iPhone 6 Plus Review: INSANE Battery Life, Great Performance

Reviews Richard Goodwin 12:50, 11 Nov 2015

BIGGER and then some, we test out Apple's phablet-sized iPhone 6 Plus. But is it a better choice than the iPhone 6?

Typical Price: 
Excellent camera; Insane processing power; Premium build materials; Brilliant battery life; Great Ecosystem; Gorgeous Display;
Might be too large for some users; Curved edges make it slippy in the hand; Aluminium finish means case is a MUST
If you’ve ever been interested in buying an iPhone, but, for whatever reason, have consistently gone elsewhere, then the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are the handsets you’ve been waiting for

It has been over a year since Apple released the iPhone 6 Plus and in that time quite a bit has happened. Samsung has released a bunch of phones, BlackBerry has adopted Android and, back in September, Apple unleashed its new iPhones -- the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. I’m still using my iPhone 6 Plus, though, and it is still running perfectly. It does have a slight crack in its front from when I dropped it but other than that this is by far and away the best phone I have ever owned -- bar none. 

Apple didn't get to where it is today by doing what everyone else is doing. No sir, Apple is one of the most successful and profitable companies (tech or otherwise) that has ever existed (with more money than the US government!) because it has long marched to the beat of its own drum, forging its own path to victory in whatever tech sector it decides to turn its efforts to; desktops, laptops, phones, tablets - you name it.

That's not to say that Apple doesn't have its finger on the pulse of what appeals to consumers. It most certainly does. But by and large it is coherent with its own vision rather than whatever rival firms are experimenting with

But while that is definitely the company's MO something like 90% of the time, it's also savvy enough to know that it doesn't exist in a vaccum, and every now and then, Apple sits up, looks at what the consumer base at large seems to like about competing tech, and adapts accordingly. This is usually pretty jarring for the Apple faithful, who get pretty comfy with doing things the Apple way.

September 2014 marks only the second time Apple has adapted its iPhone line-up in this way, to keep pace with popular moves made by its biggest competitors. Apple recognised that larger displays had become very popular, its 3.5in and 4in sized iPhones couldn't compete with bigger touchscreens for much longer. Change was afoot, and as evolution and natural selection tells us with "survival of the fittest", you either adapt to change or you become extinct.

So the iPhone 5S design was put to bed, and the iPhone 6 presented a complete revamp; an all new design with a much more rounded bodyshell and a larger 4.7in touchscreen. On top of this, Apple also jumped on the phablet bandwagon with a new and entirely separate model; the 5.5in iPhone 6 Plus - the biggest smartphone the company has ever produced.

I’ve been using both handsets since they went on sale, and throughout the past couple of months my usage habits have fluctuated. At first I was completely enamored by the iPhone 6, preferring the way it looked, handled and fitted in my pocket. I largely ignored the iPhone 6 Plus. But then, when it came to testing, I used it solidly for two weeks and was, quite literally, blown away by its battery performance. Coming from a Nexus 5, the size change took awhile to get used to but now, after a few months, I’m completely at home with the device. I’m pointing this out now because though the iPhone 6 Plus is BIG it does come with a lot of benefits sorely missing on Google’s Nexus 6 –– and the main one is battery performance. 

Both handsets are selling in insane numbers too –– over 70 million shipments in three months. Apple posted record quarterly revenue of $74.6 billion and record quarterly net profit of $18 billion, a HUGE bump from last year’s revenue of $57.6 billion and net profit of $13.1 billion. The company also confirmed that international sales (hello, China!) accounted for 65% of the quarter’s revenue. 

As of May 15, reports have emerged that Apple may sell over 50 million iPhone units during 2015's second quarter. Analytics firm UBS released predicted figures of 51.1 million iPhones, higher than Wall Street predictions of 45 million, but in the same ballpark as prominent analyst Ming-Chi Kuo who expects 51.4 million.

As per earlier reports, UBS believes Apple's recent upsurge in the rapidly growing Chinese market may be largely responsible for the boom in sales leading to these estimates. But Apple does have some rather stiff competition now in the form of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 EDGE. Below is an extract from our Samsung Galaxy S6 Review –– it got 5/5 by the way, and that literally NEVER happens. 

Impressed. Very, very impressed. This is the handset Samsung fans have been waiting for… an actual contender that surpasses Apple’s iPhone in almost every regard. Samsung might have made some erroneous mistakes in the past but all is forgiven now because the Galaxy S6 is easily one of the finest handsets I’ve ever tested. It's great at imaging. It performs great. It looks great. Hell, it’s even got a decent battery life AND a QHD display. 

And it is this latter point which makes the Galaxy S6 so damn compelling. I’ve never tested a QHD handset with decent battery life, even the one’s with HUGE 3000mAh+ setups. This is a HUGE USP for Samsung and one it will likely continue to exploit in 2015 with the release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, which is tipped to feature an even more powerful screen –– not that you need one. 

Samsung hasn’t produced a handset this compelling since, well, as long as I can remember. Like all good things, it is difficult to pin down exactly what makes this device so good, because it isn’t just one thing by itself. It’s more like a symphony of attributes, engineered perfectly, which combine to create a truly brilliant smartphone experience across the board. The Galaxy S6 does EVERYTHING and, best of all, it feels like it has plenty more in the tank should you need it. 

Let's now take a closer look at Apple's "phablet" –– the iPhone 6 Plus. 

iPhone 6 Plus Review: Design 

Even Apple admits the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6 are pretty much the same deal, save for the display size and addition of Optical Image Stabilisation on the Plus. They do look the same too, again, save for the Plus’ overall size and weight difference. A lot has already been said about the design of Apple’s new handsets, specifically, how thin the iPhone 6 Plus is (hello, bendgate) and the antenna bands that run around the back of both handsets. 

Personally, I rather like the look of both handsets. They’re thin, almost too thin in the iPhone 6 Plus’ case, feel premium to the touch, and are very easy on the eye. They both still look like iPhones, though, so if you weren’t a fan of the iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s chances are you’re not going to a fan of these devices, either. But if you do like impossibly thin handsets that are massive then the iPhone 6 Plus is perhaps right up your street. 

For a lot of traditional iPhone users the iPhone 6 Plus might be too big a jump from Apple’s usual 4in iPhones. I think this handset is aimed at pulling in Android users, as they’re used to using handsets of this size in their everyday lives. The strategy definitely worked too; Apple sold a HUGE amount of iPhones in 2014/15 and most new adopters, according to Tim Cook, came from Android.

I say, massive, and I really do mean it –– the iPhone 6 Plus feels positively enormous in the hand compared to handsets with similarly sized displays like the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The reason for this is Apple’s huge bezels on the top and bottom of the phone, which add in an inch or two to the overall size of the handset. I get why the bottom bezel is so large –– it’s where TouchID lives –– but the top one… could that not have been reduced ever so slightly? Probably not as it’d screw the whole design of the phone up, but after testing A LOT of Android phones this year, there is definitely something to be said about large, phablet-sized panels and bezels that just get out of the way. Handle the LG G3 and then the iPhone 6 Plus and you’ll get what I’m on about. The difference in how the two phones handle is incredible, so much so you’d never believe they had the same size display. 

As I said earlier, design is subjective. Some people like phablets; others prefer handsets with displays under 5inches. I definitely fall into the latter camp, however, which is why I prefer the iPhone 6. And the reason for this is threefold: 1) I use my phone a lot, especially when on the move, so I prefer one I can use single-handedly; 2) I like a phone to fit snugly in my pocket, not take over the entire thing; and, 3) when a handset is too big, it feels unstable in my hand and I constantly worry about dropping it.

The drop-worry is a real issue, again, this is a big phone, and a thin phone, with rounded and smooth aluminium edges. It doesn't take a doctorate in physics to figure out why this might be a problem; getting a good grip on this device can be tricky and I constantly felt like it was about to fly out of my hand. 

Exact measurements for the iPhone 6 Plus are 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1 mm and it weighs 179g. As previously noted, the iPhone 6 Plus feels impossibly thin, however, to fully appreciate this aspect you really do have to handle one, so be sure to pop into your nearest Apple Store or phone shop to check it out. Aside from this the overall finish, look and styling of the handset is pretty much flawless –– Apple knows how to make good-looking phones and tablets.

As a phablet, though, I do think Apple has bitten off more than it can chew which is common mistake made by a lot of manufacturers when tackling the troublesome phablet phone. Take Samsung: it’s taken a good few generations of its Note device to really nail the design and overall experience, so much so that nowadays, with the Galaxy Note 4, which, by the way, has a larger display than the iPhone 6 Plus, you feel like you’re using a smaller handset than you actually are… and the main reason for this is because Samsung actually tried to figure out HOW to build a phone experience around a larger-than-normal display, not just make a bigger version of its Galaxy S handset. And that’s the big difference here, really.  

The iPhone 6 Plus, like the Galaxy Note 4, is still an excellent piece of kit. And if you’ve been waiting for Apple to do something similar to what’s been going on in the Android space for what seems like eons now, the iPhone 6 Plus will be a largely rewarding experience. I would suggest before committing to either the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 Plus that you try each out –– ahead of testing I was all about the iPhone 6 Plus, but after two weeks with both I am now firmly of the opinion that the iPhone 6, with its smaller 4.7in display, is the one for me. 

Design’s subjective, so make sure you make the right choice for you, and the only way to be 100% sure about which is the best fit for your needs is to try everything out before purchase. Beyond size, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, in the grand scheme of things, are identical, so all it really boils down to is how big do you want it? 

iPhone 6 Plus Review: Display 

The iPhone 6 Plus uses a 5.5in IPS LCD panel with a display resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, which translates into a pixel density of 401 ppi. Compared to handsets like the LG G3 and the Galaxy Note 4, that’s quite a shortfall, but the panel itself is very capable, producing exact colour reproduction and contrast. Viewing angles are also good, and the reduction of space between the actual display-glass and the pixels themselves makes for a more immersive viewing experience –– it feels like you’re touching pixels. 

The iPhone 6 Plus’ display is better than the iPhone 6’s setup, both on paper and in the flesh. It outperformed every other LCD panel ever tested by Display Mate too, which is no mean feat considering the competition its up against and the fact the analysis company has been testing panels since 2006. 

“The new 5.5-inch iPhone reached or broke records in a variety of areas, including highest peak brightness, lowest screen reflectance, highest contrast ratio, highest contrast rating in ambient light, most accurate intensity scale and gamma and most accurate image contrast.”

So, yeah, the iPhone 6 Plus might not have the QHD pixel count, but it sure as sugar makes up for it in other areas that are, arguably, more important to the average user in any given normal usage case scenario. The larger panel also means the iPhone 6 Plus is better suited for watching films and TV shows and playing games like BioShock. 

Overall display quality is also one key area where Apple could easily differentiate the two handsets as well… because beyond size, as I’ve said multiple times already, there really isn’t much to separate these two handsets. Technically the iPhone 6 Plus has the superior panel. But realistically the difference in everyday settings is fairly unimpressive, with both panels producing excellent results in nearly every setting. 

One slight issue I do have with the iPhone 6 Plus’ larger, higher resolution display is to do with applications. Basically, a lot of core applications have not been updated for the iPhone 6 Plus’ higher resolution display, and the result is pixelated applications which look bloody horrific. During our testing period, one of the worst offenders, annoyingly, was one of our most-used apps, Whatsapp. Urghhh! Still, in a matter of weeks, this issue will likely be a moot point as more and more developers update their applications. Even so, it’s still a valid issue and is definitely worth a mention in the context of this review, as it was one of the first things I noticed when I first started using the Plus. 

iPhone 6 Plus Review: Hardware (CPU, RAM, Storage, Connectivity) 

Inside Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset is the law. It’s also one of the most powerful mobile processors on the planet, offering up support for 4K displays and 55MP cameras, as well as LTE-A and CAT 6 carrier aggregation to name but a few USPs. Apple, however, does things a bit differently…

The iPhone 5s saw Apple switch over to 64-bit with the advent of the A7 chipset. Inside the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, you’re looking at the next step in that process, the A8. As usual though, Apple was mightily secretive about its new chipset, preferring to offer up arbitrary stats on performance than actual specifics about what’s actually inside its 2014 kit. Thanks to plenty of digging around, however, we now have a pretty good idea about what’s cooking inside Apple’s new A8 chipset.

The chip itself is a 20nm setup and comprises two Enhanced Cyclone ARMv8 64-bit cores. As for the GPU, you’re looking at a quad-core IMG PowerVR GX6450 setup –– the straight up successor to the A7’s G6430. The iPhone 6 Plus, like the iPhone 6, still uses 1GB of RAM which is again barely anything compared to handsets like the LG G3, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and soon to be released Google Nexus 6. But this latter aspect should be of no concern to the everyday user, as the iPhone 6 Plus’ performance is pretty much off the charts (even compared to its higher-powered, Android counterparts).

Why? Simple: everything is designed from the chipboard up to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. There isn’t one aspect of the iPhone 6 Plus’ engineering that Apple isn’t directly involved in –– it exercises its OCD in all areas equally, and the end result is perfectly optimised components that work together seamlessly over prolonged periods of time without fault. This is one of the reasons why Apple fans stay with Apple: they trust the hardware, they know they’ll get software support for at least two years, and they don’t mind paying a little extra for the privilege. 

In terms of real work performance, the iPhone 6 Plus absolutely screams along, feeling snappier and more fluid than its predecessors. But this was always going to be the case. That’s just progress. One area where you really will see BIG improvements, though, is inside games like Modern Combat 5, Asphalt 8: Airborne, Beach Buggy Racing and Epic Zen Garden, which were created using Apple’s new Metal developer tool and illustrate, pretty profoundly, just what these new iPhones and their A8 chipsets are capable of. 

One added benefit of the iPhone 6 Plus’ larger chassis is that CPU/GPU heat is dissipated more effectively throughout the handset, resulting in a far cooler in-hand experience than its smaller sibling when performing extended component-intensive tasks like gaming. 

In general, performance has been palpably improved over last year’s model –– and I don’t just mean in benchmarks, either. You can see and feel the difference, whether you’re looking at battery life, how it runs games, or whether just moving around iOS’ UX or using applications or Safari. Everything is faster, tighter and smoother. In this regard, I have zero complaints. The iPhone 6 Plus, like most modern handsets, has an INSANE amount of processing grunt under the hood when you consider what the average punter does with their phone! 

Specs aren’t everything. This is something Apple has long maintained, as it believes with the right level of optimisations and proper integration between software and hardware, an iPhone can out-perform an Android handset with plenty more processing grunt under the hood. This was recently shown to be true very recently in a benchmark comparing the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus against the hugely powerful Samsung Galaxy S6 has revealed. 

“The Galaxy S6 packs a bleeding-edge octa-core Exynos processor, 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM and lightning fast UFS 2.0 flash memory. But since all of that tech has to support a quad HD display, graphics performance takes a significant hit as a result,” reports BGR.

"As we can clearly see in the graphics performance test results above, the 720p and 1080p displays on Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus allow for graphics performance that crushes Samsung’s new flagship smartphone."

With regards to storage, you have three flavours: 16GB, 64GB and 128GB. There’s no MicroSD-support, for obvious reasons, but should you go for a 16GB model you can quickly supplant the internal storage of the device with an extra 20GB of iCloud storage for just £0.79 a month. With LTE, Apple is including support for 20-bands (the most inside any consumer smartphone) and a modem that’ll kick out speeds of up to 150mbps (handy, now EE has unleashed its LTE-A network in London). 

Both iPhones feature NFC but the only reason for its inclusion is Apple Pay and that, as we all know, is kind of a moot point because we won’t be getting Apple Pay in the UK until at least Q2 2015 (and that’s a conservative estimate). And Apple, in true Apple-style, has decided not to open up the NFC chip to developers, instead preferring to lock it down as a latent feature that will only come into being once Apple Pay is rolled out in the UK. That means no tap-to-pair functionality and no using EE’s Cash on Tap app to travel around London. Boo!!!

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