Every autumn, the same scenario presents itself. Someone mentions the impending release of a new iPhone, not for me, I say, I’m happy with what I’ve got. Skip forward a month or two, and there I am, up at some ungodly hour in the morning starring at Apple.com, clicking frantically trying to order the damn thing.
It was a habit I thought I’d broken with the iPhone 6 Plus, such a lovely phone. So when I sat with husband half watching Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ event (staged primarily to announce the iPhone 6s), I was sure my love for the Plus wouldn’t waver. Cupertino’s finest presented their latest offerings, and I chuckled as Jonny Ive overdid the superlatives during his narration of videos showcasing Apple’s shiny new devices.
I’d decided 3D Touch was a gimmick, the speed bump unnecessary, and the improved iSight camera still no match for my SLR, but then I heard the magic words, “4K Video”. A 4K video camera in my pocket, hmmm. Cue, a demonstration of footage, shot using the phone’s new camera, WOW. At that point, I might have well stuck my AMEX in an envelope and mailed it to 1 Infinite Loop.
So here I am, 6s Plus unboxed and in my hands. Are the new features, improvements, and tweaks worth the upgrade?
3D Touch is far from a gimmick, one of those features that once experienced, you couldn’t live without. It simplifies tasks like messaging a new contact, reading your email, choosing a song, viewing a picture – the list is pretty endless. It’s fun to push over items displayed by Apple’s apps just to see what 3D touch will offer up.
The new Taptic engine is a notable upgrade. Its vibration’s almost silent and much more varied than the dull buzz offered by the iPhone 6. The tactile feedback provided by the 6s is much more like that of the Apple watch, varied in level depending on the event and much more punchy. The subtle vibration of the much-vaunted ‘Peek’, ‘Pop’ feature offered by 3D Touch is really satisfying.
The iPhone 6 was no slouch, but the 6s is super quick. Everything is turbocharged. The new A9 CPU that’s the grunt behind this performance boost (there’s a new GPU and more memory too, 2GB vs. the 1GB of the iPhone 6) makes day-to-day tasks significantly faster. IOS 9 as a whole feels a lot more fluid.
For me, the biggest upgrade is the phone’s new rear-facing 12-megapixel iSight camera and its ability to shoot 4K video (content having a horizontal resolution of >= 4,000 pixels). The quality of the videos I’ve shot in 4K is just crazy, so sharp, so clear, so colorful. The improved image stabilization of the 6s Plus is also great, we’re not taking the stability of a steady-cam, but it does a good job of smoothing out the jolts and shakes incurred whilst tracking or panning.
The new iSight camera means the quality of conventional stills is also improved. You’ll never get the depth of field of an SLR because of the optics used by the iPhone 6, but the quality of the 6s’s 12MP camera is undeniable. The new forward-facing 5-megapixel FaceTime HD camera and the Retina Flash (the iPhone’s screen flashes when using the forward-facing camera in low light) also means selfies look less like selfies and more like decent portraits. I haven’t yet called another 6s user to see if Facetime calls are clearer, but it would be fun to try. Live Photos or Hogwarts photos, as we call them at home, are pretty cool. They don’t tend to fare well when using the flash, and I fear the novelty may well wear off, but they’re the first thing people want to see when my new phones are being passed about in the office.
The A9 means that the rendering of web pages is noticeably quicker (the new phones increased memory also means more pages can be held in memory, less annoyingly page refreshes when returning to Safari or an open tab), but I noted the faster Wi-Fi of the 6s right out the box. The iPhone 6 offers 802.11ac, but the 6s adds MIMO, which uses multiple antennas to speed things up even further. Faster Touch ID is great, the improvement made in the speed of recognizing your digit is really noticeable. I already get frustrated at the time it takes for my older Apple devices to unlock. I’ll leave it to someone else to test the improved materials. I don’t fancy throwing my new phone about to see if the new 7000 Series aluminum enclosure and improved glass cover are as tough as advertised. However, the 6s Plus does feel less flexible than the 6 Plus.
One point that does niggle me is the inclusion of the old flat triangle-shaped Apple charger, not the lovely new compact and very travel-friendly version supplied with the Apple Watch, but a girl can’t have everything.
The iPhone 6, especially the Plus, is a great phone. The 6s is a genuine improvement on that great phone – this is not a lazy incremental update. Everything really has changed. All that said, if you’re happy with your iPhone 6 and unlike me, the allure of 4K video doesn’t excite you, you’re probably best off waiting for the iPhone 7 next fall. But once you see someone using 3D Touch or view a couple of Live Photos, that year’s wait will be fairly excruciating.
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