With iPhones, you generally know what you’re getting. After all, the evolutionary path from iPhone 3 to iPhone 6 isn’t particularly long or winding. Yes, everything is better, but it’s not actually that different. If you can use an iPhone 3, you can use an iPhone 6, so do we really need what is just a bigger iPhone 6?
There’s no easy answer to that, it all depends on what you use your phone for. A bigger screen (obviously) and room for a bigger battery (naturally) are obvious benefits, but are these and a few other improvements worth the effort?
The iPhone 6 Plus is big, like really big. And it’s late.
Samsung started the “phablet” phase of smartphone use nearly 3 years ago, with the Galaxy Note 2, introducing the world to the possibility of having a 5.5 inch screen on a phone. The screen size of the Note 2, whilst big, didn’t seem such a leap for Android users as the “S” range had been sporting screen sizes at the larger end of the market for some time. For Apple users, though, it’s a huge leap from what were essentially quite compact devices to something that attempts to straddle the gap from iPhone to iPad. Alongside even a regular iPhone 6, the Plus looks big. Alongside an iPhone 4, for example, it looks and feels gargantuan.
And therein lies the problem.
Even for those used to handling larger smartphones, the iPhone 6 is very difficult to handle comfortably. It doesn’t sit particularly well in the palm, and even those with hands big enough to pick up a basketball would be hard pushed not to need both of them to perform even the simplest tasks. It can be argued, of course, that the iPhone 6 Plus wasn’t designed to be used with one hand, but the name is the giveaway.
It’s a phone.
We use phones one handed all the time, and we use smartphones that way because mobile communication and social media have taken over the world. If you want to send an email or check Facebook whilst you sip your flat white in Costa, you won’t be doing it on an iPhone 6 Plus. The fact is that the device is a mini-tablet with phone capabilities, and not a phone that brings some tablet features to regular users.
As we’ve already mentioned, the bigger screen and bigger battery are massive advantages. A big screen, and a full HD one at that, means watching videos is as good an experience on the Plus as on any other device available. This also means that a bigger, better battery was essential, and Apple haven’t disappointed us.
In all honesty, battery life has never been a strongpoint of the iPhone range but, although still lagging a little way behind some of its competitors, the Plus sports an impressive 2915mAh battery. Apple claim this means up to 14 hours of video, 12 hours of 4G internet use or 80 hours of music. The real world won’t return that level of performance, of course, but it’s still a massive improvement on previous iPhones.
The full HD 1920 x 1080 display has also been a long time coming for Apple users. Apple have long covered up for their inability to compete fully in the display stakes by introducing a whole new glossary of terms like “Retina” which were little more than the emperor’s new clothes in reality. Yes, the displays have been decent, but the marketing has been much better. That has finally been addressed on the iPhone 6 Plus with a display that is at last catching up with the best that Samsung has to offer.
The other significant new feature is one that appears by necessity, rather than by choice. That feature is called “Reachability”.
Remember we said that the iPhone 6 Plus was really big? It’s so big that both holding it and reaching the top of the screen with one hand is impossible. To alleviate this, Apple dreamed up the idea of “Reachability”, which allows users to double-tap the Home button and this causes the bottom half of the screen to drop away and drag the top half down to where it can be reached.
Yes, it’s as poorly executed as it is thought out. Apple actually got the idea from Samsung, who have a similar problem. Both try and convince users that it’s a great feature, but it isn’t, it’s rubbish.
We may have mentioned that the Plus is big, but it nearly makes up for it in the fact it’s supermodel thin. Nearly, because this desperation to think “thin” means “good” just makes the iPhone 6 Plus even more difficult to maintain a grip on. The laser-flat back of the case adds to the problem by not allowing any part of the device to actually rest in the palm, meaning the user is relying entirely on keeping a tight hold with little more than finger tips.
For all that, the iPhone 6 Plus is a beautiful piece of design in itself. The brushed metal look is very smart (although the gold version looks worryingly cheap) and there’s no denying it looks better than any competitor. The cost of not being able to use it easily is, though, a big issue and isn’t entirely overcome by its very pretty face.
In terms of performance, the one advantage Apple have always had over Android devices is that the hardware and OS are matched during design. Indeed, Apple have now starting using this fact in their advertising. This means that, although a little underwhelming in what it packs into the case, Apple’s ability to ring every last drop of performance out of it with its application of iOS puts sped and usability right at the head of the herd.
If you’ve used iOS7 (or even 4, 5 or 6) then iOS8 will largely be familiar to you. Apple don’t really innovate any more, preferring to take the best that its competitors offer and doing it the iOS way. The top notification bar and new favourites area are key examples of this. Generally speaking, iOS8 doesn’t really offer any great surprises and simply carries on doing what every version of iOS to date has done.
If, like most of the world these days, you take a lot of pictures or video with your phone, then the iPhone 6 Plus is a big improvement over even the standard iPhone 6. Full HD video recording and a brand new 8mp rear/1.2mp front camera perform very well. There are disappointments in low light though, despite the introduction of Optical Image Stabilisation. OIS allows you to take pictures with shaky hands or in low light by steadying the image electronically.
Usually, this makes low light photography much better, as slower shutter speeds can be utilised instead of trying to boost the image artificially and introducing noise artifacts. That seems to have been forgotten here, unfortunately, with low light shots being quite poor quality, and a long way behind the likes of the Galaxy S5 or Note 4.
In good light, though, images are crisp and clear and even print very well, something which usually leaves smartphone owners disappointed when their printed shots don’t come close to resembling what they look like on screen.
Typing texts and emails on the iPhone 6 Plus is a little hit and miss, as two hands are needed, even in portrait mode. Apple’s inability to even come close to matching the swipe systems available on Android and Windows Phone is baffling but, fortunately, iOS8 allows 3rd party keyboards to be used. Unfortunately, there still aren’t really any worth installing is swipe is what you’re after. There will be people reading this who are now howling with derision but, and I can’t say this clearly enough, when you’ve used swipe on Android or Windows Phone, the Apple offerings are pitiful in comparison.
In short, the iPhone 6 Plus is okay. Not great, not bad, just okay.
For the price, and a considerable price it is, it should be so much better, and won’t convince users of Samsung and other Android devices to switch any time soon. Being honest, we’re not even sure it would convince users of Nokia’s very decent – if now a little old – Lumia 1520 to look twice at the iPhone 6 Plus, it’s that average.
It just doesn’t do enough to be better, or even different, it just pootles along doing the same things Apple devices have done for years without breaking any new ground. Had it been easier to handle, we might feel differently, and it’s not because we’re not used to devices of this size, we are, but even after several days of use we just couldn’t get to grips (literally) with using the iPhone 6 Plus.
Overall, it just feels a little bit rushed-to-market, without any real thought about what it should be doing. Our advice? Unless you have deep pockets, both literally and figuratively, there are better options out there.
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