Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hands-on with iPhone 6s and 6s Plus

With these iPhones, your eyes aren't deceiving you, but your fingers are

The iPhones 3GS, 4S and 5s were all rather dull compared to the phones that launched in the years either side of them. That’s because there’s usually very little difference in the ‘S’ models from their predecessors, making it hard to get excited about them.

This time around it’s a little different: the 6S is a great upgrade for those ‘stuck’ on a 5S, and it’s a decent phone in its own right. If you’re ready for an upgrade from the old design and keen to stick with Apple, this is a great time to go for it.


The same stick that some use to beat iPhone fans still exists: yes, the 6s and 6s Plus look almost identical to last year’s models, with the same ceramic feel and slightly protruding camera; placed side by side with that model, you won’t really notice the difference. The only marginal change is the additional thickness, likely to facilitate the new 3D Touch technology and hopefully a larger battery, although there’s no word on that from Apple.

Compared to other phones available, the latest iPhones still manage to mix that feeling of premium build with a light and thin body that’s a joy to hold. Apple’s nod to the improved build as having reinforced 7000 Series aluminum is clearly a direct result of the iPhone 6’s ‘Bendgate’ controversy, where some believed the phone was slightly prone to changing shape if pressure was applied. Though Apple doesn’t need sympathy, it was still a bit harsh that it got singled out for this when many other handsets could also bend if you tried hard enough. Either way it’s now much less prone to bending.

Of course, the 6s Plus needs a bigger battery than the 6s, but the 5.5-inch display feels so much more swamped by the iPhone’s frame compared to other phones, such as LG’s G4. Apple’s largest phone is still very light and easy to hold, but you can’t forget it’s a phablet. If you’re coming at this from the iPhone 5s, you’re going to be blown away by how gargantuan it is to hold, and even Reachability (double-clicking the Home button to bring the top of the screen down within reach) doesn’t really help. However, you’re buying a phablet, not a mini phone, and the bigger screen and battery that such a phone offers – and that comes with compromises. model, it is a pretty nifty trick that promises to make iPhone 5s owners feel like they’re getting a real upgrade with their new phone.

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The main difference it brings is the ability to interact with on-screen elements in different ways. It’s too early to delve into all the ways that it will work, but it’s simple: you can tap like before, but press a bit harder on an icon or a message and a new menu will pop up. Imagine it’s like right-clicking with a mouse to get a contextual menu and you’re pretty much there. It’s a cool new feature, although one that app developers will need to work with for a while to really get the best out of it.

The main barrier is remembering that the option is there – the act of tapping on a touchscreen to make things happen is so ingrained in most people’s consciousness that it’s hard to remember there’s a ‘secret door’ to some things. It’ll be intriguing to see how Apple deals with that. When you remember, it works nicely, and the Taptic Engine underneath buzzes pleasantly to confirm an action is successful.

The screen, new touchy-powers aside, is pretty much identical to the one seen on the iPhone 6. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it’s true that Apple has one of the lowest resolution screens of all the flagship phones, the way it’s displayed (laminated to the glass, highly colorful) means it looks beautiful nonetheless.

The 6s Plus retains the previous model’s 1080p resolution. With other phone makers trending towards QHD displays (Sony even has a 4K phone display), content to show on them is still sparse. They improve the image, and it would’ve been nice to see Apple do something cool here, but given how fragile iPhone batteries are, this possibly isn’t the best idea.


The anticipated upgrade of the iPhone’s camera camera has arrived: both new iPhones have a 12MP snapper and it looks like it’ll deliver in spades. The need to jump in megapixels is rarely warranted beyond the need to impress with higher numbers, but this year things are starting to jump forward. The Samsung Galaxy S6 takes stunning photos with its 16MP camera, and Sony’s Xperia Z5, packing a 23MP sensor and super-fast autofocus, actually puts its additional pixels to good use. Apple needed to keep up.

Just 12MP might not sound like a lot, but it means that the shutter speed is faster than ever, the clarity looks crystal clear on the larger 5.5‑inch screen of the 6s Plus, and the iPhone’s overall photography quality is improved once more. Apple must have spent a lot of money on its ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ campaign last year, and if this phone can outdo those snaps (and there’s no reason to say it can’t), then it will have a promising camera on a good phone.

While we’ve only tested the new camera briefly, there’s no doubt that it’s an upgrade. It retains the speed of snapping we’ve come to expect from an iPhone, while the clarity is there to see too. The useful features available in previous iPhones are also still present. Apple still hasn’t fixed the most annoying part of the camera – sliding a finger up and down to change the exposure as the only way of altering the photo, which is basic and actually quite hard to do; we had hoped to see a manual control.

The new Live Photo option takes a 1.5-second video either side of a photo to bring a kind of Harry Potter element to things. That’s cool, but it also feels more like a gimmick than a really useful option. What’s really impressive is that it doesn’t seem to affect the shutter speed – it should take a while either side, but it buffers while you’re taking a shot. Live Photos will be more a ‘remembered delight’ rather than something you aim to do with your pictures. It’s something you’ll need to remember to ‘3D Touch’ in order to enable.

An A9 chip and upgraded RAM

As usual, Apple has thrown in an upgraded chip in the shape of the A9, which brings a number of changes. The battery will last longer, the device will run faster and the gaming experience will, once again, be better than anything we’ve seen before. Once again, it’s a 64-bit architecture, though that still isn’t used to its full potential to address 4GB of RAM; word is that the 6s has double the RAM of its predecessor (though, as ever, this is unconfirmed by Apple), with 2GB now powering your apps and creating a decent snap under the finger. It might not seem like much of an upgrade, but we expect it to blitz the iPhone 6 and especially the 5s in speed tests.

Early Verdict

This is the most impressive ‘S’ variant of an iPhone we’ve seen yet, and one 5s owners will flock to. While it’s disappointing that Apple ‘gets away’ with releasing the same phone visually – no other brand could do that – this is the fourth time it has done so, and people still like buying iPhones. If the iPhone were to have a new frame, then this would be a brilliant new phone without exception. The new 3D Touch, upgraded camera and improved speeds offer tangible benefits, and combined with the solid upgrade to iOS 9 and the impressive build, Apple has made a very good phone.

If you’ve got an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus already, there’s less incentive to get a 6s model. For anyone on an older iPhone, or thinking of defecting from Android, the 6s and 6s Plus are worth checking out. Both new iPhones are obviously going to command a high price, and it’s up to you whether the 3D Touch technology and upgraded camera are enough to keep you from buying last year’s cheaper model. But, apart from being so similar in design, this feels like quite an upgrade from Apple.


Colors available: gold, silver, space gray, and rose gold, iPhone 6s Plus features an A9 chip, 3D Touch, ultrafast LTE Advanced wireless, a 12MP iSight camera, and iOS 9.
Capacity: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB
Retina HD display with 3D Touch
5.5-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit widescreen next-generation Multi‑Touch display with IPS technology and Taptic Engine
1920-by-1080-pixel resolution at 401 ppi
(iPhone 6S Plus) 1300:1 contrast ratio (typical)
(iPhone 6S) 1400:1 contrast ratio (typical)
500 cd/m2 max brightness (typical)
Full sRGB standard
Dual-domain pixels for wide viewing angles
Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating

By Mac

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