The pros and cons of iPhone 6 Plus ownership

After a week of using the iPhone 6 Plus, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes explains where it excels and falls flat, and the changes he'd like to see Apple make.

iPhone 6 Plus
Image: Apple

I've been using the iPhone 6 Plus as my primary smartphone for over a week now, and during that time I've gotten to know Apple's new flagship product pretty well, in particular the pros and cons of owning and using one daily.

Rather than waste your time with a full-blown review, I'm going to keep things simple and to the point, and give you a rundown of what I like and dislike about the iPhone 6 Plus, along with a list of iOS 8 improvements I'd like to see Apple provide to make using the handset easier. And finally, I deliver my verdict.

What I will say from the outset is that this is the first iPhone I've owned where I feel truly torn over how I feel about it. Yes, the iPhone 6 Plus is a great handset, but the ultimate price of ownership isn't the price tag but tolerating a number of compromises. And as a result of that, I don't think that the iPhone 6 Plus is for everyone.

It's easy to think that bigger is always better, but when you're in the realm of 5.5-inch displays, this is not always the case.

Please remember that these are my impressions of iPhone 6 Plus, and you may feel differently. That's OK. I strongly encourage you to read other reviews, and to even go handle one at a store before making a commitment.

Pros

Battery life: I'm really liking the fact that I finally have an iPhone that can not only go for a whole day without needing a recharge, but also a good part of the next day too. Of everything new that the iPhone 6 Plus brings to the table, it is the vastly improved battery life that I love the most.

Brilliant display: The 5.5-inch display of the iPhone 6 Plus is truly gorgeous. Everything from reading ebooks to watching videos to gaming on it feels better thanks to the high-quality screen.

A tool for doing real work: The iPhone 6 Plus is a tool that allows you to get real work done. In fact, I'm amazed how much it has replaced both my iPad and my Kindle Fire HDX over the past week.

Superior camera: The camera on the iPhone 6 Plus isn't just a little better than that found on its predecessor, it's a huge improvement. Sharpness, vibrancy, and low-light shooting abilities are all a huge leap forward.

It's tough: Mine has hit the deck a couple of times with no ill effects, and the screen seems to resist scratches and scrapes well. Despite carrying the iPhone 6 Plus in a pocket, I've not seen any signs of bending at all.

New vibrate motor: Seems like a small point, but the new vibrate motor that Apple has used in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus is simply amazing. It's powerful and beefy, and you can easily feel this even if the handset is being carried in a jacket pocket.

Call quality: The speakers and microphones are superior in every way to previous-generation iPhones, and deliver excellent call quality. 

Cons

It's big: Very big. As in "you're gonna need a bigger boat" big. It fills the hand, and takes up a whole pocket, and looks more like a tablet than a smartphone in the hand. And the size brings with it a number of related downsides that I'm going to cover separately below.

Single-handing the iPhone 6 Plus is out: Unless you've got hands like a bunch of bananas, I can't see you being able to single-handedly use this iPhone 6 Plus. It's just too big. The width – along with the curved edges – makes it hard to get a proper grip on the handset, and the length of it makes getting to the Home button with the thumb almost impossible.

Carry is tricky: This thing fills a pocket, and a belt pouch – which has been my preferred iPhone carry method over the past few years – needs to be comically large.

A case just makes it bigger: Putting the iPhone 6 Plus into a case might add a bit of grip-ability and increased robustness to the handset, but it also makes it bigger.

Charging the battery takes a long time: You're talking almost three hours using the supplied iPhone charger to go from 5 percent to full-charge. However, if you have an iPad charger handy, or a free powered USB port, then use that since it makes the process significantly faster.

Few UI improvements to compensate for the increased size: Sure, I can double-tap the Home button to bring the top of the screen down, but this is an awkward gesture given how top-heavy the iPhone 6 Plus feels. I know it's tricky to get user interfaces right, but after only using the iPhone 6 Plus for an hour or so I'd already come up with possible improvements, which I'll go through later. I would have expected Apple to have put more thought into this.

The on/off button is in an awkward spot: I keep hitting the volume buttons when using it. It's annoying. Did Jony Ive never pick up the iPhone 6 Plus off a table, or take it out of a pocket?

The mute switch is too easy to knock about: I lost count of how many times I knocked that mute switch back and forth over the past week. A case makes it harder to move accidentally, but if Jony Ive designed the iPhone 6 Plus with a case in mind, then why didn't he supply one with the handset?

Rough fit and finish: Small things like the glass has a rough edge around the fingerprint reader that catches the fingernail, the SIM tray not fitting totally flush against the chassis, and the poor way that the headphones jack fits against the curved socket all cheapen the feel of an otherwise awesome handset. I'm not sure if this is down to sloppy quality control because Apple was rushing out handsets to fulfil launch orders, or sloppy design.

Sluggish: There's a very pronounced sluggishness to iOS 8 on the iPhone 6 Plus that's not present on the iPhone 6. I'm confident that this is an optimization issue, but it's still annoying on what is a flagship handset.

Areas that need improvement

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I'm not expecting Apple to make any huge changes to the hardware, so that leaves just the software to look at.

Here are some UI improvements that I'd like to see in future iOS 8.x releases:

  • iOS 8 feels sluggish on the iPhone 6 Plus, and iOS 8.0.2 hasn't done anything to address that.
  • The UI feels flaky. Sometimes the Home Screen won't shift from vertical to horizontal, and other times flipping between the two seems to cause font sizes to change. This is messy and inconsistent.
  • Replace the double-tap on the Home button gesture with something better, maybe the swipe down currently used to bring up the search box.
  • Give the keyboard a left- and right-handed mode, where the keyboard is back to the old "thumb-friendly" size and put it on the left or right hand side of the display.
  • Allow more icons to be placed on the ribbon at the bottom of the screen. The only way my Thumb is going to reach the top of the screen is after a million years of evolution, and I don't have time for that.

Verdict

I like my iPhone 6 Plus, but… and it's that "but" that's the problem.

If I were to give it up today, the main thing that I would miss is not the bigger display but the battery life. The display certainly lets me get more work done, but it's the improved battery life that contributes the most to that enhanced efficiency. This surprised me, because I was expecting my love for the smartphone to revolve around the display.

The problem with the display is that while a 5.5-inch display brings with it benefits, most of these are canceled out by problems that the having a big screen brings with it. The iPhone 6 Plus doesn't feel optimized for the 5.5-inch display, and I'm left feeling that Apple just took the 4.7-inch model and scaled it up, rather than design the handset with a 5.5-inch display in mind from the ground up. iOS 8 could certainly be tweaked to make the experience better (see above), but realizing that just makes me wonder why Apple didn't do this in the first place. I'm hoping that Apple doesn't wait until iOS 9 to do this, because that would be unacceptable.

So, bottom line, you're left with a compromise, and the decision of whether the iPhone 6 Plus is for you or not comes down to whether you can live with the downsides. And that's a tough call. If you want a handset that's easy to pocket and that you can use single-handed, then the iPhone 6 Plus really isn't for you. If you like the appeal of a larger display or better battery life, then tread carefully

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