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iPhone 6 Plus
|Editor's rating (1-5):
Carrier: all major carriers
What's Hot: Finally, a huge screen iPhone! And what a gorgeous full HD display it is. Fast, slim, good battery life, sharp camera.
What's Not: Like all phablets, it's a handful. Mighty expensive.
Reviewed September 27, 2014 by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)
It happens every year: iPhone mania. This time it's literally bigger than ever, with the introduction of the 4.7" iPhone 6 and 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus. Big phones are all the rage, and Apple's finally ready to join the masses. I know several of you have left iOS simply because you could get a big screen Android or Windows Phone. Will this bring you back? Both iPhones have what Apple calls a Retina quality display and they run on the new 64 bit Apple A8 dual core processor with 1 gig of RAM and your choice of 16, 64 or 128 gigs of storage (yes, 32 gigs is gone). They have anodized aluminum bodies and are even slimmer than the iPhone 5s. Either way, you'll appreciate the added screen real estate if you're coming from Apple's diminutive 4" screens. The question is, is the iPhone 6 Plus too much of a handful?
That depends on you. If you're coming from a 4" iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s, the iPhone 6 Plus may seem impossibly large. Or it could be what you've been dreaming of as you've watched 4 generations of Samsung Galaxy Note phones, the LG G3 and the 6" Nokia Lumia 1520 pass you by. If you've wandered over to Android territory for a year or three, the iPhone 6 Plus will likely seem big but not crazy big, unless you're a fan of the (relatively speaking) diminutive first gen Moto X. Even the second gen Moto X has moved to a 5.2" display, making the Plus seem almost mainstream. Is it simply fantastic for watching movies and viewing photos? You bet! Is it easier to read web pages, particularly desktop view pages? Certainly, though even the iPhone 6 is no slouch in that department. Is it worth carrying a 6.22" tall, 6 ounce phone? Only you can decide. If you're on the fence about the iPhone 6 vs. 6 Plus, I strongly encourage you to visit a store and check them out in person: size is a very personal matter and printed templates or "actual size" ads tell only part of the ergonomic story.
Specs at a Glance
The iPhone 6 Plus runs iOS 8 on a 1.4GHz Apple A8 dual core 64 bit CPU with 1 gig of DDR3 low power RAM and your choice of 16, 64 or 128 gigs of storage (there's still no microSD card slot). It has Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button, and it will work with the Apple Pay wireless payment system coming in October 2014. It has dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, a GPS and NFC (just for Apple Pay). The phone has a front 1.2MP front Facetime camera and an updated rear iSight 8MP camera with a backside-illuminated sensor, HDR and two-tone LED flash. It supports LTE 4G on an impressive 16 LTE bands for most US models (more for the Sprint version) and it supports WiFi calling, XLTE and HD voice (carrier dependent).
In our iPhone 6 review I said the design looks better in person than it does on Apple's website. The same is true of the iPhone 6 Plus, though to a slightly lesser extent. It's simply harder to make a design that looks good in a smaller size look equally good in a larger size, particularly when it involves big expanses of luxurious but monotonous aluminum. The phone's curves, particularly where the glass meets the metal body on the white-faced silver and gold models is high-end watch elegant. The phone is incredibly slim at 7.1mm (0.28") and the back is cleanly designed anodized aluminum. Well, almost clean: the camera lens protrudes a tiny, tiny bit--but not enough to cause significant phone wobble when laid on a desk. The antenna lines draw the most comment: some folks dislike them; others say Apple has copied HTC. I didn't like them when I saw Apple's first photos, but I've grown to like them and find them less offensive in person. They break up the otherwise barren aluminum surface and their top and bottom outlines provide design continuity with the iPhone 5 and 5s that had separate glass areas for the antennas. And yes, that's a big expanse of aluminum on the back, unadorned except for the antenna lines. Thankfully the curved and super slim sides make even the 6 Plus look cool.
That said, it also reminds us of the iPad mini, and maybe this is the iPad micro with calling features added. At 5.5", if you have good eyesight, the iPhone 6 Plus easily makes the iPad mini with Retina Display less relevant. I haven't picked up my iPad mini Retina model or my 8" NVIDIA Shield tablet... except when I want to play those nifty Tegra-only games on the Shield.
The iPhone has Apple's now standard Lightning port on the bottom along with the thoroughly average mono speaker. The power button is now on the right side to make it easier to reach with one hand (there's a reason most 4.7" and larger phones don't have the power button on the top edge), and the volume controls on the left side are elongated to provide adequate surface area since like the phone, they're very thin. The ringer silence slider is on the left and the 3.5mm headphone jack is on the bottom.
As you'd expect from Apple, there are no creaks, poorly crafted seams or rough edges. It may not have the iPhone 5s' Leica inspired design, but the fit and finish still bring to mind luxury and elegance. A few folks have managed to put a slight bend in the iPhone 6 Plus and that "news" went viral in launch week. We haven't had that happen in more than a week's use including some pocket time. That said, this is no longer a tiny phone that easily fits in any pocket and you should treat it with the same care as any larger phone when cramming it in warm, tight and flexing places like the front pocket of skinny jeans or any back pocket where you may effectively sit on it. Dirty jokes aside, anything that's 6.2" tall isn't fully compatible with fashionable pants. On a serious and more scientific note, metals have less memory than plastics, as you've no doubt noted when bending a metal spoon vs. a plastic one: the metal utensil bends but doesn't break, while the plastic one bends and springs back to its original shape unless you bend it to the breaking point. The iPhone won't snap and break like some plastic phones, but if you exert a mad amount of force (90 lbs. or more according to Consumer Reports, and that's a lot of force) you run the risk of bending it. Of course, you could bend it back... but we recommend avoiding such experiments.
Deals and Shopping:
iPhone 6 Plus Video Review
Finally, a 1080p display on an iPhone! That means full HD movies in all their glory and no longer feeling bullied by Android folks with 1920 x 1080 displays. You've got the same number of pixels, and Apple's display scaling ensures that nothing is too tiny to see. The downside is that until developers update their apps to be resolution aware, you might not see more on screen and things might even look a little low res and fuzzy. I wouldn't worry since the iOS ecosystem is vibrant and quick: apps will update quickly so you'll get that sharper view and more stuff on screen soon enough. Apple has updated all the built-in apps along with the iLife and iWork suites for the larger and higher resolution iPhone 6 Plus at launch, and a few even offer a 2 column view in landscape mode: Messages, email and Weather (now powered by The Weather Channel rather than Yahoo). Third party apps like CNN, Evernote and Asphalt 8 have already been updated for the iPhone 6 Plus display at launch and they look great.
The iPhone 6 plus has complete sRGB color gamut coverage, a very high 1300:1 or better contrast ratio and extreme brightness of at least 500 nits. It's simply stunning to look at. The iPhone 6 Plus has 401 PPI pixel density vs. 326 on the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6. You probably won't notice the difference in sharpness at first look, but when reading in iBooks or watching full HD movies on the 6 Plus you will if you look closely.
Viewing angles have always been excellent on the iPhone, and Apple's Dual Domain pixels further improve viewing angles. Even at 45 degrees, the icons still look painted on. Thanks to a very low reflectance rating and thin top glass layer in conjunction with high brightness, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus remain two of the most legible screens outdoors in sunlight.
Performance and Horsepower
Apple claims up to 25% performance improvement with the A8 CPU used in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. They also say it throttles less, which means that the CPU and graphics chip won't drop the clock speed as markedly as the last generation A7 or some competing phone processors. Indeed, it doesn't throttle down as far as the iPhone 5s or our Galaxy S5, but it does throttle some--and that's necessary with smartphones because they're passively cooled and would overheat without thermal throttling. What does his mean to you? 3D game frame rates won't drop noticeably after you've been playing for 20 minutes.
The A8 is clocked at 1.4GHz, same as the iPhone 6, and it's a dual core, 64 bit CPU. A 64 bit CPU can address more than 4 gigs of memory, but that's irrelevant right now since 1 to 3 gigs is all that you'll get in a smartphone. It does improve speeds, but only if an app is compiled as a 64 bit app. Apple's native apps are 64 bit, but most third party apps are still 32 bit. What's more interesting is that the A8 is smaller and built on a 20nm process, so it's even cooler and less power hungry. That means that Apple boosted the iPhone 6 Plus battery capacity to power the larger display--it's not needed for the CPU.
The GPU is likely a quad core PowerVR chip, and 3D benchmarks show the iPhone 6 Plus as doing quite well both in terms of competing against the last gen iPhone and current Android flagships running the Snapdragon 801 with Adreno 330 graphics. The Plus has to drive more pixels than the iPhone 6, but performance doesn't seem to suffer significantly. The A8 likewise does well in single core benchmark tests where it surpasses the 801. Even multi-core test results are impressive and match the quad core Snapdragon 801. Experientially, one rarely hears someone complaining about lagging iPhones, and the iPhone 6 is as ever very responsive and stable. Apple's control over both hardware and software helps with speed and stability, and apps from the store generally behave well.
Apple sticks with 1 gig of DDR3 low power RAM, though some wish for more to reduce Safari page reloads when switching tabs and other small telltale signs that iOS' memory management is reclaiming RAM frequently. In truth, the OS does a very good job of memory management, and we've not run into any problems related to RAM. Given how cheap and tiny RAM is, we have to assume that Apple didn't feel more RAM would make much of a difference in performance. Apple tends to avoid specs upgrades purely for marketing purposes. Storage has changed a bit, with the base model staying at 16 gigs, while the middle model now has 64 gigs and the top model has 128 gigs. We're happy to see the increased storage, especially in a phone with no microSD card slot.
||3DMark Ice Storm Extreme
|iPhone 6 Plus
|Samsung Galaxy Note 4
|Samsung Galaxy Note 3
|HTC One M8
|Samsung Galaxy S5
Google Octane 2: 7491
Calling and Data
Voice calls on our Verizon review unit were excellent with full and clear incoming and outgoing voice. We noticed an improvement over the iPhone 5s, and the iPhone 6 Plus hangs with Verizon's best voice phones. We tested voice over LTE, which Verizon recently rolled out, and that means Verizon customers can talk and surf at the same time without needing WiFi. HD voice and WiFi calling are also supported, though those features are carrier dependent and you must be talking to another HD voice enabled phone on the same network to use that feature. The iPhone 6 Plus is a big phone, and we suspect many folks will either use the included EarPod earbuds or a Bluetooth headset. Our phone worked well with a variety of recent Bluetooth headsets and built-in Bluetooth on a 2013 BMW.
Data speeds were par for the course on Verizon's network in Dallas and we saw XLTE download speeds up to 54 Mbps for downloads in our best runs. The iPhone 6 Plus supports Mobile Hotspot, which means you can use the phone as a high speed modem for a laptop or tablet, depending on your carrier plan.
A month or more after launch, Apple will sell an official unlocked model for full retail. Until then, keep in mind that the T-Mobile model is unlocked if you purchase it direct from Apple for full retail (phones sold by T-Mobiles stores or with monthly payment plans are locked). All Verizon 4G LTE phones are sold unlocked due to an agreement with the FCC, and the Verizon iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, like the iPhone 5s, will work on AT&T and T-Mobile complete with LTE coverage since the US iPhone model most commonly sold (the A1522 that works on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon) has 16 LTE bands. Sprint uses a different model and it's locked to Sprint.
Apple continues to impress us with their rear cameras. Despite a not particularly high megapixel rating or many software features, the iPhone 6 Plus takes excellent photos and 1080p video. Like the iPhone 5s, the iPhone 6 Plus has an 8 megapixel camera with BSI and HDR mode. But it's not the same camera module: Apple uses larger pixel sensors (1.5u) to gather more light, not unlike the HTC One M8. Though megapixels aren't everything, we're happy Apple didn't go with the paltry 4MP used on the M8--that's just too low for my purposes. Yes, there are higher megapixel phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3 and much higher megapixel cameras on high end Nokia Lumia phones. Yes I'm a photo nut (hint, I also review cameras), and 8MP is adequate for my phone as long as the images and video are high quality. That means low noise, no watercolor effect from excessive noise reduction and enough image data to crop a photo and still have something usable on more than my Facebook page. The iPhone 6 Plus checks all those boxes, and once again Apple leaves me impressed that such a simple user experience and mediocre (by today's standards) resolution yields some of the better photos and video I've taken with a camera phone.
Only the Plus model gets optical image stabilization. That helps with shaky hands and also allows the camera to use slower shutter speeds, larger apertures and lower ISO settings to achieve brighter and more detailed shots. It's not a night and day difference between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but particularly in low light settings, we saw more fine detail and improved contrast in the iPhone 6 Plus' photos. Images are colorful and natural looking with good exposure, even in high contrast outdoor settings. The f/2.2 lens is fast and lets plenty of light in (as much as one can say this about a camera phone lens).
The camera can shoot slow motion video up to 240 fps (really slow!), fast motion video, 60 fps 1080p video and it can shoot panoramas in still mode. There are a handful of effects/filters and you can control the two-tone flash, HDR (auto is on by default and it will take two photos if needed, one HDR and the other not) and switch between front and rear cameras. If you hanker for more effects and features, check out the many third party camera and video taking apps in the App Store. The front 1.2MP Facetime camera is adequate but not as remarkably sharp as 5MP front shooters like the HTC One M8.
How does it compare to the Samsung Galaxy S5 and LG G3, two top Android camera phones? Both the LG and Samsung deliver even more detail given their higher resolutions, but the iPhone 6 Plus delivers enough sharp detail that this likely won't matter to most folks unless you're cropping down to a small section of the image or printing 8 x 10 photos. The LG G3 does well at night (much better than the GS5) and it's one of my favorite cameras, though it tends to unnecessarily smooth detail in processing, leading to occasional watercolor effects we don't see in the iPhone. The 20MP Nokias like the Lumia 1520 and Icon resolve noticeably more detail when zoomed in to 100% and can even shoot in RAW mode, though they can be slower to capture photos and a little less consistent in exposure than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
So you're keen on a really big screen phone and now you can add an iPhone to your list of candidates. If you're a devoted Android, iOS or Windows Phone person, make your decision based on that. No manner of lovely hardware will change your mind about an operating system. If you're OS agnostic the choice becomes more difficult. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comes out on October 17 in the US, and it sports a slightly larger display while maintaining a similar footprint to the iPhone 6 Plus. If you think you'll use the pen, the Note 4 makes a great deal of sense. Then there's the LG G3, which may not be the most stunning looking phone in terms of design and materials, but it has an even higher resolution 5.5" display and is a little bit smaller than the 6 Plus. But the LG's colors aren't as vivid, and while 2k displays sound impressive, you'll need microscope eyes to appreciate the difference.
This is another selling point for the iPhone 6 Plus: it has a much larger 2915 mAh battery compared to the iPhone 6's 1810 mAh battery. Sure that big screen is going to consume a chunk of that, but just as Apple claims, the iPhone 6 Plus lasts seriously long on a charge. With moderate use I've consistently gotten 2 days on a charge. With heavy use that included an hour of 3D gaming, shooting 25 minutes total of video, using the GPS for a 45 minute excursion and streaming 2 episodes of Under the Dome via Amazon Instant Video, the battery needed charging by bedtime. Impressive.
Though it's a bear to carry, I really like the iPhone 6 Plus. I'm a big screen kind of gal, and have a purse to carry my huge phones. If you need to carry your phone in small pockets or tight pants, the iPhone 6 Plus and phablets might not be your first choice (that's why the 4.7" iPhone 6 exists). As ever with the iPhone, there are Android phones that offer more features (sometimes too many, as with Samsung) and have higher specs in certain areas, but the iPhone maintains its strong appeal because it's elegant looking, easy to use, very fast and reliable. App quality is top notch and Apple's support is superb. Sometimes the user experience trumps lofty specs, and the iPhone is a prime example. That's not to say the iPhone 6 Plus is a slouch; it's not. From the excellent and very useful Touch ID fingerprint sensor that's so easy to use, the very fast Apple A8 CPU to the full HD IPS screen that's one of the best looking on the market, the iPhone 6 Plus holds its own.
Websites: www.apple.com, wireless.att.com, www.sprint.com, www.t-mobile.com, www.verizonwireless.com
Price: $749 for 16 gig, $849 for 64 gig and $949 for 128 gig full retail. $299/$399/$499 with 2 year contract
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Directly above: the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6. Directly below: the phone in Apple's $49 form-fitting leather case.
Display: 5.5", 1920 x 1080 full HD capacitive IPS multi-touch display. 401 ppi, 1300:1 contrast ratio, 500 nits brightness. Supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Has ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, compass, barometer and gyroscope. Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.
Battery: 2915 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.
Performance: Apple dual core A8 1.4GHz, 64 bit CPU (ARM compatible, custom Apple design). Multi-core PowerVR graphics. 1 gig DDR3 low power RAM.
x 3.06 x 0.28 inches. Weight: 6.07 ounces.
Phone: Available in GSM and CDMA versions, all with LTE 4G.
Camera: Rear (main) camera: 8.0 MP with 1.5 micron pixels, BSI sensor, 5 element lens, optical image stabilization (OIS) and True Tone LED flash. Can shoot video at 1080p, and slo-mo video at 120/240 fps. Has front-facing 1.2MP 720p camera with BSI sensor and face detection that can be used with Facetime video calls and Skype among others.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
GPS: GPS with GLONASS and digital compass. Has M8 motion coprocessor.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac (dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz), NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.
Software: iOS 8 operating system and core applications. Siri, iCloud, Apple Maps, Safari web browser, email, Messages for text/MMS messaging, Stocks, Apple Maps, iTunes, App Store, Phone, Clock, Calculator, Photos, Camera, Voice Memos, Reminders, Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Compass and Settings. iLife and iWork suites are included as a free download from the App Store.
Expansion Slot: None.
Storage: Available in 16, 64 and 128 gig capacities.
In the Box: iPhone, charger, Lightning USB cable and EarPod earbuds with inline mic.