Apple iPhone 6 Plus (64GB) review: A classy 'iPhablet'

apple-iphone-6-plus-64gb-review-a-classy-iphablet.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.9 Outstanding
  • $749.99

Pros

  • Elegant slimline chassis with 5.5-inch screen
  • Solid build quality
  • Performance boost over iPhone 5s
  • Good battery life
  • Optical image stabilisation on iSight camera

Cons

  • Some users will find the large screen hard to navigate
  • Expensive
  • No storage expansion
  • No NFC-enabled Apple Pay support outside the US

This year, Apple has launched almost -- but not quite -- identical handsets apart from the screen size. We've already evaluated Apple's new 4.7-inch iPhone 6 , and now it's the turn of the larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. In 2013, by contrast, we got the premium iPhone 5s and the more affordable iPhone 5c, both with 4-inch displays and both still available (you can compare all iPhone models at Apple's website).

The iPhone 6 Plus is the biggest phone Apple has ever made. It's also the most expensive, the top-end 128GB version costing an eye-watering £789 (inc. VAT, £657.50 ex. VAT) SIM free. Three sent us the mid-range 64GB version, which it is selling from £44 a month with a £99 upfront cost. This model costs £699 (inc. VAT, £582.50 ex. VAT) SIM-free from Apple.

iphone-6plus-6.jpg
The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, next to the otherwise very similar 4.7-inch iPhone 6. Image: Apple

Design

Time was when Apple would have dismissed the idea of a large-screen handset. Then again, this reviewer once thought a 4.5-inch screen was pushing the boundaries. Times and user requirements have changed, and the appearance of a 5.5-inch screen in an iPhone is no surprise. Nor is the fact that Apple has presented it in a near-faultless design.

The physical design is the same as that of the smaller iPhone 6. Button placement is identical with the power button on the right, volume buttons and mute switch on the left. The headset and proprietary Lightning connector are on the bottom edge, along with the handset's single speaker.

Large top and bottom screen bezels are a characteristic of Apple's handsets, but this makes for a tall phone in the case of the iPhone 6 Plus. Compare its 158.1mm height to 150.7mm for the 5.3-inch Sony Xperia T3 , or just 146.3mm for the 5.5-inch LG G3 . The plus side of the large screen bezels is the ease with which you can hold the handset in landscape mode for video watching or gaming, although you do need to take care not to cover the speaker in this orientation.

Top ZDNET Reviews

Sound quality from the single speaker is noticeably better than from the smaller iPhone 6 -- indeed it's among the best we've heard. Having said that, front-mounted stereo speakers might deliver an even better audio experience.

The screen occupies an ion-strengthened glass front that curves down to meet the handset's aluminium edges. These in turn curve into the back of the phone, whose metal expanse is broken by plastic antenna strips, plus the camera lens and TrueTone LED flash unit.

The camera lens protrudes slightly, which means that when the handset is flat on a desk it rocks from side to side as you tap the screen in a way we found quite annoying.

There's nothing Apple could have done about this apart from increase the thickness of the handset, which is not something we'd have liked to see. The 7.1mm-thick chassis is one of the iPhone 6 Plus's remarkable design features.

The thin profile means that even at 77.8mm wide and 158.1mm tall the iPhone 6 Plus feels comfortable in the hand. It has to be said, though, that smaller hands simply won't be able to reach across the screen. Apple has a wheeze to help out in the shape of its 'Reachability' feature, which also appears in the iPhone 6: make two taps on the home button and the screen falls towards the bottom of the handset.

iphone-6plus-reachability.jpg
A double-tap on the home button brings the top three icon layers within easier reach. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

This feels somewhat unwieldy, leaving an empty space at the top of the phone, but means you might just be able to reach the notifications area. I still couldn't stretch across the width of the phone, though. The most elegant and ergonomic solution for one-handed operation on a large screen remains Samsung's screen-shrinkage system used in the Galaxy S5.

Tales of bent iPhone 6 Plus handsets led us to apply quite severe pressure on the handset to see if it would bend. We found the aluminium chassis to be pretty tough: it's undoubtedly possible to bend the phone in your hands, but you'd have to apply a lot of force. In short, we didn't find the iPhone 6 Plus particularly vulnerable or poorly made in comparison to other large-screen smartphones.

Features

There's plenty of processing power behind the iPhone 6 Plus, which, like the smaller iPhone 6, uses the new 20nm dual-core Apple A8 SoC running at 1.4GHz. The 64-bit main processor is accompanied by a motion coprocessor, in this case the new M8, that offloads processing relating to sensor data (accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and barometer) for improved power efficiency. The iPhone 6 Plus, like its smaller sibling, comes with 1GB of RAM.

Internal storage is capped thanks to Apple's policy of not providing a MicroSD card slot. Three sent us the 64GB model, which had 54GB of free capacity. There's no 32GB version: your other choices are either 16GB (likely to leave you with around 11-12GB free), or the most expensive 128GB model. You also get 5GB of free online storage with your iCloud account, which you can upgrade to 20GB, 200GB or 1TB for a monthly fee (see Apple's website for prices).

As with the iPhone 6, Touch ID fingerprint recognition worked flawlessly, although I found it impossible to login when holding the phone one-handed.

Dual-band 802.11ac wi-fi is supported, along with Bluetooth 4.0 LE and LTE mobile broadband -- now with expanded coverage of 20 frequency bands. NFC is also present, but disappointingly it's currently redundant as far as UK users are concerned: it's configured solely for Apple Pay, which is only available in the US at present.

The iPhone 6 Plus's roster of sensors now includes a barometer, which can be used to gather altitude-related data as part of its assault on the health and wellness sector. There's an iOS 8 Health app too, which can aggregate relevant information from a number of sources.

The main 8-megapixel iSight camera offers good autofocus speed (thanks to a new sensor with additional Focus Pixels), 43-megapixel panoramas, a time-lapse video mode, 1,080p video at 60fps and slow-motion 720p video at up to 240fps. The 1.2-megapixel Facetime HD camera, meanwhile, gets improved face detection, a burst mode and HDR video. Optical image stabilisation when shooting video is supported on the iPhone 6 Plus, but absent from its smaller sibling.

iphone-6plus-keyboard.jpg
Extra keys are available when you use the on-screen keyboard in landscape mode. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Meanwhile, Apple has taken advantage of the larger 5.5-inch screen size to offer some additional keyboard features in landscape mode. Cut, copy and paste tools, full-stop, comma, cursor movement, question mark and explanation mark all make an appearance and can speed up typing. Sadly, though, there's no dedicated number row. However, iOS 8 does support third-party keyboards for the first time, so you can experiment with alternatives such as Swiftkey or Swype.

The 5.5-inch screen has a full-HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, giving a pixel density of 401ppi. Apple calls this 'Retina HD'. You can find higher resolutions -- the 5.5-inch LG G3 , for example, delivers 2,560 by 1,440 pixels for a class-leading pixel density of 534ppi. Still, the IPS screen on the iPhone 6 Plus is superbly sharp and bright, with great viewing angles. If you find text a little small, you can opt to permanently zoom the display, a feature also supported on the iPhone 6.

Performance & battery life

Like the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus is powered by the 1.4GHz Apple A8 SoC with 1GB of RAM. We ran a number of benchmarks on the iPhone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus -- and also, for comparison, on a high-end Android phone, Samsung's Galaxy S5 .

The Geekbench 3 CPU test examines integer, floating-point and memory performance, in single-core and multi-core modes:

iphone-6plus-geekbench.jpg

The Sunspider 1.0.2 test evaluates JavaScript performance:

iphone-6plus-sunspider.jpg

The AnTuTu benchmark examines several subsystems -- UX (User eXperience), RAM, CPU, GPU and I/O:

iphone-6plus-antutu.jpg

Although it's unwise to read too much into mobile benchmarks, these results do indicate that the A8-powered iPhone 6 Plus (and iPhone 6) delivers an incremental speed improvement over the A7-powered iPhone 5s, and that it can more than hold its own against high-end Android handsets in terms of performance.

We found battery life on the iPhone 6 something of a disappointment, but the opposite is true for its larger sibling. During the test period, the iPhone 6 Plus's 2,915mAh/11.1Wh battery kept us going happily for two days, and we think Apple has done a good job of balancing thinness with battery capacity.

The official battery life claims for the iPhone 6 Plus (with those for the iPhone 6 in parentheses), are: 24 hours of 3G talk (14h); 16 days on standby (10 days); 12 hours of internet use on LTE, 3G and wi-fi (10h on LTE and 3G, 11h on wi-fi); 80 hours of audio playback (50h); and 14 hours of video playback (11h).

Conclusion

While there's lots to like about the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, we also have some grumbles. The speaker grille is easily covered by the hand, for instance, while Apple's 'reachability' method for accessing the large screen feels like a bit of a fudge. We also still hanker for storage expansion, and the price is high.

Still, the iPhone 6 Plus delivers better battery life and audio quality than the smaller iPhone 6, along with superb design and solid build quality. If money were no object, we'd choose the 5.5-inch model over its 4.7-inch sibling.

Specifications

Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor, digital compass, barometer
Additional Features Multitasking, FaceTime, AirPlay wireless streaming, AirDrop function, Wi-Fi Calling, Skyline Notification, M8 motion coprocessor
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
Application Software Calculator, Calendar, Keynote, Mail, Maps, Messages, Music, Newsstand, Notes, Numbers, Pages, Passbook, Camera, Phone, Photos, Podcasts, Reminders, Safari, Siri, Stocks, Videos, Voice Memos, Weather, Clock, iBooks, iCloud, Compass, Contacts, Control Center, FaceTime, Game Center, Health
Type smartphone
Integrated Components front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / CDMA2000 1X 2100/1900/800 / AWS 1700/2100
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider Verizon Wireless
Operating System Family iOS
Operating System iOS 8
Payment Technology Apple Pay
SIM Card Type nano SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
General
SAR Value 1.16 W/kg (body) / 1.14 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Space gray
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Mobile Services App Store, Apple Maps, FaceTime, Game Center, Health, Keynote, Mail, Maps, Messages, Music, Newsstand, Notes, Apple Pay, Numbers, Pages, Passbook, Phone, Photos, Podcasts, Reminders, Safari, Siri, Stocks, Calculator, Video Call, Videos, Voice Memos, Weather, iBooks, iCloud, iTunes Radio, iTunes Store, Calendar, Camera, Clock, Compass, Contacts, Control Center
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Facebook, Twitter
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Color space gray
Color Category gray
Body Material anodized aluminum, glass, stainless steel
Processor
Manufacturer Apple
64-bit Architecture Yes
Display
Technology Retina HD display with IPS technology
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Pixel Density (ppi) 401
Contrast Ratio 1300:1
Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Protection fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Color Support color
Display Languages Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Catalan, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Chinese (simplified), Thai, Turkish, UK English, US English, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Chinese (traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English
Features Display Zoom, Dual-domain pixels, Landscape Views, Reachability (screen shifting)
Communications
Communication Features Internet browser, mobile Email client
Data Transmission DC-HSDPA, EDGE, EV-DO, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE, VoLTE
4G LTE Band Band 1, Band 13, Band 29, Band 3, Band 4, Band 5, Band 7, Band 8, Band 17, Band 18, Band 19, Band 2, Band 20, Band 25, Band 26, Band 28
Data Transmission Operating Frequency LTE 700 APT/700b/700c/700 de/800/800 DD/850/900/1800/1900/2100/2600/AWS
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Manufacturer Warranty
Service & Support Limited warranty - 1 year
Technical support - consulting - 90 days
Organizer
Personal Information Management alarm clock, calculator, calendar, reminder, synchronization with PC
Camera
Digital Zoom 3
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Features Burst mode, Cinematic video stabilization, True Tone flash, auto exposure, backside illumination sensor, face detection, iSight camera, panoramic pictures, photo and video geotagging, picture stabilizer, sapphire crystal lens cover, tap to focus, Continuous autofocus, video recording, video stabilizer, FaceTime HD camera, Focus Pixels, IR filter, Multi-shots, Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS), Slow motion video, Time-lapse mode
Front-facing Camera 1.2 Megapixel
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards AVI, MOV, M-JPEG, MPEG-4, H.264, M4V
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, AAC, AIFF, PCM, Audible, MP3, Apple Lossless, AAC-LC, HE-AAC, Audible AAX, Audible AAX+, protected AAC
Environmental Parameters
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Humidity Range Operating 5 - 95% (non-condensing)
Location
Navigation Software & Services Apple Maps
Battery
Technology Lithium ion
Run Time Details Talk (WCDMA): up to 1440 min
Standby: up to 384 hrs
Active online usage (WCDMA): up to 12 hrs
Active online usage (LTE): up to 12 hrs
Active online usage (Wi-Fi): up to 12 hrs
Playback (video): up to 14 hrs
Playback (audio): up to 80 hrs
Digital Camera
Digital Zoom 3
Lens Aperture f/2.2
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Video Recorder Resolutions 1920 x 1080 (1080p)
Features Burst mode, Cinematic video stabilization, True Tone flash, auto exposure, backside illumination sensor, face detection, iSight camera, panoramic pictures, photo and video geotagging, picture stabilizer, sapphire crystal lens cover, tap to focus, Continuous autofocus, video recording, video stabilizer, FaceTime HD camera, Focus Pixels, IR filter, Multi-shots, Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS), Slow motion video, Time-lapse mode
Navigation System
Navigation Software & Services Apple Maps
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple iPhone
Model 6 Plus
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features AirDrop function, AirPlay wireless streaming, FaceTime, M8 motion coprocessor, Skyline Notification, Wi-Fi Calling, multitasking
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC, AAC-LC, WAV, protected AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, Audible, Audible AAX, HE-AAC, MP3, PCM
Supported Digital Video Standards AVI, H.264, M-JPEG, M4V, MOV, MPEG-4
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 16 GB
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 8 pixels
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty, technical support
Service Included consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year, 90 days
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 1.2 Megapixel
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Dimensions & Weight
Width 3.1 in
Depth 0.3 in
Height 6.2 in
Weight 6.07 oz

Where To Buy

Price
$749.99

Top ZDNET Reviews

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Where To Buy

Apple iPhone 6 Plus (16GB, space gray)

Part Number: MGAX2LL/A
Price
$749.99

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All