It’s no easy task reviewing an iPhone. Apple isn’t like other phone makers and doesn’t create and launch several smartphone models throughout the year.
Instead, once per annum, Apple announces the new devices that it’s going to sell for the entire next 12 months. That’s it. It takes one shot a year, sits back and focuses on the next project on the table. Still, despite that approach, it manages to go toe-to-toe with Android makers that fire off several rounds each year.
This strategy works for Cupertino. Apple sold 10 million iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus units the first weekend the devices launched, which just goes to show the sort of pent up demand there is for its products. Samsung’s lucky to sell that many units of a flagship in a single month. It’s wild.
This year we were presented the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, the latter of which I’m reviewing in this article. Apple finally brought big-screen smartphones to the table and the iPhone 6 Plus is its first stab at a phablet.
The iPhone 6 Plus is huge. Even Apple admits, nay, advertises, this fact. Is it too big or does the size only contribute to the whole overall experience? Does Apple have enough here to take on the surely dozens of high-end Android phablets that are going to hit the market between now and next year?
I’m here to address that and more. Grab a cup of coffee, sit down in a comfortable chair and let’s get started.
iPhone 6 Plus Video Review
Is Bigger Better?
I’ve always been drawn to phablets, or larger screened phones, so if you’re looking for a phablet hater you won’t find one here. That said, the size of what a “phablet” is has changed. Anyone remember the HTC Titan Windows Mobile phone? When I first saw that it seemed insanely oversized. Now look where we are: phablets are everywhere and a 4.7-inch device is pretty much mid-sized.
I’ve carried the Note, Note II, Note 3, G3, Lumia 1520 – I’ve enjoyed using all of them. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to feel about a bigger iPhone, though. I’ve always carried an iPhone to complement the larger-screened Android or Windows Phone in my pocket. It’s easier to carry a smaller device for one-handed use on the subway, for example.
So, when it came time to buy a new iPhone, I actually decided to purchase the smaller iPhone 6 first. To be fair, the iPhone 6 Plus had already sold out, but I was also trying to remember that I’d usually have another, larger phone in my pocket. Like the LG G3 or OnePlus One.
Except, as it turns out, my pre-order actually ended up shipping days after I received my iPhone 6 and now I have the iPhone 6 Plus, too. And I’m in love with it. So much, in fact, that I’m not really even carrying the smaller iPhone 6 or any other phone for that matter.
Now let’s talk about what that kind of size provides.
Hardware: Bold Changes
First, the phone sports a 5.5-inch 1080p display. It’s awesome and is certainly one of the best smartphone screens I’ve used, and I’ve carried a lot of phones in the roughly 7 years I’ve been professionally reviewing smartphones.
I know there’s a case for Quad HD displays when there’s content available, and I also love the screen on the LG G3. Still, I can’t find anything remotely wrong with the screen on the iPhone 6 Plus. It’s bright, colors are accurate and everything is super, super sharp. I don’t think I really need anything sharper, I can’t even see these pixels.
Speaking of the screen, it looks like it’s practically painted onto the phone with a nice, smooth layer of lacquer on top. The glass runs over the edges, as lacquer might on an expensive table, adding a rounded effect at the edges that feels smooth as you run your fingers across the screen.
It’s also super, super bright. I usually have it turned down to about mid-brightness, which is more than enough for viewing under direct sunlight. The blacks are deep, but not nearly as inky as you’ll find on a Super AMOLED Plus screen offered by Samsung – those displays get much darker.
The A8 processor certainly whizzes around. There’s no stuttering really, except in a couple of apps that are still buggy. That also speaks volumes for the RAM. Yes, Apple “only” included 1GB of RAM here, but iOS 8 doesn’t need more than that just because competitors are packing 3GB of RAM into Android devices. There’s just no need for more here, I can’t see how the operating system could really feel much faster than it already does.
The design itself is unlike any of the most recent iPhones and actually calls back some of the elements we saw on the very first iPhone: particularly the use of metal and rounded edges. It almost feels like the design was pancaked, allowing Apple to increase the screen size while maintaining a super thin form factor.
It is a bit hard to reach across the entire screen, given its 5.5-inch size, but it wasn’t overly cumbersome. I was still able to enter in my e-mail address and password while walking to purchase a mobile train ticket, for example, though I did worry that I might drop the phone during this process. The power button is in easy reach on the right-hand side of the phone, instead of up top where it would be much harder to top, and the volume controls and mute switch are on the left. The 3.5mm headphone jack flanks a Lightning port and a speaker on the bottom which, by the way, is much louder than the speakers that came before it.
The back of the phone has received some criticism because of the rather ugly antenna bands jetting across it. They’re certainly an eye-sore, but I didn’t find them as intrusive on my space gray model, where they blend in a bit more than on the gold or silver options. The back of the phone is also home to the new 8-megapixel iSight camera, a circular True Tone LED flash and a metal Apple logo.
Finally, let’s just get one thing out of the way: yes, I’ve seen the reports and videos of people bending their phones. I never experienced any bending with the iPhone 6 Plus, and I wear tighter jeans than I care to admit. Apple has said customers who experience any sort of bending can take their devices to an Apple Store location for an inspection and a possible replacement.
The takeaway? Apple has a beautiful flagship on its hands that looks as good as it performs.
Software – The Best iOS to Date
Apple launched its brand new iOS 8 operating system in tandem with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus launch. It’s a big step forward with hundreds of new features, but it doesn’t offer the drastic UI changes between iOS 6 and iOS 7. Instead, this release focuses mostly on adding new features.
There’s a lot to love. I think my favorite new option is the ability to add widgets into the notification shade. I can now see Yahoo Weather and the latest sports scores from ESPN ScoreCenter, for example, without ever leaving my desktop. Yes, Android has had widgets forever and these still aren’t as powerful, but it’s a really great first step.
I also love Handoff, which allows you to take phone calls on other devices, like your iPad and, with the launch of OS X Yosemite, your Mac. It worked well between my iPhone and iPad, though I did notice there were a few times when calls simply didn’t appear on my iPad, which was weird. Continuity is another feature that links operating systems, and it allows you to start an e-mail or project on one device and then pick up right where you left off on another. Again, the full potential of this won’t really be realized until OS X Yosemite launches later this fall, however.
I appreciate that iOS 8 allows users to respond to text messages without unlocking a phone, which is another convenient feature. Additionally, Apple broke away some of the locks that prevented third-party keyboards, which means you can now install Swype or Swift Key or any number of other third-party options available. There’s even a .GIF keyboard! And speaking of freeing up some parts of the operating system, Apple now allows third-party apps to access Touch ID. I didn’t find anything useful for me just yet, my banks don’t offer support, but I hope that comes in the future as Apple launches its Apple Pay system.
If you’re unfamiliar with Apple Pay, it’s a new payment system that Apple is launching with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in October. Apple will allow users to tap their phone at a retail point-of-sale, using embedded NFC, to acquire goods. Google and several other companies have tried this before, and it’s too early to tell if Apple will help take mobile payments off the ground. Unfortunately we weren’t able to test Apple Pay since it is not live.
The iPhone 6 Plus does have a few issues, however. Most iOS apps haven’t been updated to take advantage of the huge display, which means there’s some blurring and a ton of wasted space. At the time of this review Tweetbot was one popular app that had actually been updated, which means the text looks sharper than in other apps. Also, the iPhone 6 Plus has an awesome landscape view for a few apps, like iMessage and Mail, which allows you to view more information on the screen than you can on the iPhone 6. I found it useful, but I’m mostly super excited about what other apps will add this functionality down the line. The landscape keyboard is massive and has extra buttons for copy/paste and other features, but I didn’t find myself using it very often, instead opting for portrait texting.
Speaking of big-screen usage, Apple did add some features to make it easier to use the phone with one hand. Reachability, for example, brings the top half of the screen down so you can easily exit a website or reach apps that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to tap with your thumb. I didn’t find myself using it much, only by accident from time to time, but it’s there if you need it. Also, if you have aging eyes, Apple has a mode that makes the icons nice and big.
Overall, iOS 8 is a great experience and adds plenty of new features. It’s still a bit buggy at launch, but Apple is fixing some of the early problems with software patches.
Camera – Everything Is More Fun at 240fps
Apple added one feature to the iPhone 6 Plus that’s not present on the iPhone 6: camera optical image stabilization. This feature is particularly useful if you’re filming video and you’re the actual moving object: maybe you’re riding a bike and want to film steady video, or maybe you just had too much coffee and your hands are shaky. Optical image stabilization can help offset those sorts of problems, particularly taking photos at night, and we found that it did an incredible job.
Video recorded while on a rocking ferry crossing the Hudson river into Manhattan looked smooth, and pictures snapped at night without any sort of tripod or balance came out super clear – even in a dimly lit restaurant for a birthday party. Pictures snapped in daylight were among the best we’ve ever seen from a smartphone camera, too, but keep in mind that 8-megapixels doesn’t “blow up” or crop as well as higher-res photos you’ll snap on a Galaxy S5 or something like the Lumia 1020.
Apple also added some really amazing features like time lapse video, which again looked awesome while crossing the Hudson river, and super slo-motion video that records at 240 frames per second, twice the rate of the 120-fps recorded by the iPhone 5s. It makes everything fun – from tossing a napkin in the air, to walking through a group of pigeons and even dropping a pastry on the table. Everything is more fun at 240fps.
I found myself reaching for the iPhone 6 Plus over the iPhone 6 in most situations because I could trust that the optical image stabilization in the iPhone 6 Plus would add that extra steadiness I needed for a great photo. That said, both phones take excellent photos and video, and I don’t think I’d necessarily go out of my way for the iPhone 6 Plus just for OIS.
I used the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus to make and receive calls. The good news is that both performed well and I couldn’t distinguish any major differences between the two. In other words, the experience should remain the same whether you chose the iPhone 6 or its larger brethren.
The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus both support Wi-Fi calling, though I was not able to test it on my AT&T unit as the carrier doesn’t offer Wi-Fi calling support yet.
Jon Rettinger tested Wi-Fi calling out in our Irvine office using T-Mobile and the carrier’s Personal CellSpot and found call quality was much clearer than without the Wi-Fi calling option. Both phones will also support VoLTE as that rolls out across major carriers this year. Speaking of Wi-Fi, we love the 802.11 ac functionality, which can offer speeds that are about twice as fast as 802.11n, or faster, in real-world scenarios. It’s a nice touch if you have a router that supports 802.11ac.
The speaker is very loud. It’s great for conference calls and playing videos or music. I did find that it was placed in an annoying spot, as usual, and that my hand blocked it when I was watching a movie in landscape mode.
Battery – All Day Life
I found that the iPhone 6 only offered slightly better battery than my old iPhone 5s. The iPhone 6 Plus, meanwhile, was leaps and bounds better. One day, after taking the phone off the charger at 8:30 a.m., it was still at 67 percent by 3:00 p.m. after heavy use.
I loved that I could take the phone off the charger in the morning and know that when I returned later at night, perhaps around midnight on a weekend, I’d still have juice left. That means I wasn’t frequently hunting down an outlet, as Samsung likes to poke fun at in its commercials. I also found that the iPhone 6 Plus does indeed charge much quicker if you can find an iPad charger. It’s worth picking one up if you don’t already have one.
In general, you’ll get through a full day of use. I should note that I found Twitter to be a huge battery drain and kept that closed as frequently as possible to save extra battery life. Also keep in mind that your mileage will definitely vary depending on what kind of cellular signal you have.
If your phone is constantly using power to try to grab a better signal, you’ll find that the battery will still deplete quickly.
TechnoBuffalo reviews the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple’s largest iPhone to date and the company’s attempt to take on the dozens of phablets released by Android makers over the past couple of years.
Here we are at the conclusion of the review and, roughly, a year from Apple’s next iPhone release. So should you pick up the iPhone 6 Plus? It’s the best iPhone Apple has ever made in my opinion, but that’s because I dig the larger screen. You could easily say the same thing about the iPhone 6, which is much more friendly for one-handed use but sacrifices OIS and some of the landscape software views I dig so much on the iPhone 6 Plus. You really can’t go wrong with either iPhone.
Apple improved every aspect of the device in terms of hardware specs: the iPhone 6 Plus is more robust than any iPhone that came before it, with a faster A8 processor, an improved camera, stellar battery life, Wi-Fi and VoLTE calling support, a thinner and sleeker profile, the sharpest display yet and more. For iPhone fans, it’s a win from every angle. It’s also a darn impressive phablet that may bring over more than just a few folks from the Android side of the fence. iOS 8 is very different from Android, however, so phablet fans will want to give it a whirl in-store first.
One thing is for certain: Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus is going to remain a stellar contender for at least the next year.
Jon Rettinger used the iPhone 6 Plus on T-Mobile from launch day, Sept. 19, until Oct 2. before we published the review. Todd Haselton used the iPhone 6 Plus for 8 days on AT&T before the review was published. The phones were purchased using company funds.
- Excellent Battery Life
- Amazing Camera
- Sharp and accurate display.
- Antenna bands are ugly
- iOS 8 Still Buggy
- Apple Pay Not Live yet (so we can’t test it)