The iPhone Six Plus

If you want a formal, professional, detailed review of Apple’s new shiny just head to my favorite tech haunt, Ars Technica. This is a personal account.

A long, long time ago my wife dragged me to the Apple Store to check out the new, just released iPhone. On the day it was released. It was a madhouse.

Until that moment, I didn’t understand the hype around the iPhone. I thought it would never amount to much. After all, the Treos and Windows CE did everything (and more) Apple promised.

That’s why I’m not a pundit. I’ve been wrong before, but this one was a doozy.

The next day, we bought two iPhones. Since then, I’ve owned every single iteration of the device, plus a few Android phones in between. And when the 6 and 6+ were announced, I ordered a 6+. A happy stint owning a Galaxy S4 taught me that I like big screens (…and I can not lie), and  I like high-DPI screens.

As a photography aficionado, the optical image stabilization on the 6+’s camera was the icing on the cake. I couldn’t not have it.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the thing is HUGE.

iPhone 5s vs 6+Yes, much larger than an iPhone 5/5s, and plenty larger than my old Galaxy S4.

How large? Here’s how an iPhone 5 swims in a 6+’s silicone case.

iPhone 5 swimming in 6+ case

Many critics have said that Steve Jobs would’ve never allowed this monstrosity to be built, and they are probably right. But as much as I admired Steve’s drive, passion, and genius, it’s time to move on, and Apple seems to be saying the same thing. It’s not Steve’s Apple any more.

Steve’s Apple is still alive and well, though, in other senses. Fit and finish is better than ever before. The thing’s built beautifully. No, I haven’t bent it. Yet.

In the hand, the Six Plus feels BIG. I can hold it comfortably, but not-quite-use it with the hand holding it, except for a couple of taps. I have big hands, but my fingers are stubby. As the gringos say, Your Mileage May Vary. Except for a couple of icons at the bottom of the screen, one-handed use for me is Right Out.

That’s a heavy price to pay, as iOS is clearly designed to be used one-handed. The Back buttons at the top left in most apps assume you can reach them. iOS’s launcher fills in its screens religiously from the top left. You can’t skip spaces, and you can’t place stuff arbitrarily, the way most Android launchers let you. This means you can’t put your most needed apps at the bottom of the screen, within reach of your thumb.

Apple has addressed this with a half-assed compromise called “Reachability”. Much virtual ink has been spilled on this feature. Tap (don’t press) the Home button twice, and the screen slides down until (on the +) about only 40% is showing.

Suffice it to say, my stubby right thumb STILL can’t reach the top left corner of the screen with Reachability, not without physically painful contortions.

So one-handed use, at least for me, has been sacrificed on the altar of the 5.5″ screen.

It is a pretty big sacrifice. It means no whipping out the phone if you are carrying something in one hand. It means no checking the weather absentmindedly. When you’re using the 6+, it wants your attention.

This big sacrifice, however, is paid back. The screen itself is fantastic: tack-sharp, colorful, and it finally seems to be Right There on the surface of the phone. See my ZTE Open musings for the exact opposite.

The Gap
The ZTE Open and its 1.5 kilometers between “glass” and display.

I won’t bore you with technical details…

Ok, that’s a lie. I love those technical details. I rejoice in technical details.

Apple did something weird with the 6+, probably for power and cost reasons. The phone reports that its screen is 2208 x 1242 pixels, and that’s what screenshots show.

Click for full-size version
Click for full-size version

The physical screen itself, however, is 1920 x 1080 pixels. The phone renders the image internally at 2208 x 1242, and then downsamples it on the fly to 1920 x 1080. You’d think this is a bad idea. I thought it was a bad idea. Jaggies. Fuzzy text. We KNOW that screens need to be pixel-perfect to look good.

In practice, it looks perfect. The physical resolution is so high, that your eyes can’t make out the details and rendering tricks. Mine can’t. This isn’t iPhone 4/5 or iPad Retina Display quality, where you can sort-of make out the pixels if you squint or hold it close to your face. This display has no discernible pixels, full stop.

If knowing that you’re being fed fake downsampled tricksy pixels through your eyeballs bothers you on some fundamental level, I sympathize. It would’ve bothered me 10 years ago. I’ve moved on. The screen looks fantastic.

And that screen looking fantastic is one reason sacrificing one-handedness is not bad. I read on my phone. I read A LOT. Kindle books. Email. Web forums. Email. News. Email. Reviews of things. Email. Text messages. Email. More screen is better for reading all day. There’s no question about it. Samsung taught me that.

More screen is also photographic bliss. Yes, holding the phone in “camera” position is weirder due to the larger size, rounded edges, and power button just across Volume + (or “shutter” as many of us think). The price, however, gets you easier framing, better reviewing, and more detail.  I’ll take the tradeoff. Taking pics with the 6+ just feels better. More on the camera in a bit.

The final thing regarding one-handed use is that you lose it… but you gain much, much, much better two-handed use. I can fly tapping out emails two-thumbed on this thing. The larger screen targets and easier hold with two hands make it much better.

Much virtual ink has also been spilled around the 6 and 6+’s cameras. While the all-time best camera on a phone crown probably goes to some Nokia model, this is clearly the best camera Apple’s ever put on a phone.

For a beautiful, artistic take on the improvements go watch Austin Mann’s video review.

The Optical Image Stabilization? It just works. I haven’t been able to get the flash to fire in auto mode at all (I checked it. It works). The camera seems to always get enough light. The dual-phase contrast detection “Focus Pixels” make focusing instantaneous. Noise is low, focus is quick, composing and reviewing are a delight.

Kids looking at penguins at the Moody Gardens aquarium
Kids looking at penguins at the Moody Gardens aquarium – taken with the 6+

They say the best camera is the one you have with you. The iPhone cameras have been getting better and better – this is just another evolutionary step, but more than ever before it makes me want to leave the SLR at home. Apple, how about RAW support some day?

For now, I’m keeping the 5.5″ monster. Big, bold, and beautiful. Here’s to the new Apple.

One reply on “The iPhone Six Plus”

Sweet, all good info. Nice to read a report from a real person actually using the thing instead of people who’ve never even touched one throwing a hissy fit (;

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