Too big. This thing’s too big. Waaay too big. It’s… actually, that screen is pretty nice, isn’t it? Wow, you really can get a lot of content on there, can’t you? Hey, my hand’s getting used to the size. It’s quite comfortable, isn’t it?
And that’s how it goes with the iPhone 6 Plus. I expected to find it far too big, and at first my expectations were met. But give it a few minutes, perhaps a couple of days, and you’ll find yourself strangely attracted to its huge-seeming screen.
“Phablets”, as the 5.5in (14 cm)-plus screen size is described (which seems to derive from Scott Webster in June 2010, then referring to a 7in Huawei device), are increasingly popular. In Asia and particularly China, they’re very popular, though less so in the US and much less so in Europe. They make up about 15% of sales, although that’s growing fast.
Enter the iPhone
Since 2011, Samsung has had the high-end phablet market to itself with the Galaxy Note range, now in its fourth generation. Now, it has competition – and the Apple brand could badly dent its South Korean rival’s sales.
Compared to the 4.7in iPhone 6, the 6 Plus soon stops feeling absurd when you try them side by side. I often found that I would reach for the larger screen, given the choice, just because you can read a lot more on it.
The battery life is also better (proportionally more of the phone consists of batteries); and it has the same pleasing, rounded feel of the 6.
The comparison becomes especially harsh against last year’s Galaxy Note 3, which has a 5.7in (14.5cm) screen at 1920×1080 pixels. The Note’s body is almost exactly the same size, but chrome-edged – which looks terribly retro now – with a wart-like camera. The iPhone 6 Plus camera sticks out too – an entire millimetre – but there’s no comparison in looks or feel.
• Screen: 5.5in, 1920×1080 401ppi LED; 1300:1 contrast ratio
• Processor: A8 64-bit ARM with M8 motion coprocessor
• RAM: 1GB
• Storage: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB
• Operating system: iOS 8
• Camera: back: 8MP with 1.5micron pixels, f2.2, Optical image stabilisation, 240fps video, sapphire lens cover, auto-HDR, face detection, 43-megapixel panorama, burst mode 10fps; 1080p video at 30fps or 60fps. Front camera: 1.2MP (1280×960), f2.2, 720p HD, burst mode.
• Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 with BLE, NFC; VoLTE (voice over LTE) capability, Wi-Fi call handoff capability
• Dimensions: 158.1 x 778 x 7.1mm
• Weight: 172g
• Others: TouchID fingerprint sensor; NFC payment capability for ApplePay
The 6 Plus has optical image stabilisation (OIS) – long a staple of top-end Nokia (now Microsoft) Lumia phones – so that films taken while moving aren’t jerky. Instagram’s Hyperlapse got there first (calling on the gyroscope), but the 6 Plus also adds 240fps slow-motion filming; expect this device to become the new “must-have” among photographers who like travelling light.
Screen and usability
Many apps will need rewriting to deal with the new screen, which feels as though it inflates text in apps that don’t use Apple’s text system. Then again, those who struggled to read text on the 4in screen of the iPhone 5 will welcome the extra 88% of screen real estate. Apple has also introduced a “Zoomed” viewing setting that really does inflate everything as though you’d slapped a magnifying glass over it all – the “grandpa setting”, if you like.
Another concession to the gigantism is the “two-tap” gesture: double-tap the home button lightly, and in portrait mode the top of the screen slides down to the halfway mark, so that you can reach any part of the screen without adjusting your hand position.
Apple’s other tweak, specifically for the 6 Plus, is that when the home screen is rotated into landscape mode, the dock moves to the side; in the Mail app, you get a “two-up” view, with email headers on the left and body text on the right. Other apps will probably follow suit in exploiting this.
Samsung, by contrast, offers various different user interface tweaks on the Note: there’s a quick app switching menu on the left-hand side, and you can also run two apps at a time (and resize each). The app switcher is just intrusive, though the two-up configuration clearly has potential uses (say, messaging while looking at a map). Samsung also has a stylus – though I’ve heard internal data that suggests it’s used only 10% of the time, which in turn implies a big chance for Apple via the 90%.
Many of the best things about the 6 Plus – widgets, third-party keyboards, “extensions” to create app-based workflows – will only be exploited by new apps that appear in the next few months as developers get to grips with the new size and the potential it offers them. For now, though, it’s a surprisingly big phone that becomes increasingly familiar with use.
The iPhone 6 Plus costs from £619 (inc VAT)/$749 (ex taxes) for 16GB storage.
Choosing between the iPhone 6 Plus and the smaller iPhone 6 could be surprisingly difficult if your hand, and your wallet, is large enough. It is large, yet the extra screen space is a boon. But that also makes it unwieldy, and could increase the risk of dropping it. Compared to other phablets, it’s lighter and thinner – but not cheaper
Pros: large and thin; bright screen; best battery life of any iPhone; adaptations for extra-large screen; iOS 8 allows third-party keyboards, workflow extensions and widgets
Cons: pricey; may be unwieldy if you don’t have particularly large hands
• This footnote was appended on 23 September 2014. Charles Arthur’s travel and accommodation was paid for by Apple.
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