Review: Apple iPhone 6s and 6s Plus – Everything You Wanted to Know
We have been asked more questions about it than any other phone so we guess it is only fair that we structure the review of the new iPhones in the form of an extended Q&A – everything that you want to ask about the iPhone answered. We hope!
Right, let’s get this out of the way first off – they say the new iPhones look exactly like their predecessors. Is that right?
In a word: Yes.
In keeping with the iPhone design philosophy of keeping the original and S versions looking pretty much the same (remember how difficult it was to distinguish between the iPhone 4 and 4S, 5 and 5S?), Apple has pretty much followed the same design sheet for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus as it did for the 6 and 6 Plus. The only change that is discernible is in weight – the new iPhones are heavier than their predecessors – the 6s is 14 grammes heavier and the 6s Plus 20 grammes heavier. They are also a tad larger across all dimensions, but the difference is so small (0.1-0.2 mm types) that unless you are Superman walking around with eyes in zoomed in mode, you are unlikely to notice it.
If they look THAT similar, how does anyone know if I have got the latest iPhone or last yearś model?
Well, there are three ways – if you have a rose gold model, it can only be the new iPhones. The older models did not have that color. The other way is to look at the back – if there is an ‘S’ engraved, it is one of the new iPhones. The third way is a bit more intrusive and assumes you have access to an iPhone whose display is unlocked – just press down on the camera icon (hard) and see if some options pop up. If they do, it is one of the newer iPhones. If not, it is the previous generation.
Hrrmmppph….but do they look good?
Again, one word: Yes.
The iPhones have always stood out from the crowd and if you liked the look of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, it is a fair chance you will like the new iPhones too. Apple does claim to have used better materials – 7000 Series aluminum and the “world’s strongest smartphone glass” – but in essence, these devices are pretty much carbon copies of their predecessors. And while the “innovative design” crowd might frown at such uniformity, we cannot deny that the iPhones still stand out from the smartphone crowd. We were genuinely surprised by the rose gold color, which did not look glittery (like the gold model can be accused of being) but seemed a cross between pink and bronze, the sort of nuanced color that you would expect from Apple. We will always have mixed feelings about the size of the 6s Plus (as we did about the 6 Plus), as we find it a tad unwieldy in this age of sleekly designed phones – the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 actually is more compact in spite of having a larger 5.7-inch display. But that apart, the iPhones might not have changed much but they remain good-looking. Very good looking.
But if they look exactly the same, what does Apple mean by the “All that has changed is everything” line?
Well, the fruity-named company from Cupertino was referring to mostly what lies within those largely similar looking frames. S versions of iPhones generally have had hardware boosts, and the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are no different – the processors have been upped to A9 with M9 motion co-processor. The fingerprint sensor on the home button is now a “second generation” affair (read “it works faster”), and most impressively in spec sheet terms, the rear cameras are now 12.0-megapixel ones – the first change in megapixel count since the 4S in 2011, and support 4K video. As in the previous edition, the Plus edition gets optical image stabilisation, making its camera the superior on paper. The front facing cameras are 5.0-megapixel ones – proper selfie cameras, at last.
RAM has also been increased to 2GB on both devices, although this has been revealed by teardowns rather than officially by Apple (which steers clears of RAM matters). The display resolution has not been changed at all – the 6s has a resolution of 1344 x 750, while the 6s Plus has one of 1920 x 1080. On the software front, both devices come with iOS 9 out of the box.
But perhaps the biggest change of them all – at least according to us (some feel that the cameras are it) – is the introduction of 3D Touch, which basically adds the element of depth to the interface. In essence, this allows you to press down on the display and either view options to do certain tasks (Quick Actions) or get a view of the contents of a link or a file without having to actually open it right away (Peek and Pop). So you could press down on an icon and see options to do certain things (take a picture, compose a mail) , or press down on a Web link to see a preview of the website.
Ah, the famous 3D touch. Does it actually work and is it of any use?
Yes. Apple calls it the 3D touch because according to it, it adds a new dimension, that of depth, to the interface – the swipe up evidently used length, the swipe to the sides width, and well, now you can actually press down on the display to make things happen. That covers depth. Three dimensions, 3D.
And yes, once you get the hang of it, it actually works. You can press down on supported apps and get Quick Actions and Peek and Pop (we covered some of the apps that utilise 3D touch well in an article, just in case you are interested). Just how useful it is really depends on what the app developer has done – for instance, we like the fact that a long press on the Facebook icon gives us the option to compose a message, take a photograph or write a post without actually having to open the app and choose what to do. Similarly getting previews of documents in Dropbox is definitely useful.
The problem is getting used to it, for there is a definitely learning curve here to get just the right amount of pressure on the display – far too often in the beginning you will find yourself just doing a long press which sets the icons wobbling (allowing you to move or remove them). Once you get used to it, it is actually useful, but yes, we still think it feels odd to be pressing down on a display – it is perhaps the least intuitive iPhone feature we have used for a while.
Given how familiar most iOS users are to the “usual” way of doing things, we do think that 3D touch is going to need a ‘killer app’ to really get going – maybe some special controls within the camera, maybe something in gaming, maybe just a pop up editing tool in word processing… Right now, it is a handy add-on.
What about the cameras? Are they a massive improvement?
Yes. So much so that we think that they are perhaps the strongest reason for a mainstream user to upgrade to the new iPhones (the geeks will factor in the faster processors and 3D Touch!). The additional megapixels mean that there is much more detail than before. And Apple has once again managed to surprise us by being able to capture pretty much what we are seeing without embellishing it, as some devices are prone to do. The camera interface remains brutally simple but when it comes to accuracy of colour and detail, we think the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are a notch above the competition – the 6s Plus in particular scores even in low light conditions in terms of sheer consistency. We will be trying to do detailed camera comparison tests in the coming days, but as of now, the rear cameras are easily among the best we have seen on a handset. Even the front facing 5.0-megapixel cameras take very good pictures and Apple’s idea of using the display as a flash in low light is definitely a clever one. No, we do not think these are the best selfie cameras out there but they are well above average, although minus all the beautification effects that are the hallmark of most of the selfie shooters on Android phones. Video quality remains absolutely top notch and the addition of 4K video fills one of the few gaps in the device’s camera armor.
(You can read our detailed review of the iPhone 6s Plus’ camera here – the performance of the 6s is largely similar, although its low light performance is a notch lower because of the absence of optical image stabilization).
While on the cameras, what about Live Photos? How handy is the feature and is it as much a space guzzler as some say it is?
Live Photos is simply a sequence of photographs that are taken just before and after you take a still image. Pressing down on the image lets you see it as a small video. Our take? It is kind of cute, but not something militantly new – we have seen HTC and Nokia do similar things, although where Apple has been clever is in making it part of the core photography experience instead of presenting it as a separate app or feature. As of now, its utility is limited as you can see Live Photos only on iOS devices – so if you send a Live Photo to an Android device or to Facebook, you will only see a still image – but we hear that Facebook will start supporting Live Photos in December. And that might just trigger off something. As of now, Live Photos is a bit like 3D touch: interesting without being compelling for the mainstream user. And oh yes, a Live Photo occupies about as much space as two regular photographs, so if you are on a 16 GB device, we really would advise your turning that feature off.
But does all this actually translate into performance – how much better are the new iPhones than their predecessors?
Both the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are significantly faster than the 6 and 6 Plus, respectively. It is not a discernible change while you are using them, but when you step back to the older phones, you will suddenly notice that they are a notch slower in opening up apps, and handling tasks like video and image editing (although the fingerprint scanner does not seem to work faster). Games like Infinity Blade and FIFA 16 Ultimate Team also load up significantly faster on the new iPhones as well. The camera is of course a huge step forward.
All said and done, yes, we think the 6s and 6s Plus are as big a step ahead of the 6 and 6 Plus as the iPad Air 2 was ahead of the iPad Air – the change will not seem apparent straight away but if you keep switching the two devices, it will be very significant.
What of battery life – don’t the new iPhones have smaller batteries?
A lot has been made of the fact that the new iPhones have smaller batteries than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus – the iPhone 6s has reportedly a battery of 1715 mAh, down from the 1810 mAh on the 6, while the iPhone 6s Plus has a battery of 2750 mAh, down from the 2915 mAh one on the 6 Plus. Be that as it may, we must confess that both phones pretty much matched their predecessors in the battery department, and actually seemed a bit better. The iPhone 6s will struggle to see off a day if you love your photography and gaming (although we felt it was marginally better than the 6, which used to die dramatically), while the iPhone 6s Plus continues the tradition of the 6 Plus of being the iPhone With Awesome Battery Life. You can actually get through two days of careful use on the 6s Plus and easily see off a day of very heavy use. The Low Power Mode is a real blessing – we found the new iPhones digging out close to two hours of usage even with about ten per cent of battery left, and this without switching off data. And once again, Apple has pulled one over the competition by getting the phone to advise you to switch to low power mode (just tap on the button) the moment your battery life hits the 20 per cent mark – most other phone manufacturers simply warn you about battery getting low.
So it is all roses then. No shortcomings at all?
Hardly that. No one is perfect, and neither is any device. The new iPhones suffer from the shortcomings of their predecessors in terms of limited memory (16 GB for a starting model is ridiculously low for a device that gets so much of its fame from apps and its camera) and of being relatively “closed” – you need iTunes to transfer information to and from a computer and Bluetooth is not as seamless and open as on Android devices. And truth be told, we were a bit surprised to see Apple not tweaking the design of the iPhone 6s Plus – the phone remains the most unusually bulky iPhone of them all, being well over half a foot in length. Yes, it compensates in terms of battery life but seeing how the likes of Xiaomi and Samsung have squeezed larger batteries into smaller frames, we would have thought Apple would pull a similar rabbit out of its extremely innovative hat. For us, the perfect iPhone would still be one with the size of the iPhone 6s with the camera and battery life of the 6s Plus. And then there is the little (!) matter of price – these devices cost a bomb!
Right! The iPhone 6s starts at Rs 62,000 for the 16 GB model and goes up to Rs 82,000 for the 128 GB model. And the 6s Plus starts at Rs 72,000 for the 16 GB model and goes up to Rs 92,000 for the 128 GB version. Do you REALLY think these devices do enough to justify those price tags? I can get much better hardware on Android devices for lower prices – for instance, the Note 5 offers a higher resolution display, more processor speed, more RAM, more megapixels on the camera, a bigger battery and a stylus as well, and the likes of the Sony Xperia Z5, LG G4 and Nexus 6P also mostly out-spec the iPhones. And they all look good as well.
As in the past, it would be foolish to call the iPhones inexpensive or ultra-affordable. As in the past, it would ALSO be foolish to evaluate what the iPhones deliver in terms of hardware. Motorola might have been talking of experience being more important than hardware specs of late (check our thoughts on THAT debate here), but it was actually Apple who made that line of argument popular, using it to deflect comparisons with heavily specced and often lower priced Androids.
And really that has not changed – the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus remain VERY expensive devices (you can get a MacBook Air for as much). And yes, in terms of sheer hardware, the Android brigade has the hop on them with multi-core processors, more RAM, cameras with much higher megapixel counts, expandable memory in many cases, and is now even closing the gap in terms of design (the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge is a gorgeous device in its own right).
But what has ALSO not changed is that the iPhone remains in a zone of its own in terms of the three pillars of consistency, updates and apps. The new iPhones might have processors with fewer cores and lesser RAM, but they perform as briskly (and often more so) as any Android flagship, have more usable cameras, are not blighted by the slowdown issues that tend to afflict most Android devices after a while, and generally have a better (and more secure) app reservoir. Their displays also while being of relatively lower resolution are very good in terms of handling colors and even reading text. Round that off with the fact that whoever buys a new iPhone is assured of getting iOS updates in a timely manner for at least two years (hey, the iPhone 4S got iOS 9!) and the iPhone’s attraction becomes evident. Yes, there is the “Apple” aura – something that is as old as the Macintosh in the eighties – but in real terms, the iPhones do have their benefits, not to mention the relatively huge resale value when you wan to sell it off an year or two later.
The big question, of course, is whether these benefits are worth those expensive price tags. And here, we think that it is really the call of the consumer and their priorities. Yes, there will be those who will say that a Moto G will serve their purposes, but then they are as much the target audience of the iPhone as of the Galaxy Note. These are unabashedly high end devices and charge a bomb for delivering something that is as explosive. Those seeking basic apps and basic phone functions are likely to consider an iPhone as much as someone seeking to get rid of ants is likely to purchase a bazooka for the purpose.
So yes, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are very expensive. But yes, they are in a league of their own as far as performance goes – nothing else runs iOS apps and performs better. They are the best iPhones around. Period. Mind you, we think that the 16 GB versions are not really worth investing in, unless you are ready to keep app downloads to a minimum and are prepared to keep backing up images and videos on a computer or the cloud – 16 GB is not really enough for power users. We really think the base model should be 32 GB.
I have an iPhone 6/6 Plus. Do I need to upgrade?
If the money is not an issue, we would recommend going for the new devices as they do offer more. However, if photography is not a passion with you and 3D touch has no geeky appeal for you, then we guess you can stay with your current devices. Heck, you can even go right ahead and claim you have a 6s or 6s Plus – no one can find out unless they press the display.
If I am ready to purchase one of the new iPhones, should I go for the 6s or 6s Plus?
This is going to sound ironical but it is really a battle between experience and specs here. In terms of hardware, the iPhone 6s Plus is easily the superior of the two devices – it has a full HD display, a camera with optical image stabilisation (for better low light images and videos) and a much bigger battery. That said, it is the iPhone 6s that comes closest to replicating the classic iPhone experience – it fits most hands, looks very attractive and works brilliantly. The one area where it gets totally outclassed by the 6s Plus is in battery life – the difference in display and camera can only be noticed if you really look out for them. So yes, we are going to be recommending the 6s Plus for those wanting an iPhone that goes on and on and/or are performance maniacs, and are willing to put up with a relatively bulky device. Those wanting something that fits their hands better would love the iPhone 6s.
So would you recommend that anyone buy the new iPhones?
If money is not an issue and if you want an iPhone, definitely. As we said earlier, these are the best iPhones. Period. However, if you are looking for a high-end phone and are very careful about how much you spend, the answer becomes more complex. Devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the LG G4 offer a very good experience and much better spec sheets for lower prices, and we know that there is a section of geekdom that will point out that one can purchase a OnePlus 2 and a Nexus 6p for less than the price of an iPhone 6s Plus. Which again brings us to the three pillars that define an iPhone: consistency of performance, OS updates and apps (we really think the competition has caught up in design and UI – 3D touch is still in its infancy). It really depends on what price you place on that troika. If they are not critical – and we know they are not for many, else the sales of Android devices not running Marshmallow would have dipped – then you can look beyond the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. However, if you are looking for a high-end device that is unlikely to slow down or appear obsolete for a while and – one has to concede this – has immense flaunt value, it is difficult to look beyond the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
Manufacturers planning to launch phones in the coming days are already comparing their devices with this twosome – and if that does not tell you the story, well, nothing will.