Apple iPhone 6 Plus review - plus iPhone 6 Plus camera recall

In September 2014, Apple launched two entirely new smartphones. We’ve taken a look at the iPhone 6 separately, but here's our review of the iPhone 6 Plus. Plus: How to check whether your iPhone 6 Plus is affected by the camera recall (see cameras section below). See also: the best smartphones you can buy in 2015.

Update 21 September 2015: With the iPhone 6S Plus about to go on sale, we've updated this review to explain the new price, storage and colour options, along with how the 6 Plus rates today, as opposed to a year ago when it launched.

iPhone 6 Plus review: Design and size - living with a 5.5in phablet

Compared to the angled and almost industrial design of the iPhone 4 and 5, the iPhone 6 Plus makes something of a return to the original iPhone with curved sides. The screen gently curves at the edges to meet the sides and, even though it’s not much thinner than the iPhone 5, it feels it because it’s so much larger (it measures 78x158x7.1mm). Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

iPhone 6 Plus vs iPhone 5S vs iPhone 4

And it really is a lot larger. Just look at the footprint compared to the iPhone 5S and 4S above. It's bigger than quite a few Android phones which have 5.5in screens: not wider, but taller. And this explains why Apple had no choice but to move the power button to the side. Whether you hold it right- or left-handed the power button now falls under your finger or thumb. The only problem is that the button is directly opposite the volume buttons, so it's very easy to accidentally press both. Usually, this means turning the phone off when you meant to increase the volume or take a photo using the volume button.

Like everything, though, you quickly get used to the size of the 6 Plus, and the bigger screen really makes a positive difference when browsing websites and using any apps which have small controls which are fiddly to use.

However, it's not perfect if you're used to using your iPhone one-handed. The first issue is that the bigger screen combines with the thick bottom bezel to make it very tricky to reach even half of the display with your thumb. Double-tapping the home button to activate the Reachability feature isn't the greatest solution as it's still hard to tap anything on the opposite side with your thumb. Unless you have giant hands, that is.

The second issue is weight and - more specifically - balance. When holding the 6 Plus in one hand at the bottom so you can reach the home button the phone wants to tip out of your grasp. The solution is to use two hands, just like a tablet. We've got used to this limitation, and it's not an issue if you're holding the phone one-handed to watch video in landscape orientation.

iPhone 6 Plus camera sticks out

A minor point to note is that the camera protrudes from the rear of the iPhone 6 Plus and if you’re the type who refuses to “ruin” the design by using a case, bear in mind that it won’t sit perfectly level when you put it down on a hard surface - in fact, it rocks between two of the corners which is pretty annoying, especially if you like using your phone when it's lying down flat. (Most cases are solve the problem because the camera either sits flush or slightly recessed. Apple's cases are both thicker than the protrusion.)

iPhone 6 Plus review: UK price

The cheapest iPhone 6 Plus is the 16GB base model which used to cost £619 SIM-free. Now the price has dropped to £539, the same as the 16GB iPhone 6S.

There's also a 64GB model, but 128GB is now discontinued. If you can't manage with 16GB then the 64GB version costs £619. That is the same price as the 16GB version of the new 6S Plus.

And let's be straight. 16GB on a modern smartphone is a tiny storage capacity when you can't add to it via a microSD card. Remember that you won't actually get 16GB of usable storage – more like 12GB, and that won't hold many apps, especially if you load it with music and take a lot of photos or videos. So try to afford a 64GB iPhone if you can – you'll thank yourself later, we promise.

The choice colours is now limited to Space Grey and Silver, the gold version in the photos here is no longer on sale.

iPhone 6 Plus gold

Of course, you don’t have to buy your iPhone SIM-Free. However, on contract you will still have to pay an up-front charge as well as the monthly payment, which will work out more expensive overall. Check out where to buy the iPhone 6 Plus, where we lay out all the best deals.

iPhone 6 Plus review: display and headline specs

You probably don’t need us to list specifications for you, but here are the highlights anyway. The iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5in screen with a full HD resolution of 1920x1080. It's the sharpest screen on any Apple device to date at fractionally over 400 pixels per inch. It looks great from any angle, regardless of whether you're browsing for apps on the home screens or reviewing photos and video you just took.

It lacks the 3D Touch capabilities of the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, so you should consider whether or not you'll want the new interactions that are possible with the new pressure-sensitive system. We don't think it's enough of a reason on its own to discount the 6 Plus.

It’s by no means the biggest smartphone or phablet screen, nor is it the sharpest. So-called Quad-HD or QHD screens used by phones including LG’s G3 have four times the resolution of a 1280x720-pixel screen. Since the G3 also has a 5.5in screen, its higher resolution gives it a much higher pixel density of 538ppi, and it really does look fantastic. Here are the two phones side by side:

iPhone 6 Plus vs LG G3

Another rival is the Nexus 6, which to all intents and purposes has a 6in quad-HD screen yet is only fractionally larger than than iPhone 6 Plus. You can read our Nexus 6 review here.

Of course, a lot has happened since the iPhone 6 Plus launched and there are many new phones which have similar size screens. Far from being the outlier, there are loads of alternatives to the 6 Plus, size-wise. However, as we've said, some people will discount all of these phablets because they're just too big. We like it, though.

NFC finally made an appearance in the 6 Plus, but it's only for use with Apple Pay. We are still hopeful Apple will open up the chip to developers so iPhone 6 Plus owners can use it for more than just buying goods and services.

There’s also faster Wi-Fi (802.11ac) compared to previous iPhones and a barometer which is used by the new M8 motion coprocessor to gauge elevation changes and – as many activity trackers do – record when you’ve walked up a flight of stairs. This data can then be read in the Health app which was new in iOS 8. Now, of course, a new iPhone 6 Plus will come with iOS 9.

iPhone 6 Plus review: performance

Performance is excellent, just as you'd expect from one of the most expensive smartphones ever made. The on-paper specifications aren’t all that exciting: Geekbench reports the A8 CPU running at 1.39GHz (roughly 200MHz faster than the iPhone 6), but the iPhone 6 Plus showed it was clearly the fastest iPhone yet with a multi-score average of 2917.

To put this in context, the Samsung Galaxy S5 managed 2869, the iPhone 5s 2556 and the LG G3 2233. The Nexus 6 is quicker - in this synthetic benchmark - with 3304, and the Note 4 isn't far behind with 3272.

In GFXbench 3, the iPhone 6 Plus managed 41.1fps in the older T-Rex test, and 18.7fps in the demanding Manhattan test. Despite having a faster-clocked GPU than the iPhone 6, having to drive the extra pixels takes its toll, and these frame rates are a little lower than the iPhone 6, which scored 49.1fps and 26fps respectively.

In SunSpider 1.0.2 we saw a speedy result of 369ms, making the 6 Plus one of the quickest smartphones we've seen in the web browsing test.

 

GeekBench 3

GFXBench T-Rex

GFXBench Manhattan

SunSpider

Nexus 6

3304

27fps

12fps

791ms

Galaxy Note 4

3272

27fps

11fps

1367ms

LG G3

2233

20fps

7fps

977ms

iPhone 6 Plus

2917

41fps

19fps

369ms

Of course, it doesn’t make sense to buy any product based on benchmark results, let alone a couple of synthetic tests. What matters is real-world performance and battery life.

As you'd expect, the iPhone 6 Plus feels extremely fast in general use. There's no hint of lag or judder throughout iOS 8, nor a delay when launching most apps. One of the areas where you really notice the extra speed - especially if upgrading from an iPhone 5, 5c or 4s - is how quickly the 6 Plus is able to stitch together panoramas (which are now saved in a much higher resolution than before) and compress videos for emailing.

iPhone 6 Plus review: performance

Battery life is certainly a step up from any previous iPhone. In normal use, which in our case is a mix of web browsing, phone calls, watching videos, playing games, taking and editing photos and sharing them on Facebook, we're able to go almost two full days between charges.

Obviously your mileage will vary: battery life is highly dependent on what you're using a smartphone to do. Streaming video over 4G at maximum screen brightness will quickly deplete the battery, whereas checking and sending emails at a medium brightness won't.

Even when really hammering the phone by playing games, watching videos over 4G and lots of mobile web browsing it will still easily last a day. And now, with iOS 9, there's a battery saver mode which ekes out the last 20 percent much longer. Previously, you could turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and dim the screen manually, but this is much easier. We've yet to really notice a big difference with our 6 Plus in battery saver mode, though.

iPhone 6 Plus review: cameras

Until the new iPhones were launched, the 6 Plus had the best rear camera of any iPhone. It may have only an 8Mp sensor but as anyone who knows anything about digital photography will tell you: more pixels does not necessarily equal better quality photos (or video).

The 6 Plus has a couple of features which elevate it above earlier iPhones. One is optical image stabilisation, which even the iPhone 6 lacks. This helps counteract camera shake by physically moving the camera, and leads to sharper images in low light, which is the only time the system is active.

iPhone 6 Plus camera

In most situations, the iPhone 6 Plus takes fantastic photos. It's in its element in good light: details are sharp, colours accurate and exposure spot on. In some photos, quality is noticeably better than the iPhone 5s; in others, there's not that much to separate them. In low light, the 6 Plus wins out, but you're not guaranteed a great shot.

In the shots that aren't blurry, the new camera and processor team up well to eliminate unsightly noise as well as retaining detail. Here's an unedited low-light shot that's only been resized to 1200 pixels wide.

iPhone 6 Plus review: low light

The bottom line is that the 6 Plus is by no means the best phone for taking photos in low light. Some Android phones do a considerably better job. See our phone camera comparison for more.

The test shots below show how the iPhone 6 Plus compares to the iPhone 5s, and there's really very little to tell them apart if you're scrutinisng at the pixel level. These are resized to 1200 pixels wide, but otherwise unedited.

First the iPhone 6 Plus. Click it to enlarge.

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 6 test photo

Now the iPhone 5s, which was taken just moments later:

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 5s test photo

Finally, here are the 100 percent crops so you can see the actual detail which each phone provides, completely unedited:

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 5s test photo

The iPhone 6 Plus is above, the iPhone 5s below.

iPhone 6 Plus review: iPhone 5s test photo

In the videos, you can clearly see the iPhone 6 Plus' stabilisation in action, as the short clip is much smoother than the iPhone 5s'.

First the iPhone 6 Plus:

Below is the iPhone 5s:

The 'Focus Pixels' make a huge difference in video. There's almost no focus hunting - where the camera can't lock onto the subject - and the system is very fast to switch focus between objects at different distances. The stabilisation also lends a real cinematic feel to footage when you're moving, but it can't cope with extreme movement such as when you're running.

Two new modes are time-lapse and 240fps slo-mo. Time-lapse is fun, but you really need to find a place to prop up the phone as hand-held time-lapse movies are usually too jerky. With the new high-frame-rate slow motion setting, hand-held shots are no problem at all. In fact, the problem is that it's still too difficult to share slo-mo videos and the clip below had to be AirDrop-ed to an iPad to create a shareable movie that wasn't as highly compressed as the email option.

Update 24/8/15: How to check whether your iPhone 6 Plus is affected by the camera recall. Apple is recalling a small number of iPhone 6 Plus phones due to a rear camera problem that means they can take only blurry images. It will replace the camera on those models. The affected iPhones were primarily sold between September 2014 and January 2015. To check whether your iPhone 6 Plus is part of the recall, find your serial number in the iPhone's Settings app and enter it here.

iPhone 6 Plus review: software

The iPhone 6 Plus gains some extra features you won’t get on an iPhone with a smaller screen. One is a split-screen or twin-column view in certain apps – just as you already have on the iPad. These are also available in landscape mode, and the home screen also rotates to a landscape view.

Instead of simply making the keyboard keys larger or wider, you get new keys on the iPhone 6 Plus, and more than you’ll see on an iPhone 6. To the left are cut, paste and undo buttons, while on the right are cursor keys and extra punctuation keys. What's frustrating is that there's no option to use the extra screen space for a row of number keys so you don't have to swap between letters and numbers. Also, after months of use, we still prefer using the keyboard in portrait mode as the extra keys change the layout enough to make it harder to type quickly without accidentally tapping those extra keys.

We've already talked about Reachability, which helps to offset the larger screen and enable you to ‘reach’ the whole screen with one hand. When you double-tap on the home button, the top half of the screen slides down to the bottom.

This means your thumb should be able to reach far enough to tap the top row of icons when on the home screen, or swipe down to display the Notification Center. It works in any app, so whenever buttons or options are out of reach, a quick double-tap should sort it out. In practice, this doesn't really work on the iPhone 6 Plus as it's still too big for average-size hands.

After a year, we're disappointed at the slow pace at which apps have been optimised for the iPhone 6 Plus' resolution. Too many are still scaled up to fill the whole display, but most big-name apps do take advantage now.

We've hardly used the landscape home screen because many apps launch in portrait mode and don't even have a landscape mode (yes, Facebook, you're still one of them).

For more on the new features in iOS 9, see our iOS 8 vs iOS 9 comparison

iPhone 6 Plus review

Apple iPhone 6 Plus: Specs

  • A8 processor chip with 64bit architecture and M8 co-processor
  • 5.5-inch 'Retina HD' screen with resolution of 1920 x 1080, pixel density of 401ppi and 1300:1 contrast ratio (typical)
  • Rear-facing camera ('New iSight camera') with 8Mp photos, ƒ/2.2, optical image stabilisation and 1080p video recording
  • Front-facing ('FaceTime' camera) with 1.2Mp photos, ƒ/2.2, 720p video recording and burst mode
  • 16GB/64GB/128GB storage
  • Lightning connector
  • Touch ID fingerprint scanner
  • 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm
  • 172g
  • A8 processor chip with 64bit architecture and M8 co-processor
  • 5.5-inch 'Retina HD' screen with resolution of 1920 x 1080, pixel density of 401ppi and 1300:1 contrast ratio (typical)
  • Rear-facing camera ('New iSight camera') with 8Mp photos, ƒ/2.2, optical image stabilisation and 1080p video recording
  • Front-facing ('FaceTime' camera) with 1.2Mp photos, ƒ/2.2, 720p video recording and burst mode
  • 16GB/64GB/128GB storage
  • Lightning connector
  • Touch ID fingerprint scanner
  • 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm
  • 172g

OUR VERDICT

When we initially wrote this review, the new size was something of an unknown. For many people the iPhone 6 (or iPhone 6S) is the better choice for the reasons we list in our iPhone 6 vs 6 Plus comparison. The truth is that a 5.5in screen isn't quite big enough to enable the 6 Plus to replace a tablet, yet the device is arguably too big and unwieldy as a smartphone. It will suit some people perfectly, especially if you watch a lot of video or play a lot of games, while others will quickly see that it's not for them: it won't fit in their jeans pocket and demands two-handed operation much of the time. One thing is for sure: the iPhone 6 Plus is still expensive. If you're keen to buy one right now, we'd recommend against the 16GB model. And that leaves the 64GB at £619, but if you're already spending this much money, you may as well spend an extra £80 and get the 64GB iPhone 6S Plus. Or, if you can live with a smaller screen, the 64GB iPhone 6S also costs £619. Of course, there is another option: used or refurbished. If you can find a 64GB model at a good price in the refurbished section of Apple's website, it could be a tempting deal compared to the 6S or 6S Plus.

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