We are officially in upgrade season! I am well aware of the daunting task of sorting through all of the different options for smartphones. There are just so many players in the game it can get overwhelming quickly.
What follows is a simple breakdown of my TOP FIVE favorites phones. I’m including a few links to other reviews for each phone, to give you a well-rounded opinion of each device. To keep things simple here, I’m focusing on a few key features of each phone, which I’ve found to be important to the majority of consumers, from the tech-savvy to the casual user. So here we go!
Disclaimer #1: This list is not in order of preference. I’m not awarding medals here, just giving a shorter list than you’ll find with the carriers.
Disclaimer #2: I’m sticking strictly with the high-end smartphones. If you are upgrading, you can usually get a good deal regarding up-front cost, and the monthly cost will be consistent to what you’re used to. As a general rule, upgrading at least every two years is the best way to make sure you have a smooth experience with your phone. Things just change too quickly! If you want to stick with a Mid-Tier phone, definitely try to get your hands on the MOTO G, which is an amazing phone for $180!
On with the list:
Moto X (2nd or 3rd generation)
Motorola has been making great phones for the past three years, with the “Moto X” line. These phones are defined by high
quality build, simple operating system, and small physical size (when compared to the actual screen size). The 3rd Gen Moto X was just announced in August. This phone is HUGE. 5.7 inches makes it a “phablet” and those who want the smaller handset should steer clear. The 2nd generation is still a very good phone, and smaller, so you’ve got options. The 3rd Gen Moto X did vastly improve the camera though, so if that’s important, bear it in mind (though it still is not as good as Samsung and iPhone).
iPhone 6S/iPhone 6S Plus
I had the iPhone 6 for a while, and I thought it was a perfect phone. Great size (4.7 inch screen). Great camera. Decent battery life. If you like Apple, the iPhone 6 is a great choice. I am currently using an iPhone 6 Plus, but that 5.5 inch screen is just too big for me! Apple announced their new iPhones on September 9th. As with all “S” models, the form factor has not changed. This phone looks the same as the previous models. They have vastly improved the camera with 12MP, and optical image stabilization (helps shaky hands take clear pics). They’ve added a 5MP front camera, and are using the screen itself to make a “flash” for selfies. the screen itself has been improved with the use of “3D Touch” which makes it so you can do different things when you press the screen versus just tap the screen (this tech is based on the Apple Watch screen). Overall it’s a good “off-year” for the iPhone, but if you want major changes, wait another year for iPhone 7.
This has been my primary phone for the past six months. Samsung made a beautiful phone with the Galaxy S6. Metal and glass construction, it feels incredibly similar to the iPhone (almost too similar). With a 5.1 screen, it’s big but not too big. The operating system is intuitive, and camera is great. I particularly like the “wide-screen selfie” feature and that you can snap a photo by tapping the flash on the back of the phone (less cumbersome than finding the button on the screen. The Samsung Galaxy S6 also offers turbo charge (15min gets you 40% battery) and wireless charging, which is pretty cool. If you aren’t into Apple, the Galaxy S6 is definitely the way to go at the moment.
If you want something different, Samsung is also offering the Galaxy S6 Edge, which has curved edges. My experience with that device proved to me that the edges look cool but offer little in enhancement, and only make it harder to hold. If you want something really big, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge PLUS just release, with a 5.5 screen size. Again it looks really cool, but for me is a pain to use, especially with the huge size.
I hated the LG G3, so I wasn’t even going to include it, but a buddy let me play around with the G4 the other week, and my opinion suddenly changed. The LG G4 is a very different type of phone. It features a 5.5 inch screen, but the phone size is pretty small, all things considered. LG definitely took a card out of Motorola’s deck, in terms of making sure big screens doesn’t mean gigantic phones. The LG G4 features a leather back, in varying textures and colors. It feels great! The other odd thing about LG is that they moved the power and volume buttons to the back of the phone. It seems like an odd choice, but I am starting to see the logic of it, and it makes those edges super thin. All they need is a fingerprint scanner on the back, but that’s not here yet (maybe G5 next year!)
Finally we come to HTC. I used the HTC One (M8) for six months last year (that’s pretty much the longest I use a device). I loved the feel of the phone (all metal). The screen was brilliantly bright, and the device was lightning fast. But my big beef was related to the extra space used for the company logo on the front (my opinions can be seen here). You’d think they’d finally fix that with the M9, but that was not the case.
The HTC One (M9) is a minor improvement over the previous model. The camera was switched from 4 ultra pixels (which no one ever understood, including me), to 16 mega pixels. But lots of pixels doesn’t mean a better camera, and HTC has lost it’s way a bit here. Still, when compared to ANY mid-tier smartphone the HTC One (M9) and (M8) are heads are shoulders above in terms of picture quality. So as I knock on the camera, it still has a place among these top-tier phones. The HTC One (M9) also updated their operating system to adapt based on your current location. This functionality can be achieved through “launcher applications” like “Everything Me“, but HTC has it built it, which is actually a pretty cool thing. I imagine other smartphone makers will be looking at options like this in future models.
Oh those giant smartphones!! The line between phone and phablet is roughly 5.5 inches. You have a few options. We’ve already talked about the iPhone 6S Plus, Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, and LG G4. Another popular phablet worth considering, if you’re in the market for a big phone is the recently release Galaxy Note 5. They took the materials that built the Galaxy S6 line of phones (metal and glass) and blasted it to 5.7 inches. As always with the Note line, there is a stylus. This time around they have focused as much on the stylus as the phone, and my experience with it was great. In my opinion, any phone over 5.5 inches should have a stylus, so Samsung is leading the pack there.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, you’ve got tons of options. Hopefully this list is helpful in sorting through what makes these high-tier models different from each other. In the end, there’s no right answer for everyone. Some live and die for iPhone; while others believe Android is the only way to go. Some say 5.5 inch Phablets are ridiculously large, but at the same time, I know many people who wouldn’t want any other size. So head to your nearest carrier and get these phones in your hands before you drop the coin, and I’m sure you’ll find something that works great for you!
Happy Smartphone Shopping!
The newest iPhone is out and people are clamoring to get their hands on it. The fact that Apple sold over 10 million units in the first weekend seems to indicate at least some level of consumer interest. If you google iPhone 6 you will find no shortage of reviews about Apple’s newest phone offering. You’ll see things about design and durability. But, like many tech sites, many of these reviews can become quite technical. What you’ll find here are my first impressions of the iPhone 6 Plus, and how I think it can make life easier, or harder, as the case may be.
iPhone 6 Plus – Disclaimer
The iPhone 6 Plus is BIG. I’m saying that from the perspective of a guy who used a 5 inch HTC One (M8) for a period of time, and thought that was big. If you are at all leery about having a huge phone, read no further, the iPhone 6 (with it’s 4.7 inch screen) is your best choice. But if you are okay with a phone that won’t fit in your pocket (unless you bend it!) and a phone that will constantly require a second hand to use it efficiently, read on.
The Cup Half Full
So how does the iPhone 6 Plus make the phone experience better? First off is the design. Compared to the Note4 or LG G3 (two competing phablets), the iPhone 6 Plus is a beauty. It’s super thin. It’s smooth aluminum back and rounded corners are an absolute delight to look at and it feels great in the hand (though I recommend a case to avoid it slipping out of your hand, here’s mine). The long held design of the screen (with an app bar at the bottom, and stat information at the top) make much better use of the space compared to rivals, which only makes the screen seem larger and more useful.
The phone has a larger battery, which should allow for much longer periods between charges. Only time will tell though. The device also has an improved camera with image stabilization. This could be a big deal. In simplest terms, the camera in the iPhone 6 Plus is designed to help those of us with shaky hands. Not a feature to underestimate. Finally, the iPhone 6 Plus has some innovations in the way the screen works, taking full advantage of the larger screen. This means that some apps (like email and messages) will actually look different than the apps on the smaller iPhone 6. Also when the phone is in landscape mode, the “app drawer” will move from the bottom to the side. Seems funny to me that the iPad Mini doesn’t even do that. So there are no shortage of good things going on with the iPhone 6 Plus, but the pendulum still swings both ways, and this is where the device starts to worry me.
The Cup Half Empty
While beautiful in design, the iPhone 6 Plus has one “big” problem. This device is huge. But here’s the trick; it’s supposed to be. It’s a phablet, which is the horrid word somebody came up with to describe a device that is part Phone and part Tablet. When the phablet device came into it’s own with the Samsung Galaxy Note, the device had a very specific purpose. It was a device competing more with the 7 inch tablets than against 5 inch phones. It was and is a device for “power users”. You know the corporate types that used to live in their blackberry screens. The phablet is trying to be more than a phone. In terms of regular consumers, the phablet is a good choice if you don’t already own a tablet device (iPad, Nexus 7, etc.) If you don’t want two devices, the phablet bridges the gap (which is even more relevant when cost is factored in). And that’s what the iPhone 6 Plus is. It’s a phablet. But I worry that through a combination of factors, both on the part of Apple and consumers, people don’t realize this. And that could be a problem down the road. I’ll explain.
By launching both iPhones together, Apple made it look like they were selling two sizes of the same device. When in fact they are selling the next iPhone (iPhone 6) and their first phablet (iPhone 6 Plus). People jumping from the 3.5 inch screen of the iPhone 4/4S or the 4 inch screen of the iPhone 5/5S are in for serious culture shock when they try to wrap their hands around the case holding the massive 5.5 inch screen of the iPhone 6 Plus. I believe that Apple set the precedent a year ago when they released the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C at the same time. The iPhone 5C was clearly the silver medal to the gold of the iPhone 5S. So most people think the same is the case with the current generation of the iPhones. That reasoning would lead people to conclude the iPhone 6 Plus is the one to get if you want the “best” one. And that’s why the backorders for the larger device stand at 3-4 weeks, where you can get your hands on the iPhone 6 in 7-10 days. And after waiting all those agonizing weeks, these new iPhone 6 Plus users are going to realize that their new phone requires two hands for most of the things it can do. And while we might think that’s a small thing, that’s probably because we’ve grown so accustomed to single handed cell phones we take that convenience for granted.
Both iPhone 6 models have a new feature to help address the increased screen size, and it’s called Reachability. Basically you double TAP (not click) the home button and the screen lowers itself about 1.5 inches, bringing the top of the screen closer to your waiting thumb. On the iPhone 6 this functionality works very well. But based on my hands-on experiences with the iPhone 6 Plus, based on where we generally place our hand when holding the phone, the size makes it virtually impossible to reach either the home button (for the tapping) or the top of the screen (to pull down notifications). You must either move your hand down or up, or use your other hand to tap the home button. And that is a problem that “reachability” on the iPhone 6 Plus didn’t fix.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
So think carefully as you consider the iPhone 6 Plus, over the iPhone 6. While you get increased batter life, a better camera, and a larger screen, you also must contend with a massive phone in your pockets and in your hands. That’s my biggest beef with the iPhone 6 Plus. It’s so much like the iPhone 6, just much much bigger.
Apple has designed a beautiful phone, no doubt, but I believe the 4.7 inch design of the iPhone 6 is the current sweet spot as far as comfort and usability. But if you want the larger screen, the iPhone 6 Plus certainly has enough to offer to make it worth it. Though one of these thumb extenders might come in handy…