I was pretty bold last year when discussing the iPhone 6 Plus. Perhaps too bold.
At the time, I concluded pretty plainly:
However, if you find yourself with the opportunity to use a phone two handed most of the time, I’m willing to bet the 6 Plus will be right up your alley. Grab it. Play with it for five minutes. Then decide. I’m sure you’ll know within that timeframe which phone is right for you.
You see, five minutes wasn’t nearly enough to determine which phone is best for you. I used a 6 Plus for a full year and, looking back, I’m not sure I ever truly knew if the 6 Plus was for me.
So, this time around, curiosity drove me to the smaller iPhone 6s.
And I’m still not sure which phone I love more.
It’s a testament to Apple’s hardware and software teams and their ability to design an incredible experience no matter the size of the device. Each phone excels at different things, but whether you use the larger, more comfortable iPhone 6s Plus, or the smaller, more convenient iPhone 6s, you’re sure to be pleased.
With that said, I’m pleased with my purchase of the iPhone 6s. It’s a different, unique device which falls short in some areas when compared to the larger Plus iPhone, but comes up big in other aspects.
One could clearly argue that size is the defining difference between the smaller iPhone 6s and the larger 6s Plus. But this is far too large a scope to properly argue. Size, in the case of the iPhones 6s, effectively touches on handling, software, battery life, photography, security, and utility. Where one phone excels in battery life, it falls short in handling. And where the other phone excels in utility, it falls short in photography.
It’s a dead toss up.
Size defines how you handle the iPhone 6s.
The smaller 4.7” screen fits much more comfortably in your hand and fits less snugly in your pocket.
This has had a subconscious effect on me. Before, with the iPhone 6 Plus, I made habitual concessions for the phone’s size throughout the day. From removing the phone from my pocket to tie my shoes or to get into my car, to putting the phone in a bag when going on a hike, the 6 Plus was never an ideal phone to carry around.
In this regard, the smaller iPhone 6s trumps all. I no longer fear bending my phone when its in my front pocket, and I rarely find myself putting my phone in my messenger bag for the trip to work.
The design of the iPhone 6s is largely the same as its predecessor, save for a small “S” on the iPhone’s back and the elimination of those pesky certification symbols.
But in reality, the entire exterior of the phone has changed. Apple’s new anodized aluminum formula has resulted in a grippier, slip-resistant phone. I noticed this immediately upon picking up my wife’s iPhone 6. The iPhone 6s, even with the rounded corners, feels more tacky and secure in wet or dry hands. And when compared to the larger and more slippery iPhone 6 Plus, the new iPhone 6s rests far more securely in my hand.
Technically speaking, the new iPhone 6s is also slightly thicker and heavier than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I imagine this increase in thickness is to house the new pressure sensitive screen, but it’s hardly noticeable on its own. When comparing the iPhone 6 to the 6s in both your hands, the weight difference might be noticeable. I’d be surprised if anyone classified this as a material difference.
One handed use of the smaller iPhone 6s is probably the most glaring change for me personally, and this revolves greatly around the keyboard. It wasn’t too often where I found myself needing to type with only one hand on the iPhone 6 Plus, but the few times were always too difficult to bother. I’d slide the phone back into my pocket and often forget about what I was doing.
Now, those difficult times are few and far between. Texts and emails are responded to faster than ever during my work day and I don’t open my homescreen to as many notification badges as before. It’s a nice change in notification anxiety.
But when I’m ready to use two hands to type, the Plus-sized keyboard is second to none. My new smaller 6s keyboard is definitely more cramped and I find myself backspacing as often as when typing with the iPhone 5/5s.
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus come with a paradigm altering way of interacting with the screen: pressure sensitivity.
We’ve all heard of 3D Touch by now and we’ve all tried to put words to it. In a way, 3D Touch is very Apple-esque. It’s a very natural method of input and has become a normal way to interact with the phone. I can’t count on two hands how often I’ve pressed down on an icon on the iPad hoping to see a quick list of actions.
3D Touch extends beyond the homescreen and into each app as well. Dubbed “Peek and Pop”, pressing hard on a message or an email gives a quick look at the content, and pressing even harder sends you to the content in a full screen format. There’s also a hidden contextual menu which can be found when you Peak at a message, but I have yet to use any of these actions. Overall, Peak and Pop is a neat way to skim through a long list of emails, but I don’t find myself using it as often as I expected.
Using 3D Touch on a homescreen will be impacted largely based on which phone you use. When typing or when navigating iOS, the length your thumb extends across the screen is definitive — reaching the corners of the 6 Plus’ screen was nigh impossible. As a result, using 3D Touch on icons in the top-most corners of the screen will be more difficult for 6s Plus owners.
It’s more than just pressing the icon — it’s also pressing hard enough on the icon. By default, the amount of pressure needed to activate 3D Touch catches people off guard. The number of people who proceed to put all homescreen icons into wiggle-mode their first time instead of 3D Touch (myself included) is eye-brow raising. While it’s entirely possible to press down hard enough with the tip of your index finger, I find it much more comfortable to activate 3D Touch with my thumb. The amount of leverage my thumb has on the screen is far greater than my index finger, and this makes 3D Touch more of a thumb feature than an index finger feature.
So, with the reality of the 6s Plus’ large screen and the inability of most people to navigate the 6s Plus entirely with their thumb, 3D Touching icons or elements in the top-most corners is less comfortable. This makes 3D Touch more accessible on the smaller iPhone 6s and adds to the 6s’ convenience enormously. This is speculative after all, as I admit I only tested this theory for a couple minutes at the Apple Store. My slightly-smaller-than-average hands had a hard time reaching the 6s Plus’ far corners, and 3D Touching them compromised my grip on the phone tremendously. Many will look past the leverage needed to access the 3D Touch features (especially considering you can adjust 3D Touch in the phone’s settings), but it may be something to think about with the larger phone.
3D Touch is probably my favourite new feature of the iPhone 6s. I love how quickly I can call my wife just by hard pressing on the phone icon and dragging to her name. I also appreciate the ease of peeking at a link in a popup Safari window, only to pop that Safari window open to the now loaded web page. 3D Touch, I believe, is one of those features only Apple could pull off properly the first time. And for developers, 3D Touch is dripping with potential.
I’m inclined to say one thing about Touch ID on the iPhone 6s: It’s lightning fast.
Touch ID’s new speed finally makes it the more secure and more snappy choice for locking down your phone. Without a doubt, touching your thumb to the sensor is now faster than swiping to the left and tapping in a four or digit PIN.
Many writers before me have said Touch ID’s new speed is indeed too fast. Its speed will often render your lock screen notifications useless, as merely touching your thumb to the sensor will immediately open the phone. This will depend on how you use your phone, as I personally turn off as many lock screen notifications as possible. It may also depend on (again) which phone you use, as the larger 6s Plus may encourage you to open the phone with the home button as opposed to the lock button on the phone’s side. I believe each person’s mileage will vary with Touch ID’s new speed. Indeed, I find myself loving the security and the efficiency it delivers.
From day one, the iPhone 6 Plus — and now the iPhone 6s Plus — has been known for its incredible battery life. I can’t argue this point whatsoever, even with iOS 9’s new battery saving features.
The iPhone 6s’ battery life, however, isn’t terrible. With my iPhone 5 a few years ago, I remember losing 10% an hour without using the phone. This certainly isn’t the case with the 6s. Instead of my phone being dead by the end of the day with the iPhone 5, and instead of my phone being only 50% dead by the end of the day with the iPhone 6 Plus, I find my phone with about 25% battery life at the end of the day with the 6s. If I plug my phone in at the office, I’ll have plenty of battery life to spare.
Somewhat like Touch ID, the 6s’ battery life will largely depend on how you use your phone during the day. Luckily, I have no worries even with the 6s’ lesser battery life.
Even still, my old 6 Plus’ battery life blows the 6s out of the water.
Cameras and Live Photos
Fortunately, there’s someone far more qualified than I to deliver a proper review of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus’ new cameras. Like last year, Austin Mann’s iPhone camera review is thorough, in-depth, and well informed. Head over there to get all the specifics.
Also like last year, the iPhone 6s’ camera protrudes from the phone’s body. One day, Apple will be able to fix this.
The rear camera has seen a megapixel bump to 12MP from the iPhone 6’s 8MP camera. As many people are wont to note, the megapixel race is needless when it comes to smartphone cameras, as the physics of photography eventually gets in the way. Having said that, there is considerably more detail in the 6s’ images and I’ve been blown away by how crisp the images look on a 5K iMac’s screen.
There are other improvements too, such as 4K video, an improved 5MP front-facing camera, optical image stabilization in the iPhone 6s Plus (but not the iPhone 6s, sadly), and Retina Flash, which should drastically improve your selfie game.
But I don’t care much about that stuff.
I care about Live Photos.
I love Live Photos. Live Photos are the reason I leave the house without my camera bag and are the reason I have purchased an iPhone-ready tripod. Live Photos have made the iPhone a worthy addition to my camera kit, instead of the liability I always felt it once was.
Live Photos were turned on by default on the iPhone 6s. To see if the Live Photo feature is active, fire up the camera app and find the target symbol in the middle of the top row of icons. If it’s yellow, the iPhone is essentially recording everything you see in the viewfinder until you fire the shot or until you shutdown the app.
Once shot, the Live Photo is trimmed down to 1.5 seconds before and after the photograph and the photograph itself becomes the thumbnail or placeholder in your camera roll. For the 1.5 seconds after you press the shutter button, a little “Live” box floats below the yellow target symbol, signifying the iPhone is recording the time shortly after the shot. Once this box fades away, you can move your phone away from the composition knowing your Live Photo doesn’t drop off in the last half second. Each Live Photo takes up approximately 3 MB of space on the phone and can be viewed on other iPhone 6s and 6s Pluses phones, OS X Photos in El Capitan, and other iPhones and iPad by long pressing on the video. And, if you decide to go with the larger iPhone 6s Plus, you can take advantage of the phone’s optical image stabilization to have super-steady Live Photos. This all happens under the hood, and casual photographers who aren’t aware of the iPhone 6s’ Live Photo capabilities may not even know they are capturing extra footage in each shot.
The Live Photo portion:
Live Photos aren’t actually photos, and this may be why they are so intriguing. Live Photos fit in between photos and videos. They are a third format for creatives to explore. They tell more of a story than a quick snapshot, and they are more spontaneous than a planned video.
“Raw” is a perfect term to describe Live Photos. The actual photograph portion of a Live Photo can be perfectly composed and edited, but the 1.5 seconds before and after that photo paint a more unique, more sincere backdrop.
Take the following photograph as an example. My nephew is learning to crawl up and down the stairs all on his own these days. I grabbed my phone and tried to snap a photo of the moment in low light, but I never came up with a point where he was stationary enough for a sharp shot.
In and of itself, this is a horrible still photograph. It tells next to nothing about the moment taking place, it isn’t sharp, it doesn’t show the emotion of any subject, and it would be an instant delete on an older iPhone.
Instead, this short three second video gives a further look into the moment.
All it takes is an extra second or two to make this Live Photo a true keeper for years to come — at least for a proud uncle who will probably dig up this short video to show off at the young man’s wedding a few decades from now.
Here’s another Live Photo which turned out well. Of course, the photograph itself is nothing to write home about.
But the short video shows off what was happening and has a small easter egg at the end which wouldn’t have been captured in a normal situation.
Clearly, these moments can all be captured normally by taking quick bursts of three second videos. We’re not talking about an entirely new format of media here and I doubt professionals are clamouring over Apple’s latest idea.
Having said that, the magic of Live Photos all happens under the hood and away from the creator’s eye. You shoot the photograph like you would shoot a normal photograph (aside from holding your iPhone steady for a couple seconds before and after the shot) and the Live Photo magic just happens. This is brilliant. There’s an extra sparkle of story in each Live Photo and unlocking this by simply pressing hard on a photo in your camera roll is Apple at its best.
If 3D Touch, improved Touch ID, and Apple’s latest performance improvements aren’t enough to get your wallet jumping out of your pocket, Live Photos might be the tipping point. I will never head into a family event or a backpacking trip without my iPhone again.
Looking back, I recognize I haven’t spoken much about the iPhone 6s’ performance improvements, increased RAM, improved LTE bands, or iOS 9’s latest features. Without a doubt, all of these improvements lead to the smoothest and fastest experience yet on an iPhone. There are no lags, no hiccups, and no skips anywhere to be found.
On a daily basis though, I doubt these are habit-changing features. They are welcomed features, no doubt. But they aren’t “upgrade-on-an-annual-basis” sort of features.
Instead, in my mind, we’ve been given two — or maybe even three — groundbreaking features which will grace the iPhone line for years to come.
3D Touch adds the most rational, most logical step forward in terms of interacting with our devices. The list of extra tools which can be packed into the iPhone 6s because of 3D Touch is endless. From quick launch actions on the homescreen, to short cuts in creating new contacts, to peeking at a web page only to pop it open, we are seeing true innovation in the iPhone 6s’ display.
Touch ID’s improved speed isn’t far behind in terms of impact. Prior to the iPhone 6s, I’d still choose to swipe and unlock my phone with a four-digit PIN. Not only was it faster, it was more reliable when I needed to get into my phone quickly.
Touch ID 2 on the iPhone 6s smashes this notion entirely. Touch ID is now faster, more accurate, and more efficient than entering a PIN. Touch ID is now the only logical choice for securing your iPhone.
And Live Photos. I believe Live Photos are the start of an entirely new format of creativity. I expect Live Photos to drastically alter how Instagram and Facebook are used, and I’m exceedingly excited to have the ability to add these short Harry-Potter-esque photos to my journal. I don’t believe for a second that Live Photos are a gimmick and I’m sure parents will be very pleased when they look back at photos of their children.
For me personally, switching from the iPhone 6 Plus’ large 5.5” screen to the smaller iPhone 6s’ 4.7” screen has been a fair adjustment. I’ve lost the lovable extra large keyboard as well as the two-day battery life housed in the 5.5” iPhone’s larger body. I’ve also lost that unique splitscreen view on a landscape iPhone 6s Plus.
Instead, I’ve gained a subconscious ease of mind knowing my iPhone is comfortably secured in my pocket. Better yet, I can reach all corners of the iPhone’s screen with my thumb. The iPhone 6s is the most convenient, most accessible device in my house nowadays, and that may outweigh the loss of battery life and screen size from the iPhone 6 Plus.
Do I regret going from the larger Plus iPhone to the smaller iPhone? No, I don’t regret it. I’m also not sold on it, either. I truly believe there is room for both iPhones in my life and I’m willing to bet others look at the phones in the same light.
But that would be ridiculous.
So I’ll take the next year to decide if the 6s is the superior of the two iPhones. When it’s time to write a review of the iPhone 7, I’m sure I’ll be left with the same conclusion as today: Apple’s continual improvements have made the iPhone the most widely loved smartphone on the planet, and having to choose between the two sizes is more a lesson in knowing who you are and what you like than defining which is technically superior.
For now, the iPhone 6s is my favourite iPhone yet.