More sophisticated than iPhone, more convenient than iPad
There's that scene in The Empire Strikes Back, where you see the Star Destroyer, the one that looked so big in the first film. Then you see a shadow fall over it, and the Super Star Destroyer once again redefines your whole perception of big. The iPhone 6 Plus is just exactly like that. It's 5.5-inch screen is so much bigger than any previous iPhone that it changes the way you think about the iPhone itself.
Yes, it's better — new display technology, second generation 64-bit processor and motion coprocessor, improved cameras, faster cellular and Wi-Fi networking, and a new transaction system called Apple Pay. Yet it's more than that as well.
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, he said that in order to for there to be room for a new category of device between the laptop and the phone, that device had to be far better at some key tasks. Its ultra-light form factor had to be more convenient and accessible for more people to use in more places than the laptop. And its bigger screen had to provide for more sophisticated apps and more immersive experiences than the phone. Otherwise, Jobs said, it had no reason for being.
Apple, of course, thought they had just such a device in the iPad. And they were proven right. Now Apple is betting there's room enough left for one more device, one between the iPad and iPhone, one even more convenient and accessible than the tablet and more sophisticated and immersive than the phone.
Apple is betting on the iPhone 6 Plus.
So, are they right?
- The iPhone 6 Plus is a 5.5-inch iPhone with optical image stabilization (OIS), longer battery life, and iPad-style apps in landscape mode, all wrapped up in a gorgeous, deceptively light package. If sophisticated and immersive experiences are important to you, the iPhone 6 Plus is for you.
- For some, the iPhone 6 Plus will simply be too big — too big to fit into a pocket, too big to walk with and type with at the same time, too big to use the way an iPhone has traditionally been used. For that, there's the iPhone 6.
- With an incredible 5.5-inch display, faster chips, faster networking, better cameras, and an unprecedented choice between a denser or bigger display, the iPhone 6 Plus may not be for everyone. But for those who want something that's far more productive than it is pocketable, something that's as much huge iPhone as it is tiny iPad, the iPhone 6 Plus is not just a big thing, it's the best thing.
|Header Cell - Column 0||iPhone||iPhone 3G||iPhone 3GS||iPhone 4||iPhone 4S||iPhone 5||iPhone 5c||iPhone 5s||iPhone 6||iPhone 6 Plus|
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Row 0 - Cell 1||Row 0 - Cell 2||Row 0 - Cell 3||Row 0 - Cell 4||Row 0 - Cell 5||Row 0 - Cell 6||Row 0 - Cell 7||Row 0 - Cell 8||Row 0 - Cell 9||Row 0 - Cell 10|
|Model Name||iPhone 1,1||iPhone 1,2||iPhone 2,1||iPhone 3,1||iPhone 4,1||iPhone 5,1||iPhone 5,3||iPhone 6,1||iPhone 7,2||iPhone 7,1|
|Launch OS||iPhone OS 1.0||iPhone OS 2.0||iPhone OS 3.0||iOS 4||iOS 5||iOS 6||iOS 7||iOS 7||iOS 8||iOS 8|
|Screen Size||3.5 inches||3.5 inches||3.5 inches||3.5 inches||3.5 inches||4.0 inches||4.0 inches||4.0 inches||4.7 inches||5.5 inches|
|Screen Resolution||480x320 (163ppi)||480x320 (163ppi)||480x320 (163ppi)||960x640 (326ppi)||960x640 (326ppi)||1136x640 (326ppi)||1136x640 (326ppi)||1136x640 (326ppi)||1334x750 (326ppi)||1920x1080 (401ppi)|
|Screen Type||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||IPS LCD||DD-IPS LCD||DD-IPS LCD|
|System-on-a-chip||Samsung S5L8900||Samsung S5L8900||Samsung APL0298C05||Apple A4||Apple A5||Apple A6||Apple A6||Apple A7||Apple A8||Apple A8|
|CPU||ARM 1176JZ(F)-S||ARM 1176JZ(F)-S||600MHz ARM Cortex A8||800MHz ARM Cortex A8||800MHz dual-core ARM Cortex A9||1.3GHz dual-core Swift (ARM v7s)||1.3GHz dual-core Swift (ARM v7s)||64-bit 1.3GHz dual-core Cyclone (ARM v8)||64-bit 1.38Ghz dual-core (ARM v8)||64-bit 1.38Ghz dual-core (ARM v8)|
|GPU||PowerVR MBX Lite 3D||PowerVR MBX Lite 3D||PowerVR SGX535||PowerVR SGX535||PowerVR dual-core SGX543MP4||PowerVR triple-core SGX543MP3||PowerVR triple-core SGX543MP3||PowerVR G6430||PowerVR GX6450||PowerVR GX6450|
|Co-processor||none||none||none||none||none||none||none||M7 Motion||M8 Motion||M8 Motion|
|Cellular Data||EDGE||3G 3.6||HSPA 7.2||HSPA 7.2||HSPA 14.4||LTE/DC-HSPA||LTE/DC-HSPA||LTE/DC-HSPA||LTE Advanced||LTE Advanced|
|Rear Camera||2MP||2MP||3MP/480p||5MP/720p, ƒ2.8, 1.75µ||8MP/1080p, ƒ/2.4, BSI, 1.4µ||8MP/1080p, ƒ/2.4, BSI, 1.4µ||8MP/1080p, ƒ/2.4, BSI, 1.4µ||8MP/1080p, ƒ/2.2, BSI, 1.5µ||8MP/1080p 60fps, ƒ/2.2, BSI, 1.5µ||8MP/1080p 60fps, ƒ/2.2, BSI, 1.5µ OIS|
|Front Camera||none||none||none||VGA||VGA||1.2MP/720p, BSI||1.2MP/720p, BSI||1.2MP/720p, BSI||1.2MP/720p, BSI||1.2MP/720p, BSI|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 2.0+EDR||Bluetooth 2.0+EDR||Bluetooth 2.1+EDR||Bluetooth 2.1+EDR||Bluetooth 4.0||Bluetooth 4.0||Bluetooth 4.0||Bluetooth 4.0||Bluetooth 4.0||Bluetooth 4.0|
|Wi-Fi||802.11b/g||802.11b/g||802.11b/g||802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz)||802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz)||802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz, 5GHz)||802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz, 5GHz)||802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz, 5GHz)||802.11a/b/g/n/ac||802.11a/b/g/n/ac|
|GPS||none||aGPS||aGPS||aGPS||aGPS, GLONASS||aGPS, GLONASS||aGPS, GLONASS||aGPS, GLONASS||aGPS, GLONASS||aGPS, GLONASS|
|Sensors||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, compass||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, compass, gyroscope||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, compass, gyroscope, infrared||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, compass, gyroscope, infrared||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, compass, gyroscope, infrared||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, compass, gyroscope, infrared, fingerprint||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, compass, gyroscope, infrared, fingerprint, barometer||Ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, compass, gyroscope, infrared, fingerprint, barometer|
|Connector||30-pin Dock||30-pin Dock||30-pin Dock||30-pin Dock||30-pin Dock||Lightning||Lightning||Lightning||Lightning||Lightning|
|Height||4.52 inches (115mm)||4.55 inches (115.5mm)||4.55 inches (115.5mm)||4.54 inches (115.2mm)||4.54 inches (115.2mm)||4.87 inches (123.8mm)||4.91 inches (124.8mm)||4.87 inches (123.8mm)||5.44 inches (138.1 mm)||6.22 inches (158.1mm)|
|Width||2.40 inches (61mm)||2.43 inches (61.8mm)||2.43 inches (61.8mm)||2.31 inches (58.6mm)||2.31 inches (58.6mm)||2.31 inches (58.6mm)||2.33 inches (59.2mm)||2.31 inches (58.6mm)||2.64 inches (67.0mm)||3.06 inches (77.8mm)|
|Thickness||0.46 inches (11.6mm)||0.48 inches (12.3mm)||0.48 inches (12.3mm)||0.37 inches (9.3mm)||0.37 inches (9.3mm)||0.30 inches (7.6mm)||0.35 inches (8.97mm)||0.30 inches (7.6mm)||0.27 inches (6.9mm)||0.28 inches (7.1mm|
|Weight||4.72oz (135g)||4.69 oz (133g)||4.72oz (135g)||4.83oz (137g)||4.94 oz (140g)||3.95oz (112g)||4.66oz (132g)||4.30oz (122g)||4.55 oz (129g)||6.07 oz (172 g)|
|Colors||Aluminum||Black/White||Black/White||Black/White||Black/White||Slate/Silver||Blue/Green/Pink/White/Yellow||Space gray, Silver, Gold||Space gray, Silver, Gold||Space gray, Silver, Gold|
|Launch Price||$499/$599 on contract (no subsidy)||$199/$299 on contract||$199/$299 on contract||$199/$299 on contract||$199/$299/$399 on contract||$199/$299/$399 on contract||$99/$199 on contract||$199/$299/$399 on contract||$199/$299/$399 on contract||$299/$399/$499 on contract|
iPhone 6 Plus video highlights
If all you've got is 6 plus minutes, we'll give you the iPhone 6 Plus.
iPhone 6 Plus design
The iPhone 6 Plus — and iPhone 6 — ship in boxes that are austere even by Apple's usual standards. They're white with not so much as rendering of the iPhone on them. All you get is an embossed shape form and the word iPhone printed along the sides.
Included in the box are the usual iPhone standards — 5 watt power adapter, Apple Lightning to USB cable, Apple EarBuds headset, a SIM removal tool (for unlocked models), and some general and getting started information.
The iPhone 6 Plus looks like a bigger, bolder iPhone 6. Same iconic shape and Home button, same newer, thinner casing and rounded edges. Same new sleep/wake button placement along the side, same raised camera ring, microphone styling, and backplate with radio-transparent lines cutting across the aluminum. All of it, the same. Except for the size.
It's 6.22 inches (158.1mm) high, 3.06 inches (77.8mm) wide, 0.28 inches (7.1mm) thick, and weighs 6.07 ounces (172 grams).
That's 0.78 inches (20mm) taller, 0.24 inches (10.8mm) wider, 0.01 inches (0.2mm) thicker, and 1.52-ounces (43 grams) heavier than the iPhone 6, but 1.65-inches (41.9mm) shorter, 2.24 inches (56.9mm) narrower, 0.01 inches (0.3mm) thinner, and 5.93 ounces (169 grams) lighter than the Retina iPad mini + Cellular.
Remarkably, the iPhone 6 Plus still manages to be thinner than the iPhone 5s and only 1.17 (32 grams) heavier than an iPhone 4s. And that's very much on purpose. The thinner something is, the lighter it is. The lighter it is, the more usable it is over sustained periods of time.
The original iPad may have been magical and revolutionary, but it wasn't until the thinner — and hence lighter — iPad 2 that it could be held — and hence used — for longer period of times that it really took off.
Making the iPhone 6 Plus significantly bigger without making it significantly heavier and less usable was the problem Apple faced. And it's one that, for the most part, they solved.
Because of the iPhone 6 Plus' roundness, thinness, and lightness, even though its made of glass and aluminum, it doesn't feel anywhere nearly as brick-like as some other phones of the same size.
There has been some concern that, because of its size, lightweight aluminum shell, volume-button cutouts, and the exact positioning of the internal reinforcements, that the iPhone 6 Plus is more susceptible to buckling and bending than other iPhones and phones.
That the iPhone 6 Plus can be bent is no surprise. Metal bends. Previous generation iPhones and iPads have bent. The laws of physics tell us how and when.
Because the iPhone 6 Plus is bigger than any iPhone before, and people unfamiliar with bigger phones have treated them like small phones — in a way an iPad mini, for example, would probably never be treated — there have been some cases of accidental bends. It's extremely unfortunate, but it's something increased awareness, and perhaps future revisions by Apple, can help address.
All that said, I've kept my iPhone 6 Plus in my front pocket for hours at time, every day, going on two weeks now, and it's still as straight and true as the day it was bought. If you're concerned about it, though, don't put the iPhone 6 Plus in tight pockets, and absolutely don't put it in back pockets and then sit on it. It's part-way between an iPhone and iPad. Treat it as such and you should be fine.
The iPhone 6 Plus' size can also make it difficult to use one handed, and difficult to fit into a pocket.
Apple used to claim that one-handed ease of use required your thumb be able to reach almost any area of the display, including the button at the opposite corner. Obviously, those times have passed. The roundness, the lightness, the moving of the sleep/wake button from the top to the right, all help, but now so does the software.
Because the Home button's Touch ID sensor includes a capacitive ring to detect finger contact, it can also detect taps, just like the capacitive multitouch display.
Double-tap the Home button and "reachability" mode activates, sliding the entire interface halfway down the screen, and bringing any icons, buttons, and other interface elements from the top to much more accessible positions.
It sounds like a hack. It looks like a hack. But reachability works well enough, and is useful enough, that it quickly becomes muscle memory.
In addition to the bezel-gestures iOS 7 added last year, including the left-to-right swipe-to-go-back, iOS 8 adds popup radial controls to Messages for near-instant voice, photo, and video messaging.
All of them make it easier to use the iPhone 6 Plus one handed, but none of them make it easy. The balance is such that, if I'm holding a cup of coffee in one hand and trying to type with the other, I'm worried more about dropping it than I am reaching interface elements.
Same with pockets. The iPhone 6 Plus fits fine into large, baggy pants, but doesn't fit very well at all into small, skinny pants.
And that's fine, because the iPhone 6 Plus isn't meant to be a one-handed, pocketable iPhone. There's an iPhone 6 for that. The iPhone 6 Plus is meant to be more. That size, that iPad-like productivity comes at the expense of iPhone-like productivity.
You can do more with iPhone 6 Plus with two hands but less with one. If Apple had only offered one new iPhone this year, if they'd only offered the iPhone 6 Plus, that would be a trade-off. Because Apple offered two new iPhones, because they also offered the iPhone 6, it's a choice.
Retina HD display
All the same panel technology found in the iPhone 6 can be found in the iPhone 6 Plus. That includes full sRGB for color accuracy, dual domain in-plane switching (DD-IPS) for a better, wider field of view, light emitting diode (LED) illuminated, photographically aligned, liquid crystal display (LCD), and an improved polarizer so you can use it more easily with sunglasses. But the iPhone 6 Plus takes it to a whole new level, at least for an iPhone.
The original iPhone was 3.5-inches at a 2:3 aspect ratio, 480x320 resolution, and 163 pixels per inch (ppi). The iPhone 4 doubled (@2x) both the horizontal and vertical pixel count, staying 3.5-inches but reaching 960x640 and 326 ppi. Apple called that Retina. The iPhone 5 went to 4-inches at 16:9, growing to 1136x640 but at the same density. The iPhone 6 is 4.7-inches, same aspect ratio, growing to 1334x750, also at the same density.
The iPhone 6 Plus, however, is 5.5 inches, still 16:9, at 1920x1080 and at 401 ppi.
1920x1080 is, of course, 1080p, which makes the iPhone 6 Plus the first iPhone to support native playback of that standard. And just in time for the Arrow season premiere and the Guardians of the Galaxy release...
While 5.5 inches isn't as big as an iPad, much less an HDTV, because you can hold it close, and because it's so easy to hold close for a long period of time, it can still fill your field of vision.
For things like comic books, while I still prefer them near-actual size on the 9.7-inch iPad Air, when traveling or simply impatient, the 5.5-inch iPhone Plus does work make dialog and captions bigger and easier to read than previous iPhones.
Apple claims the iPhone 6 Plus' typical contrast ratio is slightly lower than the iPhone 6's. At 1300:1 instead of 1400:1, I couldn't tell the difference. The density is another story.
The iPhone 6 Plus actually triples (@3x) the original iPhone's horizontal and vertical pixel count, reaching 2208x1242. It then downsamples the graphics to fit the 1920x1080 display. That makes the increase in pixel count even more striking. From 153,600 in the original iPhone, Apple went to 614,400 in the iPhone 4, 727,040 in the iPhone 5, 1,000,500 in the iPhone 6, and 2,073,600 physical — downsampled from 2,742,336 internal — for the iPhone 6 Plus.
Here's what text and graphics look like on the displays of the iPhone 5s (left), iPhone 6 (center), and iPhone 6 Plus (right):
Here's the evolution of the physical size (left) versus the pixel size (right):
To add context to the physical display sizes, the iPad Air is 9.7 inches and the Retina iPad mini is 7.9 inch. To add context to the pixel counts, the original iPad had a 1024x768 resolution for 786,432 total pixels. The Retina iPads have 2048x1536 resolution displays for 3,145,728 total pixels.
Here evolution the physical size (left) versus the pixel size (right) again, including the iPad:
So, the 2208x1242 iPhone 6 Plus is coming reasonably close to the iPad in terms of pixel count, even if it is downsampling to fit a 1920x1080 display.
This is handled by what Apple calls a "desktop quality scaler", perhaps something morphological, like on the Mac.
Those with a pixel-perfect eye for design will notice things like thin horizontal line rules flickering slightly as they scroll by. Most people won't. Like with the Retina MacBooks, density over distance is really good at covering up scaling.
There doesn't appear to be any noticeable performance cost to the downsampling either, likely because it's hardware accelerated. Which is great, because Apple is using the same scaling, but in reverse, for a new accessibility feature called Display Zoom.
With Display Zoom, instead of taking the extra pixels of the 2208x1242 iPhone 6 Plus interface and downsampling them to fit the 1920x1080 screen, Apple is taking the 1334x750 iPhone 6 interface and scaling it up to 1920x1080. In other words, instead of more graphics and text, Display Zoom provides for magnified graphics and text.
Offered as an option during setup, and at any time under Settings > Display & Brightness, it profoundly increases legibility and visual accessibility, and makes the iPhone 6 valuable in two distinct ways for two distinct groups of customers. And that's terrific.
The same upscaling is used to display 1136x640 iPhone 5s apps that haven't yet been updated for the new iPhone 6 Plus resolution. Essentially, they're super-display zoomed by default.
To address the increased number of displays — from a single target of 3.5 inches, 480x320 pixels, 3:2 ratio,163 ppi, portrait orientation in 2007, to multiple targets ranging from 4, 4.7, 5.5, 7.9, and 9.7 inches, 1136x640, 1334x750, 2208x1242, 1024x768, and 2048x1536 pixels, 16:9 and 4:3 ratios, 163, 326, and 401 ppi, portrait and landscape orientations in 2014 — Apple has introduced Adaptive UI.
Back in 2012 Apple ported Auto Layout — essentially constraint-based layout — from OS X to iOS 6. If you imagine the "guides" in iWork, the ones that let you snap one item into position relative to another, then imagine that those guides would never disappear, and could be saved as persistent "constraints", then that gives you an idea of the basis for Auto Layout — defining relationships.
Instead of one button being 10 pixels over and 10 pixels down from the top left corner, and another being 600 pixels over and 1000 down from the same corner, the second button could be 10 pixels over and 10 pixels up from the bottom right corner. That way, the interface doesn't have to be hard coded to fit one specific target resolution, it can adjust itself to fit multiple target resolution. It's similar in spirit if not implementation to how CSS and responsive design work on the web.
Apple also added a system of size classes, both compact and regular, in both vertical and horizontal orientations. So, a developer can create a base layout for one class, then override it where needed for others.
lists can be names only on narrower screens, names and avatars on wider ones. Four buttons can be stacked vertically in portrait orientation, arranged into a two-by-two grid in landscape.
What's more, Apple has brought "split view controllers" to the iPhone.
Previously, the iPhone could display only one column at a time. For example a list of contacts that, once a selection is made, changes to details about that contact. iPads have always been able to display two columns at a time, for example a narrow list of contacts on the left and a wider view containing all the contact details on the right.
With iOS 8, developers can choose to show two columns on an iPhone in landscape mode. Although developers can do it on any iPhone, Apple is doing it with their built-in apps on the iPhone 6 Plus, and only on the iPhone 6 Plus. And they're also taking advantage of the bigger screen in other ways.
For example, in portrait, Messages on the iPhone 6 still presents a list of names, but on the the iPhone 6 Plus it takes advantage of the iPhone 6 Plus to show avatars as well. Safari on the iPhone 6. In landscape, instead of having to tap into one conversation then tap or swipe back to tap into another, you can simply tap down the list on the left and scan the details of the conversations on the right.
In landscape Safari on the iPhone 6, you get a regular iPhone-style interface with in-browser tabs and a single rolodex in the tab selector. On the iPhone 6 Plus, you get an iPad-style interface with in-browser tabs and multi-rolodex tab selector.
The Home screen joins in on the fun as well. Not only can it rotate 180 degrees now, but it can rotate to landscape mode. The animation is a bit awkward — the dock slides away and the reintroduces itself along the right side, and always the right side — but the functionality really fits. In a device that is so capable in landscape mode, not having to leave landscape mode as you transit through the Home screen is vital.
Just like the larger screen enabled more sophisticated interfaces on the iPad, the larger screen is now enable more sophisticated interfaces on the iPhone 6 Plus as well.
The greater information density and fewer steps needed to move through the interface combine to make for a far more productive experience.
Essentially, you're getting a huge iPhone in portrait and a tiny iPad in landscape. There are compromises both ways to be sure, but in terms of getting more done in more places, of combining portability and productivity, it really can get the best of both worlds.
Apple A8 and Apple M8 processors
Like the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus is powered by a second generation dual-core, 1.38GHz "Cyclone" (CPU) with what's estimated by Chipworks to be a quad-core Imagination PowerVR GX6450 graphics processing unit (GPU).
There's double the amount of transistors — two billion now — but thanks to a new 20 nanometer fabrication process, it all fit into a packager that's 13% smaller than the one before.
There's also a second generation motion coprocessor, dubbed the Apple M8. The M8, rumored to be named "Phosphorous", has been identified by iFixit as an LPC18B1 mircocontroller, which is similar to the LPC18A1 found in the Apple M7. It now keeps track of barometric pressure as well, useful for running hills or climbing steps, but it's job remains to collect and preserve motion data while the Apple A8 sleeps to conserve power.
There's still 1GB of RAM onboard, however, which still feels like a huge constraint every time content needs to be completely refreshed on a single app or Safari tab switch.
The sum total of the new chipsets is a speed gain of 25% on general computing and 50% on graphics, but also power savings of 50%.
The lower power means lower heat which means the Apple A8 can run faster, longer, without having to throttle down like other chipsets. That means gamers get a more consistent experience, but it also means everyone gets better battery life.
And battery life is one of the other major differences between the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus.
The iPhone 6 has a 1810mAh and the iPhone 6 Plus, 2915mAh. Apple pegs the difference in battery life between the two at 10 extra hours of talk time, 6 days of extra standby time, 2 hours of extra LTE and 1 hour of extra Wi-Fi web browsing, 3 hours of extra video playback, and 30 hours of extra audio playback.
That means either longer life under the same load or the same life with a heavier load. In other words, more hours or more games. Anecdotally, with my iPhone 5s I'd typically be nearly depleted by the end of normal day. With my iPhone 6 review unit, I've had some battery life to spare. With my iPhone 6 Plus, I've had a third or more charge left.
Yes, the iPhone 6 Plus both a hand-and-halfer and a day-and-a-halfer.
iPhone 6 Plus cameras
The iPhone 6 Plus has almost exactly the same rear-facing iSight camera as the iPhone 6 as well. That includes a five-element lens with a sapphire crystal lens cover, hybrid IR-filter, backside illuminated sensor (BSI), and 8 megapixels at 1.5 microns and f/2.2.
It also includes the same Apple A8-powered image signal processor (ISP) that handles everything from autofocus to autoexposure to auto white balance. It's got the same auto high dynamic range (HDR), next-generation tonal mapping, and advanced noise reduction. The same eye and smile detection in burst mode. The same exposure bias controls (and manual camera controls for App Store apps). The same 43 megapixel panoramas.
And it absolutely includes the same focus pixels for instant focus in stills and continuous focus in video. The same 60 frames per second (FPS) high frame rate (HFR) video at 1080p and 240 FPS or 120 FPS video at 720p for ultra-smooth slow motion. The same cinematic stabilization to remove bumps and shakes during filming on the go, and the same timer and time-lapse video mode.
It's identical in every way except one — the iPhone 6 Plus also has optical image stabilization.
Optical image stabilization
Optical image stabilization (OIS), the way Apple's implemented, uses the Apple A8 chipset, M8 motion coprocessor, and gyroscope to "float" the lens, compensating up or down, left or right, to eliminate as much physical shaking or trembling as possible. That lets the aperture stay open longer to pull in as much light as possible.
Added to that, the iPhone 6 Plus also uses digital image stabilization, taking both long and short exposures to help reduce motion blur in the subject as well.
Combined they make for better, less noisy low-light photographs, making the iPhone 6 Plus camera even more useful in an even wider range of conditions.
Here's a series of low light shots taken with, from left to right, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 plus.
The iPhone 5 has to ratchet up to ISO 3200. The iPhone 5s and the iPhone 6 to ISO 2000. The iPhone 6 Plus took it at ISO 500.
The difference between the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 Plus, it's remarkable. The difference between the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6 Plus is more subtle. However, if you're taking a walk at night or you're at a bar with friends or you're dining by candlelight and really want to preserve the beauty, fun, or romance of the moment, it really means you don't have to worry as much about the light or lack thereof. You just have to take the picture and get on with enjoying your evening.
The iPhone 6 Plus has the exact same front-facing FaceTime camera as the iPhone 6. That includes a 1.2-megapixel f/2.2 sensor that can also shoot 720p video, with burst mode and single exposure high-dynamic range (HDR) for both photos and video. Moreover, it can now send and receive video calls using high-efficiency video coding (HEVC, also known as H.265).
It's a better camera, even if in this specific case the megapixels and video resolution could do with a boost. Still, the more exciting news for the iPhone 6 Plus is found around back.
LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, and Apple Pay
The iPhone 6 Plus includes both 433mbps 802.11ac Wi-Fi and 20-band 150mbps LTE Advanced, just like the iPhone 6, along with support for Wi-Fi calling and Voice over LTE (VoLTE), where available. One area where the iPhone 6 Plus shines, however, is as a personal hotspot.
Sure, the radio is the same and the new iOS 8 Instant Hotspot feature is the same, but thanks to the iPhone 6 Plus' bigger battery, you can use it to connect your tablet or laptop to the internet without worrying as much about draining it to the point where you no longer have a functional phone.
I've been using a Retina iPad mini + Cellular as a hotspot and tethering it to a Haswell MacBook Air. The iPad can last over a day and the MacBook Air almost half a day. In combination, I can close a coffee shop down.
The iPhone 6 Plus gets even better battery life than the iPad mini. So good, I haven't hesitated at all to use it instead of my iPad mini for the last two weeks. So good, I haven't gotten anywhere near draining it. And so good, my days of buying iPads with cellular networking are likely over.
NFC and Apple Pay
The iPhone 6 Plus includes near-field communications (NFC), a technology that enables, among other things, tap-to pay functionality in many countries around the world. Apple will be implementing just that later this month with Apple Pay.
We'll have to wait until it launches to see how well it works and how quickly it gets adopted, but in the meantime Apple did provide demos of the functionality during their September event which show how it will work. (See the video, above)
iOS 8 on the iPhone 6 Plus
The iPhone 6 Plus ships with iOS 8. It includes updates to Messages and Photos, an all-new Health app, a predictive keyboard and contextual Spotlight, improved Mail and Safari, Family Sharing options and Continuity workflows, and there's Extensibility, which allows for interactive notifications, custom keyboards, custom sharing and action options, custom photo filters and effects, widgets, iCloud Drive, and custom storage providers.
There are also new frameworks like HomeKit for home automation, manual camera controls, Touch ID authentication for third party apps, SpriteKit, SceneKit, and Metal for games, and a new programming language called Swift.
It's as big a functional upgrade as iOS 7 was a design upgrade last year, and that's saying a lot.
There are some iOS 8 features exclusive to the iPhone 6 Plus, including Display Zoom, split view interfaces, and Apple Pay, detailed above. For everything — and there's a lot of it – see the iOS 8 review.
Messages, Calendar, Photos, Camera, Weather, Clock, Maps, Videos, Notes, Reminders, Stocks, Game Center, Newsstand, iTunes Store, App Store, Passbook, iBooks, Health, Passbook, Settings, FaceTime, Calculator, Podcasts, and an Extras folder containing Compass, Tips, Voice Memo, and Contacts are all built into the iPhone 6.
Apple also provides numerous free apps on the App Store, including iTunes U, Find my iPhone, Find my Friends, Apple Store, Remote, Trailers, AirPort Utility, and the now free-with-a-new-device iLife and iWork suites of iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband, and Keynote, Pages, and Numbers. Apple is pre-installing many of these on the iPhone 6 models with higher storage capacities.
Google also makes a large quantity of their services available to iPhone users via the App Store. That includes Google Search (with Google Now), Google Maps, Google+, Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube, Google Voice, Hangouts, Chrome, Google Authenticator, and many, many more. Same with Microsoft with Bing, OneDrive, and the lackluster-compared-to-iPad Office Mobile for Office 365, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and pretty much everyone you can think of are on the App Store as well. Even BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is on the iPhone now.
There are over a million apps now available for the iPhone, and thanks to Display Zoom, they're almost all compatible with the iPhone 6. Since it's only been a short time since launch, not all apps have updated to support the new, higher resolution of the iPhone 6 Plus display, but more and more are updating every day.
What was true remains true — No other platform enjoys as wide ranging support as the App Store, and thanks to both Apple's culture of design and the excellent frameworks they provide, no other platform enjoys as many high-quality apps as the iPhone.
What's new is that, just as Apple has provided additional support for the iPhone 6 Plus' bigger display, so to are App Store developers. Sure, games look great at 5.5-inches, especially when technologies like Apple's Metal API are implemented, but it's the productivity boost enabled by the two column layout in landscape mode that really puts things over the top.
Some developers used to make separate apps for iPhone and iPad. The iPhone 6 Plus shows that that distinction is no longer exists. In landscape, the iPhone 6 Plus can work like an iPad. What this means for the future of apps will be interesting.
iCloud and AppleCare
Every iPhone 6 Plus comes with iCloud, which lets you wirelessly backup and restore your data to and from Apple's servers. iCloud also lets you re-download anything you've bought on iTunes, the App Store, or the iBooks Store, including music, movies, TV shows, apps, games, and iBooks.
Still in beta, iCloud Photo Library looks to make photos and videos part of the core iPhone operating system experience, and iCloud Drive looks to make files from any app available to any other compatible app.
iCloud offers 5GB a month for free, with $0.99/month options for 20GB, $3.99/month for 200GB, $9.99/month for 500MB, and $19.99/month for 1TB.
Apple Stores, especially when combined with iCloud, whether extended by AppleCare+ or not, provide remarkable customer support for iPhone 6 Plus owners. Apple specialists can help you test a phone to make sure it's what you want, help you set it up, teach you how to use it, and if anything goes wrong, help you fix it. It's a feature not always included on competitive checklists but anyone who's ever needed to avail themselves of it knows just how important a feature it is.
Since the iPhone 6 Plus is not only a completely new design, but a completely new size, there aren't as many cases available for it as there are for previous generation iPhones that have been on the market for years, or carrier over the same design at launch.
Apple is offering leather cases in black, (Product) Red, midnight blue, olive brown, and soft pink. The soft pink looks a little fleshy for my tastes, but the rest are nice enough. They are leather, however, so they will wear and age over time.
If you want something less expensive and with slightly better grip, Apple is also offering silicone cases in black, white, pink, blue, green, and (Product) Red. All of these look good.
More and more cases become available every day, so if you're waiting on a specific vendor, including those who make battery cases and weather-proof cases, check back often.
Pricing and Buyers' Guide
The iPhone 6 Plus comes in three capacities, 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB. On contract, with full subsidy, they'll typically run you $299, $399, and $499 in the U.S. Off contract, full price, that's $749, $849, and $949.
128GB is new for the iPhone and a welcome addition for anyone who wants to store a lot of music, video, photos, or other content on their iPhone. It's basically a stress-relief capacity. Especially with what's happening with iCloud Drive and iCloud Photo Library's nearline storage, you'll likely never have to worry about removing old content just to make room for new.
Given how much high quality media the iPhone can not only download but be used to create, and given the size of games and HD downloads, it's tough to recommend the 16GB size to anyone anymore. Unless you absolutely don't have and can't get the extra cash, go with 64GB or 128GB. You'll be glad you did.
The iPhone 6 Plus has already launched in dozens of countries and should reach hundreds by the end of 2014.
The iPhone 6 Plus is something new, so many people won't know what to make of it initially. If you have questions about whether or not you should upgrade, if you should check out alternative brands, if you should consider an iPhone 6 instead, what color you should get, which carrier is the best, or what capacity is right for you, here are your answers:
iPhone 6 Plus: The Bottom Line
The iPhone 6 Plus isn't the first bigger than big phone. Just like the iPhone wasn't the first phone nor the iPad the first tablet. The iPhone 6 Plus is, however, the first bigger than big phone from Apple. The first bigger than big iPhone. For many, especially those used to smaller iPhones, it will simply be too big. For them, there's the iPhone 6. For others, however, the iPhone 6 Plus will be different. It will be something different.
For the last two years I've carried an iPad mini, first regular, now Retina, everywhere I've gone. It's been my personal TV, my personal hotspot, my personal thinking pad. I've had to, because my iPhone was never big enough, long lasting enough, or empowering enough to do everything I needed it to do all by itself.
The iPhone 6 Plus is.
Since I've been using the iPhone 6 Plus I haven't taken my iPad mini anywhere. I've been using my iPad Air around the house the same as always, but now my iPad mini sits on the table beside it.
Yes, the iPhone 6 Plus isn't as portable as the iPhone 6, it doesn't fit in your pocket as easily or let you type or tap one handed as well. Yes, it isn't as productive as the iPad, it doesn't have as big a screen or as versatile a canvas.
Yet it's more portable than an iPad and more productive than an iPhone.
As much as the iPhone 6 is the most accessible, most capable iPhone ever, the iPhone 6 Plus is more accessible and more capable. As much as the iPad proved its convenience and sophistication between laptop and phone, so to has the iPhone 6 Plus between tablet and phone. That's just exactly where it fits.
The iPhone 6 Plus is not for everyone. It's a compromise. But for people who want or need to carry only one device around with them, for people who want a huge phone that transforms with a turn into a tiny tablet, the iPhone 6 Plus is a brilliant one.
Ally Kazmucha, Derek Kessler, Georgia Dow, Anthony Casella, Serenity Caldwell, and Peter Cohen contributed to this review.