iPhone 6 Plus Review – A month with Apple’s biggest phone

20141019-Date (YYYY-MM-DD)-_MG_7541This is a review of my experience with the iPhone 6 Plus. What has it been like using Apple’s biggest iPhone for the last month? Check out this post to find out.

Almost exactly a month ago, I was sitting at home on a Friday waiting for UPS to arrive at my door with the iPhone 6 Plus. My experience preordering the device a week earlier, which involved staying up until around 2am waiting for Apple’s store to finally come online, had done nothing to temper my excitement. Finally at around 5pm, after my patience was thoroughly tested, the doorbell rang. After retrieving the package and signing for it, I opened the brown shipping box and got my first look at Apple’s white, minimalist packaging. My first reaction matched that of others’ – “Wow, this thing is bigger than I expected.” I pulled my iPhone 5 out of my pocket and laid it atop the iPhone 6 Plus’ box. My old phone was dwarfed in size and looked like a child’s toy. I was both excited and a little nervous. “How will this thing feel in my hand?” “Will I be able to use it easily?” And, perhaps most importantly, “Will this thing even fit in my pocket?”

After a month of trying to integrate the iPhone 6 Plus into my life – my work and play – I feel like I have enough of a feel for the device that I can accurately reflect on my experience with it. If you’re still on the fence about Apple’s phablet (phone + tablet, for those not familiar with the term), hopefully this review will help you reach your own conclusion.

For reference, the model I purchased is a 16GB white and silver iPhone 6 Plus. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, please keep in mind as you read this that I have pretty large hands.

20141019-Date (YYYY-MM-DD)-_MG_7543Design Apple is known for designing beautiful products, and in my opinion the iPhone 6 line is one of their most gorgeous designs to date. Its beauty is reflected in a number of different ways.

Perhaps the most obvious aspect of the iPhone 6 Plus’ beauty lies in its overall design. The iPhone has been purified quite a bit since the original model. The interesting thing, though, is that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus seem to harken back to that original design more than any other model since. The entirety of the iPhone 6 Plus is minimal and clean. Its front face features the massive 5.5 inch Retina HD screen. While I could spot individual pixels on my iPhone 5’s Retina Display if I looked closely, the screen on the iPhone 6 Plus makes this almost impossible. As many others have said, images on the screen look like they’re painted right on top of the glass. And the iPhone 6 Plus’ 16:9 aspect ratio means that the phone is, much like the iPhone 5 series, tall and narrow, making it much easier to hold in one hand. The silver Touch ID home button that sits at the bottom of the device looks elegant and classy. The buttons on the side of the phone are recessed and elongated, including the relocated power button – now found on the iPhone’s right side rather than the top. The buttons seem easier to use than the iPhone 5’s round ones. The back of the device features a beautiful stainless steel Apple logo that sports a mirrored finish. And the infamous protruding camera, which was initially bothersome, has actually grown on me – the protrusion is very slight and doesn’t look blatantly out of place. Another feature of the device’s back are grey plastic cutouts for the iPhone’s antenna signal to pass through. While these are thicker than perhaps I’d like them to be, at least on my silver model Apple has done a good job blending them in to the aluminum. The bottom of the phone is simple and elegant as well, sporting a number of different ports and holes. From left to right, the headphone jack, one hole for the microphone, the Lightning port, and then eight speaker holes. Overall, I would describe the iPhone 6 Plus’ design using the word “refined.” The first time I picked it up, and every time since, it has impressed me with its sense of class.

Despite its size, the iPhone 6 Plus is easy to hold.  While the shiny, angular, chamfered edges featured on the iPhone 5 series were attractive, they also made the device uncomfortable to hold in the hand. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, on the other hand, have rounded edges that make them easier and more comfortable to grip. This even extends to the display glass, which swoops down to meet the aluminum body of the device seamlessly. This gives the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus a feeling of integration – it almost feels as though the device is was made using a single part rather than having been assembled from many. These rounded edges are perhaps even more useful on the larger iPhone 6 Plus. Even though the device is so large, I feel that I can maintain a good grip on it and it doesn’t feel like it will slip out of my hand.

The iPhone 6 Plus also seems more durable than previous iPhone models. Another downside to the iPhone 5 and 5s was that the chamfered edges caused the device’s aluminum body to chip easily. My iPhone 5 was a testament to this – I had it in a case for its entire life cycle and when I sent it in to Gazelle to resell it it was covered in ugly chips and nicks. The 6 Plus feels much less likely to chip or scratch. In fact, the case I ordered over a month ago is still yet to arrive due to short supply and high demand. I have gone caseless for a month with the iPhone 6 Plus, using the device normally, and it looks exactly the same as the day it arrived on my doorstep.

Software is another aspect of the iPhone 6 Plus’ design – iOS 8 looks fantastic running on this big, bright, high resolution screen. That huge screen means more room for app icons and more screen real estate for browsing the web or looking at apps. I’ve had an opportunity a couple of times to compare my iPhone 6 Plus to an iPhone from the 5 series and the difference is stark – the whole experience feels cramped on the older, smaller phone. Not to mention iPhones from the 4 series – they almost feel ridiculously small. The iPhone 6 Plus gives you a bigger window through which to gaze at iOS 8.

Features – I’m not going to mention every feature that’s packed into the iPhone 6 Plus. If you’re looking for that type of round-up, check out Apple’s website here. What I will do, however, is select a few that I feel have stood out to me.

Touch ID – Having upgraded to the iPhone 6 Plus from the iPhone 5, this device has been my first experience with Touch ID. I am impressed at this feature’s reliability as a way to unlock my phone – the 5.5 inch display makes it difficult to enter a four digit passcode using one hand. Touch ID bypasses that difficulty in a simple and refined way. I’m also enjoying using Touch ID in apps that are compatible with the feature. One great example is Mint. Instead of entering a passcode to access my financial information, I can simply authenticate using Touch ID when prompted. I’m looking forward to seeing Touch ID’s integration with Apple Pay, which launches this coming Monday. It seems like this feature will only keep getting more useful.

20141019-Date (YYYY-MM-DD)-_MG_7550Reachability – This feature is a blatant workaround to compensate for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus’ larger sizes and make them easier to use one handed – and I love it. It’s reliable and actually works. Essentially, by double tapping (not pressing) on the home button, the top half of your screen is brought to the bottom half, making everything that had been out of reach… reachable. This has come in handy a number of times and has saved me from having to overextend my thumbs all the time or adjust my grip to reach menu items on the top of the screen.

Improved Camera – Having come from the iPhone 5, the iPhone 6 Plus’ camera is incomparably better. I recently took a trip to Alaska and brought along a friend’s Canon EOS 5D digital SLR. This camera takes incredible, sharp photos, especially when paired with a high quality lens. The amazing thing is that, in terms of clarity and color accuracy I have been nearly as happy with the camera in my iPhone 6 Plus. The only thing that’s missing is the ability to add an optical zoom lens! All of the extra features that Apple has added to the camera in my new iPhone (here’s to you, optical image stabilization and focus pixels!) run in the background and add up to one thing – nicer looking, sharper pictures. On top of that, add in the fact that apps like Camera+ now have access to manual camera controls thanks to iOS 8 and I’m packing more than enough camera in my pocket for nearly every situation. And that’s just photos! I haven’t even mentioned, or honestly gotten a chance to explore much, the slo-motion HD video or time-lapse functions. I’m actually glad that Apple has kept the size of its photos to 8 megapixels – the photos are large enough at that size and anything larger would fill up the storage on my 16GB iPhone too quickly. In fact, the panoramas that my iPhone 6 Plus takes are a testament to that. They now take up a lot more storage and are one of the only things that make me wish I’d gotten more storage capacity. Overall, I am blown away by the camera in my iPhone 6 Plus.

Landscape Mode – This is a feature that’s only included in the iPhone 6 Plus and not in its little brother, the iPhone 6. The home screen and compatible apps (Notes, Mail, Messages, and Reminders, to name a few) now have a dedicated landscape mode. The goal here is more productivity, and with landscape mode’s clever expanded keyboard that goal is in reach. I enjoy using this widescreen mode to do things like take notes and compose emails. It’s more like working on a desktop computer or tablet. I do have a couple of gripes about it though. First, the selection of apps that support this mode is slim, mainly just limited to Apple’s own apps at this point. For multitasking between apps, this requires a lot of reorienting of the device. My second gripe has to do with the iPhone 6 Plus’ girth. The phone is so large that, even with my big hands, it can be tricky to reach the buttons at the center of the keyboard while in landscape mode. I have found myself wishing that Apple would implement the iPad’s split keyboard function here somehow. Maybe in the future!

Notification Center Widgets – This feature has more to do with iOS 8 than the iPhone 6 Plus, but there is a benefit to using widgets on the larger phone – more screen space. Currently when I pull down my Notification Center, several widgets are immediately available. First, I have the stock text date (oh how I wish this was sized to fit on one line – it would save so much space). Next, I have a free widget called Vidgets, which I have set up to display the date in numerical form, the time on an analog clock, my altitude (thanks to the iPhone 6 Plus’ built in Barometer sensor), and the amount of free space on my phone. Beneath that, I have a beautifully designed widget called Forecast+ that shows me the current weather conditions and the forecast for the next week. Below that is the widget from Pedometer++, displaying my current step count for the day – data that has been harvested in the background from the A8 motion co-processor. That’s a lot of information, accessible from anywhere, even the lock screen, with a simple swipe down. Below that, I have upcoming and current scores using the ESPN SportsCenter widget, my Reminders for the day, and how long it will take me to get to my favorite locations via the ETA widget. None of this was possible before iOS 8, and I have really enjoyed having widgets on my iPhone 6 Plus. Knowing Apple, widgets will only get more useful over time.

20141019-Date (YYYY-MM-DD)-_MG_7549Size – Make no mistake. The iPhone 6 Plus is BIG. Really big. And, as I said before, I have big hands, so take what I’m going to say with a grain of salt. Initially, I was worried that the 6 Plus would make it difficult to use one handed. What I’ve found, though, is that I’ve always tended to use my iPhone two handed if I have the opportunity. Typing on the keyboard is a great example – it’s so much faster to type with two thumbs than hunting and pecking with one. On the occasion that I need to use the iPhone 6 Plus one handed, it is more awkward than my old iPhone 5. But that’s to be expected. With my hands, at least, I can reach across the entire screen with one hand in a pinch. And with reachability making the top half of the screen accessible, I have found the iPhone 6 Plus to be usable one handed, though I certainly prefer using two hands. The other thing that concerned me initially about the size of the iPhone 6 Plus was whether it would fit in my pocket. I’m happy to say that this has been much less of a problem than I thought it would be – even with tighter men’s jeans. To make my experience with pocketing the iPhone 6 Plus a bit more comprehensible, my favorite pair of jeans are a pair of Levis 510s. Levis advertises these as “skinny fit” jeans. Call me a hipster if you want to. Hipster or not, the iPhone 6 Plus fits well, and very comfortably I might add, in the front left pocket of these jeans. Now, if you’re a woman you should know that my wife has found it impossible to fit her smaller iPhone 6 into any of the pockets in even her loosest fitting jeans. Maybe cargo pants will make a comeback in women’s fashion?

Does it bend? – Yes. I’m sure it would given enough force. Just like any other phone. Or object in the known universe. Fun fact: I’m asked this question about once a day.

Has yours bent? – No.

Aren’t you worried about it bending? – No. I’m careful with my iPhone. And I just got a notification that my Spigen case has shipped.

20141019-Date (YYYY-MM-DD)-_MG_7548Conclusion – The iPhone 6 Plus is hands down the best Apple device I’ve ever owned. It’s iOS how it’s supposed to be. It sports a big, beautiful, immersive screen and great performance that makes iOS 8 very fluid. It’s definitely the right iPhone for me. That said, it may not be the right iPhone for everyone. There are downsides to carrying a larger phone with you all the time. For an example from my experience, I haven’t quite figured out if I want to take my phablet running yet, something I did a lot with my iPhone 5. If you value portability over size, opt for the smaller iPhone 6. It’s nearly identical performance-wise and is a fantastic device. Same goes for if you have smaller hands or if you wear really really tight pants. The 6 Plus is also more expensive than the iPhone 6, by at least $100. But, if you value things like a larger screen, better camera, and more productivity potential the iPhone 6 Plus may be fore you. I’ll leave you with this advice before you make your decision: head to your local Apple Store and hold the different iPhone 6 models for yourself. Actually holding them will really help you make an informed choice.

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