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Small-screen swan song: Why owners of earlier iPhones won't regret the iPhone 6

Living with the iPhone 6, part 1: In our first post-review check-in, Scott returns to his faithful iPhone 5S after living with the larger screen of the iPhone 6 -- and finds that you can't go home again.


I pulled my iPhone 5S out of my pocket. It's ridden shotgun with me the whole week I've been testing the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus . Trading phones back and forth, comparing sizes. The iPhone 5S still has my SIM card; the 6 and 6 Plus use test SIM cards. So, it's the 5S that rings when someone calls most of the time.

Now that I've finally begun showing people the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus, the first thing people want to do is try them out, try them on for size. Meanwhile, I turned the 5S over in my hands. It looks small now, I realized. Really small.

The iPhone 5 always had the distinction of being a discreet phone in a world of larger Android alternatives, but the iPhone 6 is a phone that lands right in the middle and fits in with the Android crowd. Put it on a table with a Nexus 5 , a 2013 Moto X , an HTC One M8 , and a Samsung Galaxy S5 , and it would blend right into the crowd. The iPhone 5S feels blockier, more compact...and man, I realize now, that screen is small.

iPhone owners wanting to know what the upgrade to the 6 is like, know this: at first it might feel awkward to hold, but you'll grow into that larger screen instantly. After a few days, it's nearly impossible to go back.

The iPhone 4S, the 5S, and the 6 side by side. Sarah Tew/CNET

Well, not impossible. The 3.5- and 4-inch iPhones seem aimed toward simpler tasks: scanning contacts, dialing numbers, looking at lists of tweets or headlines. For photos, videos, and any apps that make use of icons, buttons and graphics, the iPhone 6 display is immediately helpful.

But I also appreciate how apps on the iPhone 5S are compact and make the most of the screen: text is crisp and compact, layouts tight. The iPhone 6 makes many apps seem like they're laying out on a Barcalounger. Some already-optimized apps feel like they don't know what to do with the extra space, while those that are auto-optimized, and that includes everything else on the App Store, end up suffering a mixed bag of success.

I've used the Kindle app, and it works really well; I read books on the iPhone 6 and can fit more words on a page. But the app's icons are too large, and the app also crashes occasionally. Netflix and HBO Go work really well, but again, the icons seem too large. It's not just non-optimized apps that feel oddly big; the App Store's own graphics seem magnified on the 6's display, versus fitting more app icons or information on the screen.

But the funny thing is, I'm not sure I'd do "more" on the iPhone 6 thanks to that larger screen. I mean to say, the iPhone does certain things for me very well: communicate, take photos and videos, play games, devour social media, and send messages. I just enjoying doing those things more. Rather, it's more like after I settle into the iPhone 6, I look back at the 5S and find its comparative lack of available space limiting.

This should also tell iPhone 5S users something: the move to a bigger screen is great, but it may not change your phone life. It's a welcome and great improvement, but the iPhone 6, just like the iPhone 5S before, is about expanding a bit versus utterly transforming your phone experience.

That being said, I'd never want to go back.

From top, the iPhone 5S, the 6, and the 6 Plus. Sarah Tew/CNET