REVIEW: iOS 8 - iPhone 6 versus iPhone 6 Plus

iOS 8 makes quite a few concessions for iPhone 6 Plus owners in acknowledgement that Apple's giant smartphone will feel more like a tablet to some people.

This year isn't the first time that Apple has conceded that people want bigger iPhones. It's however the first time that Apple has abandoned its one-size-fits-all approach to smartphones, offering both the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the phablet-esque 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.

At first glance I'd say the iPhone 6 Plus comes across as merely an overgrown iPhone 6. Place them side-by-side and you see similar styling, including a power button relocated from the top to the right-hand side to make it easier to reach.

But the more time you spend with the 6 Plus the more tweaks you discover in iOS 8 to match the behaviour of an iPad rather than an iPhone.

Spot the difference

The most striking difference between the old iPhone 5 and the new iPhone 6 is that the iPhone 6 offers room for six rows of icons on the home screen, up from five rows on its predecessor. With the iPhone 6 Plus Apple hasn't added a seventh row of icons, instead it's made everything on the home screen a little bigger.

The first sense that change is afoot comes when you turn the iPhone 6 Plus sideways. All the home screen icons rotate to remain upright – just like with an iPad. The dock remains on the short edge of the screen, but the icons still rotate so the dock now runs down the side of the screen. Like the iPad, you can turn the iPhone 6 Plus on either side or even use it upside-down and the image on the screen will rotate to match (unless you've enabled the rotation lock).

The iPhone 6 Plus' Settings menu and submenus behave the same way, so you don't need to turn the phone back to upright mode in order to make changes. The pull-down notifications bar and swipe-up shortcuts menu also rotate so you can use them when the phone is on its side.

The general idea is you should never need to use the iPhone 6 Plus in portrait mode if you choose. Not surprisingly, one of the few exceptions is when making a phone call, as the dialler refuses to rotate. Another interesting quirk is that the Messages app refuses to rotate from portrait to landscape or vice-versa if you're in the middle of composing a message, even though it will on the iPhone 6.

Room to move

Dip into the various native apps and you'll find other more subtle ways in which the iPhone 6 Plus behaves more like an iPad than an iPhone. Safari doesn't hide the URL bar when you turn the iPhone 6 Plus sideways. Text is slightly bigger thanks to the larger screen, but you can also see more of each web page thanks to the fact that the screen is taller.

The iOS 8 menus and native apps also take advantage of the larger screen to show you more at the bottom. Open up the Settings on the iPhone 6 and you can see down to Display & Brightness. Open it on the iPhone 6 Plus and you see an extra three rows, down to Touch ID and Passcode.

If you'd rather everything look a little larger, you'll find the Display Zoom option in with the Display & Brightness settings. Enable it on the iPhone 6 Plus and you'll now see roughly the same view as the iPhone 6 but everything is a little larger and you lose some of the iPad-style features. Enable it on the iPhone 6 and you'll see roughly the same view as the iPhone 5.

Unfortunately third-party apps can't automatically take advantage of the iPhone 6 Plus' extra screen real estate, by default they simply maintain the aspect ratio and scale up the picture to fill the larger screen as if you'd enabled Display Zoom. Fire up a news reader like Feedly and you won't see any more on the iPhone 6 Plus, even if you open the story in Feedly's browser.

Thankfully developers do have the option to rework their apps to make the most of the 6 Plus' larger display, but it will take time. It's yet another sign of the fragmentation which has plagued Android creeping into the iOS ecosystem.

Native Apps

Spend some time with the iOS 8 native apps on the iPhone 6 Plus and you find plenty of signs of the iPad's influence.

Native apps which will rotate on the iPhone 6 Plus but not the 6 include the iTunes Store, App Store, Newsstand and Clock. Some apps like Calendar rotate on both phones, but show extra detail on the iPhone 6 Plus such as retaining the menu options across the bottom of the screen.

Native apps which switch to a two-column view on the iPad when flipped sideways do the same on the 6 Plus. For example in Notes you can keep your list of notes open on the left and you edit a note on the right. It's a similar story with Reminders and Settings. Perhaps the most useful is the iPad-style two-column view Mail, which helps with inbox triage when you're on the go.

If you want to take full advantage of the screen real estate when composing a message you can tap the new expand icon in these apps to view your note or email full-screen. Tap the back menu in the top left of the screen to bring back two-column view.

Extended keyboard

Turn the iPhone 6 Plus on its side and you'll also discover a few new buttons on the edge of the onscreen keyboard, intended to make life easier.

Down the left-hand side you'll find dedicated Cut, Copy, Paste and Bold buttons, which aren't that revolutionary considering you can call up the same options by simply tapping on the screen. On the right-hand side you'll find the exclamation and question marks.

While some people will find these additions useful, others could find them frustrating if they tend to jump between iOS devices during the day. If you can never find the comma button on the iPhone 6 Plus for example, because it lives on the left-hand side of the keyboard, you might not be a big fan of the changes.

Reachability

Reachability would have to be the most gimmicky feature of iOS 8, available on both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. It lets you gently double tap on the button (as opposed to double press) to move everything down the screen so it's easier to reach. You can double tap the button or the empty top half of the screen to disable Reachability, or it disables itself if you don't touch the screen for a few seconds.

By the time you've reached all the way down to the button to enable Reachability you could have just as easily reached all the way up the screen to tap what you're after. That said, if I had smaller hands I might see things differently.

Even then Reachability is not always practical. Not even Apple's native apps reconfigure themselves to allow for the smaller display, so you lose all the options across the bottom of the screen. Not even the dialler reconfigures, which means the bottom half of the dial pad is pushed off the screen.

The point of Reachability is to make it easier to use the phone with one hand, but if you really need to call upon Reachability regularly then you just might need to concede that you've bought a smartphone that's just too big for you. The Galaxy Note's option to shrink the entire interface into one corner of the screen seems more practical than Apple's idea of simply pushing have the interface off the screen. When Apple has borrowed so many other interface ideas from Android it's a shame it couldn't borrow this one as well.

So what's the verdict?

Configuring the iPhone 6 Plus to behave like an iPad makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider that many people would be buying a 6 Plus as a tablet substitute. Having the Display Zoom option, to simply make it a bigger phone, is a nice touch. Such a hefty device is not for everyone, and Reachability isn't a panacea for all your frustrations, but overall it's great to see Apple give some serious thought as to how people might use its first phablet.