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Apple iPhone 6 Plus: An in depth review

Some things don't work at 5.5-inches, like the design of a small iPhone

Apple is taking the fight to Samsung with its first large screen smartphone, the inimitable iPhone 6 Plus. It brings Apple’s famed iOS 8 software to a vibrant 5.5-inch screen, but we fear somewhere along the way the iPhone lost its magic.

Note: Small parts of this review was published in our iPhone 6 review, such as our thoughts on Apple’s Touch ID. Know the vast majority is fresh content inspired by the 6 Plus

Larger than comfort

Remember the aluminium body, tapered Gorilla glass and rounded corners defining the appearance of the responsibly sized iPhone 6? All these hallmarks can be found on the 6 Plus, although the appeal struggles to translate to the large screen variant.

The iPhone 6 Plus feels too like a tablet and not enough like a smartphone

The iPhone 6 Plus is ghastly big. The smartphone-tablet hybrid has a screen that measures the same size of LG’s G3, and yet it stands a centimetre taller. Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy Note 4, which has an even larger, richer screen, measures 4mm shorter than the iPhone 6 Plus.

Apple claims the iPhone 6 Plus is more than a supersized iPhone. The design of the 6 Plus certainly doesn’t lend support to the claim. Every one of its angles resembles that of its smaller sibling, only stretched to unappealing proportions.

Here’s the problem: the iPhone 6, which has a hand friendly 4.7-inch screen, can pull off Apple’s stylised bezels. It fits in hands and pockets comfortably. The 6 Plus simply cannot.

It will dig into your thighs at the sight of ramps or stairs. Hop in the car and it won’t fit anywhere on the centre console. The big iPhone constantly taxes the small events that make up your day.

Large 5.5 screens alone strain the hand. The design of an ordinary iPhone drops in comfort when its stretched so large. The phablet form factor necessitates its own design, one with thinner bezels up top. The iPhone 6 Plus feels too like a tablet and not enough like a smartphone.

The screen alone can fit an entire iPhone 5S
The screen alone can fit an entire iPhone 5S

Let’s talk about “bendgate”

Several iPhone 6 Plus’ have reportedly had their aluminium chassis bend from pressure. Videos have surfaced demonstrating the 6 Plus being bent with bare hands, although scientific tests have determined it’s difficult bending the smartphone’s chassis. Apple claims only nine cases have been reported in the first week.

Good Gear Guide found the body of the iPhone 6 Plus gives from little flex and that it would be possible to bend the smartphone with our hands; however, doing so would demand more force than an ordinary smartphone is expected to withstand.

iPhone finally goes Full HD

The 6 Plus might have a larger screen than the iPhone 6 and some better numbers in its spec list, but little separates the two when it comes to everyday use. Its 5.5in screen has a 1920x1080 resolution and a 401 pixel-per-inch density. The improved pixel density is hard to notice with the naked eye, even when the 326ppi iPhone 6 sits adjacent.

Apple’s iPhone 6 excelled in finding a balance between colour accuracy, brightness and resolution. The 6 Plus achieves the same balance, only it extends the screen by 0.8 of an inch. All media is more enjoyable when viewed on the larger iPhone, but the spoils of the 5.5in display aren’t good enough to warrant lugging around the super-sized smartphone.

The iPhone 6 Plus comes with a single speaker lining its base. The location of the speaker is naturally covered by your hands when you watch videos in landscape
The iPhone 6 Plus comes with a single speaker lining its base. The location of the speaker is naturally covered by your hands when you watch videos in landscape

Click over for a comparison against rivals, camera performance, software innovations and more

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Ordinary specs, Silky performance

Encased within the aluminium body of the 6 Plus is modest hardware. The processor is a custom A8 chip from Apple, partnered with a second generation M8 processor that captures motion data. These processors are joined by 1GB of RAM, storage options of 16GB, 64GB and 128GB, and a 2915 milliamp-hour (mAh) internal battery.

Good Gear Guide tests the battery life of smartphones by using them in everyday situations. We were charged with using the 6 Plus as our primary smartphone for a week.

Our usage during the test period ranged between moderate and heavy. We took advantage of the smartphone’s multimedia repertoire by watching movies, listening to music and by using the camera. We made phone calls, emailed plenty, sent texts and surfed the web. The 6 Plus was linked to our Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn social networking accounts throughout the period. It was also used for GPS navigation.

Throughout the period, brightness was set to auto, while notifications and location services were permitted. The iPhone 6 Plus averaged a commendable full day of battery life under these conditions. Our lowest recorded battery life was 14 hours following a television show marathon, with 26 hours of use recorded as our longest.

Fantastic LTE support, Connectivity on lockdown

Connectivity is a mixed affair. The iPhone 6 is compatible with 20 LTE bands globally — that’s more than any other smartphone — and it should work fine with the upcoming 700MHz band from Optus and Telstra.

Apple’s take on open standards Bluetooth and NFC is a closed one. The iPhone 6 supports audio streaming over Bluetooth 4.0, but it doesn’t permit the transfer of files. This has been part of the company’s iPhone lineage from day one.

The inclusion of near fields communications is a first for any iPhone. Apple has even refined the technology by making the entire top of the iPhone 6 a hot zone for NFC tags; however, the company has undone this good deed by disabling its use in Australia. Turns out NFC is reserved for use with the Apple Pay system, its innovative solution for tap-and-go style payments, which thus far is not available outside of the US.

The stainless steel Apple logo is part of the smartphone's radio antenna
The stainless steel Apple logo is part of the smartphone's radio antenna

The competition: spec-for-spec

New to iOS 8

The iPhone 6 Plus has caused Apple to rescind its stance on large screen smartphones. Commercials ran during prime time following the launch of the iPhone 5, in which Apple claimed its 4-inch screen was a “dizzying display of common sense”. Fast forward two years and Apple’s tune has changed to that of 4.7- and 5.5-inches.

Software has been used to hedge the increase in screen size. Double tapping the home key shifts the top half of the display downwards. This mode is called ‘reachability’ and it’s available on both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

The iPhone 6 Plus can use certain parts of the OS in landscape orientation.
The iPhone 6 Plus can use certain parts of the OS in landscape orientation.

Additional tweaks to iOS 8 include an easy-to-use photo editing suite, improvements to Apple’s 'iMessage' application and an aggregate health application.

Apple’s mobile operating system has been a work in progress since its debut in 2007. Time has kindly seen it mature in design, functionality and in content support. iOS remains free from bloatware and packs only features of relevance. This is in stark contrast to select manufacturers, such as Samsung and LG, which mask Android in a cumbersome and counter-intuitive overlay.

Click here to read about the full list of updates made to iOS 8

Click over for camera performance and the final thought

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8MP camera, Slow-mo recording

Resting raised on the rear of the 6 Plus is an 8 megapixel camera. The rear camera promises strong low-light capabilities on paper with large 1.5 micron pixels — second only to the HTC One (M8) — and an aperture of f/2.2.

Apple’s camera interface hides detailed camera settings in an effort to keep the interface simple. Changing the resolution and subsequent aspect ratio of a photo, for instance, is not possible. The result is a camera interface that does most of the thinking for you, offering only the options to fix the focus, exposure and brightness.

My gripe with Apple's iPhones

Supplementing these few settings are intuitively laid out camera modes. Stand out modes include panoramic photos stitched at 43 megapixels, slow-motion video recording at either 120- or 240-frames per second, and a time-lapse mode.

Offering a one-size-fits-all version of these modes makes them accessible to the masses, but advanced users may feel shortchanged in the process. Apple compensates by supplementing the simplistic camera interface with detailed editing options.

Photos captured with the iPhone 6 Plus impress with bright colours and a great detail. An HDR mode automatically kicks in and saves two versions of the same photo, one with HDR and another without, in what is a nice touch.

Sample photos taken with the iPhone 6 Plus

The photo above cropped at 100 per cent
The photo above cropped at 100 per cent

Although the iPhone 6 Plus offers good camera performance, the 8 megapixel resolution is limiting. Rivals boast cameras of similar quality at 16- and 20-megapixels.

Differentiating the 6 Plus from the iPhone 6 is the inclusion of optical image stabilisation, which compensates for hand shakes in low light situations. Most of the time we were impressed with the camera performance of the 6 Plus, but we found it inferior to rivals when it came to taking photos at night or in environments with dim lighting. These situations result in increased image noise and blown out colours.

In this comparison, you can see the iPhone's camera blow out orange into yellow
In this comparison, you can see the iPhone's camera blow out orange into yellow

The iPhone 6 Plus differs by not supporting Ultra HD recording; rather, Apple has focused on including time-lapse and slow motion recording modes. These modes prove timely as UHD is crippled by a lack of support and remains storage intensive.

Following are sample slow motion and timelapse videos captured with the iPhone 6.

A time-lapse video captured with the iPhone 6

A slow motion video captured with the iPhone 6.

The front of the 6 Plus hides a 1.2MP camera capable of recording videos in high definition. Quality falls short of rivals; however, the front-cam still serves Facetime calls diligently.

Spoils: Finger scanners & personal assistants

Apple didn’t invent the finger scanner, nor was the company first to offer it in a smartphone, though its implementation of the technology remains unparalleled.

The second rendition of Touch ID is quicker and more accurate. Switching on the screen and scanning your finger no longer feels like two separate moves. Now both take place in such succession that it feels like one uniform motion.

Touch ID is far superior to the finger scanner used on Samsung devices. Fingers are scanned at any angle just as quickly, while the finger scanner used on the Samsung Galaxy S5 works only with vertical swipes. Such concessions don’t need to be made with an iPhone 6.

Holding down the home key initiates Apple’s Siri personal assistant. Rivals have since spawned personal assistants of their own, including Samsung, LG and Google, but these are imitations at best. Siri still has them beat when it comes to understanding context, on recognising the Australian accent, and for sounding organic.

Final thought

The iPhone 6 Plus treads a fine line — poorly. The 5.5-inch display nests inside a body suited for smartphones 3.5, 4 and 4.7 inches in size. Growing the screen to 5.5-inches necessitates a design with less chunk. It’s a shame the company picked their design identity rather than an evolved rendition.

(There’s a reason why the Samsung Note range differs in appearance to the Galaxy range of smartphones.)

An iPhone that is uncomfortable to use contradicts what the iPhone is all about. This is a niche smartphone intended for a tiny group of multimedia junkies. And even then, the smaller 4.7in iPhone 6 should appease even the most demanding content users.