Three weeks have gone by quickly, haven’t they? It seems like just yesterday I was among the ‘crazy ones’ refreshing Apple’s website and the Apple Store iOS app trying to make an iPhone 6 pre-order. Luckily, thanks to some random trickery, our order went through for a 64GB iPhone 6 Plus in space gray, which arrived as part of the first wave of pre-orders.
This is not going to be your typical iPhone 6 Plus review. It’s going to be a brain dump of my random collection of notes and observations for the past few weeks using this new phone in various situations. If you want tech specs, benchmarks and more, read AnandTech’s review.
After a minor delay, we received our package from UPS shortly after noon. It felt like Christmas and the UPS delivery guy was Santa Claus. Unboxing meant making sure the plastic wrap stayed on the top portion of the box for safekeeping (because we crazy like that). If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s the iPhone 6 Plus unboxing video and another comparing it to the iPhone 6.
First Real Hands-On with the iPhone 6 Plus
Seeing the iPhone 6 Plus in person finally was a treat. First impressions? Holy smokes this phone is massive—but boy is it ever thin and light for its size. The previous cardboard cutout test–throw that out the window. This 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus requires re-thinking what it means to use a smartphone. More on this later.
My hands are fairly large (not freakishly large though) and holding the iPhone 6 Plus one-handed was an adjustment. With my iPhone 5s, one-handed usage was easy. The iPhone 6 Plus? All five fingers are required and your pinky will be put to the test as it will soon bear a lot of weight. You will soon learn the ‘crab walk’ with your fingers as you attempt to master one-handing this phone.
Apple’s new thinner design brings the iPhone in-line with the iPad and iPod touch—which means rounder edges. It feels nice to have a phone with rounded edges again, bringing back feelings of nostalgia from the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G/3GS. But the iPhone 6 Plus sides feel extra slippier than before, to the point where I’ve been worried about dropping this thing.
Despite those questionable antennal lines which we had questioned a couple months ago, we have accepted them. The protruding camera still is a sore spot, but I understand Apple’s desire to make a thinner phone, even if it meant the trade off of having the lens stick out. You won’t even notice it unless you place your phone flat on a table, where it will not sit flush. Thankfully the camera lens cover is sapphire glass.
The iPhone 6 Plus feels very light and it’s extremely thin at 7.1mm (0.28 inch), slimmer than the previous iPhone 5s at 7.6 mm. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine there’s actually hardware inside the device as it feels fairly light for its size.
Here’s a side view of iPhone thickness over the years starting with the original on top working down to the iPhone 6 Plus on the bottom. We’ve come a long way since the original iPhone’s thickness at 11.6 mm— the iPhone 6 Plus is 39% thinner.
Turning the phone on for the first time using the new side-placement power (and sleep/wake) button was weird at first, as for years we’ve become accustomed to the button being on the top right.
The moment that lockscreen appeared and showed off that larger display, it was definitely a shocker compared to the now ‘miniscule’ 4-inch screen of my previous iPhone 5s (iPhone 4/4s users are in for a surprise). The 1920 x 1080 resolution display with 401 ppi is stunning, but more importantly the 5.5-inch display almost feels like a smaller version of the Retina iPad mini in your hands.
The home screen now brings more real estate (if you opted to choose Standard under Display Zoom) and using the iPhone in landscape brings new two-column views for the Homescreen, Settings, plus various apps such as Messages and Mail, making it again feel like a new category of device. The iPhone 6 Plus also exclusively gets avatars for contacts in the Messages app list of chats, unlike the iPhone 6.
The iPhone 6 Plus and iOS 8 seem to work pretty well together, but in my case I suffered from a weird battery drain glitch after restoring my device from my iPhone 5s backup. I had to resort to restoring as a new phone, which also helped purge the plethora of unused apps I’ve been hoarding.
Performance wise, the iPhone 6 Plus and its A8 processor just make everything run smooth as butter. Apps load quickly and everything feels snappy, as expected with any iPhone upgrade.
As for the new silent switch, due to the curved sides it’s again easier to toggle, versus the flat sides of the iPhone 4/4s and iPhone 5/5s (it could actually use a bit more resistance to prevent against accidental toggles). The vibrator motor seems to be louder, as it sounds like a slightly higher pitched buzz versus the iPhone 5s.
The speaker is now louder and the earpiece is nice and clear as well. The volume buttons have a satisfying click, just like the Home button, which has Touch ID working flawlessly and very quickly. Touch ID has not reported any errors compared to the iPhone 5s and seems to have been improved.
After holding the iPhone 6 Plus for a while, it begins to make the iPhone 5s feel like an old ‘candy-bar’ phone like the Nokia 3360.
For most people, the iPhone’s camera has become a significant part of our daily lives. With each phone iteration the camera continues to shine. Despite ‘only’ having 8 megapixels, Apple’s camera this time is new according to the company and retains an f/2.2 aperture, with the 6 Plus gaining optical image stabilization. This feature has the lens physically move to counterbalance camera shake to battle against blurry images in low light and rocky videos.
Looking at our test photos, images appear crisp and vivid, with macro mode showing improved bokeh (background blur) compared to the iPhone 5s. These macro test shots below speak for themselves (full resolution images here and here):
When taking videos, autofocus is significantly better with what Apple calls Focus Pixels. Auto focusing is instant when moving from the foreground and background and the 6 Plus had no problems at all. Video recording at 1080p now adds 60fps (to go with 30fps), while slo-mo gains 240fps (to go with 120fps).
There’s not much else to say but this iPhone 6 Plus camera rocks. Shutter speeds are fast and now iOS 8 also allows for full manual controls, seen in apps such as Camera+ 6.
When placing our phone down on a flat surface we’re conscious of the metal lens ring getting scratched. Should Apple have made the phone thicker to have a seamless camera lens design? Maybe. But as it stands, seeing the lens pop out of the body just screams at you to start taking more photos with it (or want to saw it off like this guy).
Using the iPhone 6 Plus One-Handed
I can’t stress how large the iPhone 6 Plus–it’s huge. One-handed operation remains challenging (unless you’re Andre the Giant) but I’ve learned to ‘cope’ for the past few weeks. The new sleep/wake/power button on the right hand side is supposed to be easier to reach, but one handed you still have to carefully shuffle the phone to reach it.
The phone seems to have a nice 50-50 weight distribution like a BMW, but when holding it along the bottom one-handed, the slippery sides make it feel more top-heavy (using the phone upside down almost feels more stable though?). Even with clammy hands, you’ll still think the sides are covered in butter; if anything, this has made me extra careful in trying not to drop the phone.
But the other day I installed a full body screen protector which includes side protection from my recent purchase from BestSkinsEver. It has actually made a huge difference in how I hold the phone now as I now have much more grip. But clarity wise, the front screen protector doesn’t top the front screen protector from Clarivue (read our review here) so far.
(We’ll have more screen protector reviews coming from ZAGG, Skinomi and BestSkinsEver. Stay tuned.)
More One-Handed Usage Experiences
You know those final moments before bedtime when you check your iPhone on your side like an internet crack addict? The iPhone 6 Plus won’t let you do that one handed and type successfully. The same goes for when you wake up—you’ll need to go two-handed to strike that perfect balance. This was the only time I missed my iPhone 5s.
Am I sounding like a broken record? Don’t get me wrong, whenever I question the size of the iPhone 6 Plus, the moment I see that large, crisp screen again it just melts away any doubts about its size.
In order to fully enjoy the iPhone 6 Plus you need to change the way you think about this device. It’s not a phone anymore, it’s more like a ‘baby’ iPad mini in your pocket. It’s essential to to use the new Reachability feature, where you double touch (not press) the Home button to bring down the top half of the screen. It’s a nifty feature but one that needs to be ingrained into your workflow when using this device.
If you have children, using the iPhone 6 Plus one-handed while holding your baby will put the dexterity of your hand and fingers to the test (especially your pinky fingers). Babies and kids in general always want to play with their parents’ iPhones–it’s forbidden fruit to them. If you are dealing with a young baby that requires rocking in a chair at night, the larger 5.5-inch screen, even at its lowest brightness setting is still very bright, compared to the ‘puny’ 4-inch screen of the iPhone 5s.
Time to Get New Pants
The iPhone 6 Plus is a tall phone at 15.8 cm (or 6.22 inches)—that’s more than half a standard sized ruler. This means when you have the device in your pants pockets, you’ll always know it’s there as it leaves quite the imprint (and so will everyone else).
The ‘kryptonite’ of the iPhone 6 Plus? Khaki pants-type pockets. So this means your sweat pants, jogging pants, basketball shorts, dress pants, track pants, panama pants and more. There’s a fairly good chance the phone will fall out of your pocket if you’re sitting down and your thighs elevate in any way (the slippery sides don’t help). People in movie theatres have probably had their phones fall out onto the sticky floors numerous times already (I just dropped the phone yesterday for the first time and the external camera ring got lightly scuffed. FML).
The solution? Wear jeans and use the front pockets, or wear nothing but cargo pants or shorts even if the situation isn’t appropriate (looks like you’ll be ‘that guy’ at weddings in cargo pants). I will be testing out a leather belt holster case from Pdair soon, but it’s going to look massive (#firstworldproblems).
After my restore and setting up the device as new (I was suffering with a battery drain issue), it finally let the larger battery shine, as I experienced impressive usage for the first time. My recent usage at one point was just over 13 hours and 40 minutes (primarily Wi-Fi and some 3G network usage) with 21 hours and 40 minutes since the last full charge. This extended usage can be attributed to turning off some unnecessary settings, related to push and location services. Apple advertises the iPhone 6 Plus battery to support up to 12 hours of Wi-Fi usage–to exceed that number is pretty awesome. You’ll be able to easily get days of standby if you’re a light user.
Overall, very pleased with the battery. On days of light usage, you’ll be able to skip charging at night (if you’re a thrill seeker) and still have a working device the next day (at least half of the day or more). It’s delightful to see the battery percentage indicator remain at 100% during light usage or standby after a full charge. This was rare on the iPhone 5s. Overall, standby battery life is downright impressive.
Since the iPhone 6 Plus battery comes in at 2915mAh versus the 1440mAh capacity found in the iPhone 5s, it requires a longer charging period–but your iPad charger can change that (which you knew of course).
Also note, your car’s USB port may not provide enough power to the iPhone 6 Plus, so you might want to pick up a high-powered USB cigarette adapter for your car (like this one from Amazon.ca we’re using).
Typing in portrait mode with two hands on the iPhone 6 Plus is pretty awesome. The keys are much bigger and you’re less prone to mistakes; QuickType suggestions in iOS 8 are also very helpful. Landscape mode though, looks a bit messy. There are too many keys showing on the screen, leading to a cluttered experience.
The keyboard is centered and along the left and right perimeter are new keys for cut/copy/paste, exclamation point, question mark, period and comma, along with back and forward buttons. I found these extra keys to be a distraction.
Third-party keyboards such as Swype can actually help in some one-handed situations but for the most part I’ve stuck to the default iOS 8 keyboard.
Despite the fact people don’t call each other anymore (only call call me if you’re on fire) due to the proliferation of texting and more, the iPhone 6 Plus does make phone calls too.
Calls sounded great through the earpiece and speakerphone seems to be louder than the iPhone 5s. Rogers previously confirmed to us they would support Wi-Fi calling in iOS 8—but we haven’t heard any follow ups, nor anything related to VoLTE either despite our attempts to seek an answer.
Holding this slab up to the side of my face makes me feel like it’s reaching Zack Morris phone territory. Most of my lengthy calls are made via Bluetooth headset using the Plantronics Voyager Legend (read our review here).
LTE on Fido has been very fast in areas of town that actually have 4-5 bars of service (our home area has 1 bar of LTE). We’re noting data usage has increased though with our 6 Plus and iOS 8.
It’s always interesting to finally get your hands on the next iPhone after covering leaks prior to the announcement. Sure, the surprise element may not be there, but the final design always looks stunning in person. Those ‘yucky’ antenna lines? Well, after a few weeks you won’t even notice them anymore.
Despite being the largest iPhone made to date, the 6 Plus is incredibly thin and light, with a satisfying 5.5-inch high resolution screen and excellent battery life. It’s not a phone anymore—this device is like a miniature Retina iPad mini—and we’re loving it.
If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 5s, you’ll enjoy the larger screen, extra battery life plus camera improvements.
If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 5, you’ll love Touch ID and everything else that comes with the 6 Plus.
If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 4/4S or lower, your mind will be blown.
As for downsides, I was really hoping for an official iPhone 6 Plus dock from Apple. The official dock is the most underrated accessory as it makes life so much easier for charging on your night stand (stay tuned for a review of TwelveSouth’s HiRise). Also, the protruding camera is something to be conscious of when placing your iPhone down on a flat surface (you’ll be very conscious of it if you’re not using a case). For ‘naked’ iPhone 6 Plus users, beware of how slippery the device is. You’re going to drop it eventually. It’s inevitable.
Pro tips? Just make sure your pants have decent-sized pockets that can hold this beast down (or just buy a ‘murse’ and give up on life), and don’t forget to show your dust-collecting iPad some love here and there.
How are you liking your iPhone 6 Plus so far?
Update: Here’s iPhoneinCanada’s Kris Meador’s take on the iPhone 6 Plus: