iPhone 6s review: is the only thing that’s changed really everything?

Yes - if you weren't already using an iPhone 6

Apple’s latest handset recently launched with the usual fanfare, but is it worth your money? Did they really start it at 16GB with no expandable storage? Should you upgrade if you’ve got the iPhone 6, or only if you’re on the 5-series or earlier? We’ve heard all your questions, and we’ve got you covered: here’s our iPhone 6s review.

1. The handset

  • 4.7-inch screen, 7.1 mm thick
  • 143g
  • Silver, Gold, Space Grey, Rose Gold

As someone who was using an iPhone 5s before this, I was worried that the new size might be too large for me, but I’m actually loving it. The rounded sides look nicer, fit better in your palm, and are easier to grip, which is especially handy when you’re speed-texting with one hand. The power button has shifted from the top right (on the 5s) to the right, but the charger and headphone ports are still on the bottom. On the left, the silent switch is on top of the volume buttons. Compared to the 5s, the volume buttons on the 6s no longer have “+” and “–“ signs on them and instead are sleeker and longer, which overall looks classier. However, if you’re comparing the 6s to the 6, they pretty much look identical.

The 6s comes in four colours: Silver, Gold, Space Grey, and of course, the much-anticipated Rose Gold (which is the one I have and no, it’s not because I’m a woman). To be honest, though, it’s a lot less pink than I was expecting.

Like you, I too read all the horror stories about iPhone 6’s bending, but this is not true of the 6s, which is made from the same quality of material that they use in the aerospace industry. Looks like Apple took those phone-bending tales incredibly seriously. The screen is also supposed to be stronger, which means that it’s less likely to crack if and when you accidentally drop your phone. For obvious reasons, I did not test out sitting down with my phone in my back pocket or dropping it off of my balcony, but it’s nice to know that I have the options. Thanks, Apple.

2. The speakers

Not much to get excited about here. If you’ve had iPhones for a while, you’ll get the same high-quality sound you’re used to, but nothing more.

3. The screen

  • 4.7-inch
  • 1334 x 750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi

One of the first things I noticed about the 6s was how insanely bright the colours are. If you put it at maximum brightness, the icons almost look cartoon-like, due to how colourful and clear the screen is. In terms of contrast and sharpness, though, I didn’t notice a big difference between the 6s and the 5s. The 6s has a much better contrast ratio (1400:1 compared to the 5s’s 800:1), but it’s not striking enough to warrant a ‘wow’.

It’s very glossy, so on bright days you’re going to get a lot of reflection.

4. The hardware

  • A9 chip with 64-bit architecture
  • Embedded M9 motion coprocessor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 4G LTE

On the whole, performance on the iPhone 6s is strong. I’ve had no instances of my phone hanging, and can quickly jump between apps, which was what I expected after reading Apple’s boast that I’ll “experience up to 70 percent faster CPU performance, and up to 90 percent faster GPU performance for all [my] favourite graphics-intensive games and apps.”

I tested out a few games and sporadically experienced two or three half-second lags, but honestly they were so rare and barely noticeable that it didn’t bother me at all. Even with multiple apps simultaneously running, loading time is incredibly fast, with a few seconds’ wait at the absolute longest.

5. The Software

  • 3D Touch
  • iOS 9

One major improvement in the 6s is Touch ID, which is considerably better than before. In fact, it might even be too good. Sometimes I’ll just tap the home button to check the date or the time or to quickly open the camera, but Touch ID will go ahead and unlock the phone.

And then of course there’s the brand new 3D Touch. It took about a week to get used to actually taking advantage of it, but now that I have, it makes day-to-day tasks that little bit more efficient. Sure, it’s not that much of a hassle to open the Mail app and then start a new email, but I’m already accustomed to just pressing harder on the Mail app and writing a new message that way. Once you’re used to it, you can’t do without it.

6. Storage

  • 16 GB, 64 GB or 128 GB storage
  • No microSD slot

As many people lamented during/after the Apple Event, 16 GB as the baseline with no expandable storage? Really, Apple? If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t delete anything from their Camera Roll, then you’ll burn through 16 GB FAST. Add in the fact that the camera on the 6s takes drastically better (and BIGGER) photos, and you’re in trouble. Which brings us to…

7. The selfie camera (aka the FaceTime HD Camera)

  • 5 MP photos
  • Retina Flash
  • 720p HD video recording

There’s a big jump in the quality of selfies from the 5s to the 6s, which obviously is much appreciated. Although I didn’t really have any complaints about selfies before, the difference is noticeable, particularly when it comes to colours.

However, as you can see in the second picture, contrast, especially among shades of black and dark brown (my hair has highlights, thank you very much), can still be improved upon. I’d say, however, that the front-facing camera is surprisingly good when it comes to low light settings. If you look at the third picture, obviously it’s not as clear as the first two where there’s a lot of light, but you can actually still tell that my shirt isn’t black. As far as low light selfies go, that’s pretty impressive.

iPhone 6s selfie camera samples:

8. The main camera (aka the iSight Camera)

  • 12-megapixel iSight camera with 1.22µ pixels
  • 4K video recording (3840 by 2160) at 30 fps, 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps or 60 fps, 720p HD video recording at 30 fps
  • Live Photos

Arguably the main reason people upgraded to the 6/6s Plus, the new iPhone cameras are among the best currently out there, and I can attest to that. While as with the selfie camera, the main camera does slightly struggle with contrasts between different blacks, the focus works a lot quicker than it did on my 5s, and overall, the clarity and colour reproduction are amazing – if you’ve got enough light. Unfortunately, the camera does struggle with low light settings, as you can see in the last two photos — the pictures are grainy and seem like someone’s put them through a bad watercolour filter app.

In terms of Live Photos, I’ll admit I was a little bit underwhelmed. For some reason, it seemed much cooler during the Apple Event (maybe I was just too starstruck to see it for what it was), and although it does get the occasional wow from someone who didn’t know about it, it does get old pretty fast. Ultimately, it’s a novelty, and while it’s fun to do when you’re bored, I wouldn’t miss it if it went away in the next round of iPhones.

iPhone 6s camera samples:

9. Battery life

  • 1715 mAh
  • Non-removable

The iPhone 6s actually has a smaller battery than the iPhone 6, with Apple’s explanation being that in spite of its size, the new battery can actually do just as much as its predecessor. I found the battery on the 6s lasted remarkably well, but then again, I don’t use my phone to watch movies, so you’ll probably burn through a full charge quicker if you’re game or Netflix-heavy. I’ve found that I have to top up my charge at some point throughout the day, but that might just be because I start to freak out when my battery hits 30%; to be fair, if I were cautious enough by that point, that 30% would really last me the rest of the evening.

One of my favourite things about the new iOS is the option for “Low Power Mode,” which your phone will automatically remind you of when you get to the dreaded 20% (although you can manually turn it on before then), and which has actually extended my battery life for a couple of hours until I can plug it in.

10. iPhone 6s UK price and availability

The iPhone 6s is available now, with three different prices depending on how much storage you want: 16 GB (£539), 64GB (£619), or 128 GB (£699). Since storage can’t be expanded later with microSD, we’d recommend going for as much storage as you can possibly afford, especially if you’re going to be using this phone for a while (hello, 2 year contracts).

Gadgette’s verdict

If like me, you’re upgrading from anything lower than an iPhone 6, then definitely go for the 6s. However, if you currently own an iPhone 6, then unless there’s a specific major reason why you must absolutely have the 6s, we’d recommend you stick with the 6 until the iPhone 7 comes out.

Apple’s history shows that the S models only have a handful of supposedly “evolutionary” but ultimately fun features compared to their predecessors — the 4S debuted Siri, the 5s, Touch ID; and the 6s brings us 3D touch. Really, though, it’s when the number changes that you should seriously consider changing phones.