Are the bigger iPhones worth all this big time attention? The answer is a resounding yes, a point emphasized by consumers who’ve preordered the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus in record numbers. These are the phones Apple devotees have been waiting for: iPhones that measure up to what’s fast becoming the new normal — the large, modern smartphone display. Count me among those glad they’re here.
People have preordered on faith, since they haven’t seen these super-sized iPhones up close or experienced what they feel like in pockets and handbags. I have and let me be reassuring — you won’t regret your decision, though going big may require a small adjustment, and my experience wasn’t totally trouble-free.
The new phones are enclosed in sturdy anodized aluminum. And though the handsets are bigger and heavier their predecessors, they’re also thinner. The sleep/power button has moved to the side. Each has the Touch ID fingerprint scanner introduced on the iPhone 5s.
The 6 Plus is the first Apple phone to enter the phablet category popularized by Samsung’s Notes. Samsung has been running ads — a bit defensively I think — knocking the new iPhone as playing catch-up with even its older Notes models. But while Samsung’s phablets are equipped with souped-up styluses called the S Pen for writing and other tricks, Apple eschews the pen.
SIZING UP THE SIZES. The iPhone 5 and 5s really do look like a kid brother placed next to the 6 or 6 Plus; the iPhone 4 or 4s models are practically toddler-sized.
I prefer the 6 Plus because I like the biggest of the big screens, and like that I have to squint less often. It felt fine in my jeans pocket, but won’t fit every snug purse or small pair of hands.
The 5.5-inch 6 Plus has an 88% larger viewing area than the 5s. The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 has a 38% larger area. Both have splendid Retina HD displays, with resolutions of 1334 X 750 and 1920 X 1080 respectively.
The screens accommodate an extra row of home screen icons. And when you’re, say, checking your calendar, you can glance at seven days of appointments at once on the 6 Plus in the weekly landscape view, compared with six days on the 6 or five days on the 5.
It’s harder (but not impossible) to use the iPhone 6 Plus one-handed, even with Apple adding a gesture called Reachability which makes the top portion of the display move down toward the bottom when you gently double-tap the home button.
It’s also still a tad unnatural to hold a really large phone up to your ear during a call. In that sense the 6 felt more comfortable.
Apple made other accommodations on the 6 Plus: When you rotate the phone to its side, some apps display a two-panel view. On both new phones you have the option of choosing a standard view with normal-size icons and fonts, or a zoomed view that gives you bigger controls but less room for other stuff.
Developers may have to make some adjustments before their apps are iPhone 6 Plus- ready. The search icon inside the YouTube app actually touched the Bluetooth icon and the battery gauge in the Apple task bar.
The rumored rugged Sapphire display didn’t happen (though Sapphire covers the Touch ID button and the camera lens), so if you’re the type to protect your phone with a case, you’ll obviously have to spring for a bigger replacement.
• CAMERAS. Larger displays double as larger viewfinders, a benefit to photographers. You can use either volume button to fire off a picture, which is nice. I generally found the 6 easier to maneuver, though the 6 Plus has an optical image-stabilization feature that the 6 lacks, to reduce the shakes when you’re taking a photo. Both models have a cinematic stabilization feature for keeping video steady. Video I shot on the 6 Plus from a moving car came out smooth. However, on the 6 Plus I once couldn’t stop shooting a video, an apparent bug. You can now shoot high-definition videos at a faster (60fps) frame rate and also shoot time-lapse videos. And Apple has also improved the focusing system. I was pleased with the quality of pictures and videos I shot.
Of note, selfie fans can now capture 10 photos per second as part of a burst mode feature added to the front camera. I took advantage of a timer feature that gives you three or 10 seconds to prepare for your close-up burst.
iOS 8. The operating system need not play second fiddle to the hardware; iOS 8 brings numerous improvements, starting with a better predictive Apple keyboard you come to appreciate quickly. The ability to install third-party keyboards as on Android phones is an added plus.
The new Health app is a useful repository for all sorts of health and fitness data. I used it to display the number of stairs I climbed, a measurement made possible by the barometer inside the new phones.
IOS 8 has also improved notifications and messaging. For example, you can tap and swipe to add a recording to an outgoing text message that can expire in two minutes. Also promising is a Family Sharing feature that lets you and other members of the household share a calendar, photos and iTunes, iBook and app purchases. You can make the kids ask before they buy. Expect frequent requests: The App Store now has more than 1.3 million apps.
APPLE PAY. Can Apple get you to shop your way through a mall with a wave of your phone? We’ll find out come October, when Apply Pay debuts for the 6 and 6 Plus.
I got to demo Apple Pay but not test it in the real world with crowded shoppers. The process certainly seems simple. In a store, you’ll place the phone within about an inch of a compatible terminal while pressing the Touch ID fingerprint scanner to transact — pretty robust security right there. There’s no need to unlock the phone.
Your credit cards are stored in the up-to-now seldom used Passbook app. Payment info is kept secure inside a chip on the phone. The merchant never sees your actual credit card number, and Apple is kept in the dark on what you bought or spent. If your phone is lost or stolen you can remove your cards from Passbook remotely through Find My iPhone. But there’s no need to actually cancel your credit cards.
• BATTERY. Both new phones have bigger batteries, which should yield better results than on prior iPhones. Apple is touting longer battery life on the 6 Plus compared with the 6, up to 14 hours watching video, vs. 11 hours. I didn’t conduct a formal test, but after a day of heavy mixed use, the battery on the 6 Plus pooped out about 7:15 p.m.
• GROWING PAINS. With the 6 and 6 Plus, Apple ditched a 32GB storage model. If you take lots of pictures and videos or download frequent apps, the 16GB entry capacity may not cut it. Now the step-up is 64GB or 128 GB.
Inside is a new Apple-designed A8 chip and the phone is snappy. But I hit a few snags, especially with the 6 Plus. A few times, the 6 Plus failed to rotate from landscape to portrait or back (the rotation lock was unlocked). Once the Mail app froze. Another time the 6 Plus restarted on its own. Reachability also didn’t work one time until I rebooted the phone. Hopefully this is an aberration.
Notwithstanding such growing pains, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are smartphone stars. Really big stars.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
IPhone 6 and 6 Plus
IPhone 6 is $199 (16 GB), $299 (64GB) and $399 (128GB) with two year contracts from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless or $649, $749 or $849, contract-free from T-Mobile.
IPhone 6 Plus is $299, $399 and $499 on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon with two-year contracts, or $749, $849 or $949 contract-free from T-Mobile.
Pro. Large displays provide extra screen real estate. Touch ID. IOS features such as Health app and redesigned predictive keyboards. Improved camera and Photos app. Optical image stabilization (iPhone 6 Plus only).
Con. IPhone 6 Plus may be too large for some users. 6 Plus was buggy. You may need to buy new cases or other accessories to accommodate larger displays.