(Pocket-lint) - You wait a year for a new iPhone and then two come along at once. A surprise to many, Apple released not only the iPhone 6 but also the iPhone 6 Plus, a monster of a phone that comes with a 5.5-inch display, higher screen resolution, a larger battery, and optical image stabilisation.
The iPhone 6 Plus could be seen as the biggest response to shifting trends in smartphones, with many top Android smartphones and Windows Phone devices lording it over the iPhone for a number of years thanks to the larger display choices.
Now the iPhone offers you choices, with the iPhone 6 Plus squaring up against the phablets. But is this an iPhone that's just too big?
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It's a mini iPad mini
There is no denying it, the iPhone 6 Plus is a beast. Bigger than most devices on the market, the design of this phablet doesn't change one bit to the newly designed and much more compact iPhone 6.
Measuring 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm the Plus's build is second to none. Whether it's the 7.1mm thickness, the curved glass that virtually removes any seam, or just the lightness of the thing given its size (172g), you have to marvel at what Apple has achieved.
The design, although bigger, is identical to the iPhone 6. That awkwardly results in a rather tall device, certainly compared to the competition like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or the LG G3, but does keep the design aesthetics positively Apple, with its "FaceTime" camera at the top and the TouchID / Home button at the bottom. It's the inclusion of both of these elements that result it its height compared to buttonless alternatives from manufacturers like Samsung and LG and that could put a lot of people off.
Despite that the iPhone 6 Plus is still likely to fit comfortably in a trouser pocket or a suit jacket, and thanks to the 7.1mm thickness, it won't leave too much of a bulge. Plenty of people have been porting this size of device around for the last few years without complaint. Those opting for a bag won't care about the large size either.
At the bottom there is a 3.5mm headphones jack, the Lightning port, and a speaker that can still be easily cupped or covered when holding the phone in landscape. The side features newly designed elongated volume buttons, while the power/wake button moves to the side of the device rather than the top so you can reach it without moving your hand.
The rear features an all-metal design, bar the plastic to let the signal through. Those plastic parts aren't amazing, but they aren't awful either and certainly not as bad in the flesh as the official product pictures make out.
The camera and flash sit in the same position as before, however due to the thinness of the phone the camera now protrudes slightly. It does highlight the camera more, but because the protrusion is only millimetres it doesn't unbalance the iPhone 6 Plus too much when sat on a desk - certainly not as much as other phones we've tested in the past (Lumia 1020 anyone?).
The sheer size of this device is the awkward factor here, and the 6 Plus feels a lot more comfortable being used in landscape mode two-handed rather than portrait, due to its 77.8mm width.
Waiting for a curry at the local takeaway, using the 6 Plus single-handed in portrait mode for 20 minutes to read, soon meant we could feel the strain. Used two-handed, for example watching a movie in bed, and the size all fits much better. You also have to take into account what it is like against your head. It's big, what else can we say?
Ultimately, if you're the sort of person who likes to crash through email while hanging onto the train with one hand, or check Facebook while grappling with a small child, then maybe the 6 Plus will be too big for you. If you're the sort of person who likes to kick back and watch movies on your phone a lot, then it might be just the ticket.
The iPhone 6 Plus makes the jump to full HD, with a more conventional 1920 x 1080 pixels, 401ppi, on its 5.5-inch display over the smaller iPhone 6. The iPhone 6 Plus is not only bigger, it features a sharper display, better able to render fine detail than the iPhone 6 although developers have to take advantage of that for you to benefit in things like app design and enhanced content.
For example, the video service you use will govern how much you benefit. If you are downloading HD videos from Apple's iTunes store in 1080p, or record your own footage a lot, you'll notice the benefit if you look closely. But if you are streaming stuff from Sky Go, Netflix, or BBC iPlayer the enhanced screen resolution won't make a difference, even if the bigger size does.
Likewise games will have to be updated to 1080p to benefit, something that we suspect will happen, but they are unlikely to be available from developers from day one, given the short time period between its announcement and launch.
Like the iPhone 6, the actual display technology has also been improved and enhanced over the iPhone 5S. The viewing angle is superb, as is the new polarising filter on top of that. If you wear polarised sunglasses, unlike the iPhone 5S, you won't have any problem viewing this display, especially handy when it comes to using the camera. Remember people, landscape for video, like your TV.
Colours are very natural, especially compared to competing devices, and that could lead you to believe that the iPhone 6 Plus screen is slightly washed out compared to the say Samsung or LG. It isn't, but it is cooler. On closer inspection, while you do lose some of the vibrancy overall, you gain more lightness of touch in darker areas of the picture.
Unlike a computer you can't change the warmth of the screen, and on its own you won't notice any issues. This isn't a problem, more the way Apple has decided to calibrate its screen compared to others and we have to say it does make skin tones a little more natural.
We should also mention the resolution in a wider context. This is the first time Apple has made a 1080p iPhone and for its size, it's an average resolution among its phablet competitors, although Samsung and LG step up to a higher resolution. On the LG G3, at least, that's detrimental to the battery life although we're yet to see how the Galaxy Note 4 performs, and the end result here doesn't seem to impact on battery performance either.
Coming off the back of this upscaling approach is a new display option, Standard or Zoomed. Standard allows you to benefit from the new resolution, while Zoomed replicates the display of the iPhone 5S. The immediate difference is that everything is bigger, perfect if you don't want to wear your glasses. But bigger also means softer fonts, no sixth row of apps, and not really giving you a benefit from the new improvements you've bought into with the big display.
Regardless of which one you choose - we opted for Standard - until apps from third-party developers are updated to use the new resolution, they will show as Zoomed meaning you are jumping between the two scales constantly.
That translates into all your apps seeming a lot, lot, bigger than they used to be. Those iPhone apps were originally designed for the iPhone 5S's 4-inch screen, and seeing them make the jump to the 5.5-inch screen on the 6 Plus is very noticeable.
While Apple has had time to make sure its own apps look great at the new resolution, the same can't be said for others. That will change, of course, as developers rush to take advantage of the new screen size and resolution, but to begin with apps will look soft and somewhat overblown.
On the left is Apple's new higher resolution keyboard, and on the right is Facebook's app that has yet to be updated
That's not helped by the now seemingly humongous keyboard that third-party apps are left with, compared to Apple's native apps. If you wear glasses, don't worry, you won't have to wear them using the iPhone 6 Plus.
Web browsing for the most part isn't as badly affected. Fonts render well, and watching YouTube clips is great as you benefit from the extra screen size. But as we found with Pocket-lint, some sites designed for lower resolutions will deliver white space around the copy.
If jumping between the two resolutions is too jarring, Apple even lets you use the Zoomed feature all the time. The move reduces the overall sharpness of everything, as well as losing the new sixth row of apps on the home screen, but will make the transition between the two experience less abrupt. It's an issue that curses the iPhone 6, but because it only features a 4.7-inch 750p screen the effects aren't as severe as seen here. It's pretty ugly.
Like the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus features the company's new A8 64-bit processor, the new M8 motion coprocessor and storage options of 16GB, 64GB and 128GB.
The 128GB model (which we tested) should be ample regardless how many full HD movies you watch (each one is about 4GB) and means that you'll also have plenty of storage space for big HD apps (when they come) and all those photos and videos you'll no doubt be shooting.
It's hard to appraise the new processor or motion coprocessor fully at the moment due to the lack of new apps capable of taking advantage of the new power. But an array of power hungry games currently available in the App Store all performed well with load times noticeably improved.
Everything is slick and fast, it's really smooth moving around iOS 8. The iPhone 5S was no slouch, and the move up to a larger display doesn't hamper the experience. It still responds in an instance, screen rotation is slick and fast and the overall experience is very satisfying.
Apple claims the new processor power will allow games using a technology it calls Metal, to bring it even closer to a console gaming experience than ever before.
We've been able to test it with one game so far: Gameloft's Asphalt 8: Airborne and have to say that the graphics are great. While the gameplay of Asphalt aren't for everyone it does look good with Metal allowing developers to throw much more detail at the screen including weather affects, lens flares and plenty of action without hesitation. So far we've been playing for around 15 minutes at a time (it's been a busy week) but the iPhone 6 doesn't show any real signs of getting hot after this time.
The new motion coprocessor adds a barometer for measuring things like elevation (i.e., how many stairs you've climbed), but again there aren't any apps available yet that let you benefit from the new information you are collecting. When apps like Runkeeper, Nike, and Fitbit do add these features, we'll be sure to test them to see what's what, and it will be interesting to see if the barometer merely records elevation or actual stairs.
Aside from more power, the iPhone 6 also features new connectivity options with greater global support for LTE (the most of any handset available on the market) and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, although the latter will probably mean you'll have to upgrade your router at home to benefit. While BT Home Hub 5 customers should be alright, Sky Broadband customers won't be able to benefit without upgrading.
Like the iPhone 6, a lot of the new specs are very much box ticking, 802.11ac isn't new nor is it new to smartphones, but it does bring the iPhone 6 up to par with the competition, until of course the upgrade cycle starts again in the new year.
Making and receiving calls is as you would expect in terms of sound performance, with no reported problems in the calls we made. Likewise that bottom speaker for audio playback, whether it is listening to music, watching a movie, or having someone on speaker phone is good enough to get you by, but we would always recommend headphones for the best experience if you are listening to something longer than a couple of minutes.
Apple hasn't taken the HTC BoomSound route with the two speakers facing you, perhaps acknowledging that its customers don't consume media on a phone that way, or just not wanting to give over the space in the design. One a device that's already big, adding speakers would be silly.
As you might expect, turning the volume up to its maximum doesn't sound awful or rattle the smartphone, but if you do need it to get louder, then you'll have to continue to get used to cupping your hand around the speaker.
Camera and camcorder
The iPhone 6 Plus uses a new sensor but still features the same 8-megapixels as found in the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 6. It combined with something Apple dubs "Focus Pixels" uses new improvements in iOS 8, the new A8 processor, and optical image stabilisation (OIS) to enhance the experience.
New to the mix is a quicker autofocus, something Apple calls Focus Pixel, better face detection, and manual exposure control. There are new shooting modes too including Time Lapse, full resolution panoramic shots (up to 43 megapixels in size), a 240fps slow motion mode.
The introduction of OIS here is a big move by Apple and in our tests virtually reduces all movement of the camera whether that's taking stills or video. Chasing a dog lead to smooth results, without the jarring footfalls you might get. The OIS tech makes a huge difference to snapping kids too, allowing the camera to cope with our movement.
Surprisingly and something that will take time getting used to, the iPhone 6 camera instinctively just focuses on what you are about to take a picture of without you having to manually tell it to do so, and that's very much welcomed.
That also has a knock on effect when it comes to taking low light photographs, something the iPhone has never been overly bad at, but now copes very well at.
Rather than opt for 4K, like many other manufacturers, Apple has settled for a 1080p at 60fps recording mode. The iPhone 6 Plus also gets continuous autofocus, like the iPhone 6, and 240fps slow motion video, amongst other things.
It's not all about the rear-facing camera though. The front-facing camera also gets an upgrade. It now promises to let in 81 per cent more light, as well as getting features like Timer and Burst mode. The results are much better, but those looking for a wide-angle front camera, as found in the HTC One (M8) won't find it here.
Whether it is shooting with the front facing camera or the rear the results are really good and noticeably better than the iPhone 6 and especially the iPhone 5S. Details are sharp, and given the right light it's at times questionable as to whether the photos came from a phone at all. We are really impressed by the skin tones. That 8-megapixel sensor might not sound like much, but Apple has shown that numbers don't mean everything.
New Photos app
While Apple hasn't gone down the route taken by Nokia or HTC in allowing you to do all manner of things with your photos on the go, it has vastly improved the power of the Photos app in iOS 8.
The big new feature is the ability to actually edit your photos beyond adding a filter or pressing a magic wand. Now you have control over things like exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, black point, saturation and more.
Taken with the iPhone 6 Plus, we've then tweaked the photo using the in phone photo controls of iOS 8
In use it takes some getting used to and is likely only to appeal to power users, but it is a nice feature to have and photo fans who've so far relied on apps like VSOC Cam or Snapseed will really appreciate it.
Apple Pay and NFC
Apple Pay is Apple's new contactless payment service that will work with the thousands of contactless terminals popping up in shops on the high street. The good news is that when the service becomes available you'll be able to use the iPhone 6 Plus to pay for things without having to get your wallet out.
The bad news is that the services won't be available on day one, launching in October in the US, and not expected until 2015 for the UK.
In a controlled demo at the iPhone launch we were able to see Apple Pay in action. It is very easy and works really well. Like a contactless card you simply tap the terminal with your phone, and in this case touch the TouchID (or enter your four-digit passcode) to complete the transaction. Expect to be doing this a lot more in the future.
Sadly at the moment you won't be able to use the NFC chip inside the iPhone 6 Plus for anything else as Apple hasn't made access to the chip available to developers or other apps. That could change in the future, but that's the way it is right now.
iOS 8 and 6 Plus exclusive features
Apple's iOS 8 brings with it a number of new features which will benefit iPhone and iPad users. But there are additional features that benefit the iPhone 6 Plus specifically.
Taking advantage of the new screen size, apps will be able to offer a different view in landscape mode and many of Apple's own apps already use this feature including Mail, Messages, Calendar, and the home screen. Turn the iPhone 6 Plus landscape and the display rotates around to replicate what you get on the iPad.
Mail too delivers an iPad-like experience with a side panel showing your mail and the main window showing the contents of it, while Messages acts in virtually the same way. Safari also gets tabbed browsing just like the iPad.
Apple has opened up the landscape mode to developers, so you can expect to see variations of the theme replicated elsewhere as time goes on, but not necessarily on day one.
It's not all great news though. At times the landscape view can be a little cramped. Also frustrating is that most of the time in Landscape mode you lose the time, signal and battery status icons at the top of the screen. If you are prone to using them, or even tapping on the time icon to zip up to the top of the page, you'll miss them.
Also particular to the iPhone 6 Plus is a new keyboard layout, again, specifically in landscape mode. Rather than simply make the keyboard bigger. Apple has added shortcuts like cut and paste tools as well as navigational aids. The layout is and can be confusing at first because it is different, but easily learnt.
Other new iOS 8 features include the introduction of third-party keyboards, new tricks in Mail, Family Sharing mode to allow you to better manage all your iDevices from the same account, and a new health app that allows you to pull together all the data you collect from various fitness and tracking apps. There's also support for HomeKit, and in the future, a way to better connect with other iDevices and your Mac so you can pick up where you left off regardless of the device.
New to the iPhone 6 Plus is a new feature called Reachability. Unable to reach the top of the screen with a single movement of the thumb, you can now double soft tap the TouchID button to drop the screen down to within reach.
In practice we've used it once or twice, mainly because we've either forgotten it was there, or felt that moving our hand wasn't really an issue. While the feature here on the 6 Plus does help you more than on the smaller iPhone 6, you'll either use it every second of the waking day, or completely ignore it.
There's a lot more to say about iOS 8 which we'll cover in a dedicated review, but it's nice that Apple has made some allowance for the larger display, if not much. Line this up against the extensive array of features that phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 offers, or even the multi-tasking options of the LG G3, and the iPhone 6 Plus could look a little big, but stupid.
And this is one of the big points about the iPhone 6 Plus: there's potential to exploit that big display that's currently not being used. That's a negative on one hand (and we made the same criticism of the HTC One max when it launched), but we're looking forward to seeing how developers empower Apple's hardware. There is space that could be used, and potential for some great productivity features to extend the experience beyond big screen movies and gaming, but developers have to get on board, and Apple will have to wait patiently for that to happen.
A bigger iPhone means a bigger battery and while the iPhone 6 Plus is still prone burning its way through the battery, it certainly lasts a lot longer.
In the office with little movement, but still receiving lots of emails, twitter alerts, taking phone calls and the like, we were down to just 75 per cent by the end of the day compared to 50 per cent for the iPhone 6.
Out and about that number does drop, but there was still plenty of juice to get us home after a long day out in London with plenty of activity (something the iPhone always struggles with). A full day on the roam and we were still only 55 per cent of the way through. To put that in real terms, that's the same as an iPhone 5S in Airplane mode doing the same journey without the ability to receive calls. It really is that much better.
That's going to be welcomed news to users who at the moment struggle to get through the afternoon, let alone a day. Going big brings advantages in battery capacity and that's reflected in the iPhone 6 Plus.
The iPhone 6 Plus is certainly one for the power users and certainly one for those looking for a big screen experience. But with a bigger battery and a bigger display comes a device that for many will be just too big overall.
Having the benefit of using both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus over the last week we've kept coming back to the iPhone 6 Plus, only to return to the iPhone 6 every time. It's as if our heart drawing us to something new and exciting, but our head is going with the more practical and more efficient, familiar, device.
Do you want a phone that slips in your pocket and is great for making calls, snapping pictures, and doing emails on the go, or are you after a device that is a smaller iPad, even better for watching movies or surfing the web on the train?
It really comes down to how you want to use your phone. If you are normally sitting down or taking a more considered moment to check something then the 6 Plus is perfect. If you are more of an on-the-go kind of person, checking emails whilst wrestling with an umbrella, we suspect that you'll do better with the regular iPhone 6.
Where it gets even more confusing is when you start to factor in the Apple Watch and, if you own a Mac, how Continuity and Handoff will let you access key snippets of your phone without you having to get it out of your pocket. It means you can opt for the bigger size, knowing that for the most time you will probably be using another device to read messages. Oh the torture.
As for how it compares to the competition, the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note range or the LG G3 are a very different proposition. The Note with its S Pen stylus is very good at what it does and Apple isn't trying to tackle that approach, even if, in some way, it should be.
The iPhone 6 Plus is something different that some will say is confused and some won't understand, but for that niche that wants to have it all Apple and all over the big screen, then the iPhone 6 Plus is there for them.
We suspect the iPhone 6 Plus will be the source of perplexity for a long time to come. Bigger really is bigger, but not always better.