iPhone 6s review: reinventing the Multi Touch, not the wheel
The S cycle is an interesting part of the iPhone buying experience. Since 2007, Apple has introduced at least one new iPhone every year, but only half of them are redesigns. The other half … are reimaginings. Improved takes on tried-and-true existing hardware. These takes are never the most exciting phones, but they’re always the ones worth buying.
This year, that reimagining means a new software revision, improved camera optics, and even a new way to interact with the screen. It may not be revolutionary, but this might just be Apple’s biggest evolutionary update yet. Decide for yourself with Pocketnow’s iPhone 6s review!
Video Review · Specs & Hardware · Software · Camera · Performance · Pros/Cons · Pricing/Availability · Conclusion · Scored For Me
Apple iPhone 6s Review Video
Specs & Hardware
From the outside, the iPhone 6s looks completely identical to last year’s iPhone 6 — save for the new S callout on the back, and the omission of the regulatory markings, which have now been moved into the software. It sports the same unibody frame, this time upgraded to 7000-grade aluminum for a slightly grippier feel in hand and better resistance to bending. There’s also the same 4.7” IPS display, with the same odd 1334*750 resolution, coming in at 326 pixels per inch, and the same big top and bottom bezels surrounding the screen, giving way to only about a 65% screen-to-body ratio. That’s not terrible, but with phones like the Moto X Pure Edition and Galaxy Note 5 trimming bezels to reach upwards of 75%, Apple probably could’ve either crammed in a bigger display or made a physically smaller device. Well, they could’ve … if it weren’t for the new additions of the 3D Touch and Taptic Feedback engines inside. More on those further down in the review, but they do make the iPhone 6s a tad thicker and heavier than last year’s model — thought that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the added weight make the iPhone feel sturdier than before.
Being an S model, there weren’t many aesthetic changes to be expected this year, but Apple did make large strides in improving the internal specifications. The new A9 chipset inside may only be dual-core on the surface, but combined with the six-core PowerVR GT7600 GPU it’s one of the best-performing SoC’s you’ll find, and it really shows in real-world performance. Whether you’re playing games or scrolling through graphic-intensive websites, the iPhone 6s flies through anything you throw at it, and you can switch between more apps at a time than ever, thanks to the 2 GB of RAM inside — double what we’d seen before. The only thing standing in your way of truly taking advantage of the iPhone’s hardware … is the 16 GB of internal storage on the baseline model. With every new iPhone, tech news outlets flood the internet with tweets and editorials warning consumers not to buy the 16 GB model, but that advice is applicable now more than ever; with the additions of 4K video and what Apple is calling Live Photos, you’re likely to burn through those 16 GB before you know it.
No matter what storage size you get, the iPhone 6s sports a new version of TouchID, version 2.0, built into the home button, and it’s stupid fast. So fast that you can’t even view your notifications without unlocking the phone. It’s hard to imagine that being too fast could really be an issue with mobile technology, but it almost is here, as it renders conveniences like the camera shortcut all but useless. Then again, it makes using your phone so effortless than you forget you even have a security code until someone else tries to get in, and you can always just use the power button to turn on the screen without triggering the fingerprint scanner, so it’s safe to call it a positive feature overall. The home button can also be used as a quick shortcut to all kinds of useful features; you can press and hold the button from any screen to launch Siri, double click it from anywhere to open the task switcher, or quickly open and authenticate Apple Pay via a double-click from standby mode. Say what you will about physical home buttons, but Apple’s made it loud and clear that it’s a quintessential part of the iPhone experience, and it’s not going anywhere just yet.
Speaking of essential parts of the experience, 3D Touch is a huge new feature that separates the iPhone 6s from just about all of its competition, including previous iPhone generations. This is a whole new method of input powered by a physical sensor within the device that registers different levels of pressure applied to the screen. It’s hard to understand its practical use until you try it for yourself, but once you do, you start to see that the potential here is tremendous. Apply some pressure and 3D Touch on a home screen icon, and a contextual menu will pop up, much like a right click on a computer, giving quick shortcuts to the different functions of that app. 3D Touch on a link in Safari to preview the corresponding webpage, or on the subject line of an email to preview the body. 3D Touch on a Live Photo in your gallery to animate it, then set it as a lock screen wallpaper, which you can then — you guessed it — 3D Touch to animate again. A lot of people have compared this feature to the long-press that’s been around for years, but it’s important to stress that right click analogy; this is something that almost no other phone can do, and while it’s currently only been implemented in Apple-made apps and a handful of third-party titles (including Instagram), it’ll be interesting to see the technology evolve in the months ahead.
The iPhone 6s and its larger sibling, the 6s Plus, are the first phones to ship with iOS 9 running out of the box. It’s been available for a number of months already in beta form, but now that it’s in a consumer-ready build, it introduces an assortment of new features that add layers of both convenience and confusion. There’s a new screen to the left of the main springboard, in the style of Google Now or HTC’s Blinkfeed, that displays news stories along with some of your frequent apps and contacts. Those frequent apps also show up in the Spotlight search bar now, and contacts have been omitted from the multitasking screen — which now bares a card-style design that you’ll either love or hate. The news side of the “Proactive panel” goes through Apple’s News app, which lets you select from a long list of news sources and interests to curate a specialized report made just for you.
Conveniences like Reachability remain here from previous software builds, allowing for much easier one-handed use — something Android OEMs can’t port over quickly enough. One of the best new shortcuts is a button that takes you back to the previous app when you’re sidetracked by in-app links or notifications — though the button would’ve been better suited at the bottom of the screen instead of all the way in the top-left corner. Siri has gotten some under-the-hood changes as well, including finally being able to be triggered by voice command without having to be tethered to a charger. Notifications are now organized onto a timeline by default, vs. the per-app sorting from before, which makes it so much easier to clear out a whole day’s worth of notifications at once. It’s a shame that clearing out those notifications still doesn’t dismiss the badge icons from the home screen, a redundancy that’s plagued iOS for years … but maybe next year. Overall, iOS 9 is a nice update to the platform that most people should really enjoy, but it’s certainly not without some minor annoyances. Still, as expected, this is the best version of Apple’s iOS yet.
Also the best that it’s ever been is the iPhone 6s’s camera. It’s taken a bump from 8 to 12 MP, and it’s learned a few new tricks on the software side, too. Apple was really excited to show off Live Photos, which work together with 3D Touch to create … well, basically a short video. Of course, they don’t look at it that way, and you capture Live Photos the same way you would a static one, but we’ve seen the same thing done before on other phones from the likes of other manufacturers like Nokia and HTC. Still, it’s a fun addition to the iPhone, and as mentioned before, you can set these Live Photos as animated wallpapers, but be careful taking too many of these if you skimp out and buy the 16 GB model — which, again, you shouldn’t. Live Photos take up twice as much storage as a standard shot.
Those standard shots look great, by the way. The iPhone has always taken top-notch photos, and the new 12 MP sensor on the 6s is no exception. Photos are full of natural color and detail, and the camera is really good at balancing exposure, even in scenes with multiple light sources. It’s weird to say that the iPhone might not have the best camera out there for once; Android OEMs really stepped up their game this year, and phones like the Note 5 and LG G4 give the 6s a run for its money with great optics and a myriad of manual controls, but when it comes to quick point-and-shoot captures, the iPhone still sits on top with the most reliable camera. Oh, and the bump in resolution also means 4K video for the first time on an iPhone. One major drawback to the iPhone 6s when compared to the 6s Plus is its lack of OIS (that’s optical image stabilization), and you’ll definitely notice that difference when comparing samples from the two side by side, but the added resolution and digital stabilization do more than well enough to produce top-notch photos and videos — which you can then stitch together straight on the phone using iMovie, if you so choose.
The front-facing camera has also seen a big improvement, this year up from 1.2 MP to 5. This means way more definition in shots, which especially shows through in fine details like eyes and hair. Apple has decided yet again not to use a wide-angle lens, meaning you’ll have to pick up a lens attachment if you want to fit large groups into your selfies, but between the increased megapixel count and the clever new front-facing flash implemented into the screen, this is a fine upgrade from the shoddy selfie cams of previous generations.
The iPhone never has the most impressive spec sheet around, often being beaten out in many metrics by even midrange Android phones, but it sure makes damn good use of what it’s given. Even though the iPhone 6s’s 1715 mAh battery isn’t as large as that of the 6s Plus, or even last year’s iPhone 6, its endurance is impressive. Its battery life isn’t going to blow you away by any means, and without fast charging of any kind you’ll be stuck waiting around for a bit once it dies, but on days of moderate to even fairly high usage, you should have no problems getting through a full day. When you’re not using the phone, its standby time beats out almost everything else on the market, and iOS 9 introduces a new Low Power Mode that shuts down mail fetch, hands-free Siri, and background tasks once your battery hits 20% (or 10%, if you’d prefer). Sadly, signal strength isn’t as impressive as battery life, and while the iPhone 6s pulls in a good enough connection, it’s beaten out by last year’s iPhone 6, and many 2015 devices as well.
Where the iPhone 6s really earns its turf, as every iPhone has, is in ecosystem support. Even though Google’s Play Store has more apps than the App Store, iOS apps, even those with cross-platform support, are often of a much higher quality. Banking apps that support TouchID authorization where even Android phones with fingerprint scanners like the Galaxy Note 5 still have to revert back to a password. Apps like Evernote with a much more modern design on iOS than on Android. The iPhone 6s also has a huge selection of cases, even at its launch, largely thanks to its design so closely matching the iPhone 6. Yes, it’s slightly taller, thicker, and wider, but it’s such a minor difference that most cases still fit, albeit a bit tighter. There’s also the ubiquity of services like iMessage and Apple Pay, which of course are only available on iOS devices. Neither service is without competent alternatives elsewhere, and Samsung Pay is arguably already better than Apple Pay thanks to its ability to mimic card strips, but there’s more official support for Apple Pay than any other mobile payment system, and millions of users use iMessage each and every day. And that’s the gist of the iPhone 6s as a whole; while there are plenty of other options out there, and some of them better for certain people, the iPhone stands out as the universal go-to choice for most consumers because it’s simple to use and supported almost everywhere.
+ Solid design with improved resilience
+ Vast ecosystem of applications
+ Super-fast fingerprint scanner
+ Excellent camera with terrific 4K video
+ 3D Touch has huge potential
– Weaker signal strength than previous generations
– No OIS in the camera
– More costly than most competition
Pricing and Availability
The iPhone 6s is available at all major US carriers, and can be bought unlocked directly through Apple for use anywhere in the world. You can buy it in one of four colors — space gray, silver, champagne, and rose gold — and pricing ranges from $649-849, depending on your carrier and storage capacity. Of course, each carrier offers its own financing options to make that high cost a bit easier to swallow, but you’ll be shelling out the same money in time regardless, unless you opt for a subsidized price via contract (that is, if you can still find one). The only suggestion we can make is to avoid buying the 16 GB model. Yes, it’s the baseline and the cheapest option, but with nearly 5 GB occupied out of the box by system software, and no microSD expandability, you’ll very quickly find yourself tight on space and wishing you’d at least shelled out the extra $100 for the 64 GB phone instead.
So what’s the verdict? Should you buy the iPhone 6s? Is it worth its top-dollar cost? Of course it is. Between the solid design, terrific camera, silky-smooth performance, and selection of quality apps, it’s no wonder the iPhone is the most popular phone on the market. If you’re someone who values customization or hardware expandability, then you’re probably better suited looking towards other options from Samsung, Motorola, or LG, but if you want a phone that does most things well straight out of the box, works everywhere, and has plenty of third-party support for apps and accessories, it’s really hard to go wrong with the iPhone 6s — just so long as you prefer a smaller form factor. If, on the other hand, you like your phone to be large and in charge, with all the benefits of a phablet like a huge screen and an equally huge battery … the iPhone 6s Plus may be the better option for you.