You can't talk about this phone without talking about this screen.
More specifically, you can't talk about this phone without talking about the size of this screen. How does 4.7 inches feel for a phone as opposed to 4 inches, or as opposed to 3.5? And haven't iPhone owners been hating on screens that size for a while now? To what can the turnaround be attributed to besides a) Apple following the herd and b) Apple product owners loyally following Apple?
Let's get to the first question. To me, 4.7 inches is right at the line of "useful addition of screen real estate" and "unmanageable for regular use as a phone". I noticed as such in the newer Nexus devices, which all have similar screen sizes, as well as one of the older HTC Ones, if I remember correctly. For a person with hands the size that mine are, this phone is not too big - rather, it's big enough. Any bigger, and it would be uncomfortable.
I have used the "Reachability" feature two times, both to demonstrate the feature to others and never to actually reach something higher up on the screen without adjusting it. I doubt I ever will actually use it. I think it will go down as one of the worse hacks Apple has ever released on a device.
This all, however, kind of misses the point. The screen is not just how big it is, but what it is and how it works. To discuss its size as the only qualitative measure is to seriously miss out on what a fantastic screen this is. I mean, holy shit, this screen.
Touching this device is buttery smooth. The curved edges are lovely to hold, and touches on it feel noticeably better than on the 5S - the effect of a thinner display module is that there's no "press" feedback, only touch and move. Text and images look spectacular.
The rounded edges (and flat seams) provide another effect: the "swipe right to go back" gesture feels gorgeous. It completely obviates the need for going up to the top left for the back button and makes it a pleasure to do so (for those apps that use it, which most do).
Those two things, the technical and physical structure of the screen and the software behind it, are what makes Apple different from these other companies. The first is an example of their attention to detail, the second the power of integrated software and hardware (as well as the power of a third party app ecosystem with a high degree of quality). John Siracusa had it right a few days ago on ATP: we've seen phones this big, and we know how they sell, but we haven't seen iPhones this big, and there's a difference.
In fact, that's generally what I thought when I'd hold a Nexus device or something along those lines. The size of the device was never the objection (except for the dinner plate 5 inch plus devices, and we'll get to that later, don't worry), but the rest of it - the device either felt flimsy and weak in the case of the Galaxy devices or weighty and bulky like the Lumias. Even the well made hardware like the HTC One or the LG newer devices suffer from Android, which in looking prettier has never scaled up to the larger screen size in a meaningful way and, once the carriers and OEM's get to it, looks hideous. I see people all the time using Galaxy phones with a skin on it that looks like a child picked four random colors out of a palate and splashed them on the screen in neon madness, tied together by Comic Sans. I'm amazed people use them.
So I'd pick one of these phones up, and, if the hardware was nice, i'd say "Man, I wish these things ran iOS." Now, they do.
The question is, how does iOS scale to the larger device?
Under the Screen
I focused on the following questions when looking at this device for the first few days.
--How does pushing all those extra pixels make the device feel? Is this the kind of situation that the first retina iPad had, where the hardware just wasn't there yet and would necessitate a processor and graphics bump to accommodate it?
--How well does iOS scale to the larger size? Is there a functionality and feature increase that comes with the screen real estate? do they use it well?
First, the speed and performance issue. I do not think this is a 3rd-gen-iPad situation. This has more than enough power to run this display and feels faster than the 5S did, which is saying something because it was never slow. This is super responsive, which could be the new display, but apps open instantly and run smoothly. No complaints there.
Second, the usefulness. Some things are larger, which is good - namely, the keyboard. Typing on this keyboard is so much easier and faster than on the 5S simply because it is bigger. There's just more room to move and your touch targets are bigger. In landscape, the default keyboard actually has buttons on the right and left side, which I'm not sure I like yet but fall into the "get used to it" category, because they put the comma in the main screen and Daddy like.
An extra row of home screen icons is nice and allows my setup to spread out a little bit, as well as put more info right up front. That's a lot of extra room, when I can add more and spread out what I already have.
The larger viewfinder helps to line up pictures (the camera is amazing, but that's been covered ad nauseam, so I won't address it other than to say it's wonderful).
List views are just what you'd expect - you can see more items. For most things, that's wonderful, but here's where we hit the line between "yay more" and "wait a second where am I". The problem with android tablets is not their size per se, but the fact that all apps for android tablets don't provide an interface better than a blown up phone interface, which is a giant sprawling single column list view.
4.7 inches is right at the line where you are presented a comfortable amount of information and you're not staring at a sea of white bars and grey dividers. This phone, in a lot of ways, is really as big as I foresee it getting where it's comfortable for me to use.
Everywhere else, they pretty much punted and stretched the interface out, letting Auto Layout constraints do the work for them. Music playback has pretty much been a joke and still is. The larger screen highlights the downside of iOS 8, which was the downside of iOS 7 - a "flat" interface means you see a lot of white space unless it's used effectively. Well designed iOS apps are now about making the most out of the space you have, and although only some of Apple's preinstalled functionality apps don't meet that criteria, that still leaves a handful of "try better next time"s.
I have yet to see an iPhone 6 Plus in the wild, but when I do, I anticipate it will confirm a suspicion I have that Apple really punted on using the new real estate in a functionally beneficial way. What I suspect will change my mind is if the things like a landscape home screen and a regular size class in landscape (for laymen, the ability to do an iPad style layout in landscape orientation) turn out to be killer features, but that still leaves portrait orientation to be a sea of big, towering lists.
The Elephant in the Room
I did not order the 6 Plus. I don't like phones that size - they're awkward in my hand and in my pocket, which is where they spend most of their time, and if they don't add noticeable and tangible benefit to mobile (not portable) computing, they're a nuisance.
The distinction between mobile and portable is important, because apple makes a portable device running iOS - the iPad. I own an iPad mini retina, and I love it. I'll undoubtedly be using T-Mobile's JUMP to get the newest iPad when it comes out, and i'll love that too. I like the tablet as a form factor for portable computing. So, I have no use for a second tablet, especially when it removes my favorite part of the phone, which is its mobility. It goes in my pocket, with me, everywhere. That's a tall order, and the phone does it, but only because of it's size.
So, I won't be getting it. I understand why some people will, though. These people don't have and won't get an iPad. They want a device that does both, and 5.5 inches is comfortably between the iPad mini and the iPhone 5S, skewing on the side of the phone. So, they'll really like the iPhone 6 Plus, and I expect them to sell pretty much every one they make for the first 6 months.
I mean, the truth has always been, really, that there were many people in this group who would have wanted a big iPhone, and have been asking for a bigger iPhone, and this device is for them. Some just chose to be okay with there not being a big iPhone by hating on big Android phones, while others openly stated their wish for an iPhone that size (most people honestly fell into that second category). This is normal - it's the same thing Android fans did when they mocked iOS' design sensibility but then couldn't shut up about shit like Project Butter and how much prettier Android got over the last two years. If you don't have it, and you want it, and someone else has it, you hate it until you get it. It's called jealousy, and the owners of the Thing To Be Had love lording others' jealousy over them. The preferred position around jealousy is to be craveee, not the craver.
Is there anything inherently wrong with "phablets"? No. I just prefer to have a tablet for that purpose, and see the phablet as a compromise device that loses some of the better parts of being a mobile phone to gain half-functional benefits of being a tablet and ending up with a product that's mostly not as good as either thing it cribbed from. But, people who don't have room for a tablet in their life don't see it that way - they see the gain in real estate and the adjustment in landscape to the two pane split view as revolutions in productivity and real honest gains in functionality that they haven't been exposed to yet.
The key to recognize about this year is that Apple is giving back a choice they made for years confidently and unflinchingly - "this is what you want". We picked the exact right size, the right color, the right finish, the right everything. Now, iPhones and iPads are in the "we made two great devices, pick the one you want." I went iPhone 6/iPad mini retina, but the combinations are varied and quite vast when you factor in the 5C and 5S. It's jarring, but a bit of responsibility in making decisions about one's preferences usually is.