iPhone 6 Plus Review
Apple's new flagship phone is here, but this marks the first time they have entered the "Phablet" market. Everyone is wondering just how well Apple will fare against the tough competition of Samsung, Motorola, LG, and the like. Well, let's see how things went after my first 24 hours with the device.
It was 1:35pm and I was panicking, I had to leave for work at 2pm. I was convinced my phone just wasn't going to arrive in time so I hopped in the shower. Five minutes later I thought I heard what sounded like the faint sounds of knocks on my front door....I immediately jumped out of the shower grabbed a towel and proceeded to stampede though my apartment to the front door. I open the door and there he is, the UPS guy, about to place the sticker on my door indicating they missed me- I apologized for my appearance, I was soaking wet after all, and signed for my package.
After ripping into the package feverishly, the white minimalist package was revealed. Wow! This is a big box. Keep in mind since I have been using iPhones for a number of years now, the biggest phone I've had any amount of time with was the iPhone 5 with its 4" screen. I carefully removed the plastic wrap from the box and slowly removed the top casing revealing my monstrous new iPhone. Wow. This is a BIG phone. I was becoming increasingly worried that when I finally got hands on my new phone that I would come to the realization that it's just too big for me. Standing at 5'6" on a good day, I'm not particularly a tall guy and I really did love how easy it was to navigate the screen on my iPhone 5 one-handed. I rarely used two hands.
It was now or never, I took the phone out of the casing and almost all my concerns immediately vanished. This is a very well built phone. It is really quite stunning in person. If you had any doubts about the phone's appearance from the leaked shots that were published before it's release, fret no more, this phone is absolutely gorgeous. The first thing I noticed was the new 5.5 inch display and the way the glass curves down the sides to create the illusion of a unibody frame. My only concern lies with the power button. While it does feel sturdy, it also feels alarmingly similar to the power button on the 5/5S models which have been known to wear out over time from repeated use. The attention to detail on the phone is remarkable, everything fits snugly into place- more than ever, this iPhone has a very premium feel.
More than just a cosmetic decision, the curved edges of the device prove to be essential in making it feel great in your hand(s). The curved edges go a long way for making such a big phone as this not feel so big. I was initially worried that it would take me a few days to adjust how I held the device to interact with it as I had been for the past 5 years but the combination of the curved edges and the 7.1mm thickness of the phone really make doing most things on the phone one handed a possibility, especially when coupled with Apple's new "reachability" process. For those who haven't heard, "reachability" refers to the new built in function that happens with you tap [not press] the home button twice causing the screen to be brought down just under 2/3 of the way down the device making it very easy to reach the top row of icons or the address bar in safari. Don't get me wrong, there are times you are not going to want to use a device such as this one handed, it is more cumbersome, but even for me, its not out of the question. I can even type one handed on the device. Maybe I hold the phone differently than most, but the way I adapted works very well. Instead of gripping the phone with all my might around the edge the added heft of the device provides a counterweight that allows me to apply pressure up from the middle of the device creating a clamp with my hand to hold it into place rather snugly. Though, I never forget how big this phone is, and it is big. I'll probably never be walking and texting one hand because I would be too worried that the slightest bump would dislodge it from my hand causing it to fall. The only other questionable design choice is the protruding camera, which frankly, isn't that big of deal but it does cause me to be more cautious about where I'm setting my phone.
Let's move on to my initial iOS 8 impressions. This refresh of the operating system isn't nearly as drastic of a change as iOS 7 was from iOS 6. The flat style and bright colors are all still here, for better or for worse. Most of the things that have been added or improved upon won't be immediately noticeable, but they go a long way to making iPhones feel more modern and up-to-date. Some of the big key features that I have been able to tool around with, include the new third party keyboards, widgets, and new ways of interacting with notifications, among others.
Third party keyboards are something that many users have been begging to be added for years. Well, they are finally here, but I have mixed opinions about the way it is implemented. On one hand, more customization options are always a good thing and my time with SwiftKey (free on the App Store) worked well enough. I've never been a huge fan of swipe style keyboards, but I wanted to give it a fair chance now that I have it so readily available. I was pleasantly surprised with how accurate and easy it was, but when I did fumble and mess up, I found that anything that I had saved with the quicker typing style was lost because when a mistake was made you must erase the whole word and start all over, rather than when typing on a normal keyboard you just hit the backspace one or two times and go from there. SwiftKey also has predictive typing. This displays three suggestions at any given time for you to chose from and I had no complaints, it worked well. On the other hand, so did Apple's new default keyboard. With my time so far, I have seen nothing noticeably different between the predictive texting of SwiftKey versus the default keyboard. I did notice a few glitches when using 3rd party keyboards within different apps and when switching quickly between them. Sometimes the keyboard section would go blank and I'd have to close the app and reopen it to bring it back.
I haven't spent much time interacting with widgets yet. So far I have one for my Discover card and one for the Weather Channel app. Both are pretty darn glitchy. You interact with widgets from the pulldown notification menu. The weather app displays the current temperature and a quick forecast overview and a video...I think. I'm not really sure as the widget hasn't displayed for more than a split second at any one time, even after removing the widget and re-adding it. The Discover widget proves to work a little better, as it displays properly 70% of the time and shows relevant information such as my current balance, when my bill is due and my cash back balance amount. Neat.
You now can interact with certain notifications, such as the text banner, by pulling them down to "quick reply" to messages without leaving your current app. I love this feature and have been hoping for this ability for a number of years now. Unfortunately, on the 6 Plus I will not be able to utilize this feature unless I am using the phone two-handed. I had hoped that using the "reachability" feature. it would pull the notifications down, but at this time that doesn't seem to be the case.
At this point, not many developers have had a chance to update their apps to take advantage of the new display size, so judging the screen quality hasn't been as easy as I'd hoped since many of the apps look stretched out. I can say, however, when on the home screen the display is gorgeous. Not a pixel to be seen anywhere no matter how close I get to the screen. The colors are very true and really pop. It's a stunning display.
The display also helps to show off the utterly fantastic pictures this phone is capable of. I will be the first to tell you that I'm not a huge picture taker, and I don't know the first thing about taking a good picture, but the camera on this phone makes me want to take more photos because they just look that good. Some new features have been added to the camera as well, such as the ability to manually adjust the brightness of the picture with the new added slider, as well as the new burst picture mode. You can now also shoot 1080p videos at 60 FPS or slow things down with the slow-mo mode.
All these feature don't mean squat if the battery doesn't last long enough to take full advantage of them. I am happy to confirm that the battery life is of no concern to me throughout the day. I'm not going to spout off a bunch of numbers like Apple did during their keynote because they don't mean anything when compared to real, everyday use. During both of my tests, the phones were in use off and on between from around 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. During my heavy use tests, I've combined streaming video, browsing the web, various apps, listened to music both through streaming services and pre-loaded on my phone as well as using GPS for a substantial amount of time and the battery lasted me the entire day, I ended with 39% by the end of the night. On my less rigorous test, I used the Plus like I used my previous phones on a normal day and at the end of the night my battery still had a whopping 63% left too it on the first night and 57% the second night.
With a premium feel, a significant boost in processing power and battery life, as well as some much awaited added features Apple's biggest phone yet is also their biggest gamble. I'm delighted to say that this is one gamble that has paid off. The new 5.5 inch model fills a void in Apple's line up that has been empty for far too long, and I for one, couldn't be more pleased. The only thing holding this year's model back is the somewhat buggy iOS8, which frankly, feels a little bit rushed. A month longer to cook would have gone a long way to polish up the software to match the beautifully crafted handset. It's also worth noting that it really is incredible the performance that Apple can squeeze out of the now, seemingly, outdated tech. Benchmarks put it on par or better in just about every category as the top competitors in field. The iPhone 6 Plus certainly isn't perfect, but it is arguably the best phablet available.
Note: At the time of review I did not spend enough time with the new health app to give it fair assessment. Expect a more in depth review of the health features when the Apple Watch releases.
5 out of 5 (based on a 5 point scale)
The iPhone 6 Plus is available now at retailers nationwide in Space Gray, Silver, and gold models with 16gb, 64gb, and 128gb options.