iPhone 6 Plus: First impressions


You've got the (force) touch! Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac
You've got the (force) touch! Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Apple’s new iPhones are finally here, and judging by stock levels in Apple retail stores and reports on Twitter, it’s the iPhone 6 Plus that people are most excited for. Mine arrived about four hours ago, and I’ve hardly put it down since I snatched it out of the hands of the UPS delivery guy.

Having played with many of its features and stared at it lovingly for far too long, I decided to bring you my first impressions of Apple’s first “phablet.” So while you’re sitting beside your door waiting for yours to arrive, or standing outside an Apple Store somewhere with achy legs, you can enjoy a glimpse of what you have to look forward to.

If you’re upgrading from the iPhone 5s, the iPhone 6 Plus will feel gigantic when you first get your hands on it. Even more so if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s. I know you already know that; I’m sure you’ve read it time and time again since Apple’s announcement last week, but I really can’t stress it enough — this is a humungous phone.

And it takes some getting used to. When you first pull it out of the box, you’ll be blown away by its size. I kind of felt like I was opening up a smaller iPad rather than a massive iPhone. It feels more like a tiny tablet that can make calls.

HTC One M8 vs. iPhone 6 Plus. Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac.
HTC One M8 vs. iPhone 6 Plus. Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac.

I’ve been using a 5-inch HTC One M8 for a while, and even that seems compact in comparison. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Monstrous phones are excellent phones for a lot of people; it all depends on how you use them.

If you mostly use yours for messaging and sending Snapchat selfies, the 6 Plus may be too big for you. But if you use it for watching movies, playing games, and getting things done while you’re away from your laptop or tablet, you’ll love the extra space you get from its super-sized display — particularly as more and more developers take advantage of it.

And that display is one of the best I’ve ever used on a smartphone. Its 1920×1080 resolution makes it the sharpest Retina display Apple has ever built, with a whopping 401 pixels-per-inch. It’s not all about the pixels, though; the 6 Plus screen also boasts excellent color accuracy and even better contrast over previous iPhone displays.

Everything just pops; it’s like iOS 8’s colorful icons are sat on top of the glass somehow. And you appreciate the effort Apple has put into perfecting this display when you’re checking out your pictures, and watching HD movies and TV shows. They all look incredible.

Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac.

You’ll appreciate the effort Apple has put into designing the 6 Plus itself even more; it’s the most beautiful smartphone you’ll ever hold.

Its wonderfully rounded edges nestle comfortable in your palms like the sharper edges of the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s never did. And because the glass is rounded, too, it merges with the aluminum unibody to form a near seamless structure.

It’s unbelievably thin — thinner than the iPhone 5s — making it easy and comfortable to use, despite its big screen. This helps its “pocketability.” Unless your jeans are so tight you struggle to walk in them, the 6 Plus should fit inside your pocket pretty easily. Just be aware that slapping a big, bulky case on it could change that, so keep that in mind when you’re shopping for protection.

I still don't like that protruding camera lens. Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac.
I still don’t like that protruding camera lens. Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac.

The design isn’t quite perfect, though. The integrated antennas don’t look anywhere near as bad as I thought they would — they’re actually just fine — but the protruding camera still bothers me. I hate it when people say things like, “that wouldn’t have happened under Steve Jobs,” but I genuinely don’t think the iPhone’s stuck-out camera would. Steve would have hated it.

But if you want a camera so good it can replace your point-and-shoot in a device this thin, that’s the sacrifice you have to make. Apple could have built the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus as thick as the iPhone 5, made the camera flush, and added bigger batteries. But with phones this big, the thinner the better.

Having only unwrapped this handset a few hours ago, I haven’t had a chance to play with the camera much. I’ll be saving features like time-lapse video and the new slo-mo for my full review. But I did take some sample shots for this piece, and they’re just as good as you’d expect from an iPhone camera — even on a wet and dreary day in England.

The iSight camera on the iPhone 6 Plus has one of the lowest megapixel counts among flagship smartphones — its rivals are now packing cameras capable of taking at least 12-megapixel photos. But that number only looks good on a spec sheet; it doesn’t mean a great deal when it comes to image quality, as previous iPhones have proved.

One thing you’ll love about the camera on the 6 Plus is the new Focus Pixels feature, which brings super fast autofocus. In most cases, focusing happens so quickly you don’t even get a chance to see it working. For a parent like me, who like to take pictures of their kids while they’re hyperactive and doing silly things, fast autofocus is a must.

The images below are untouched, but some of them have been cropped.

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One of the things that’s unique to the iPhone 6 Plus is its split-screen app views. In Mail and Messages, for instance, when you have the device in landscape mode, you can view your inbox on the left side and your messages on the right. In the Calendar app, you get a calendar view on one side and a list of your upcoming appointments on the other, making your schedule easier to see.

This is a great way to take advantage of that bigger display, but only a small number of Apple’s apps have been truly optimized for it. You may not experience the true benefits, then, until third-party developers begin adding split-screen modes and other optimizations to their own apps.

Screenshot: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac.
Screenshot: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac.

I know I probably sound like an Apple fanboy here, dishing out all this praise, but I’m not. I mean, I write for Cult of Android, and as I mentioned above, I’ve been using an HTC One M8 now since it went on sale back in April. But you can’t help but be amazed by the iPhone 6 Plus. No smartphone is perfect — they all have their little shortfalls — but this one is pretty darn close.

You get the full package when you buy the 6 Plus. It has a fantastic display, terrific performance, a reliable camera that guarantees great pictures, and of course, the best software on mobile. And it’s all bundled up inside a truly extraordinary package that’s simply unmatched by any of Apple’s rivals.