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Apple iPhone 6 Plus review: A super-sized phone delivers with a stellar display and long battery life

For years, iPhone fans looked at ever-growing Android phablets with envy. Now their dreams are finally fulfilled: the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus is the biggest iPhone ever. But is it the best?

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Tim Stevens
Tim_Stevens.jpg
Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars

Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.

7 min read

Editors' note: On September 7, 2016, Apple debuted the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, and discontinued the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus remain available, however, and Apple has increased the storage capacity of the entry-level models to 32GB and lowered prices to $549 and $649, respectively. The full iPhone 6 Plus review, first published in September 2014 and updated in June 2015, follows.

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9.0

Apple iPhone 6 Plus

The Good

The big battery provides long life, and the 5.5-inch screen is not only big but bright and high-contrast. Optical image stabilization improves low-light photography.

The Bad

The big footprint may not be for everybody, and the overall design is less distinctive than previous iPhones.

The Bottom Line

The iPhone 6 Plus is an outstanding choice for those with big budgets and big pockets, but power users seeking even more flexibility should audition the Galaxy Note 4 as well.

In 2014, Apple forked its iPhone product line, simultaneously introducing the next generation of its flagship model -- the iPhone 6 -- and debuting its super-sized sibling, the iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 6 is an exceptional phone in nearly every way but for its middling battery life. The iPhone 6 Plus is also impressive; larger and thinner than other iPhone models, and with the capacity for far more endurance on a single charge than most comparably-sized and smaller competitors.

As great a phone as it is, the iPhone 6 Plus isn't for everybody. Its defining characteristic is its size, which occupies a nice middle ground between the 4-inch iPhone 5S and the 7.9-inch iPad Mini. While the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is considerably more portable, the 6 Plus will hit the sweet spot for those who want a bigger display on their smartphone (and prefer iOS to Android).

And remember: a 5.5-inch screen may feel gigantic at first, but it may end up feeling just right in no time.

Design

Befitting its moniker, the 6 Plus is on the large side, measuring 6.22 inches high by 3.06 inches wide (158mm by 78mm). At 6.07 ounces (172 grams) it's just a touch lighter than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 but noticeably thinner -- just 7.1mm in thickness, compared with the Note 4's 8.5mm.

Apple iPhone 6 PlusApple iPhone 6LG G3Samsung Galaxy Note 4
US base price (with 2-year agreement) $299 $199 $199 $299
UK base price (unlocked) £619£539£360£450
Australia base price (unlocked) AU$999AU$869AU$630AU$837
Display size/resolution 5.5-inch 1,920x1,080 IPS (401ppi)4.7-inch 1,344x750 IPS (326 ppi)5.5-inch Quad HD 2,560x1,440 IPS (538 ppi)5.7-inch 2,560x1,440 Super AMOLED (515 ppi)
Processor 1.38GHz Apple A8 (64-bit)1.39GHz Apple A8 (64-bit)2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (Krait 400)2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805
RAM 1GB1GB3GB3GB
Internal storage 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB16GB, 64GB, and 128GB 32GB 32GB
Expandable storage NoNoYes (microSD)Yes (microSD)
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
Operating system iOS 8iOS 8Android 4.4.2Android 4.4

Dimensions aside, the iPhone 6 Plus feels better in the hand than the Note. Like previous iPhones, it's made of matte aluminum, but where harsh lines and chamfered edges give the iPhone 5 a stark, industrial feel, the iPhone 6 Plus nestles more comfortably in your hand rather than cutting into it.

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Watch this: A closer look: iPhone 6, 6 Plus design

That noted, the rounded shape -- complete with glass that blends into the rounded edges -- provides a less distinctive appearance. That curved glass will be familiar to owners of Nokia Lumia devices, and the inset lines of plastic on the back are reminiscent of the HTC One . Though the iPhone 6 Plus looks and feels great, it lacks the unique styling of its predecessor.

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Owners of earlier model iPhones will need to adjust to different button locations; the iPhone 6 Plus's power/lock button is located on the right side - a good thing, given how far one would need to reach if it were placed on the top. The volume buttons, wide and flat rather than round, are located on the left directly beneath the ring/silent toggle switch. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits at the bottom, as it does with the 5S, next to eight holes that allow sound from the (surprisingly powerful) internal speaker to escape.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus face off against the competition (pictures)

See all photos

Then, of course, there's the home button, front and center below the display, featuring Touch ID functionality, which allows you to unlock the phone quickly with a fingerprint. While this feature is no longer as novel as it was when it debuted, Touch ID remains quicker and more reliable than the fingerprint detection capabilities we've seen on other smartphones. And with iOS 8, you can use fingerprint access for a wide variety of apps beyond the lock screen and iTunes Store.

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'Reachability'

To avoid any unfortunate thumb-straining incidents, Apple provides the "Reachability" feature: two quick taps on the Home button slide any content at the top of the display -- app icons, Safari's URL bar, whatever else is up there -- down to the bottom. (That's a double tap rather than a double press -- the latter of which opens up the app switching screen, as it does on earlier versions of iOS.) Though it's handy in theory, we did not find it particularly useful in practice.

For example, if you want to open a folder of icons on the top of the display, a double-tap brings that folder down. Tap on the folder and it opens, but then slides back up to the top again. You need to double-tap on the Home button again to bring it down a second time so that you can select an icon within. It's simply too much tapping to be of regular use, even for those with short thumbs, though it could be handy if you're standing on a bus or train and need your other hand to hang on.

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Landscape mode

Another software tweak exclusive to the Plus is a special layout for some apps when the phone is held sideways in landscape mode. Mail and Messages give you an iPad-like view, with a list of messages on the left and their content on the right.

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Watch this: iPhone 6 and 6 Plus features, compared

Pocketability

The size of your hands, and your ability to reach the corners of the device, will play a large part in determining whether the 6 Plus is a good fit for you. Another deciding factor will be whether it fits into your pockets. Unless your pants are of the cargo variety, you're probably going to want the iPhone 6 Plus in a back pocket when you're out and about.

For phablet newbies this can take some getting used to. So, too, will remembering to take it out of that back pocket before sitting down. In the interest of fully comprehensive testing I sat on the 6 Plus numerous times and it registered nary a creak nor a crack. Still, I wouldn't advise doing so regularly, if only for your posture's sake.

Camera

The iPhone 6 Plus features an 8-megapixel rear shooter with optical image stabilization. In our testing we found the Plus consistently shot with a slower shutter speed than the iPhone 6, yet delivered images that were just as sharp. Longer exposures mean lower ISO and noticeably less image noise, plus better color.

The iPhone 6 Plus's camera also offers video stabilization, and though it's a digital effect, the results are quite impressive. I shot multiple videos free-handed, even while moving, and the footage is smooth, without any of the distortion you sometimes see from other digital stabilization technologies. The phone features real-time autofocus while filming, too, so you won't have to tap-tap-tap on the screen to follow the action. The phone captures video at 1080p, at either 60 or 30 frames per second, and slow-motion video at up to 240fps.

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The front-facing camera lacks stabilization capabilities but offers an f2.2 aperture, allowing more light to hit the sensor than on previous models, which translates to better selfies in dark conditions. Perfect for pub crawls.

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Watch this: Apple iPhone 6 vs. 6 Plus camera comparison

Performance and battery life

The iPhone 6 Plus is very snappy and responsive in daily use. Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are equipped with the A8 processor, though curiously the Geekbench benchmark reported it running slightly slower on the 6 Plus -- 1.35GHz versus 1.39GHz. Otherwise, benchmark results are very comparable between the two, and consistently 10 to 20 percent faster than the previous-generation iPhone.

The iPhone 6 Plus delivered a solid 13 hours and 16 minutes in our battery rundown test. It backed that up with impressive real-world performance, easily and repeatedly making it through a full day of heavy use -- featuring constant Web surfing, gaming, video streaming and GPS navigation -- and often lasting well into a second day before needing a charge.

In terms of processing power, the Apple iPhone Plus 6 delivers competent performance. Comparative benchmarks appear below; as always, they should be taken with a grain of salt.

3DMark Ice Storm -- Unlimited

LG G3 16,187Samsung Galaxy Note 3 16,257Apple iPhone 6 17,374Apple iPhone 6 Plus 17,565Samsung Galaxy S5 18,305
Note: longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 684 2,100LG G3 906 2,344Apple iPhone 6 Plus 1,619 2,881Apple iPhone 6 1,627 2,924Samsung Galaxy S5 949 2,934
  • Single-core
  • Multi-core
Note: longer bars indicate better performance

Linpack multithread average

LG G3 611.111Samsung Galaxy Note 3 730.159Samsung Galaxy S5 869.416Apple iPhone 6 Plus 1,358.20Apple iPhone 6 1,378.20
Note: (in MFLOPS -- longer bars indicate better performance)

SunSpider 1.0.2

LG G3 946.6Samsung Galaxy Note 3 896.7Samsung Galaxy S5 769.2Apple iPhone 6 Plus 381.9Apple iPhone 6 345.2
Note: (in milliseconds -- shorter bars indicate better performance)
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Sarah Tew/CNET

Display

The iPhone 6 Plus's battery life is especially impressive in light of the phone's large, bright 5.5-inch IPS LCD. It's easily viewable in bright sunlight and isn't lacking for contrast, even if you're viewing at an odd angle. The 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution makes it ideal for watching 1080p content. When you come across the odd app that hasn't been optimized for such a big display, the phone's integrated scaler enlarges it to fit the screen. It works well enough, but may result in some blurry text and images.

We do wish the 6 Plus offered native support for iPad apps as it does for apps designed for smaller iPhones; you'd think that scaling apps from a 7.9-inch display down to 5.5 inches would be no more complicated than scaling up from 3.5 inches.

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Versus the Galaxy Note 4

And how does the iPhone 6 Plus fare specifically against its strongest competition on the Android side, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4? Overall, it's a very close call. In general, the iPhone 6 Plus is more attractive, feels better in your hand, and gets slightly better battery life. The Galaxy Note 4 offers a more durable construction and offers superior productivity and usability.

Those are the broad strokes -- and don't take OS preferences into account, which may be dealkillers for many, one way or the other. We offer a more comprehensive comparison in our in-depth feature about what it's like to live with these two phones.

Conclusion

The iPhone 6 Plus is not for everybody. Depending on your preference, size may be its chief asset or drawback; either way, it will likely be the paramount factor for those deciding between the 6 and 6 Plus. The large screen justifies the premium price, especially when it also comes with superior battery life and a terrific camera. The iPhone 6 Plus may not be the most aesthetically distinctive phablet on the market, nor the most feature-packed, but it is the most potent iPhone yet, and a serious contender in this segment of the smartphone market.

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9.0

Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 9Camera 8Battery 9
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