Maybe it’s just me. Maybe time is going by a lot faster now that I’m officially 30 years old, which seems so, so old. But it feels like the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus just came out. They still feel and look like new phones to me. But already a year old and, right on schedule, Apple updated both devices with the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.
The phones are almost identical to last year’s models. The measurements are a hair different in some areas. They’re heavier, for example, to accommodate for new features like 3D Touch, which requires a special motor that exists under the display. They have better cameras, though, and new software that lets you “3D touch” things in order to bring up new menus. You can call up Siri with the screen off, even with the phone off of its charger.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews that really do believe these are huge upgrades, major advances forward in mobile technology and huge must-haves for Apple fans. Even folks who already have the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
I’m not one of those people. I bought the iPhone 6s Plus with my own cash, I’ve been using it for about a week now, and I’m here to report back on the experience, whether or not it works as promised, and whether or not you should upgrade from earlier models.
Let’s dive in.
Apple doesn’t typically change up the hardware design — the actual look of the iPhone — when it makes the “toc” upgrades between major changes. In other words, we didn’t see a huge bump in design from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4s, or the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 5s. Unless you own the new rose gold model, someone on the street isn’t going to be able to distinguish — by looking at the body alone — whether you have a 6 or a 6s.
The iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone 6s measure just a hair larger than last year’s models, but the difference is so tiny that the cases for last year’s phones still fit the 2016 models. The weight is the real change here. The iPhone 6s Plus weighs 6.77 ounces, up from 6.07 ounces last year, and the iPhone 6s weighs 5.04 ounces, up from 4.55 ounces last year.
The screen was easy to view under direct sunlight and that’s how I felt about last year’s iPhone 6 Plus as well. Jon noticed some issues where his brightness would crank all the way up on its own, which seemed weird, but I didn’t have that problem on my unit. The screen, after 11 days in my wallet with my keys, doesn’t have a single scratch on it yet. It seems durable enough so far.
The speakers get nice and loud, as they did on last year’s models, but I still wish they were forward-facing. We’ve seen HTC successfully do this with the One M9, and Google’s Motorola-built Nexus 6, and now the Huawei 6P, all have front-facing speakers. I hope Apple adopts this in the future.
Save for a stronger glass on top of the screen, most of the rest of the changes are under the hood or were made to items like the fingerprint reader — now twice as fast — or the camera — now 12MP instead of 8MP. You also get 2GB of RAM, the first iPhone to offer that, and the brand new A9 processor that promises faster performance, improved graphics, and even, again for the first time, includes the motion processor. But you can’t discern those differences simply by looking at the phone. At least I can’t, so let’s talk about some of what you can see.
iOS 9 isn’t only limited to the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, so we’ll focus most of this software section of what’s different in these phones — the features in iOS 9 that aren’t available on earlier iOS devices.
3D Touch, for example, allows you to press “deeper” into icons to bring up new menus. It’s not the same as a long press, which I know folks have been noting that Android has had for years (iOS, likewise, has supported long pressing for years, too — how do you think we’ve been reorganizing our desktops?).
3D Touch is useful for peeking into emails or viewing a preview of a URL by force touching it. It also allows you to execute Live Photos, the small clips attached to each photo you snap. But I rarely found myself taking advantage of any of the 3D Touch functions. A lot of reviewers have called this a game changer, and maybe it will be in the long run as developers take advantage of the new feature, but it didn’t feel that incredible to me. It needs more time in the oven and, maybe after 6 months or so and as we prepare for the iPhone 7 launch, we’ll start to see how powerful it really is.
Another feature that didn’t blow my mind is the new support for calling up Siri at any moment. She rarely recognized my call “Hey Siri,” even after multiple attempts to retrain the voice model. When she did, she was so slow — far slower than Google Now or even Alexa on my Amazon Echo — that my request felt robotic. I had to pause, and I was at Siri’s mercy. A voice assistant should be at my mercy. It was always just easier to do something manually, which isn’t the point.
This is a bummer because HomeKit devices are now beginning to ship — Philips Hue 2.0 supports HomeKit, for example, which would allow me to control my lights with Siri instead of Alexa (which, again, works great.) But I’m not sure it would even be worth buying the new Philips Hue 2.0 Hub if Siri doesn’t even answer me.
In general, I did notice that everything was really smooth. Maybe that’s the new A9 processor, or the 2GB of RAM. The latest version of iOS always runs snappy on the newest hardware.
The new 12-megapixel camera on the iPhone 6s Plus has been a real joy to use. I can trust that, most of the time, my images will come out really crisp and with accurate colors. This was true in most situations — in a dark restaurant, out in the park with my puppy, and even just shooting around the house indoors. The new front-facing flash, which really just takes advantage of the display to provide extra light for selfies, is also pretty awesome.
I have a few gripes, however. My unit didn’t always want to focus properly, and often I had to try to refocus the image three or four times until it grabbed on. I’m not sure if this was user error — seems weird considering I don’t have this problem with other phones — or if it might be a defect with my iPhone.
Also, Live Photos are really great — most of the time. Apple records an additional 1.5 seconds of content before and after you snap a photo, bringing the image to life in your camera roll. We’ve seen this implementation before. Nokia Lumia Camera on Windows Phone offered a nearly identical feature, and HTC’s Zoes were very similar.
My problem with Apple’s implementation is that I almost always forgot about the last 1.5 seconds of the Live Photo. That means, as I play them back in my camera roll, the additional 1.5 seconds usually just shows the video recorded as I put my phone away. Also, It’s kind of unnecessary to leave on all of the time. If you’re taking a picture of a static object, like an apple pie for example, there’s no real need for a “Live Photo” version. You can toggle in on and off manually, however.
The iPhone 6s Plus technically has a smaller battery than last year’s model, but we shouldn’t pay that any attention. It’s a number that varies greatly on the size of the display, the brightness, the processor, and what the user is doing.
I found the iPhone 6s Plus, like last year’s model and other flagship phones with modern processors and big screens, was able to get me until the end of the day without issue. Most nights at 10 p.m., as I got ready for bed, the phone had about a 30 percent charge. On this particular night, after a busy day of work away from home and frequent phone use, my device is at 11 percent at 8:30 p.m.
Here’s what gets me though: the iPhone 6s Plus and the iPhone 6s don’t support any form of quick charging. I’m not sure why Apple hasn’t adopted some form of it, but most high-end Android phones can juice you up to about 50 percent in 30 minutes, and Windows 10 devices will do the same. Apple is lagging here, and it needs to change that.
It’ll easily make it through a full work day, I think even for power users.
The iPhone 6s Plus is a top-tier flagship, but it’s probably not worth an upgrade if you have last year’s model. And there are other great flagships to choose from.
Apple iPhone 6s Plus
The conclusion is always such a tough place for me. I feel as if I’m writing some form of the phone’s obituary — the final words that I’ll say on a device, often for a long time. It’s a hard thing to do, because this phone — nor any phone I review — isn’t dying, it’s actually just starting its life. So what’s my conclusion right now?
Well, I think the iPhone 6s Plus is an easy “Buy,” but with a few caveats. I don’t think it’s necessary to upgrade from the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. I technically did upgrade from an iPhone 6 Plus to this, and I don’t feel it was worth my money to do so.
3D Touch is cool, but by the time developers take advantage of it we’ll be halfway to the iPhone 7. You’re fine waiting for that, even if the camera is a hair better and Touch ID is much faster on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.
I also think that, more than probably any other moment in my 8 years of reviewing phones, there are just an incredible number of amazing, truly amazing, phones to choose from. Take your time, check out phones like the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, the Galaxy Note 5 — maybe wait and see what the Huawei 6P is like.
If you’re an iPhone user and you want a new iPhone, and your phone is from the iPhone 5s generation or earlier, than this is the phone to get. You won’t regret it. If you’re on Android or last year’s iPhones, take a look around first.
Disclaimer: Jon and Todd both bought the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus with their own funds. The devices were not provided by Apple. We spent at least 10 days with the iPhone 6s Plus before finishing this review.