A Head-to-Head Showdown Between Apple’s Two New Smartphone Entries
For many, the question of the moment isn’t whether to get a new iPhone, but which one: large or extra-large.
The choice between iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is fraught for Apple customers used to having superstar designer Jony Ive make most of the big choices for them.
Pick the wrong size and you could be left struggling to be productive—or struggling to tuck your phone in your pocket. The iPhone 6, which packs a 4.7-inch screen, is already larger than any iPhone before it. The iPhone 6 Plus trumps that with a 5.5-inch screen.
My advice: Choose a phone the way you choose shoes. Consider how you’re going to use it, whether it fits your particular body and how you’re going to carry it around. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes. Others wouldn’t be caught dead without them.
The iPhone 6 Plus might as well have been named the “iPhone 6 Very Busy Person Edition.” It’s a workhorse that may make the most sense for people looking to consolidate to one device to get through emails and other busywork on the go.
What does the additional screen space buy you with the iPhone 6 Plus? Mostly legibility: I found it easier to type, interact with apps or look at photos. For people with vision challenges, type and app icons can be made blissfully larger. (The iPhone 6 Plus screen also has denser pixels and slightly better contrast.)
But it didn’t affect my productivity as much as I was expecting. The 6 Plus gives you about 25% more words on a screen than the iPhone 6 when you’re reading a book. And when you turn the 6 Plus horizontal, there’s extra space on the keyboard for features, including copy and paste.
Still, you don’t get any more apps on the home screen, and holding the 6 Plus vertically only shows one additional email, seven rather than six. A few apps, like iMessages and Mail, show you an additional panel of information when held horizontally, but most apps just scale up their graphics to fit the larger screen.
For some, perhaps the greatest advantage to the iPhone 6 Plus is a larger battery—it allowed the 6 Plus to run up to 15% longer in my stress tests.
The 6 Plus also includes a camera technology called optical image stabilization that improved shots I took in dark situations, but not enough for me to recommend it simply for the better camera.
Everything that makes the iPhone 6 Plus better for legibility and productivity comes with trade-offs for our hands, particularly thumbs, which can struggle to reach all of that real estate. Figuring out which phone shape and weight feels right will require you to put in some work at the store.
I recommend two tests: First, grasp each phone in the tightest way possible in the space between your thumb and index finger. How much less of a grip do you have with the larger phone? (The human hand has maximum control and strength in this position—that’s why we also use it to shoot guns.) The iPhone 6 Plus weighs a little bit more, which can also impact comfort.
Second, hold each phone with one hand and swoop your thumb across the screen in an arc, like a windshield wiper. What percentage of the screen can your thumb comfortably reach?
Apple built in some help for folks with limited reach: Tap the home button lightly twice, and everything at the top of the screen jumps to the middle, an easier reach for thumbs. Some apps like iMessages have controls that live in the lower right corner, near your thumb.
Some people with large phones end up operating them with two hands or developing unusual ways to hold them. But if it starts to feel like yoga, you might want a smaller phone.
Will making calls with an iPhone 6 Plus make you look like Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street”? Perhaps it will in 20 years, but for the moment big phones are back in fashion.
For some, the big question is: Will it fit in my pocket? I tried a dozen pairs of men’s pants and couldn’t find a single one that couldn’t fit the iPhone 6 Plus. A hunt for bags and purses found just one clutch that couldn’t hold the larger-size phone. That said, carrying an iPhone 6 Plus could be uncomfortable, especially for people who wear tight pants. I’ve already heard from a few companies making apparel designed to fit the jumbo iPhone, but I can’t imagine this will catch on.
My colleague Joanna Stern found the iPhone 6 Plus too unwieldy to carry around. On the plus side, taking it out for a workout, she found it doubled as a running weight…or a small roving billboard. But the iPhone 6 is just right for her back pocket, and her small clutch.
I’ve decided I’m happiest with the smaller iPhone 6 because it feels the most comfortable in my pocket. The phone should become more like a wallet—at some point, it could be the only thing I need to leave the house. I want my wallet small, easy to tuck away and easy to pull out when I need it.
Don’t fret: If you buy the wrong phone, you can return it within 14 days at most retailers, including Apple stores.