Apple iPhone 6s review
|Review: September 2015|
Last updated September 2015
In a nutshell: The Apple iPhone 6s has a faster A9 processor, improved cameras, pressure-sensitive touchscreen, and is less prone to bending. It's basically an updated iPhone 6, and comes in new colour options too. As always, Apple has delivered a good product, but it's vastly over-priced.
Design & looks
Looking back one year, the introduction of the iPhone 6 was a milestone. Finally, with a 4.7 inch display, the iPhone could match the big screen experience Android users had enjoyed for years. The major flaw in Apple's smartphone had been fixed, and this is probably why the iPhone 6 was so successful. But with it came a new problem – bending. It was easy to dismiss "Bend Gate" reports as hysterical, but now with the introduction of the iPhone 6s, it seems that the bending problem was just as serious as some people claimed. Because in order to make the iPhone 6s unbendable, Apple has found it necessary to increase the weight of the phone from 129g to 143g. In one move, the iPhone has gone from being the lightest smartphone you could buy, to one that weighs the same as all the others. It's grown thicker too, just as rival phones have got thinner.
It was right for Apple to fix this problem – a bendable phone is not acceptable - but the fix has taken away one of the factors that made the iPhone special – its extraordinary lightness and thinness. Now it's just a phone like any other. In fact, is it just us, or is that same-old design starting to look rather stale? Place the iPhone 6s next to Samsung's incredibly futuristic Galaxy S6 Edge, with its curved glass display, or HTC's macho One M9, and the iPhone just looks very plain. Yes, it's now available in a wider choice of colours - Gold and Rose Gold, as well as Silver and Space Grey – but here's the thing you have to accept – it's just a thicker, heavier version of the iPhone 6. And we hate the way the camera still sticks out at the back.
So on looks, we're not too impressed, as you can probably tell.
Let's look at the screen next. You can probably guess which way this review is heading. It seems that Apple will forever be playing catch-up with display technology. The iPhone 6s has the same 4.7 inch HD display as the iPhone 6. This is not a bad screen by any standards. It's a very good screen. But at a time when even entry-level Android and Windows phones come with 5-inch screens, and the best have 4 times as many pixels as the HD screen of the iPhone 6s, it's nothing to get excited by. It's bright, but it lacks the vividness and detail of phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6. If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 5s or earlier, then this screen will probably blow you away. But if you're used to Android, you'll probably be taking a step back.
But Apple has come up with a twist. That screen is no ordinary screen. It's a 3D Touch screen. 3D Touch means that the screen is pressure-sensitive. Pushing the screen now brings up a new window that lets you access apps without opening them. In the Safari web browser, a light touch on a link shows a preview, and to follow the link you push harder. There are other similar functions dotted around iOS 9.
Is this a feature we find compelling? Not really. We actually find it counter-intuitive, because instead of there being a predictable outcome of touching an object on the screen, you now have to learn specific actions for each object, depending on how hard you push it.
It’s almost the same as the long-press feature that Android and Windows phones have always had, and we don’t find them to be mind-blowing. The fact that you have to push the screen to access this new functionality actually irritates us. But maybe we're stupid. Maybe this is the best thing ever. After all, we've been wrong before about Apple products.
A9 chip & memory options
Here's an improvement. The new A9 processor is twice as fast as the A8 processor used in the iPhone 6. In practice, it's hard to tell the difference. Apps open just a little quicker, and 4K video recording is now possible (see below.) It's always a good idea to have as much processing power as you can get, for future-proofing, but it won’t change your experience of the phone right now.
The RAM is rumoured to have been increased from 1GB to 2GB, and this will surely help power users and multitasking.
As always, the iPhone has a fixed memory capacity, with no expansion option, so you'll have to choose carefully which option you need. The available options are 16GB, 64GB and 128GB. If you're upgrading from an older iPhone you no doubt already have a clear idea how much storage you’ll need. We'd say that the basic 16GB version is going to be too restrictive for most users, and that 64GB is a safer option.
The iPhone 6s launches with iOS 9 installed. This is a relatively minor upgrade, with just a few user interface tweaks, mostly to accommodate 3D Touch, but there are also useful battery life extensions, including a new low power mode.
The camera has been upgraded with a new 12 megapixel sensor. Since the camera is one of the features that almost everyone uses regularly on their iPhone, an upgraded camera is a significant improvement. The iPhone 6 was already one of the best cameras on a smartphone, but at just 8 megapixels, it wasn't ideal for zooming. The increase to 12 megapixels adds some additional detail, but it’s not a game-changer.
It can now also record video at 4k resolution, which is a very welcome development. Be aware though that 4k recording is switched off by default, and that if you turn it on it will eat your memory faster than you can say "ultra high definition."
Another new feature is Live Photos, where the camera records a snippet of video just before and after taking a photo, and you can view these in your camera roll. It's very much like HTC's Zoe feature. Remember though, that this feature will also eat up your precious and limited memory.
Perhaps more significant though is the upgrade to the front camera. The 1.2 megapixel camera on the iPhone 6 really wasn't that great, and the new 5 megapixel camera on the iPhone 6s captures much more detail. In 2015, the front camera is just as important as the rear camera, so Apple is still playing catch-up here, but it's a very welcome step forward.
There's another feature we like about the new front camera – Retina Flash – which uses the screen itself as an LED flash for selfies. What a cool idea! The screen is able to flash three times brighter than normal for a split second, and it modifies its colour to suit the ambient lighting. It may draw unwanted attention from bystanders, but it will definitely improve the quality of low-light shots.
Connectivity is unchanged, with a wide range of LTE bands, plus fast Wi-Fi available. All the usual connectivity options are here, including NFC.
iPhones have never enjoyed strong battery life. The batteries used by Apple are always much smaller than those used by most other manufacturers. The iPhone 6s uses a 1715mAh battery, compared with 2930mAh in the Sony Z3+. Even the battery life enhancements in iOS 9 can't get blood out of a stone.
You should get around 10 hours of use from your iPhone 6s, but heavy users may not manage this long. Is that enough to get you through a day? It's a tough call.
Conclusion – sorry, but no
OK. Let’s say it. We don't like the iPhone 6s.
At best, it's a minor enhancement to the iPhone 6, with a faster processor, improved camera and the new 3D Touch feature.
But it's also a heavier phone, with a design that’s starting to look quite dated. When you peel away the hype, there’s very little here to get excited about.
And let’s talk money. You can now buy an iPhone 6 for around £32 per month on contract, but an iPhone 6s will cost you £45 per month. That’s just for the 16GB version. The price difference between the 6s and the 6 is quite shocking considering how small the differences are. For this reason, it’s not a phone we can recommend, as it simply doesn't offer value for money. Of course, many people buy Apple products regardless of that fact.
One thing we've learned over the years here at S21 is that people who buy Apple products don’t tend to read reviews. So if you've read this review, you probably already know that you’re not going to buy the iPhone 6s. In this case, a more interesting question presents itself – what are the best alternatives? We’d strongly recommend the Samsung Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge, or else the LG G4 or HTC One M9. The Sony Xperia Z5 is also about to hit the shops, so there’s plenty of choice, and they all cost less than the iPhone 6s.
Editor's Note: Since writing this review, we've recieved some hate mail. That's nothing new, and we're used to that whenever we criticise an Apple product. Years back, we used to get the same thing whenever we criticised Nokia. But here's the thing. At S21 we're not haters. We are 100% impartial and have no vested interests. We don't like to see people waste their money on expensive products that don't offer value for money. We rated the 6s at 4 stars, the same as most other review sites, and we kept our review factual, making objective comparisons with other smartphones. Our conclusion was reached by following a logical checklist. We rated the iPhone 6 at 5 stars using the same criteria. Why did the 6s get a lower rating than the 6? Because of the price. We think that price is an important factor, and we think that most of our readers do too. Thank you for reading.
Apple iPhone 6s features include:
- iOS 9 Operating System
- 12 megapixel camera with touch autofocus, True Tone flash, auto HDR and backside illumination sensor
- Video camera: 4K at 30 frames per second / 1080p at 60 frames per second
- 5 megapixel Facetime camera with Retina Flash and 720p video recording
- Retina HD display: 4.7 inch IPS touchscreen with 1334 x 750 pixels and 3D Touch
- Music player
- Siri intelligent assistant
- Second-gen fingerprint identity sensor built into the Home button
- Messaging: SMS, MMS, email
- Assisted GPS and GLONASS with digital compass and Maps app
- A9 processor and M9 motion co-processor
- Memory: 16GB, 64GB or 128GB plus iCloud
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, USB 2.0, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac with MIMO), NFC, 3.5mm headphone jack
- 4G LTE plus UMTS/HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz) plus Quad-band GSM (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
- Size: 138 x 67 x 7.1 mm
- Weight: 143g
- Video playback: 11 hours
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Apple iPhone 6s user reviews
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Average rating from 5 reviews:
Reviewed by jdk
on 30th May 2016
one word .... useless!
Reviewed by Mike
on 28th Dec 2015
Our eldest son's girlfriend has gone from an iPhone5 to an iPhone6, & our eldest son has gone from an iphone6 to a 6s. They love their iphones, however, ask them what the difference is from an iPhone5 to the 6s, they say not much. Now this comes from young people, these days all youngsters have iphones, just like they had Blackberry's few years back. Either people buying iphones are easily pleased, or they buy just for the that Apple badge.
Reply by Ste
on 19th Sep 2016
Wrong... they buy for a flawless user interface, simplicity, and quality. It's the OS that really sets apple phones apart from the competition. The build quality and reliability is completely unrivalled. I've had, flagship phones from HTC, Sony and samsung, and honestly they aren't anywhere near as nice to use as an iPhone. They may all be similar to use because they all have the same OS but the same rule applies to a galaxy s6 and s7, they add a few features and tweak here and there but essentially they aren't that different.
Reviewed by Ali
on 16th Nov 2015
Having had the iPhone 6s from day one, I can say this phone is as good as they come if not better. I upgraded from the iPhone 6 and been happy since even with the gimmick features. Much faster, smoother running and great battery. iPhone are reliable, fast, durable and a great overall phone. Having had variuos of phones from multiple manufactures... iPhones have been the best! Androids are great and offer a million functions but if you want a decent phone that carries on being a phone for many years then Apple it is. Sorry.
iPhone 6s is faster, stronger, better and worth upgrading to then previous generations.
Reviewed by Niels
on 6th Oct 2015
I have just purchased an iPhone 6s SIM Free, and was previously using a Samsung Galaxy S3. I changed because the S3 was getting a bit creaky after 3 years and I enjoy exploring new technology. Positives: Beautiful build quality, solid and classy. Very quick to operate apps etc. Love the multi-touch screen, very useful. For example, when hard pressing the camera icon it allows you to select "selfie" or main camera etc without going via many menu choices. Call quality is good and crucially, mobile reception is noticeably better than my S3 was. The negatives: Has put on a lot of weight (phone, not me)! I find it amazing that for the price of these phones there is no notification light on the phone. The only way you can check if you have missed a call or there is a message waiting is to wake the phone up. I also think that the fact that there is no notification on the screen that you have switched the phone to "ringer silent" mode via the switch on the top left is crazy. You may have switched it to silent accidentally or forgotten that you did and therefore would miss calls and messages as the phone is in silent mode, and as mentioned, no flashing light to warn you of missed calls and messages. The phone is set to vibrate when in silent as default, but I do not want that and have disabled it, so will have to remember this gotchya! Lastly, you cannot send contacts via BlueTooth on any iPhone which I have just realised, so now I have no contacts in my car. My car is an older model, so contacts sync is not an option for me and I have to upload contacts via BlueTooth to the cars phone book. I appreciate that some of my negatives will not be an issue for some, but I just think that for the price of these phones, there are a few oversights.
Reviewed by ASHLEY REAY
on 29th Sep 2015
Well, I think that those reviewing phones should perhaps take a wider view . When was the last time anyone mentioned the phone itself ? I can already hear the sounds of irritation as reviewers reach for their reply buttons on their 'machines' So my request to the reviewers is to talk right across the whole phone not just that 'it will not down load 'x;' in less milliseconds etc. Some of us want a whole review as if it is a computer you want then go buy one .
The IPhone 6s, yes , got it last Friday, and the review are mostly correct in what they say. It is a fine piece of kit that will serve most if not all purposes. It is faster, better made and does things more quickly than previous iPhone's and the feature in doing what fundamentally produced for, that is to make calls , is seemingly enhanced and much clearer. Some gimmicky items we may never use but as a total package , except for the 16 GB which is mean, is very good and improvements made in most sectors (still some work to do on the battery) make it a good phone come 'media centre'
Finally, I cannot see any reviews that mention phone quality so if this is not important then all you need is a first class 'gadget' with a camera and you can review that !! Apple sell , and will sell plenty of IPhone's so they must be catering to someone if not the media reviewers !!..I like my new IPhone 6s and will be h=keeping it !!