I’ll start off by saying it was no mean feat getting my hands on a new iPhone 6 here in Helsinki. In fact, I had a bit of a nightmare … so I’ll just rant about that for a moment first.
Last year I got to my local Apple reseller at about 6am for the 5S release. There were probably 15 or so people in front of me. Even then I didn’t get the phone I wanted - the one single gold 16GB 5S they had was given to a guy that actually pushed right in front of me as we walked (and he and his reseller friends ran) in to the store. I wasn’t going to let that happen this time.
During the preceding week, one of the local resellers had told quite confidently that they’d be getting both models and a good selection of sizes and colours. They mentioned that they had had “an enormous amount” of pre-orders and that one of their stores would actually be opening early at 8am.
So on Thursday night I went off to bed at about 10pm and set my alarm for 4:30am. I made it to the store in the city centre for about 5:30am and was the first/only one there… I was the only one there until about 7:45am. I was then joined by another Apple fan who advised me that he had actually spoken to the store yesterday and that they wouldn’t be opening early and that they would only have space grey 16GB 6’s in stock. I hoped he was wrong.
He wasn’t. At 8am a staff member came out to ask what devices were were waiting for. I told him. He gave me a look as if to say ‘sorry, kid, I’m about to break your heart’. My queuing compatriot was right - all that had was a limited number of space grey 16GB 6’s. This wouldn’t do for me so I hot-footed it over to the nearest Sonera store. They also had a pop-up store in the middle of the square outside their store - the queue was probably 40 deep. I headed in to the shop and asked an exasperated looking employee if their phones were unlocked. He said yes and asked what I was after, so I ave him the details. He advised they had some left in the store and I should queue there. So I queued. And waited. And waited. There were only 10 in front of me in the store, but they were all taking out contracts, and while they did the the pop-up store outside was ferrying people in to take stock. By the time I got served all that was left was the space grey 16GB 6 (AGAIN) and a couple of 128GB 6 Plus’. Neither were what I wanted, so I left again.
I got over the the DNA store inside Kamppi and asked them what they had. Again just 16GB 6’s left, but out of the corner of my eye I spotted a glint of gold…I got the guy to check it - it wasn’t the 64GB version I wanted, but it was the only gold phone left in the three stores that I’d been to. So I cut my losses and just bought it. As I headed back I realised I needed a case and the only place in Helsinki that had any 6 or 6 Plus cases was the reseller I’d been queuing outside since 5:30am. As I got there they were just opening, so I ducked in, grabbed a read leather Apple case and got to the counter. The guy obviously thought I’d had no luck and was back to buy one of their phones along with the case. he seemed disappointed when I flashed the iPhone 6 box that was in my bag. It pained me to give them €49 for the case, but at least I hadn’t given them hundreds for the phone - I’ll certainly never buy anything from them again if I can help it.
Since then I’ve sold my gold 16GB iPhone 6 and managed to get a 64GB one (albeit a silver one) thanks to the guys at Kampus Data in Jyväskylä.
On to the phone…
I’ve had the 6 for a couple of months now. After having to live with my work Android HTC One M8 for 24 hours while I waited for my 64GB one to be couriered down, it was an absolute joy to get back to iOS - although that’s not to say that iOS 8 isn’t without it’s own problems.
As for the phone, it’s no surprise that I love it. I love the design, especially the curves glass edges - it makes gestures and swipes so much easier, more natural, and feel that much nicer on the rounded surface. The ’Tron lines’ as some people have called them - they are in fact plastic breaks in the metal body to allow for signal to/from the antennas - actually look quite nice, too. If there was one real negative to the 6 and its design, is that it’s maybe a bit too thin. While I like the form factor, I would actually have quite happily lived with a slightly thicker phone if we got some meaningful additional battery life. The battery in the 6 is an improvement on its predecessors and I can just about get through a day without a charge. But come the end of the day, I am constantly glancing at the battery percentage and always thinking that I would love to be able to get a few more hours out of it without having to worry about it!
The increased screen size also works well with optimised apps. The extra real-estate allows for more information on the screen. I have small hands, so there are times at which I long for the 5S size, but I generally use my phone two-handed so it’s never really that much of a problem. The thinness of the phone does mean that if you’re having to move it around in your hand to get to a corner you can’t reach it does feel as if it could slip at any moment - especially if you don’t have a case on it. The metal back and the rounded edges make it seem that bit more slippery.
There’s not really an awful lot more to say about the design that hasn’t been said already. Although I do still get “does it bend?” comments from the occasional idiot. For the record, please don’t ever say that to me, even if you think you’re being funny in some way!
Most of the hardware has been updated. The new screens look great (even if they’re not sapphire), the internal guts have been improved (new M8 Motion and Apple A8 processors) and the device continues to perform well with no lag that I’ve noticed. And the camera (that I now use more due to a larger capacity phone and additional paid iCloud storage) has improved very slightly, but combined with the onboard software processing it’s still pushing boundaries (for mobile, at least). I’m no photography expert by any means, but even I can see the improvement in the pictures compared to previous models, and friends of mine who are photography nuts love the camera on the 6, but even more so on the 6 Plus.
Apart from the design overhaul, the other big step forward within the iPhone ecosystem has been iOS 8.
I ran the betas of the OS (from beta 3 onwards) and was generally impressed. Crashes and resprings were rare, apps were stable and the bits of the new functionality we were seeing promised a lot. But, alas, iOS ran in to a lot of problems after release.
After release we saw 8.0.1 come out. Immediately a number of iPhone 6 Plus users reported issues with their cellular network connectivity and their Touch ID. Apple stopped signing the digital certificates for it within a couple of hours and then pulled the update altogether as soon as they could. A day or two later we saw 8.0.2 which fixed the problems with 8.0.1. Not long after that we got 8.1 which had a host of fixes and improvements, and then about 30 days after that 8.1.1 with further performance improvements for older devices and a few bug fixes. 8.2 is currently in beta.
An issue which also seems to be ‘plaguing’ iOS devices, as well as OS X Yosemite users, is wifi issues. I’ve even experienced it myself on my MacBook Pro and my iPhone 6. From reports over the last few days this seems to be an issue with the connectivity when the devices are using their new hand-off and continuity features in the background. While it’s a pain to put the phone in to Airplane mode and back, or to disconnect/reconnect the wifi on my Mac, it’s not the end of the world, and this will hopefully be resolved in 8.2
The continuity and hand-off features have generally worked well for me. I like that calls from my phone can be forwarded to my iPad and MacBook, as well as text messages. Although it can get slightly annoying when you get a call and every device in the house starts ringing simultaneously. The hand-off features I haven’t really needed to use yet. While the feature has potential, it’s still early days for it and I don’t find it too functional at the moment. I find I’ll look at my messages or calendar on one of my devices, finish what I’m doing, but then when I go to my Mac it’ll show me I can quickly access them even though I hadn’t left anything half done (in most cases I’m just checking an entry or reading a message). Or I’ll use Safari on my Mac and then I go to my device I’ll get the option to carry on (I could already open Safari and look at tabs on my MacBook any way with iCloud syncing), so this seems pointless. But once this is opened up to developers and utilised by other apps it could become useful.
Some features that I love include Touch ID and ‘widgets’. I’ve loved Touch ID since it was first introduced on the 5S. On the 5S it could be a bit hit and miss. If your finger was wet or greasy it would fail - but not on the 6! After more than 2 months, I have not had the Touch ID fail even once on me. It has read my fingerprint first time, every time. There are even times when it’s too good - it will unlock the phone before I’ve even realised or even know what I’m about to do. I also really like the widgets that you can now add to the Today view in the Notification Centre. Initially I added every widget that was developed and supported, but found I didn’t use any of them, so I removed them all. But since, I’ve added the Evernote widget - really great for taking quick notes and making quick reminders, and the Living Earth widget. The Today view gives you a brief summary of the weather, but the Living Earth app expands on it nicely, with a high level temperature reading for the cities you’ve set up in the app and a bit more detail on your default city with the high/low temps, sunrise time, humidity and dew point.
As previously mentioned, I’m no real photographer, but I’ve started to use the camera a bit more. A couple of great additions that really surprised me were the time-lapse feature and the slow-mo features. Both work really well and the quality on the videos I took were excellent.
Apple Pay isn’t yet here in Finland (still US only), but I can’t wait for this feature in the coming … years (knowing Finland). From the videos I’ve seen and conversations with people who have used it, the process is easy and seamless and works in an instant. For those of us who have lived in ‘cashless’ cities like London, where SO MUCH is tap and pay with NFC equipped debit/credit cards, this can’t come too soon!
And now for the iPad Air 2...
I owned the first few iPads, but hadn’t owned one since I sold my 3rd gen iPad over a year ago. I've had no real use-case for one since leaving the UK really. I wasn’t working for my first year in Finland, so gone were the days of spending hours on trains and planes every single week for work as I did in back home. But this summer I eventually found a permanent job and also started my own podcast. The use-case for an iPad increased - even if just to talk about and review on the podcast!
To keep this as short as possible, see all of the above in regards to the software.
As for the iPad itself - wow! Tablet sales are generally plateauing (apart from the likes of China) and a lot of this is down to Apple making products that are almost ‘too good’ and being their own worst enemy. The iPad isn’t peoples all-day device like their phone is, so they upgrade less. The hardware in the iPads means that even the older ones are still running fine and there’s little need for the average person to upgrade for a number of years after purchase. While I like to have the newest and shiniest tech, I can see this iPad lasting me at least a couple of years, if not more.
The hardware in this things is amazing. A new laminated IPS LED screen makes HD apps, photos and videos look amazing. While the PPI is still 264 (the same as the previous Air), air gaps in the screen design have been eliminated meaning the LED lights are now closer to the glass. This means that the display looks like it’s right there on the glass or right on your finger as your touch the screen. There’s also the Apple A8X chip and M8 Motion chip, and combined with the 2GB of RAM inside, it makes the device lightning fast. And because of the onboard power and memory management and efficiencies, even with 2GB of RAM it still easily outperforms its competitors that have 3GB, and even 4GB, of RAM.
The camera has been bumped up from 5MP to 8MP and the low-light sensor improved, although I’ve found it to not be all that great in low light (the iPhone pictures above were taken with the iPad Air 2), but if it’s the only ‘camera’ to hand, it does a pretty decent overall job and the amazing screen makes a great view-finder.
The battery has been reduced in size (to make the device thinner), but due to the energy management in iOS 8 you still get days worth of use out of it. The previous Air (and current Minis) are 7.4mm thick. The Air 2 - 6.1mm. While that doesn’t seem much, it’s really noticeable when you hold it with one of the older devices. It feels great in the hand. The weight has also reduced slightly and is evenly distributed (as with the iPhones), so that it’s deceptively light in the hand.
It also now comes with Touch ID. I’m not sure I could go from the 5S and 6 with Touch ID to an iOS device of any kind without Touch ID now. I truly feel sorry for those people that have to input their passcodes, to quote Rene Ritchie, “like animals”. As with the iPhone 6, the Touch ID on the Air 2 has been flawless so far. the improved sapphire sensor and iOS 8 improvements mean it’s the best fingerprint reader I’ve used.
Readers of my blog and listeners of the podcast will know I’m an Apple fan, but I have to say that these really are the best devices in their respective categories that I’ve used. If you’re due an upgrade, especially if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, I’d highly recommend both of these devices.
If you’ve recently got yourself and iPhone 6, 6 Plus, iPad Air 2, or one of the new iPad Minis (2), let me know what you think of them in the comments - both good and bad!