While the launch of an ‘s’ model iPhone is generally more of an update than an overhaul, there are actually quite a few new features in the iPhone 6S to get excited about.
First, yes, it’s faster, as we’ve come to expect with each passing model, and there are improvements with the camera too, a new look, along with a major change to the way we interact with the iPhone.
In fact, the debut of Apple’s new 3D Touch technology could even change the smartphone landscape permanently.
We’ve had the opportunity to spend some time getting to know the new iPhone 6s (and our iPhone 6s Plus review will appear on GadgetGuy.com.au over the next couple of days). So let’s take a closer look at what’s new.
On the outside, the iPhone 6s remains almost exactly the same as the iPhone 6. It has the same curved case, with rounded edges, a protruding camera lens, and the buttons, speaker and Lightning connector are all in the same place.
What is different however, is that Apple has strengthened case by moving to aerospace-grade 7000 series aluminium.
This change is likely due to the ‘bend-gate’ issue on the iPhone 6 Plus, where it could bend under certain conditions. Apple describes its new case as “…the strongest alloy ever used in an iPhone”, and we can happily report no bending on either of the new models so far.
The iPhone 6s also gains a 4th colour – this time in rose gold. Thankfully, Apple understands the concept of subtlety, and has created a not-too-over-the-top metallic rendition that is both refreshing and elegant.
Arguably, the marquee feature of the iPhone 6s is the introduction of 3D Touch technology into its touchscreen display.
This gives the touchscreen the ability to detect pressure, and essentially provides a new ‘dimension’ of interactivity. So now in addition to taps, swipes and pinches, the you can now press to ‘peek’ and ‘pop’.
These two terms are essentially a light press, and a firmer press. The pressure inputs translate into two general purposes – ‘Quick Actions’ or ‘shortcuts’ to app functions right from the home-screen, and new functionality within the apps themselves.
The former could be selecting the ‘selfie’ camera mode before you open the camera app, or with the latter, ‘peeking’ at an email’s contents before actually opening it.
Currently only Apple’s own apps support 3D Touch, but 3rd party apps will being to appear very soon with ‘peek’ and ‘pop’ functionality.
The display can also provide ‘taptic’ feedback, which feels like a ‘tap’ on the display to let you know that your finger pressure has activated a function.
We’ve put together an in-depth look at 3D Touch article here but otherwise, we found the experience to be fairly intuitive and useful. 3D Touch technology requires a layer of capacitive sensors and a ‘Taptic Engine’ to be sandwiched into the display, which increases the case’s thickness to 71mm from 69mm on the iPhone 6, and is 14 grams heavier.
The new dimensions are ever so slightly noticeable, but thankfully, not enough to require new iPhone cases so you can use what’s already available.
Ultimately, 3D Touch does provide a more direct way of accessing and selecting features, and it is something that Apple needed to institute considering that it only has one ‘home’ button, compared to the 3 context-sensitive buttons found on many Android devices.
It does take a bit of attention to remember that 3D Touch controls are present, rather than reverting back to the old way of doing things, but once you do, it becomes quite addictive and does save some time.
3D Touch will get even better with new app support, and is a feature that will probably start to appear in competitor smartphones soon until all premium smartphones will feature something like it.
Also on the ‘touch’ front, Apple has upgraded the Touch ID fingerprint sensor so it has the ability to detect your fingerprint twice as fast as the iPhone 6.
While the sensor on the 6 seemed fast and accurate, the iPhone 6s can unlock the phone and turn on the display almost instantly.
The 4.7 inch Retina HD display maintains a 1334 x 750 resolution, however, when compared to an iPhone 6, the new display has a slightly warmer (yellow) tinge.
Still, it’s very sharp with a 326 pixels per inch density and the dual-domain pixel technology yields excellent contrast at 1400:1 and realistic colour rendition.
The screen is protected by an Apple-exclusive glass, hardened by a dual-ion exchange process. While it’s not technically Corning’s Gorilla Glass, it’s made by Corning just for Apple and meant to be even harder and more durable.
Good looking camera
Another major improvement on the iPhone 6s is the introduction of a 12 megapixel camera, over the 8 megapixel version found in the iPhone 4s, 5 and 6.
Simply increasing the megapixel count is not a sure-fire way to improve image quality, and it’s good to see that Apple has done the ground work starting with an f2.2 lens, Apple-designed image signal processor, advanced pixel technology and improved noise reduction.
Just like the models before it, the iPhone 6s uses digital stabilisation, while the iPhone 6s Plus gains an optical image stabilisation assembly.
The net result is photos with more detail, impressive low light performance, accurate colour rendition, and an instantaneous shutter response.
The additional megapixels can capture a vast amount of detail, meaning that you can zoom in or even crop into your photos to get that perfect shot. The panorama mode can now create stunning 180 degree images up to 63 megapixels in size.
During testing, and shooting in less than ideal conditions such as into direct sunlight, the results were impressive.
Below, a photo taken by National Geographic Photographer @markleongphotography in Longsheng, Guangxi shows off the iPhone 6s’s low light performance, with visible detail captured in the shadows. It’s been liked over 240,000 times.
Not to rest on its laurels, Apple has created a new photo mode called ‘Live Photo’. The idea behind this is to provide some context to the moment you took a photo, so 1.5 seconds of movement and sound are captured before and 1.5 seconds after you’ve taken the shot.
With this you might enjoy revisiting the memories a noisy street carnival, or catch a friend’s sly wink just before or after you’ve taken the shot.
To review the ‘Live’ playback element of a Live Photo, just press and hold your finger on the photo, or mouse hover over it in the Photos app on your computer.
You can also view Live Photos on other iPhones and iPads provided they’re running iOS 9, and even the Apple Watch. Otherwise, just the still photo will viewed or sent. If you don’t want Live Photo, you can switch it off.
The only problem we found with Live Photos is that it’s easy to forget that the phone is still recording after you’re taking a photo. While a yellow ‘Live’ symbol does appear on the display, it’s easy to overlook this, resulting in Live footage pointing at the ground.
An Apple rep tells me that in an upcoming software update, Live Photo will use the accelerometer to detect if you’ve lowered the camera and stop recording.
Given our fascination with selfies, Apple hasn’t forgotten the more self-indulgent crowd with an uprated 5 megapixel f2.2 FaceTime HD Camera. This captures Live Photos as well and adds additional clarity for FaceTime video conferencing.
Also new is that the Retina HD display can act as a flash since there’s no front-facing flash on the iPhone 6s. A pre-flash detects ambient lighting and then a true-tone flash from the display lights up your face.
This helps produce more true-to-life colours than a white-only flash, and a custom chip enables the display to flash 3 times brighter than normal.
The new sensor also means that you can capture videos with more detail too. 4K recording is supported, which can capture 8 times the detail of full HD videos.
Digital video stabilisation helps smooth out the rough edges of your recordings, and gives you a bit more scope for low light conditions, though you certainly won’t want to film in the dark.
Other help by way of continuous auto-focus and face detection are useful, and you can even take a still image while recording.
When tested, we were impressed by just how much detail could be captured – especially the myriad ripples and sun-sparkles on the water in our Sydney harbour test video.
Keep in mind that 4K videos take up a lot of space and a minute of video will occupy 375 megabytes of memory. You can select lower resolution film modes as well, and use 4K recording sparingly, of course.
Editing and transferring 4K videos can be done right on the phone with the iMovie app. This can even handle editing two streams of 4K video at once, and you can export directly to YouTube or transfer to your computer to be edited by other tools.
And for more fun, there are slow-motion and time-lapse modes. Slo-mo supports full HD (1080p) videos at 120 frames per second, and for that extra Slo-mo effect, there’s a 240fps capture mode in 720p.
Time-lapse creates some stunning and memorable videos of things like a busy harbour, a crowded event, clouds puffing by, busy traffic, walking along a path, sunrises and more. It’s easy to use, and the digital video stabilisation support smooths out shaky hands.
In order to power all of the new imaging features, Apple has included its latest A9 processor. This is a powerful third generation 64-bit processor, similar to those used on desktop computers, and Apple is calling it “…the most advanced chip ever in a smartphone”.
It’s rated to provide 70 percent faster CPU performance than the A8 version in the iPhone 6, and produces 90 percent faster graphics performance.
To add efficiency, the M9 motion co-processor is integrated into the A9, sort of like two-chips in one. The M9 handles things like fitness tracking and enables Siri to be ‘always listening’ for your voice commands.
Faster 4G LTE
In Australia, we benefit from fast mobile data, and the iPhone 6s is a perfect partner for our networks. It supports the latest Category 6 LTE technology, meaning even faster data transfers while we’re out and about.
Compared to the iPhone 6, from our Woolloomooloo offices, we were able to download at a blistering 81 megabits per second, versus 19Mbps. Uploads speeds were 31.5Mbps for the 6s and 17Mbps for the 6.
We were using Telstra’s 4GX network, but the actual speeds you’ll get depend on where you are and which network you’re operating on.
The iPhone 6s supports up to 23 LTE network bands so it’s a great traveller’s phone with support for most network technologies used around the globe.
On the Wi-Fi front, there is 802.11ac with MIMO support for theoretical speeds up to 866 megabits per second.
When originally testing the iPhone 6s, we were experiencing about the same life as an iPhone 6 under general use – about a day and half.
iOS 9 brings improved power efficiency, and is intended to add about an hour to the total battery life, and there’s a new Low Power mode that kicks in when the phone’s charge is around 10 percent to extend on-time by shutting down a number of non-essential features like animations and display brightness.
We ran into some issues when synched with the Apple Watch running Watch OS 2, however, with the phone running out of charge by around 5PM.
This seems to have disappeared with the Watch OS 2 software update, although we’ve only had this running for a day.
Apple has also released some new cases to freshen things up. New leather cases are available in midnight blue, saddle brown, rose gray, brown, and black.
The grippy silicon cases now come in white, charcoal gray, stone, antique white, blue, turquoise, midnight blue, lavender, pink and orange.
A (PRODUCT)RED case is also available with a portion of the proceeds going to help fight against the spread of AIDS in Africa.
For charging or synching from your nightstand or desktop, the new Lightning docks are colour coded to your iPhone 6s and available in gold, silver, space gray and rose gold.
The docks also include a headphone jack so you can connect to a set of powered speakers.
Overall, the iPhone 6s is a pleasant surprise when we’ve come to expect an incremental bump from ‘s’ models rather than a lot of new features. The 3D Touch display provides you with a novel and efficient way to interact with your apps.
The camera is a genuinely impressive improvement, and 4K support, a more powerful processor and faster wireless connectivity are welcome additions.
Should you upgrade? Probably not if you have an iPhone 6, however, anything older and you’ll be very happy with your choice.
The 6s has certainly caught up to the specifications found on many competitor’s smartphones, however, instead of rushing to be first out with megapixels, CPU cores and gigahertz, Apple has refined and perfected the 6s to really benefit from the advances, and offer a best-in-class experience.
For Android users, there is a handy app available on the Google Play store that will help you migrate to an iPhone, and is a sign of Apple’s aggressive reach into non-iPhone markets.
The iPhone 6s is available in Apple stores and telco partners across Australia from 8AM AEST on Friday September 25th. Models include Silver, Gold, Space Gray and Rose Gold. Memory capacity choices are 16, 64 and 128 gigabytes.
In the box, you’ll receive a set of Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic, a Lighting to USB cable and USB power adaptor.
The iPhone 6s also comes with Apple’s latest iOS9 pre-installed.
Australian pricing starts from $1,079 for the 16GB model, $1,229 for the 64GB model and $1,379 for the 128GB model. All prices include GST.
Valens Quinn travelled to San Francisco for the Apple iPhone 6 launch courtesy of Apple Australia.