This review is based on feedback from our Macworld colleagues in the US who have spent considerable time with the 6 Plus. Although we have benchmark results, we haven't been able to fully test the iPhone 6 Plus ourselves yet, so we will update this review with a much more comprehensive and in-depth assessment when we've had some serious time to test everything from battery life and the new camera to the latest features of iOS 8 which are specific to the iPhone 6 Plus.
iPhone 6 Plus review: UK price
The new iPhones go on sale in the UK today, but if you’re reading this now there’s really not much point in queuing up. Chances are the lines will be long and stock in limited supply. We suspect the most popular choice will be the 16GB 6 Plus, which costs £619 SIM-free.
There are also the 64GB and 128GB models, which cost £699 and £789 respectively. There’s a choice of three colours in each capacity, with our favourite being Space Grey. Second choice would be Silver; Gold sits in a distant third place, but we imagine it will be first choice for some.
Of course, you don’t have to buy your iPhone SIM-Free. However, on contract you will still have to pay an up-front charge as well as the monthly payment, which will work out more expensive overall. Check out where to buy the iPhone 6 Plus, where we lay out all the best deals.
iPhone 6 Plus review: display, specs and performance
You probably don’t need us to lay out the specifications for you, but here are the highlights anyway. The iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5in screen with a full HD resolution of 1920x1080. That’s likely to match the TV in your living room, and is the sharpest screen on any Apple device to date at fractionally over 400 pixels per inch.
It’s the brightest screen on any iPhone and has the highest contrast ratio, higher even than the iPhone 6. Apple claims 1,400:1, and the firm never quotes figures it can’t back up.
It’s by no means the biggest smartphone or phablet screen, nor is it the sharpest. So-called quad-HD or QHD screens used by phones including LG’s G3 have four times the resolution of a 1280x720-pixel screen. Since the G3 also has a 5.5in screen, its higher resolution gives it a much higher pixel density of 538ppi, and it really does look fantastic.
The Galaxy Note 4 is Samsung’s 5.7in phablet and has the same resolution – 2560x1440 pixels – but obviously a slightly lower density of 515ppi.
For most people, of course, this is a complete non-issue, and they will be over the moon with the iPhone 6 Plus’ screen.
They’ll also be happy with performance, even though the on-paper specifications of the 6 Plus aren’t all that exciting. In Geekbench, which reports the A8 CPU running at 1.39GHz (roughly 200MHz faster than the iPhone 6), the iPhone 6 Plus showed it was clearly the fastest iPhone yet with a multi-score average of 2877.
To put this in context, the Samsung Galaxy S5 managed 2869, the iPhone 5s 2556 and the LG G3 2465. Of course, it doesn’t make sense to buy any product based on benchmark results, let alone just one synthetic test. What matters is real-world performance and battery life, and those are things we’ll be assessing over the next few weeks.
From our colleague Jason Snell’s testing: “After spending a long weekend with the two devices, I can corroborate Apple’s claims [about battery life]. The iPhone 6 Plus definitely seems to be the longest-lived iPhone so far, but does its battery last long enough to obviate the need for a battery case or external battery for emergencies? I just can’t say quite yet.”
There are other new features, too. NFC has finally made an appearance but it won’t be any use until Apple Pay comes to the UK. Hopefully Apple will open up the chip to developers so iPhone 6 Plus owners can use it for more than just buying goods and services.
There’s also faster Wi-Fi (now 802.11ac) and a barometer which is used by the new M8 motion coprocessor to gauge elevation changes and – as many activity trackers do – record when you’ve walked up a flight of stairs.
iPhone 6 Plus review: Design and size
Compared to the angled and almost industrial design of the iPhone 4 and 5, the iPhone 6 Plus makes something of a return to the original iPhone with curved sides. The screen gently curves at the edges to meet the sides and, even though it’s not much thinner than the iPhone 5, it feels it because it’s so much larger (it measures 78x158x7.1mm).
As Jason commented, “While I wouldn’t call it an ‘oversized monstrosity,’ it’s definitely huge. As with the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus’s thinness and curved edges do offset the extra size somewhat. However, you will never mistake the iPhone 6 Plus for the iPhone 6. It’s three-quarters of an inch (or roughly 14 percent) wider. In my average-size male hands, I found I could hold the iPhone 6 Plus, and manage to get my thumb to reach across the screen, at the very bottom, if I concentrated. But beyond looking at the huge screen and doing some simple gestures, this seems to be a device that’s made for two-handed operation.”
“That’s not necessarily bad—I often use my iPhone two-handed, though sometimes I casually flip through it with one hand, and that wouldn’t happen were I to sport the iPhone 6 Plus. For people with large hands, it’ll be less of an issue. I also discovered, to my surprise, that the front pockets of my Levi’s jeans were able to hold the iPhone 6 Plus without any problem. Your pockets may vary, but I was able to tote a 6 Plus in the same pocket that I usually carry my iPhone 5. While the feel was different, it wasn’t ridiculous.”
“The iPhone 6 Plus is unlike any iPhone before it. Not quite a phone, not yet an iPad, it’s a tweener of a device that’s going to be fantastic for some people and completely wrong for others. If you’re someone who would really rather not have an iPad, a larger iPhone makes sense. And if you’re someone for whom bigger is always better, why not get the biggest iPhone around?”
“If you don’t find yourself nodding at that sentiment, I strongly suggest that you visit an Apple Store or another retailer that stocks the iPhone 6 Plus, hold it in your hand, and try it out. It’s really a different class of device, and I fear that a lot of people are going to rush into buying one without having a sense of the scale of the thing.”
In terms of the relocation of the power button, which leaves nothing at all on the top edge, Jason said, “For longtime iPhone users, it’s going to take some getting used to, but on larger phones it’s harder to reach that top edge, hence the change. I still haven’t gotten used to it.”
A minor point on design is that the camera now protrudes from the rear of the iPhone 6 Plus and if you’re the type who refuses to “ruin” the design by using a case, bear in mind that it won’t sit perfectly level when you put it down on a hard surface. (Most cases are likely to leave the camera sitting flush or slightly recessed.)
iPhone 6 Plus review: cameras
This brings us neatly to the photos and videos. The 6 Plus has the best rear camera of any iPhone, including the iPhone 6. It may still have an 8Mp sensor but as anyone who knows anything about digital photography will tell you: more pixels does not equal better quality photos (or video).
The 6 Plus has a couple of features which elevate it above earlier iPhones. One is optical image stabilisation, which even the iPhone 6 lacks. This helps counteract camera shake by physically moving the camera, and leads to sharper images especially in low light.
Here’s Jason on the camera: “Apple says that it's added dedicated ‘focus pixels’ to the camera, which help it autofocus faster. Face-detection algorithms have been improved. And there are improvements to autofocus performance on video. The focus behavior in video is the feature I noticed the most—video focus has never been really been one of the iPhone's strong suits. But the focus in the test videos I shot with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were clear and smooth, never seeming robotic or jarring.
“The super slow-mo feature means you can now shoot at 240 frames per second, allowing for smooth action that runs at one-eighth the speed of normal video. That feature, combined with improved video stabilization that makes videos feel surprisingly smooth, should make videos of skateboard tricks and swimming pool dives more impressive than ever before.”
iPhone 6 Plus review: software
We’ve been using iOS 8 for a few months so are already familiar with its new features. On the iPhone 6 Plus, though, are some extra features you won’t get on older iPhones. One is a split-screen or twin-column view in certain apps – just as you already have on the iPad. On the iPhone 6 Plus, these are also available in landscape mode, and the home screen also rotates to a landscape view.
Instead of simply making the keyboard keys larger or wider, you get new keys on the iPhone 6 Plus, and more than you’ll see on an iPhone 6. To the left are cut, paste and undo buttons, while on the right are cursor keys and extra punctuation keys.
Another feature is Reachability, which helps to offset the larger screen and enable you to ‘reach’ the whole screen with one hand. When you double-tap on the home button, the top half of the screen slides down to the bottom.
Here are Jason’s thoughts: “Reachability isn’t the most elegant concept I’ve seen Apple develop, but it does make the size of these phones more manageable when you’re using only one hand. After a few days, Reachability became something that I used without thinking, and it generally did what I needed it to. However, I did find it to be a bit inconsistent. The iPhone home screen doesn’t slide all the way down, for instance—it scrolls the main icons down, leaving the dock and the top bar where they were. No other app interacts with Reachability in this way.”
“I also found that in some cases, the contents of the screen immediately snapped back to the top when I tapped something. In other cases, there was a pause of a second or so after a tap, enough time to tap something else, or scroll, or interact with the interface in other ways. I don’t like this inconsistency, and in general I think it would be better if the iPhone always waited a second to make sure everything’s done before turning off Reachability. Right now, I never really know what’s going to happen when I tap something when in Reachability mode, and that’s not good.”
As with the iPhone 6, it's hard to come to a conclusion about the iPhone 6 Plus. For a start, it’s unusual for Apple not to make the first move, so while the iPhone 6 Plus is the biggest and fastest iPhone ever, there are even bigger smartphones with higher resolution screens in the Android stable.
There’s also the unknown for a lot of people. Is a 5.5in screen too big? Conversely, is it big enough to replace a tablet such as the iPad mini? These are questions that have no definitive answers: screen size is and will always be a personal preference. There will be iPhone owners that will prefer to stick with a smaller screen and opt to hold onto their iPhone 5s / 5c / 5 or buy a 4.7in iPhone 6.
Others will love the extra size for browsing websites, watching videos, using detailed apps (such as Garageband) and browsing their iCloud Photo Library. Yet more might feel that 5.5in isn’t enough to comfortably browse some websites or use fiddly controls in apps. As Jason Snell observed above, if you’re not sure, it’s well worth heading to an Apple store to try out an iPhone 6 Plus before you buy.
One thing is for sure: the iPhone 6 Plus is expensive. If you're a dedicated iPhone user and would never consider switching to Android, you'll save money by going for the smaller iPhone 6. But saving money has never been a goal for most iPhone buyers and on that basis, the iPhone 6 Plus is a very fine smartphone indeed.
Buying Advice As with the iPhone 6, it's hard to come to a conclusion about the iPhone 6 Plus. For a start, it’s unusual for Apple not to make the first move, so while the iPhone 6 Plus is the biggest and fastest iPhone ever, there are even bigger smartphones with higher resolution screens in the Android stable. There’s also the unknown for a lot of people. Is a 5.5in screen too big? Conversely, is it big enough to replace a tablet such as the iPad mini? These are questions that have no definitive answers: screen size is and will always be a personal preference. There will be iPhone owners that will prefer to stick with a smaller screen and opt to hold onto their iPhone 5s / 5c / 5 or buy a 4.7in iPhone 6. Others will love the extra size for browsing websites, watching videos, using detailed apps (such as Garageband) and browsing their iCloud Photo Library. Yet more might feel that 5.5in isn’t enough to comfortably browse some websites or use fiddly controls in apps. As Jason Snell observed above, if you’re not sure, it’s well worth heading to an Apple store to try out an iPhone 6 Plus before you buy. One thing is for sure: the iPhone 6 Plus is expensive. If you're a dedicated iPhone user and would never consider switching to Android, you'll save money by going for the smaller iPhone 6. But saving money has never been a goal for most iPhone buyers and on that basis, the iPhone 6 Plus is a very fine smartphone indeed.