iPhone 6 Plus review: Is Apple's new big-screen iPhone too big?

Apple's iPhone 6 Plus launched on 9 September alongside the iPhone 6 - and if the iPhone 6 is big, the iPhone 6 Plus is really big: a gargantuan 5.5 inches diagonally across its screen. It's by a huge distance the biggest iPhone so far, but will the advantages of so much screen space outweigh the negatives - loss of portability, greater power requirements, and difficulty for one-handed use?

In our iPhone 6 Plus review we answer these questions, and many more. Such as: when will the iPhone 6 Plus launch in the UK? What it the iPhone 6 Plus's UK price, and is it a good deal? How does the iPhone 6 Plus compare with the iPhone 6, not to mention the existing iPhone offerings? Which iPhone should you buy? We also cover the iPhone 6 Plus's design and interface changes and its new features - and there are a couple of really interesting ones that will be denied to existing iPhone owners even with iOS 8 installed.

This review is based on feedback from our US Macworld collegues who have had the new iPhones for review, and some brief hands-on time with the iPhone 6 Plus. We haven't been able to fully test the iPhone 6 Plus ourselves yet, so check back for an altogether more comprehensive iPhone 6 Plus review when we've had some serious time with the review samples to test battery life and the like. 

Related articles: iPhone 6 review | iPhone 6 release date | iPhone 6 Plus release date | iPhone reviews | iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 6 Plus UK launch date

The iPhone 6 Plus will launch in the UK on 19 September 2014, but it's already available to pre-order. There are likely to be queues if you try to wander into an Apple Store on launch day and pick one up.

It looks like there are going to be delays even if you do pre-order, though; we went through the process of pre-ordering a 128GB iPhone 6 Plus in Space Grey and were warned that shipping would take 3-4 weeks - arriving at least two weeks after the official release date, in other words. Switching to a 16GB model in silver, however, we were told that the iPhone 6 Plus would be dispatched in 7-10 business days.

Your mileage may vary, of course, and those who pre-ordered earlier this morning may have had better luck. Find out how to get hold of an iPhone: Read How to buy the iPhone 6 and How to set up a new iPhone. If you want a bit of cash to put towards your new purchase why not sell your current handset: How to sell your iPhone.

iPhone 6 Plus review: UK price

The iPhone 6 Plus starts at £619. Yeah, that's not cheap, is it? Here are the full range of pricing options:

  • 16GB iPhone 6 Plus: £619
  • 64GB iPhone 6 Plus: £699
  • 128GB iPhone 6 Plus: £789 (this is more than the 11in MacBook Air!)

It's a lot to ask for a smartphone, even one as beautiful as the iPhone 6 Plus, and likely to put all but the most committed (or large-handed) of Apple fans.

And it's worth pointing out that we've not missed one out - Apple has indeed craftily removed the mid-ranking 32GB model, which gives the average buyer a big nudge up towards the 64GB. We're not sure we could manage with 16GB, although those who store most of their media in the cloud and rarely download large apps might well be fine.

if you do feel able to afford an iPhone 6 Plus, you'll are able to pre-order from Apple's site now - alternatively you could try your luck on the launch day.

The iPhone 6 Plus: Size

Apple had its reasons for maintaining a 4-inch limit on the iPhone – basically it came down to how comfortable it was to use, Apple designed the iPhone 5 so you could reach all areas of the phone while holding it in one hand. However, in its insistance on being right about size not mattering, Apple ceded the large end of the market to Samsung and co. Now, finally Apple has relented and introduced a bigger iPhone. In fact there are two bigger iPhones.

No wonder the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus look like Apple’s answer to bigger Android phones.

The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus is Apple’s entry into the phablet market, something we’re sure Steve Jobs would have poo-pooed this time last year had he still been alive. But phablets are said to be one reason why tablet sales are not increasing at the rate they once were.

Will the new bigger iPhones held Apple to reach a part of the market that wasn’t interested in 4-inch iPhones? Or are they likely to damage Apple because they could be seen as alienating those who would prefer a smaller phone? Read on to find out.

To get an idea of the iPhone 6 Plus's size, here it is beside the (hardly tiny) iPhone 6:

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

And here it is with the full range of iPhones:

iPhone 6 Plus review: all available iPhones

iPhone 6 Plus review: Design and differences

There’s not a big difference between the two new iPhones, other than the size (the Plus is 14% wider than the iPhone 6) and some more advanced camera technology inside the iPhone 6 Plus.

Size aside, the new iPhones share a similar design that sets them aside from last year’s iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. They are both narrower than the phones that preceded them. The design is more curvy, with rounded edges rather than the straight sides of the iPhone 5s.

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

Oddly enough, the iPhone 6 Plus brings to mind the original iPhone just a little bit, what with its curved aluminum edges and all-metal back. A more recent touchstone for many users will be the iPhone 3GS, the most recent 'rounded' iPhone design.

Even the glass screen has a slight curve at the edges, which feels pleasant against your hand in a way that the sharp edges of the iPhone 4 and 5 series (iPhone 5c excluded) never quite did.

It strikes us that Apple needed to slim down the iPhone 6 Plus as much as possible, because had the edge been 7.6mm rather than 7.1mm that would have been a lot of extra bulk to cart around, not only adding to the weight, but meaning it would sit less comfortably in your hand and you would have to stretch your palm half a centimetre further in order to reach the screen – which definitely matters if you have small hand.

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

There are other hardware design changes that set the new iPhones apart from the iPhone 5s. For example, the volume buttons are no longer round but oval and the sleep-wake button is no longer at the top of the iPhone where it has always been, instead it’s on the right side. This is presumably to make it easier to reach one handed.

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

As with all iPhones, build quality is excellent. Buttons and switches are uniformly firm and responsive, and the Ring/Silent switch produced a satisfying click. One small concern is the rear-facing camera, which (presumably as a casualty of the ever shrinking depth of the iPhone's chassis) sticks out a little bit and marginally spoils the integrity of the iPhone 6 Plus's profile. Laying the iPhone 6 Plus down on its back on a hard, flat surface (all the surfaces in the press test area were soft mats, funnily enough) may cause it to sit unevenly.

We will talk more about the new iSight rear-facing camera later in this article.

The colour options are the same for the iPhone 6, 6 Plus and the iPhone 5s. Only the iPhone 5c offers a selection of bold colour options.

How big is the iPhone 6 Plus? Can you use it one-handed? 

Does the iPhone 6 Plus sit comfortably in your hand? That probably depends on the size of your hand. In his review on our sister site Macworld.com, Jason Snell says that “after a few days, I found I had unconsciously changed the default position of my fingers when holding the phone, and using it felt entirely natural.” However, I have smaller hands than Jason so I’ll leave my own judgment until I can try the phone out for myself. He also added that: “In my average-size male hands, I found I could hold the iPhone 6 Plus, and manage to get my thumb to reach across the screen, at the very bottom, if I concentrated”.

Luckily, Apple has added features and tweaks in iOS 8 that make it easier to reach the controls for the iPhone. However, as much as you may hope that you can use the iPhone 6 Plus one handed, you are likely to be disappointed. It really is a device destined for two-handed operation so it’ll be tricky to use when standing on a crowded train – unless you choose not to hang on to anything.

For some people that won’t be a concern. Not everyone commutes and therefore not everyone needs to use their smartphone with one hand. The great news is that Apple has at least made it easier to use the new iPhone 6 Plus one handed where necessary. That’s an attention to detail that no other manufacturer has.

As for pockets, will the iPhone 6 Plus fit in yours? Snell says that the Plus fitted in his jeans pocket but we think that is the exception rather than the norm.  If you carry a bag with you that won’t be a problem, but if not you may find the plus sized iPhone 6 a bit tricky to conceal about your person. That said, we’ve not heard any phablet users complaining that they couldn’t fit it in their pocket (perhaps they were too embarrassed to admit it).

The message here is try the iPhone 6 Plus in your hand before you buy it because no two hands are the same and that means that only you can decide if you are comfortable with this gigantic phone.

iPhone 6 Plus review

iPhone 6 Plus Reachability

Conscious that some smartphone buyers (and, to be brutally honest, the company itself, when commenting on Android phones in the past) have said that 5.5-inch screens are too large to use one-handed, Apple has equipped the iPhone 6 Plus (and, in fact the iPhone 6 too, even though its not quite so vast) with a new feature to enable precisely that. It's called Reachability.

This is Apple’s solution for not being able to reach the far corners of the screen when you are using the iPhone 6 Plus one handed. (These features apply to the iPhone 6 too). 

You activate Reachability by tapping the home button twice (just a tap, not a push). When activated Reachability slides the top of the screen down to where your thumb can reach it. The idea is that, when you're holding the device in one hand, you can't reach the whole screen; so if Mohammed can't get to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed. Ingeniously, Reachability brings the entire screen down to within finger-tapping reach. Another double-tap returns everything to normal.

Reachability isn’t a particularly elegant solution to the issue, but it is a solution and it does make the larger screen more usable. In our testing there was some inconsistency in how Reachability was implemented. We expect this to be ironed out in future operating system updates.

iPhone 6 Plus review: Reachability

However, we love the idea, and the humility of acknowledging that such an approach might be needed. (Compare with the Steve Jobsian 'You're holding it wrong' approach when the iPhone 4's antenna issues emerged.) Our US colleague Dan Moren isn't totally convinced by Reachabiity, however.

"This 'fix' is weird and somewhat un-Apple," he observes. "I found myself wondering if a better solution might emerge farther down the road. But I suspect that this feature will appeal to the same folks who frequently use the multitasking gestures that have been built into the iPad for a long time. It's the iPhone’s equivalent of a keyboard shortcut: something for those power users who just don't want to be slowed down."

iPhone 6 Plus versus iPad mini

If you already own an iPad – particularly an iPad mini – you may be wondering what the iPhone 6 Plus could bring you that you don’t already get from your iPad. Perhaps the iPhone 6 Plus makes more sense for those of us who don’t own an iPad, or for those who think an iPad is a tad too big for what they have in mind. There’s also the benefit that the iPhone 6 Plus has many features that you won’t see on the iPad, yet.

With its 5.5-inch screen (which we'll discuss more in a mo), the iPhone 6 Plus fills your hand: it isn't uncomfortable to hold, but Apple fans with small hands may find it difficult to use one-handed. Apple has thought of that, though, as you'll see from the Reachability section above.

iPhone 6 Plus review: Specs

Here are iPhone 6 Plus's specs, we'll look at each in more detail below.

Processor: as expected, an A8 chip with 64bit architecture, and a M8 co-processor. Said to offer approximately 25 percent higher speed - on paper - than the iPhone 5s's A7 chip, and 50 percent greater graphics performance. Obviously we would insert the usual caveat about current apps being quite comfortably handled by the A7 so that any actual performance improvements won't become noticeable until more demanding apps are written for the A8. More of a future-proofing component than a short-term benefit.

Screen: 5.5-inch 'Retina HD' screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and a pixel density of 401ppi; 1300:1 contrast ratio (typical)

Rear-facing camera ('New iSight camera'): 8Mp photos; f/2.2;optical image stabilisation; 1080p video recording

Front-facing ('FaceTime' camera: 1.2Mp photos; ƒ/2.2; 720p video recording; burst mode

Storage: 16GB, 64GB and 128GB

Lightning connector and Touch ID fingerprint scanner

Dimensions: 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm

Weight: 172g

iPhone 6 Plus review: Screen

We’ve already mentioned that the display in the iPhone 6 Plus is huge – 5.5-inches. What is it like to actually look at?

Apple is referring to the display on both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as “Retina HD”. This may be pushing the truth somewhat with the iPhone 6 which has exactly the same pixels per inch (326) as the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s – they aren’t packed in any closer together.

The iPhone 6 Plus, on the other hand, offers 401 ppi – that’s the highest resolution on an Apple iOS device and it’s the same as a full 1080p display which is what your high-def TV offers. Mind you, when Apple first introduced Retina display as a concept it said that the eye was unable to see any more pixels, so maybe it doesn’t really make a difference. Except it does, as we know from looking at Android phones with more pixels. We weren't convinced that upping the screen resolution beyond standard Retina was worth the expense, since many experts had claimed that human eyes can't discern greater detail than that at standard smartphone distance. But our initial impressions were, well, pretty great. Every app we looked at was stunning on the 401 ppi screen. Read: What is a Retina display, and are they worth the money?

In order to make the most of the more detailed screen Apple is using scaling techniques so that more detail can fit on the screen, including extra keys on the keyboard. However it has also added a feature called Display Zoom so you could choose to view the screen like you would on a smaller iPhone, only zoomed in.

Apple says it offers wider viewing angles because of its dual-domain pixels. We won't comment on that one way or another until we've had longer with the phone.

iPhone 6 Plus review

iPhone 6 Plus review: Camera

Another particularly noticeable change is to the camera – not just new photography features but the fact that the lens protrudes out in a way that some are suggesting is very un-Apple. So un-Apple in fact that the company seems to have gone to great lengths to ensure that the unsightly bump doesn’t show up in its promotional photography. The lens is surrounded by a thin metal ring. Apparently this was a trade-off made necessary by the fact that the iPhone is too thin for the camera mechanics. It may be preferable than the whole iPhone being a few millimetres thicker. If this is the reason though it does seem strange that both iPhones have the same protrusion. Surely the slightly thicker iPhone 6 Plus could have concealed more of the bulge.

As we mentioned above, there are some new camera features offered by the iPhone 6 Plus and the iPhone 6, and some new features that can only be found on the iPhone 6 Plus. Only the iPhone 6 Plus offers Optical image stabilization while the iPhone 6 only offers digital image stabilization. The lens on the iPhone 6 Plus can actually move up and down, and side to side in order to adjust and stabilize images. Apple claims that this works well in low-light.

iPhone 6 Plus review: Camera

Both iPhones offer Focus Pixels for faster autofocus, this is useful when shooting video as these pixels automatically focus continuously as you are shooting. In his review Snell noted that: “The focus behavior in video is the feature I noticed the most - video focus has never been really been one of the iPhone’s strong suits. But the focus in the test videos I shot with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were clear and smooth, never seeming robotic or jarring.” According to Apple, you no longer need to tap the screen to tell it to focus, either.

There is also improved face detection on both the front and back facing cameras; Panorama shooting at up to 43 megapixels; and 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps or 60 fps (previously only 30 fps); Cinematic video stabilization; and continuous autofocus video.

Cinematic video stabilization coupled with Slo-mo video which you can now record at super-detailed 240 fps as well as120 fps allows for smooth action running at one-eighth the speed of normal video.

The front facing, FaceTime camera features a new sensor with a larger f/2.2 aperture that lets in 81% more light – perfect for low-light selfies and video calls This compares to the ƒ/2.4 aperture on iPhone 5s). There is also Auto HDR for photos and videos on FaceTime camera (previously that was only photos); and a Burst mode on the FaceTime camera.

Despite these new features for the camera, there will be disappointment for. There is no improvement in terms of megapixels. The new iPhones still offer 8-megapixel cameras. Many rival smart phones offer many more megapixels. However, as you will see from this article, more megapixels doesn’t mean better photos.

iPhone 6 Plus review: Camera

iPhone 6 Plus A8 Processor

The new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are powered by the new Apple A8 processor, although it is running at different clock speeds. The iPhone 6 Plus runs at 1.39GHz compares to the iPhone 6 at 1.2GHz.

This A8 processor is the successor to last years A7 chip, which was a giant leap by it’s own account offering a huge speed improvement thanks to it’s 64-bit capabilities. We’re not going to see as big a leap with the A8 chip – but we’re not sure that we really need to as unless you are playing high-powered games it’s unlikely to make much of a difference to you. One way in which the new chip might make a difference is in power efficiency. The A8 uses a different manufacturing process that makes it more power efficient, and that may have an impact on battery life.

However, the A8 it is definitely faster than last year’s A7, according to Macworld’s tests.

Macworld US ran GeekBench Single- and Multi-Core tests on the new iPhones. The results were as follows:

Single-Core

  • iPhone 6 Plus: 1610
  • iPhone 6: 1517
  • iPhone 5s: 1409

Multi-Core

  • iPhone 6 Plus: 2877
  • iPhone 6: 2586
  • iPhone 5s: 2549

We'll run the iPhone 6 Plus through Macworld's battery of benchmarking and speed tests as soon as the review sample arrives in our labs.

iPhone 6 Plus M8 Processor

The Motion Co-Processor also gets an update. The M8 replaces the M7 from the iPhone 5s. This chip is used to collect sensor data – it is a clever way to save battery life as it bypasses the A8 (or A7) processor. The M8 also collects data from the new barometer sensor which is used to measure elevation changes so it can tell if you have been climbing steps and presumably gage your fitness levels from that.

iPhone 6 Plus review: Speed and graphics performance

While discussing the new A8 processor we said that performance gains from the iPhone 5s are unlikely to be noticeable for the foreseeable future, and sure enough our brief hands-on time with the iPhone 6 Plus didn't stun us with speed improvements. It's consummately slick and zippy in use, of course, but so was the 5s; high-powered games couldn't stretch its powers, but again, neither were they an issue for the previous generation of iPhone.

iPhone 6 Plus review: Gaming

Apple showcased a new game called Vainglory - expect more on that subject in future - and as you would expect, the new iPhones handled its graphical fireworks with ease. Read: Best iPhone games.

iPhone 6 Plus RAM

Both phones appear to have the same 1GB RAM as the iPhone has since the iPhone 5 launched. Many iPhone rivals offer more RAM. While some suggest that it’s unnecessary to  add more RAM as Apple’s iOS software manages memory sufficiently well. That’s not necessarily our experience and we must admit to being disappointed that Apple hasn’t added more RAM. Hopefully iOS 8 will manage memory better than iOS 7 did.

iPhone 6 Plus Battery life

Battery life has improved somewhat, made possible both by the fact that the bigger case can fit a bigger battery. Apple claims that the iPhone 6 Plus battery life is up to 24 hours talk time on 3G; up to 16 days/384 hours standby time; up to 12 hours internet on 3G, up to 12 hours on LTE, and up to 11 hours on Wi-Fi; up to 14 hours video playback; and up to 80 hours audio playback. That sounds pretty impressive.

In contract Apple claims that iPhone 6 battery life is up to 14 hours talk time on 3G; up to 10 hours internet on 3G, up to 10 hours on LTE, and up to 11 hours on Wi-Fi; up to 11 hours video playback; and up to 50 hours audio playback.

The iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c had identical battery life according to Apple, who claimed: up to 10 hours talk time on 3G; up to 8 hours internet on 3G, up to 10 hours on LTE, and up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi; up to 10 hours video playback and up to 40 hours audio playback for those handsets.

We haven’t yet been able to test the battery fully to verify Apple’s claims, however in his testing for Macworld, Jason Snell suggested that the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6 both appeared to have better battery life than the iPhone 5s. Of course comparing a battery in a year old device with a completely new battery isn’t necessarily a fair test. We will update this section of this iPhone 6 Plus review as soon as we have been able to properly test battery life.

iPhone 6 Plus NFC & Apple Pay

The iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6 both support Near Field Communications, the standard that lends itself to Apple Pay, Apple’s new mobile payment service. This wont mean much to anyone in the UK yet as we don’t know when Apple Pay will come to the UK. It’s not going to launch in the US until October.

Apple Pay is really exciting to us as a concept: it's a mobile payment system that will allow you to pay for stuff using your iPhone's Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Very convenient, rather cool, and in principle more secure than current credit-card systems, although we'll be watching closely to see how the security side of things works out.

iPhone 6 Plus review: Apple Pay

Apple Pay is based on the NFC wireless protocol so requires an NFC antenna - which the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6, but no other iPhones, have. So it's restricted to the latest generation of iPhone (and the Apple Watch). It's also restricted to the US too, unfortunately, where it will launch in October. Apple insists it's working to launch the service in other countries soon, though.

Read more about Apple Pay in our dedicated FAQs article: Apple Pay FAQs: Will Apple Pay work in the UK, is Apple Pay secure and more questions answered

iPhone 6 plus features: Software

As we mentioned earlier, the extra screen real-estate can be used to add features to apps, like additional keyboard keys. The most noticeable change is that when you rotate the iPhone 6 Plus home screen the icons switch to landscape mode, as per the iPad. There’s a slight difference compared to the iPad though, the dock stays in the same place, on the right of the screen.

iPhone 6 Plus review: landscape view

Apple has also updated various apps to take advantage of the bigger screen, including Mail and Notes. There is a wide-screen view for landscape mode for example. Both apps can utilize a two-column view with a list of items on the left and a preview or area for editing on the right. This is similar to the way things work on the iPad.

Much as if you were using Calendar, Mail or a similar app on an iPad, the iPhone 6 Plus lets you view many default apps in landscape mode with two columns. And the Home screen itself can flip to a landscape mode - an omission which I always found a little odd. (The dock doesn't flip to the bottom of the screen, though. It sits rather nattily on the side of the screen.)

iPhone 6 Plus review: landscape view

iPhone 6 Plus review: landscape view

The iPhone 6 Plus comes with Apple's iOS 8 software preinstalled; take a look at our iOS 8 review to see how that appeals. Obviously you can supplement the default features of this operating system by buying and downloading additional apps, which Apple says now number more than 1.3 million.

We cover the various aspects of iOS 8 in the following articles, you can also read our iOS 8 tutorials in our iOS 8 zone.

That's it for our iPhone 6 Plus review (at least for now - we'll expand the review with detailed testing once we get some serious benchmarking time with the review samples). But if you're interested to read our pre-announcement preview of the iPhone 6 Plus - and see how much we got right and how we got wrong - carry on to the next page, where we've kept the original article.

Next page: Our original (pre-announcement) iPhone 6 Plus preview >>

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