In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone as a one-size-fits-all device. “You can’t get your hand around it”, “no one’s going to buy that.” said Steve Jobs, when asked about big screen phones like the 5″ Galaxy Note. This was 2010, after a controversial launch of the 3.5″ iPhone 4. Two years later, a 4″ iPhone 5 happened, and Tim Cook said “It also provides a larger screen without sacrificing one-handed use.”. People had already wanted a bigger iPhone by then. Even the generally awesome Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak got frustrated and said “Part of me wishes that Apple had not been so, kind of, arrogant and feeling we’re the only one with the right clue. I wish they had made a small and a large version of the iPhone; that would have been great for me.” That was the old Apple.
The new Apple heeded to public demand and released the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus a while back. There are now two kinds of iPhones, not one, and in this review, we are going to focus on the “phablet” from Apple, the 5.5″ iPhone 6 Plus.
Note: The review will focus solely on the 6 Plus, in assumption that you already know about the iPhone 6. In case you don’t, we have our iPhone 6 review available for educational purposes.
Straight away, let’s address the elephant in the room. Does the iPhone 6 Plus bend?
Before we answer the question, you should know a thing or two about materials, especially malleable and ductile materials like Aluminium. Yes, the iPhone 6 Plus is made of anodized aluminium and, unfortunately, it is really thin, at 7.1mm (0.2mm thicker than the iPhone 6). For the world’s 2nd most malleable metal, thinness equals less density, which naturally brings up the concern of bendability.
So.. yes, it could bend, but you have to make sure you don’t sit on it. No really, if you sit on a piece of malleable metal the wrong way, it bends, because the pressure you give exceeds the threshold. That’s the same case with the iPhone 6 plus. It bends if and when you exceed the threshold, and surely, exceeding it doesn’t happen without manual force, mostly. Well, “mostly” because the 6 plus is tall (158.1mm), really tall (vs 138.1mm on the iPhone 6), so there arises the incompatibility with tight pants and short pockets. Sometimes, by accident, short pockets can make you exert enough force to bend the 6 plus, but you only have to be slightly careful to not sit or bend your legs in a reflex, with the phone in your pockets.
I have been using the 6 plus for 4 weeks now, and it has not bent, not a bit. It survived hour long commutes in tight short pockets and came away unscathed. From personal experience, I can say the iPhone 6 plus will never bend but that doesn’t mean it can’t. In fact, this applies to several other phones out there, made of aluminium. Truth is, they won’t bend, unless you are careless.
And now for the next concern, how big is the iPhone 6 plus?
This is the first time Apple has come out of its comfort zone, but it looks like you might have to, too. The iPhone 6 Plus is big and it will be uncomfortable if you aren’t used to phablet-sized devices. With a 5.5″ display, the device actually measures 6.22″ vertically, which makes it too big for many. This is mainly because of the generous bezels around the display. Also, by design, the curved edges are outward and hence the phone becomes wider than usual, at 77.8mm.
Here’s a comparison of various phablet-sized devices with the iPhone 6 plus, to give you an idea.
Because of these dimensions, one handed usage is obviously the biggest compromise Apple made with the 6 plus. You just can’t use it freely. And it’s not even about the comfort in reaching UI controls (more on that in the software section) or hardware buttons, it’s about the danger of dropping the phone. The curved aluminium body is slippery, especially if you have rough dry hands like me, and the device is heavy enough (172g) to force you into making mistakes. I have big hands and can use the 6 plus without much trouble but even then, it has slipped a couple of times. I’ve been using a case ever since, and I suggest you do the same, if you don’t want damage to your investment.
However, form factor has dictated Apple to make things slightly easier in hardware. The lock switch has been moved from the top to the right side of the phone. It now sits exactly at the place where a right handed thumb or a left handed index finger reaches, making it easier to lock the phone. Unlocking is much easier thanks to Touch ID, which makes it effortless if you already had registered your thumb with it. Just a press on the lock button lights the screen up, if you keep the finger placed, the phone unlocks to the home screen in an instant. Using this on the iPhone 5s might have felt normal, but on the 6 plus, it makes the form factor slightly more comfortable. We have seen and used a lot of phablets and the 6 Plus feels no different, but if you aren’t used to big screens already, you will find the 6 plus daunting. People with small hands though, do yourself a favour and please read our iPhone 6 review.
Ever since the iPhone 4, Apple has had great displays on its phones, the 6 Plus is no exception. The 5.5″ display comes with a standard 16:9 1920×1080 pixels resolution with a “Retina HD” pixel density of 401 ppi. This is comfortably above the 326 ppi “Retina” benchmark set by Apple, the ppi at which our eyes fail to resolve individual pixels. The industry has pushed forward ever since, we have quad HD displays now, but Apple knows that it is not just about resolution. The 6 Plus has something called Dual Domain pixels that radically increase the viewing angles. It’s also their thinnest yet, meaning the screen is most definitely bonded to the display, closer than ever. This makes for stunning viewing angles and great outdoor visibility, with the oleophobic coating making sure our fingerprints don’t come in the way of a superior experience.
The iPhone 6 is almost as good as the 6 plus but we did note some differences. Despite Apple openly stating that the contrast ratio on iPhone 6 is higher than the 6 Plus, we found the blacks to be deeper on the latter. The backlight bleeds a little on the iPhone 6 whereas we found no such issue on the 6 Plus. With black bezels, the 6 Plus’ display completely blends into the phone, with the curved edges making it look way better than it already is. It’s great for watching videos, playing games and indulge in any form of consumption, including browsing.
The iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus have largely the same cameras, except for the inclusion of optical image stabilization on the latter. Perhaps, using up the little extra thickness on the 6 Plus, Apple has managed to pack a hardware solution for video stabilization. The iPhone 6 does come with software-based cinematic stabilization, so how much of a difference does the iPhone 6 Plus’ OIS unit bring?
As you can see from the videos above, there is a slight difference in stabilization between the two, with, surprisingly, the 6 Plus having more jitter. This is typical of hardware solutions, but usually, manufacturers take advantage of OIS in stills too, extending shutter speed sometimes, but Apple has refrained from doing the same. The only real advantage of OIS on a 6 Plus is in video, and even that doesn’t seem much in comparison. So, even with differences in stabilization, both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6s have the same performance but it’s generally great.
The 6 Plus was a delight to shoot with, especially in well lit environments. The new algorithms, applied on the same 8 megapixel sensor from the 5s, resolve tremendous amounts of detail. Also, thanks to the new ISP, the faster AF system can latch on to the focus in an instant, making continuous auto-focus in video even better. Then there are new modes for the camera, like Timelapse and 240 fps 720p slo-mo videos, but we still don’t have finer controls. Quite understandable because Apple’s aim is to make shooting as easy as possible, so we don’t really complain. You always have third party apps for that, and with the recent additions to the camera API, the scene is looking great for enthusiasts wanting more control of their iPhone’s camera.
Here are some carefully selected camera samples to demonstrate the performance, including in tough conditions – (all photos taken using the default app)
Performance has never been a concern with new iPhones. The latest one always has the greatest processor inside, this time the A8. The new chip is supposedly 50x faster in CPU performance and 84x more powerful in GPU performance when compared to the “first” iPhone. But of course, Apple always wants bigger numbers to boast about, so what are the real ones? How does it compare to the iPhone 6, with different screen resolutions and all? We ran benchmarks to find out.
These two graphs above portray the common trend with the 6 Plus’ performance. It’s almost the same as the 6 but sometimes better. These are just benchmarks though. When it comes to real-life usage, both the iPhones exhibit similar levels of performance in apps as well as games. Not many tangible differences were noted, but yes, both were fast and blazed through GPU tests that included games and running graphic-intensive programs. Here is a gaming review –
As you can see from the video above, the 6 Plus is great for gaming. The large beautiful screen makes gaming immersive and enjoyable, thereby enabling the possibility of replacing your iPad mini with this. Unoptimized apps aside, the performance on the 6 Plus is solid and is nothing to worry about. Moving on to storage, the variant we have is the 64 GB 6 Plus, which exists alongside the 16 and the 128 GB variants. There is no 32 GB storage variant anymore, which is a bummer because 16 GB is never enough and 64 GB might be a little too much. But if you are going for the iPhone 6 or the 6 Plus, go for the 64 GB variant. On the connectivity side, the 6 and the 6 Plus both come with LTE support in India, which is an added benefit if you’re living in the few cities with coverage areas.
The final version of iOS 8 debuted alongside new hardware, with an update (8.1) lined up a few weeks after. The latest version of iOS builds on the radically different iOS 7, which was a big departure from the tired old skueuomorphic UI. Design refinements aside, iOS 8 brings some really important OS features like extensibility, novel inter-play features like continuity, hand off and so on. We have a review of iOS 8 ready, in case you are interested in a complete lowdown of the operating system, but let’s focus on the 6 Plus here and see what Apple has done to adapt its software to the big screen.
Early on in the setup phase, Apple asks you whether you want a “standard” setup or a “zoomed” setup. The next page shows you two screenshots of icons arranged in the usual grid, one scaled to the native resolution (standard), and the other scaled to a lower resolution, with bigger icons and a tighter grid (zoomed). Choosing “Standard” makes the 6 plus utilize the full real estate of the screen, with smaller fonts and more items on a scrolling list. There is also the landscape mode enabled by default (just for the 6 plus) which makes it look like a iPad mini, but with a 16:9 screen. With landscape orientation comes the additional real estate in apps, which Apple wants developers to take advantage of, with a split screen two-column mode. This is evident in the phone settings, which is made to look like the one on the iPad. But even the default apps have been modified well for the 6 Plus’ unique form factor and slowly, a lot of third party apps are also being updated to support the new bigger iPhones.
To combat general phablet issues, like not being able to reach the notification tray with one hand, Apple has introduced a feature called “reachability”. Not able to reach the top of the UI? A soft double tap on the home button (like a capacitive touch button) slides the UI downward, with the top reaching the screen half-way. This is not an elegant solution, really, as it didn’t prove to be too useful over the course of our usage. With the back buttons nestled at the top left of most apps, the UI gesture of swiping from the left edge of the screen to the right is the only easy way of going back a level in an app. Thankfully, many apps have it enabled. As mentioned earlier, a lot of apps are being updated to support the latest iPhones, in screen size as well as in landscape. iOS developers mostly never fail to update their apps to support new features or form factors, as evidenced by the overwhelming number of apps on the iPad, so we expect a new range of landscape-orientation apps coming over for the 6 Plus and similar to the 6, the landscape keyboard gets more buttons for quick custom actions in specific apps. In general, iOS has become more open and more competitive in terms of power user features. We approve.
The 6 Plus, thanks to its generous dimensions, features the largest iPhone battery yet, coming at a capacity of 2915 mAH. Couple this with iOS’ usually stringent measures to conserve power, naturally you get great battery life. We consistently got around 8-10 hours of heavy usage with the 6 plus, with standby times extending well over a day. So technically, we had to charge the 6 Plus once every two days, which is great news considering the level of battery performance we had seen in the previous iPhones. Accurate stats are possible because iOS 8 has added the ability to monitor usage of battery, so even if you have installed too many apps with too many background permissions, you can find the rogue one out and disable its background features.
In line with our real-life tests, our custom-built battery stress test, that we run for all our devices, produced a one-charge rating of 14 hours and 38 minutes of usage. This involved a lot of controlled tests, which you can read about, in detail here(link will be up soon).
In the end, Steve Jobs was wrong and Tim Cook was in denial. People wanted it so much that the Apple phablet is here, following a trend set by rivals. For longtime Apple users, the form factor will be daunting, but it’s clear that the aim is on converting Android users, not satisfying the existing iPhone user base. Yes, the size is crazy, but we have seen bigger phones already and will continue seeing them for a long time to come. It’s time for larger pockets, literally and figuratively, if you plan on buying a really good large screen smartphone. The iPhone 6 Plus is top notch for what it is. It could have been a lot more, like for example it could have had a larger camera, thinner bezels and front facing speakers, but seeing that the same things are not too likely on an iPhone 6 would have stopped Apple from differentiating it too much. However, the battery life is great, the larger display has a standard resolution and is much better looking and then there is the opportunity to entirely replace your phone and your mini tablet with just one device, which is exactly what Cupertino is aiming for. Irrespective of being an iPhone/Android user, if you are looking for a high end phablet, the 6 plus should feature high on the list. Put a case on it like everyone else and make sure you have deep pockets to buy and use it.
Credits: Photos by Siraj Hassan