iPhone 6 Plus: Initial Impressions

I have to begin with an apology. I was one of those people who mocked the big phones when they first appeared. I remember the first one I saw, the Evo 4G. It had an at the time ludicrous 4.3 inch surfboard sized screen. And then they got bigger. And bigger. And bigger. All the while Apple sat by, giving us only one small increase during this time, to 4 inches. Apple said, and I agreed, that a larger phone was not usable. It was too much a trade off. And in a way this was, and is, true. But here I am typing these words on my new 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus. So what happened?

I actually made this decision before the iPhone 6 Plus was even announced. The more and more rumors about a 5.5 inch phone made their way through the tech world, the more and more I realized I wanted one. My iPhone 5 started to feel, well, small. Big phones were now everywhere. But more importantly, the way I used it, and the whole concept of a “phone” itself changed.

Defining Computer

I still call it a phone. Apple calls it a phone. But it is not a phone. Yes, I can and do sometimes lift the device to my head and carry on a conversation with someone far away. On occasion. But this is an increasingly rare occurrence. As time went on it became less and less a phone and more a computer. I guess it always was a computer, but we still thought of it primarily as a phone.

But looking at my current usage, phone is very low on the list. Right now I use the iPhone for (in order of importance):

  • Web and email
  • Messaging
  • Reading
  • Podcasts
  • Camera
  • Writing
  • Games
  • Phone

The phone just doesn’t matter that much anymore. It doesn’t look ridiculous anymore to hold a large phone to your head because a) it became normal and b) people don’t do it much anymore.

So where does this leave me? I need a portable computer. That is what I am looking for. Of course I have my MacBook Pro, but I think our concept of portability has changed. I can take the laptop with me yes, but I still need a bag. It doesn’t just sit in my pocket. The iPhone 6 Plus does.[1] It is now my portable computer. Perhaps the most perfect one I have ever owned.

Usability

The biggest question I hear now on the iPhone 6 Plus is “How does it feel holding it?” And this is an important question. No phone will work for you if it is uncomfortable to hold. The size certainly makes this more of a challenge than previously. Almost no one has a problem holding a 3.5 inch phone screen. The 4 inch on the iPhone 5 did throw some people, but it was largely still the same for most users. This is most certainly not true of the Plus. It required a change. Now, I am 6’2″. I am not a small person. And in that sense I have an advantage. It’s big but not uncomfortably so. Yes, I have to hold it differently but I find that more often than not I am still able to use it with one hand. A few things help here. Surprisingly one of the least helpful this is the Reachability function. This is where you double tap the TouchID button to pull the entire screen down towards your thumb. It is a pretty neat solution, but largely unnecessary for me. I find that I actually can reach the top without too much difficulty. Yes, it takes a small adjustment of my hand, but I can do it. More difficult is the extreme bottom left of the screen. After extended usage where I need to reach buttons on that side I can feel it in my thumb. My guess is that we are going to see many apps begin to favor the lower right.

Swiping helps a lot, but it is inconsistent. Some apps, like Unread, are a joy to use on the large screen. Unread allows for you to swipe from nearly anywhere. Reeder supports swiping, but it is less flexible. Going back requires that you start all the way from the edge, which is much harder to reach on the Plus.

If I had to give advice here I would say you need to try it. Unless you are sure, don’t go right for the Plus. It takes getting used to, and the trade off may not be worth it for you.

But nearly a week in and so far I feel fine. I have used it with one hand while standing on the Subway, the true test for any New York phone, and it worked just fine for me.

And this is where the advantages really start to outweigh any size detriment. This phone is big enough, and powerful enough, to do nearly everything I need a portable computer to do. Typing is easier than ever. Part of this is due to third party keyboards finally being allowed on iOS. But the bigger touch area helps as well, making my typing more accurate. Editing photos is easier, and video. I can easily see using this as a full iMovie video editor, it’s that good. I use Screens to control my Mac at home remotely, and it is a massive step up from doing the same thing on the larger size.

If anything has suffered, it is my poor iPad. I am not throwing in the towel on the tablet yet. And there are still times where the nearly double sized screen is preferable to the phone. But I definitely will not be investing in an iPad mini. And I no longer feel that I must reach for the iPad the way I used to. It will be interesting to see what Apple may do with the tablet in upcoming revisions to better differentiate it from the increasingly competitive phone.

Performance

The iPhone 6 Plus is fast. Really fast. Some of the lagging I was beginning to experience with my old phone is gone. Apps open quickly and freezes are few and far between. The issues that I do have seem much more likely to be from software instead of from any issues with the hardware.

There is one issue I do have however, and it is technically software, although necessitated by hardware. It is true that the iPhone 6 Plus scales apps very well. I have no problem using them. They are ugly, however. On the iPhone 6 things are not quite as bad. But on the iPhone 6 Plus, things look comically huge at times. Again this is a problem likely to solve itself as developers have a chance to update for the new phones. They only found out about them two weeks ago after all. But if you are an app developer, do not rely on scaling. It’s an okay stopgap, but your app needs to be updated to feel like a first class citizen.

Battery Life

Battery life can at times be a source of frustration for smartphone users. Apple has been a particular target of criticism in this regard. Many commentators have openly asked for Apple to just go ahead and make a phone that would be larger and heavier it that means a few hours more battery life. Thus far, Apple has not done this.

But the iPhone 6 Plus has benefited from the extra space with a significant, if somewhat small, jump in battery performance.

I haven’t yet had time to extensively test the battery but I do have one anecdote that gives me hope. I went out for a run on Sunday afternoon. Side note here that I was actually rather concerned about running with such a large phone, especially since I don’t yet have an armband.[2] I grabbed running shorts with really deep pockets and had no issue with the phone the whole time. But I did keep checking to make sure it wasn’t slipping out.

Anyway, the point here is that I went on a 90 minute run. I started with 100% battery. By the end of the run, I was at 90%. This is with RunKeeper going the entire time, as well as bluetooth on, fitness apps running, and listening to podcasts in Overcast.

By comparison, my old iPhone 5 was dead after about this same amount of time running the week before. Now, the iPhone 6 Plus is newer and its battery has had far fewer charge cycles. But still, even when new, it did not perform this well.

A big part of this may be the motion coprocessor. Since I didn’t own a 5s this is my first experience with a phone that has it. It definitely made an impact, as the fitness apps did not need to draw anywhere near that level of power in order to function.

About the only thing I have been able to do so far to really drain the battery is leave the screen on for extended periods of time. This is to be excepted, especially with as much screen real estate as this phone has. All told, I think this phone is going to be a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. Not going to remove the charger from my desk just yet though.

Conclusion

The iPhone 6 Plus is absolutely the right device for me. I don’t think I would have expected this a few years ago, but now it is so clear why having such a big and powerful, yet easily portable device in my pocket would feel so right. I do not think it is the right device for everyone. A few camera features and UI extras aside, the iPhone 6 is probably the device that most people should choose. It’s still bigger, but not so much that it requires users to rethink how they interact with their iPhone.

I was more than happy to make the change though. And now I cannot go back. I am really looking forward to the ways I will be able to use this in the future.


  1. Of course one needs larger pockets for this.  ↩
  2. I did find one though that is being delivered tomorrow. Anxious to see how it feels to have such a large device on my arm.  ↩
iPhone 6 Plus: Initial Impressions was last updated September 24th, 2014 by Michael Truskowski