iPhone 6 vs. iPhone 6 Plus: A closer look

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Gizmag goes hands-on to compare the iPhone 6 (left) and larger iPhone 6 Plus (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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This latest batch of iPhones marks the first time Apple released two flagships at once (the year before, the iPhone 5s was clearly superior to the 5c). How do you choose between the 4.7-in iPhone 6 and 5.5-in iPhone 6 Plus? Join Gizmag, as we take a hands-on look at the two best iPhones.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are the same phone in two different sizes ... almost. iOS 8 on the iPhone 6 Plus has some tweaks for the larger screen, with more of a focus on landscape mode. The Plus' camera also has Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) onboard, to help offset the effects of shaky hands. The smaller iPhone 6 doesn't have OIS.

We aren't going to repeat ourselves too much from our individual iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus reviews, but since we've had both handsets in house for more than four months, we're going to zero in on the different experiences of using the two flagships.

As you might expect, the iPhone 6 (above) gives you more of a traditional smartphone experience – quite possibly the best there is today. By today's standards, its 4.7-in screen is on the smaller end of the flagship smartphone spectrum, but not too far behind the pack – perhaps similar to how the 3.5-in iPhone 4s compared to its rivals back in 2011. The 6 provides a silky-smooth, airtight and simple-to-use experience – while remaining one of the lightest and thinnest handsets you can buy.

The iPhone 6 Plus (above), meanwhile, is Apple's first phablet: less classic smartphone and more all-in-one pocket computer. If you always found it a little redundant to lug around a small iPhone in your pocket and a big iPad around your house, then the 6 Plus is your dream come true. Though its screen is only 43 percent as big as an iPad mini's, you can use it a bit more like you'd use a mini-tablet.

Both iPhones have the same premium (aluminum) build quality, with rounded edges and Apple's famous attention to the smallest design details. We think they're the two best-looking handsets you can buy today.

Both are also light and thin for their sizes, but the iPhone 6 is about 3 percent thinner. It also comes in at 25 percent lighter.

The iPhone 6's smaller build (its face is about 75 percent as big) makes it more comfortable to hold, and easier to use with one hand. It still isn't as wieldy as older iPhones were (comfortable one-handed use is the main compromise that today's bigger smartphones ask of you), but it's still easier to handle than the 6 Plus. It also, of course, leaves a subtler impression in your pocket.

The iPhone 6 Plus can be a little unwieldy in portrait mode. It isn't quite big enough to (comfortably) hold like a tablet, and doesn't use a stylus like the Galaxy Note series does. So you're left with this odd hand-crunching thing going on: cradling it in your secondary hand, while swiping and tapping with your dominant hand. Your main hand basically becomes a stylus, only it's shorter – which makes your two hands, at times, crunch together.

We don't see this as a deal-breaker for the excellent iPhone 6 Plus, but of the top phablets from 2014 – which also includes the Galaxy Note 4 and Nexus 6 – the Plus is the least comfortable to use in portrait mode.

Fortunately Apple (apparently) recognized this, and emphasized landscape mode on the iPhone 6 Plus, which we find to feel more natural in hand (just grip each side of the 158 mm long phablet). For the first time on an iPhone, the Plus' home screen will rotate for horizontal use, and its Mail app shows two columns in landscape (one for list view, another for message view). Safari even shows your landscape browser tabs the way it does on an iPad (basically desktop-style). You won't get any of this on the smaller iPhone 6.

Landscape mode is where the iPhone 6 Plus can become less of a big iPhone and more of an iPad mini-mini.

Third-party developers have picked up on this landscape focus pretty well. Standards like Flipboard, Amazon and eBay are (annoyingly) still limited to portrait-only, but you will find App Store fare like Newsify, Pocket and Microsoft Outlook (among many others) that do rotate into landscape.

The latter group helps to make the iPhone 6 Plus your one device to rule them all pocket computer. But that continuity is broken a bit when you go back to those portrait-only apps.

Screen size is, of course, one of your biggest considerations. The iPhone 6's screen is 73 percent as big as the 6 Plus'. But that smaller iPhone 6 screen is still 38 percent bigger than the 2012-13 iPhones (5, 5c and 5s). Compared to the pre-2012 iPhones (4s and older), the iPhone 6's screen is 67 percent bigger.

So if your priority is a big screen, the 6 Plus may or may not be what you're looking for – and much will depend on your frame of reference. If you're used to 5-in or larger Android phones, the iPhone 6 might feel a little undersized. But it still gives you significantly more real estate than any pre-2014 iPhone did. Its 4.7-in size hits a sweet spot that gives you a solid window into your content, but without feeling gigantic in hand or pocket.

The screen quality prize probably goes to the iPhone 6 Plus, as its 1080p screen is about 23 percent sharper. But in practice, we don't think this should be a deciding point: Apple nailed subtler details like color accuracy, viewing angles and brightness – making that pixel density discrepancy barely (if at all) a factor. The iPhone 6 also has a slightly higher contrast ratio (1400:1 to the Plus' 1300:1), which helps to make up for the lower pixel density.

Both have very good displays, and there are more important points to base your decision on.

Our tests show a battery life advantage for the Plus. While streaming video over Wi-Fi (with brightness set at 75 percent), it dropped around 12 percent per hour. In the same test, the iPhone 6 lost over 14 percent per hour. We don't see uptimes as a concern in either handset, but you might get a little more battery bang for your buck from the larger Plus.

This latest pair of iPhones has outstanding cameras (well, for smartphones), and they're on almost completely level ground. Both are very good in low-lit conditions, and are quick to launch and quick to snap shots after tapping the shutter. Both have dual-LED flashes (for more even and colorful-looking flash shots), 720p slow-motion at 240 fps, and burst mode.

The one difference is the Plus' addition of OIS. If you aren't the steadiest of photographers, and you're on the fence about everything else, then maybe the 6 Plus' stabilization will push you over to its side.

Elsewhere, both have Apple's excellent Touch ID fingerprint sensor (including  Pay support), both run iOS 8, both are sold in the same three colors (space gray, silver and gold) and both have zippy, silky-smooth performance.

The simplest buying advice we can give is that the iPhone 6 is more of a classic smartphone, and makes a better complement for an iPad. The iPhone 6 Plus is more of an iPad replacement, potentially voiding any need you had for a mini-tablet. If portrait mode is your thing, then you might want to test the Plus in a store to see how comfortable the (sometimes awkward-feeling) phablet is in your hands. Otherwise we can't rave enough about using it in landscape.

The iPhone 6 retails for US$650 full retail ($200 with a two-year contract) while the Plus sells for $750 off-contract ($300 on). Neither is cheap, but you could argue that these are the two best smartphones you can buy – especially with iOS 8 filling in some old gaps, like third-party keyboards, sharing extensions and Touch ID use with third-party apps.

For more detail on each phone, you can check out Gizmag's full reviews of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

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