The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus is Apple’s latest and perhaps strangest addition to its range of tablets and smartphones. Not only is the screen considerably larger than the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, the device comes with a few other perks like improved battery life and better camera performance.
I’ve spent the last two weeks using the iPhone 6 Plus as my primary smartphone, and coming from an iPhone 5 (read our review), it has certainly left an impression. We’ll be givingtwo 64GB iPhone 6 Plus units away to two lucky readers – find out how at the end of the review.
Introducing the iPhone 6 Plus
A larger iPhone has been on many request lists for a while now, and while there will always be a contingent happy with the 4-inch panel introduced with the iPhone 5, a lot of people have been holding out for this moment. The iPhone 6 Plus comes with a 5.5-inch IPS panel running at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. It has a pixel density of 401 pixels-per-inch, and it’s the first “full HD” iPhone ever.
Comparably, the iPhone 6’s smaller panel only reaches 1334 x 750 pixels at 326 ppi – though both screens are comparable in terms of overall quality. The panel has seen a vast improvement in contrast ratio department, skyrocketing to 1300:1 on the iPhone 6 Plus, which compares nicely with 1400:1 and 800:1 on the iPhone 6 and 5s respectively.
Inside is a brand new “desktop-class” 64-bit A8 chip, which is 25 percent faster than the A7 seen in the iPhone 5s and 1GB of RAM (no change there). There’s also support for faster LTE, Voice over LTE and Wi-Fi calling – provided your carrier supports it. Apple has chosen to get rid of the 32GB capacity option and go with 16, 64 and 128 GB variants starting at $649.
Like the 6 and 5s before it, the iPhone 6 Plus comes with a fingerprint scanner and motion co-processor, capable of tracking movement data. It also has a smorgasbord of sensors including a brand new barometer for detecting air pressure, which measures changes in altitude.
Apple has equipped the iPhone 6 Plus with a new 8 megapixel iSight camera with improved focusing mechanisms and optical image stabilisation, which compensates for sudden movement. The true-tone flash is back from the iPhone 5s, and video recording gets an upgrade in the form of cinematic stabilisation and slow-motion video at 240 frames-per-second.
The iPhone 6 Plus comes with iOS 8 out of the box, Apple’s latest revision of the smartphone OS that debuted in 2007. The OS is simple to use, well-equipped and comes pre-installed with a selection of premium Apple apps (which you can remove) including iMovie, GarageBand and the iWork suite. If you buy a 16 GB iPhone 6 Plus, you’ll have to download these (free) from the App Store instead.
All of this comes in a slim, aluminium package of no more than 7.1 mm thick weighing 172 grams. That compares with 6.9 mm/129 grams for an iPhone 6 and 7.6 mm/112 grams for and iPhone 5s.
The Biggest iPhone Yet
Before diving into Apple’s boldest design decision, it’s worth taking time to recognise their best. Both new iPhone models exude elegance, with beautifully rounded corners and a screen that seemingly melts into the smooth aluminium chassis. The elongated volume and sleep buttons are aluminium too, providing a wonderfully solid “click” when hit with just enough pressure. In use, the iPhone 6 Plus feels very well made.
This is a big phone – if you’ve ever used a Galaxy Note 3 (read our review) or 4, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m fairly tall and I don’t have small hands, but I still found the iPhone 6 Plus to be a little on the large side – which makes one-handed use difficult to say the least. Confidently releasing your grip to tap the home button without fear of it slipping out of your hand is a thing of the past.
Whether this bothers you is entirely subjective. I used the phone for a full week without a case, and it felt great yet at times unwieldy. Add a case to the equation and it might only feel unwieldy, depending on the case you choose. Apple has attempted to remedy the situation using Reachability – a feature that brings out-of-reach screen elements into range when you to double-tap (not click) the home button.
Unfortunately I found the feature to be a little hit and miss – double tapping didn’t always work, which meant repeat taps and a slightly frustrating experience. Frequently I would forget about the feature, instead relying on swipe-based gestures in order to navigate apps and the web. This felt great even on the huge screen, but success depends on the size of your hands.
There’s no denying the screen is beautiful and the added contrast ratio puts the already-impressive panels of past models to shame. A full-HD resolution of 1080p means you can see every detail in the video you are shooting, and 5.5 inches of glass to look at does wonders for your photography – I don’t think I’ve taken so many pictures on a smartphone in such a short period of time.
That screen size isn’t just for movies or camera use of course, and the first thing you’re asked upon turning on your iPhone 6 Plus is whether you want “zoom” or “wide” display – the former scales up icons and text, the latter fits more on-screen. Without this option, using the iPhone 6 Plus would have felt a little bit ridiculous.
The added size translates into more space for app developers to play with too, and coming from a smaller handset it has a massive impact on visible content.
With Added iOS 8
The iPhone 6 Plus comes with iOS 8 out of the box, and features all of the bells and whistles necessary to make the most of the latest additions. iOS is a mature operating system known for its ease of use, tight security and huge number of third-party apps available on the App Store.
For the first time ever, iOS 8 steps into Android territory with user-replaceable keyboards and widgets in Notification Centre. Decisions like this and the huge screen suggest Apple is trying to appeal to users who have previously shied away from their controlling approach.
Of course, the OS itself still feels locked down and compared to Android, it probably always will be. Your only options for software come from the App Store – a protective measure to stop piracy and malware – and default applications are still limited to Apple apps; you can’t change your browser or primary camera… yet.
iOS 8 flies on the iPhone 6. The few delays I see on my iPhone 5 when launching an app were gone, and performance was buttery smooth even in resource intensive-apps like GarageBand. This is altogether unsurprising of course, it’s a brand new iOS device – it should destroy just about anything you throw at it for a good year or two.
Despite a rocky start, HealthKit is a pretty accurate way of measuring your general movement using nothing but an iPhone (what is HealthKit?). You’ll need to be the type who lives with their phone in their pockets at all times to truly make the most of it, so I think my readings are a little off as I frequently leave my devices on the sofa or kitchen counter while doing other things.
You can choose to display health data on graphs in the Health app. This feature is also able to use data from other apps, like fitness trackers and cycle computers in order to build up a stats-and-graphs picture of your fitness level.
Already developers have jumped on the new features, with many fitness apps plugging into technologies like HealthKit and plenty of new widgets available for checking weather, to-do lists and more from Notification Centre. One thing that’s not so rosy on the iPhone 6 Plus is outdated software – until they receive an update, some of your favourite apps may appear pretty stretched.
One feature we weren’t able to test is Apple Pay, the company’s new near-field communication (NFC) payment method that has currently only launched in the United States. This review was conducted in Australia where contactless payment with bank cards is already commonplace in major towns and cities, so hopefully it won’t be long till other countries follow suit.
In Focus: Camera & Battery
Arguably two of the main reasons you would consider the iPhone 6 Plus over the iPhone 6 – aside from the gargantuan size – are the improved camera performance and battery life. Both of these areas see boosts in the iPhone 6 Plus, though it is worth noting that the iPhone 6 has received similar praise for its gains in these departments.
The camera on both new models is the same, delivering 8 megapixel images shot through a maximum aperture of f/2.2 with the dual-LED flash from the iPhone 5s in place to balance skin tones. The iPhone 6 Plus has the added bonus of optical image stabilisation, which in theory should result in less blurry shots. Both new iPhones have a technology that Apple describes as Focus Pixels – a fancy name for phase-detection autofocus, as seen on the Galaxy S5 (read our review).
I didn’t have two phones to compare, so it was hard to tell whether the Focus Pixels were doing their job or whether optical image stabilisation really makes that much difference (I suspect you’d notice it going back to an iPhone 6), but I was blown away by camera performance in general. The iPhone has always produced an image that’s up there with the best, but this time round the results are sensational.
The dynamic range captured is vastly improved over my iPhone 5, though the results are less noticeable compared with the 5s. I constantly tried to test the camera by giving it the most awkward front-lit, full-sunlight scenarios and I still found detail in the shadows and highlights.
The ability to to compose your shots and frame video with a 5.5-inch screen is a real bonus for budding smartphone photographers, and editing your photos on the move in 1080p can’t be beaten.
Another mode I’ve had a lot of fun with (considering it doesn’t exist on my iPhone 5) is the slow-motion video, which on the 6 and 6 Plus allows you to capture up to 240 frames per second video. It’s a niche feature and you might forget about it, or like me you might fall in love with it and use it incessantly to film your cat.
Battery life is another area that’s seen a huge improvement over the previous generation. I’m starting to think the screen increase was simply a side-effect of addressing the iPhone’s longstanding battery complaints, because this fixes it and then some. The iPhone 6 Plus not only manages to withstand a whole day of mobile browsing, phone calls and photographs, it frequently has juice left over after you’re done.
With only moderate use I was able to use the iPhone 6 Plus for a whole two days, with Facebook being the main battery hog in that time. You can thank the 2,915 mAh capacity lithium-ion cell which provides nearly double the capacity of the iPhone 5s (1570 mAh) and considerably more than the iPhone 6 (1810 mAh) for the performance boost.
iOS 8 lets you see which apps are using your precious battery under Settings > General > Usage, and core components like the Camera, Photos and your use of the Home and Lock Screen can be compared alongside third-party apps. It’s a great way of isolating rogue apps and finding out exactly how much Apple’s core services drain your battery compared to other usage.
Living With The iPhone 6 Plus
There’s no denying that the 6 Plus is a great phone, and more to the point a great iPhone. After years of incremental updates it feels like Apple has really tried to refresh the range with hardware and software changes that consumers have requested for years. At last you can change your stock iOS keyboard and use widgets; at last you can buy a massive iPhone with a 5.5-inch screen.
Whether this is a good thing or not is entirely subjective, but if you have especially small hands, pockets or you don’t like holding a small tablet computer to your head when taking phone calls then it might not be for you. Within minutes of picking up the 6 Plus it was evident that one-handed use was not going to be a strongpoint for anyone other than Hagrid.
This reared its ugly head in the supermarket, while balancing a basket in one hand and the iPhone (with shopping list) in my other. Hold the phone too far near the Home Button and it feels like it will overbalance and slip out of your hand. Hold it higher up near the volume buttons and reaching for the Home Button feels like finger yoga. If the device were weighted a little more near the bottom end, this wouldn’t be an issue.
One-handedness aside, the device does feel great in the hand. A super-thin profile and rounded corners make it feel like the most comfortable iPad you’ve ever held, and browsing Facebook on the sofa or using the phone in other two-handed scenarios left me begging for more screen space when I went back to the iPhone 5.
The camera is so good that it will rekindle your love for smartphone photography. In many respects a device so big has you questioning the role your phone can play – or perhaps, which role you want it to play. As a portable communication device the iPhone 6 Plus falls short, but given more creative and entertaining uses it’s clearly better than its smaller predecessors.
Will It Bend?
One thing many users will be wondering is whether the iPhone 6 Plus is prone to bending, as per the “bendgate” allegations made in the wake of its release. Apple has assured consumers that the device has been rigorously tested, and holding it I can see why. I’ve had no problems putting enough “bending” pressure on the unit to show people just how sturdy it really is.
I’ve lived with it in my front pocket, sans-case for around a month and it’s still perfectly flat. I frequently jump over the fence behind my apartment with it in my pocket, and it hasn’t bent a bit. Considering the malleable properties of aluminium, it’s unsurprising that such a large and thin unit would bend when given extreme force, but many other plastic phones would probably snap at that point anyway.
If you’re really concerned – and you probably should be with any large, thin device that frequents a high-traffic zone – get a sturdy reinforced plastic case from a tough casemanufacturer like Otterbox or Lifeproof.
Should You Buy The iPhone 6 Plus?
The iPhone 6 Plus is an excellent device with one major consideration – size. If you’re looking to replace your iPhone 5 or 5s and don’t value a large screen or demand such a high level of performance from your battery, you’re probably better going for the smaller iPhone 6 and saving $100.
However if you have been lamenting the 4-inch iPhone models of yore, have a battery case that your phone constantly lives in or you’re a keen iPhoneographer, the iPhone 6 Plus is a high-performance smartphone that’s got a lot to offer you. There are also many iPhone users who use their phones for specific tasks – like musicians running effects apps or small business owners who use mobile payment processors – who should think long and hard about whether a bigger screen or improved battery is worth the trade-off. You can get used to the size, it’s whether you want to or not.