Pros: Upgraded cameras bring higher-quality photos and video to the iPhone. Live Photos are a neat, new feature. 3D Touch display adds a new dimension to the user interface, which makes navigating the home screen easier and opens up a number of new possibilities within apps. The A9 processor and 2GB of RAM make for a faster overall experience. Touch ID is super-fast and easy. The new aluminum alloy feels a bit nicer to hold. Both 6s phones appear to fit well in the vast majority of 6 cases and many 6 Plus cases.
Cons: Battery life in the iPhone 6s takes a step back. 16GB models aren’t worth it; we consider the 64GB model a better option by far. A lack of third-party apps supporting 3D Touch thus far make the feature a bit limited at this time. The iPhone 6s speaker is a bit disappointing — and the smaller phone doesn’t have quite the feature set of the 6s Plus.
Apple’s “s” iPhones have traditionally followed a pattern: the phone would have an unchanged body with upgraded internals, leaving larger form factor updates to the new numerical editions. In that way, Apple’s new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus stick to tradition. But this time around, there was a bit of buzz before Apple’s announcement about the company possibly shunning the “s,” as some believed the latest iPhone would have enough upgrades to justify skipping ahead to the iPhone 7 name. The phone is faster, with more memory and new cameras — but the new 3D Touch is also enough of a user interface change for some to see these phones as brand new devices worthy of making the leap to the next number.
As with their predecessors, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus come in three capacities — 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB. Generally, for consumers interested in upgrading to the newest iPhone as soon as possible, the 16GB model is too small to consider. Lightning-based storage solutions are still relatively rare, and even if they weren’t, 16GB is too small considering the size of photos, apps, music, etc. We’re not alone in pushing for a 32GB base model iPhone, and we will continue to bang that drum. With carriers moving away from contract subsidies, we’ll list the prices as Apple does: $649/$749/$849 for iPhone 6s at 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB, and a $100 premium for the iPhone 6s Plus at the same capacities: $749/$849/$949.
In the next seven pages, we’ll take a look at the brand new features and changes in Apple’s newest iPhones — from the 3D Touch display to the new cameras to any other tweaks that might be a bit under-the-radar. We’ll put it all to the test, and hopefully, we’ll determine whether it’s worth your time and money to upgrade to the latest Apple flagship phone.
The New Body
At first glance — or maybe even second or third — you won’t be able to tell the difference between iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus and their respective predecessors, as the screen size and general design remain the same. They are slightly larger than those iPhones, though, and we do emphasize “slightly.” iPhone 6s is .2 mm taller, .1 mm wider, and .2 mm thicker than iPhone 6, and iPhone 6s Plus is .1 mm taller, .2 mm wider, and .2 mm deeper than iPhone 6 Plus. It’s more noticeable when you’re holding an iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus in one hand and its predecessor in the other — the new iPhones are heavier due to the 3D Touch display. It’s enough to be noticeable — iPhone 6s jumps from 4.55 ounces to 5.04 ounces, and iPhone 6s Plus is up from 6.07 ounces to 6.77 ounces — but it’s unlikely to be a deal breaker in any way. In fact, some may prefer their iPhone to have a bit more heft.
OK, in some cases, there is one major difference instantly visible on the body of the new iPhones — one new color. Joining gold, silver, and space gray is Apple’s rose gold. The new color was first seen on the expensive Apple Watch Edition, so this will be the first time most people see the rose gold. On the iPhones, depending on the lighting, rose gold sometimes looks a bit more pink, sometimes a bit more gold, making rose gold a pretty accurate name. Most people will likely just call it pink, though it certainly doesn’t look like the pink iPhone 5c or any pink iPod.
Though the bodies of the new iPhones look the same, its construction is different — we’re mainly talking about the material of the phone’s shell, which is made from Apple’s 7000 Series aluminum. The company claims it’s the strongest alloy ever used in an iPhone. Early reports also note the iPhone 6s Plus is harder to bend than its predecessor, which drew some (overblown) criticism from bending in user’s pockets. If nothing else, the added thickness and weight make the newer iPhones feel a bit more substantial. Though Apple has been obsessed with thinness in recent years, the company clearly thought the 3D Touch display was worth adding a teensy bit of bulk. The alloy is also a bit less slippery to us than the last iPhones. But you should still use a case.
Case compatibility was a big question with these new iPhones — simply put, will iPhone 6 cases work on iPhone 6s, and will iPhone 6 Plus cases work with the iPhone 6s Plus? We tried dozens of cases, and the answer is largely yes. All of the cases we tried worked fine with the volume control and sleep/wake buttons. Generally speaking, if an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus case is made of anything with some give and flex — rubber/TPU cases, for instance — it should be fine. It’ll be a bit more snug, which might even be beneficial in some cases. The only cases we’d have some concerns about are hard and particularly unforgiving cases, especially those for iPhone 6 Plus. One iPhone 6 Plus battery case worked, but was so tight on the 6s Plus that we could barely remove it from the case. If you want to wait for specific iPhone 6s/6s Plus cases, that’s fine — they will fit better — but you should be fine with most existing 6/6 Plus cases.
A9 + Touch ID
Both the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus have gotten a processor bump from last year, moving on from the quite-fast A8 processor (and M8 motion coprocessor) to the A9 chip with an embedded M9. The speed will show up in the usual ways when compared side-by-side to the older phones — iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus start up faster, and move in and out of apps faster. Other than that, most users probably won’t see a huge difference from the get-go, but of course, the faster chips give these iPhones the potential to run more demanding apps now and in the future.
Geekbench reveals the processor leap in the newer iPhones. iPhone 6s gave us a 4215 multi-core score and 2436 single-core score, and iPhone 6s Plus an impressive 4412 multi-core score and 2532 single-core score. These benchmarks surpass their predecessors by a sizable amount — the numbers are even more impressive when compared to the iPad Air 2. Both new iPhones actually feature better single-core scores than Apple’s current top-of-the-line iPad, and the multi-core scores in the new iPhones don’t trail far behind the iPad Air 2’s score of 4529. The speed on display is serious.
The other big bump is a double dose of RAM — iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are the first iPhones to feature 2GB of RAM. Again, while many casual users might not notice much of a difference, power users will likely see gains – especially those who tend to open lots of Safari tabs, as the extra memory will allow users to hop in and out of those tabs without waiting for frequent reloads.
There’s one more speed bump worth noting in the new iPhones — the revamped Touch ID. Apple’s second-generation sensor is lightning-quick. Before, you’d have to put your finger on the sensor and wait a beat. Now, the fingerprint is recognized almost instantaneously, allowing users to unlock their phones, make App Store purchases, or use Apple Pay even faster than before. Touch ID’s faster speed also makes it easier and quicker to add fingerprints to the phones during setup.
The marquee new feature on iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus is a version of something we’ve already seen on Apple Watch and Apple’s newest MacBook. On those devices, it was called Force Touch, but here, Apple’s calling it 3D Touch. But the new iPhones offer far more possibilities with the technology, with a large touchscreen and a new operating system — iOS 9 — which takes advantage of the feature. For those unaware of how 3D Touch works, a harder press on the screen opens up new options for certain apps — small menus will pop up, offering users shortcuts to popular functions within apps.
For instance, press harder on the Camera app on the home screen, and options pop up — Take Selfie, Record Video, Record Slo-mo, Take Photo. For clock, it’s Create Alarm, Start Stopwatch, Start Timer. The Phone and Messages apps bring up most recent contacts, and so forth. It’s a clever, quick way of getting where you want to go and doing what you want to do. And it works very well. There’s very little third-party app support at this time, though Instagram has already joined the party. One can foresee quick status updates in Twitter and Facebook, quick updates from weather apps, and far more in the future.
One of the most intriguing possibilities is how 3D Touch will open up more gameplay options within iOS games. At this point, few games use the tech — we’ve tried the Wipeout-esque racer AG Drive, which is said to implement 3D Touch for an added speed boost, though we didn’t think it was done very well. It’s still early, though.
Outside of the home screen, and within apps, 3D Touch might be most useful within Safari right now. How many times have you clicked on a link and found it wasn’t exactly what you wanted? 3D Touch lets you take quick peeks inside of links without opening them fully. This also works with iMessages — sneak a peek at a link without venturing into it.
Another of our favorite 3D Touch uses thus far involves pressing harder when using the iPhone’s keyboard. Doing so turns the keyboard into a touchpad, which can then be used to quickly get your cursor exactly where you want it — that’s long been a challenge in iOS. As another longtime user said to us upon seeing this function for the first time, “Finally.” You can even use 3D Touch to zoom in on the screen with a movable viewing window, which is a boon for users who may have trouble seeing text on the iPhone’s screen.
Though 3D Touch may get most of the love — and it is cool — the upgraded cameras on iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus will probably matter more to the most people. Both cameras get the bump up to a 12MP rear iSight camera from 8MP. The camera boasts improved noise reduction, improved local tone mapping, and larger panoramas — up to 63MP. Video recording can now be done in 4K at 30fps, and slo-mo supports 1080p at 120 fps or 720p at 240 fps. iPhone 6s Plus still has optical image stabilization — iPhone 6s still doesn’t — and also picks up optical image stabilization for video, cutting down on the shakiness effect.
Since the 6 and 6 Plus cameras were already very good, sometimes you’ll see differences between the past cameras and the newer cameras, and other times it won’t be so obvious. (Aside from the fact that the newer photos are, of course, larger in size.) Below we have two shots — iPhone 6s on the left, iPhone 6 on the right. We think there’s a bit more detail on the left, and the yellow/beige colors at the top of the wild grasses on the right seem a bit subdued and muted in comparison.
Below is a closer, more detailed comparison between the 6 Plus and 6s Plus camera. Zoomed in to show detail on tree bark, we see the 6s Plus camera on the top, and the 6 Plus on the bottom. Again, you can see more detail on the left. Now, for those who only care about social media photo sharing, this kind of detail may not matter so much now. But serious photographers will be pleased — and we’ve now reached a point where these cameras have ventured further into the “serious photography” zone.
The front camera finally gets an upgrade, too. iPhone no longer has an outdated 1.2MP FaceTime camera. In this selfie age, a 5MP camera is a most welcome upgrade. One could even argue Apple could have gone even further with this camera’s specs, but most won’t mind, as the upgrade is obvious. The FaceTime camera also now uses the whole screen as a flash. We’re still not crazy about iPhone flash photography in general, but there’s no doubt it’s an improvement.
Below, two shots from a selfie-taking cat: first from the 6s Plus, then the 6 Plus. The difference is clear, as the bottom photo clearly doesn’t compete. Selfie mavens will definitely see the difference in the 6s and 6s Plus.
There’s been much discussion about the new Live Photos feature — take a photo and a few moments of video are added before and after the shot. Press the photo and you’ll see that before-and-after glimpse. It’s a neat little trick meant to bring photos to life, as it were, and it’s easy to use (just remember to let the camera linger until the word “LIVE” disappears from the top of the screen). We think Live Photos is a cool feature, but we also think it’s best to use sparingly, in particularly active moments. Live Photo after Live Photo in one’s camera roll can be a bit much, not to mention that it takes up twice the space as a regular photo. Being able to use Live Photos as your iPhone’s wallpaper is another nice touch.
Video recording has also been upgraded with the new cameras, as the new iPhones offer playback zoom, more slo-mo options, and 4K video recording. 4K video quality is high, but at this point, considering the space it takes up, we don’t think it’s necessary for most video clips you’ll be filming. Those looking to do more serious video work will certainly be happy with the addition, however. We do wish there was an easier way to switch between video settings — you currently have to dip into Camera settings. Hopefully an iOS update will make it easier to switch between 720p, 1080p, and 4K.
It’s also worth noting that the iPhone 6s Plus is the only iPhone with optical image stabilization for video. We ran while filming, and the phone did a great job of keeping things steady. Active video users — or those filming particularly active subjects — will certainly appreciate this feature.
Battery + Cellular Performance
Apple makes claims of 11 hours of Wi-Fi web browsing for iPhone 6s and 12 hours for iPhone 6s Plus. The company also claims iPhone 6s will reach up to 11 hours of video playback, while iPhone 6s Plus is said to hit 14 hours of runtime. The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus notably have slightly smaller batteries than those found in their predecessors — Apple sacrificed here for the 3D Touch display, thin profile, and Taptic Engine — 6s drops to 1715 mAh from the prior 1810, and 6s Plus shrank to 2750 from 2915. One of the phones did much better than the other in our tests when compared to Apple’s claims. In all of our tests, the iPhones are set to 50 percent brightness and 50 percent volume.
In Wi-Fi browsing test, our 6s conked out at six hours, which falls far short of Apple’s claims. We’ve decided to run another battery test on the 6s to see if this improves, and we’ll update when that is complete. The iPhone 6s Plus gave us a bit more than 10 hours. Much better, but still well short of Apple’s 12-hour claim.
Update: We ran the Wi-Fi browsing test again for the iPhone 6s — this time, the phone gave us exactly 8.5 hours worth of run time. It’s possible — even probable— that iOS 9.0.2 has something to do with this, but it probably shouldn’t make that much of a difference. The iPhone still falls short of Apple’s 11-hour claim, but now the result is respectable. We’re more confident in the results of this second test, and it eases our mind a bit regarding the 6s’ battery life.
Our video test was much easier for the iPhone 6s Plus, as the device ended up running just a few minutes shy of Apple’s 14-hour claims. The iPhone 6s struggled again, tapping out at a disappointing 6.5 hours.
Our demanding gaming test, featuring Infinity Blade III, was better for the 6s, with the device registering around where we’d expect. It ran for 4 hours and 10 minutes, which is actually an improvement over the iPhone 6. The 6s Plus held out for an amazing 7 hours and 27 minutes, far exceeding the 5 hours and 37 minutes of last year’s 6 Plus. We suspect Apple’s upgraded innards, running in conjunction with the efficient iOS 9, are creating a leap in this category.
As one might suspect, smaller batteries make for quicker recharging. The iPhone 6s fully recharged in 2 hours and 20 minutes with the included adapter, which is just a tad less than it took to recharge the iPhone 6. The iPhone 6s Plus was brought back to a full charge in about 3 hours, just a bit quicker than in the iPhone 6 Plus. Unlike with the previous iPhones, using a 2.1A adapter didn’t seem to make much difference in this test, but it may if you’re running apps while recharging.
Also worth noting is the upgraded Wi-Fi (with MIMO support) and LTE Advanced support. Anecdotally, it appears a slight difference is perceptible, but there are many factors at play when checking cellular and Wi-Fi speeds. At this point, we’ll just say, so far, so good.
Odds + Ends
A few other notes: iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus both come with Bluetooth 4.2 support. In our brief experience, we didn’t find any issues with the phones connecting to various Bluetooth speakers and devices. This isn’t a surprise, of course, but it’s good to know that nothing strange popped up.
AirPlay mirroring was hit-or-miss, as AirPlay sometimes is. We didn’t have any issues using AirPlay with certain apps like YouTube, but getting our saved videos to play to the TV was a bit more problematic than we would have liked. We’ll look for future iOS updates to correct this.
Siri can also do one special thing on 6s and 6s Plus: that same “Hey Siri” command can be used to access Apple’s assistant at anytime, even when the new phones aren’t plugged in. Just yell out for Siri when your phone is nearby. It may not be a big deal to some, but it’s definitely a bonus.
In our audio testing, we found one interesting discovery. Though we always note we wouldn’t recommend listening to any iPhone’s speaker for a long period of time, short-burst listening is pretty common. And we can’t help but thinking that we prefer the iPhone 6 speaker to that found in the new iPhone 6s. The past speaker sounds a bit louder to our ears, and a bit more detailed. This finding isn’t revelatory, really, as most wouldn’t notice much difference, but it’s notable, even if it’s a small step back. We didn’t notice the same differences between the 6s Plus speaker and 6 Plus speaker, which were virtually indistinguishable from each other — and a bit louder and fuller than the 6s speaker. Headphone ports had no issues.
Update: A reader pointed us back toward the 6 Plus and 6s Plus speakers. Upon further listening, specifically to audio from video clips, we did notice a distinct difference at times, as the 6s Plus speaker can get louder, but that loudness can come with more distortion at peak volume. We’d suggest listening to the 6s Plus speaker at a few notches below peak volume, at least.
iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus: Conclusion
While the last iPhones did plenty to lure users of Android devices and older iPhones — as Apple’s sales numbers have shown — much of that was due to the leap to the bigger screens. The changes are less immediately obvious now on first glance, but the cameras are a bigger step up than the last time around. Cameras are arguably the most important feature in a smartphone to many users, and between the upgraded photo quality and Live Photos — not a killer feature, but definitely cool enough to play around with — users will find themselves drawn to Apple’s newest iPhones.
That’s before considering the 3D Touch display — a unique feature within smartphones. While we won’t go as far as some who now claim their older iOS devices already feel outdated after using 3D Touch, it’s nice to have the extra functionality. It makes it easier to navigate quicker, and sometimes, when you have to send an urgent text or take a photo before the moment gets away, that matters. The future possibilities are the most tantalizing thing about it — we can see a home screen full of 3D Touch pop-up menus, making it easier to do things without having to pop in and out of apps. And if you’re an Apple Watch user, between using the watch and quickly peeking into app features, maybe you’ll actually have more time to look away from your phone.
We’re a bit concerned about the iPhone 6s’ long-term battery life, and we considered knocking its grade slightly when compared to the 6s Plus — even a slight drop in battery life compared to the iPhone 6 might be troublesome for some users. But in the end, we understand that some users much prefer the iPhone 6s’ smaller size, and are willing to sacrifice that battery dip, in addition to the slightly less-impressive camera. (For what it’s worth, we at iLounge don’t mind the large size of the Plus, and thus, still prefer the Plus model for those aforementioned reasons.) There’s enough of a leap ahead in cameras, speed, and interface here to warrant upgrading — both new iPhones earn our high recommendation.
Company and Price
Models: iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus