IPhone 6s and 6s Plus
You want to do more than peek
The headline features of the iPhone 6s all sounded great at its September launch, but it’s not until you spend a few weeks with it that you appreciate it’s not just a new and improved iPhone – you quickly become an improved user too. Not only are 3D Touch’s new interactions (essentially the same as Force Touch from the Apple Watch) and new camera good upgrades, they make you think more about how you use your iPhone and for what. The device’s housing might not look any different, but there’s a whole new world to explore here.
Force Touch on the Apple Watch gave us an extra layer of usability. Pressing deeply to reveal hidden options was ideally suited to the Watch. With such a tiny screen, where you don’t want to be scrolling much, this solved a pretty serious limitation for smartwatch interfaces. But with the generous screen size of an iPhone, does it have the same effect? The simple answer is yes, but with one caveat; it’s actually many times better, and perfect if you want to hold your iPhone with one hand.
The reason for this is that the 3D Touch menus that pop up as you press deeply into the screen do so in relation to where your apps are – so that apps near the top of the screen show options below the app icon, and apps at the bottom show options above them. When you rearrange icons from the left to the right of the screen, the icons that accompany the listed options will also swap sides appropriately. 3D Touch enables you get at stuff faster from the Home screen. Many of Apple’s apps, and an increasing number of third-party apps, offer shortcuts to commonly used actions when you press hard. It’s basically right-clicking to open contextual menus, but for your iPhone.
Most of the time the options are just right, and we particularly like those for the Camera app (Take Selfie, Record Video, Record Slo-mo and Take Photo) and the option to redeem a code for the App Store in its app – normally buried right at the bottom of its Featured page. There are some odd omissions though; there’s no shortcut to create a new voice memo, or to see the forecast for your top locations in the Weather app. Those and other Apple apps have no options at all, which feels odd when 3D Touch is a headline feature. However, these are minor omissions; the core features for everyday users – Camera, Mail, Calendar, Notes, Reminders and the App Store – are catered for, and truly enhanced by these shortcuts.
The pride and joy of the iPhone’s new 3D Touch abilities are the ‘peek’ and ‘pop’ gestures. They take the Mail app from being a good email app experience to an unrivalled one. Once you’ve tried them for just one day, you’ll never want to be without them – they feel so natural.
3D Touch’s contextual menus are very good for one-handed use, but Reachability (double-tapping the Home button to slide the screen down and bring stuff at the top into reach), isn’t enhanced by the 6s’s new interactions. In fact, it’s largely forgotten, and if Apple extends the philosophy behind peek and pop to many other parts of the OS, it will quickly negate what Reachability
was trying to achieve. That’s a good thing, as it always seemed like a clunky and apologetic solution to one-handed use.
The 6s again raises the bar when it comes to iPhone cameras. Photo and video capabilities are often top of user requirements, and iPhones have rarely been at the cutting edge of those developments; 16MP or higher resolution sensors are seen in many rival smartphones. The 6s’s 12-megapixel sensor might not be the best resolution in a mobile phone camera, but the quality of photos isn’t derived from a single hardware attribute – lens quality and software also come into play.
The new sensor takes great photos, but then so did the eightmegapixel one in the iPhone 6. So how different are its results? As well as the sensor, Apple has changed the processing as well. Side by side with an iPhone 6 we saw significant noise reduction and greater sharpening. High-contrast detail has an extra punch to it, but colours can look a little saturated, as if they’ve already been run through a photo filter app.
Low light performance is significantly improved, and though it’s hard for a smartphone to rival a good DSLR, we captured sharp images with the f/2.2 aperture in fairly dark indoor environments.
Unique to both new iPhones is the Live Photo option. This captures a regular still image along with 1.5 seconds of movement before and after you tap the shutter release. Sadly, these are shot at just 15 frames per second and they look poor if you move the camera during their capture. When you open one in the Photos app and press hard on it, the still image comes to life. We quickly tired of this feature, and often wished we had just taken a regular video instead.
To 4K or not 4K?
Taking your home movies beyond 1080p quality is another big new feature. If you have a suitable display (a 4K TV or monitor, or a 5K iMac) then using 4K video recording as your default will serve you well into the future, but most people are still unlikely to benefit significantly from it, as we generally post to sites that compress video or play things back on small screens. File sizes quickly grow too – a major concern for the 16GB model, which has just 12.2GB of usable space out of the box! Even so, shooting in 4K for editing at 1080p gives you the advantage of being able to crop into part of a video without upscaling.
A refined experience
Other components have also been given a significant update, even if they haven’t been highlighted as major reasons to get this new iPhone. The A9 and M9 processors and 2GB of RAM means this model scales new performance heights.
In GeekBench’s tests we busted past 4450 almost every time we ran the multi-core test. This breezes past the iPhone 6’s A8 processor and pips the iPad Air 2’s A8X too. We never found the iPhone 6 struggled with, well, anything really, but the introduction of 4K video recording and editing in the iMovie app necessitate an extra boost, and the 6s is a very capable computer for this task. E lsewhere, Touch ID has been vastly improved with much speedier recognition, and the front-facing camera for selfies and FaceTime
Side by side with iPhone 6 we found significant noise reduction and greater sharpening with the new 12MP camera
finally gets a big upgrade in the form of a 5MP camera (up from a paltry 1.2MP) and a Retina Flash, which uses the screen to light you.
‘S’ models of iPhone always make decent upgrades but this is the first time we’ve leant towards saying it’s an essential one. Most people might not be able to harness all the power inside just yet, but the new tech here is astounding, and 3D Touch interactions soon become essential. We’ve got no qualms in saying this is an important step change for the iPhone. It’s an incredible device, but avoid the 16GB model if 4K video is a big deal for you. Christian Hall
Our thanks to Three for supplying the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus for review. To see deals and tariffs, go to three.co.uk. Three – rated the UK’s most reliable network by YouGov.
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