Apple iPhone 6 Plus Review: Is Bigger Better?

User Interface (iOS 8)

As if adjusting to a much larger display wasn’t enough, there’s also a new operating system onboard the 6 Plus. iOS 8 isn’t the dramatic visual overhaul that iOS 7 was, but it may well be the most dramatic in terms of code change since iOS 2’s introduction of the App Store. With iOS 8, Apple has broken form in a number of departments, and it’s great news for end users. For starters, it’s giving third-party apps more control than ever before. Apps like SportsCenter and Evernote will now be able to send custom notifications right to the lock screen, and you can even interact with them without ever touching the app. Moreover, third-party keyboards are finally supported, which means that the likes of SwiftKey, TouchPal, and Swype are now available on iOS. (Granted, Android users have known about predictive typing for years, but it’s still a major win for iPhone loyalists. Better late than never, as they say.)

With the iPhone 6 Plus, you see a side of iOS 8 that no other iPhone sees. In Messages and Calendar, for example, you’ll see more information and split-screen views when using the device in landscape mode. Though no third-party apps have been updated yet to do similar, we suspect it’s only a matter of time. One of the reasons that the Galaxy Note is so useful is that many apps have been updated to offer enhanced views, more data, or a split-screen option. Once that takes hold on the iPhone side, the extra screen real estate on the 6 Plus will be even more handy.

On the keyboard front, Apple’s default QuickType offers word predictions atop the letters. If you aren’t satisfied with that, options like SwiftKey (free for iOS) can be installed as well. That particular app can learn from your prior communications if you grant it access to your social channels and inbox, which should make typing on an iPhone far less arduous. In our testing, it was a huge breath of fresh air. Once you’re accustomed to predictive keyboards saving you time and effort on Android, it’s a real chore to hunt-and-peck on iOS. Now that iOS 8 is out, those days are history.

iOS 8 also adds audio messaging. Instead of texting or sending emoji, you can now record snippets of voice and quickly send those as well. For notification junkies, you’ll be delighted to know that you can now respond to incoming notifications (like an iMessage) without ever leaving the app that you’re in. Or, if you’re on the notification screen, you can reply from there. Apple has effectively addressed the annoying art of having to jump out of one app and into another just to reply to a given notification. It’s long overdue, but it works well. As mentioned earlier, Apple has addressed the inability to use the 6 Plus in comfort with a single hand by enacting "Reachability." You simply double-tap (not press, but gently tap) the home button, and the entire screen slides down so that it's within reach of your thumb. It's a little cumbersome, but it does the trick. It's not a mode you'd be happy using for very long, however; we suspect it's mostly there to navigate to an address or reply quickly to an iMessage when your other hand can't be used.

Another major staple of iOS 8 is Health. The M8 motion co-processor continually tracks movement and motion, and the inbuilt Health app gives you snapshots of calories burned and your overall activity level. It’s not as in-depth as we would’ve liked, but once the Apple Watch hits next year, Health will be even more robust as it tracks heart rate right from your wrist.

Another welcome feature is Continuity. This allows you to answer an incoming iPhone call on your Mac or iPad, respond to iMessages from there as well, and even pick up on half-written emails as you leave your Mac and take off with your iPhone. Unfortunately, most of this is just a promise for now, as the Mac side of the equation requires OS X Yosemite, which won’t ship for a few months yet.

All in all, iOS 8 offers a wealth of improvements, and it still feels lightweight and nimble. One annoyance that we couldn’t shake had to do with the new Photos app, though. Instead of having a local Camera Roll, Apple is forcing you to look at all photos taken on all of your linked accounts, regardless of device. It’s a pretty disorienting feature, and while we appreciate that it’s gently pushing people to the cloud, this seems like an awkward way to do it. Speaking of iCloud, Apple still provides just 5GB of backup space for free, which is effectively useless. Apple has billions in the bank and prides itself on going above and beyond in the name of customer experience, so we aren’t quite sure why each phone doesn’t have access to enough iCloud space to back the entire phone up. It’s a financial decision, but seriously, Apple has dealt with an awful lot of cloud-related flack of late. Hopefully it’ll come around and grant new users enough gratis space to keep their entire device in the cloud for backup and restore purposes.

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