iPhone 6 vs. 6 Plus: Andy Ihnatko has one question for you

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Should I talk about the new iPhones again before their release date on Friday? I didn’t think so. I offered initial impressions during the launch event last week. I expect to have them in hand that morning, and I’d rather offer opinions based on lots of deep-soak testing.

But! I am a dope. Despite the subtle cues manifest in the very names of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, I somehow forgot that these are iPhones.

Yes, as I lazily fire up last night’s “Boardwalk Empire” premiere on HBO Go here in the comfort of my snug and cozy living room, there are men and women huddling on sidewalks outside Apple Stores, wondering if they should go for the 6 or the 6 Plus, and if they should maybe have grabbed at least a yoga mat as insulation between their bottoms and the cold concrete.

As it was, the very second that the online iPhone pre-ordering window opened, Twitter lit up with festive 140-character bullets of invective (if the ordering page refused to reload), or rejoicing (if the person got the phone they wanted in the color they wanted, and a projected delivery date of Sept. 19). Apple notes that they’ve sold 4 million already … so, clearly, some people managed to get through.

There are two sizes: The iPhone 6 has a larger, 4.7-inch screen. The iPhone 6 Plus is a true 5.5-inch phablet. Folks are so keen to get a sense of the size difference (or so excited for the Friday launch date that they need something to do with their hands to prevent them from just throwing a credit card out of their wallets every time they see an Apple logo) that they’ve been printing up facsimiles of both devices.

The “default” iPhone is clearly the iPhone 6. It’s a simple step-up from the iPhone 5S. Here, then, are some early thoughts for people considering the 6 Plus, written with the serene authority of someone who’s spent all of one hour noodling around with them in a demo area at the launch event.

(With the caveat that this is by no means a review. I’m just making generalized observations, here about the physical differences between the 6 and 6 Plus. My “real” opinions will have to wait until I’ve had a week or two with the hardware and can write my formal review.)


Is the 5.5-inch Plus pocketable? That’s why people are downloading 3-D models of the iPhone 6 and printing them on their MakerBots.

Yes, it’s pocketable. For several instances of the variable “Pocketable,” anyway.

I’ve been doing weekend research on that question using the Samsung Galaxy Note II I’ve got here in my hardware library. It’s only a hair smaller than the iPhone 6 (the Note is about two-tenths of an inch wider, and two-tenths shorter). The one pair of pants I own with the Notoriously Problematic Front Pockets is, as expected and implied, a Problem for the 6 Plus. Keep in mind that the pockets on these pants are shallow enough that I need to switch to my “skinny” wallet when I wear them.

Otherwise, the Plus works fine in front pockets of the pants I own. Women’s pants, and back pockets, are the real issue. The Plus is just large enough to “periscope” a little bit. It’s enough of a peek that I’d be paranoid about losing my phone when I sit in sofas and diner booths. But then, I don’t put anything in a back pocket that I want to keep.

Shirt pockets are a dead loss due to the periscoping problem as well as the metal and glass surface of the phone. If my experience testing the Note II is any indication, the iPhone 6 Plus is likely to tumble out when you lean forward.

I think this problem can be solved when accessory makers start producing little folios and sleeves for the 6 Plus. They snug around the phone and create a cloth-to-cloth point of interface between the phone and the inside of your shirt pocket, dramatically increasing the coefficient of friction and increasing the amount of shear-force required for unintentioned fallout.

(Yes, thank you — I was quite proud of that line. I’m well-versed in both technical jumbo and technical mumbo. Are you even paying attention, Pulitzer committee? Why am I as-yet unhonored by you people?)

The size of the iPhone 6 Plus will freak out longtime iPhone users at first because there hasn’t ever been a properly large iPhone before. Even when Apple grudgingly made the iPhone 5’s screen longer than the classic iPhone, they kept the width the same.

The 6 Plus is less jarring for someone like me, who uses an Android phone with a 5-inch screen daily. Keep that in mind before you make a two-year commitment to the smaller iPhone 6 based on only your initial “Gamera has failed to stop Phonezilla! We must flee the city!!” reaction to the 6 Plus.

Outside and inside physical differences

Apart from size, the two seemed practically indistinguishable to me. The same maker built both of these phones using the same tools and with the same standards of quality.

They appear to share the same new A8 processor and I’ll be surprised if the performance between the two will differ in any way.

The screens of the two differ in density, not just size. The 6 Plus screen is 401 ppi to the 6’s 326. During my hour with the two phones, I couldn’t really spot a difference in clarity. No doubt the increased density will come into play with stuff like the street names on a map, but I wouldn’t call it a signature difference.

The bigger body of the 6 Plus has room for a bigger battery, and the extra capacity isn’t just there to drive the larger screen. A table on Apple’s site promises greater battery life across the board, ranging from a mere extra hour of Wi-Fi Web browsing (12 versus 11) to six whole days of additional standby time (16 to the iPhone 6’s 10).

Many people use their iPads as all-day Wi-Fi laptop hot spots, because of its bigger battery. I imagine that the iPhone 6, with its screen off, will be a nice all-afternoon source of broadband and still leave enough juice in the tank for the commute home. Time and testing will tell.


You ought to be able to use the iPhone 6 one-handed almost as easily as the iPhone 5S and its predecessors. But the 6 Plus? Forget it. This is a real two-hander.

Not a big deal. One-handed operation is sometimes convenient, but it’s mostly a leftover of how we used our old clickybutton phones. Also, Apple added a double-touch gesture into the Touch ID sensor of the home button that pulls the top half of the 6 Plus screen down within reach of your thumb.

Based solely on my brief experiences in the demo area, I’d describe it as a “in case of lack-of-free-hand need-data-right-now emergency, break glass” feature. (A) It’s functional, but not comfortable, and (B) oh, boy, this is a lot of phone to balance on the palm of your hand without a full, secure grip. Breaking Glass will be a real risk, I reckon.

Weight could be a factor if you’re highly sensitive to that issue. The Plus is actually only an ounce and a half heavier. We’re talking about a thing you might be holding for 45 minutes during a subway ride, though. I can tell you that the 6 Plus didn’t feel unusually heavy, even when I held it and the iPhone 6 in either hand.

Overall, though, this is why Apple makes the iPhone 6 series in two sizes. The Plus is way too large to be the fleet vehicle of the lineup. It’s there as an option for people who use their phones in ways that weren’t possible in 2007.


Overall, the choice between the 6 and the 6 Plus can be settled with one question:

Do you want an iPad Nano?

Because conceptually, that’s what the 6 Plus is. It’s small enough to be pocketable. Yet the screen is large enough to credibly support iPad-like things.

I am required by my Code to remind you that I have had all of one hour’s experience with this thing. However, I’m confident in this assertion.

A signature difference between a conveniently sized phone like the iPhone 6 and one with tablet-esque proportions is that you don’t have to add the qualifier “ … if I really had to, I mean” after mentioning something amazing you can do with your phone. You can use your standard-size iPhone to read books, you can watch movies, you can write stuff, you can create and edit documents and spreadsheets. You can even edit movies and audio on an iPhone 6.

If you really had to. But you would wish that you’d brought your iPad or your notebook.

A 5.5-inch screen is big enough that such tasks suddenly become quite credible, if still not ideal. Based on my experience with other phones of that size, it’s possible to actually enjoy a movie or a TV show instead of just watching it and write 1,000 words without feeling like you’re getting away with something you’re not supposed to be doing.

And that’s just my experience with Android and Windows Phone phablets. Their apps haven’t been written to take particular advantage of the dimensions of the Galaxy Note or the LG G3. But iOS developers will absolutely fine-tune and optimize their apps so that they fully exploit the opportunities created by the 6 Plus’ 5.5 inch screen.

I’m also excited about what iOS 8 will bring to the 6 Plus. At long, luscious last, apps in iOS will be able to collaborate with each other. It goes well beyond a simple “hand off this photo to one of the following apps” panel: A second app can insert its own custom user interface into another app’s UI, at appropriate moments in the workflow. This concept will flourish on a larger screen.

Will iOS users be able to run full-blown apps side-by-side one day? I’m sure that’s coming, although Apple hasn’t announced anything. If it does, I’m certain that the iPhone 6 Plus will be the smallest iOS device that supports it.

If your reaction to the iPhone 6 Plus is “it’s absolutely too big for me to carry around,” then none of these observations matters. But they’re a big reason why the 6 Plus is such a great cause of excitement.


The iPhone 6 Plus is the first, and only, iPhone with an optically stabilized camera. This ought to be a very big improvement in its ability to take sharp, clear photos indoors and in other low-light situations. The stabilized lens compensates for slight movements during long exposures. Without it, the phone has to either use a short shutter speed (and jack up the light sensitivity of the image sensor to levels that greatly increase noise and grain), or accept a certain amount of motion blur.

If the iPhone 6 Plus is just plain too big for your tastes or your lifestyle, well, the camera isn’t a good enough reason to go for a larger phone. But wow, it’s a great bonus.


Both the 6 and 6 Plus are available in 16, 64, and 128 gigabyte capacities, with a $100 price jump between each level. Apple’s done away with the 32 gig version entirely.

I urge you to skip the 16 gig versions if you can afford to do so. Extra storage headroom is more valuable on an iPhone than it is on any other smartphone, though. An iPhone encourages you to shoot more video and load up more entertainment.

16 gigs on an iPhone 6 is adequate. And a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks. If you get the 16 gig iPhone 6, you’ll live. But it’s $100 for four times as much storage! And that extra space can be the difference between blissfully shooting HD video for the whole week of your vacation and having to take a mere photo of your Uncle Gunther diving off of the ladder and missing the backyard kiddie pool by 2 feet.

If you’re getting the iPhone 6 Plus: Skip the entry-level model completely. Hold off for another couple of months and save up for the 64 gig version if that’s what you have to do. Because although you might be thinking of it as an iPhone on the day you unbox it, within a week I bet you’ll be using it like an iPad. And having only 16 gigs of storage on an iPad is like having only three hours in Disney World. You can do … things … but it’s not the real experience.


Gold on a 5.5-inch phablet?

That’s a lot of gold.

I mean … doesn’t that seem like a lot of gold to you? I’m just asking you to think about that one carefully.

‘First of its kind’ syndrome

My only pre-launch-day concern about the 6 Plus is that it’s the first of its kind. Apple knows how people use a conventional iPhone. But the 5.5-inch version is brand-new territory. It’s certainly possible that the first two months of usage will urge Apple to put more application memory into the next edition, or to put more space between the home button and the bottom of the device, or to move the sleep/wake button somewhere else.

“First of its kind” syndrome comes into play with every brand-new device and category. I haven’t spotted any glaring problems with the 6 Plus and I wouldn’t allow this concept to interfere with my purchasing plans.

What if I were on the fence, and I didn’t know if I really needed to even buy a new phone this year? Well, that in itself is a good reason to wait. But the fact that this is the first iPhone Plus ever would certainly be enough to tip me over into holding back for a month or two, just until there’s some feedback from the first 10 million users.

This dude’s been waiting outside an Apple store in Tokyo since last week. Your tech columnist doesn’t encourage this behavior. | Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Can’t it wait?

If it’s time for you to get a new phone this year — boy, are you in luck. The larger screens alone make the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus into a huge step up from last year’s iPhone 5S — not just physically — and the 5.5-inch option creates whole new opportunities for productivity and convenience, even if the convenience isn’t entirely physical.

But it bears mentioning that waiting is an option. We get so dazzled by the new iPhones every year that we might feel some pressure to discard a perfectly good 2-year-old or even 1-year-old model in favor of the new shiny-shiny. If you have an iPhone 5, the bigger screen, much more powerful processor and TouchID should urge you to upgrade.

Even if you buy a new iPhone this year, I gotta recommend that you stop sleeping on the sidewalk outside the Apple Store and just accept that you’ll get a new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus when you get one. There isn’t even any real need to rush right out and buy the iPhone 6 on Friday. It’s going to take a couple of months before Apple is able to sell you exactly the model, color and capacity of iPhone 6 you want on the day you want it, but even if that happens, it’s normal and the wait won’t kill you.

(I’m reading this back to myself and I’m hearing it in my dad’s voice. Which is usually a sign that it’s good common sense. The same thing happens when I think “I should probably take the commuter rail train that’ll get me to the airport another hour sooner. Better to be bored in the terminal than stressed out because I don’t know if I’ll make my flight.”)

Hold both of these phones in your hand and make a judgment based on a bit of experience. Go home and think it over if you have to and don’t feel pressured to make the purchase just because you were in line for three days and if you don’t claim a 64 gig Space Gray iPhone 6 Plus right now, only the gold 16 gig ones will be left.

I must say that I don’t fully understand the need to get these new gadgets on the very first day.

Yes, you have 14 days to return an iPhone if you don’t like it, no questions asked. U.S. carriers offer a 14-day window to cancel the contract without termination fees too.

It still seems like jumping the gun. I mean, I’m not your therapist, but why do you neeeeeeeed an iPhone on Sept. 19? This will not magically cause the bike that some kid stole from you when you were 9 years old to not have been stolen from you. You know what I mean?

But I’m not judging. I certainly understand the impulse. I held the iPhone 6 Plus in my hand on Sept. 9 and the lizard parts of my brain activated as soon as it made contact with my skin. “Want. Want, want, want.” It felt like the iPhone I’ve been waiting to hold for three years — and the one I thought Apple might never make.

Oh, dear. I seem to be talking myself into grabbing a tarp and driving to the Beacon Street Apple Store before the line stretches all the way to the library. So perhaps I should end this here before I do something foolish.

Bottom line

The iPhone 6 should be your default choice; but the iPhone 6 Plus is probably smaller than you think it is. Stylistically, the Plus will probably operate more like an iPad Nano than an iPhone; buying extra storage today will save you a lot of heartbreak in the near future.

And if you’re going to try to use the bathrooms at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Boylston and Exeter, you should really buy something. That’s just basic courtesy.

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