iPhone 6 Plus Review: Bigger than bigger or just an iFad?

Overview:

Steve Jobs once said that no one’s going to buy a big phone, defending Apple’s decision to not produce phones with sizes like that of their rivals. Yet, the announcement of the 4.7” iPhone 6 and the 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus revealed that Apple has indeed bowed to market demand for phones with bigger screens. For many people who have held off buying an iDevice due to the miserable screen size (like myself), this was the go-ahead, with the flagship devices finally receiving flagship-standard screen sizes. As with all phones, the iPhone has its fair share of pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The ultra-large 5.5” screen (with Retina Display)
  • Amazing architecture
  • Great battery life (2915 mAh)
  • Optical Image Stabilisation in Camera
  • Touch ID

Cons:

  • Oversized bezels
  • Side facing speakers
  • Protruding camera
  • Camera is only 8 MP
  • Price 

Introduction

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The iPhone 6 Plus isn’t just some big “Retina display” screen. It’s finally 1080p. Yes, it’s no QHD 1440p screen like the one on the Note 4 or the G3, but at 1080p, it’s about enough to shut (most) spec nerds up. And speaking about specs, here’s the full list. It’ll still bore most spec nerds to sleep, but if you’re reading this you’re considering getting an iPhone, and when it comes to the iPhone, you should’ve learned by now that Apple doesn’t give half a hoot about specs. It doesn’t really need to.

iPhone 6 Plus
Display 5.5”, 1080p IPS LCD, 401 ppi
Camera 8 MP, dual LED flash, ⅓” sensor size
Video Recording 1080p @ 60 fps, 720p @ 240 fps
Processor Dual-core 1.4 GHz Cyclone (ARM v8-based)
GPU PowerVR GX6450 (quad-core graphics)
RAM 1 GB
Storage 16, 64 or 128GB
Battery Non-removable Li-Po 2915 mAh battery
Other HealthKit, Touch ID

 

What’s in the box?2014-11-28 18.44.52

The phone comes with the standard accessories you would find in any other iPhone boxes. The box contains the EarPods, a 1A Charger and of course the Lightning cable.

The box is horrendously hard to open, and you might even have heard of the first iPhone 6 sold in Perth being dropped on the floor as the buyer was unboxing it.  Yep, it is quite a monster to open even for the experience. Something to take note of when if you do decide to purchase the 6 Plus.

Given the increased battery capacity of the iPhone 6 Plus, I expected that the charging adapter would boast a greater charge rate, like the chargers which come with the flagships of many other rivals. Instead, they’ve gone with the 1A charger, which means that either I bear with the slower charging rate of the inferior charger or I make use of a charger of another brand which has a higher charge rate (which is what I have done). Seriously, Apple, is it that difficult to provide a better charger instead of chucking us with the standard chargers which you’ve been using since the start of time? In this aspect, I think Apple definitely loses out to other brands, but this problem is easily remedied if you have a charger with a greater charge rate. After all, the 6 Plus supports fast charging, so you’d be better off using an iPad adapter if you have one, or the new fast chargers that are flooding the Android Market (no worries about the lightning cable, its more than capable of taking the higher voltage.)

The EarPods are satisfactory. They provide decent sound quality, but they do not provide any form of noise cancelling, which can be annoying when you are trying to listen to music in noisy places.

And of course, the star of the show here is the iPhone 6 Plus itself. Let us examine the 6 Plus in further detail. 

Design, Handling and Build Quality

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The 6 Plus is ultra-thin. In fact, at 7.1mm thick, it’s a little too thin for my liking. Even though it is an architectural feat to have made such a thin phone, this comes at the expense of a few things.

Firstly, this causes the phone to feel slippery in one’s hand and makes it hard to grip. This is accentuated by the curvy edges of the iPhone. This results in a constant fear that the phone would fall from one’s hand.

Secondly, the camera protrudes from the phone as a result, since the camera cannot be made sufficiently thin for the sake of the iPhone. This means you cannot place the phone flat on a surface without it being wobbly. Furthermore, this exposes the camera to a significantly higher risk of being scratched, since it is always the contact point with surfaces.

Protective cases can of course be bought to protect the phone, which is what I have done. But for the aesthetic die-hards out there, protective cases are certainly a no-no, and this is the main problem they face.

Another point of note, the ultra-large bezels makes the phone too big, people with small hands would struggle, though people with big hands like myself would find it just fine. Reachability, a new feature, accomodates people with small hands. It pulls the apps at the top of the screen down within reaching distance of the thumb after a double tap (not press) of the Home Button, which honestly is a feature which takes quite a bit of getting used to, and is a strangely can-do slap on from the design aficionados that reside in Cupertino.

Nevertheless, the iPhone 6 Plus as a whole will still do Steve Jobs proud. It’s beautiful. This is probably what the main aim of the design team at Apple was, and they have certainly achieved this with the curved bezels, which gives a really visually pleasing form.

Display 

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(from left to right) iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus

We’ve clamored for a bigger screen from Apple for ages, and they’ve obliged with a 5.5” for the 6 Plus. Go big or go home, right? Competitors have taken the opportunity to make digs at Apple for having produced a phone with a bigger screen despite Jobs’ famous “No one is going to buy a big phone”.

Nevertheless, Apple does not disappoint despite this being its first time producing a phablet. The 5.5” IPS Display is extremely clear – 401 ppi, being the first Full HD phone Apple has produced. Rivals have produced “clearer” phones, but honestly after a certain point, the human eye can no longer distinguish “clearer” screen from others. And resolution is not all that matters.

Dual-domain pixels in the iPhone improves viewing angles, which can be useful if many friends around you are trying to look at the phone. Good things (like the iPhone 6 Plus display) must be shared, no?

The DisplayMate Shoot-out has confirmed that 6 Plus is indeed “the  best performing smartphone LCD display that we have ever tested”.

“The iPhone 6 Plus is only the second Smartphone display (LCD or OLED) to ever get all Green (Very Good to Excellent) Ratings in all test and measurement categories (except for Brightness variation with Viewing Angle, which is the case for all LCDs) since we started the Display Technology Shoot-Out article series in 2006, an impressive achievement for a display. The iPhone 6 Plus has raised the bar for top LCD display performance up by a notch.”

User Interface

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Honestly, the most important reason why I purchased the 6 Plus was because of iOS. iOS 8 has brought several new features to the iPhone.

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HealthKit tracks your health information, and how active you are through the actions you take throughout the day. Its usefulness would depend on how much you use your iPhone. Apple HealthKit has integrated with several apps to help track your daily activities such as sleeping hours and running distances. HealthKit also tracks the number of steps you take in a day, which is good for tracking how active (or sedentary) you are in a day, allowing you to take steps (pun intended) towards a healthier lifestyle.

As with the iPhone 5s, Touch ID is integrated into the iPhone. It makes use of your thumbprint (or fingerprint) to unlock the phone and it can also be used for the purchase of apps on the App Store now as well. For the adventurous, if you jailbreak your phone and download this tweak called “AppScan”, you can also restrict certain apps to be opened by Touch ID.

The most glaring problem with the 6 Plus is in my opinion the lack of optimisation of apps for the 6 Plus. This cause the app to be expanded to fit the screen, resulting in a very ugly interface. Most of the popular apps such as Facebook and Instagram have already optimised their apps, so if you only use these popular apps, this problem would not affect you so much. But if you do want a fix for it, you’ll need to jailbreak your phone and download this tweak called “ForceGoodFit” on Cydia. It optimises most apps for the 6 Plus.

Battery Life

The 6 Plus comes with a 2915 mAh battery, comparable to many of the flagships on the market today. It is also a significant upgrade to previous generations of iPhones. Apple boasts up to 24 hours talktime, up to 16 hours on standby and up to 12 hours on 3G, 4G LTE and WiFi. Even though there has been significant improvement from previous iPhones, the battery life still pales in comparison to other Android flagships such as the Sony Xperia Z3, which was able to achieve an off-charger time of 41 hours, even with 6.5 hours of on-screen time.

However, for a heavy user like myself who browses the internet regularly reading articles, the phone is still able to last me for a full day. So, in this aspect, battery life is not that much of a problem for me.

Camera

Despite the fact that the camera of the iPhone 6 Plus has significantly lower megapixels than many other flagships on the market, the camera actually fares pretty well, producing top class images like what many of its predecessors have done.

Here are some sample images:

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And some sample videos:

 

Pricing and Conclusion

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In conclusion, the iPhone 6 Plus is indeed an amazing phone. It does have its fair share of shortcomings though, expected since this is the first time Apple is producing a phablet. This, however, is more than made up for by iOS 8 and its new features which integrate so well with the 6 Plus. The iOS experience, which was why I picked the 6 Plus over other flagships despite it being more expensive, has not disappointed me. I definitely do not regret skipping the 5s (because of its inferior screen size) to get the 6 Plus.

The price is another issue for some. Apple’s first phablet doesn’t come cheap at S$1,148 for the base 16GB model, and most telcos are selling it at ridiculously high prices as well. If you’re looking to get a large phone but you’re not set on iOS, you might want to check out some better deals over at the Android camp. The LG G3 is significantly cheaper on contract ($448 vs $658 on SingTel’s Combo 2 plan), and that packs a stunning QHD display in a much more compact form factor. Believe it or not, Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 4 is cheaper as well ($608), and we’re talking about the current undisputed king of the Android world. Its predecessor, the Note 3, is also much, much cheaper than the iPhone 6 Plus.

Of course, if you do want to get an iPhone 6 Plus off contract, you could check out price comparison sites such as PricePanda, where you will probably be able to get a better deal than what Apple demands.

The bottom line? The iPhone 6 Plus is a great, big, unwieldy tablet of a phone, but it’s the best performing iPhone to date. Yet, if you aren’t already heavily invested in Apple’s ecosystem, it’s really hard for us to justify the extra cost, and that makes recommending the 6 Plus so much harder. If you’re like me and you have to get iOS and a phablet, then this is pretty much your only option.

Editor’s note: You may notice that there’s no “performance” section in this review. That’s because this is an iPhone. Specs mean nothing, and you can’t compare it with Android devices. All I can say is that it’s Apple’s fastest iPhone to date.

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