A week after the iPhone 6 launch, I found myself drunk, eligible for a contract phone upgrade, and holding my finger perilously close to the checkout. $200 for Apple's latest seemed like a no-brainer. Two months of less-than-blissful life with the 6 later, and I'm switching back.
For the first two months, everything seemed perfect. Texting from my desktop seemed magical, HealthKit was kinda handy, and it hadn't even bent. But heading abroad, I needed an unlocked phone, so grabbed my poor, forgotten 5S out of a drawer and took it adventuring. Over the course of a couple days, I realized something: in every different way that matters to me, the iPhone 5S is a better phone.
Apart from the size, and the ability to pay for stuff over NFC, the 6 and 5S are basically indistinguishable for the user. Sure, the 6 has a faster processor, more pixel-dense screen, better camera, faster Wi-Fi chip, and the ability to film stuff in doubly slow slo-mo. But honestly, even as addicted to my phone as I am, I have a hard time noticing the difference. Both phones are extremely fast, both cameras similarly excellent, and my home Wi-Fi equally sluggish on both. (Although I will admit that my flatmates are probably twice as funny when viewed through 240fps slo-mo than 120.)
As it turns out, the thing that most clearly sets the two devices apart—the size and design—is what I find to be the most annoying on the 6. I have small (but not ridiculously tiny) hands, and I basically live in perpetual fear of dropping it. That prompted me to spend even more money on Apple's own leather case, and that improved things a little, but it's still nowhere near as comfortable to hold as the 5S. The idea that big phones are ergonomically worse is far from new—heck, Apple made ads to that effect back when they launched the 5—but it bears repeating just how annoying it can be.
And personally, I don't find the alleged benefits of a bigger screen to be nearly worth it. I've read full-length novels on my 5S before, watched TV shows, browsed Twitter when I really should've been talking to real people. None of that was demonstrably easier or better on the 6.
This isn't just an iPhone gripe, either. Exactly the same thing applies to almost every handset across the board. I've still got last year's Moto X, which I use when I need an Android phone for some reason, and I still prefer it in every way to this year's Motorola flagship. Not only is it a respectable size, but it still runs the latest Android version with the same aplomb as 2014 phones, and so far there's no real exciting features I'm missing out on by owning a last-gen version.
Ultimately, most new features on phones these days (the ones you notice, anyway: I'm not counting over-powered processors or ludicrously pixel-dense screens here) come in the form of software, which can often can run on years-old or budget phones. That's why the iPhone 5S can be better than its newer sibling, and, for that matter, Motorola can produce a $160 phone that's almost as good as anything else on the market.
I'm not suggesting that every single person should sell their shiny new phones and come join me in 2013-land. That extra screen real estate is clearly valuable for some people, and older phones will (by definition) become obsolete and need replacing sooner. But I absolutely think that you should judge the iPhone 5S and 6 (or Android equivalents) as equals, rather than automatically assuming that whatever's newest is the best. You may well end up with something you prefer, and more beer money left in your pocket.
In totally unrelated news, if you know anyone in the market for a lightly-used iPhone 6, I'm taking offers. I can even throw in a case.