iPhone 6 Plus review

Here's the iPhone 6 Plus preview we wrote several days before Apple's official announcements. See how much we got right... and how much we got wrong.

iPhone 6 Plus preview: iPhone 6 Plus UK launch date

The 5.5in-screen iPhone 6L looks likely to arrive at some point in 2014, and could be unveiled at Apple's launch event on 9 September alongside the 4.7in iPhone 6.

Analysts are divided on the subject. A research note written by analyst Ming Chi Kuo(and obtained by Apple Insider) advises investors to expect Apple to unveil a pair of new iPhones on the 9th, but sources of the Chinese tech blog IT168 Mobile predict that the 5.5-inch iPhone 6L won't make an appearance at that event.

We'd say that the most likely outcome is a double unveiling followed by a staggered shipping schedule: the smaller iPhone 6 will become available on 19 September, ten days after its unveiling, while the bigger iPhone 6L will ship later in the year. One rumour suggests that manufacturing difficulties will hold the larger iPhone back until 2015.

As far as when the iPhone 6L will hit UK shops, Apple's policy is normally to get the stock out (in the UK as well as the US and other priority territories) within a week or so of the launch event, so you shouldn't have to wait long after the announcement - assuming your friendly local Apple Store doesn't sell out, that is. Preordering as soon as possible is recommended.

Related: Read about the craziest iPhone 6 rumours we defintely won't be seeing this month here: The 7 most ridiculous iPhone 6 rumours: what Apple WON'T reveal on 9 September

iPhone 6 Plus preview: Name

When I first wrote this preview article, iPhone Air was the leading candidate for the big-screen iPhone's name; it could yet prove to be the correct theory, but there have always been problems with it. Apple's Air brand normally applies to devices that are smaller and lighter than their non-Air equivalent: the iPad Air is thinner, lighter and slightly narrower than the iPad 4, and has a screen that's the same size. And the MacBook Airs are thinner and lighter than the MacBook Pros, and come with smaller screens (11-inch and 13-inch, compared with 13-inch and 15-inch).

One theory is that the 'iPhone Air' would have a bigger screen, but by being broader it would make it possible to have thinner components, like this:

iPhone Air concept illustration

Concept advert created by Set Solutions

But this is surely stretching the Air branding to breaking point.

A stronger theory that's risen in popularity since we first wrote about the big-screen iPhone is iPhone 6L or iPhone 6l (recent Apple typographic convention, from the iPhone 5s, 5c and rebranded 4s, would point to a lower-case letter l, but that has the downside of making it look like the number 61). Apple's previous policy has been to use a letter along with the version number to indicate a modified version: S normally indicates a faster, souped-up version, of course, and C has been used once to imply a budget edition. A letter L would stand for large, presumably.

As of the morning of the 9th September, the latest theory for the big-screen iPhone's name is iPhone Plus - so says Maclife, anyway.

Or if Apple wants to bring across branding it uses in other devices, 'iPhone Pro' probably makes more sense than 'iPhone Air'. Or iPhone Max would make a certain sense as a counterpart to the Mini branding used in the iPad line.

Then again, something entirely new might be the best option. Let's start a campaign for the iPhone Gargantua.

iPhone 6 Plus preview: Design

I don't know what the iPhone 6L will look like, but a lot of talented designers have done their best to imagine. Here are samples of what the next iPhone might look like:

Concept video of a 5.1-inch iPhone 6 by Joseph Farahi

Bigger iPhone Air or iPhone 6 concept image by Nikola Cirkovic

iPhone 6L/iPhone Air concept by Nikola Cirkovic

And while there are limits to how much we can learn from them, a couple of leaked dummy units give us an idea of what the iPhone 6L/iPhone Air's exterior chassis could look like:

iPhone Air review: dummy iPhone units

iPhone Air review: dummy iPhone units

Photos from previously accurate blogger Sonny Dickson on Twitter

Read more about what the new iPhone 6 looks like here. We also have lots of leaked videos and iPhone 6 leaked images here.

iPhone 6 Plus preview: Features

On top of the larger screen, are we likely to see any exciting new features in the iPhone 6L? Well:

One-handed mode: One new feature revealed by the New York Times concerns a modification to the interface: a 'one-handed mode' that could be switched on or off as applicable, to make to easier for users to cope with the larger chassis. Presumably this would be designed to squeeze the active icons/keyboard elements into a smaller area of the screen so that they can be reached more easily by the fingers of a single hand.

Solar charging: Joseph Farahi's concept video (above) gives the iPhone 6L solar charging capabilities... which is a lovely idea, albeit one we can't see coming to pass.

Edge-to-edge display: this would mean Apple could introduce a bigger display without the need to increase the overall size of the iPhone too much.

Liquidmetal: Apple may use Liquidmetal for the chassis. This is said to be more durable than aluminium, and therefore can be used in smaller quantities to be as strong as the metal used for Apple's current iPhones. This would enable Apple to keep the bigger iPhone 6L light and thin, despite the bigger screen.

iPhone 5s flagship features: And the iPhone 5s's marquee features - Touch ID, slow-mo video - are a virtual certainty, but probably don't qualify as 'new' features.

iPhone games

iPhone 6 Plus preview: Specs

We'll flesh this out when we know more, but here's an idea of the rough specs we'd expect from the iPhone 6L/iPhone Air:

Processor: the next-gen A8 chip is likely to offer twice the theoretical speeds of the current A7, although such gains won't become apparent until more demanding apps are released to exploit its power. (One theory doing the rounds suggests that the iPhone 6L will have a faster processor than the iPhone 6, although we're not sure that would make sense.)

Screen: Displays researcher DisplaySearch predicts a 5.5-inch screen with a resolution of 1080 x 1920 and pixel density of 401ppi. It's possible that Apple will go for a lower resolution than this, however: all three iPhones currently sold have a pixel density of 326ppi, which is high enough to classify as Retina (by Apple's reckoning) and Quite Sharp Enough Thank You (by most other people's). It's certainly debatable how much benefit you'd get from increasing pixel density beyond current figures.

Mind you, some pundits think even 401ppi wouldn't be enough: KDB Daewoo Securities says the iPhone 6L/iPhone Air will have a 2272 x 1280 pixel display, which puts it at a pixel density of 474ppi.

All signs suggest that the iPhone 6L will have a sapphire screen.

Camera: Apple may choose this moment to increase the megapixel count beyond 8Mp for the rear-facing camera. See the camera section for more thoughts on that question.

Storage: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB - and we think Apple will add a 128GB option to match the iPad Air. (Some pundits reckon the 16GB option will disappear, but again, we're not convinced, with the iPhone 5c still selling the 8GB option.)

Battery unit: Whatever wattage Apple needs to power that big screen to a 10-hour battery life.

Dock connector: Lightning.

iPhone 6 Plus preview: Screen size

A widespread theory - unconfirmed, as we must keep repeating, but supported by dummy prototype models leaked by accessory makers - is that the iPhone 6 will have a screen somewhere in the 4.7-inch range (measured diagonally) and the iPhone 6L or big-screen iPhone Air/iPhablet will have a screen that's about 5.5-inch.

We discussed screen size and resolution a little in the previous section. But what would a 5.5-inch screen look like in reality, and how practical would it be for the average hand size?

To get an idea of how these would compare with the 4-inch screen of the iPhone 5s, take a look at this video demonstration:

And here's the mockup image we created for this article, which was based on a 5.5-inch HTC smartphone. It gives an idea of what a 5.5-inch device looks like in the hand:

iPhone 6L review

If Apple goes down this route, it's certain to be an opinion divider. A lot of users appreciate the slender dimensions of the iPhone 5 series, which mean they can be used (much of the time) one-handed, and are easy to slip into a pocket. And it could be argued that the iPad mini, offering a 7.9-inch screen, is a useful compromise model for those who want a larger screen without sacrificing pocketability.

But the market does appear to have spoken - a vocal proportion (I would guess that it could easily be a majority) of smartphone fans have made it clear that they want Apple to follow the many Android and Windows phone manufacturers who've ventured into the large-smartphone/phablet territory. Even our own Ashleigh Allsopp has argued that it's time for Apple to go big - or at least offer that as an option.

iPhone 6 Plus preview: Battery life and capacity

Battery life will be one of the factors we test first when we get our hands on review samples of the iPhone 6L, but there's no way to know at this point if it will be higher or lower than the current generation of iPhones.

As other elements have fluctuated in its various iOS devices, however, Apple has remained remarkably consistent on battery life, always veering back towards a general-use figure close to 10 hours. If a screen technology is improved in such a way that battery life would be improved, for example, I suspect that Apple's inclination would then be to slim down the battery unit and gain benefits in other areas. I'd therefore expect the iPhone Air to have a battery life of about 10 hours. Of course, this is just speculation!

To get more specific, we have heard some rumours about the iPhone 6L's battery capacity. 9to5Mac has been talking about a 2,915mAh unit, which would almost double the capacity of the 1,560mAh unit in the iPhone 5s.

iPhone 6 Plus preview: Camera

No word on the camera, either. Another vital element that we'll report on as soon as we hear official word. Apple hasn't upped the megapixel count on the iPhone's rear-facing camera for a while - even the iPhone 4s can match the 8Mp on the iPhone 5s - so many fans will be clamouring for improvements in this area. But some things are more important than megapixel count, as Karen Haslam explains: The iPhone camera and the megapixel myth

iPhone 5s camera

iPhone 6 Plus preview: UK price

No word yet on a price for the iPhone 6L, although we'd assume it will cost something like £80 to £100 more than the equivalent mid-size iPhone 6 - which, as we said in our iPhone 6 preview, will probably be priced around the same as the iPhone 5s is now: anywhere between £549 and £709, depending on which model you choose.

We'll update this when we have a figure.

iPhone 6 Plus preview: Software

The iPhone 6L will come with Apple's own prorietary iOS 8 operating system software preinstalled, which you can supplement by buying and downloading additional apps. We cover iOS 8 (which has already been announced and released to beta testers, but won't be launched to the public until Apple's hardware press events this autumn - alsmost certainly on 9 September) in a number of separate articles:

iOS 8 beta review
Everything you need to know about the iOS 8 beta versions
iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review
What's new in Calendar in iOS 8 & Yosemite
Using QuickType & Swype keyboards in iOS 8
Alternative keyboards in iOS 8
iOS 8 vs Android L comparison preview
iOS 8 extensions wishlist
How to join the iOS 8 beta
The best of iOS 8
iOS 8 FAQ
Will my iPad or iPhone be able to run iOS 8?
10 cool new features in Photos for iOS 8 & Yosemite 

One point worth bearing in mind: if Apple does launch an iPhone with a bigger screen, app developers will have to optimise their software to run on it effectively. At the moment iOS developers have things relatively easy, compared to the many screen sizes that Android devs have to work with. This - particularly if accompanied by a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 - would erode that advantage a little.

iPhone Air preview: iOS optimised for a bigger iPhone screen

Could Apple even relaunch the iPhone 5s as the iPhone 6c? Read: iPhone 6c release date, rumours and leaked images: Will Apple release a cheaper iPhone 6c and discontinue the iPhone 5c.

Read our full first look review of the Apple Watch, including UK pricing information

OUR VERDICT

The iPhone 6 Plus is a stunning piece of design, and its sumptuous screen will be a magnificent showpiece for the latest games, movies and web pages. Sadly, the Reachability feature isn't enough to solve the problems of such a large smartphone - those with small hands will have to give up on one-handed use - and the price tag remains intimidating. The iPhone 6 Plus is a huge leap from the iPhone 5s, not in terms of technology so much as in terms of its physical presence. It won’t be for everyone, but we are sure that it will pick up many advocates for whom the bigger screen is ideal.

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