iPhone 6 Plus review: bigger is beautiful and battery is better
If there’s a consistent complaint about the iPhone, it’s battery life. If there’s a consistent trend in mobile phones as a whole, it’s to ever bigger screens. With the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple addresses both those issues, and demonstrates that it may have taken its time but it can certainly play with the big boys.
5 out of 5 stars
On the whole, the 6 Plus is the same as the iPhone 6 - scaled up, it adds various ways of making the most of its larger screen and slightly improves the camera. But the overriding question is simple: is it too big? In my view, no.
There are countless things neither the iPhone 6 nor the 6 Plus don’t do: there’s no 4K video, there’s no higher pixel count than rival models and there’s no HD audio, to name but a few. But that’s to miss the point. What’s made the iPhone so successful is its combination of user-friendly simplicity with sufficiently advanced functions and a beautiful, pleasing design. The iPhone 6 builds on that, and set next to the iPhone 5s it instantly makes its predecessor’s design look out of date. The 6 Plus may be bigger, but if a larger screen is what you want, it’s peerless.
Design and (enormous) screen
Central to the iPhone 6 is its new design: glass curves over the edge of a newly rounded enclosure. The 6 Plus may be big, but it is not too heavy to hold. Nor is it impractically large. Put it in your pocket and it’s not impossible awkward. The power button has moved to the side so that it’s within easy reach and the volume keys have been transformed from round to rectangular buttons. Small changes such as these make a big difference. The camera now protrudes from the back of the iPhone, but not by so much as to feel too awkward. Thinner cameras are available, so this is an interesting, conscious choice by Apple to sacrifice function for form.
Apple’s criticism of larger phones has always been that they don’t feel right because they can’t be used one-handed, and that is true of the new iPhone 6 as much as it is of a Samsung or an HTC. While whinging over the trauma of using your £619 smartphone with two hands definitely counts as a first world problem, there’s no getting away from the fact that the trade-off between screen size and usability remains a dilemma nobody has resolved. Apple comes closest yet with the simple addition of the idea that double-tapping the home button brings everything on screen into the lower half, so that you can easily reach it. It’s an idea of genius that makes a huge difference. Put the Plus on its side and yo get a landscape mode for the homescreen and Messages offers a more conventional, webmail-style view. Useful and well thought out, if apparently obvious.
Much is made by Apple of the iPhone’s new Retina Display – its 401 pixels per inch look lovely, but for me it’s neither class-leading nor any sort of problem. It offers deep blacks that make films look superb, and as the name implies, it’s at a point where it’s a fussy eye that can perceive the differences between top rivals.
Battery life, reception and power
Simply put, the iPhone 6 is finally at the point where its battery lasts me a day. The 6 Plus’s battery lasted me two days, although that is unfair in the sense that many of those who will buy this device will do so to watch films and use it more intensively. Given that few Android phones can manage this, that’s remarkable. But I would still charge it if I were at my desk because you can never have enough power. The new A8 processor, and that larger screen, seem both better and less demanding. Claims that the A8 is 25 per cent faster are revealed in gaming, but also in the improved camera functions (see below).
Later this year, EE customers will also be able to use voice over WiFi, which could yet reduce power consumption further and will extend the reach of the mobile network to anywhere with broadband. In terms of straightforward mobile phone reception, I found the iPhone as good as other phones on the same network in the same place, if not a bar better.
The iPhone 6 Plus took this picture of Tower Bridge and City Hall
The camera is the weakest aspect of the iPhone, in the sense that it does not offer 4K, optical zoom or the kind of resolution widely available on rivals. That said, it is also the best camera of its class on the market, producing pictures that blow up to decent sizes, and improvements in the iPhone 6 mean that it focuses faster, detects faces better and offers more controls than previously. Only when zoomed in are its limitations revealed. Slo-mo movies now operate even more slowly thanks to capturing more information, and burst-selfie mode means the front-facing camera sees improvements too. All of these are iterative improvements, but they demonstrate that through remarkable picture processing, Apple is able to get decent pictures out of hardware that should really be better. In the 6 Plus it adds optical image stabilisation, which makes a real difference, again, to photos taken while moving. It’s useful but not a reason in itself to choose the 6 Plus over the 6..
iOS 8, Apple Pay and Touch ID
If there’s a real flaw with the iPhone, it’s also its most subjective feature: iOS for some feels restrictive, its rows of icons too pre-determined. Apple says it knows best when it comes to how your homescreen should look. You still can’t delete the Stocks app, for reasons known to nobody. You can, at least, delete the U2 album. But with iOS 8 Apple is addressing many of the issues with iOS: in notifications you can reply directly to messages and in Mail you can take instant actions with the swipe of a finger. The iPhone 6 feels for me as though it is the first iPhone where the difference between iOS and Android is microscopic – part of this comes with the fact that Apple’s improved, predictive keyboard can now be used alongside third-party versions from Swiftkey and Swype.
That, in many ways, is a harbinger of the commoditisation of phones: they’re all just pieces of glass that provide a window on services. In the US and no doubt eventually in the UK, one of those is Apple Pay, which lets users pay with their iPhone and its NFC chip. That’s useful, but in the UK where chip and pin and contactless are well established, it’s only a revolution in the sense that it’s another tentacle via which Apple will clutch its users closer. Similarly, now Touch ID can be used with other apps, Apple’s ecosystem is getting ever deeper. The new Health and Homekit apps will similarly aggregate details of home and wellbeing in a uniquely Apple way.
Apple’s iPhone is the device that revolutionised the smartphone; the iPhone 6 is not so big an innovation as that. But with the 6 it’s as close as the company has come to a flawless reinvention, and with the 6 Plus there’s now, finally, an option that should satisfy those who hunger for more real estate. The reasons to buy an Android phone have never been fewer.