Review by Sunetra Chakravati,9/25/2014 1:10:36 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Premium look and feel | Gorgeous display | Fast and powerful
Very big and sometimes difficult to hold | iOS 8 does little to take advantage of extra space | Expensive | No stylus support
When Apple announced the iPhone 6 Plus I knew this would be a difficult phone to review. iPhone users have been used to screens no larger than four inches, and now Apple has a 5.5-inch behemoth. It looks frankly comedic lined up against its predecessors and will be utterly alien to users of all previous iPhones.
Read More: iPhone 6 Review
Remember, these people have soldiered on just fine with their 3.5-or 4-inch phones, while Android fans have seen their pockets bulge with 5- and even 6-inch slabs of smartphone. The 6 Plus is a step into the unknown as much for Apple as it is for its loyal customers - and perhaps big screen Android fans will be tempted to switch their allegiance.
Is Apple's first step into the phablet fray a success? Let’s find out.
Stating the obvious, but the iPhone 6 Plus is big. Really big. Not just big if you’re used to a small iPhone, but big even for a battle-hardened phone reviewer used to the LG G3, Sony Xperia Z2 and Samsung Galaxy Note range. It measures 158 x 78mm, compared to the 138 x 67mm iPhone 6. Two centimeters taller may not sound like much, but it takes the Plus from the just-about-comfortable-in-one-hand status of the 6 and into a world where you hold your phone with one hand and control it with the other.
At 7.1mm it’s actually thinner than the iPhone 5s - an incredibly feat of engineering - and its 172g weight is perfectly respectable, slightly undercutting the 176g Samsung Note 4.
Ignoring its size for a moment, the 6 Plus is a beautiful handset, crafted from aluminium and glass it has the same thin, curved edges as the iPhone 6, the same Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the Home button, the same slight tapering to the glass on each corner, and the same protruding rear camera. It also shares the same unsightly antennas outlining the top and bottom of its rear cover, but those aside the Plus is a thoroughly good looking phone.
The 6 Plus shares the same silver, gold and ‘Space Grey’ colour options as the 6, with the first two having white fronts and the latter coming in black. Storage options are also the same, at 16, 64 and 128GB, but the price is higher, at £619, £699 and £789 respectively.
The 5.5-inch display has a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a pixel density of 401 per inch, far greater than the 326ppi offered by the regular 6.
It’s a gorgeous display and one which makes watching HD films an absolute joy. Where iPhones of old felt cramped for gaming and watching Netflix, the 6 Plus excels in its ability to give you a cinema in your pocket. A miniscule gap, smaller than any previous iPhone, between the glass front (not sapphire crystal, as rumoured) and the display itself means you really feel like you’re dipping your finger into the iOS 8 software and pushing each pixel into place.
The Retina display is crisp, bright, evenly lit and with excellent viewing angles; it’s everything you would want from a phone screen and is every bit as impressive as the regular 6 - only sharper and with even more pixels. If you can live with a phone as big as the 6 Plus, there really aren’t any downsides to this screen.
We’ve already covered iOS 8 in its own review here, and having the same A8 and M8 processors as the iPhone 6 means performance from the Plus is pretty much identical. Apps open and close almost instantly, multitasking is smooth and effortless, and temperatures are kept nicely under control - only during intensive gaming did the back heat up slightly.
We found some issues with slow frame rates while playing Real Racing 3, but since a large update on 23 September we’ve also seen the game struggle on our iPhone 6, where previously it played without fault. Other equally-intensive games played on both the 6 and 6 Plus without a hitch, leading us to assume a problem with EA’s RR3 update rather than the phones.
A new feature on both models is how a double tap (not press) of the Home button drags down the user interface, making it easier to temporarily reach buttons at the top of the screen. Unfortunately this rarely worked first time (on both phones), and we often found it easier to hold the Plus in our left hand and tap with the right.
Unique to the 6 Plus is a home screen which rotates - just as it does on the iPads - and apps which change their layout when the phone is turned from portrait to landscape. For example, Messages in landscape shows your contacts on the left and each conversation on the right. Calendar, Notes, Reminders and others also offer this split-screen view, making the 6 Plus feel more like a productive tablet replacement and less like a regular phone.
The keyboard also gets some extras in landscape, including arrow keys, copy/paste buttons and more - plus, we found we could type faster and more accurately in landscape than on the regular 6, thanks to the extra space for our fumbling digits.
A bigger screen means space for a bigger battery, and the 2,915mAh capacity does not disappoint. Two days of average to heavy use is always possible with the 6 Plus - a claim no other iPhone, regular 6 included, can make. After an evening and a full day of average use I was able to watch all 2+ hours of Skyfall on Netflix, and the iPhone still soldiered on through a second night and even reached the third afternoon before finally dying.
Although the 6 Plus offers the same megapixels as the 6 - 2.1mp at the front and eight at the back - the larger phone benefits from optical image stabilisation (OIS), rather than the 6’s digital equivalent.
This means the 6 Plus shoots more stable video, and images are - theoretically at least - better in low light, thanks to being able to keep the shutter open for longer, capturing more light and detail, without the image becoming blurry. However, in testing the two cameras back-to-back we struggled to spot much of a difference between their low-light results.
Thankfully OIS makes its presence more strongly felt when shooting video, with the shaky movement of walking while filming toned down to produce smoother shots; however, both phones use software to help iron things out further and, although this works, it’s also responsible for some weird video effects where the processor over-compensates and causes some blurriness. You’re never going to get buttery smooth video holding a smartphone, but the OIS in the iPhone 6 Plus is a decent step above much of the competition.
Shared with the iPhone 6 is the new Focus Pixel technology, which provides incredibly fast autofocus; there’s also Full HD video recording, 240 frames-per-second slow motion, and a time lapse function. All this adds up to create an industry-leading experience - and proves having more megapixels doesn’t always mean a better camera.
Although undeniably a light, slim and beautifully made phone with a huge HD screen perfect for gaming and Netflix, the iPhone 6 Plus isn’t the great phablet it could have been. Where Samsung has carved out a powerful niche for itself with the Galaxy Note range and it’s stylus, Apple seems to have played it safe and sold the 6 Plus short.
There are some software tweaks to take advantage of the bigger screen, but you still can’t run two apps side-by-side, and the screen doesn’t allow you to use anything but the most basic, rubber-ended styluses, which are a million miles away from the super-accurate and feature-packed Samsung S Pen.
iPhone 6 on the left, iPhone 6 Plus on the right
Apple fans wanting a massive iPhone and who aren’t interested in switching to Android will love the 6 Plus - it’s exactly what you expect it to be - and even those who just want an iPhone with great battery life may well be swayed by the Plus.
But I feel the majority of consumers will simply find it too big and - to iPhone users especially - too alien and unfamiliar to be comfortable.
For those who want a big iPhone, the 6 Plus is exactly that. We just wish Apple had done more to take advantage of the extra space and offered a truly unique product - not merely a larger one.
A step into the unknown for Apple, but not the leap it could have been.
The iPhone 6 Plus used in this review was provided by the Three network.