October 2011 was an interesting and pivotal month for technology. It saw the iPhone 4S announced and the rise of virtual assistants. Two weeks later at IFA, Samsung announced another device that would change, the world: the Galaxy Note. In a world where iPhones were 3.5″ and Android phones weren’t a whole lot bigger, the Note was 5.3″ and the first phablet. 3 years later, with screens 5.3 inches and larger common place, Apple is trying their hand at the market, the iPhone 6 Plus.
Two Years of Confusion
The last couple of years have left me conflicted. I fell for larger screen phones the day I met the Galaxy S3. I was head over heels when I met the Note II. As smartphones got more powerful, the tasks you could do with them increased. However, if you’ve ever tried to work with a spreadsheet on a 3.5 or 4.0-inch screen, it’s not a fun experience. 5.5 or 5.7-inch screen and it’s doable. I found this out the hard way in May of 2013 when we were working the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. For space reasons, I didn’t have my laptop available and had to run our schedule spreadsheet off of my iPhone 5. Cali and John’s Note IIs with their 5.5″ screens didn’t have near the same readability issues I did. At that time it was very clear larger screens were better for productivity.
Fast forward almost a year and I decided I had enough of my tiny iPhone 5. I purchased a 5.2″ LG G2. I loved the hardware, but for various reasons, I just didn’t mesh with Android. At the same time, iOS 7 “borrowed” a lot of the things about Android I liked. I was torn between the experience I liked, and better, more productive hardware. I wanted the iPhablet and just a few short weeks ago, my wish was granted with the iPhone 6 Plus.
The most noticeable difference between the 6 Plus and older iPhones is the size. The entire iPhone 4″ 5/5S can fit easily inside the screen of the 6 Plus. Up front, it looks like a scaled up iPhone 5S, but the back and sides tell a different story. The sides have gone back to the curved designed of the first 3 iPhones, the iPhone, 3G, and 3GS. The volume up and down buttons are now oval and about the same size as the lock screen button. Speaking of which, the lock screen button has been moved to the right side, just above the SIM card slot. In theory, this is a better place for it, but so far, years of muscle memory has my index finger reaching up top still. It’ll take a while for this to really set in. The back is a bit different than the previous iPhones. The previously glass areas at he top and bottom have been replaced by antenna lines in roughly the same outline. Some say it detracts from the case, but I like the way it looks. As for colors, it comes in Space Grey/black, silver/white, and gold/white, the exact same colors available in the 5S. I shouldn’t say the same, the gold is a bit darker than the previous model. You can definitely tell it’s gold where the 5S could be difficult to distinguish from the silver model at certain angles and at a distance.
This is where you’re going to ask me to see if my iPhone 6 will bend because of certain controversies. This shall not be happening. I paid a lot of money for this phone, I wouldn’t be able to afford to replace it, I need it for my work and social lives, and its been done to death. That being said, I’ve had it for weeks, in my front pocket, and it’s still straight has an arrow. It intend for it to stay that way. Use this general rule with any expensive piece of equipment: If you spent a lot of money on it, take care of it.
5.5-Inch Retina HD Display
The reason it’s so big is the 1920 x 1080 5.5-inch display. That’s 401 PPI, for those keeping score. It’s 0.2″ smaller than last year’s Note 3 with the same resolution. There are QHD phones like the Note 4 and the LG G3, but this 1080 display is just plain beautiful. It’s brighter with better color than the display in the 5/5S, and it’s not leaving me wanting at all. A few other reviews talk about how huge it is. I respectfully have a different opinion. Apps that are designed for the iPhone 6 Plus look beautiful. Apps not yet updated are scaled up from 1138 x 640. You can tell the difference pretty easily. The older apps won’t look quite as sharp. It’s a bit like the old 2X mode scaling up iPhone apps to the iPad back in the day. That said, iPhone 6/6 Plus support is rapidly seeing the light of day thanks to iOS 8’s adaptive UI.
This is really a personal preference thing, so don’t take too much stock into what I say here. First and foremost, try the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in person before buying. You could end up making a very expensive mistake if you don’t. That being said, I had no problem adjusting from the 4″ iPhone 5S. I was able to cover most of the screen with just one hand. If I needed help on the extreme left hand side, my left thumb will once in a while help out. I must have huge hands right? On the contrary, I wear a size medium glove and have issues playing certain chords on my guitar. That being said, the iPhone 6 Plus will require a different grip than earlier iPhones. If you full cusp the phone, you won’t be able to cover even half of the screen. If you hold it by only the right side of the iPhone, you get much better coverage. This almost certainly requires a case because the iPhone 6 Plus is pretty slippery naked. There is also a mode called Reachability which brings the top of the screen down to the bottom with a couple tap (not press) of the home button. It works, but honestly I haven’t haven’t used it much. I haven’t needed to.
CPU and Graphics.
While the casing didn’t change last year save the finishes, the chip performance jump was one of the largest in iPhone history. Using GeekBench 3, the jump from the 32-bit A6 to the 64-bit A7 was nearly double. The chip was a bit overpowered for a 4″ phone, but it gave Apple a year headstart working with ARMv8. 64-bit ARM SoCs are now hitting the market, but don’t expect full support until Android-L shows up. With that head start, Apple could handle a more evolutionary jump in CPU speed. You won’t be left wanting in the least.
Graphics are provided by the second generation of PowerVR series 6 “Rogue” graphics, the quad core GX6450. This is only exceeded in mobile graphics by the 6-core version, the GX6550 and maybe the Nvidia K1. The chip provides enough power to drive the larger screen with no slow downs in even the most inventive applications.
Camera and Microphones
The iPhone 6 Plus camera is still 8mp like all iPhones dating back to the 4S in 2011 and features an f/2.2 lens, a 1.5 micron pixel size the camera in the 5S. You would think from the stats, this would preform exactly as the predecessor. You would be wrong. The inclusion of optical image stabilization and “Focus Pixels” turns out to make a huge difference. It takes really good pictures in the day time, but the money shots are at night, where they might actually be able to earn some money this time around. I took about a dozen shots in a downtown area with standard street lighting. On my previous 5S, this would have made for a usable photo that was fine for social networks, but when zoomed in showed quite a bit of noise. At native size, the camera in the 6 Plus had very little noise. When zooming in, pixelation became a clarity issue not long after noise. This is very impressive for a sensor this tiny. It also gets a couple new tools, like manual brightness control and an easy set 10 or 30 second timer.
Video gains a couple new modes. It can shoot 1080p video in 60fps now and slow motion video up to 240fps. The 5S camera shoots 30 frames in 1080 and 120 in slow-mo. I can’t find the 240fps slow-mo in any other phone. In fact, it’s still pretty rare in higher end cameras. There is also a Hyper-time video mode. Honestly, there really isn’t anything that interesting outside my windows that I would consider doing a time-lapse of, so I haven’t tested it. Video quality is overall excellent and OIS makes a bit of difference, but if you really want professional video, use a tripod and mount.
The 6 Plus comes with a three microphone array. Compared to the 5/5S the pinholes are larger which would suggest larger pinhole mics. The phone seems to be able to pick up voices more clearly over a longer distance. That’s great for recording and making conference calls.
The iPhone 6 Plus comes in 16, 64, and 128GB versions. DO NOT get the 16GB version, it won’t have near enough storage and you don’t have an SD card to add more. For most users, 64GB should be more than enough, but the 128GB version finally fulfills the promise for the iPhone for me. It can hold all my music, all my photos, and most important all my apps with tens of gigabytes to spare.
The battery in the iPhone 6 Plus is close to twice as big as the one in previous iPhones. It shows. My iPhone 5/5S were constantly living on red, especially towards the end of the day. That doesn’t happen with the 6 Plus and I use it a lot more than previous iPhones. In fact, I hadn’t charged mine in close to a day when I wrote this section.
The iPhone 6 Plus comes in 3 different models based on their wireless radio: The A1522 GSM, the A1522 CDMA, and the A1524. The A1522 variants have compatibility with 16 different LTE bands for true world phone capability. The phone will also work with 4 GSM/Edge Bands. The only LTE band these phones won’t use is the 700MHz band 12 used by U.S. regional carriers and T-Mobile. The LTE isn’t just in more bands, it’s faster too. The iPhone 6 & 6 Plus has 150mbps category 4 LTE while the previous 5/5C/5S had 100mbps category 3. Good luck finding a LTE network that can actually take advantage of that though.
The A1524, which I have, is an expanded variant of the CDMA version of the US and Asia. It offers TD-SCDMA support, a 3G standard primarily used in China, and a LTE variant called TD-LTE. TD-LTE networks have been set up in China, Japan, India, South Korea, and Sprint in the U.S. The A1524 offers 4 TD-LTE bands in addition to the 16 FD-LTE bands of the standard iPhone 6 Plus.
Cellular data isn’t the only wireless technology on the iPhone 6 Plus. There’s of course Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi has been upgraded to 802.11AC. The standard has 3 times the theoretical throughput of 802.11N. While my iPhone 6 Plus and router are 802.11AC, my MacBook Pro and Apple TV are not. Therefore I’m only really able to test it with my interconnection. For that, in most cases it won’t saturate your N connection let alone AC. That could change in the not too distant future as AC completely supplants N and 4K video streaming becomes commonplace.
Three Types of Phone Calls
One of the things we commonly forget with these types of devices is that they do indeed make phone calls. The iPhone 6 Plus can make three different types: regular cellular calls over GSM or CDMA, VoLTE, or Wi-Fi calling. You’ve been making regular cell phone calls for about 15 years now, so I’ll skip that part and move on to the last two. Both VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling use packetized data for the voice call. It’s also known as VOIP, Voice over IP. VoLTE, which stands for Voice over LTE, sends the VOIP call over the carriers LTE data network. Wi-Fi calling is basically the same deal except for it using your home Wi-Fi network. Moving between the three networks should be seamless and the call quality should be the same for the two types of digital calls. Wi-Fi calling lessens the strain on the carrier network as well.
But there’s a catch. VoLTE is network wide with Verizon, with pockets on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Wi-Fi calling is available on T-Mobile with commitments from AT&T and Verizon for some time in 2015. If you want both Wi-Fi calling and VoLTE, you can have it on T-Mobile, but only in 15 of the largest markets.
If you’ve been waiting for an ultra capable portable gaming system, you’ve found it. The iPhone 6 Plus has a larger screen than either the Sony PS Vita or the Nvidia Shield which are both 5″. It also has a better quality and higher resolution screen. It’s also hardware that is a couple generations newer. With iOS 8, the A7 and A8 game support for a new graphics API called Metal. Metal allows for more direct access to the chipset. With Gameloft’s Asphalt 8, a legacy game that has been upgraded to the Metal API, the upgrade in graphics quality and new effects is pretty amazing. It also means it’s possible to upgrade older games to metal. However, for the future, it means games even closer to console quality are possible.
If that wasn’t enough, October is set to bring several full size, console style game controllers. With the iPhone 6 Plus, the portable gaming system has been effectively Sherlocked.
If you’re looking for the best reading experience with E-Books, you’re best to get a full size iPad Air. That said, the iPhone 6 Plus does a pretty good impression of a paperback. It’s a little smaller, but with the iBooks and Kindle apps, it offers a lot of usable reading at your fingertips. You also have access to Apple Newsstand digital magazines. It all ends up pretty convenient if you’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment and really don’t want to be reading Vanity Fair or Men’s Health and don’t want to carry around a bag of books. If you don’t want to read, Audible audio books are always an option as well.
Touch ID and Mobile Payments
If there is a killer feature for the iPhone 6 Plus, and the 5S and 6 for that matter, it’s Touch ID. As of iOS 8, it’s system level, it’s reliable, and it just makes security convenient. The only other phone in this segment that offers a biometric sensor is the HTC One Max. While one is available on the Galaxy S5, the larger Note 3 & 4 don’t have it. It’s also a manufacturer add-on and not an integrated part of Android. That makes all the difference. I’m able to use my fingers as my lock screen password, to log into my password manager, banks and credit cards, and authenticate for shopping and payments. The API has been out for only a short time and third party Touch ID has already become an integral part of my daily routine. I don’t miss the pins and passwords much at all. I like being my own password.
A subset of this is Apple Pay, Apple’s mobile payments system that’s just starting to hit the streets. Using TouchID and the phone’s NFC connection, you’re able to authorize payments on your phone. As much as major credit card issuing banks are pushing the service, this could become huge.
Pricing and Availability
In the U.S., the iPhone 6 Plus 16GB is $299 on two-year contract, $399 for 64GB, or $499 for 128GB. Off contract, it’s $749 for 16, $849 for 32GB, and $949 for 128GB. Most carriers offer an installment plan of 20-24 monthly payments and/or an early upgrade path. Current US carriers include AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and C-Spire. Pricing is similar to its closest competitor, the Samsung Note series.
Switching from Android/Windows Phone
The iPhone 6 Plus has been called a switcher phone by many – is it time to switch to iOS for it? That’s a complicated question and it all comes down to what you want. Honestly, If you’re on Android or Windows Phone because Apple didn’t make the hardware you wanted or iOS was missing features, it could be time to take a look. The iPhone 6 Plus is a fantastic phone. If you’re a career Android user, maybe not. Android is getting a lot of improvements with Android Lollipop and while you can change your keyboard and communicate between apps with extensions, you’re going to be stuck with Apple’s launcher forever. Unless you’re unhappy where you’re at, or feel more connected to iOS, you’re better of staying put.
I waited a long time for the iPhone 6 Plus. The wait has paid off for sure. The iPhone 6 Plus delivers exactly what I wanted. It’s fast, the screen is beautiful, and it’s feature packed. However, it may be too large for some users. Fortunately there is also the iPhone 6 with the same features. The screen real estate and large storage capacities are more than enough to make this your primary mobile device. It’s my phone, my Walkman, my GameBoy, my paperback book, and soon my credit card. It also solves your iPhone battery woes. This device is convergence at its finest. Just make sure it’s the right fit for you before you plunk down $850 or $950 for one. If it’s too big, don’t be ashamed to get the iPhone 6.
- Powerful CPU and graphics
- Beautiful 5.5″ Full-HD display
- Larger size makes it ideal for productivity, video watching, reading, and mobile gaming
- Easy to hold
- Amazing camera
- All-day battery life
- Touch ID biometrics much more convenient than passcodes or passwords
- Almost every wireless and cellular band known to man
- VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling with compatible carriers
- Large 64GB and 128GB storage options
- May be too large for some users
- No MicroSD Card Slot for additional storage
- Price if bought off contract may exceed $1000 for 128GB after taxes