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Apple iPhone 6 Plus (hands on): Already replaced my Android phone

The biggest iPhone yet has hit the streets, and reports indicate sales in the millions. Is it worth all the fuss?
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By James Kendrick on
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1 of 13 James Kendrick/ZDNET

iPhone 6 Plus first impressions

I stated that my next phone would be the iPhone 6 when it was first announced months ago. I planned to wait a while after it was available to avoid the feeding frenzy that a new iPhone brings. I didn’t wait after all, I decided to get an iPhone 6 Plus rather than wait weeks that customers are now being told it will take to get one.

After using the iPhone 6 Plus for a couple of days, I am glad I didn’t wait. It isn't all a bed of roses, but using the iPhone 6 Plus for two days I can state that the user experience (UX) is great.

How to buy a new phone: The CNET smartphone buying guide

This isn’t a full review, I’ll leave that to my ZDNet colleague Matt Miller who will have one written shortly. Instead, these are my first impressions of the iPhone 6 Plus. This article is largely due to the rash of questions I am receiving from those interested in this big iPhone. This should answer all of those questions.

Update: Matt Miller's great review of the iPhone 6 Plus is live and those interested in the phone should check it out.

Hardware: Slippery when dry

The hardware inside the iPhone 6 Plus is not revolutionary, in many ways it is playing catch up with the competition. And Apple has caught up.

The latest CPU from Apple is fast, and it works well with iOS 8. My iPhone is the gold model with 128GB of storage. That much storage is overkill for my needs but it’s pretty cool having so much storage available.

See also:Apple Watch: A slave of the iPhone? | This is what happens when tech and fashion collide | What's right (and wrong) with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus | Business models disrupted by the iPhone 6, the Apple Watch, and Apple Pay

The 5.5-inch display is gorgeous. Everything is displayed crisply, even the smallest of text. Screens on other devices I use, all of high density, appear to be lower resolution than the iPhone 6 Plus display.

As for the large size of the Plus, owners of previous iPhones will find it to be large, perhaps too much so. I replaced a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 with the iPhone 6 Plus and don’t find the latter to be too large to be comfortable. It’s not much bigger than the Note 2 when you compare them side-by-side (see photos in slide show).

The 8MP camera on the iPhone 6 Plus is no match for the ones found on some Nokia phones but it works for me. I'm no photographer by any means and Apple has done a good job with the camera hardware and software to get around my lack of expertise.

It is designed for simple point and shoot usage, and this yields good results almost every time. Most users should be happy with the photos they take, even in low light conditions. I've taken some photos in the dark under dim candle light and they turned out very well. In one photo the background looks like daylight.

I was surprised to see the camera doesn’t extend much from the back of the iPhone. After seeing complaints on the web I thought it would stick out more than it does. With a thin case on the iPhone 6 Plus it’s a non-issue as the case makes it perfectly flat. It isn’t much of a problem without a case anyway.

Performance of the iPhone 6 Plus is excellent. Graphics display smoothly, and there are no lags whatsoever. This is the way phones should work as it provides a good UX.

The aluminum case on the iPhone is nice but is too slippery for my taste. Just like holding current iPads, holding the naked iPhone in the hand is almost dangerous. I’ve already almost dropped it once, and seen others do the same. As attractive as the casing is, Apple should address this shortcoming in the future. A pricey new phone should fit well in the hand, and securely at that.

That's why I bought a thin silicone case at the Verizon store when I got the iPhone. I don’t know which company makes it as it is branded by Verizon. It adds little weight and thickness to the svelte iPhone and provides a secure grip when holding the phone. I consider it a great investment of $20 and suspect most iPhone 6 owners will end up getting a case.

The iPhone 6 Plus fits well in my hand, which admittedly is large. I prefer a big phone and am used to one, so that no doubt is a factor. The Plus is too big for one-handed operation which may be a drawback for some. The Reachability feature in iOS 8 (more on this later) helps use the phone with one hand.

Call quality is quite good, as is audio in general. The speaker is surprisingly loud, and while maximum volume results in modest distortion it's not bad.

Apple includes a pair of in-ear buds and they seem to be the same as last year's model. Audio sounds good but I prefer my own earbuds and headphones. Not all high-end phones include earbuds and none I'm aware of as nice as these.

This is my first iPhone with the Touch ID sensor, and I’m already liking it. It is so nice to keep the iPhone secure yet easily accessible.

It’s too soon to make meaningful judgements about the battery life of the iPhone 6 Plus, but I’m happy with it so far. The phone has been in my hand constantly, typical for a new gadget, and the battery has easily lasted all day. This is in stark contrast with my old Note 2 which was not able to get me through the day.

I’ve watched video, streamed audio, and done all of the stuff I normally do on tablets. The battery has handled it all with ease. I will keep an eye on this going forward to make sure that is the norm.

iPhone software is key

There are plenty of reviews of iOS 8 that powers the new iPhone so I won’t go into that much detail. I am finding it a delight to use on the iPhone 6 Plus. I’ve had no issues using it so far other than rare app crashes. This is normal for a new OS version and will quickly get fixed with app updates.

Those with older iPhones running iOS 7 will find the new version to look familiar and that it works the same. There is not much of a learning curve to get going with the new OS.

The major new features of iOS 8 are as useful in practice as I expected. One of them is due to a rollout by my carrier, Verizon, timed with the iPhone release.

It took me a while to get it to work but the ability to have calls coming in on the iPhone 6 Plus show up on the iPad Air is very nice. If the iPad is in my hands when a call comes in on the iPhone I see it pop up on the tablet. I can take the call on the iPad Air as a speakerphone, or with earbuds. The caller has no idea I’m not on the phone.

This can be a big feature for business users. Sometimes it’s necessary to not miss a beat, even if the iPhone is in the pocket. It’s all about making tools work together, and it does this very well.

While phone calls appear on the iPad, I haven’t been able to get text messaging to work the same. Some have reported that this won’t get turned on for a few weeks, so that may be the reason. I’m really looking forward to that feature.

Verizon turned on its Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service around the same time as the iPhone became available, and I immediately turned it on. It’s in the iPhone settings under Cellular, and you set “Enable LTE” to "Voice and Data" to activate it.

This enables voice calls over LTE, and that lets Verizon customers enjoy what those with other carriers have for years. It lets users surf the web while on a call, something Verizon and Sprint customers have been unable to do before this service was activated. Having experienced it on my Verizon iPhone 6 Plus I can see what I've been missing. It's worked flawlessly on the iPhone.

This will be a big feature for business users. The ability to check the corporate web while on a business call is very handy.

The Reachability feature in iOS 8 works surprisingly well on the iPhone 6 Plus. Double-tapping the home button causes the displayed screen to slide down to the bottom half of the display. This makes it possible to reach app controls with one hand.

Apps, apps, and more apps

The big screen of the iPhone 6 Plus is wonderful for working with apps. Things are easy to see and the extra display makes it easy to use by touch, even with large fingers. As I mentioned, it’s a two handed effort but works well in practice.

I haven’t run across any apps that don’t work on the iPhone 6 Plus, and while there are some bugs there aren't many. A few I use heavily work extremely well.

My favorite apps at the time of publication are: Feedly, Zite, Tweetbot, and Evernote. They are not only useful on the iPhone 6 Plus but enjoyable while using them. That’s key for things you do all the time, as I do with these apps.

I've tested the SwiftKey keyboard app with mixed results, as some apps have problems with it. I'm using the iOS keyboard as a result and find it to be good. I'll keep testing keyboard apps but don't feel like I'm missing much.

I did a significant amount of editing of this article using the iPhone, something I've never been willing to do with other phones. The large screen and good keyboard in iOS worked well.

I like using Safari with its interface optimized for the iPhone. It is lightning fast on the iPhone 6 Plus and enjoyable to use (if this sounds like a recurring theme it's because it is). I like the view that displays open tabs in a 3D fashion, and the list at the bottom that shows tabs open on other iOS/ OS X devices. This has been around on the Chrome browser for a while. It works well on mobile Safari.

The only complaint I have with apps on the iPhone 6 Plus is that some of them are locked in portrait orientation. They won’t rotate into landscape, and that’s a bummer.

I do not like for apps, strictly at the developer’s discretion, to force me to use the phone a certain way. It’s jarring to be holding the iPhone 6 Plus in landscape, which is very nice given the big screen, and fire up an app that displays sideways. Some apps even force portrait use yet allow some features to display in landscape. You have to discover this yourself and decide whether flipping the phone around is worth it or not.

Best phone I’ve ever owned

After just a couple of days, the iPhone 6 Plus has already proven itself to be the best phone I’ve ever owned. The hardware, OS, and apps work together to make using it enjoyable and useful. It is so much better than the Galaxy Note 2 I’ve used for years with Android.

I didn’t realize how laggy the Note 2 is until getting the iPhone 6 Plus. The difference is like night and day, and I don’t miss the Note 2 at all. The same is true for Android. I realize how much better iOS is given how smoothly it works on the new iPhone. I have powered off the Note 2 as a result. It is not a good UX compared to the iPhone 6 Plus.

The new iPhones are not for everybody but worth checking out in person. Owners of previous iPhones need to see first-hand if they are too big. Those who’ve owned other big phones will certainly be comfortable with the smaller (4.7-inch) iPhone 6, and may find the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus to be OK, too.

The gold iPhone 6 Plus with 128GB of storage wasn’t cheap at $499 with a two-year contract. It helped that Verizon gave me $200 to trade in my iPhone 4s, I was surprised they offered so much. That brought the price to $299, a bargain in my book. I added the new iPhone to my existing shared plan with 10GB of data monthly.

It’s too early to tell if the iPhone 6 Plus with its large display will be able to replace my Kindle Fire HDX 7. I often carry the Kindle with me as it fits in my pocket and the 7-inch screen comes in handy for some things I do with it.

I have been leaving the Kindle behind and carrying just the iPhone 6 Plus as a test to see if I can drop the tablet. So far the iPhone has worked fine and I haven’t missed having the larger tablet screen. I will give it more time to see if that is a permanent change I’m willing to make. I suspect many will do that without issues.

I'm seeing a few Android owners mentioning online of having a desire to switch to the new iPhone, and while I can only speak for myself it's worth considering. The iPhone 6 Plus has already replaced my Galaxy Note 2 running Android, and I am quite happy with the switch.

I don't miss the phone at all, and I especially don't miss Android. The UI on the iPhone is so much better than the Android interface, even though it's not very customizable. The new iOS 8 makes the UX much, much better than that of Android and I am happy I made the switch. Of course, your mileage may vary.

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iPhone 6 Plus gold back

While attractive, the back is very slippery and requires a case for a secure grip.

CNET Review: iPhone 6 Plus, the most serious Apple smartphone yet

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3 of 13 James Kendrick/ZDNET

iPhone 6 Plus gold back

It is very thin and light in spite of the large size.

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4 of 13 James Kendrick/ZDNET

iPhone 6 Plus

This photo shows the connectors at the bottom of the phone, and the speaker on the right. The iPhone is in a Verizon-branded case made of silicone that provides a secure grip while remaining very thin.

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5 of 13 James Kendrick/ZDNET

iPhone 6 Plus in hand

The larger iPhone is not too wide to fit comfortably in the hand, and is very long.

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iPhone 6 Plus Sized in hand landscape

It's so wide in landscape that it looks strange in the hand.

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iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 2

The bigger iPhone is almost the same size as the Note 2.

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iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 2

This shot shows how much thinner the iPhone is compared to the Galaxy Note 2.

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iPhone 6 Plus Home screens

Screen shots comparing the iPhone 6 Plus home screens in portrait and landscape orientations.

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iPhone 6 Plus Safari

The graphical overview of open tabs in Safari is quite nice. The text at the bottom shows all open Safari tabs on my iPad and MacBook.

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iPhone 6 Plus Home Feedly

The Feedly app displaying unread news items.

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iPhone 6 Plus Home Tweetbot

My favorite Twitter app on the iPad is now my favorite app on the iPhone.

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13 of 13 James Kendrick/ZDNET

iPhone 6 Plus Home Zite

News magazine Zite is one of my favorite apps on the big iPhone. This screen happens to show two of my favorite sources for news about Microsoft, colleague Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott.

CNET Review: iPhone 6 Plus, the most serious Apple smartphone yet

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