iPhone 6 Plus review: oversized and undercooked
Big smartphones are in. The is evidenced by the fact that most high-end smartphones are approaching (and crossing) the 5-inch threshold. The new Moto X, HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3, and many other notable smartphones are all 5-inches or larger.
Apple, until now, avoided the growing fad. In 2012, when it announced the iPhone 5, Apple only stretched the iPhone 4S display vertically and added just enough pixels to maintain the 326 pixels per inch rating. It referred to the size of the iPhone 5 display as “a dazzling display of common sense”, showing how it was sized perfectly for the human hand.
Anyone who felt the iPhone was too small was simply out of luck and had to shop elsewhere – either within the Windows Phone or Android ecosystems – for a larger phone.
Apparently, what was common sense in 2012 is no longer relevant as Apple introduced two bigger iPhones this year – a 4.7-inch model and a massive 5.5-inch phone. Michael put the smaller iPhone 6 to the test and expressed his thoughts in our full review.
Now it’s time to tackle the larger beast, the iPhone 6 Plus. We’ve spent 13 days toting around Apple’s 5.5-inch smartphone. Below, you will see how it fares.
Software · Camera · Performance · Pros/Cons
iPhone 6 Review Videos
Specs & Hardware
When it comes to hardware, Apple didn’t just change the size of the new iPhones, it also tweaked the design language, summoning the rounded edges of the original iPhone. Instead of the harsh lines of edges on the last four iPhone models, these edges fade into the completely flat backside. The unibody casing on the iPhone 6 Plus is only broken up to make room for the antenna inlay.
You wouldn’t imagine something so innocent and minor would draw such negative feedback. But the polycarbonate spacers around the back have been the focus of a lot of flak. Frankly, while we’ve seen similar designs on other metal smartphones like the One M7 and One M8, these are a little inelegant on an otherwise gorgeous smartphone.
Not to mention, this is the first iPhone with a small camera bump. Apple worked some of its magic to get the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to be so thin. The larger of the two is just 7.1mm thick – thinner than most phones on the market. Paired with the five-element lens and optical image stabilization, it’s understandable that the camera housing can’t entirely fit in such a slim casing. But for a company with such high standards for aesthetics and design like Apple, the camera bump seems out of place. It’s like a wart or abscess just hanging out on the back of the phone. It’s very unlike Apple.
The iPhone 6 Plus is unapologetic about its size, though. Housing such a large display, we expected the 6 Plus to be a big phone. But it’s actually taller and wider than comparably-sized smartphones. The Oppo Find 7a, for example, also has a 5.5-inch display. But the iPhone is 5.5mm taller and 2.8mm wider than the Find 7a. It’s also a hefty 172g – 60g or 35 percent heavier than the iPhone 5s and 43g heavier than the iPhone 6.
It’s a tank, but it feels substantial, not just heavy. The way the glass just melts into the rounded edges is almost like a work of art, a minor detail most mobile manufacturers would overlook. It feels like a polished pebble. That’s both good and bad, however. It makes the phone feel premium in the hand, but it also makes it rather difficult to hold on to. How thin the phone is, its rounded edges, flat back, and weight all come together to make this phone feel like it’s trying to be dropped at any given moment.
We very nearly dropped our 6 Plus several times, which is why we felt more confident and comfortable carrying the phone in a case.
Both new iPhone models have faced some controversy over their alleged susceptibility to bending, as well. User reports of bending iPhones have spread like a wildfire across the Internet while Apple maintains that the number of official claims of bent iPhone 6s are minimal – less than 10 as of last week.
The debate may never end, and people going around purposefully bending iPhones – either their own or the property of Apple or wireless providers – proves nothing and helps no one.
We’ll put it this way, every phone is susceptible to some degree of bending under a certain force. However, aluminum phones, in particular, don’t have the ability to bounce back quite as well as, say, plastic. Theoretically, the iPhone 6 Plus, specifically, is more likely to get bent than, say, an iPhone 4 or iPhone 5, simply because it doesn’t have a strengthened metal band around its perimeter and because a single piece of metal is spanning a much larger area.
We’ve carried it both in front and back pockets, with and without a case. Through normal usage, our unit shows no signs of any warping so far.
Internally, Apple has added and upgraded a few components, like the new A8 chip, which is a 1.4GHz dual-core Cyclone CPU and PowerVR GX6450 quad-core GPU. It also tweaked the storage options. The iPhone 6 Plus comes in 16, 64, and 128GB options, leaving us confused as to why it kept 16GB instead of 32. Meanwhile, it still has just 1GB of RAM and an 8-megapixel camera, though the 6 Plus comes with optical image stabilization. And the battery is much larger this time, to offset the new display size – 11.1Wh or 2,915mAh.
Apple also introduced NFC for Apple Pay mobile payments and Wi-Fi 802.11 ac. It comes with Bluetooth 4.0 LE and the TouchID sensor for fingerprint scanning.
Ultimately, the biggest hardware change is, of course, the display. It’s a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD. It bears a respectable 401 pixels per inch and provides vibrant yet accurate colors. Contrast is great, as are viewing angles, and the brightness range is very wide. Whites do appear to be somewhat warm but, overall, we’re very impressed with the display. It’s a gorgeous display that many will find exceptional for viewing media, playing games, and using in general.
In all, the hardware is very nice. It’s some of the nicest we’ve seen out of Apple, even if the polycarbonate spacers aren’t much to look at and the camera juts out just a hair. It feels very sturdy and premium, though if you’re anything like us, you’ll probably throw it in a case, just so you don’t drop the thing.
It’s what Apple did – or didn’t do, rather – to take advantage of that extra display space that confused us the most.
The iPhone 6 Plus comes with the latest version of its mobile OS, iOS 8. As far as appearances go, the newest version hardly looks any different than last year’s iOS 7 update. The appearance of Control Center has been simplified and cleaned up, but for the most part, it looks identical to the previous version.
Most of the changes Apple made in iOS 8 aren’t visual. Instead, they’re in the way applications communicate with one another and how your Apple devices handoff information between one another.
Extensibility, for example, has to be the highlight of iOS 8. It allows unprecedented third-party integration in iOS through the use of some very helpful APIs. When sharing a photo or a web page, there are more options than ever before included in the iOS share menu, and you can toggle specific services on and off or rearrange them, based on your preferences. Straight from Safari or Chrome, you can save articles to Pocket or Evernote. In Photos, you can share a photo or video directly to Snapchat.
Unfortunately, the options for third-party sharing are pretty sparse so far. Even though many of our installed applications have been updated for iOS 8, they still don’t have sharing options built into the stock iOS share menu.
Third-party keyboards were also a major bullet point for the update. Some of the most popular third-party options from Android are already available on iOS and we tried SwiftKey, Swype, and Minuum on the iPhone 6 Plus. As I explained in a previous editorial, third-party keyboards appear to be limited, either by the OS or by restrictions put in place by Apple. Unlike the Android version of Minuum, SwiftKey, or Swype, their iOS counterparts do not come with number or symbol shortcuts on the keys. Instead, you must tap the symbol key to switch to the symbol input panel, just like when using the stock iOS keyboard.
Even more, you can disable the stock iOS keyboard. However, that doesn’t guarantee it will be gone forever. It will incessantly reappear, sometimes with no explanation but usually for inputting hidden passwords. We’ve had issues with keyboards not opening at all, disappearing, simply not inputting text, and sometimes covering up the text field.
A choice in keyboards had the potential to be the high point of iOS 8, but it turned out to be one of the most inconsistent, jerky experiences we’ve ever had on iOS.
Today Widgets, on the other hand, are a big of an unexpected, redeeming quality of iOS 8. Third-party apps can now display information in Notification Center’s Today page. Most are simply for at-a-glance information for news feeds, statuses, or general information for different apps. However, widgets like Evernote and Cheatsheet stuck out with a certain utility not previously found on iOS. We’ll focus more the specifics of iOS 8 in our full review of the operating system itself later this week.
In short, the other changes, Family Sharing, advanced Spotlight searches, and Shazam integration in Siri are welcomed additions, but they don’t dramatically improve or change the iOS experience. It’s very much the same iOS it’s always been. HealthKit, paired with the M8 motion coprocessor, also offers a lot of promise in the future, when third-party peripherals and wearables bring a new level of health and body tracking to iOS.
As far as specific software for the sheer size of the iPhone 6 Plus – Apple did almost nothing to take advantage of the extra display space. An extra row of icons was added to the home screen, now totaling six; the entire UI now rotates a full 360 degrees, even on the home screens; Reachability allows the user to slide the topmost elements of the UI down to the middle of the display through a double-tap of the home button; some apps – such as Safari, Messages, or Settings – will display split-pane or tablet-like view in landscape; and the stock iOS keyboard, in landscape, introduces some new buttons for extended functionality, dedicated buttons for copy, paste, cursor navigation, and more.
They’re nice little touches, but none of these features have proven all that helpful in day to day use. The phone is still too big for most to even consider using one-handed, effectively nullifying Reachability, and these features do little to capitalize on the additional display space.
If you were hoping for increased productivity features or true multitasking, you won’t be impressed. However, the extra display is useful in other ways, which we’ll get to in the Performance section of this review.
The worst part, especially on the iPhone 6 Plus, is that most applications simply stretch to fit the display instead of scaling. What that means is that applications that don’t officially support 1080p are expanded to fill the screen. This results in an oversized status bar and fuzzy looking applications. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it also isn’t the buttery smooth, polished experience we’re used to from iOS.
In other words, iOS 8 had the potential to be one of the most impressive software updates from Apple – possibly ever. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still the same iOS we know and love, but Apple failed to capitalize in some areas and over-promised in others. If anything, it feels like a rushed product and it will take time for third-party support for keyboards, sharing, widgets, and more to branch out.
Despite the improvements to the camera hardware, Apple hardly touched the viewfinder software. It’s certainly just as easy to navigate and operate, but it also doesn’t use the extra space in any clever way. And some settings that should be easy to toggle on the fly – like a grid or whether HDR mode will save the original photo alongside the HDR photo – are still buried in the system settings app.
Apple did, however make some major changes to the built-in photo editor within the Photos app. You can now edit movies on the fly and make both major and minor tweaks to photos without installing a third-party editor. If you do, however, you can activate them as “extensions”, allowing you to enable multiple levels of photo editing all without ever leaving the Photos app, similarly to how third-party sharing works.
As for the 8-megapixel iSight camera around back, we’re quite pleased with what it’s capable of. Shots in broad daylight showcase tons of detail, accurate color reproduction (albeit somewhat muted at times), and extremely sharp focus. Speaking of focus, the iPhone 6 Plus now uses phase detection auto-focus, not unlike what’s found on the Galaxy S5 camera, and it locks on to subjects insanely fast. In the viewfinder, you can jump between focus on closeup and faraway objects with almost no delay. We rarely had any trouble with blurry or out-of-focus pictures – something we can’t say for the phones we’ve compared the 6 Plus to.
The f/2.2 aperture helps create a very nice bokeh when shooting up close subjects, providing a nice defocusing effect on all background objects and creating a sense of depth.
The iPhone 6 Plus does a great job of taking pretty stellar photos in almost any situation. That said, its low light and night shooting capabilities aren’t as impressive as we hoped. Despite the optical image stabilization, from our testing, the iPhone 6 Plus isn’t notably better than its smaller next of kin, the iPhone 6, which instead uses digital stabilization. Low-light shots appear more muted and lack the sort of detail we hoped to see. Subjects often have the “oil painting effect” in low to poor lighting.
However, we discovered that bumping up the exposure just a hair in poor lighting did manage to give some shots a very nice boost. Still, the iPhone 6 Plus camera’s low light capabilities don’t quite rival those of some other OIS cameras we’ve used – particularly some Lumia models.
Where you’ll get the most out of the OIS, rather, is in video capture. The optical stabilization does a great job of keeping video smooth, though with aggressive movement, you may still see some warping. Colors are a bit muted and the video capture mode had the tendency to over-expose, but adjusting exposure on the fly is very easy. Audio quality, like with call quality, is muddy and muffled.
Last year, Apple introduced 720p slow motion capture at 120fps on the iPhone 5s. With the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, slo-mo capture is still shot at 720p but at double the capture rate: 240fps. The result is ultra slow motion capture. It’s a lot of fun to play around with, but it’s important to note that the video, albeit 720p, doesn’t look very sharp or crisp. It’s a fair tradeoff for such a high frame rate, if you ask us.
Unfortunately, Apple is a little behind the curve on the selfie craze this year. Unlike most OEMs who have boosted their front-facing cameras to 5-megapixels and beyond, Apple decided to keep the front-facer on the 6 Plus at 1.2-megapixels. It does its job, but it’s definitely no competition for other wide-angle 5-megapixel front cameras.
Despite the bugs and inconsistencies of iOS 8, we’re happy to report that performance is as great as it’s ever been on the iPhone 6 Plus. It’s as fluid as ever – opening apps, zooming, scrolling, switching apps, and everything else is snappy and extremely smooth. Everything from unlocking the phone with TouchID to launching the camera happens in an instant and the lag we experienced over our first weekend was seemingly snuffed out in the 8.0.2 update.
That said, the software isn’t bug-free, and we have experienced both app crashing and at least two random reboots.
The most interesting problem we’ve encountered is trouble with orientation. Rotating the phone to landscape doesn’t always result in the UI rotating accordingly. You might be holding the phone in landscape while an app remains in portrait, yet if you press the home button, the home screen will appear in landscape – all without ever moving the phone. This happened quite often in the stock Camera app, resulting in photos incorrectly oriented. Thankfully, that’s a quick and easy fix with the built-in photo editor.
Still, performance is topnotch. Gaming, with the 5.5-inch 1080p display is fantastic; there’s more room to enjoy graphics and for on-screen controls.
Metal technology, Apple’s new name for gaming improvements to iOS, doesn’t seem to provide anything terribly compelling outside some additional content. Games were buttery smooth. But at the end of the day, a “console-like” game on iOS is still just a … mobile game.
And if benchmark scores your thing, the iPhone 6 Plus won’t disappoint, though we’d still argue they’re pretty meaningless.
One of the most surprising and impressive aspects of this phone is its loudspeaker. Positioned along the bottom edge, it isn’t in the most ideal location. We covered it up by accident with our fingers and palms quite often. It isn’t quite as loud as, say, the One M8’s BoomSound speakers, but it definitely packs a punch. It’s loud and surprisingly balanced, as a speaker should be on a phone made for excessive media consumption.
In that same vein, speakerphone quality was great. We had no trouble hearing callers, even in very noisy environments. That said, regular call quality was more muddy than we would have expected. At best, we’d say it’s mediocre and most folks won’t complain. Data speeds, on the other hand, have been great and very consistent on Verizon Wireless here in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina, even in spotty areas.
Arguably the best part of this phone’s performance, however, is battery life. We’ll admit, we were a little concerned the larger display might affect the stamina. In short, it doesn’t. Apple has managed to pack a large enough battery to last well into a second day of use on a single charge. On an average day, we would use the phone for upwards of 15 hours. Each night, we had over 35 percent charge left.
To be more precise, we unplugged the 6 Plus at 10:00 AM on a Saturday. We played about an hour and a half straight of Table Tennis and Alone, streamed over four hours of Rdio to a UE Boom speaker, texted and IMed throughout the day, took dozens of pictures, browsed the Web, watched some YouTube videos, and tweeted. At 2:00 AM – 16 hours later – on Sunday morning, the 6 Plus still had 34 percent battery left.
Most users will not struggle to get a full day, maybe even a day and a half, per charge. Some may even be able to squeeze two days out of the 6 Plus.
+ Fantastic build quality and in-hand feel
+ Above average camera performance
+ Third-party support in iOS is refreshing
+ Incredible battery life that should carry most into a second day
+ iPhone app/accessory ecosystem still the strongest of all platforms
– iOS 8 comes with bugs and missing promised features
– Call quality took a backseat this year
– The slick build might prompt users to always use a case
Pricing and Availability
The iPhone 6 Plus officially went on sale September 19, 2014, starting at $749 for the unlocked 16GB model. The 64GB and 128GB models sell for $849 and $949, respectively, sans contract. it also comes in three color options: Silver, Gold, and Space Gray.
Here in the States, the iPhone 6 Plus is available through all major networks and most regional providers, beginning at $299 with a two-year agreement. You’ll be paying $399 and $499 for 64GB and 128GB models, respectively.
In the end, the iPhone 6 Plus is exactly what we imagined it would be – an oversized iPhone. And while Apple did little to take advantage of that extra space, it made up for it in other areas, like the speaker quality, battery life, and even performance.
No, this phone won’t provide the same level of “phablet” functionality you’ll get out of the Galaxy Note 3 or 4 with the S Pens and true multitasking features. And iOS 8 is noticeably undercooked. The keyboard bugs seriously need to be ironed out. That said, we’re confident the third-party support will grow over time and applications will (hopefully) be updated to support the new screen resolutions.
Still, if you’re looking for something better suited for mobile gaming, more comfortable browsing or video playback, more spacious typing, and not all that different from the iPhone you’ve been carrying (or once carried) for years, the iPhone 6 Plus is a fantastic buy. And if you feel it might be a smidgen too large, Michael says the iPhone 6 isn’t so bad either.
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