It’s review day for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Selected tech reviewers have had time to put the new iPhones through their paces, testing out new features like Peek and Pop and asking the eternal question: how’s the battery life? Below, we’ve rounded up results from some of the reviews to give you an idea of what to expect from Apple’s latest smartphone.
3D Touch is probably the marquee feature of this “S” update. A new pressure sensitive screen lets you do everything from previewing web pages before opening Safari to playing back new Live Photos. And you can expect developers to build even more functionality as users start to adopt the new hardware.
“The iPhone 6S is the third major Apple product line to gain pressure-sensitive touch,” Nilay Patel says in his review at The Verge, “and it is by far the most successful at integrating the feature into the natural flow of the interface.”
3D Touch, importantly, doesn’t seem to add complexity to using the smartphone. Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch says it’s not the new right-click.
“I have a feeling that this is going to be the easy comparison and the early chatter about it by people who haven’t even tried it is already leaning that way,” he writes. “I can’t stress enough that this is not accurate. Right-click is about adding actions and complexity, a 3D Touch shortcut is about taking away actions and reducing complexity.”
“This is one of those potentially huge user behaviors — like swiping, or pinching and zooming — that seem odd or minor at first, but which Apple historically is able to make deeply important and useful,” writes Walt Mossberg on Re/code.
Others fear that competitors may try to copy Apple’s new interaction method with disastrous results.
“It’s easy to imagine how another manufacturer would try to do this and how it would be a mess. Sam Grobart says at Bloomberg Business. “You wouldn’t know how hard to press; you’d press too hard; there’d be a lag and you’d press again, only to find that you had pressed twice, probably causing you to throw the phone across the room.”
While there can be some confusion on the iPhone, Grobart says, Apple’s addition of haptic feedback makes learning how hard to press a quick lesson rather than a constant struggle.
Live Photos and the new camera
As with just about every iPhone upgrade, the cameras are better. Now, you can shoot 4K video on the outward-facing camera and 1080p video on the selfie side. The selfie side also has a flash, but it’s really just the screen getting extra bright (3x brighter than normal according to Apple). But just like the iPhone 5s enabled slow motion video, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus have a new capture mode: Live Photos.
Live Photos capture the 1.5 seconds on either side of your shutter press. These aren’t video clips, they’re the full 12MP images. So now you don’t have to capture a burst to make sure you’re getting the best shot. And they’re also fun.
“The absolute best thing about the 6s is Live Photos,” writes Joanna Stern over at the Wall Street Journal. “They’re awesome for reliving fun moments, especially of an active puppy or child, and anyone with an iOS 9 iPhone or iPad can view them.”
Patel calls the “gimmicky” but praises the seamless implementation, which Nokia and HTC failed at when introducing similar features. However, those extra seconds of capture are usually junk for him.
“It’s neat,” he says, “but you’ve got to remember to keep your camera pointed at your subject after you’ve taken a photo — I have a lot of Live Photos that are mostly me putting the phone back in my pocket.”
Battery life and phone size
The anorexic trend we’ve seen throughout the smartphone era may finally be reaching its end, and batteries may be to blame (or thank, if you’re a bendgate worrier). The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are actually both a little thicker and heavier due to the pressure sensitive screen and haptic feedback engine. But don’t worry, as Stern notes in her video review, it’s only about “three marshmallows heavier.”
“I found the 6s and 6s Plus get no more—but also no less—battery life than their predecessors,” she writes, “but the battery is actually slightly smaller. I’d happily buy a thicker iPhone, if it meant more time away from the power outlet.”
In Nicole Nguyen’s writeup for BuzzFeed Life (one of two BuzzFeed reviews), her “music festival conditions” battery test resulted in 10.5 hours of juice out of the 6s, thanks to improvements in iOS 9 and a more efficient processor.
“While listening to more music, get a notification that 10% battery remains,” she says. “Asks if I want Low Power Mode. I opt no. I like to live life on the edge.”
A faster phone overall
The phones are significantly more powerful as well, enabling all kinds of little features that customers aren’t likely to notice but will greatly improve their experience. The new A9 chip is more than 50 percent better according to Geekbench scores from TechCrunch, leading to smooth scrolling through maps and quick app launches while using less power. And with 2GB of RAM, that means your apps won’t have to reload as often.
“Exporting an HD video was three times as fast, scrolling through Facebook and Web pages was smoother and jumping between tons of open apps felt noticeably quicker,” writes Stern.
One of the most prominent new features enabled by the faster processor is “Hey Siri,” which lets you talk to your iPhone without pressing any buttons. That feature was available on previous iPhones when they were plugged in, but the new iPhones can have Siri listening all the time (if you want, but it can be turned off).
A better Touch ID fingerprint reader also speeds up unlocking the phone, and may finally let you forget your passcode, or at least upgrade to the new 6-digit option available in iOS 9.
“On the iPhone 6s, Touch ID is undoubtedly faster,” Nicole Nguyen says at BuzzFeed Life. “It’s not a breakthrough. It simply works as it should.”
Should you buy it?
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are an obvious upgrade. As Panzarino at TechCrunch says, the phones “are worth your attention and, if it’s in your budget, a purchase.” And with Apple’s new upgrade program, which lets you get a new iPhone every year and lets you pay for it monthly, you can break away from carrier dependence without breaking the bank.
However, there’s still that 16GB entry model, which is just too small with 4K video and Live Photos taking up huge amounts of room.
“If there were ever an iPhone that needed more storage, it’s this one,” Stern says, “yet Apple continues to rip off customers with a 16GB base model … rather than offer a 32GB one.
And if you’re already an owner of the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, there might not be a huge reason to upgrade other than wanting the latest and greatest. It will likely take a while for developers to fully figure out 3D Touch and Live Photos only work on iOS devices right now (although an API is coming).
“If you have an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and you’re not ready to sign up for a yearly phone upgrade program, you might not feel the usual pull to get a new iPhone unless you really want a better front-facing camera,” Patel said. “The speed improvements are incremental, the battery life is about the same, and it’ll take a while for developers to really make use of 3D Touch. And by the time that happens, it will probably be time to buy an iPhone 7.”