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Starting at $749, the 6 Plus is also the most expensive iPhone ever produced, but it offers jetsetters, journeymen, and tried-and-true road warriors a few things that no Apple smartphone has before. After traveling around for a week with the 6 Plus, I’m confident in at least one thing: it’s a must-have for those who can’t seem to stay in one place for long.
The iPhone 6 Plus is unlike anything Apple has done before. Only a fool would think that it wasn’t engineered to compete with the likes of the Galaxy Note, but honestly, it matters not where the inspiration comes from. Apple’s history of convergence dates back to the original iPhone. Indeed, late CEO Steve Jobs first pointed out that its initial phone wasn’t just a phone; it was a “an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator”. The 6 Plus is all of those things, but it’s also a few more: it’s a perfectly acceptable replacement for an iPad mini, and now that iOS supports third-party on-screen keyboards, it’s a suitable replacement for a laptop in all but the most complex of scenarios.
Fastest, most longevous iPhone ever
World’s best smartphone camera, bar none
Finally, Apple made a phablet
Inbuilt NFC chip is limited to Apple Pay
Paltry 16GB of storage on the base model
That’s a godsend for travelers, who are constantly searching for ways to carry less and do more. After a week of flights, meetings, and entirely too much time on the road, I found the iPhone 6 Plus to be a far better do-it-all device than the iPhone 5s it replaces. I still prefer a bona fide laptop for handling emails where attachments and long-winded responses are necessary, but the platform’s newfangled support for alternative keyboards such as SwiftKey enabled me to handle more email on the phone than I normally would.
This support for keyboards beyond the Apple default is one of iOS 8’s key changes. With that comes predictive capabilities, which Android users (and productivity hounds) have enjoyed for half a decade. Apple’s QuickType is sufficient for novice users, but many will no doubt appreciate the more intimate learning abilities of SwiftKey. In a nutshell, this free replacement keyboard learns from frequently typed names, places and phrases, and offers shockingly accurate word predictions just above the virtual keys. In practice, this enabled me to hammer out multi-paragraph email replies on the 6 Plus in a matter of minutes. With iOS 7, anything over two sentences struck me as too daunting to compose on my phone. What sounds like a subtle change has actually transformed how I’m able to use the phone. Plus, the larger 5.5-inch screen is magnificent for fatter fingers.
Speaking of the screen, it’s drop-dead gorgeous. DisplayMate put the 1080p panel through a gauntlet of tests and found it to be the “best performing smartphone LCD” it had ever tested, and I believe it. Colors are ridiculously vibrant without being oversaturated, and it’s impossible to spot individual pixels without some sort of magnifying device. Apple also changed up this year’s design by curving the edges of the display, fading the panel into the metal that surrounds it. It’s a small tweak — but damn, it really classes things up. The display is also sizable enough to enjoy video content for long periods. Whereas I’d never feel entirely satisfied watching SportsCenter through the WatchESPN app on my 4-inch iPhone 5s, I enjoyed a few hours of college football on the 6 Plus without any desire to whip out an iPad. It feels as if you’re watching content on a device made for watching content; on prior iPhones, it felt like you were settling to watch content on a phone.
In deciding between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, two factors really drove my decision. The first is battery life, which is perhaps the most vital statistic when a road warrior selects a handset. When you’re perpetually on the move, you’re never entirely certain when (or if) you’ll come across a free power outlet. You’re also never sure when you’ll be roped into an hour-long video call with a client, or when you’ll need to fire up a presentation and use your phone’s display as a monitor. The fear of missing out is troubling, but the fear of a red battery icon in the corner of the screen is downright debilitating.
With the caveat that all batteries are strongest fresh from the factory, I’ve been blown away with the 6 Plus’s ability to last and last (and last). After topping it off, I proceeded to download updates for nearly 100 apps, suck down around 10GB of offline music through Spotify, watch a few hours of ESPN, navigate for an hour, dial into a couple of hourlong conference calls, and handle data and notifications through a litany of apps that tend to light up my screen every few minutes. Whereas I could usually squeeze through a full day on an iPhone 5s, the iPhone 6 Plus managed to power through two full days, and by midnight of the second, still had around 20 percent of its power left. I’m probably a heavier user than most, but those who travel for a living (or just live to travel) will likely put similar pressure on their phone. If longevity without a bulky battery case is a top concern, the 6 Plus is apt to satisfy.
The second driver was the camera. For those who take pride in beautifully capturing their expeditions, the iPhone 6 Plus is the most capable camera phone on the market. It’s the first phone that I could honestly recommend as a DSLR replacement for all but the most challenging of scenes. It has unquestionably the most impressive sensor I’ve ever seen on any phone, by any brand, running any operating system. Its ability to pull light from near-dark situations is unparalleled, and because Apple has the unique ability to optimize the element with its iOS software, the actual processing of the image is stupendous. The phone captures images instantly, and the panorama mode remains a standout feature. Apple still won’t allow users to finely tune ISO, aperture, white balance, and the like, but I’ve been duly impressed by just how right the automatic mode gets it. The addition of optical image stabilization also sets it apart; the standard iPhone 6 relies on a less capable digital stabilization mechanism.
If you’re headed out on a safari, you’ll still want a proper camera rig with thousands of dollars worth of telephoto lenses. If you’re shooting concerts that require fisheye or other esoteric captures, the iPhone can’t replace that. But for the vast majority, the 6 Plus is not only good enough, it’s superior to basic point-and-shoot and interchangeable lens cameras. If you don’t believe me, believe Austin Mann. The world-renowned travel photog recently traveled to Iceland — home to some of the most challenging lighting and landscapes in the world — to showcase just how impressive the iPhone 6 Plus really is.
As someone who frequently finds himself in new places, I rely on my phone for navigational guidance more often than making calls. If that rings true to you, there’s yet another reason to spring for the 5.5-inch display on the 6 Plus. More pixels enable more expansive views of maps, and bigger truly is better when you’re attempting to ingest turn-by-turn directions or simply get bearings on where you’re at in a foreign city. Predictably, the refreshed A8 processor handles things like rapid pinch-to-zoom gestures with ease, making even the speedy iPhone 5s feel a step behind when swiping through app pages, loading sites in Chrome, and double-tapping to flip between open programs.
Starting next year, the iPhone 6 Plus (as well as the smaller 6) will help travelers carry less in their wallet. In theory, at least. Apple Pay is clearly a huge initiative at Apple, but it won’t be active until early next year. Even then, it only works with a handful of banks and credit cards, and far from every merchant will have tap-to-pay terminals installed. Still, it’s a great start, and I’m betting that Apple can make progress in the war to eliminate the physical wallet where others have failed. The other bummer? The NFC chip within the phone is restricted to Apple Pay, so you’ll never be able to use it to pay through any competing service.
Whereas I could usually squeeze through a full day on an iPhone 5s, the iPhone 6 Plus managed to power through two full days
One area where travelers will feel pangs is in the area of one-handed operation. The 4-inch iPhones prior were relatively easy to hold and operate with just a thumb. Unfortunately, it’s a perilous endeavor to attempt the same with the iPhone 6 Plus. In practice, I found this to be but a minor inconvenience, but it will change the way you do things. Those who typically devote one hand to carrying a clutch or briefcase, owning the 6 Plus will force you to reevaluate your daily toting situation. The upside is that the larger panel enhances life in all of the ways already mentioned, and in my estimation, the pros outweigh the removal of one-handed texting and browsing. For what it’s worth, Apple has enabled a new home button procedure that makes one-handed operation (technically) possible: if you lightly tap (not depress) the home button twice, the screen shifts down and moves within reach of your thumb. I found it to be too awkward to rely on routinely, but it’s a great feature to have in a pinch.
Of course, there are missing puzzle pieces yet. Those who may have spent the last few years learning to love the bundled stylus with the Galaxy Note won’t find any included writing utensils here. And while the 1080p display offers plenty of new app possibilities, next to none of the millions in the App Store have been updated to take advantage. Even Apple’s first-party apps are only gently improved on the iPhone 6 Plus; but I’m hoping that in time developers will update their software to offer more compelling views, extra content, and split-screen working scenarios to better take advantage of the real estate.
I’ve also grown increasingly terrified of seeing the 6 Plus hit the ground. The huge footprint, coupled with its rounded edges, make it markedly more difficult to handle confidently when compared to the smaller iPhone 5s. This is a phone that demands a case. I’m relying on a Tough Case from Society6 — a case maker that puts individual art on the rear of your phone — and would not recommend using the phone any other way. Apple also moved the power button from the phone’s top to its side, opposite the volume buttons, exactly as it did with the iPad. In theory, the move makes sense. In practice, it’s an unfortunate repositioning. It’s now shockingly easy to turn the phone’s screen off when trying to depress the volume-down button to trigger the camera shutter, and conversely, it’s too easy to accidentally change the volume when you’re trying to depress the power button.
The 4-inch iPhones prior were relatively easy to hold and operate with just a thumb. Unfortunately, it’s a perilous endeavor to attempt the same with the iPhone 6 Plus.
Then, there’s pricing. At $749 without any contractual strings, the base-level iPhone 6 Plus is among the most expensive in its class. The real crime isn’t the MSRP, though — it’s the internal storage. An otherwise potent and utilitarian handset is saddled with just 16GB of storage space on the base model, with no microSD slot for expansion. As John Gruber points out, the iPhone 6 is 85 times more powerful than the original iPhone, yet the base model only offers twice as much storage. After seven years, Apple could (and should) do better. In fact, I’d recommend that you steer clear of the 16GB iPhone 6 Plus. Within a month, you’ll be hitting a storage wall with no solution. Road warriors are more inclined than most to store items locally — everything from music for long flights or offline maps for navigation abroad sans a SIM card — and 16GB just isn’t enough. Mercifully, Apple is offering 128GB at the top end, which is absolutely worth the extra $200 over the base model. Remember, there’s no way to add storage on an iPhone after you buy it, so buying more than you plan to use would be a wise move.
At $749 and up, the iPhone 6 Plus is a tremendously pricey phone. But when viewed as a device fully capable of supplanting both a phone and a tablet, the value proposition changes. With the 6 Plus, I have no need for an iPad. That’s one less expense, one less place where my files and memories are fragmented, and one less device weighing me down on trips. Android-based phablets are still more customizable, and Apple would be smart to ape the split-screen, multi-app capabilities mastered by the Galaxy Note. But if you’re already content living in the iOS / iTunes / Mac ecosystem, the 6 Plus is a no-brainer for the guy or gal who never stands still. The bolstered battery life and camera sensor alone justify the upgrade, and if you’ve been aching for a reason to pass on buying an iPad, here’s your sign.
Oh, and don’t worry about it feeling too big — you’ll adapt in 48 hours flat.