When it comes to yearly iPhone upgrades, smartphone users have become rather cynical. Especially in the year of the s upgrades, where Apple focuses on incremental improvements instead of headline-grabbing, sweeping changes. This year Apple has looked to tackle that criticism head-on by announcing during the launch of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus that “the only thing that’s changed is everything”. It is, of course, an attempt to make you upgrade right away. On the face it, this year’s s model looks identical. But 13 million people bought one in its first weekend on sale, completely obliterating all records before it. Do those stats reveal blind faith or reasoned judgement? We’ve been hands- on in order to give you the only definitive verdict you need to read.
The standout new feature, and the one you want to play with instantly, is undoubtedly 3D Touch. Sensing how much pressure you apply to the display, 3D Touch gives you a whole new range of interactive, multi-touch features. It’s another shortcut to getting things done quickly and simply, enabling you to Peek and Pop into notifications and apps, as well as a Quick Actions shortcut to most first-party apps. Anyone with a busy mailbox is going to love Peek and Pop as a means to shift through tons of email. By firmly pressing on the display (you’ll need to press this harder than you originally think), you can Peek at an email. You know when 3D Touch is in operation because you get small feedback from the taptic engine that is housed in the display.
The email then appears over the top of your inbox, and you can scroll up to see options to reply, forward, mark etc. Ideal if it’s just a short message that requires little interaction. If it’s a longer email or you need to see it in more detail, though, apply a second motion of pressure and the email will Pop into full view, just as if you’d tapped to open it from your inbox as normal. This is just one example of when 3D Touch is useful, and it naturally works across iOS. You can Peek and Pop at a website from Messages, view photos that you’ve taken while you’re taking new ones, and take a look at a location you’ve been sent with Maps. And then there are Quick Actions; powerful shortcuts to the things you do most. Press firmly on an app icon to message your favourites in Messages, create a new contact in Phone, take a selfie from Camera and get directions home with Maps. Come across an app that doesn’t have a Quick Action menu? The taptic feedback will tell you you’ve been unsuccessful.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly these new multi-touch interactions become part of your daily routine. This is no gimmicky addition to the new iPhones, but a genuinely useful way to interact with your smartphone. On release day, compatible third-party apps were few and far between, but by the time you’re reading this Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Dropbox and many of the usual suspects should be fully onboard. Every year the iPhone camera gets an upgrade. It might not always be in the shape of extra megapixels, but the internals are constantly being boosted to improve the world’s most popular camera. This year’s headline is a bump up to 12 megapixels on the main rear camera from eight, and a new 5-megapixel Retina flash front-facing option for the selfie generation. Apple has never been interested in taking part in a megapixel arms race, insisting that great photos aren’t measured by the amount of megapixels. That’s why the iPhone 6s/6 Plus come with a new state- of-the-art sensor, a new image signal processor, advanced pixel technology and so on. It all means if taking photos is one of your main uses for the iPhone, you’ll want to upgrade straight away without hesitation. Check out our comparisons between the last two generations of iPhones opposite; colours look more lifelike than ever before and the detail is incredible.
Apple has also introduced a feature called Live Photos to bring your favourite memories to life. It’s an option automatically enabled in your camera’s viewfinder that captures video just before and after you take a photo. Your photo looks no different, but by pressing on the image, you get to see the moments either side of capturing. The feature can be disabled (individual images will take up more space on your Camera Roll), but also edited, made into your wallpaper and viewed on any other Apple device. Throw in 4K (yes, 4K!) video-shooting capabilities and you have yourself an amazingly creative device in your pocket.
On the surface everything looks the same. But both the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus have a stunning unibody shell made from 7000 series aluminium, the strongest alloy ever used on iPhone. Likewise, the Retina HD displays are made from the strongest cover glass ever used. We didn’t have the inclination to test them, but you’d have to be very unlucky to smash your screen now. They come in four colours, thanks to the new rose gold offering. Apple has updated its range of accessories too, introducing new silicon and leather cases and lightning docks. As you can tell from our Geekbench 3 tests over the page, the new A9 chip packs a serious punch. The stats show a 70 per cent improvement in CPU performance and a 90 per cent faster graphics processor. This translates to a richer and even more immersive experience. It’s 64-bit desktop-class architecture and it’s more than you should ever need from a smartphone.
Revolutionary hardware and design mean nothing without sophisticated software running in the background making everything tick. Every iPhone 6s and 6s Plus come preinstalled with iOS 9. Part of what makes an iPhone so enjoyable to use is how everything feels so familiar. That’s no accident – Apple painstakingly designs its mobile OS to be simple to use, putting all its features within touching distance. iOS 9 is no different. Because the software is built with the hardware in mind, performance is exceptional. All the new features work perfectly as a result, complementing the first-party apps you know and love. It’s also easy to forget that the Mac App Store gives you access to over 1.5 million apps. The possibilities with an iPhone are endless; it’s a massive ecosystem that gives you everything you need to create a personal smartphone experience.
Touch ID was last year’s big selling point. Apple’s fingerprint scanning technology can be used to simply unlock your iPhone, or pay for goods using Apple Pay. It was a game-changing addition for convenience and security, and it’s hard to imagine going back to manually entering a passcode. The new sensor that fits under the 6s and 6s Plus home button is a staggering 50 per cent quicker. With your thumb on the home button when taking your iPhone out of your pocket, the screen is already on by the time you look at it. It’s almost instant, and something you’ll be taking for granted pretty quickly. With Apple Pay’s continuing worldwide rollout, Touch ID becomes even more useful, too. The set-up process also seemed easier and much less hit-and-miss.
The changes may be evolutionary, but the improvements are dramatic. Anyone upgrading from a 5s or below will have their socks blown off by the difference in performance. On top of that, the Plus has all the features that make the 6s an amazing phone, in addition to a bigger screen, huge battery improvements and optical image stabilisation for photographers. Whichever one you decide to purchase, you’ll be investing in Apple’s best iPhone yet.