I’ve never loved phablets. I still don’t. Before they started selling well (because all of you started buying them), I labeled phablets as unholdable failures, and still feel obligated to warn you all: Unless you have Shaq’s hands, a phablet is not the best-sized phone for you.
Given the choice between a perfectly designed 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and a massive 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, the smartest among you will choose the standard 6. It’s a fantastic size for almost everyone.
But few of you are going to heed my size warnings, and why would you? So many phablets are sold each day that Apple felt compelled to throw out its own beliefs on phone usability and release the over-endowed iPhone 6 Plus.
Updated on 3-24-2015 by Malarie Gokey: Added in more impressions on Apple Pay, the camera, and battery life, after using the iPhone 6 Plus for several months.
Beautiful design (wish it were waterproof)
Year in and year out, the iPhone is always the best-looking, best-built phone available. Nothing has changed with the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. Aside from the HTC One M8, nothing out there comes close to its design quality.
Notable design features:
- An insanely thin 7.1mm body (the thinness should help if you use a case)
- A brushed-aluminum frame (silver, black, or champagne “gold” available)
- Less plastic than last year around the top and bottom of the back (there’s just a thin strip for the antenna)
- Roomier volume buttons
- A more comfortable power button on the side instead of the top
You will notice that the camera now protrudes about a millimeter from the back. This is a byproduct of Apple going for broke on thinness, and it could lead to some broken camera lenses, but isn’t excessively noticeable and doesn’t hamper the feel.
The brushed metal, rounded edges, and large size of the 6 and 6 Plus combine to produce a somewhat slippery device. If you’ve used an HTC One M8 or iPad, you know what you’re getting into here.
Finally, Apple has not commented on water resistance, but many leading competitors to the iPhone 6 Plus can take a dunk in the drink, including the LG G3, Galaxy S5, and Xperia Z2/Z3. Treat the iPhone like it’s Gizmo from Gremlins: Keep it away from water at all costs.
Still, when all is said and done, the pros outweigh the cons. This is a comfortable, beautiful iPhone that leads the market. Apple hasn’t lost a step.
Apple’s Reachability makes 6 Plus more manageable
Despite its size, one small feature makes the 6 Plus much easier to use: Reachability.
Normally, a big phone forces you to strrrretch your thumb between a Home button at the bottom of the screen, a notification tray way on the top of the screen, app back buttons in the upper left corner of the screen, and power/volume keys high up on the sides. The smaller a phone is, the easier it is for you to hit all these keys with one hand; the larger it gets, the more you have to adjust your grip or use two hands. This leads to discomfort and dropping.
Apple’s Reachability feature is the best way I’ve seen a phone maker deal with size.Reachability is the easiest, best way I’ve seen a phone maker deal with this common phablet problem. Double tap (not a press, just a touch tap) on the Home button and the entire top of the screen pulls itself halfway down. This simple maneuver lets you easily access the top three rows of app icons, yank down the Notification center, and reach the top-left navigation in apps. There are also options to increase text and icon size.
Even with Reachability, it’s still somewhat cumbersome to have to double tap every time you want a screen to come down to meet your thumb, but at least the iPhone gives an option if you need to do some things with one hand. Kudos to Apple for thinking that through better than any Android phone maker so far (or Google).
After using the phone for a few months, I found that I very rarely use reachability, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I need it. If I want to use the 6 Plus one-handed, I can manage it, by nestling the phone against my palm. Still, more often than not, I go with the two-handed approach, which begins to feel natural after you’ve adjusted to the phablet life.
iOS 8 is a good, small step forward
For a more complete look at iOS 8, you should read our full review. Aside from Reachability and some improvements to iCloud — Family Sharing and iCloud Drive both rock — there’s little new in the iPhone 6 Plus. Apple’s maligned Podcasts app is now included at installation and there are three new apps: Tips, Watch, and Health.
Tips is literally just a guide to new features in iOS 8. Despite being an app most people will use once, you can’t remove it. The same goes for the Apple Watch app.
Health is the most poorly designed app I’ve ever seen from Apple. In its current state, it is completely unusable by anyone outside of engineers and Apple’s elite. I’m not sure who approved this mess, but it’s shameful. I’ve been reviewing apps since 2006, and I’ve used better health and fitness apps on the original Motorola Razr phone than Apple’s Health app.
Without any form of tutorial you’ll have no idea what’s going on; even when Apple gets its act together and fixes the bug with the Health app’s Sources screen, nothing outside a massive redesign will make it user friendly. Right now it’s just folder after folder of complex medical terms, requests to manually add “data points,” and things you have no way to measure. The app needs to show you what you need to know and hide the clutter. So far, Health is a major disappointment.
Aside from Health, iOS 8 looks about identical to iOS 7, and that’s great. iOS remains the most consistent, easy-to-use operating system available. You can even do a few new things, like install your own custom keyboard — hello, SwiftKey.
Apple Pay may be derivative and niche, but you have to hand it to Apple, its mobile payment system is downright cool. I’ve used it a number of times at Whole Foods, Panera Bread, and a few pharmacies. Apple Pay really does work seamlessly, and assuming the company uses its big reputation to bring NFC technology to every single cash register in the United States of America and beyond, it could be a game changer.
Good specs, but storage comes at a cost
First, a rant. When is Apple going to upgrade the iPhone’s memory? The default $750 iPhone 6 Plus has only 16GB — the same as the low-end iPhone 3GS in 2010. There’s no reason Apple couldn’t give users at least 32GB of space in the cheapest iPhone 6 models except greed.
If you pay $100 more, you can get a 64GB iPhone, and $100 more will nab you 128GB. With apps and photos taking up much more space than even a year or two ago and no MicroSD support, we cannot recommend that you purchase a 16GB iPhone. Pay $100 more and buy a 64GB option.
iPhone 6 Plus is likely the best smartphone camera on the market.Outside of storage, the iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixel LCD screen, 1.4GHz dual-core 64-bit Apple A8 processor (based on the ARM v8), a special Apple M8 motion processor that can now detect movement precisely enough to know when you’re going up stairs, 1GB of RAM, ion-strengthened glass that may or may not be better than Gorilla Glass 3, an 8-megapixel rear camera, a 1.2-megapixel front camera, and an NFC chip, which will be used with Apple’s upcoming phone-payment system.
The 6 Plus appears to be roughly on par with the iPhone 6 and a small step up in power from the iPhone 5S. The phone gets noticeably warm when you play games or do a lot of downloading.
We performed a 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test on the iPhone 6 Plus and it scored about an 18,000, which is on par with the Galaxy S5. However, we should note that it didn’t appear to yet run at full 1080p resolution. The Geekbench processor benchmark gave the phone a slightly higher score than the iPhone 5S, with a 2,860 multi-core score, compared to a 2,515 for the 5S.
The specs of the iPhone 6 Plus are good, but no matter which way you slice it, Apple has not focused on raw processing power this year (or memory). The insides of the iPhone 6 Plus are a lot like the 5S.
Apple certainly gave the camera a boost on the iPhone 6 Plus. It takes consistently great shots in most lighting conditions. Often, a simple tap to change the focus in a picture will bring out the best in an image. When it comes to making cameras that are easy to use and take great photos, Apple is king.
I’ve even used it as my primary camera at press events. More than once, I’ve used it to shoot hands-on videos of other devices and app demos. It truly is a wonder. I haven’t had much use for Timelapse videos, except when I was at the NYC marathon, but it was pretty awesome to use it then.
Typically, the iPhone 6 Plus’ rear camera performs a little better in darker situations than older iPhones. The 6 Plus also brings out slightly more detail in certain situations (like the blue in the sky in a distant window) than the 5S.
The camera improvements are subtle, and the front camera is still a sad 1.2-megapixel webcam, but the iPhone 6 Plus still has the best smartphone camera on the market outside of crazy cam-centric phones like the Nokia Lumia 1020.
Call quality and battery life
Call quality and download times on the 6 Plus are up to par, and it’s impressive that Apple’s phone supports more LTE bands (more carriers) than any other smartphone. It can also seamlessly switch from a network call to a Wi-Fi call, and T-Mobile users will be able to take advantage of this feature first.
One of the biggest problems for iPhone users is battery life — It was at an all time low with the 5S, and most Android devices now approach two-day life. The iPhone 6 is almost as bad as the iPhone 5S at keeping a charge. However, the iPhone 6 Plus manages to last a lot longer.
Apple claims that the 2,915mAh battery in the 6 Plus will get up to 24 hours of talk time on 3G, but that’s not a terribly useful metric. I’m one of those obsessive people who charges their phone before it drops below 50 percent, so I rarely see my phone hit empty. However, after a full day at work, the battery is usually lingering around 70 percent, which is pretty incredible for an iPhone
On days when there’s a press event or two, that number drops to around 55 percent. Honestly, the only time I’ve ever worried about this phone dying dramatically in my hands was at the last two tradeshows. After using my phone almost nonstop to check calendar events, edit posts, text colleagues, email exhibitors, take photos, and a few videos between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the iPhone 6 Plus was at 17 percent battery. Granted, I did charge it once for about 5 to 15 minutes between events, but that’s still decent.
Now, these numbers won’t be true for all of you. Some networks drain battery more than others, and some people stream boatloads of videos on their phones, or play graphics-intensive games. Battery life on the iPhone 6 Plus may not be as great for everyone, but it still beats the hell out of what you got from your old iPhone.
Of Apple’s two new models, we recommend the iPhone 6 over the iPhone 6 Plus, but compared to other (oversized) phablets, this is a fantastic offering. It doesn’t have a stylus like the Galaxy Note 4, but Apple’s operating system is still smoother and more user-friendly than Google’s Android OS, which runs the Note. The easy Reachability features of the phone also make this phablet easier to handle. The only thing that could improve usability more would be a rear-mounted Home button, like LG has on its flagship G3 phone.
If you like big phones or have avoided previous iPhones because of their diminutive stature, take a fresh look at Apple. Though we’re unhappy about the 16GB of storage space in the low-end model (please, pay more to get 64GB), the iPhone 6 Plus feels smoother than any other phone, sports a top-notch camera, and has the best app selection.
- Industry-leading design, build quality
- Reachability feature makes size manageable
- Fantastic camera
- iOS 8 remains a fluid, beautiful OS
- Large battery
- 16GB storage on base model is not enough
- Large size is too big for some hands
- Specs aren’t much better than iPhone 5S
- No water resistance