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By Dan Frakes

Why I bought the iPhone 6 Plus

iPhone 6 paper models

Like many Apple customers, I spent a good amount of time last week debating whether to order an iPhone 6 or an iPhone 6 Plus. I even did the “create a paper version and stuff it in your pocket” thing. The iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch (diagonal) screen will be a significant jump in size compared to the display on my iPhone 5s, but the iPhone 6 Plus’s screen, at 5.5 inches across, will offer that much more.

And there’s the rub: The potential utility of more screen real estate is obvious, but a bigger screen means a bigger phone. At some point, the device becomes simply too large to comfortably or conveniently carry around.

Or, to put it another way, the iPhone 6 Plus is freakin’ huge.

And yet, in the end, that’s the model I chose—with 128GB of storage, of course—for a number of reasons.

Here they are, in increasing order of importance:

  1. If I’d purchased the iPhone 6, I’d have always wondered if I should have picked the bigger one.
  2. Apple has a generous return policy, so if I decide after using the iPhone 6 Plus for a couple weeks that it’s too big, I can exchange it for an iPhone 6 (“Minus”) and get $100 back. If I’d purchased the iPhone 6, and later decided I wanted the 6 Plus’s bigger screen, I’d have to pay $100 to make the exchange. (I know, I know—the economic argument here isn’t entirely sound. But it seemed rational at 1a.m. after hitting Refresh for the 1000th time while trying to get a response from the Apple Store website and app on four different devices.)
  3. The iPhone 6 Plus has a better camera (specifically, optical image stabilization) and longer battery life. My iPhone is my primary camera, and I use the device very heavily every day, so these are compelling enhancements.
  4. I decided I really did want a huge screen.

Reason #4 is where I surprised myself.

When a phone is not a phone

Over the past couple months, as the rumors of larger-screened iPhones seemed more and more reliable, I heard a familiar complaint from fans of “phablets” (the horrible nickname for smartphones large enough that they border on small tablets): “Hey, Apple geeks, you said for years that big phones were dumb, and now that Apple is going to make them, suddenly you want them!”

They’re right: Many Apple folks have long ridiculed huge smartphones. But the implication here is that most of us didn’t like the idea of huge phones solely because those phones weren’t sold by Apple. I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, I think that in the past, we truly believed that the idea of a huge phone was silly.

But many of us, for a lack of better phrasing, have evolved—and so has the hardware. As Marco Arment put it:

Big-screened phones were mediocre in 2011, but we failed to see that they wouldn’t always be.

Marco’s right: Compare the 5- or 6-inch smartphones of today with those from just a couple years ago, and today’s are much more appealing. They look and feel better, the apps are better, the operating systems take better advantage of the hardware, battery life is better…they’re just better devices. And many skeptics have been realizing this.

Yet it goes beyond this evolution for me (and, I suspect, for many other people). I realized that part of my initial 6-versus-6-Plus indecision was that I continued to think of my iPhone as a phone: “Phones aren’t that big” and “That looks ridiculous” and “There’s no way I’d be caught dead in public holding that thing up to my ear.”

But I can count on one hand the number of times each week I actually hold my iPhone up to my ear. Part of this is because I don’t really talk on the phone that often any more. But even when I do, I’m usually using a Bluetooth headset, headphones with a microphone, or the iPhone’s speakerphone.

More to the point, my phone simply isn’t “a phone that does other stuff” anymore. When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone as a combination of a phone, media player, and Internet communicator, that was an apt description. But these days, my iPhone is primarily a computer that runs apps—and one of those apps (a seldom-used one) just so happens to make phone calls.

Indeed, the vast majority—I’d guess 95+ percent—of my iPhone use has nothing to do with the Phone app. I use the device for reading in apps such as Reeder (RSS), Instapaper, NextDraft, Kindle, and iBooks. I browse the Web and Facebook. I communicate with others via email, text messages, Twitter, and Slack. I listen to music and watch video. I play games. I take and browse photos. I even use the FaceTime app more than I “talk on the phone.”

For every one of these things, a larger screen is better: I can see more content, the interface has more room to breathe, buttons are larger, and so on. Even listening to music is better, as album art and buttons are larger. I probably use more apps on my iPhone than I do on my Mac, and most of these apps are better on a bigger screen.

1>2

In other words, my iPhone is essentially a phone in name only. But until recently, I continued to frame my bigger-is-better observation in the context of the iPhone being a phone—and that affected my views on device size. Would it be too heavy for a phone? Would it look dumb when held up to my ear? Would it be uncomfortable or inconvenient to carry?

The problem is that I failed to recognize the drawbacks (for me) to having a smaller screen. The most obvious one is that I regularly carry my iPad mini with me because my iPhone 5s (and the iPhone 5, 4S, and 4 before it) is too small for tasks I want or need to do on the go—tasks that perhaps don’t require a laptop, or even an iPad, but that are too difficult (or annoying) to do on a 3.5-inch or 4-inch screen. I prefer reading, gaming, video watching, and more on a larger screen enough compared to my current iPhone’s screen that I’m willing to carry a second device to do those things.

The end result is that my iPhone 5s is perfectly pocketable…and regularly requires me to carry a larger device along with it.

It wasn’t until I stopped thinking of my iPhone as a phone, and started thinking of it as a computing device, that I warmed to the idea of a honking-big smartphone. My hope with the iPhone 6 Plus is that I’ll find myself carrying a second device much less frequently. Sure, the 6 Plus may be bigger than the “perfect” phone size, and it may be a tight fit in my front jeans pocket, but it’s still incredibly small for a powerful computing device, and as long as it fits in my pocket at all, it’s better than carrying a smaller phone and a bag or sleeve with an iPad or laptop inside.

At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself since Friday morning at 1am. I’ll let you know in a few weeks if I still feel the same.

(Aside: Yes, I could have just as easily used the above argument as justification to upgrade from my iPhone 5s to the more modest iPhone 6. But that’s where reasons 1, 2, and 3 came into play. I’m going big-big-big, because I can always choose to go smaller.)

[Dan Frakes is a former Macworld senior editor. Check him out at danfrakes.com.]

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