How big is too big when it comes to smartphones?
Until very recently, Apple would have said anything above 4 inches. Now, though, we have the 4.7in iPhone 6 and its gargantuan sibling, the 5.5in iPhone 6 Plus.
The 6 Plus is like the 6 after a massive injection of smartphone growth hormone. As well as being bigger by far, it also has a higher resolution screen, comes with a bigger battery hidden away inside and even has an improved camera.
So while bigger doesn't always equal better, there's every reason to suppose it will do here. Or at least that's what Apple hopes.
Note that most of what we've said in our more in-depth Apple iPhone 6 review also applies to the 6 Plus, so we've concentrated on the differences here. For the full picture, you'll want to give the iPhone 6 review a read too.
The iPhablet is born
The iPhone 6 Plus has by far the biggest screen ever on an iPhone. But as always, these things are relative.
Measuring 5.5 inches, it’s not huge as far as rival phone/tablet hybrids are concerned. The forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 4 will be 5.7 inches, the Nokia Lumia 1520 is a 6-incher and the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a 6.4in beast. Even so, any iPhone user will gasp at the enormity of it all.
Plus, while the display isn't the absolute biggest, the body itself is ginormous, even next to the iPhone 6 that looks sizeable next to an iPhone 4s. And it’s significantly bigger than the LG G3; while the latter has the same size display, LG's almost bezel-less design keeps the handset itself looking pretty trim.
The LG’s screen is significantly higher-resolution, too, with 534 pixels per inch where Apple has included a 1920 x 1080 screen with 401 ppi. But for everyday use, the Apple screen is a cracker, with richer but quieter colours when compared to the G3 and real, naturalistic tones.
Playing back high-definition video from YouTube did give LG’s screen the edge, as it upscaled content to fill its own sumptuous display, but Apple’s Retina display HD performs a remarkable trick (here and on the smaller iPhone 6) of making the display seem right up next to you, so you can almost feel the high-def under your fingerprint. This is easily the best screen on any iPhone and compares well to the competition. It's subtle, beautiful and pin-sharp.
Scaling it up
Many features of the iPhone 6 are simply replicated on the 6 Plus and thanks to an efficient scaler in each of the phones, everything looks pretty much identical on the two, if a little higher-res on the 6 Plus.
But the bigger phone does have a few additional features. Chief among them is the new landscape mode: turn the phone to landscape orientation and the home screen will turn too. It's a transition iPad users will be used to, but is new to Apple’s phones with this model. The expectation, presumably, is that like other phone/tablet hybrids, this will be used more in landscape viewing than a regular phone would.
So with this in mind some apps have already been optimised to provide a distinct landscape version that doesn’t simply enlarge the portrait mode. Messages and Mail both look more like their iPad versions, with horizontal views that show not just a list of message summaries but the list on the left and one email in full on the right. Expect other app makers to come up with their own ways to make the most of all the extra real estate on the 6 Plus.
Like its smaller sibling, the iPhone 6 Plus also has a fingerprint sensor with which to unlock the screen. This feature is smoothly efficient and will grow more useful when it works in conjunction with the NFC chip to turn the phone into a contactless payment system.
Of course, there’s more to the phone than the screen. The measurements of the handset are bigger than those of the LG G3 in height and width, but the Apple phone is thinner from front to back at 7.1mm, itself thinner than last year’s iPhone 5s. This is important as it’s the dimension that you feel the most when holding it one-handed.
The curved front and back edges of the iPhone 6 are repeated here and again contribute to the phone being much more manageable than the bald statistics would suggest.
Many hands will still find the 6 Plus too gigantic, but if you’re in any doubt, try it – it’s not quite what you expect. Otherwise, the design of the iPhone 6 Plus is identical to the iPhone 6. If you like the look of one, you’ll like the other and if not, er, not.
Screen: 5.5in 1080x1920 IPS LCD (401ppi) Processor: 1.4GHz Apple A8 processor RAM: (unspecified) OS: iOS 8 Storage: 16/64/128GB Battery: (unspecified) Camera: 8MP 1080p@60fps, 720p@240fps rear, OIS, 1.2MP 720p front Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC (Apple Pay only), 3G/4G Dimensions: 158.1mm x 77.8 x 7.1mm Weight: 172g
The bigger phone has the same 8MP sensor as the smaller one, but with one key difference. Image stabilisation on the 6 is decent enough but is an electronic, software-based process. On the 6 Plus, though, there’s superior optical image stabilisation available, which means you can shoot in lower light situations and still get sharp images.
All the other new features - for instance improved slo-mo which now maxes out at 240fps, time-lapse and more - are present. The advantage of the bigger screen is you can frame up more exactly, without looking quite so preposterous as anyone using their iPad's camera does. Plus, you can see the results more clearly on this bigger, more detailed display.
As with the iPhone 6, this is a very fast, responsive handset that never dallies, performing well at everything from video playback, which is butter-smooth, to rendering games in high resolution.
This is also a phone with lots of storage potentially available, with capacity options of 16GB, 64GB and 128GB. Note that the biggest model is very expensive and frankly few people need the amount of storage it offers.
Battery life on the smaller iPhone 6 is already very strong, much, much improved over the 5s. And happily the extra space afforded by this phone (did we mention its size?) means there’s room for even more juice here.
In regular use while testing the device, we got more than 48 hours' use from it - a quite spectacular result. We'll be giving the iPhone 6 Plus our standard battery run-down test very soon, and will update this review with our findings as soon as we do so.
The new keyboard that arrives courtesy of iOS 8 is excellent, with impressive predictions for whatever it is you want to type even before the first word is started.
However, there’s so much space here, you may find you’re stretching to reach the keys. There’s no simple way around this until third parties release their own versions - expect to see Swiftkey and co soon. Still, iOS 8 offers the chance to record spoken messages or speak texts, so it’s not the end of the world.
The iPhone 6 Plus will undoubtedly be too big for some hands. It's far bigger physically than any previous iPhone but also bigger than any comparable Android. The LG G3, which has the same size screen, is dwarfed by it. Even the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, with its 5.7in display, is shorter.
That said, the combination of its super-thin body and smooth metal build make it easier to hold and use than you might expect. Plus, it offers a few advantages over the iPhone 6, namely that bigger, higher-res screen and increased battery life.
Really, there's very little wrong with it beyond its size. But it is very big. So unless you're specifically looking for a smartphone/tablet hybrid, or have particularly large hands, you'll be better off with the iPhone 6.