I’ve bounced between Android and iOS phones of various sizes for the past few years, but until now I’ve never found a device that’s made me want to put down roots on either side of the fence. Part of that is that I don’t think of my phone as a phone first – it’s my pocket computer, a portable library, and probably the closest I’ll ever come to having my own personal assistant. After a week of taking pictures, reading comics, playing games, and making an actual phone call or two on the 5.5-inch, 128GB iPhone 6 Plus, I have to say I’m sold.
6.2-inches with a 5.5-inch 1080p display.
The iPhone 6 Plus isn’t the iPhone for everyone – for most people, the more pocketable but still spacious 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is likely the way to go. But for those who work, play, or basically live their lives on their phones, the extra screen real estate of the 6 Plus will be much appreciated.
Obviously, the defining characteristic of the 6 Plus is its massive 5.5-inch 1080p screen, and the associated bulk that comes with it. You don’t need to have used a Samsung Galaxy Note or a Lumia 1520 to realize the advantages of a large screen phone: it’s so much easier to read, and a lot more fun to play games and watch videos when your screen is bordering on tablet-sized.
A sleek but slippery build.
I’ve never been someone who likes to read long articles or watch a video longer than a minute or two on my phone, but the 6 Plus has completely changed that. Having a full 1080p screen that’s comfortable to watch or read on for longer periods is more than worth the annoyance of having to switch the phone to a front pocket when I sit down, and back to a back pocket when I’m walking. (I sat on the 6 Plus plenty of times, and while it never bent, it certainly wasn’t comfortable.)
The relatively huge size of the 6 Plus does come with a few disadvantages that become apparent after the first few hours of use. For one, even if your hand is big enough to palm a basketball, it’s still tough to operate the 6 Plus with just one hand – at least without feeling like you’re about to drop it. It’s tough to reach icons at the top of the screen without using a second hand, and iOS 8’s Reachability feature, which lets you double-tap the home button to drop the interface down within reach, is too odd and inconvenient to use very often.
A mere 7.1 millimeters of thickness.
The slick, 7.1 millimeter-thick aluminum body of the 6 Plus is gorgeous, with nary a seam in sight but doesn’t do it any favors when it comes to grip. I’ve always begrudgingly put cases on my iPhones, but the Plus will be the first time it’s been for a reason other than simply protecting it from drops – I want to prevent them from happening in the first place. Also, the raised lens on the rear of the phone is the only aesthetic disappointment – if you lay the 6 Plus on its back, the lens protrudes enough to cause a wobble. Again, a case corrects this nicely.
Landscape mode is where the 6 Plus comes into its own, and makes it feel like more than a big iPhone. Holding the phone horizontally with two hands feels completely natural, especially as a kid who grew up on Game Gear. This is the first iPhone where the orientation of the home screen rotates, and it makes perfect sense at this screen size. It’s also the only big phone I’ve used where the interface natively supports a landscape orientation. On the Galaxy Note 3, key apps like messages and the photo gallery can be used in landscape, but not the home screen (unless you settle for a tacked-on third-party solution).
Difficult to manage in one hand, but great in two.
While most things on the 6 Plus are better in landscape, typing could be better. I have to question Apple’s priorities when it comes to keyboard layout: I’d much rather have bigger, easier-to-hit letter keys than dedicated buttons for copy and paste. Hopefully Apple will patch in an option to simplify the keyboard, or some enterprising third-party developer will come along and do it for them using iOS 8’s newly opened keyboard system.
Landscape mode also reveals some performance quirks that’ve been persistent in iPads over the years, and stick around even with the 6 Plus’ speedy new A8 processor. Performance is otherwise up there with the best in its class, but occasionally the display is slow to rotate, other times I’ve unlocked the 6 Plus to find the display orientation upside down. And, in a more short-term issue, some of the most important third party apps (Gmail being one of them) have yet to be updated for this larger display, and look low-res as a result. The 6 Plus won’t feel complete until these wrinkles are ironed out.
Big enough that you can leave your tablet at home.
Interface quirks aside, the gaming and media experience on the Plus is huge step up from smaller iPhones. Horizontally oriented games like Knightmare Tower benefit the most, and the experience is strong enough that I’d be willing to play something like Telltale’s The Walking Dead on the go, rather than waiting till I got home to my tablet.
The extra functionality of the 6 Plus nicely offsets its increased price. Starting at $300 on contract for the 16GB version, the Plus is $100 more expensive than comparable iPhone 6 models, but the extra entertainment value the bigger screen provides might just get you to scratch a small tablet like the iPad Mini or Nexus 7 off your Christmas list.
I tested the 128GB model, but the mid-tier 64GB ($400 on contract) version will be more than adequate for most. Just don’t settle for the bottom-dollar 16GB version. After losing a few gigs to iOS 8, will you really have enough room for all the games and videos the Plus was made to play? I don’t think so. This is one place where Samsung’s Galaxy Note phones have a pronounced advantage: the storage on those phones starts at 32GB, and you can add another 64GB via microSD.
iPhone 6 Plus Camera Sample Gallery
You’ll also want the extra space for pictures, because the iPhone 6 Plus has a fantastic camera. Images are sharp, color-accurate, and still pack enough detail that they can be cropped and blown up without much quality loss. And it does all this with an 8-megapixel sensor.
The iPhone 6 Plus takes a great picture.
I don’t shoot a lot of video with my phone, but the 6 Plus’ 120 and 240 frames per second slow-motion shooting modes had me looking for reasons to do it. Everything does indeed look cooler in slow-motion, but if you don’t feel like slowing the world to John Woo speed, the standard 1080p video with a choice of 30 or 60 frames per second keeps everything clear and smooth, and it’s very hard to trip up the Plus’ autofocus.
The 6 Plus’s camera also takes noticeably better low-light pictures than the standard 6, thanks to optical image stabilization. Images are brighter, more evenly lit, and skin tones are more accurate. It’s also a lot of fun to use that massive display as a viewfinder when shooting, and it doesn’t cross into the ridiculous territory of holding up a full-blown iPad as a camera.
The only other place where the Plus really beats out the standard iPhone 6 is in battery life. With normal use, I ended most days (around 11 PM) with 50 to 60% of my charge still intact. On days when I really put it to the test by watching Netflix, playing games, and taking lots and lots of pictures, I was still turning in with 25% on my battery meter.
While nobody may need such a big phone, iOS gamers, avid smartphone readers, mobile movie watchers, or anyone who’s ever been stuck anywhere and thought, “I wish I had my iPad,” will certainly enjoy it. If you’re trading up from a smaller phone you will have to be prepared to change your usage habits to accommodate its size, but the iPhone 6 Plus’ strengths can easily be worth it.