Why I prefer the iPhone 6 over the 6 Plus: The Plus can't replace the iPad Mini yet

Living with the iPhone 6, part 2. Scott Stein tries out the 6 Plus versus the 6 and finds that neither one really steps up to match the iPad right now, and a big reason has to do with apps.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read

Comics from iBooks on iPad Mini and 6 Plus. Yes, there's a difference. Sarah Tew/CNET
"Your phone can replace your tablet!"

I've heard this pitch before. Samsung's Note phones, mega-screened 5-inch plus devices everywhere, and now the iPhone 6 Plus.

I use an iPad Mini every day. It's small, it's perfect, it's a combination e-reader and quickie on-the-fly laptop for writing. It's a little redundant, I admit. And the idea of a Plus is tempting: better battery life, a larger screen. What's not to like?

I've tried both new iPhones. And I'd pick the 6.

Why? Well, I'll tell you.

Unoptimized Tweetbot running on 6 Plus: weirdly large keyboard and icons. Sarah Tew

Classic iPhone apps look OK on the 6, weird on the Plus

I've been hunting around the App Store, waiting to download optimized apps for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. They're appearing here and there, but it'll take time for more. When I reviewed the iPhone 6, there weren't any. Now as the phones launch, developers are pushing updates to the App Store in a flood.

You don't need optimized apps, necessarily: both phones upscale existing apps and do a pretty impressive job optimizing them for the new resolutions: text is sharp, graphics in games look smooth and acceptable, and streaming videos look great, too, and this is all before any of these apps were "made for iPhone 6/6 Plus."

But when I see the iPhone 6 Plus' large screen running some of these apps, it becomes clear that I'm seeing a blown-up iPhone 5 experience. Icons, virtual buttons, even pop-up keyboards, suddenly seem huge. I feel like I've become a shrunken person holding a suddenly massive regular iPhone.

Non-optimized apps are everywhere right now, and many are likely to stick around. And I think most of them simply look and feel less weird on the 6.

iPhone 6 Plus, and iPad Mini. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Plus can't replace my iPad

The 6 and Plus may both have new screen resolutions and sizes, but it's really the Plus that goes into a whole new territory. And for that reason, I'm hesitant to adopt it...because it needs more killer, optimized apps. And I haven't seen enough of them yet.

Part of the Plus' appeal that I've heard is "ditch the iPad, take the Plus." There's some logic to that: the Plus is a phablet-type phone, and e-books look nearly as good as on a Kindle. Videos are highly watchable. Games are immersive.

But it's not that easy.


The Mini's 7.9-inch screen is about two and a half times the size of the Plus. It may not have the same pixel density, but it's a big screen difference.

The Mini is a 4:3 display as opposed to the iPhone 6 Plus' 16:9. For movies, you want 16:9. But for full-page documents, Web browsing like a computer, and illustrated books, you want 4:3. It fills the screen better.

A sample comic book downloaded from iBooks tells the story: the Plus and iPhone 6 have brighter displays, but the larger, better-proportioned iPad Mini makes actually reading the comic far better.

For anything involving typing, I can at least hook a keyboard up next to the Mini, or even type on the screen with my fingers. The Plus isn't much different from an iPhone 6; either one involves a different form of phone-typing. It can work for some writing, but for me it's not the same. The iPad has become my in-a-pinch laptop replacement. The Plus wouldn't be.

Pages on iPad Mini: I write on it. iPhone 6 Plus is a thumb-typer. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apps: iPhone 6 and iPad likely to beat Plus

There are tons of apps for the iPad. They're all optimized for the full screen resolution. The Mini runs all the iPad's apps. Since the screen is smaller but the resolution's the same as the Air, they even look a little crisper.

The iPhone 6 is bound to get a lion's share of optimized apps, too. But that Plus, it's a tweener. Phablets in the general phone landscape don't perfectly replace tablets: they become whole new devices, which -- it's true -- may make people less likely to use a tablet. For staying connected all the time via your own phone's data service, taking photos, reading news or checking messages, a larger phone could handle a lot of my needs. But I don't think a larger phone, right now, would do anything that an iPad does better. Not yet.

Two sizes, and a similar type of experience...for now. CNET

I want something smaller

I need something one-handed for taking photographs. I need something I can grab quickly and throw in my pocket. I always liked the iPhone's smaller size. The 6 is my next best bet.

I want to see a whole new special class of apps that would make me consider the Plus. In the meantime, I'd rather take a more pocketable 6 because I'm going to bring my iPad anyway.