Should I Get a New Phone: iPhone 6 Edition

Yesterday Apple introduced two new iPhones, which means it's about that time when people to start asking me what phone they should buy. Since I often find myself repeating similar advice to a lot of people, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts.

iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus?

The newest models come in two sizes: the iPhone 6 at 4.7" diagonally, and the iPhone 6 Plus, weighing in at 5.5". By comparison, the iPhone 5 and 5S both measured 4.0" on the diagonal. Both phones are offered in 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB capacities.

Both new models share a lot of the same components: an updated screen, somewhat faster processor, and support for the new Apple Pay contactless payment system. In short, they're almost identical on the inside. There are only a key few differences between the two:

  • Screen Size: Obviously, the iPhone 6 Plus is significantly larger than the iPhone 6.

  • Battery Life: Apple says the iPhone 6 Plus gets somewhat longer battery life than the iPhone 6. For example, they claim 12 hours of LTE web browsing on the 6 Plus, versus 10 hours on the 6. We'll have to wait until these phones are actually released to know how they do in real world situations, but it's probably safe to say that the 6 Plus will last a bit longer on a charge. (More details on battery life comparison are available on Apple's web site.)

  • Optical Image Stabilization: The two phones share most of the same camera technology, but the iPhone 6 Plus also contains optical image stabilization as well. Apple says that it will result in clearer pictures in low-light situations.

  • Price: All iPhone 6 Plus models cost $100 more than the equivalent iPhone 6 model. For example, the 16GB iPhone 6 costs $199 (on contract), while a 16GB iPhone 6 Plus will set you back $299.

My advice on choosing between them? It really comes down to personal preference. I don't think the image stabilization will be a big deal for most users, and the iPhone camera is already quite good for a phone, so I think we can mostly set that aside. I also doubt that the battery life between the two models will be different enough in real world use to be noticeable for most people. That said, if battery life is a big issue for you, that might tip the scales in favor of the iPhone 6 Plus.

Primarily, I think the choice comes down to the size and price. Do you like very large phones, and is a bigger screen worth an extra $100 to you? Or would you be happier with a somewhat smaller (but still bigger than the iPhone 5S) phone that has more storage? Keep in mind that the iPhone 6 is already larger than last year's iPhone 5S. For the sake of comparison, here's a quick photo I snapped showing the relative sizes of an iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and iPad mini:

iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and iPad mini

Personally, I'm not a fan of really giant phones like the 6 Plus. Additionally, over the past few months I've run out of space on my 16GB iPhone 5 time and time again. I'm fairly certain I'll end up buying a 64GB iPhone 6.

Keep My Old Phone?

I usually buy a new phone every other year. I bought an iPhone 4, skipped the 4S, bought the iPhone 5, and skipped the 5S. In large part, that's because I'm not willing to pay full price for new phones, and every two years feels about right to me. However, I do advise people to buy iPhones early in their life cycle. For example, if you're going to buy an iPhone 6, get it this fall instead of waiting until the spring. If you buy a phone in spring 2015, for example, you probably won't be eligible for a new carrier-subsidized phone until spring 2017. Then you have to choose whether to buy another new phone that's been out for six months, or wait unil the fall.

Furthermore, it used to be true that iPhone releases in even-numbered years were the "big" updates (iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPhone 5) and odd-numbered years were more incremental updates (3GS, 4S). That pattern has subsided a bit in the past couple of years, so I'm not sure it's worth worrying about anymore. For example, you could argue that the iPhone 5S, with its powerful processor upgrade and TouchID sensor, was a bigger upgrade from the iPhone 5 than the iPhone 6 is from the 5S. Basically, if you're eligible for an upgrade when new iPhones come out and you like the new models, go for it.

Of course, if you like your current phone and it's running great, you can always hang on to it. Just remember, it's extremely unlikely that there will be any new phones from Apple between now and next fall. iOS 8 will run on phones back to the iPhone 4S, although it's likely to be fairly slow on the oldest devices. My guess is that it'll run just fine on an iPhone 5.