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printed October 23, 2017
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Review: Apple iPhone 6 Plus for AT&T

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Menus

The iPhone 6 Plus runs iOS 8. We've reviewed all the new features in iOS 8 in depth here. Here's a shorter recap.

The lock screen has become a much more useful space on iOS over the years. Users can tweak the settings to allow for as much or as little interruption as you want. Notifications can be splashed all over the lock screen, or hidden away for another time. The new extensions allow many more apps and services to offer actionable notifications on the lock screen, such as Skype 5.5, which is a nice improvement. There is only one app shortcut, however, and that's to the camera.

The home screens haven't changed at all between iOS 7 and iOS 8 on the 6 Plus. Apps are stored in a rigid grid on the home screen panels. The good news is apps can be placed in folders, and you can place as few or as many apps on each home screen as you want. There are no widgets in iOS 8 (at least not like Android), and home screen content is static, not dynamic.

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The settings menu hasn't changed at all, really. It is a long list of tools laid out in text with buttons to turn them on or off, or adjustments that require more in-depth tweaking. There are a lot of settings, but they are easy to sort between.

Menus  

The Notification shade drops the "Missed" tab from iOS 7 and adds compatibility with more apps. Developers can now create widgets that land in the Notification shade and offer new and changing content. It's a half measure, as far as I am concerned. It's nice to have dynamic content *somewhere* outside of apps, but it doesn't match what's available to Android and Windows Phone devices.

Control Center is a really useful tool for adjusting key device settings on the fly. You can access it by swiping up from just about any screen. It includes access to the wireless radios, flashlight, music controls, sharing, and brightness.

The iPhone 6 Plus has one trick up its sleeve: The home screen and select additional Apple apps now rotate and work when the device is held in landscape mode. When in landscape orientation, the dock remains and all the other apps rotate so they are facing the right way. The notification shade and control center are still accessible, and you can slide back and forth to other home screens. A fairly decent number of apps work in landscape mode. I hope Apple (and third-party apps) extends the number of apps that work in landscape orientation.

Landscape  

iOS 8 ran perfectly on the iPhone 6 Plus. I didn't run into any problems, no matter what app I used. I didn't experience any crashes, hangs, or lags. The 6 Plus has a 64-bit A8 processor with Apple's M8 motion coprocessor to help handle all the sensors.

The one major feature missing - and this is a big one - is true multitasking. Devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the LG G3 offer split-window multitasking, which allows two apps to run at the same time side-by-side. I'm actually surprised Apple did not bring this functionality to the iPhone 6 Plus. It has plenty of real estate and more than enough pixels.

Last, the iPhone 6 Plus requires some extra attention from developers. Most iOS apps aren't yet optimized for the 1920 x 1080p screen of the 6 Plus. Apple is using a real-time scaler to get non-optimized apps to look right on the 6 Plus, but it doesn't always work. Apps that haven't been updated to support the new resolution look big and terrible. You can tell right away, as everything is zoomed-in in an unpleasant way. Text is fuzzy, for example. This is Apple's fault for not making iOS resolution-independent (like Android). Further, Apple only recently began accepting updated apps for approval, so it is possible many popular apps have already been changed to support the new resolution but haven't yet popped up in the store.

Calls and Contacts

Apple made few changes to the calling and contact apps this time around. New features include support for Wi-Fi Calling and VoLTE. WiFi Calling is already available from T-Mobile and VoLTE is already available from Verizon. AT&T customers can't access either just yet.

The other big new function is called Continuity. With Continuity enabled, users of the 6 Plus who also happen to have a Mac or iPad operating on the same Wi-Fi network will be able to answer calls on their computer (requires OS X Yosemite) or iPad. This feature worked well on my hardware. I was able to answer and initiate calls from on my iPad - which were actually connected via my iPhone 6 Plus. Neat.

The contacts app hasn't really been updated at all as far as I can tell. It's a bit stark, and I wish it had more hooks into social networks and other apps.

Calls and Contacts  

Messaging

Apple made huge improvements to its core messaging apps. Email supports new actions that make managing your inbox faster and easier. These tools work well on all iOS 8 devices, not just the 6 Plus. For example, you can swipe left or right to see a list of secondary actions for deleting, marking, moving, or flagging your emails. The one cool thing the email app can do on the 6 Plus is to function in landscape mode. When you rotate the 6 Plus onto its side, the app splits into two columns, with your emails listed on the left and the current open email in a separate window of its own. It works automatically as you move the device around. This is best for skimming through your inbox. I found that replying works better when in portrait mode, as the keyboard takes up about 40% of the screen when in landscape orientation - making it harder to see your entire message.

Email  

This same split-pane view applies to iMessage. When you hold the 6 Plus in landscape mode, the texting app shows a list of conversations in a pane on the left, and the current conversation in a broader window on the right.

The messaging app also gains some new multimedia functions. It's now a snap to send video and audio snippets, as well as attach selfies. The audio tool, for example, requires a press-hold-swipe gesture that initiates the recording and then sends it automatically.

iMessage  

Apple also made significant changes to the keyboard app in iOS 8 that make it much better. The keyboard has a new word-prediction engine. As you type, several words will appear in a line above the keyboard itself. I was often able to compose entire responses using these suggestions. The keyboard also adds emoji for enhancing messages and conversations. Typing messages on the 6 Plus was a pleasure thanks to the wider screen. I felt my thumbs had much more room for typing, and Apple's spelling- and word-prediction engines helped me ramp up my typing speeds. iOS 8 adds support for third-party keyboards, too.

Keyboard  

Ostensibly, iOS 8's new support for extensions (hooks for developers to connect apps) will improve how iPhone owners are able to share content with other apps/people - including via the email and messaging apps.

FaceTime is still FaceTime.

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