Smartphone Reviews

Apple iPhone 6 Plus: Australian Review

Everyone’s at it now. Phablets, that is. Apple now has skin in the phablet game alongside bitter rivals from Samsung, HTC, Sony and Nokia. So how does the world’s-first iOS phablet compare to the market? Pretty goddamn well, actually.

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What Is It?


Specifications
  • Processor: 1.4GHz dual-core Apple A8
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Screen: 5.5-inch Retina HD LED (1920×1080, 401ppi)
  • Memory: 16GB/64GB/128GB (no expandable memory)
  • Camera: 8-megapixel iSight Camera with Focus Pixels
  • Connectivity: Category 4 4G/LTE, Voice Over LTE (VoLTE), 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Either the biggest iPhone you’ve ever seen, or a really adorable iPad Mini.

The iPhone 6 Plus is powered by the 1.4GHz dual core Apple A8 processor, which Apple says consumes 25 per cent less battery while still cranking out more grunt.

The iPhone 6 Plus packs in an overhauled 8MP camera sensor with better software in iOS 8 to control and customise image capture. The new camera is bursting with new features, including Optical Image Stabilisation, new auto-focus tech and great video features. (Check out all the new features of iOS 8 in our explainer.)

Hardware

Under the hood, Apple has introduced the new A8 processor, along with its helper, the M8 co-processor. The new A8 chip has two billion transistors on a smaller surface area than last year’s A7 processor, and it’s clocked at 1.4GHz across its dual cores.

Now that might not seem like much when compared to the big Android superphones with their quad-core and octa-core processors, but it all comes down to how the rubber hits the road. The iPhone 6 Plus achieves an insanely good Geekbench 3 score of 2259.

Compared to phones like the Galaxy S5 and the HTC One M8, that’s not bad by any stretch. Apple achieves these results because of the close attention it plays to in-house chip design and how the hardware interacts with software. It’s very impressive.

The M8 co-processor — designed to quietly track your step, movement and fitness data while sipping power — is beefed up from last year, with a new sensor that also allows you to track the number of stairs you’ve walked up. That new sensor is an old-fashioned barometer that tracks tiny variations in the air pressure so it knows when you’re ascending or descending. Fascinating.

Meanwhile, on the surface, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are the biggest departures in design from in years.

Design

Both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have been designed in such a way that they look and feel larger, thinner and curvier than ever before. The build quality is exceptional, as per usual and the new thin design is incredible.

Let’s start with the back of the device.

Previously on the iPhone 5s, the colour would cover the back plate of the phone before being interrupted by glass bars at the top and bottom of the device. These bars were for signal as much as they were for stability, but it interrupted the beautiful colour that you’d chosen for your device. On the 6 and 6 Plus, that’s no longer an issue: colour is pushed right to the edge, interrupted only by small black or white bands that look almost like piping in the case. It’s still meant for signal and antenna clarity (without them you’d have a very pretty phone that couldn’t get signal), but now it means that you get beautiful colour right to the edge and beyond into the corners and sides of the device.

The screen glass is also now slightly curved on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Apple wants to promote the use of gestures in iOS 8 to help users get around, and by dulling the edges of the device to make it less like swiping over a hard edge, it’s a great prompt. The curved glass goes right to the edge of the device, which means you can get weird reflections on the tops and bottoms of the glass, almost reminiscent of a Galaxy S4 when the light catches the white model in the right way.

To fit in with the thinner aesthetic, the volume rockers are now flat buttons (rather than round), the Silent switch is now slightly wider and shorter into the device, while the power button has been moved for the first time from the top of the device down to the right-hand side. Android users coming back to iPhone after a while will take to this pretty easily, but old-school iOS users (including myself), will still try to lock it from the top every now and then.

The only design quirk we can note on the new iPhone is the camera lens, which sits outside of the device. The bump isn’t anywhere near as noticeable as it would be on something like the Lumia 1020, but it’s odd to see the back case interrupted by an odd hump on the top left.

Apple has covered the lens in sapphire glass, meaning it’s scratch resistant, while also encircling the whole thing in a stainless steel cover ensuring it can’t get smashed or bumped off.

Here’s how it compares in size to the rest of the iPhone family:


Display

Hot damn. I never want to take my eyes off the display on the iPhone 6 Plus. You get a 5.5-inch Retina HD LED screen which packs in 1920×1080 pixels (that’s 401 pixels per inch). The screen is gorgeous and super-bright, and the contrast is off the chain. The screen glass (not the screen itself, mind) is edge to edge and curved beautifully, which encourages you to use nifty swipe gestures built into iOS 8.

iOS 8 is really trying to take advantage of the larger screen size by prompting you to go big with your fonts and icons on setup, and it educates you on how you can make things look bigger and better after you start using the device.

The larger screen size also allows you to take advantage of a new landscape viewing mode that looks awesome on the larger iPhone 6 Plus.

Apple loves to get nerdy with its displays. That’s good, because we do too. Apple has worked to a painstaking level of detail in order to get the iPhone 6 Plus’ display as good as it is.


Apple went nuts on the production process of the iPhone displays in this generation to make sure everything works perfectly. Using a technique known as photo alignment, Apple gets its machines to use UV lights to position the liquid crystals in the right spots when putting the phone together so everything looks its best when you finally get eyes-on.

The viewing angle of the screen is also excellent thanks to what Apple calls dual-domain pixels, which refers to the positioning of pixels in a horizontal zig-zag as opposed to a straight line. This contributes to a better contrast ratio, as the pixels are mostly being viewed at uneven angles and gives an overall better viewing angle.

It’s the best display we’ve ever seen on an iPhone. It may not pack the same resolution as competitor devices like the LG G3 or the upcoming Galaxy Note 4 with their 2560×1440 displays, but the colour, contrast and brightness contribute to an incredible panel that we love clapping our eyes on every single time. We’ll see how they hold up in a few months, however, when the rivals come out with higher-res displays.

Camera

Apple has completely overhauled the camera module for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but it hasn’t upped the overall resolution of the images it pumps out. You still get an 8MP sensor on the new iSight Camera, but numbers are essentially meaningless on this thing, as we’ll continue to see throughout the process of this review. It’s what the hardware can do when the rubber hits the proverbial road that is so impressive.

So what does the overhaul of Apple’s flagship camera module include?

A new feature called “Focus Pixels” combines Contrast Detection and Phase-Detection auto-focus for faster focus from launch, reducing time to first shot overall. The new Focus Pixels feature also allows for automatic refocusing during video capture, meaning you don’t need to go around tapping your phone when you want to pick a new focus point anymore.

Videos are captured at 1080p at 60 frames per second by default, and slow-motion video is now captured at 240 frames per second, up from 120fps in the previous model.

The new camera also has better face detection, a Time-Lapse mode, new exposure control for manual shooters, high-resolution panorama mode and Optical Image Stabilisation to keep everything still on the move.

So how do all the photos look when you get them side by side against the competition? We took the iPhone 6 Plus out with an iPhone 6, iPhone 5s, Nokia Lumia 1020, HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5 to find out which pumps out the best image.

Click to enlarge*.

Daylight

iPhone 6 Plus


iPhone 6


Samsung Galaxy S5


Nokia Lumia 1020


HTC One M8


(*Images downscaled to 1282 pixels in width. We’ll be linking to full-resolution links soon.)

All of these cameras produce great images in daylight, but low-light performance is what we’re really after. A great low-light phone is one that’s probably going to serve you well everywhere.

As you can see, the iPhone 6 Plus performs phenomenally well, rendering images with beautiful natural colour and deep, deep blacks with very little in the way of noise. The only noise you really start to see is in the greys of clouds at night.

As far as competition goes, the Lumia 1020 still holds up remarkably well for what’s coming on as a two-year-old device now, producing vivid colour in daylight. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and its 16-megapixel shooter perform incredibly well also, with great saturation in the images we shot.

Overall, a great showing from the iPhone 6 Plus’ awesome shooter.

Sound

The grilles that used to adorn the bottom of the iPhone 5s have been shrunk and reduced to just one grille now on the 6 Plus. Despite the overall reduction in size of both the iPhone’s chassis and the speaker grilles themselves, the 6 Plus still pumps out some loud and enjoyable sound for a phone speaker.

Obviously, if you’re going to be using it to be playing music often, get ready to be disappointed and shell out extra cash for a Bluetooth speaker. The sound is still slightly tinny and relatively quiet compared to what a wireless speaker can give you.

As far as sound on calls is concerned, it’s still crisp and clear. The only real problem we found is that, for some weird reason, the iPhone 6 Plus’ microphone picks up wind noise in a way that the iPhone 5s just didn’t. It’s not something that has a huge effect on the call, but it is noticeable.

Sadly, we weren’t able to test Voice Over LTE (VoLTE). Right now, it doesn’t work in Australia, both Optus and Telstra had previously promised to have it working by the end of the year, with Vodafone on track to follow them into the service next year.

Battery

The iPhone 6 Plus is rocking a 2915mAh battery, which is nearly double the 1560mAh cell in the iPhone 5s. However, compared to other 5.5-inch phones, it’s a bit of a disappointment: the OnePlus One is packing a 3100mAh cell, and the Galaxy Note 3 (which, admittedly, is a bit better endowed in the size department) has 3200mAh up its sleeve.

Having said that, the difference in battery life compared to the iPhone 5s is remarkable. Previously, the 5s, under heavy usage conditions (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on, screen at maximum brightness and pulling 4G signal down), the phone would last around seven hours before battery started to go into the red. You could achieve all-day battery if you economised, but is that what you really want from your phone in 2014? Not really.

The iPhone 6 Plus, however, is very different in the way it uses power. Despite a gutsier processor in the A8 chip and a bigger, higher-resolution screen, the phone really does last all day.

Under the same high-usage conditions, we found that the 6 Plus would last you all day before finally giving up the ghost when we returned home after an evening on the town. Realistically, that gave us about 14 hours of battery life before we needed to look for a charger. Economising by switching off various antennas like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi as well as ratcheting down the screen’s brightness will get you even further, but it’s not ideal.

Unlike its larger Android competitors, the iPhone 6 Plus doesn’t have a super-low power mode like the one found in Samsung and HTC phones of late. It’s up to you to figure out what will save energy.

Another battery downside is that the tiny 5V charger Apple bundles in the box with the 6 Plus takes forever to charge the device. Fast-charging was a benefit of the 5s, but it seems that with larger batteries and smaller chargers, you’re made to wait longer for a juice bump if you’re in need.

TouchID

Apple’s TouchID fingerprint sensor is back on the iPhone 6 Plus, and it’s been beefed up to work with other compatible apps in order to keep your information safe. That means you can unlock a bunch of apps just with your fingerprint. Keeper, 1Password and Dashlane for your passwords, Day One for your journalling, Amazon and 2Do for to-do lists — they all work with TouchID now.

Apple assures us that the information is still kept inside the A8 processor’s secure enclave, meaning it’s not actually shared with either Cupertino or third-party manufacturers for safety reasons.

More apps need to have fingerprint-unlock capabilities as far as I’m concerned. Right now, the list is pretty small, but it will likely grow over time.

You can still only store around five fingerprints on the iPhone 6 Plus, which is a bit annoying for those who are properly paranoid about security, but the good thing is that it works faster than ever. Just tap and go!


Software

iOS 8

Everything you thought could be better about iOS 7? Yeah, that’s fixed and then some in iOS 8.

It might look exactly like the same OS as before, but iOS 8 is tweaked and tuned for the perfect user experience. Existing iOS users will love it, returning iOS users will be blown away by it, and users on other platforms who play with it might just be tempted back over by how easy everything is to use.

The Photos app has been overhauled, and images have been split up into new albums. Recently Added stores all the photos you’ve grabbed, while individual camera functions including Panorama, Video and Time Lapse are all stashed off in their own folders. The Photos app also now allows you to hide particular photos by long-pressing on it. Alternatively, you can actually Favourite photos now, which stores them in their own special album. While we’re on photos, it’s also worth noting that the Camera app itself now allows you to set a self-timer, capture Burst Mode Selfies and capture Time Lapse video.

Apple’s Handoff feature, first demonstrated at WWDC as a way to switch seamlessly between your Mac and your iPhone or iPad has come to iOS 8 early, meaning you can be notified of phone calls on your other devices. I’m reviewing the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus at the moment, and everytime one rings, the other tells me about it and gives me the option of answering the call on the separate device. It’s baffling, but it’s awesome. That feature extends to iPads too.

Multitasking View now shows you a list of recent contacts as well as your recent apps, as well as a list of your Favourite Contacts to make getting in touch with everyone easier.

Siri got an upgrade, and among other things she can now tell you the music that’s playing a la Shazam. Just ask her “What Song Is Playing?” and, voila, she’ll tell you while also pointing to a buy link on the iTunes Store. Unlike Shazam, she won’t give you deep links into your streaming services like Spotify or Rdio, nor from the looks of things will she remember it in a list format you can access later.

Apple has made a few changes to Notification Center in iOS 8 to make it easier to use. You can do a few new things, including tune the Today view so that it shows you only the information you find relevant to you.

The Notification Center also allows you to respond inside the Notification window to things like messages. Yes, it’s something Android and BlackBerry have both had for a while, but it’s on iOS now, and users who have been here a while will like that.

The only weird thing I’ve noticed about iOS 8 on the iPhone 6 so far is the inability to take a screenshot as easily as you once could. It used to be a matter of tapping the home and power keys at once, but iOS 8 requires the keys to be held down for a period of time before it will realise you want to capture a screenshot. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how to change that.

Apps And Scaling

New apps are around to take advantage of cool new stuff on the iPhone 6 Plus too. Aside from apps interacting with TouchID, developers are able to design games with a new system that allows for console-level games on the iPhone. Developers are still porting them over, but the Metal-powered games we’ve played look amazing.

iOS 8 also allows users to install keyboards from other developers and use them in lieu of the official Apple keyboard. Third-party keyboards are nice to have, but sometimes they fail to load (looking at you, Swype and Swiftkey) and just dump you out of the keyboard view completely. They pale in comparison to apps like Google Keyboard on Android. Hopefully, Google decides to port it over or Apple just decides to build its own.

But the keyboard on the iPhone 6 Plus isn’t all bad. Because of the massive screen, it’s easier than ever to hold it vertically or horizontally with two hands and type like a pro from the typing pool. Horizontal users on the iPhone 6 Plus in particular will enjoy the new Apple keyboard, as it gives you additional buttons on either side of the letters that you use most often. You get a few punctuation options, as well as cursor control to help you move back and forward in your document.

The last time Apple introduced an iPhone with a larger screen, it put black bars over the apps that weren’t configured for the bigger panel. It was partly to cover up that there was a gap in development on the part of third-party developers, but also to shame those developers into fixing it.

A little while ago, around the time the Retina iPad Mini was released, Apple worked out how to use Retina assets in an app to upscale and shine up iPhone apps so they worked well at 2x magnification on the tablet. Now that the 5.5-inch iPhone is here, Apple is doing something similar, scaling up the iPhone apps to work on a larger screen for developers that haven’t taken advantage of the specific setting that allows apps to interact with the iPhone 6 Plus differently.

It should work great, but a few third-party apps aren’t coping well with the scaling change, resulting in jagged and stuttery animations, while graphics look blown up to the point of losing sharpness. It will be fixed in time as these developers get around to it; it’s just a little jarring to see going from app to app right now.

Apple Pay

Apple triumphantly announced its NFC-based payment system, Apple Pay, at the iPhone 6 reveal. As expected, it’s not in Australia yet. It’s meant to work by storing your cards inside the Passbook and allowing you to swipe your phone at a contactless terminal to pay for goods and services. Our Amerifriends will be using that soon, but we’ll have to wait an undefined amount of time to get it for ourselves, which is disappointing.

Marks off for that.

What’s Good?

There’s a lot to love about the iPhone 6 Plus. Right now, it’s my phablet of choice.

The 1080p screen is absolutely incredible. I keep locking and unlocking it just to look at the baffling clarity Apple has been able to produce by engineering the screen so precisely to completely eliminate glare and make it readable in the sunlight.

The camera is also shockingly impressive. The iPhone 5s has been able to hold its own against the market for a long time, and the 8MP sensor overhaul on the 6 and 6 Plus cameras (at least for me) solidifies the phone as the camera of choice for all-purpose mobile shooting.

The size of the iPhone 6 Plus is also great. Sure, it’s a little unwieldy at times, but you’re unlikely to drop the thing and shatter it into a million pieces as long as you have a solid grip on it when you’re out and about. It feels like a premium bit of kit in the hand.

In the same way that you’d pull a handsome bi-fold wallet out of a jacket pocket, the iPhone 6 Plus just feels like a status symbol that demands attention.

Using it is also a pleasure: iOS 8 (despite a few scaling glitches), is a fantastic experience that I’m still not tired of after years of being an iOS user. There are also a bunch of new experimental features that I’m sure I’ll employ over the next few months, with sending voice messages, Siri’s new Shazam-like functionality, getting out of group chats and seeing what’s eating my battery being top of my list for favourite new features.

What’s Not So Good?

At times, the iPhone 6 Plus just feels a little too big for itself. It has the same problem the first-generation HTC One M8 has in that it’s a bit slippery to hold, making one-handed use a precarious proposition from a physical standpoint.

At the same time, the app scaling, while fluid and intelligently implemented from day one, still feels slightly average. Like displaying a low-res app on a high-res screen, some apps look a bit stretched, pixelated or jagged in terms of their animations.

The same goes for a few official Apple apps too: Music has crashed my test unit more than a few times, especially when iTunes Match downloads get involved, and Apple’s Health platform still won’t let you pair new apps due to an unnamed issue on iOS 8 launch day.

It’s annoying to have to reboot your phone to force an app back on track, but these are pretty standard launch-week problems that will be fixed in due time. If you read this in a few weeks, it’s unlikely the issue will still be in play.

Siri is also a bit of an annoyance on iOS 8 as well, and not as polished as I was hoping. In 2014, I’d have hoped that Siri would at least have her recognition capabilities built into the device so that she doesn’t need to ping out to the cloud every single time you say something to her. Cellular connectivity isn’t always 100 per cent, and I shouldn’t have to connect to a network to do stuff on my local device, like set a timer, check my calendar or shuffle a playlist. Siri connects to the network for everything, and she refuses to do your bidding if you disconnect her. In a world where Apple’s competitors all have voice assistants, most with local voice recognition, there’s a need for speed that Cupertino is starting to fall behind on.

The only other gripe I have with the 6 Plus is privacy. Not privacy from developers, social networks or Apple itself, but privacy from other people. You have to understand that if you’re getting this phone you’ll never be able to hide what you’re doing from anyone around you ever again.

Because the screen is so large and the viewing angle is so good, you won’t get away with a damn thing when using it on the bus, at the dinner table or in your office. Anyone who takes even a cursory glance in your direction will know that you’re on Tinder, or that you’re looking at a personal email or your bank balance. If it’s something that concerns you, it might be worth looking to get yourself a mirrored screen protector that kills the visibility of the display on certain angles. It sucks, but your privacy might be worth it.

Price

The iPhone 6 Plus is sold in gold, silver and space grey. It will start at $999 for the 16GB model, going up to $1129 for the 64GB model, and $1249 for the new 128GB model. It’s also on sale from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile.

It’s safe to assume that if you want the absolute lowest price for your iPhone 6, you’ll be looking at the 16GB model on entry-level plans. That means you won’t get a huge amount of storage on your phone, nor will you get generous inclusions.

Let’s run through the carriers:

Telstra

The 16GB iPhone 6 will run you a minimum of $77 per month on Telstra.

That consists of the $55 Mobile Accelerate Plan which includes $550 worth of calls, 500MB of data over 24 months. That means the phone itself will cost an extra $22 per month on a 24-month contract.


Optus

The 16GB iPhone 6 will run you a minimum of $60 per month on Optus.

That consists of the $35 MyPlan which includes 300 standard minutes of calls, unlimited SMS and MMS, and 500MB of data over 24 months. That means the phone itself will cost an extra $25 per month on a 24-month contract.


Vodafone

The 16GB iPhone 6 will run you a minimum of $74 per month on Vodafone.

That consists of the $70 Red Plan which includes Infinite standard national calls and texts and international texts plus 300 international minutes, and 3GB of data over 24 months. That means the phone itself will cost an extra $4 per month on a 24-month contract.

(Vodafone does offer Red Plans at lower than $70 per month, but from what we’ve seen they don’t trigger the phone inclusions.)


Virgin

The 16GB iPhone 6 will run you a minimum of $55 per month on Virgin.

That consists of the $30 plan which includes $300 of standard calls and texts and 300MB included over 24 months (a special iPhone launch offer will see you get an extra 2GB of bonus data when you switch networks). That means the phone itself will cost an extra $25 per month on a 24-month contract.

For every iPhone plan on offer in Australia, check out Lifehacker’s complete Planhacker.

Should You Buy It?

iPhone 6 Plus

Price: from $999

Like
  • Incredibly polished phablet device.
  • Great all-purpose mobile camera.
  • iOS 8 is fantastic.
Don’t Like
  • Scaling on some third-party apps needs work.
  • Some features don’t work in Australia yet.
  • Expensive.

iOS die-hards have been waiting years for bigger screens, and their patience has finally been rewarded on the iPhone 6 Plus.

The screen is picture perfect, and viewing content on it is amazing.

It might be a bit too big for some people’s hands, but that’s the risk you run on every phablet. It’s great to finally see a competitor for the Samsung Galaxy Note.

It’s more than just a bigger-screened device, however: iOS 8 is great, everything has been tweaked to near-perfection (bar a few third-party foul ups here and there). It’s a mite expensive compared to the rest of the market, but you’ll be rewarded with a brilliant camera, sensational hardware and battery for days.

Get this phone.


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