Just a year ago when the iPhone 6 Plus appeared, I thought there was no possible way that Apple could improve on it. Sure enough, as the year went by I found that Touch ID was slow sometimes, trying to grab images from a large Photos library could be downright infuriating, and the camera still didn’t make me want to ditch my DSLR. Fast-forward to Sept. 25, 2015, and we see that Apple has fine-tuned the design of its phablet to make it the smartphone to lust after.
While there are plenty of wordy reviews of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus on the web right now, this article is more of a high-level view of the major changes that make this upgrade so appealing.
Wow. My first photo taken with the iPhone 6s Plus was an HDR shot of a flower in my back yard. I decided to take the same photo with last year’s iPhone 6 Plus. Both photos were remarkably beautiful, but the iPhone 6s Plus image showed some details that were nonexistent in the shot from the older phone — a thin spiderweb glowing in the 6s Plus photo was almost impossible to see in the iPhone 6 Plus image.
50 percent more pixels packed into the iSight camera sensor produce some intensely detailed images. Since this is a first look — and I haven’t had time to try out everything — I won’t talk about Live Photos or 4K Video here.
As for the “selfie cam”, AKA FaceTime HD camera, the improvements are even bigger. The old camera shot photos of you mugging in front of something at 1.2 megapixels, while the new camera boasts a whopping 5 megapixels of resolution. Selfies look much better now, aided by the first “flash” that Apple has built into the front-facing camera — it uses the full Retina display of the camera as a “Retina Flash” and it’s amazingly powerful.
I don’t like using either flash photography or taking selfies, but the combination of Retina Flash and the 5 megapixel front camera? Amazing. Sadly, you’ll be seeing more images of my face on Twitter and Facebook in the future, and for that I will apologize now.
3D Touch is impressive and something I now want to see on every Apple device, including Macs. The Taptic Engine that’s built into the 6s and 6s Plus adds a sense of touch to presses and “deep presses” on the display. Like Force Touch on the Apple Watch, 3D Touch provides a sense of tactile depth to the gorgeous iPhone 6s display.
When I’m going through Mail to see what’s come in, I find myself pressing just hard enough to bring up a view of the email to see if it’s important. If it’s junk, I flick it to the left, and it’s gone.
My favorite use of 3D Touch is Quick Actions (see image above). Push on the Camera icon, and a small menu appears showing four items — take selfie, record video, record slo-mo and take photo. No longer is it necessary to launch the Camera app, slide between the different camera options, etc… This can make the difference between getting a quick photo and missing it completely.
Quick Actions also show up in a number of other built-in apps, including Safari, Photos, Messages, Phone, Wallet, Maps, Notes, Contact, and Calendar. Third-party apps? Well, not so much… yet. On my iPhone, only Dropbox and Scanbot are currently supporting Quick Actions, and I have a lot of apps on the device.
All I’ll say about Touch ID’s second-generation is that it is incredibly fast. Just brushing a finger on the Home button unlocks the device instantly, making Touch ID even more useful than it already was.
Apple’s A9 system-on-a-chip is fast. To get a quantitative feel for just how much faster the iPhone 6s Plus is compared to its predecessor, take a look at the Geekbench 3 results for both phones, with the iPhone 6s Plus on the left and the 6 Plus on the right:
Benchmark scores really don’t really tell you the story of how much faster everything seems on the 6s Plus. Launching apps or navigating folders is instantaneous; photo editing apps operate much faster, games seem to run smoother.
The improved Wi-Fi adds some improvements as well; in a series of side-by-side tests, the iPhone 6s Plus showed 7 percent faster download times than the 6 Plus. That doesn’t seem like much, but most websites now load much faster than they did on the 6 Plus — even with iOS 9 ad blockers turned off.
I’ve only had three days to use the new iPhone 6s Plus and it’s already impressing me. If you skipped the iPhone 6/6 Plus launch last year, you may want to jump on the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus. The improvements are that good.