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Apple iPhone 6 Plus review:The most serious Apple smartphone yet

  • Author:CNET
  • Source:CNET
  • Release Date:2014-11-05

The Good: The bigger battery means great battery life, and the 5.5-inch screen is not only big but bright and high-contrast. Optical image stabilization improves low-light photography.

The Bad: The big footprint of the iPhone 6 Plus is not for everybody, and it's less visually distinctive in overall design than previous iPhones. Also, apps that haven't been optimized yet look blurry and have big keyboards.

The Bottom Line: The iPhone 6 Plus is too big for everyone to love it, but it's Apple's best phone this year. If your budget and your pocket can make room for it, give the iPhone 6 Plus serious consideration

It's hard to imagine a phone more eagerly anticipated than the iPhone 6. After the design revolution that was the iPhone 4, the much-anticipated iPhone 5 disappointed some with its modest visual update. People craved a phone with looks significantly different than what had come before, and so those expectations shifted to the iPhone 6.

In many ways, the iPhone 6 delivers on those design expectations (and in many other ways, as you can see in our full iPhone 6 review here), but if you're really longing for something totally different, look to the iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 6 Plus is significantly larger, noticeably thinner, and -- perhaps most importantly -- offers far more endurance on a single charge than any previous iPhone.

The iPhone 6 Plus is a great phone, but it isn't for everybody. I hate the word "phablet" (literally, "phone" plus "tablet"), but you can't deny that's exactly what the 6 Plus is. Its 5.5-inch, 1080p IPS LCD deftly straddles the chasm that existed between the former 4-inch iPhone 5S and the 7.9-inch iPad Mini. While the new 4.7-inch iPhone 6 fits in the same gap, the 6 Plus sits right in the sweet spot for those who'd like a little tablet in their smartphone.

Of course, you also pay more for the experience. Available in the US on two-year contracts from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, the 16GB version will set you back $299, with 64GB at $399 and the top-end 128GB costing $499. Contract-free on T-Mobile, it costs $749, $849 or $949 respectively. You can find a more detailed rundown of US carrier plans here.

Design

In the grand scheme of phone dimensions, the 6 Plus is on the large side, measuring 6.22 inches high by 3.06 inches wide (158.1mm by 77.8mm), nearly a half-inch (12mm) taller than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, though slightly narrower. At 6.07 ounces (172 grams) it does come in just a touch lighter, and it's noticeably thinner -- just 7.1mm in thickness, compared with the Note 3's 9.6mm.

Regardless of dimensions, there's no denying that the iPhone 6 Plus feels better in the hand than the Note 3. Like previous iPhones, it's made of matte aluminum, but where harsh lines and chamfered edges give the iPhone 5 a stark, industrial feel, the new phones are more organic. They nestle comfortably in your hand rather than cutting into it.

That said, this new rounded shape -- complete with glass that blends into the rounded edges -- does provide a less distinctive appearance. That curved glass will be familiar to owners of Nokia Lumia devices, and the inset lines of plastic on the back are reminiscent of the HTC One. The iPhone 6 Plus looks and feels great, but it must be said that it doesn't offer the unique stylings of its predecessor.

Even the button placement matches the competition's, with the power/lock button moving to the right side. That's a good thing, given how far a reach it would be up to the top. Volume buttons still live on the left -- now wide and flat rather than round -- directly beneath the ring/silent toggle switch. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits at the bottom, as it did with the 5S, next to eight holes that allow sound from the (surprisingly powerful) internal speaker to escape.

Then, of course, there's the home button, front and center below the display. It is of the Touch ID variety, as on the 5S, meaning you can unlock the iPhone 6 Plus quickly with a thumb. Or an index finger, if you'd rather, or any other digit that you care to train. While this feature is no longer as novel as it was this time in 2013, Touch ID still proves quicker and more reliable than the fingerprint detection we've seen on other smartphones.

Touch ID is particularly useful here on the iPhone 6 Plus, because punching in a traditional four-digit PIN for unlocking can be a bit of a stretch on a big display like this. Pressing on the Home button for a moment is certainly a fair bit easier. And with iOS 8 -- which all iPhone 6 Plus models ship with -- you'll finally be able to use fingerprint access for a much wider variety of apps, not just the lock screen and iTunes Store.

Reachability

To avoid any unfortunate thumb-straining incidents, Apple has provided a feature on the iPhone 6 Plus called "Reachability." Two quick taps on the Home button slide any content at the top of the display -- app icons, Safari's URL bar, whatever else is up there -- down to the bottom. (That's a double tap rather than a double press -- the latter of which opens up the app switching screen, as it does on iOS 7.) It's handy in theory, but not particularly useful in practice.

For example, if you want to open a folder of icons on the top of the display, a double-tap brings that folder down. Tap on the folder and it opens, but then slides back up to the top again. Another double-tap on the Home button is needed to bring it down a second time so that you can select an icon within. It's simply too much tapping to be of regular use, even for those with short thumbs, but could be handy if you're on a bus or train and need your other hand to hang on.

Landscape mode

Another software tweak, exclusive to the Plus, is a special layout for some apps when the phone is held sideways in landscape mode. Apps like Mail and Messages give you an iPad-like view, with a list of messages on the left and their content on the right. This is quite helpful, and I'm guessing it's something that many other app developers will implement in the near future.