Apple's iPhone 6 Plus is the first iPhone with a 5.5-inch 1080P display.
It was an exciting September morning in Cupertino, California when Apple unveiled their next generation smartphone model. The widely trending rumors were validated to be true when Tim Cook showed off two different iPhone size variations, a first for the company. While the standard iPhone 6 remains larger than its predecessor and harnesses an array of impressive technical upgrades, the oversized iPhone 6 Plus is what captured the many consumers' attention.
The 6 Plus flaunts a better display, camera and battery than its smaller iPhone 6 sibling while only being priced a mere $100 more. Samsung has been notoriously leading the “phablet” market since the 2011 launch of their Galaxy Note series so it is about time Apple stepped in to give them a run for their money.
It is obvious that the iPhone 6 Plus is not for everyone. Apple designed it to cater to a power user, someone who seeks the value of the additional features and is willing to deal with the increased form factor.
Striking up a high demand, the 6 Plus has been is extremely hard to find although I managed to snag a 64GB in Space Gray on the day of its September 17th release. I have been using it as “daily driver” since so I'll do my best to document my experience and thoughts on the device in remainder of this review.
Keep in mind, the views and opinions expressed in this review are based solely on my experience using the 6 Plus during an adequate testing period that has exceeded thirty days of use. No outside influences or personal bias have not taken any part in the review process.
Design & Form Factor
When the iPhone first debuted, it sported a rounded edge design that stayed consistent throughout the 3G and 3GS models. Apple then transitioned to a more refined, straight-edged concept for the iPhone 4 and this design element remained present up to last year's release of the 5S.
Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus bring back the rounded edges although this time the chassis is crafted from a single piece of aluminum resulting in a sleeker appearance and form factor.
The front LCD screen now has a slight contour around the edges. This helps to identify screen position when swiping from side to side thus making for a more pleasant user experience.
Despite offering a significantly larger screen, the 6 Plus remains rather compact with an overall thickness of 7.1mm. Apple engineers were unable to pack in all the necessary camera components in a way that maintained high performance while matching the 7.1mm profile. Due to this, sacrifices were made and the camera lens was left protruding which it is a bit of an eye-sore.
There are a few downsides regarding the protruding camera, but nothing you cannot live with. The device will no longer lay flat on a table like previous generations, and the lens is now more easily susceptible to damage as it will be the first to make contact when dropped or placed on a surface.
To combat this, Apple utilizes a rugged lens made out of sapphire glass, an expensive material that is rated to be stronger than steel. I don't think anyone is a fan of the protruding camera design (myself included), but I understand the physical limitations. From my perspective, I would rather have a more advanced camera that protrudes slightly rather than settle for a dumbed-down camera that remains flush with the chassis. If you decide to add a protective case into the mix (highly recommended), both of these downsides become irrelevant as most cases will be thicker than the protruding lens..
In contrast to a competitor like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the iPhone 6 is longer but narrower. While it is not an easy task (due to size space requirements of internal hardware), I would have liked to have seenApple implement smaller bezels above and below the LCD screen since the existing ones appear slightly awkward and a waste of space on such a long device. This may sound a bit nitpicky, but I think Apple has room to improve upon this in the coming years as technology advances and space requirements become less of an issue.
Size & Practicality
The previous generation 5S focused on portability with a weight of 3.95 ounces and a 4-inch LCD display. The iPhone 6 Plus is aimed more towards performance over a compact form factor thus weighing 6.07 ounces and harnessing a 37.5% larger, 5.5-inch display. There is no doubt that the iPhone 6 Plus is a big freaking phone, and you'll hear family, friends, and strangers voice this opinion the first time they see the device. The one question that typically follows revolves around the bending media frenzy that the 6 Plus was subject to its first few weeks on the market. For the record, “bendgate” is highly overblown, and chances are you will never encounter a bending situation even after years of routine use even more so if you plan on using a protective case.
Since I am now used to the increased size, I can truthfully say that I do not think it is too big however I was skeptical going into my first few days of use. By the time day 5 rolled around, it felt “normal” and the increased size factor did not even cross my mind. Now when I hold the iPhone 5 or 5s it feels like should be called an iPhone Nano. It amazes me to think I used to watch videos and browse the web on a screen so small.
Given the choice, I would not go back to a smaller iPhone even if Apple offered me refund me the full price of my 6 Plus. In fact, I have yet to touch my iPad Air since I have received the 6 Plus. The 5.5-inch display can handle all my iPad-related tasks without the need to carry around a full-sized tablet.
While the increased size is an annoyance to most, the benefits greatly outweigh the negatives from my experience. There are several significant hardware improvements (I'll touch on these later), and while the device is big, the bulk factor in terms of size and thickness are still minimal. My 6 Plus fits in every pant and shorts pocket, and I have yet to encounter a situation where it felt like an obstruction within my pocket.
Increasing the screen size adds difficulty for one-handed use, so Apple implemented a few helpful tricks to ease this situation.The sleep/wake button has been transitioned from the top right corner (like all previous generations) and relocated it to the top right edge thus eliminating the need to awkwardly over extend your fingers trying to reach it.
Apple also debuted a new “reachability mode”, an exclusive feature for the 6 and 6 Plus. Initiated via a double-tap on the home button, the top elements of the screen will temporarily shift downward to let you touch certain elements on your screen that are out of reach when one-handed.
Something I'd like to make notable is the benefits of typing on larger display. The experience is more comfortable for me and my accuracy has improved since the touchscreen keys are bigger and easier to locate. The increased size has also been convenient for gaming or photo/video use as I have plenty of room to hold the device without my fingers taking up too much of the screen real estate.
I have averaged sized male hands so not everyone will share my point of view on the increased size. A female with significantly smaller hands might experience more of an issue using the 5.5-inch screen comfortably, and the standard 6 might be a more suitable option. The one notable sizing downfall for me is the lack of support for most of my old accessories like cases and mounting accessories which were not designed to support the increased dimensions and are thus rendered useless.
The 6 Plus benefits from much-needed update to the LCD display and it is the first iPhone to harness a full 1080P HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). This is long overdue as competitors like Samsung's Galaxy and Google's Nexus models have been utilizing 1080P displays in their flagship smartphones for years.
The display in the 6 Plus is one of the primary advantages over the iPhone 6 which still suffers from a 720P display. Not only is the display larger and a higher resolution in the 6 Plus, but it also offers greater pixel density (aka PPI) which is said to result in increased clarity. The 6 Plus' 5.5-inch display has a pixel density of 401 whereas the standard iPhone 6 has the same 326 PPI found in all previous generations dating back to the iPhone 4.
The higher-resolution screen was one of the biggest selling points to me personally. Since I often use my iPhone for streaming video, sending emails, and browsing the web, a higher-resolution experience is something that I highly sought after. Responsive websites are now much easier to browse, and I can finally enjoy native 1080P content in full quality without the need to downscale.
Color accuracy and depth is on par with previous iPhone displays, and while it cannot keep up with Samsung's notably saturated OLED panels, you'll still see high-resolution images or videos with realistic accuracy. Maximum screen brightness is where the 6 Plus reigns king of with the highest scores in a recent benchmark beating out its the 6 and 5S in addition to Samsung's Galaxy S5.
Months before its release, the rumor-mill initially hinted the front displays in the new iPhone models would also feature sapphire glass. Unfortunately, Apple was unable to execute this for various reasons (mainly production and viewing angle issues) so we are stuck with the traditional glass material found in previous generations that are adequate yet far from perfect. I have been ultra-careful keeping my screen from getting scratched however it already shows an array of scuff marks that are only noticeable when the screen is turned off. I'd recommend picking up a quality screen protector early on to prevent this from happening to you should you choose to buy the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.
TouchID & NFC
Apple first added their innovative TouchID sensor to the iPhone 5S last year, so it has also made its way to the 6 Plus. While I am unable to pinpoint whether the hardware or software is responsible, the iPhone 6 Plus's TouchID sensor is a significant improvement over that found on the iPhone 5S. My fingerprint correctly registers the first time I attempt around 85% of the time versus the 55-60% accuracy that I was experiencing on the 5S. TouchID still is far from being perfect, but the iPhone 6 Plus is proof that the concept is heading in the right direction.
Near field communication is new to Apple devices and another instance where Android models have been harnessing the benefits for years. Right now, the iPhone 6 Plus' NFC chip is locked down for the sole purpose of making payments via the company's new ‘Apple Pay' processing service. There is always room to expand this functionality, and I do think Apple will open it up its limitations once they have perfected the use of this short-range wireless communication.
Another large advantage of the iPhone 6 Plus is in regards to the internal, non-removable battery. The standard iPhone 6 packs an 1810mAh battery which is a reasonable improvement when compared to the 1500 mAh found in the iPhone 5s. However, the 6 Plus goes above and beyond with its 2915 mAh unit. It is true that the the larger screen requires slightly more power to operate, but the battery is still rated for 24 hours of talk time, 12 hours of internet browsing, 14 hours of HD video playback, audio playback up to 80 hours, and an unbelievable 16 days on standby.
The battery did not seem all that impressive during my first few days of use, but this tends to happen when you get a new device as you'll find yourself messing around with it a lot more in the beginning. After about 3-4 days, I started to realize how impressive the battery was and my typical need to recharge mid-day was unwarranted. Judging off a typical day of use, I still manage to have at least 45% (on average) when I get ready for bed at night without any mid-day charges. For me, this was unheard of with any previous generation iPhone and my 5S would have been dead by 3PM with the same amount of use.
The iPhone 6 Plus is one of the first devices to be shipped from the factory with the latest iOS 8 firmware. If you are not familiar with what iOS 8 brings to the table, there are a lot of great benefits with a large focus on convenience and improved functionality. Unlike the large cosmetic overhaul that occurred between iOS 6 and iOS 7, the interface and look of iOS 8 have stayed uniform to that of iOS 7. Apple appears to have stuck with the “if it ain't broke, don't fit it” mentality and that seems to work out nicely in this case.
Since I own several Macs running the latest OS X 10.10 Yosemite, my iPhone 6 Plus is not greatly interconnected thanks to the iCloud Drive and the increased iMessage integration. I can now easily share files between devices and keep in contact with my friends and family via iMessage and SMS relay. The benefits for a PC user are lesser, but there is a way to setup iCloud Drive integration within Windows as well.
The latest firmware makes better use of the TouchID, and it has now been allowed access for use in third-party apps. What this means is you can ditch typing in any passwords or passcodes and simply use your fingerprint for quick and easy identity verification in apps like Discover Mobile.
Third-party keyboards such as SwiftKey have been exclusively supported by Android for years until now. Apple finally released support for developers to take advantage of and allows the ability customize your user experience. I recently installed a fun keyboard called PopKey that lets me send hilarious reaction GIFs via text to my friends and family.
With a bigger display and higher pixel count, apps will not support the 6 Plus' native resolution automatically. A similar situation happened when the first Retina display was released on the iPhone 4. This means any apps that haven't been updated to support the new display are simply scaled up automatically which results in a less than ideal, but usable outcome. Most of the popular apps have already accounted for the higher-resolution display via a free update, but I'd anticipate this problem to disappear entirely within the next few months when a higher number of 6 Plus models are sold and developers have greater motivation to support the device.
iOS 8 has been a pleasing and smooth experience overall and the latest 8.1 update got rid of 95% of the bugs I have encountered with the newest firmware. However, I still have a problem with my audio cutting out 2-3 seconds after a YouTube/Vimeo/Facebook video starts playing and it requires me to restart the video to have working audio throughout the remainder of the video. This is likely related to an iOS 8 issue versus an iPhone 6 Plus issue, but either way I would expect it to be remedied within an update in the near future.
Last year's iPhone 5S had an excellent iSight camera, but the 6 Plus has improved upon this even further by way of a new sensor, optical image stabilization and various software improvements. While the decision to stick with an 8 mega-pixel sensor was met with much disappointment from consumers, it is important to remember that higher MP does not always correlate to better photos or overall quality. The quality of the sensor itself is what is more important and thankfully Apple hit it out of the park with the ones found in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. This sensor results in better low-light performance, higher dynamic ranges, and a greater depth of field. Optical image stabilization helps remove any unnecessary “shake” which coupled with the new sensor results in far better low-light performance than the 5S.
The sensor itself is what is more important, and thankfully Apple hit it out of the park with those found in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. This updated sensor results in better low-light performance, higher dynamic ranges, and a greater depth of field. Optical image stabilization is exclusive to the 6 Plus and helps remove any unnecessary “shake” which coupled with the new sensor results in far better low-light performance than the 5S.
The front-facing Facetime HD camera is still a 1.2MP yet this time it harnesses an f/2.2 aperture, allowing for 81% more light when compared to the f/2.4 aperture found in the 5S. Face detection has been improved for better AF performance as well as the added ability to take 10fps burst selfies should you so desire.
From my experience, the new focus-pixel auto-focusing technology is drastic, and I am finding myself taking better photos without any extra effort. iOS 8 has also added the ability to manually adjust your exposure levels while using the camera something that was not previously possible through the native camera app.
Time-lapse addicts can now get their fix without jumping through any extra hoops as the camera app includes a new time-lapse feature. By utilizing dynamically selected intervals and automatically converting them into beautiful videos, there is no further technical experience required so virtually anyone can make an awesome time-lapse.
With iOS 8's release, developers finally got access to the camera API. I downloaded a $1.99 app called Manual that opens up the ability to manually adjust camera settings like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, white balance and manual focusing. This adds a fun factor to iPhone photography and allows you to get some cool results that aren't possible when relying on the automatic settings that result from the native camera app.
Despite being an avid DSLR shooter, I have been impressed at the type of photos I can capture with the 6 Plus. In ideal conditions, I think you may even trick a seasoned photographer into believing a photograph was taken with a DSLR instead of this smartphone.
After doing a side-by-side comparison with the iPhone 5s, the camera improvements are overwhelmingly clear. Photos shot with the 6 Plus are sharper, and there is a noticeably smaller amount of noise and artifacts in low-light situations. The color temperatures and contrast are more balanced as the iPhone 5S tended to produce oversaturated images.
Photo Samples (Unedited, Straight From Camera)
The video capture function has also seen a vast improvement with the 6 Plus. The introduction of continuous auto-focus for video allows me to capture footage in virtually any situation and the lens will automatically keeping my subject(s) in focus at all times. The rear camera can now shoot 1080P at 60 fps, something even my $3,500 Canon 5D Mark III DSLR cannot do.
Handheld video shots have seen a vast improved thanks to the increased handling ergonomics of the iPhone 6 Plus' larger design coupled with a mixture of cinematic and optical image stabilization. The cinematic video stabilization is a software algorithm that will automatically smooth a shaky shot digitally without any significant decrease in visual quality whereas optical image stabilization is exclusive to the 6 Plus and relies on the OIS hardware embedded within the rear camera.
Last year, Apple dazzled us with the slo-mo capabilities of the iPhone 5S which could shoot 120 frames per second at 720P. This year, this slo-mo functionality has been doubled up to 240 fps at 720P and the resulting footage is wildly impressive. However, the 240 fps is so slow that shooting indoors under traditional florescent lighting often results in a pronounced flickering effect when played back in slow-motion. This is because the lights pulse at a shorter rate which are invisible to the naked eye, but able to be captured at 240 fps. In indoor situations, it is often best to switch back to 120 fps so you can capture slow-motion without any flicker ruining the footage.
When it comes to performance, the iPhone 6 Plus really shines. I have had the smoothest, snappiest iOS experience to date, and the device will handle virtually anything you can throw at it. The 6 Plus is not the top score in the benchmarks, but it has remained in the top 4 out of 12 competing devices.
Apple proved everyone's expectations wrong this year by releasing two of the best and largest iPhones ever made. Being a power-user, the iPhone 6 Plus has been a dream offering excellent performance and battery life coupled with a full 1080P HD display and a highly improved camera.
Still I would not recommend the iPhone 6 Plus to everyone as I think the regular iPhone 6 is the more suitable option in regards to size, features, and price-point for the average consumer. The 6 Plus is an entirely difference beast and I think power users will appreciate itespecially after they get used to the significant size increase. I am pleased with the direction Apple's line of smartphones is headed and given my experience with the 6 Plus, I would not go back to a smaller device had I been given the choice.