Apple iPhone 6s and 6s Plus – Review and First Look
In the Appleverse, “s” releases of iPhones are generally incremental, no big deal, a somewhat marginal update.
The 4s (originally the 4S and the “S” stood for Siri, as she was making her first appearance) made its debut in October 2011, 16 months after the 4 was released. It retained the 4’s design, but received an upgrade to the Apple A5 chipset, an improved camera, and an updated operating system (iOS 5) that had significant new functionality including iMessage, Notification Center, iCloud, and Reminders.
The 5s, introduced in September 2013, one year after the 5’s debut, had a very similar appearance to its predecessor with the exception of a new home button that incorporated Touch ID. Other new features included the A7 dual-core 64-bit processor and iOS 7.
The 6s follows the 6 12 months later and, as one Apple advert notes, “The only thing that’s changed is everything.”
Here’s a look at everything.
WHAT’S NEW IN THE IPHONE 6S AND 6S PLUS
The iPhone 6s and its stable mate, the 6sPlus, are both a millimeter or so larger and thicker than the 6 and 6 Plus but otherwise visually indistinguishable unless, of course, it’s the model in the new striking rose gold color, which is what we have been testing for the past days.
The case is stronger, made from 7000 series aluminum so it won’t bend like its predecessor. (N.B. we did not test either model for bending.) It has stronger glass on the display – Apple claims that it’s the strongest cover glass on any smartphone) – and the new display incorporates 3D Touch, a pressure-sensitive touch interface that, together with the “taptic” engine, can differentiate between different types of taps while providing haptic feedback.
Inside is an A9 chip, a 64-bit processor with a CPU that Apple reports is 70% faster than the A8 found in the 6. In the 6 it’s paired with an M9 motion coprocessor that allows some features to run all the time at lower power, including the command “Hey Siri” which used to require the user to have the iPhone plugged in to work. Cutting Hey Siri’s cord makes that feature infinitely more useful and I found myself using it far more than I had on the 6 (which was practically never, compared to quite frequently on the Apple Watch).
The 6s benefits greatly from the processor and 2 GB of RAM as compared to the 6. Opening Web pages in Safari was smoother and noticeably faster, as was using apps such as Facebook. Indeed, the lag when going back and forth between different apps seemed to be virtually gone as well. Finally, sending files to my MacBook Pro over AirDrop also went far more quickly.
The home button is home to a second generation Touch ID sensor that unlocks the phone quicker, isn’t subject to error when hands are slightly damp, and supports Apple Pay faster. It unlocked the 6s Plus so fast that, in most cases, the lock screen was no longer noticeable.
The most ballyhooed feature, 3D Touch, builds on Apple’s use of pressure-sensitive touch in the Apple Watch. What Apple calls Peek and Pop – not to be confused with the children’s game of peek-a-boo but perhaps the reference is not completely unintentional – allows the user to peek at content without losing place in an app. Using Peek and Pop is not intuitive, but clicking a mouse wasn’t either at the time Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse in the 1960s and Apple popularized in the 1980s.
To use Peek and Pop you press lightly to merely “peek” at an e-mail message, web page, or photo, and you press harder to “pop” into it.
It took a while to get used to the idea of doing this in the first place – I fully opened multiple e-mail messages on my 6s Plus which I really only needed to glance at because I would forget to peek. It took a few days, but peeking does become second nature and it does speed things up as it allows you to get the gist of the message and only open those you really need to. It will be interesting to see how third-party developers utilize this functionality, on apps ranging from Facebook to Tinder.
3D Touch has another function, Quick Actions. With this, sending a message or taking a photo just requires a simple press on the Home screen but I found this far less useful than Peek and Pop
Battery life has always been an issue for iPhone users given that the battery is sealed in the phone. The good news is that, with iOS 9, battery life has been extended by about an hour. But that’s due to changes in the operating system; we found the same improvement by installing iOS 9 on an older iPhone 6.
The iPhone 6s Plus will last longer on a single charge than the 6s, thanks to its larger battery but Apple actually made the battery in the newest models slightly smaller to keep the overall size the same. I’m not alone when I would say that I’d gladly have a slightly thicker device and gain more time between charges. Range anxiety is not limited to drivers of electric vehicles!
VOICE AND CONNECTIVITY
The primary function of the iPhone 6s is as a phone and Apple has equipped it with four microphones intended to provide improved voice quality. This is a subjective thing to test as I’ve been quite happy with T-Mobile’s HD Voice which is present on all calls where both parties have a compatible phone (such as the iPhone 6). The feature already provides more natural-sounding calls and it reduces background noise significantly as well. My HD Voice calls with the 6s Plus sounded equally as good as with the 6.
Apple has bestowed the 6s with faster Wi-Fi and mobile data as well. Actually, it’s twice as fast as the 6’s. But the faster connectivity isn’t limited to Wi-Fi. The iPhone 6s supports more LTE bands than any other phone according to Apple and many more than the 6 supported. The implications are far reaching. For example, T-Mobile is introducing the 700 MHz spectrum or LTE Band 12, which T-Mobile calls T-Mobile Extended Range LTE. The mobile operator claims that this extends its LTE signal twice as far from its towers and that it penetrates buildings much more effectively. AT&T, which owns band 30, is in the process of building out its 2.3 GHz WCS LTE network, and its version of the iPhone 6s will support band 30 and offer customers significantly faster speed.
The iPhone’s camera is now 12 megapixels and is capable of 4K video (4K is up to four times sharper than 1080p). The camera supports better selfies thanks to the SMP FaceTime HD camera and the use of the Retina HD display as a flash for taking selfies in low-light conditions. A new feature, Live Photos, captures a few seconds of live action before and after the actual photo. This is more useful for live action, such as while driving (presuming you are the passenger), at a sports event, or even at a family party. The results will take up two to three times as much as a single photo, however, thanks to the three seconds of video so keep that in mind when choosing between a 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB iPhone this time around.
Especially for an “s” release, the sheer quantity of new features and functionality is impressive. There may not be any truly groundbreaking features here but the range of updates to existing features and functionality is significant, which is probably what the “s” is meant to stand for.
(Photos: Accura Media Group)