- Great camera
They said they’d never do it, but Apple has busted a triumphant, unapolagetic u-turn by knocking out a phablet — a phone so big it could block out the sun. Behold, the behemoth that is the iPhone 6 Plus. It’s certainly big in stature, but as our review proves, it’s also big on substance.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus review – design: Size matters
Apple should have called it the iPhone 6 Hench because this thing is massive, measuring 6.2 inches long and just over 3 inches across, although it’s pretty damn anorexic at just 0.28 inches thick. The device is also exceptionally light, tipping the scales at just 172g. For reference the standard iPhone 6 weighs 129g.
As a result the iPhone 6 Plus feels very comfortable in the hand, despite its propensity to spill over the edges of your palm. Apple has ditched the squared off side edges of the iPhone 5S, opting for a more curvaceous design, which adds to the sumptuous, luxurious feel.
Build quality is stunning, as you’d expect from Apple. The anodized aluminium unibody enclosure makes a pleasant change from the legions of plastic Android handsets on the market, and all the buttons have a satisfying amount of travel and a reassuring click. The rear of the device – with its odd-looking antenna bands – is rather underwhelming, however.
Some users have noted that the 6 Plus has a propensity to bend, however, so you may need to be careful not to accidentally sit on it when it’s in your pocket.
Many of you will, quite rightly, think the iPhone 6 Plus is too big to use comfortably, and if you’ve got tiny lady hands then that judgement would be correct. However Apple has introduced a feature called Reachability, whereby if you double tap the home button the entire screen shifts down so all icons sit closer to your thumb. It’s genuinely possible to use the iPhone 6 Plus one-handed, although doing so adds a layer of complexity.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus review – screen: Big, bright and beautiful
The iPhone 6 Plus’ girth means it’ll accommodate a huge 5.7-inch, 1,920×1,080-pixel Retina HD screen. It’s gorgeous. The 401 pixels per inch density – three times that of the iPhone 5S — means it’s pretty much impossible to discern individual pixels with the naked eye – icons and images are rendered so beautifully, they often look as if they’ve been permanently painted on.
It is arguably the best-looking screen on a smartphone right now. Colours are bright and punchy without looking unnaturally over-saturated, viewing angles are excellent and it’s not very reflective, so you don’t have to crank the screen brightness up to combat glare.
The higher resolution means you get extra viewing area – 88 percent more than the 5S – so more icons fit on the screen – you can see even more of your favourite websites, contact lists, emails etc., without having to scroll. It’s also possible to rotate the desktop into landscape mode, with the primary icons (phone, mail, safari, music etc.) arranged on the right hand side.
Usefully, This feature also lets you connect the phone to an external display in landscape mode. The 5S, and even the iPhone 6, mainly show content in portrait mode when connected to a TV. Lots of apps really let you make the most of this; mail in particular, as you can see the sender and the content of the email simultaneously.
The extra space makes for a better, less fiddly virtual keyboard, particularly in landscape orientation. Here, the main qwerty buttons sit proudly in the centre, with a host of extra characters and shortcut buttons arranged on either side, giving you one-touch access to oft-used functions such as copy and paste, text formatting, or fine cursor movement.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus review – camera: A stunning snapper
The iPhone 6 Plus uses an 8-megapixel sensor, like the 5S, although it’s now smarter than ever. The most significant upgrade is the fact it now uses a new kind of focusing technology – the same as you get on Digital SLR cameras. Focus Pixels, as they’re known, soak up more information about every scene you shoot. They’re more sensitive to distinct angles of incoming light, so the phone is better able to calculate what should be in focus.
The end result is much faster autofocus when you move between objects in the frame, and incredibly rapid continuous autofocus in video mode. Picture quality is impressive; there’s genuinely no reason to carry a compact camera, as it produces stunning photos in pretty much all conditions.
Low light performance is particularly strong. The 6 Plus uses optical image stabilization, meaning an internal gyroscope keeps the sensor as still as possible even if you’re moving the phone around. In theory, this means it can keep the shutter open for longer, letting in more light, without blurring the image. In practice, it doesn’t work miracles, but it’s generally possible to take excellent photos in dark conditions without using a flash.
The standard iPhone 6, which lacks optical image stabilisation, produces great images too, although its images tend to be noisier (with more grain).
You can also take high-resolution 43 megapixel panorama shots, up from 28 megapixels on the 5S, so panoramic images look far nicer. Plus you get a timelapse mode, so you can get all arty – although that’s also available in every iphone running iOS 8.
The iPhone 6 Plus is also an excellent video camera. Previously, iPhones captured 1080p at 30fps. The iPhone 6 Plus captures at twice the frame rate: 60fps, delivering noticeably smoother footage. Its slow motion mode is also a step up from the previous generation, allowing 240fps super slow-mo, up from 120fps. Things now look twice as spectacular.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus review – performance: Power hunger
The iPhone 6 Plus is powered by Apple’s second-generation 64-bit processor, which the company claims is its fastest ever. It uses a 20nm fabrication process, so it has 2 billion transistors – nearly twice as many as on the previous-generation A7 chip.
In theory that equates to twice as much performance. Of course, in reality that’s never going to be the case, but Apple says the new chip delivers 25 per cent better performance for the CPU and 50 per cent faster graphics. The iPhone 5S was never a slouch, and this isn’t either. You won’t detect any perceptible improvement in day-to-day, but we fully expect developers to start creating apps that really take advantage of the extra grunt, particularly Apple’s new-fangled ‘Metal’ graphics technology, which allows console quality graphics in games.
One area of note is the fact that the standard iPhone 6 is ultimately a better performer than the 6 Plus. Both use the same processing hardware, but because the 6 Plus’s gubbins have to drive a screen with a larger resolution, it has less spare capacity to devote to the software it’s running. Expect intensive 3D games to run at slightly higher frame rates on the 6 than the 6 Plus. The 6 Plus managed an average frame rate of 28.49fps in our Relative Benchmark tests, while the 6 eclipsed it with an average of 53.62fps.
That extra power doesn’t affect the battery life. Apple says the 6 Plus is 50 per cent more efficient than the 5S, so you get up to 10 hours of browse time over 4G, 14 hours of 3G talk time and 10 days of standby. So far, a full charge has proved sufficient to last us two full days of normal use, incorporating web browsing, calling and texting.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus review – health: Fitness first
The new Health App in iOS 8 will give you a really useful overview of what you’re doing with your body. It essentially serves as a central health hub, harvesting data from all your installed health-related apps and devices in one handy place.
Useful, perhaps, is in the fact it not only functions as a pedometer – the M8 co-processor will measure every step you take – it also has a built in barometer, which senses air pressure to provide you with relative elevation. It basically measures how high you are in the atmosphere so precisely, that it can figure out how many steps you’ve walked up and down throughout the day. Or how tall a mountain you’ve scaled.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus review – Apple Pay: Not fully baked
The final really big feather in the iPhone 6 Plus’s cap is Apple Pay. Apple has finally adopted NFC or near field communications, so you can now tap your iPhone 6 on contactless payment readers to pay for small purchases. Currently this is only functional in the US. Apple is still working behind the scenes to bring the feature to the UK, and when it happens it could make your wallet redundant.
Apple iPhone 6 Plus review – verdict: Bigger and better
All in all, the iPhone 6 Plus is a wonderful new handset. It’s not necessarily as technologically advanced (on paper at least) as some of its Android rivals, but all its features work brilliantly and they’re so well integrated that the overall experience is right up there with the very best.
Of course, the standard iPhone 6 is easier to handle, delivers marginally better graphics performance and loses little in the imaging department despite having a supposedly inferior camera. But the iPhone 6 Plus is an absolute joy in just about every respect. If your palms are large enough to handle such a beast, we can’t recommend it highly enough.