

As someone who has made efforts to cut down on jangling keychains and oversized wallets in my pocket, and who never used a protective case on their iPhone, I like my phones small. Frankly, my purchase of the iPhone 6 was an apprehensive one. And the gigantic iPhone 6 Plus wasn't even a consideration.

After spending a week with the iPhone 6, I've discovered that pocket space isn't my issue -- loss of control is.

You see, the iPhone 6 is a wonderful two-handed phone. It's light and thin and feels great. The screen is gorgeous. Typing is also much easier -- as long as I have two hands free, of course.

But holding and controlling the iPhone 6 with one hand is both frustrating and precarious.

Having used an iPhone since 2007, I've become accustomed to holding my handset with a sort of "death grip." I've never used a protective case on my iPhone. I didn't drop my iPhone, and never cracked a screen, because I could securely grip it.


The iPhone 5s "death grip," safe and secure without a case.


But gripping the iPhone 6 with one hand results in loss of control. And that loss of control means it may not be for everyone.

A long time coming

A bigger iPhone didn't always seem inevitable.

When the first iPhone was released in 2007, its 3.5-inch screen was one of the largest on the market. "Smartphones," at the time, weren't very smart at all.

Things quickly began to shift, though, and in a race to outdo the iPhone, competitors packed in more features; early high-speed cellular radios, for instance, that drained battery at a considerable clip. To compensate for this, smartphones started to get bigger, because a bigger phone can hold a bigger battery.

Of course, no one wants their phone to get thicker, so it was the display that grew. More screen space means more room for a larger battery in a "candybar"-style handset.

And while jumbo-sized phones may have initially been introduced to consumers for different reasons, in the end people liked and even preferred them. Big, bright, beautiful screens display more content, are easier to type on, and make activities such as watching a movie far more enjoyable.


Cradling the iPhone 6 one-handed to reach more of the screen.


It turns out a lot of people don't mind carrying a "phablet" in their pocket.

By the time it launched in 2013, the iPhone 5s had the smallest screen size of any flagship smartphone on the market. The world had changed for the bigger.

The truth is, Apple was leaving money on the table by not catering to consumers who prefer larger screen sizes. Though the company prided itself in offering one-handed smartphone usage, consumers indicated they were willing to sacrifice that convenience to gain the advantages of a bigger screen.

In the end, a bigger iPhone became inevitable.

Going bigger

My first week with the iPhone 6 has shown me that my traditional one-handed "death grip" that kept previous iPhones secure isn't going to work anymore. Squeezing the iPhone 6 between my palm and fingertips restricts my thumb too much.

Instinctively, I will still pick up my phone and grip it in this manner before realizing I cannot reach where I want. Apple has attempted to compensate for this with its new "Reachability" feature that brings the display down to a more manageable area for a single screen press before automatically re-expanding.


Reachability aids one-handed use, but it's a somewhat clunky fix.


I'm glad Reachability is there, but I don't find myself using it. It's unnatural and somewhat inconvenient, and it doesn't work with some functions like handling banner alerts for notifications. Instead, I've found myself adjusting my grip to reach the top of the screen. But even there, old habits die hard.

Using the iPhone 6 with one hand works best when cradled --?not squeezed -- with my thumb positioned about halfway up the screen. This allows me to extend my palm to allow my thumb to reach the top far corner of the display, while also keeping the home button at the bottom accessible.

To have this much reach, I simply cannot comfortably grip my fingertips on the other side of the phone. Maybe people with bigger hands than me could manage, but my relatively normal-sized hands are not capable of this.


Cradling, not gripping, an iPhone 6 feels precarious.


Instead, I'm forced to rest my iPhone 6 on my fingertips. No more death grip.

It feels like dropping it is inevitable.

Trade-offs

Thankfully, it's not all bad. Apple's decision to adopt rounded edges with the iPhone 6 is a welcome change. I hadn't fully realized how uncomfortable the chamfered edges of the iPhone 5s were in my hand before spending a week with the iPhone 6.

Similarly, the rounded edges of the display are also a fantastic change. Side-screen gestures, like swiping to go back in Safari and other iOS apps, feel much more comfortable with these softened edges.


The rounded edges of the iPhone 6 are more comfortable than the sharp chamfered edges of the iPhone 5s.


Moving the lock button to the right side of the iPhone 6 does take some getting used to, but after a week I've adjusted.

Here again, my biggest problem has been my grip: I've found myself squeezing both sides of the phone to lock it, which on numerous occasions has led to me pressing one of the volume buttons at the same time. Simultaneously pressing the lock button and a volume button prevents the phone from being locked. It's only been a week, but I'm adapting.

My iPhone 5s is still around, and I've been switching between the two phones. Every time I go back to pick up the iPhone 5s, I'm torn.

The smaller 4-inch screen is much better for one-handed use. It just feels right.

The chamfered edges stick out too, though. They never bothered me before, but now they do.


In a pocket or in an armband, the iPhone 6 doesn't feel much bigger. In the hand, it's a different story.


Some iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c or even iPhone 5 users will try the iPhone 6 and they'll want to stay put. The screen size is a big change, and I imagine a fair number of people don't want it.

For those switching from another platform, or from an even older iPhone with a smaller 3.5-inch screen, Apple still offers the iPhone 5s in capacities of 16 and 32 gigabytes. The iPhone 5c is still around too, for those who don't care about Touch ID. Both are still great phones, and will make compelling options for many users.

But how much longer will the 4-inch size stick around? It's beginning to look like the end, and I've decided to adapt.

Acceptance

I am going to stick with the iPhone 6, but mostly because it's something of a necessity. I write about Apple for a living, and owning the company's latest and greatest technology is an important part of staying familiar and current. But to be fair, there are other reasons I'm sticking around.

Apple Pay is around the corner, and I'm looking forward to being able to pay for things with my phone. The NFC-based Apple Pay won't support previous-generation handsets like the iPhone 5s.


Reaching the entire iPhone 5s screen while securely gripping it is not an issue.


The larger screen does make it easier to type with two hands. The improved camera, even though it protrudes, is a nice upgrade. The rounded edges of the iPhone 6 make holding it and performing edge swiping gestures more comfortable. And the beefed-up A8 processor that powers the iPhone 6 helps seal the deal.

But in testing the iPhone 6 for a week, every time I went back and picked up my iPhone 5s, it felt nice. It fit securely in my hand, and it felt more manageable.

Prior to the launch of the iPhone 6, Apple was the only company making first-class smartphones with smaller screens in the 4-inch range. Today, it's still making those phones, but in the form of previous-generation models. Extinction feels imminent.

Is the 4-inch screen size now in Apple's rear-view mirror? Maybe. But after spending a week with the iPhone 6, I've realized that I would like a handset with its same design --?aluminum back and rounded edges -- featuring a smaller screen. I'm guessing I'm not alone.




Users looking to upgrade who are reluctant about the screen size of the iPhone 6 should try for themselves and keep an open mind. I found myself worried about pocket space, but in the end came away more concerned with usage.

Apple has a 14-day return policy, so those with buyers' remorse can always change their mind. The upgrades and improvements in the iPhone 6 are too significant to ignore, but ultimately, for some people, may not offer enough to justify the jump.

I'm staying put with the iPhone 6, and, for the first time ever, I will probably put a protective case on my handset, for fear of dropping it. In that respect, the iPhone 6 is less of an upgrade and more of a compromise.

Here's hoping that, in the years to come, Apple compromises, and doesn't forget about us one-handers.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 282
    Very nice overview. Thanks!
  • Reply 2 of 282
    thanks! well written and very helpful observations.
  • Reply 3 of 282
    I agree with you on this. 4in is just the right size for me, for all the reasons you mentioned. But it seems the loudest voices have won, as usuall.
  • Reply 4 of 282
    onhkaonhka Posts: 1,025member



    My wish:

     

    An iPhone 5 Plus, i.e., an iPhone 6 Plus inside an iPhone 5 case (not 5c or 5s)

     

    Right shape. Right size. Right functions. IMO.

     

    Like, why would I buy hockey gloves when the only game I play now is golf?

  • Reply 5 of 282
    This was a great, honest appraisal of the 6 and the 5s. I find it admirable of AI to publish it.

    I look forward to trying out the 6 at the time the new iPad comes out. I, too, wish Apple would bring out the 6 design in a 4" size. I find it hard to imagine that next year their smallest offering could be 4.7".

    I suspect that if Apple bring out a 12.9" iPad, I may well go with a 5s. If they only bring out an updated Air, the 6 may win me over.
  • Reply 6 of 282
    mazda 3smazda 3s Posts: 1,608member
    Great write up!

    I went from an iPhone 5 to an iPhone 6 -- the monstrous 6 Plus wasn't even a consideration. I too find it to be a bit harder to get a more secure grip (and it feels a lot more slippery). But after a week I've pretty much adjusted. Those few days were brutal though.
  • Reply 7 of 282



    Excellent review..

    I don't need to have Apples latest, I choose to, because I like to. I too was hoping for a iPhone6 s(mall) i.e. 3 versions. Same display size as 5S, but with all the chamfering and all the other features.

    Carrying my iPhone 6 in my jeans front pocket is not really an issue, simply using it one handed is simply not as easy as with the smaller phone, its just too big.

  • Reply 8 of 282
    I am with the late mr. Jobs, 4 inch is enough for me, and I don't want bigger. So I'm gonna stick with the iPhone 5 I have now, in the hope that sometime in the future Apple will come with the 'iPhone mini', as it were....
  • Reply 9 of 282

    I tried the 6 yesterday in a store. Exactly the same conclusion as the article, great screen, but too big to hold comfortably.

     

    And the price is getting too high over here, e.g. €800 for 64GB iPhone6 (not subsidised over here). Difference with Android or Windows phones is getting too high. I really like the family functionalities with iCloud, but buying one for my wife and 3 kids ...

  • Reply 10 of 282
    pazuzupazuzu Posts: 1,728member
    And there you have it- thank god I kept my 5S and thank god Apple still offers it. These Samsung sized phones just don't do it for me. It was a mistake - like Mercedes offering a pinto shaped car because everyone bought pintos. Back to the drawing board Jony.
  • Reply 11 of 282
    I switched to a 6 from a 4, so I had an even bigger change to deal with. Overall, I've found that I've adjusted pretty quickly to the larger size. I did change my grip, though (at least when I need to use the upper portions of the screen). Now I tend to let the phone rest on my fingers, and then pivot my thumb back and forth if I need to reach the top of the screen. I actually found myself doing that naturally.

    Reachability is definitely a WIP, I really only use it occasionally.

    The only thing I feel really suffers with the current design are screenshots. They're harder to time right now with the button location changes.

    [IMG ALT=""]http://forums.appleinsider.com/content/type/61/id/49748/width/350/height/700[/IMG]

    Overall, I prefer the 4.7" as a true successor to the 3.5". The 4" screen always felt claustrophobic when I used people's 5-series phones, as they were so narrow when compared to the height. And I don't believe my hands are unnaturally large either.
  • Reply 12 of 282

    Good observation, although it might be a little harder to cradle/hold for most. It's an excellent size for those with bigger hands. I was initially inclined to keep the iPhone 6 Plus but after using it for a few days it felt a lot bigger and harder to handle single handed than the iPhone 6 which feels just the right size of big.

  • Reply 13 of 282
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by pazuzu View Post



    And there you have it- thank god I kept my 5S and thank god Apple still offers it. These Samsung sized phones just don't do it for me. It was a mistake - like Mercedes offering a pinto shaped car because everyone bought pintos. Back to the drawing board Jonny.



    no - it wasn't a mistake. larger phones suit a lot of people, if it was a mistake i doubt sales figures would have been so amazing. we are almost an apple household, but one of my sons insisted on a larger phone last year - passed on the iPhone.

    what would have been welcome for me and many others would have been a smaller iPhone 6, similar size or possibly even smaller than 5S

  • Reply 14 of 282
    pazuzupazuzu Posts: 1,728member

    no - it wasn't a mistake. larger phones suit a lot of people, if it was a mistake i doubt sales figures would have been so amazing. we are almost an apple household, but one of my sons insisted on a larger phone last year - passed on the iPhone.
    what would have been welcome for me and many others would have been a smaller iPhone 6, similar size or possibly even smaller than 5S

    The masses for the first time dictated to Apple what to produce and not the other way around- hardly innovative and yes a mistake.
    A souped up 5S would indeed be welcomed. Maybe mid year or next.
  • Reply 15 of 282
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,418member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post

    This was a great, honest appraisal of the 6 and the 5s. I find it admirable of AI to publish it.

    I look forward to trying out the 6 at the time the new iPad comes out. I, too, wish Apple would bring out the 6 design in a 4" size. I find it hard to imagine that next year their smallest offering could be 4.7".

    I suspect that if Apple bring out a 12.9" iPad, I may well go with a 5s. If they only bring out an updated Air, the 6 may win me over.

    The choices you mention go to the heart of the trade-off issues driving the evolution of all these devices.

     

    I still have a month to wait for my 6 to arrive, so I'm not sure how I'll feel about handling it.

    But as "handleable" as my 4 is, I can't favor it as a browsing or photo-viewing device.

    I just hope my wide, short hands with arthritic thumb can accommodate my more view-worthy replacement.

  • Reply 16 of 282
    pazuzu wrote: »
    The masses for the first time dictated to Apple what to produce and not the other way around- hardly innovative and yes a mistake.
    A souped up 5S would indeed be welcomed. Maybe mid year or next.

    Why do you assume the team at Apple didn't want larger phones themselves? They're people too, you know...
  • Reply 17 of 282
    pazuzupazuzu Posts: 1,728member
    I switched to a 6 from a 4, so I had an even bigger change to deal with. Overall, I've found that I've adjusted pretty quickly to the larger size. I did change my grip, though (at least when I need to use the upper portions of the screen). Now I tend to let the phone rest on my fingers, and then pivot my thumb back and forth if I need to reach the top of the screen. I actually found myself doing that naturally.

    Reachability is definitely a WIP, I really only use it occasionally.

    The only thing I feel really suffers with the current design are screenshots. They're harder to time right now with the button location changes.

    700

    Overall, I prefer the 4.7" as a true successor to the 3.5". The 4" screen always felt claustrophobic when I used people's 5-series phones, as they were so narrow when compared to the height. And I don't believe my hands are unnaturally large either.

    Very interesting post. Now I will have to try the 6 out because the 4S was to me the perfect phone. What case do you use?
  • Reply 18 of 282
    Don't listen to him. Keep telling yourself, "I want that bigger screen. I've got to have that bigger screen. My life will be incomplete without that bigger screen." Then sell your iPhone 5 or 5s, so I can afford to get one used. My writer's budget can afford new with a contract.

    More seriously, What you describe suggests that Apple's making a mistake only keeping grandfathered versions with a smaller screen around. If your average guy hands have trouble with the iPhone 6, imagine the situation with smaller women. And in my experience some women like their cell phones small. A Japanese friend had one so small, I told her it didn't look real, that it was a 'Barbie Doll" phone.

    Eventually, Apple's executives will wake up the fact that their market share is too large to be managed with one (or now two) models. They need several to cover the market, models with different screen sizes, battery life and perhaps even a ruggedized sport model.
  • Reply 19 of 282
    Hopefully, Apple's future iPhone line-up will look something like this:

    iPhone 7 Mini (4" screen)
    iPhone 7 (4.7" screen)
    iPhone 7 Plus (5.5" screen)
  • Reply 20 of 282
    pazuzu wrote: »
    Very interesting post. Now I will have to try the 6 out because the 4S was to me the perfect phone. What case do you use?

    Incipio DualPro. Adds just enough thickness that I enjoy carrying the phone around in my hand more than ever before. Even with the case it's still thinner than my 4 was without a case.
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