Review: Apple iPhone 6s Plus
Everything that feels obvious now, once didn’t. This goes double for smartphones: All the pinch-to-zoom, touch-friendly interactions we now take for granted and marvel at a two-year-old’s ability to figure it out, didn’t always seem so natural. In 2007, when Apple released the first iPhone, everything about it seemed crazy.
Apple iPhone 6s Plus
Everything great about the iPhone is even greater here, because big screens rule. 4K video looks incredible. 3D Touch is going to be transformative. #rosegold, y’all.
16GB is not enough storage. Battery life is fine, but only that. Touch ID kind of ruins the lockscreen.
In his review for the New York Times, David Pogue described a few of the features:
“You scroll with a fingertip—much faster than scroll bars. You can double-tap to enlarge a block of text for reading, or rotate the screen 90 degrees, which rotates and magnifies the image to fill the wider view.
Finally, you can enlarge a Web page—or an e-mail message, or a photo—by spreading your thumb and forefinger on the glass. The image grows as though it’s on a sheet of latex.
With eight years’ hindsight, this seems like a remarkable waste of column inches. But these new gestures, the new mode of interaction, were actually the story of the iPhone. And people needed to know how to use these new-fangled devices.
With the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, we’re back in the same position. The devices are, for most purposes, the same as they were last year… and the same as they were the year before and the year before that. The specs change, but the iPhone does the same things the same way to the same effect, year after year after year.
At a certain screen size, that stops working. I don’t know exactly where the tipping point is, but it’s probably less than 4.7 inches and it’s definitely less than 5.5. We need more from our phones than we used to, and we need it to be easier at least until we evolve super-long thumbs to better poke our screens. So far, though, the interface is like we’ve kept adding channels to the rotary dials on our 1950s TVs.
This year’s iPhone 6s Plus is a terrific phone in virtually every respect. (So is the smaller iPhone 6s.) If you liked the iPhone before, you’ll like it even better now. If you didn’t, well, there’s still good news: The iPhone 6s really isn’t dramatically better than the best Android phones on the market, the new Moto X, the many new Samsung Galaxy S and Note devices, or presumably the various Nexus devices. Those are all big, great phones; so is the 6S Plus. If you happen to want an iPhone, well, this one’s the best ever. (Duh.) If not, you’re (finally) not missing much.
What’s most powerful about the iPhone 6s is that it’s showing off the first big interaction change since multitouch. That’s not bravado, at least not just bravado—it’s fact. Few of these features are brand-new to Apple, but Apple has proven over and over that it can turn the industry’s rudder like no other company. If what Apple says goes, then everyone else’s phones are about to change. When you boil it all the way down, they’re becoming easier to use with one hand—or no hands. That’s how big screens stop being compromises, and start being the only choice that makes any sense.
The new paradigm is partly about 3D Touch, the new pressure-sensitive display and corresponding software. Right now, 3D Touch means a couple of very specific things. You can press slightly harder than usual on an app icon, and a sort of right-click menu will show up offering quick access to certain actions or portions of the app. These are called Quick Actions, and when they do their job they keep you from tapping that button in the top-right corner, then searching through menus; you just go straight to your destination. There’s also Peek and Pop, which are like opening a window to see what’s outside, and then diving through it to be part of a new world. You tap lightly on an email, or photo, or link, to preview it; press harder, and you jump to their proper app or place.
All this stuff is useful, where it works. It just doesn’t work many places. Most apps don’t have Quick Actions, so you just get a buzz when you hard-press on their icon. Nor do most support Peek and Pop yet. If you use Apple’s built-in apps, there’s already lots to like here, but third parties aren’t really showing up yet. And when there are still too many apps that don’t even properly support the big screen of the iPhone 6, I wouldn’t hold your breath. The tech that powers 3D Touch is incredibly powerful, and has the potential to genuinely change the way we think about our apps and phones, but right now it just makes taking selfies faster. (Which is good, I guess!)
“Press harder” isn’t the only new way to use your iPhone, though. There’s also Siri, which is finally almost sort of a little bit kind of useful, and is very much the centerpiece of the iPhone’s experience. Everything complicated you want to do—search in Apple Music, look up the weather, text somebody—is just easier to do with Siri now. With “Hey Siri,” the always-listening co-processor chip, you don’t even need to touch your phone anymore. Well, you do, because Hey Siri doesn’t work all the time, but you get the idea. When you can’t speak, you can swipe right or down on the homescreen and get to Search (how has Apple, lord and baron of branding, not come up with a better name for this?), the panel that helps you find whatever app or information you need. (Most of this is available in all iOS 9-supported devices, by the way.) All these things are about the same thing: getting you places, faster. Hitting the homescreen less. Downloading fewer apps. Spending less time moving the phone up and down in your hands trying to streeeeeetch toward the icons. Just doing more with your phone, with less work.
At least, that’s what will happen once we shake off the last decade of muscle memory and learn the new rules. In 2007, we didn’t really know how to use smartphones in a simple, direct way. Now we do. Nobody fixes what’s broken like Apple; the iPhone 6s tries to fix what isn’t. It’s going to take a while for these things to percolate.
The only software difference between the two models is that you can rotate the screen of the iPhone 6s Plus and use it in landscape mode. This is great in two places: in Messages, where you can see a list of conversations on the left and your current thread on the right; and Mail, where, well, ditto. Beyond that it’s just dumb. There’s nothing less Apple-y than turning your phone on its side, waiting three seconds for the screen to rotate, then opening Instagram and realizing it’s not a landscape app and you have to rotate your phone back. I find typing harder in landscape, even though the keys are bigger. The peek and pop gestures don’t work, which is insane. And frankly, I’ve spent so long using a phone mostly in landscape mode that everything just looks wrong this way. Landscape mode on the 6s Plus is a super roomy experience for watching movies and shooting video, and that’s all it should be. You don’t get anything from it otherwise. You can turn it off, and you should.
A few things will be more immediately obvious, like the fact that the iPhone 6s Plus is absurdly fast. The 6 wasn’t slow—no decent smartphone has been slow since a few years ago—but this one feels different. The A9 processor helps, and probably will even more once developers start optimizing for it, but the iPhone’s RAM upgrade makes a huge difference right away. Apps open faster, they switch and resume and refresh faster, and they work faster. The new super-graphical multitasking window pops up instantly. Games look better, too, because the Metal developer tools are pretty metal. You get it: It’s fast. Crazy fast. Sometimes, too fast.
One of the big new features of the iPhone 6s is a faster, better Touch ID. And holy hell is it fast. You click on the home button and by the time the screen has turned on, you’re already in. On one hand, this is great. On the other, you’ve totally bypassed the lockscreen, which means you’re not seeing notifications that came in unless you swipe down the windowshade and scroll through the messy (but at least now chronological) list of all your notifications from all your apps. Not that long ago, the lockscreen was the future of the smartphone; now it’s an inconsequential and fleeting loading screen. I guess notifications are only meant to live on the Apple Watch?
So that’s what’s changed. Oh, one more thing: Rose Gold is new. It’s super pink. I like it, you might not.
Here’s what hasn’t changed: The phone still feels the same in your hand. It’s a little heavier and a little thicker, yeah, fine, but it doesn’t feel any different at all. Second, its battery still only lasts a day. It gets a full day of heavy use so far—one advantage of a big phone is a big battery—but these phones have a tendency to degrade over time. I don’t expect the 6s Plus to be a different experience than anything before it. Also, it still only starts with 16GB of storage, and if you can afford it you should absolutely upgrade to 64GB, because 16GB is a ridiculous and tiny number. You’re going to want to take pictures on this, and download games and movies. You’ll need the space. And last, but certainly not least, the camera hasn’t changed.
Well, technically, the camera has changed. It’s now a 12-megapixel sensor, which means you can crop and zoom your photos and see a little more detail. And there’s the new Live Videos feature, which shoots a bit of video before and after your photo and then plays it back when you hard-press on the photo. That one’s fun, but not really supported anywhere but your phone yet, and let’s be clear: It’s just a short video. And if you take a lot of selfies, you’ll probably appreciate the new 5-megapixel sensor and super-bright-screen flash thing. Though I’ve discovered I don’t usually want to look this clear in selfies. Let’s not talk too much about that.
Almost all the time, the experience and result of the iPhone camera is basically the same. Pictures look great, they really do—rich in color and range, and still impeccably accurate in their depictions. They’re just not dramatically better than the last iPhone, or some of the best Android devices on the market.
I guess this is a very long-winded way to say that if you want an iPhone you should absolutely buy the 6s or 6s Plus. For my money, the 6s Plus is the way to go: Optical image stabilization really does help you in difficult camera conditions, and the battery is bigger and better. Some of the landscape-mode stuff is terrible and buggy on the 6s Plus, but to me that’s outweighed by the fact that bigger screens are just straight-up better. Either way, though, this is the best iPhone ever.
It’s not exactly a lust-worthy product, though—there’s nothing here to sell a kidney for. It’s faster, it’s better, it’s definitely easier to navigate. But the iPhone 6 was already so good, and the Android ecosystem has caught up so quickly, that anyone with a recent flagship phone isn’t missing much here. There’s a catch, though: Once developers have had a year to play with 3D Touch’s full capabilities, you’re definitely going to want an iPhone 7.
But this makes your buying decision right now very easy. Do you want or need a new iPhone? Great, buy this one. It’s awesome. You’ll love it. Buy whatever size makes you happy (hint: the big one). But if you don’t? That’s fine too. Because there are other great phones. Lots of ’em. Lucky you.
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