The iPhone 6 Plus is the biggest handset Apple has ever built. It’s also one of the largest handsets you can buy in the UK right now. Odd, considering only a few months ago Apple’s iPhones were smaller than 90% of their contemporaries with their 4in displays. But the real reason behind Apple’s change of heart is a very simple one: the market (that's you lot) now demands bigger phones, so Apple pretty much had to start playing ball –– it just took the company a bit longer than everybody else to realise this.
The 2014 iPhones –– the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus –– are, of course, the best smartphones the company has ever produced, bringing together everything that made the iPhone 5s great (ecosystem, great silicon, decent imaging), adding in a slight variation to the design, and, of course, larger display panels. These are the takeaway points, but the other BIG THING about these iPhones is how they’re selling; Apple has shifted 39 million units already since the handsets launched.
I’ve been using both handsets since they went on sale, and while I did enjoy using both, the iPhone 6 has gone on to become my daily driver. The reason? Simple: I prefer its overall size and weight. But that’s just my personal preference. It’s worth noting that a lot of punters seem to prefer the iPhone 6 Plus, and I can see why, too –– consumers have been waiting for a BIG iPhone for years. No wonder they’re now biting Apple’s hand off in the UK to get one.
iPhone 6 Plus Review: Design
Even Apple admits the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6 are pretty much the same deal, save for the display size and addition of Optical Image Stabilisation on the Plus. They do look the same too, again, save for the Plus’ overall size and weight difference. A lot has already been said about the design of Apple’s new handsets, specifically, how thin the iPhone 6 Plus is (hello, bendgate) and the antenna bands that run around the back of both handsets.
Personally, I rather like the look of both handsets. They’re thin, almost too thin in the iPhone 6 Plus’ case, feel premium to the touch, and are very easy on the eye. They both still look like iPhones, though, so if you weren’t a fan of the iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s chances are you’re not going to a fan of these devices, either. But if you do like impossibly thin handsets that are massive then the iPhone 6 Plus is perhaps right up your street.
I say, massive, and I really do mean it –– the iPhone 6 Plus feels positively enormous in the hand compared to handsets with similarly sized displays like the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The reason for this is Apple’s huge bezels on the top and bottom of the phone, which add in an inch or two to the overall size of the handset. I get why the bottom bezel is so large –– it’s where TouchID lives –– but the top one… could that not have been reduced ever so slightly? Probably not as it’d screw the whole design of the phone up, but after testing A LOT of Android phones this year, there is definitely something to be said about large, phablet-sized panels and bezels that just get out of the way. Handle the LG G3 and then the iPhone 6 Plus and you’ll get what I’m on about. The difference in how the two phones handle is incredible, so much so you’d never believe they had the same size display.
As I said earlier, design is subjective. Some people like phablets; others prefer handsets with displays under 5inches. I definitely fall into the latter camp, however, which is why I prefer the iPhone 6. And the reason for this is threefold: 1) I use my phone a lot, especially when on the move, so I prefer one I can use single-handedly; 2) I like a phone to fit snugly in my pocket, not take over the entire thing; and, 3) when a handset is too big, it feels unstable in my hand and I constantly worry about dropping it.
The drop-worry is a real issue, again, this is a big phone, and a thin phone, with rounded and smooth aluminium edges. It doesn't take a doctorate in physics to figure out why this might be a problem; getting a good grip on this device can be tricky and I constantly felt like it was about to fly out of my hand.
Exact measurements for the iPhone 6 Plus are 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1 mm and it weighs 179g. As previously noted, the iPhone 6 Plus feels impossibly thin, however, to fully appreciate this aspect you really do have to handle one, so be sure to pop into your nearest Apple Store or phone shop to check it out. Aside from this the overall finish, look and styling of the handset is pretty much flawless –– Apple knows how to make good-looking phones and tablets.
As a phablet, though, I do think Apple has bitten off more than it can chew which is common mistake made by a lot of manufacturers when tackling the troublesome phablet phone. Take Samsung: it’s taken a good few generations of its Note device to really nail the design and overall experience, so much so that nowadays, with the Galaxy Note 4, which, by the way, has a larger display than the iPhone 6 Plus, you feel like you’re using a smaller handset than you actually are… and the main reason for this is because Samsung actually tried to figure out HOW to build a phone experience around a larger-than-normal display, not just make a bigger version of its Galaxy S handset. And that’s the big difference here, really.
The iPhone 6 Plus, like the Galaxy Note 4, is still an excellent piece of kit. And if you’ve been waiting for Apple to do something similar to what’s been going on in the Android space for what seems like eons now, the iPhone 6 Plus will be a largely rewarding experience. I would suggest before committing to either the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 Plus that you try each out –– ahead of testing I was all about the iPhone 6 Plus, but after two weeks with both I am now firmly of the opinion that the iPhone 6, with its smaller 4.7in display, is the one for me.
Design’s subjective, so make sure you make the right choice for you, and the only way to be 100% sure about which is the best fit for your needs is to try everything out before purchase. Beyond size, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, in the grand scheme of things, are identical, so all it really boils down to is how big do you want it?
iPhone 6 Plus Review: Display
The iPhone 6 Plus uses a 5.5in IPS LCD panel with a display resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, which translates into a pixel density of 401 ppi. Compared to handsets like the LG G3 and the Galaxy Note 4, that’s quite a shortfall, but the panel itself is very capable, producing exact colour reproduction and contrast. Viewing angles are also good, and the reduction of space between the actual display-glass and the pixels themselves makes for a more immersive viewing experience –– it feels like you’re touching pixels.
The iPhone 6 Plus’ display is better than the iPhone 6’s setup, both on paper and in the flesh. It outperformed every other LCD panel ever tested by Display Mate too, which is no mean feat considering the competition its up against and the fact the analysis company has been testing panels since 2006.
“The new 5.5-inch iPhone reached or broke records in a variety of areas, including highest peak brightness, lowest screen reflectance, highest contrast ratio, highest contrast rating in ambient light, most accurate intensity scale and gamma and most accurate image contrast.”
So, yeah, the iPhone 6 Plus might not have the QHD pixel count, but it sure as sugar makes up for it in other areas that are, arguably, more important to the average user in any given normal usage case scenario. The larger panel also means the iPhone 6 Plus is better suited for watching films and TV shows and playing games like BioShock.
Overall display quality is also one key area where Apple could easily differentiate the two handsets as well… because beyond size, as I’ve said multiple times already, there really isn’t much to separate these two handsets. Technically the iPhone 6 Plus has the superior panel. But realistically the difference in everyday settings is fairly unimpressive, with both panels producing excellent results in nearly every setting.
One slight issue I do have with the iPhone 6 Plus’ larger, higher resolution display is to do with applications. Basically, a lot of core applications have not been updated for the iPhone 6 Plus’ higher resolution display, and the result is pixelated applications which look bloody horrific. During our testing period, one of the worst offenders, annoyingly, was one of our most-used apps, Whatsapp. Urghhh! Still, in a matter of weeks, this issue will likely be a moot point as more and more developers update their applications. Even so, it’s still a valid issue and is definitely worth a mention in the context of this review, as it was one of the first things I noticed when I first started using the Plus.
iPhone 6 Plus Review: Hardware (CPU, RAM, Storage, Connectivity)
Inside Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset is the law. It’s also one of the most powerful mobile processors on the planet, offering up support for 4K displays and 55MP cameras, as well as LTE-A and CAT 6 carrier aggregation to name but a few USPs. Apple, however, does things a bit differently…
The iPhone 5s saw Apple switch over to 64-bit with the advent of the A7 chipset. Inside the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, you’re looking at the next step in that process, the A8. As usual though, Apple was mightily secretive about its new chipset, preferring to offer up arbitrary stats on performance than actual specifics about what’s actually inside its 2014 kit. Thanks to plenty of digging around, however, we now have a pretty good idea about what’s cooking inside Apple’s new A8 chipset.
The chip itself is a 20nm setup and comprises two Enhanced Cyclone ARMv8 64-bit cores. As for the GPU, you’re looking at a quad-core IMG PowerVR GX6450 setup –– the straight up successor to the A7’s G6430. The iPhone 6 Plus, like the iPhone 6, still uses 1GB of RAM which is again barely anything compared to handsets like the LG G3, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and soon to be released Google Nexus 6. But this latter aspect should be of no concern to the everyday user, as the iPhone 6 Plus’ performance is pretty much off the charts (even compared to its higher-powered, Android counterparts).
Why? Simple: everything is designed from the chipboard up to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. There isn’t one aspect of the iPhone 6 Plus’ engineering that Apple isn’t directly involved in –– it exercises its OCD in all areas equally, and the end result is perfectly optimised components that work together seamlessly over prolonged periods of time without fault. This is one of the reasons why Apple fans stay with Apple: they trust the hardware, they know they’ll get software support for at least two years, and they don’t mind paying a little extra for the privilege.
In terms of real work performance, the iPhone 6 Plus absolutely screams along, feeling snappier and more fluid than its predecessors. But this was always going to be the case. That’s just progress. One area where you really will see BIG improvements, though, is inside games like Modern Combat 5, Asphalt 8: Airborne, Beach Buggy Racing and Epic Zen Garden, which were created using Apple’s new Metal developer tool and illustrate, pretty profoundly, just what these new iPhones and their A8 chipsets are capable of.
One added benefit of the iPhone 6 Plus’ larger chassis is that CPU/GPU heat is dissipated more effectively throughout the handset, resulting in a far cooler in-hand experience than its smaller sibling when performing extended component-intensive tasks like gaming.
In general, performance has been palpably improved over last year’s model –– and I don’t just mean in benchmarks, either. You can see and feel the difference, whether you’re looking at battery life, how it runs games, or whether just moving around iOS’ UX or using applications or Safari. Everything is faster, tighter and smoother. In this regard, I have zero complaints. The iPhone 6 Plus, like most modern handsets, has an INSANE amount of processing grunt under the hood when you consider what the average punter does with their phone!
With regards to storage, you have three flavours: 16GB, 64GB and 128GB. There’s no MicroSD-support, for obvious reasons, but should you go for a 16GB model you can quickly supplant the internal storage of the device with an extra 20GB of iCloud storage for just £0.79 a month. With LTE, Apple is including support for 20-bands (the most inside any consumer smartphone) and a modem that’ll kick out speeds of up to 150mbps (handy, now EE has unleashed its LTE-A network in London).
Both iPhones feature NFC but the only reason for its inclusion is Apple Pay and that, as we all know, is kind of a moot point because we won’t be getting Apple Pay in the UK until at least Q2 2015 (and that’s a conservative estimate). And Apple, in true Apple-style, has decided not to open up the NFC chip to developers, instead preferring to lock it down as a latent feature that will only come into being once Apple Pay is rolled out in the UK. That means no tap-to-pair functionality and no using EE’s Cash on Tap app to travel around London. Boo!!!
iPhone 6 Plus Review: iOS 8.1
I’m not going to delve into iOS 8 here, as we’ve covered, reviewed and written up all of the platform’s quirks, foibles, ups, downs and extended features in detail in other articles, which you can peruse at your leisure via the following links below:
Apple made A LOT of big claims about the iPhone 6 Plus’ camera at launch, calling it the best smartphone camera in the world. And mostly, they weren’t talking bull either –– the camera is pretty damn impressive, whether indoors or outside, or whether you’re shooting video or still images. It’s still an 8MP sensor, but Apple has updated the inner components in a BIG way, adding in things like blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Phase detection auto-focus (PDAF), higher-resolution Slo-Mo video, reduced noise reduction, 1080p video at 60fps, and a new Time-Lapse feature, which really is rather a lot of fun (especially when filming take-offs from inside a plane).
The setup is exactly the same as the iPhone 6’s, save for one aspect –– Optical Image Stabilisation (OSI). Now, Apple made a big deal about this at launch (and OIS is definitely preferable to DIS, which you get on the iPhone 6), but I have consistently struggled to really find much of a difference between the two cameras in general day to day usage scenarios. Also, contrast in images doesn’t seem to be quite as good as it was on the iPhone 5s – although I am at a loss to explain why.
One area where OIS does come into play in a big way is low-light shots, as it enables longer exposures (rather than just boosting the ISO) and this means less noise in the final image. The subject cannot be moving, however, otherwise you’ll still get a lot of motion blur in the final result. During my testing, this was the only real advantage I experienced over the iPhone 6 –– but, again, this isn’t a very typical user scenario.
And yet, by and large, images taken in well-lit places do look pretty spectacular, as you can see below:
I don’t think Apple’s shooter will ever replace a DLSR, as some have claimed, but it is a very compelling setup nonetheless that can produce some seriously impressive results when placed in the right hands, as evidenced by Austin Mann’s gob-smacking iPhone 6 Plus-captured pictures below:
It’s worth noting that Austin Mann is a professional photographer. As you can see from our test pictures, he’s got quite a lot of skills most iPhone 6 Plus users (us included) simply do not possess. Again, this is just an example of WHAT is possible when the iPhone 6 Plus is placed in the right hands.
iPhone 6 Plus Review: Battery
Apple has improved the battery performance on both its latest iPhones; the 6 can do a full day with heavy usage and the 6 Plus, with its slightly larger battery, goes about 10 to 15% longer which is pretty significant, as it means if you’re a seriously heavy user, you can drum out a full day’s worth of use and still have plenty left by the time you get home around 8 or 9pm.
This, for me, was one of the iPhone 6 Plus’ biggest USPs. Previous iPhone models really struggled to survive a full day with heavy use, but both handsets can now handle it with ease. This is a significant milestone for Apple, and something EVERY user will appreciate. And yet, for me, the size trade off between the two handsets just isn’t worth that additional 10-15% uplift in battery life. Ditto for the camera’s OIS.
In our Django Test, the iPhone 6 Plus, once again, proved its worth in the battery stakes finishing up with bang on 72% battery life, an impressive result which puts it very much in the top-tier of current smartphones tested. It’s also worth noting that many of its top-tier peers use considerably larger battery cells, so, once again, this is a big deal for Apple. It gets a lot of mileage out of the iPhone 6 Plus’ 2915 mAh battery.
iPhone 6 Plus Review: Verdict
What this really comes down to is personal preference with design and price. If you like large phones –– and the iPhone 6 Plus is VERY large –– then you’re looking at one of the best phablets on market. Personally, I prefer the way the LG G3 and Galaxy Note 4 accommodate their larger displays. This is mostly to do with design, however, as both the Note 4 and G3 have smaller bezels and thicker, weightier bodies, which creates, IMHO, a better in-hand experience. In terms of everything else, however, I’d say all three handsets are pretty evenly matched –– it’s mostly about OS preference at the end of the day.
Everything else about the iPhone 6 Plus is very impressive, however, just as it is with the iPhone 6, the LG G3 and the Galaxy Note 4 –– the latter three are my top three devices of the year, in case you’re interested. But these days, top-flight handsets from the world’s biggest tech brands are all decent, packing in the latest processors, imaging technology and services. It’s more about ecosystem than ever before, really –– ecosystem and services. Apple knows this and so does Google, which is why both the new platforms from each feature a myriad of new bells and whistles like HealthKit, HomeKit and Apple Pay.
If you’ve ever been interested in buying an iPhone, but, for whatever reason, have consistently gone elsewhere, then these are the handsets you’ve been waiting for. As a long standing Android user, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus solve a lot of the “issues” I had with Apple’s smartphones, namely: battery life, screen size and the company’s insane over-regulation of iOS’s core APIs.
The iPhone 6 Plus is a bridge too far for me with regards to size, which is why I prefer the iPhone 6 (or the LG G3 and Galaxy Note 4, for that matter). But the only reason for this is the size of the device, and that (as noted many times throughout this review) is entirely subjective, so I’d encourage anyone interested in either the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 Plus to try both out in store before committing to either.