When it comes to design, Apple has been reasonably predictable when it comes to the ‘S’ versions of its iPhones – these generally have better innards but look very much like their unlettered predecessors. So you would have been hard pressed to spot the difference between the iPhone 4 and 4S or 5 and 5S by just looking at them, as the overall design and even the proportions were almost exactly similar. Well, that ethos has been carried forward to the iPhone 6s Plus as well – we kept it on a table full of geeks in India (where it will be released only on October 16) and no one noticed its existence. The reason? Well, it is a dead ringer for the iPhone 6 Plus – peas out of a pod so to say. Mind you, we do think that the reaction would have been different if we had kept the device in its packaging – for with the iPhone 6s Plus, Apple seems to have gone back to having a slightly more colourful box, instead of the plain white affair with the outline of a phone in the case of the 6 Plus.
Getting back to the device itself, well, as we warned, it is an almost exact copy of the 6 Plus, so don’t expect people in the room to jump up and notice it when you place it on the table – and believe us, there will be a fair bit of placing on the table with this device, because like its predecessor, it is definitely on the larger side, living up to the ‘Plus’ moniker plonked on it. Yes, the iPhone 6s Plus is a discernibly big phone, and will stretch more palms than it will fit smoothly into. Given the fact that a lot of people had remarked about how uncomfortably large the 6 Plus had been and the fact that the competition had come out with devices with similar display sizes in much more compact form factors, we had expected Apple to maybe shrink the 6s Plus. That hope has alas been belied.
If anything, the 6s Plus is slightly – very slightly, we must add – larger than the 6 Plus. The difference in proportions is a matter of 0.1 or 0.2 mm at most, though: the iPhone 6s Plus comes with dimensions of 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm, while the 6 Plus had dimensions of 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1 mm. To get an idea of how large that is, consider the fact that the OnePlus 2, which also has a 5.5 inch display, while being significantly thicker at 9.9 mm, is much shorter and less wide – 151.8 mm long and 74.9 mm wide. And if you want real irony, guess the dimensions of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, the latest in the range of devices that many insist started the whole phablet phenomenon – 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6 mm. Yes, even though the Note sports a larger 5.7 inch display, it is actually shorter and less wide than the iPhone 6s Plus, and only 0.3 mm thicker.
Pick up the phone, however, and you will be struck by the first noticeable difference between it and the iPhone 6 Plus – the weight. While the 6 Plus tipped the scales at 172 grammes, the 6s Plus is significantly heavier at 192 grammes. Which also, ironically (when you consider that the iPhone has a history of being svelte and sleek) makes the 6s Plus one of the heaviest large screen phones around – the OnePlus 2 is 175 grammes, the Galaxy Note 5 171 grammes, and even the recently released Nexus 6P 178 grammes.
It is, however, a tribute to Apple’s engineering magic, that even in spite of being larger and heavier most of the competition, the iPhone 6s Plus still cuts a natty figure. We had found the 6 Plus a bit bulky but it was a looker. And by sticking to the same template, Apple has ensured that the 6s Plus is easy on the eye as well. We have the space grey model and it still looks different from anything the competition offers, and we have a feeling that we will be seeing a lot of the rose gold ones around. It might be large and on the heavier side, but it remains very much a style icon in a league of its own.
There are no design changes at all – the front has the 5.5 inch display, with the home button (and fingerprint scanner) below it, the left side has the volume and mute buttons and the right the power/display on/off key and the SIM card slot (nano SIM again). The “curvy” look of the iPhone 6 plus has been retained with the edges rounded and the sides curving towards the flat back (as against the straighter sides of the iPhone 4/4S/5/5S). And the back itself remains a copy of the 6 Plus, although there is now an ‘S’ accompany the ‘iPhone’ printed on the back – there are two bands again, one on the top, and one near the base, and even the camera and flash placement are the same (although, alas, they STILL jut out!). As in the case of the 6 Plus, the top is bare and the base has the lightning port, the speaker grille and the 3.5 mm audio jacks. Our iPhone 6 Plus case fit smoothly right over the 6s Plus, without blocking any ports or outlets – although we think that super tight cases might have a slight issue with the marginally larger dimensions.
There is, however, a much tougher feel to the 6s Plus, perhaps a response to the “bendgate” hue and cry of last time – while you felt you ‘could’ have maybe bent the 6 Plus if you really tried, the 6s Plus is a more solid piece of metal. Apple says that it has used a new alloy of 7000 series aluminium in the device, and well, whether it is that or simply better engineering, or (in all likelihood) a combination of both, the iPhone 6s Plus comes across as a tougher cookie all right. Not that we would recommend dropping it.
So it looks almost exactly the same, is heavier and feels more solid. And the passcode for unlocking the display is a 6-digit one, as compared to the 4-digit one on the previous iPhone.
But for us, the real point of distinction between the 6s Plus and the 6 Plus or any other iPhone is that display. Yes, Apple resisted the temptation to tweak its size or resolution (it remains a 5.5 inch, full HD affair), but touch the display and you will sense the difference, or should we say ‘press’ the display? For the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus come with what we consider to be one of the most radical UI changes that Apple has made in its devices – 3D touch. In simple terms, you can press down on an item to get additional information or options. So for instance, if you press down on the camera icon, you will get options to take a selfie, record video, record slow motion video or just take a photograph. Similarly, if you are viewing your mail inbox folder, pressing down on an individual mail will show you a preview of its contents and pressing down further still will open the mail itself. The ‘normal’ touch interface still works – so tapping an app’s icon will launch it and keeping an icon pressed will allow you to move it (note though that pressing down further could provide more information, depending on the app’s support for 3D touch).
In best ‘iPhone s’ upgrade tradition, the iPhone 6s Plus comes with a hefty hardware upgrade. It is powered by a 64-bit A9 processor, which Apple calls “the most advanced chip ever in a smartphone” in its typically understated manner – in simple English, it will deliver significantly smoother and faster performance (mind you, we had no complaints in that department as regards the 6 Plus, but smoother and faster never hurt any phone user!). And the iSight cameras have got a megapixel promotion – the one on the rear is 12.0-megapixel and the one in front is a 5.0-megapixel affair (finally, a ‘proper’ selfie snapper!), with the former able to shoot 4K video as well. The fingerprint sensor is said to have been improved, there is support for faster Wi-Fi, and of course, the phone comes with iOS 9 out of the box. We will be looking at those in our detailed review in the coming days.
So, has everything changed in the iPhone 6s Plus? Well, seemingly not on the surface. It looks exactly like its predecessor which is both good (hey, it looked good) and bad (hey, no change!).
Press the surface, however, and you will see that a lot has. Stay tuned for more.