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Apple iPhone 6s Review: In Depth

4.5
Faster and stronger plus a killer pair of cameras

The Good

  • Great cameras
  • Stunning screen
  • Blazing fast performance
  • Best app experience

The Bad

  • 3D Touch needs to grow
  • Only a minor improvement
  • Lacklustre battery life
  • Expensive

Apple iPhone 6s Review: It’s autumn and that means two things; the leaves will soon turn gold and fall and it’s time to review the new iPhone. 

We now have to figure out whether the improvements Apple’s made to the new iPhone 6s are as revolutionary as it makes out or simply evolutionary as we suspect.

Design

As with the shift from the iPhone 5 to 5S, the cosmetic changes are subtle, in fact even less so this time around, but that’s a good thing. As we mentioned when Apple first pulled the wraps off the new iPhone 6s, there are definitely benefits to sporting a near identical design to last year’s model, namely when it comes to accessory compatibility.

Apple iPhone 6s front Apple iPhone 6s back

The 6s is technically bigger in all directions than the 6, but without a pair of digital callipers, you’d be hard pressed to tell the two apart if placed side by side. The addition of an ‘S’ on the lower half of the phone’s back is the only real indication that you’re handling the newer handset, that an the additional weight (143 grams versus 129 grams), which is likely a byproduct of the phone’s new internal components.

You can still expect an elegant, thin, metal-bodied smartphone with a single speaker grille alongside a headphone jack and Lightning connector at its base. The new rose gold option adds a little more variety of colourways in Apple’s repertoire and the camera bump and antennae breaks are also still present for better or for worse.

Apple iPhone 6s side

The hardware controls appear to offer more satisfying feedback this time around, with more noticeable ‘clicks’ under finger when pressing the volume or home buttons.

Screen

Similarly to the design, the screen is relatively unchanged from its predecessor. Apple’s stuck with the same Retina HD display formula that’s worked well so far giving the 6s a 4.7-inch 1334x750 LCD panel with 326ppi.

In practice it’s actually a gorgeous display. Iconography still looks as though it’s painted right onto the surface glass and viewing angles are second-to-none, seemingly unaffected by colour or contrast distortion, even at more extreme viewing angles.

Apple iPhone 6s screen

The star new feature of the 6s is of course 3D Touch, which adds a new dimension to user interaction by accommodating hard presses into the screen as well as swipes across it. The trade off is that in order to support this new innovation, Apple had to add an additional layer of sensors behind the display to measure to force of presses on screen as well as a variant of its Taptic Engine, which vibrates as a means of haptic feedback.

The feel it offers is great, but collectively these components are the primary reason the new iPhone feels so much heavier than the old one. You have to decide whether it’s a worthwhile compromise.

OS

iOS 9 was already out in the wild before the new iPhone’s arrival so most current iPhone owners should already be familiar with the features on offer, namely in a new multitasking view, chronologically organised notifications and WiFi Assist.

Read next: 5 great hidden features of iOS 9 you probably missed

Adding 3D Touch into the mix twists how iOS behaves and sets the 6s experience apart from any other iOS device out there. Right now the functionality is limited by its availability, with only a handful of first-party and third-party apps having already added 3D Touch gestures to their experiences.

In many instances it serves as simile to right-clicking on a desktop application, bringing up alternative options to simply launching an app. With Instagram hard-pressing lets you jump straight to your activity feed, or you can make a new alarm when interacting with the clock app, but the other key component of 3D touch is peeking and popping.

Whether it’s previewing emails or web links, you can press firmly to open up and preview content without having to fully open it up, streamlining the experience of checking for select information. Whilst peeking, you can also swipe to access additional tools, like moving an email in Mail or setting a reminder from Evernote. The act of ‘popping’ is simply the act pressing even harder, whilst peeking at content to open it completely.

As with the added bulk the technology behind 3D Touch throws into the recipe, right now the benefits of the technology are questionable, but as with most new Apple tech, once the industry fully accepts it, it’ll become a far more worthwhile addition – expect that to happen around the launch of the iPhone 7, next September.

Performance

The A9 processor is a fresh new piece of silicon from Apple and it absolutely legitimises the ‘S’ in the iPhone 6s’s name. Every interaction feels faster, from opening and closing apps to multitasking – the gap in performance is small, but it’s certainly there.

Apple iPhone 6s performance

The Touch ID fingerprint sensor’s responsiveness for example is sometimes so fast that pressing it to wake up your iPhone also unlocks the handset before you have a chance to catch up on your lock screen notifications. Apple might have to actually slow down authentication, purely from a usability standpoint, because right now it’s so damn fast.

Whilst we’re now at peace with the notion that Apple devices will never offer expandability, our (and it would seem many other’s) new vice is the company’s willingness to charge almost £550 for a phone with a paltry 16GB internal storage. 

Apple iPhone 6s performance 2 Apple iPhone 6s performance 3

From where we stand it might well be an intentional marketing tactic on Apple’s part; pushing users to fork more cash out up front for a larger capacity 6s handset so that the user experience is compromised by low internal storage, or pushing users to sign up for additional iCloud storage space on a subscription basis.

Believe it or not, whilst the previous iPhone’s battery wasn’t a triumph of longevity by any means (it packed an 1810mAh cell), it’s even smaller in this year’s model at 1715mAh, primarily because Apple needed to squeeze that Taptic Engine in somewhere. Smaller capacity aside, the iPhone 6s performs on-par with the iPhone 6, so you can still expect around a day’s use if you’re not too heavy handed.

Camera

Whilst the iPhone 6 boasted one of the best smartphone cameras on the market at launch, by the time the iPhone 6s was about to make its debut, its predecessor’s camera looked tired and lacked the fidelity of more competent rivals that had emerged in the meantime, like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4. The iPhone 6s fixes this disparity.

Firstly you get a megapixel bump on both the front and back that makes this the first iPhone with a double-digit sensor. Pictures from the main camera are captured in 12-megapixel glory, whilst you’ll now find yourself snapping 5-megapixels selfies with the front camera, which can also now use the screen as a front-facing flash in dark conditions.

In actuality shots look noticeably clearer and as ever the iPhone 6s retains Apple’s title as having one of the fastest smartphone cameras (that doesn’t produce garbage pictures at the expense of speed) out there. You also get fast autofocus, true-to-life colour and contrast reproduction and low light only suffers from a touch of noise.

The 6s is also the first iPhone that shoots 4K, which looks pretty great and the 3D Touch experience manifests itself in the camera gallery’s new Live Photos feature, which captures audio and video before and after the moment a shot is captured to add context. You view these moments by pushing into the screen, but as each live photo is double the size of a regular one, you have to ask yourself whether this new trick is really worth leaving switched on when it eats up such a precious commodity in Apple’s world - internal storage.

Verdict

For this generation of iPhone Apple’s tagline is, “The only thing that’s changed is everything.” Based on our experiences with the iPhone 6s this is only really a half-truth and the implications of it aren’t always for the better.

It’s a fantastic phone and as ever it’ll still likely serve as the meter stick by which every other smartphone is compared against for the next twelve months.

Apple iPhone 6s verdict

The company had to make a lot of compromises when implementing its new 3D Touch technology and it’ll take time to truly become a worthwhile addition to the iPhone, namely once developers really embrace it. But as ever, Apple had to start somewhere.

In answer to the most frequent question that a new iPhone elicits, the iPhone 6s is another fantastic smartphone from Apple, but doesn’t serve as a worthwhile upgrade for current iPhone 6 owners.

Users of older iPhones will find moving to a 6s far more beneficial, provided they can leave their smaller-screened iDevices behind. Those coming from Android or Windows Phone won’t regret jumping ship either as the 6s places Apple back amongst the top smartphone makers out there.

You can grab a range of accessories for the Apple iPhone 6s from MobileFun.co.uk, including the latest cases, screen protectors, headsets, power banks, memory cards, car holders to turn it into a sat-nav device and plenty more besides.

Key Specs

  • 4.7-inches
  • Retina HD (1334x750)
  • 143 grams
  • iOS 9
  • 12-megapixel
  • 5-megapixel
  • 1.8GHz dual-core Apple A9
  • 2GB
  • 16GB/64GB/128GB (non-expandable)
  • Yes
  • Touch ID fingerprint sensor, iCloud Drive, Airdrop, live photos

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