As part of my job reviewing smartphones for TechSpot, I find myself using Android devices most of the time, purely because the vast majority of handsets released in any one year run Google’s operating system. I’ve dabbled in the iOS ecosystem from time to time, but it’s been years since I’ve actually picked up an iPhone and used it as my daily driver.
With the recent launch of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, I thought now would be the perfect time to pick up one of Apple’s latest smartphones and use it exclusively for two weeks. What follows are my thoughts on the phone and the ecosystem as primarily an Android user, how the two experiences compare, and whether long-time Android users should contemplate an iOS switch.
This is my gold iPhone 6s, featuring an awesome wooden skin from dbrand
Apple is known to deliver stellar out-of-box experiences for their products, and the iPhone 6s is no exception. The smartphone is presented in attractive packaging, and the setup utility is very easy to navigate through, more so than what Android and its OEMs provide on most occasions. After five minutes entering in my Apple ID and some other basic information, I was ready to go.
The iOS homescreen has barely changed since the launch of the first iPhone, and in some ways that’s a good thing. The iPhone 6s displays a 6x4 grid of apps on each screen, with an additional four apps in the dock; no widgets, panels or app drawers clog up this area, resulting in a main screen that includes every app you’ve installed on the device. There were some unnecessary apps pre-loaded on the device that I couldn’t uninstall (the Watch app comes to mind), but I quickly hid these away in a folder. Not ideal but does the job.
One of the big changes coming from Android is the lack of widgets. On Android I would usually use a clock/weather widget and something to display my upcoming events, but on iOS you can’t have this information easily available on the main screen. I’m not a heavy widget user, but the lack of information present on the homescreen at a quick glance is disappointing.
Most ‘at-a-glance’ information is hidden away in one of two areas: the lock screen and slide-down notification center. Normally information on the lock screen wouldn’t really be ‘hidden’, but the speed of Touch ID in unlocking the device often prevents you from reading what’s in there. I’d class this as a pretty good issue to run in to: the speed of unlocking is one of the many advantages to using Touch ID, as it secures my device without slowing down its use.
Coming from Android, the notification center is a bit of a letdown. Notification snippets are short, and there’s no interactivity within the center, aside from simply opening the associated app. I really miss having the ability to archive or reply to emails via Android notification quick actions, which is something you can only do in iOS immediately after a notification is received.
With that said, I did like the ‘Today’ tab, which shows information ranging from the date, weather and upcoming events, to anything you want third party apps to display, all in an easy-to-read format. This somewhat makes up for the lack of widgets, but it would be more useful if it were integrated into the home screens rather than hidden away in a pull-down menu.
The iOS Control Center is a decent replacement for Android’s quick settings panel, although in some ways it’s less flexible. There are controls to switch on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb and more, as well as a brightness slider, music controls and shortcuts to useful utilities such as the timer and calculator; but what you don’t get is the ability to customize this menu in any way. On my Galaxy S6, for example, I can set up quick settings toggles for mobile data access, GPS, and power saving modes, but I can’t easily control these things on my iPhone 6s.
As for applications, I had no trouble finding iOS equivalent apps for everything I use on Android, which didn’t come as a huge surprise. Most apps I installed were either as good as their Android counterparts, or slightly better, though the difference in app quality wasn’t as large as I was expecting. Of the apps that were noticeably better on iOS, many were for niche services; anything that’s extremely popular (think Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Instagram) is just as good on Android as it is on iOS.
The apps that are included with the iPhone 6s by default generally give a better experience than OEM-developed apps bundled with Android devices. Health, Music and Game Center come to mind as apps with superior interfaces and better functionality than their counterparts developed by Samsung, LG and (sometimes) Google. Apple’s control over their ecosystem allows these apps to be integrated tightly with the iPhone’s hardware or the company’s other services, often resulting in more polished experiences.
Apple’s apps don’t trump Google’s every time, especially if you rely on Google services. Android integrates much, much better with a Google account than iOS, giving apps like Drive, Search and especially Gmail deeper and greater control over the OS. Google also simply develops better products than Apple in some instances: Maps and Chrome come to mind, although Safari plays far nicer with iOS than Chrome does, even if it contains fewer features.
With that said, I was impressed at how well Google contacts and calendar events get integrated into iOS, considering the OS isn’t developed by Google and integration isn’t nearly as good on Windows Phone. Mail is less well integrated; I tried using Apple’s stock Mail app for a couple of days, but I just had to switch to the superior Gmail app (which still isn’t as good as Gmail on Android).
One thing I have missed considerably after switching from Android to iOS is decent search functionality. On Android, performing a web search is as easy as tapping the search bar on the home screen. On iOS, you can use Spotlight to search in the left-most home screen, but it requires multiple taps to get web search results, and in general this feature is more suited to searching the phone and its apps. The other option is to fire up Safari and search in the address bar, which brings up a Google search as you’d expect, but this is still a multiple tap operation.
I’m the sort of person who Google searches on my smartphone all the time, so having web search functionality hidden behind multiple taps slows down this process and has already become annoying after a week of use. Of course I could use Siri to search things, although voice searching isn’t always appropriate, and Siri is far worse at understanding my Australian accent than Google Voice Search.
Downloading the Google app did improve the search experience somewhat, and the app also brings handy Google Now functionality, but it’s clear that search is much faster on Android and much more deeply integrated into the operating system.
Of the more random observations during my past week with iOS 9, the operating system loves to throw pop-up notifications at you, especially when launching an app for the first time. Occasionally there are multiple pop-ups in a row, which can be obtrusive and annoying, especially when you have to wade through pop-ups for every single app. Android doesn’t use pop-up dialogs nearly as frequently and that’s a good thing.
3D Touch is a curious feature that’s new to the iPhone 6s. Applying more force to the touchscreen to access new functionality is a cool idea in theory, but it’s not particularly useful in its early incarnation. On the home screen, hard-pressing app icons reveals context menus that I never found myself using, while in some apps you can hard-press links or items to receive previews, which is slightly more useful. I still haven’t quite become accustomed to using 3D Touch though, and in some situations 3D Touching simply feels like a faster long press (which has been a feature of Android and iOS for years), though I suspect it will become more useful when third-party developers jump on board.
Oh, and I’d love it if Apple made it more obvious what apps support 3D Touch, and how they support it. I found myself blindly hard-pressing links, items, and apps to discover where it was supported, and so far this seems to be the only way to learn without looking up specifically where Apple has used the feature.
So these are my brief thoughts after using iOS 9 and the iPhone 6s for a week. I’m still locked in to use the iPhone 6s for the next week, so I’ll be posting further impressions, including a lot more on the hardware of the smartphone, in Part 2 of this series.