“The new iPhone X is the best iPhone Apple has ever made” is a silly statement and one that we always hear in iPhone reviews this time of year. Of course it’s the best iPhone ever, it would be pretty embarrassing if it wasn’t! It’s also a little silly to say that you don’t need to buy the new phone if you bought last year’s phone. All of this is a given, so I will not touch on these. Of course they’re both true.
However, as an annual iPhone buyer, the differences from one year’s phone to the other are really important. If I’m going to blow hundreds of dollars on a new phone more often than is necessary, I hope to at least get something great out of the deal. And with that being said, I have to say that the iPhone 6S Plus is a gem of a phone. Not only is it better than the 6 Plus it replaces, it’s leagues better. This is a fantastic release from Apple, and I think it’s the best hardware release they’ve had in years.
The S stood for “speed” on the iPhone 3GS and Apple hasn’t told us anything different since, so that’s what we’ll say it’s for. Last year’s iPhone 6 was very fast, but the 6 Plus sometimes struggled to keep up in certain things (the new iOS 9 task switcher was the worst). The A8 processor seemed to be pushed about to its limit on that hardware. The new A9 is blazing fast, though, even on the 6S Plus. Apps launch quickly, the extra RAM ensures that apps are always open and ready to go when you open them, and game performance is even better than before.
In addition to pure processing power, you also get faster Touch ID. As many reviewers have mentioned, it’s almost too fast. I literally don’t see my home screen anymore. I don’t see notifications when I wake the phone with my thumb because I’m at the home screen by the time the screen lights up. It’s incredibly fast. The speed is not only good for when you’re unlocking though, it also makes Apple Pay quicker, which is spectacular. Apple has taken a great feature and turned it into an ungodly amazing one.
One downside of the new Touch ID speed is that it makes it harder to launch the camera from the lock screen. Since I can’t turn my screen on from the home button without unlocking it, I have to remind myself to use a non-Touch ID’d finger to turn on the screen and then swipe up to go into the camera. It’s a minor complaint, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time, but it is a slight blemish on an otherwise brilliant feature.
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This is the best new input method Apple has introduced since multitouch in the original iPhone. Peek & Pop makes apps feel “bigger”. For example, Messages isn’t just a list of my texts with friends, it now has maps, a web view, an image viewer, and my calendars all without leaving my messages.
I enjoy the home screen shortcuts as well, but I need to modify my muscle memory so that I remember to use them more. I love the "_ last photo" actions for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and I really enjoy unlocking my Mac with MacID's quick action. These seem to be very easy to add and developers are adopting this feature very quickly.
It should also be noted that cursor control is way better on the iPhone 6S Plus due to 3D Touch as well. When you're entering text, press hard on the keyboard to go into a trackpad mode of sorts. When you're in this mode, you can freely move the cursor around with impressive precision. I LOVE this feature. And then to add even more greatness, pressing down again will let you select all words you pass over so you can copy/paste with joy. Text navigation got a whole lot better with the 6S Plus.
One thing I hope to see in an upcoming version of iOS is the ability to run "passive actions" from these app shortcuts. For example, what if Mac ID could unlock my Mac from the home screen and just leave me there, not take me into the MacId app? How about texting my wife that I'm leaving work? Or what about running Workflows? The list goes on and on, and I'm sure developers could have a field day with that.
A Better Camera, but Not That Much Better
The iPhone 6 Plus had a very nice camera, one that I thought held up very well compared to the massive 16MP competitors on the Android side. The iPhone 6S is definitely a better photography tool, but the differences are slight.
Lisa Bettany did the ultimate camera comparison, so I’m not going to even try to compete. Instead, here’s a couple random photos straight out of the phone with no edits.
As far as video quality goes, the iPhone 6S Plus is more than competent. The upgrade to 4K is a welcome addition and all videos look properly crispy. The video that you get out of this phone is way better than what you can get out of most real cameras that cost upwards to $1000, which is incredible. Once again, I am not a great authority on this, but I’ll reference this video that shows some great sample footage.
However, there is one thing about the camera that is a huge step up:
I don't care if Live Photos aren't totally original, but they're a big deal and Apple's implementation of them is stellar.
But here's the thing: they only show their worth when taking pictures of living things like, you know, people. Many of the reviews I have seen showed off Live Photos of inanimate objects. Pictures of their desks, of trees, of gear… Of course Live Photos don’t add much to these images. But give me a Live Photo of my wife and it’s something else. It gives context to each picture, which I really love having.
I do lament the limited sharing options, though. There is an API so developers can add them to their apps, but uptake is slow. Apps like Lively and Live GIF let you share your Live Photos in GIF form, but it’s not the same. At the moment, Live Photos are just for me on my devices.
Live photos have that special “Apple magic”. They make my connection to my iPhone more personal; more emotional even. I was a skeptic about Live Photos, but actually using them for a while has made me a believer.
The Little Things
And then there are all the little differences. Despite sharing the same general look of the iPhone 6 Plus, the new 6S Plus is immediately distinctive when you pick it up. I first noticed the new aluminum used for the body. It's a little less slick than before, which is a very welcome change. I thought the 6 Plus was the most slippery phone I'd ever used, which was not ideal for a large phone.
The phone is also noticeably heavier. It's not a heavy phone and I don't think it's a bad thing, but the phone feels solid in your hands.
Apple has brought their Taptic Engine to the iPhone as well, replacing the traditional vibration they've been using for years. The new vibration is more subtle, but still noticeable. One really cool thing is how much less noise the phone makes when it's laying on a flat surface. You don't get that loud GRRRZZZZ anymore that disturbs everyone in the office. Like I said, it's more of a subtle notification than a "HEY EVERYONE, LOOK WHO JUST GOT A TEXT."
And that's really it. The iPhone 6S Plus is a great phone, and I'm very happy that I upgraded. For me, the addition of 3D Touch alone would make this a worthy upgrade for me. All the other additions are just bonuses, but wow do they add up. I don't think the iPhone 6 Plus is a bad phone by any means, it's a fantastic device to this day. It's simply a testament to how good the 6S Plus is that it has impressed me this much.
Outside of being a few grams heavier, the 6S Plus is a strong step forward in every other regard. I'll repeat the reviewer's trend; do you need to upgrade to the 6S Plus if you have last year's phone? Certainly not. Will you be happy with it if you have the means and the desire for something new? Absolutely!