It’s always exciting when Apple debuts a fancy new iPhone that looks totally different, but that happens only every other year. On the off years, we get S phones, and usually they’re decent upgrade. Last year’s iPhone 6 was a beauty to behold, but under the hood it wasn’t anything special. In fact, it was basically an iPhone 5S, lacking the kind of horsepower upgrade that warrants a fancy new phone. This year, things are different.
Your eyes may not light up when you see the iPhone 6S (unless you’re coming from a 5S), but your future self will thank you for getting one.
With key upgrades in RAM, processing power, camera quality, and screen technology, the iPhone 6S has some tricks that no iPhone before it could pull off, and the speed of a souped-up Ferrari. And hell, it comes in a new color, too! No, not pink. It’s “rose gold.” Like it did with regular gold, Apple has made pink cool again.
Related: iPhone 6S Plus review
The big question is: Will battery life rain on our parade? We’re testing to find out.
This one comes in gold — rose gold
For those upgrading from the tiny iPhone 5S, boy are you in for some fun. The new iPhone 6S is pretty much the perfect size for a phone. The pixels in the new 4.7-inch LCD screen are crammed so densely you’ll have a tough time noticing them at all, but more important, the screen is wider and taller, allowing you a lot more space to type, look at images, read, or do anything on a phone. But it’s not so big that you can’t use it one-handed. A light double touch on the Home button will drop the entire screen halfway down for you, too, making all menus highly reachable.
If you’re still on an older Android phone or iPhone 5S, this is a great upgrade.
I’ve reviewed phones for nearly a decade, and the iPhone 6 and 6S are among the most comfortable phones I’ve ever held, due in large part to their size and the gentle curve of the brushed aluminum edges. The phone is almost too thin, which makes it even more comfortable to hold once you buy a case. And please do buy a case for your $750+ iPhone.
You have to buy a case for this phone because, though it’s gorgeous and well sized, this is not a waterproof or life-proof phone by any stretch. The iPhone 6S is just as fragile as its predecessor. If you drop it, the screen will break and the lovely brushed aluminum will dent and ding; if you squeeze it hard enough, it will bend, though Apple contends that it is less bendable than last year; and if you get it wet, it may never start up again.
Owning an iPhone can be as stressful as taking care of a mogwai (the furballs from Gremlins, not the band). If you want to be on the safe side, you may not want to charge it after midnight. I’m kidding. Charging your phone overnight is perfectly safe.
There are cases to fix all of these inadequacies, but they’ll cost you a little extra. We’ve even listed our favorite iPhone 6S cases here. Sadly, most expensive phones this year from companies like Sony, LG, HTC, and Samsung follow the iPhone design philosophy, meaning they all look wonderful, but you’re going to need a very good case no matter which device you buy.
The iPhone 6S comes in rose gold, gold, space gray, and white. I recommend the white: The aluminum is naturally colored and won’t show scuffs as easily. But go with rose gold if you want people to know you’re rocking a 6S.
Built for iOS 9
If you own an iPhone newer than the 4S, you can already download iOS 9, but you could easily encounter any number of problems and bugs with the software. The update process for an iPhone is usually smoother than any other phone. (Sadly, most Android phones are unsafe and out of date.) However, it’s often a crapshoot if your phone will start to slow down or experience some other strange problem. The iPhone 6S is built to run iOS 9.
In our admittedly short time with the 6S so far, it’s fast and speedy to operate. We’ve had a few issues with lag while pulling down the Search bar and entering the new Proactive menu on the left side of the screen, but these mostly pop up when you boot the phone up fresh. Hopefully Apple will iron out some of the new operating system’s kinks in future updates.
But with those kinks come a lot of cool features, including a news reader app, a helpful search field in settings, a notifications menu that actually works, and a helpful menu to the left of the home screen called Proactive, which shows you recent apps, recent contacts, some news headlines, and nearby places to eat or drink. Apple’s Maps app now has transit directions, as well, and Siri can respond to more commands.
You can now wake Siri up by yelling “Hey Siri,” instead of pressing a button. This is a feature the first Moto X had two years ago, but it’s still nice. I question Siri’s ability to recognize voices, however. About half the office here in Digital Trends’ NYC office can unlock our new test iPhones by yelling “Hey Siri.” I can see most people deactivating this feature in short order.
Touch ID is much faster and a lot less finicky on the iPhone 6S Plus. Although it’s probably only a fraction of a second speedier, the added quickness matters, especially when you use Apple Pay.
iOS 9 is a fantastic new operating system that puts Apple on par with, or ahead of, rival Android phones in a lot of meaningful ways. As advanced as both OSes are, choosing between Android and the iPhone is still a lot like picking tap water or bottled water at a restaurant. There’s a difference in taste, but you’re still drinking water.
3D Touch adds depth to iOS
If you want a full run through of iOS 9’s new features, we’ve detailed them all here, but the hottest new addition that’s exclusive to the iPhone 6S is 3D Touch. Much like Force Touch for the Apple Watch, this lets you press on the screen a little harder to perform new types of interactions. Apple calls them Peek and Pop.
- Peek: If you lightly press down on a photo in your gallery, a link in iMessage, or any number of other items, you get a pop-up preview window allowing you to “peek” at the page ahead.
- Pop: Once you’re Peeking at an item, if you press a little harder, you’ll feel a vibration and then the next page will “pop” in.
Both of these interactions feel natural enough that they shouldn’t cause any trouble, though they do make iOS more complicated — adding functionality seen on Android phones with press-and-hold actions and the old Menu button (now extinct). Not everything follows a Peek-and-Pop model, though. You can 3D Touch icons on the home screen, and menus will pop out of them, much like right-clicking an item with a computer mouse.
3D Touch also lets you do fun things like draw with more precision. If you select a marker or paintbrush in a drawing app, it can now thicken and thin out your lines by the amount of pressure you put on the screen with your finger. Stylus users will also benefit from this feature.
Finally, you can use pressure to more easily select big blocks of text when you’re writing emails or messages. As someone who has attempted to edit and write entire articles on iPhones, this feature is a lifesaver. If you’re a heavy text-message writer, you’re going to like this one.
If misused, 3D Touch could overcomplicate iOS, but we’re hopeful that Apple will keep developers reigned in. So far, it seems like a very useful, fun feature.
More megapixels and 4K video
One of the best upgrades on the iPhone 6S is the camera. The rear camera is 12 megapixels, a huge increase over the old-school 8-megapixel shooter the iPhone’s had for years. The upgrade not only makes for stellar pictures with greater detail and clarity, but also allows you to shoot 4K video. To use it, you’ll have to go to Settings > Photos & Camera and scroll down to video recording options to toggle it to 4K at 30fps. It’s on 1080p at 30fps by default, probably to save space on the 16GB iPhone 6S, which we do not recommend you buy. 4K video is yet another reason you’ll want to opt for the 64GB model, as are live photos, a cool feature that’s like something out of Harry Potter.
The level of detail the new sensor captures is amazing.
Live Photos essentially record an extra 1.5 seconds before and after you take a photo, so that a short moving image (like a GIF) is created that will play if you 3D Touch a photo. It sounds gimmicky as all hell, but they are fun. You can grab a quick GIF of your cat playing with a feather toy, your dog wriggling with excitement for dinner, or your kid playing in the yard. Live Photos have the potential to be magical, and in a day when everyone loves GIFs, it’s cool to have a built-in GIF factory in your phone. To activate Live Photos, just tap on the bulls-eye in the camera app. Beware, though: Live Photos eat up space quickly, so again, if you buy a 16GB iPhone 6S (and you should not), you’ll run out of space faster than you can say, “I told you so.”
The DT team has only just started testing the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus cameras, but so far, we’re favorably impressed. The level of detail the new sensor captures is amazing. A shot from the 22nd floor of our office building looks pretty sharp and crisp, even when zoomed right into the tiny cars on the street below. That level of detail wasn’t visible with the iPhone 6 from last year. Close-ups look sharper, too, and color reproduction appears to be accurate.
We’ll need to test the camera at night, low-light, and other more challenging conditions than broad daylight to fully evaluate it. Look out for more analysis of how it compares to Android phones’ cameras soon. Our initial findings indicate that it’s on the same level as the excellent LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy Note 5 in terms of image quality.
The final camera improvement is the front cam, which finally takes Instagram-able selfies with its 5-megapixel shooter. Although Android users have had better selfie cams for ages, the iPhone makes a huge jump here, from 1.2-megapixels to 5. It’s finally on par with most Android flagships.
More power, but still the same crappy 16GB storage
The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are powered by Apple’s new A9 chip, which is a 2GHz dual-core 64-bit ARM processor. Apple claims this new processor is nearly twice as powerful as the chip in the iPhone 6, and it seems fast. More important, Apple also doubled the RAM to 2GB, which has been years coming.
Related: Best iPhone 6S Cases
Sadly, for the third straight year and fourth iPhone, Apple has stuck with 16GB as the base memory for the iPhone. Selling a 16GB phone is almost cruel in 2015. You will quickly fill it with photos and apps, which take up more storage space all the time. And since Apple’s updates require several gigabytes of free space to install, you likely won’t be able to keep your phone up to date after a year or so. Spend an extra $100 and get the 64GB model.
A smaller, weaker battery
Apple has never made battery life a priority, and that’s still the case this year. The iPhone 6S packs a smaller battery than last year’s model. Yes, you read that right. The battery is actually smaller. Why? Because the hardware for 3D Touch takes up more space, and Apple dare not exceed the thickness of last year’s iPhone by more than the 0.01-inch it added this year. As such, the battery is a 1,715mAh pack, which is a decrease of 95mAh.
No it’s not horrible, and your iPhone 6S Plus won’t die more suddenly than last year’s iPhone 6, but it’s highly likely that this iPhone will have worse battery life than last year. iPhone battery life is already weaker than many Android phones — although this year’s crop also sacrificed battery size for slimness, and is paying for it with iPhone-like battery life ratings – and it shouldn’t be that way. Ask most users if they’d spring for a slightly thicker iPhone if it would last double the time it currently does, and they’ll all say, “YES!”
We’ll need to test this phone out more to determine whether the battery change hurts the iPhone 6S dramatically. Luckily, Apple did add a battery saving mode to iOS, which should help you out at the end of a long day.
iPhone 6S or 6S Plus?
This is a review of the smaller iPhone 6S, but Apple also sells a larger model, the iPhone 6S Plus. It’s huge and difficult to use with one hand, but on the inside, it’s almost identical. We have a full review of the iPhone 6S Plus, but in short, you do get a few bonuses: It has a larger battery that will last closer to a day and a half, its screen is a little stronger thanks to sapphire-enhanced glass, and its camera has Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which will help stabilize video and shots when you’re moving. These are nice features we would like to see in the smaller iPhone as well. Who says we can’t have it all?
This is a good year to upgrade your iPhone. Apple has retained the winning outward design of the iPhone 6, but packed in a bunch of cool upgrades like 3D Touch, Live Photos, a 12-megapixel camera, a 5-megapixel selfie cam, double the RAM, and a much speedier processor. Almost everything has gotten an upgrade, except for battery power. We don’t yet know how much worse the battery life of the 6S will be, but it certainly won’t be any better than last year’s iPhone 6. That’s a sad thing to say, because there was ample room for improvement.
If you already own an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, you should not buy the new models. Here’s why: The camera improvements are fantastic, but the iPhone 6 camera was already great, and should tide you over for another year. As for 3D Touch, it will take at least six months before a majority of popular apps support this new feature. In a year, it will be robust and useful, just in time for the iPhone 7, which will likely also come with a fresh design.
On the other hand, if you’re still on an older Android phone or iPhone 5S, this is a great upgrade. And if you want to get noticed, buy it in rose gold — the new color.
Just please, whatever you do, don’t buy the $650 16GB model. In a few months, you’ll thank yourself for spending an extra $100 and buying 64GB.
- More powerful than iPhone 6
- 3D Touch livens up iOS 9
- Major camera upgrades, front and back
- Stronger aluminum construction
- Crisp, gorgeous screen
- Smaller battery than iPhone 6
- Entry-level 16GB model is insufficient