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Apple iPhone 6S review

80%
Pretty good

iPhone 6S Specifications

→ 64-bit A9 chip with embedded M9 coprocessor
→ 4.7in 1334x750 pixels 326ppi Retina HD display
→ 16GB, 64GB or 128GB storage
→ 12MP rear-facing iSight camera with 4K video recording (3840x2160) at 30fps
→ 1080p HD video recording at 30fps or 60fps
→ 720p HD video recording at 30fps
→ 5MP front-facing camera with 720p HD video recording
→ GSM/EDGE/HSPA+/HSDPA/LTE 4G; 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi
→ GPS, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, 138x67x7.1mm
→ 143g, built-in lithium-ion battery offering up to 14 hours of talk time over 3G
→ 11 hours of online use over WiFi or video playback
→ Up to 10 days in standby quoted, 8-pin charging port
→ 3.5mm headphone jack, iOS 9

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  • Design

APPLE HAS UPDATED its flagship smartphones with the launch of the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus. The handsets have already been well received by the market, shifting a record 13 million units in their opening weekend – although this record is partly down to the inclusion of sales across China.

We’ve been testing the iPhone 6S and we’re a fan of the new version, although it doesn’t add that much to the iPhone 6.

Display

The most exciting part of the new iPhone 6S build is its support for 3D Touch, which Apple describes as a pressure sensing technology that reacts to different presses on the display via capacitive sensors. The Taptic Engine means you actually feel the screen responding to a press when you touch down on it.

With the addition of 3D Touch, you can now hold down on an email message, weblink, or calendar entry, for example, which will then let you ‘peek’ at the item by opening up a preview box; then press a bit harder to open or pop into the item. We’ve been using this regularly on the iPhone 6S and have been really impressed with the new tech. It works smoothly every time and it’s great to feel the feedback when pressing down on the screen. We particularly liked how it works in the camera app for previewing photos, letting you ‘peek’ at pictures you’ve taken in almost a full-screen version and then release your finger to be straight back in photo-taking mode; and also the maps mode for previewing an address highlighted in a different app.

Apple iPhone 6S review

We also liked the shortcuts element of 3D Touch. If you hold down certain apps on the home screen, it will bring up a shortcuts menu letting you quickly and easily perform popular tasks. So if you hold down the Photo icon, you can choose to see your most recent or favorite pictures; click the Camera icon and you can take a selfie or record a slo-mo video; from the Calendar icon, you can add a new event and see that day’s events; and from the Clock icon you can set an alarm.

3D Touch also lets you access the task switcher by pressing down on the left-hand side of the screen. This lets you quickly switch between two apps, or get a view of all your open apps.

The iPhone 6S sports a 4.7in Retina HD display with 1334×750 pixels, at 326ppi. Apple says that the glass screen is made using a dual ion-exchange process, which apparently makes it stronger at a molecular level and “the most durable in the smartphone industry”. As iPhone screens are notorious for cracking or picking up nicks and scratches – and then notoriously expensive to replace – it will be interesting to see whether the new display lives up to this claim, or the new model continues to be plagued with complaints about cracked or scratched screens.

So far, we haven’t noticed any scratches on the iPhone 6S screen we’ve been using, but then we have been handling it with kid gloves owing to previous bad experiences.

The screen is an LED-backlit widescreen display with multi-touch and in-plane switching, which offers impressive viewing angles whether looking down from the top, up from the bottom, front or side-on, or anywhere in between.

The display on the iPhone 6S is certainly impressive. Colors on web pages, games, and videos were bright and vibrant, even when viewing video from a distance, while the text was clean and crisp. Even though the PPI is lower than competing smartphones, we don’t have any complaints with the screen, which also displays images and video in a more natural format.

Apple iPhone 6S review

You can also pick between a standard or zoomed view for the iPhone 6S home screens, which both take full advantage of the 4.7in screen. The standard view displays the icons in normal size, so you can fit six icons down each home screen, while zoomed view displays the icons in a larger format. Both still fit four icons across the screens.

The zoomed view will also display text in a larger format, ideal for anyone with less than perfect eyesight, while the standard view displays more text on the screen when reading emails or messages, for example.

Design and build

The iPhone 6S has the standard high-quality build associated with Apple. The iPhone 6S case is crafted from 7000 Series aluminum, which Apple says is the strongest alloy it has used in an iPhone. However, aside from doing a test where you repeatedly smash your iPhone 6S and iPhone 6 onto a concrete floor to see which breaks first, you won’t really notice much difference in the build of the new model.

For regular use, the iPhone 6S retains the premium feel of previous iPhones, with the high-end metal back and glass screen integrated seamlessly into the phone’s case.

The iPhone 6S adds a fourth option to the previous three color choices: gold, silver, and space grey have now been joined by a rose gold model.

The iPhone 6S is very comfortable to hold as it’s very thin and light, measuring 138x67x7.1mm – a shade deeper than the 6.9mm iPhone 6 – and weighing 143g – again, slightly heavier than the 129g iPhone 6, not that you’ll notice when holding the device. The handset has rounded corners as well as is lightweight, meaning it’s comfortable to hold for long phone calls and while typing or viewing media, for example.

Apple iPhone 6S review

Apple has also taken account of one-handed use in the iPhone 6S. Double-tapping the home button will pull down the top of the screen, meaning it’s easier to use the phone with just one hand as the top area is accessible.

The iPhone 6S has exactly the same external buttons as the iPhone 6. The power/standby button is on the right-hand side of the device, along with the Nano-SIM slot. The ringer on/off switch and volume controls are on the left (the volume up button can also be used to take pictures from the camera app).

At the bottom are a 3.5mm headphone jack, microphone, Lightning charging port, and speaker. The home button with the integrated Touch ID fingerprint sensor is on the front, while on the back are dual flash and camera lenses.

The speakers and microphone are both of good quality. You can get a decent level of audio out of the speakers, meaning you don’t need to pack travel speakers for a bit of music or video playback on your next trip, and we found the mic performed very well at picking up sound for audio recordings, even when far away from the source.

Performance

The iPhone 6S features Apple’s updated 64-bit A9 chip with new transistor architecture, along with an updated embedded M9 coprocessor looking after the sensors.

Apple has always boasted that as it runs processors made especially for its products, the performance outclasses that of other devices using chips designed by third parties, even if the processor has lower specs. This is down to the close integration between the Ax chips and the iOS platform, which offers better efficiency.

But what’s noteworthy about the A9 chip is there are two different versions quietly shipping in the iPhone 6S. Apple declines to give exact specifications for the processor, but teardown site Chipworks revealed that both Samsung and TSMC made an A9 processor.

The Samsung chip bears the product number APL0898 and measures 96mm sq, while the TSMC version is listed as APL1022 and measures 104.5mm sq, about 10 percent is bigger than the Samsung chip.

We had only one iPhone 6S to test and didn’t want to start doing an iFixit and pulling the device apart. But performance on the device was certainly smooth and nippy, whether enabled by Samsung or TSMC. Web pages were quick to open, apps were easy to access, and video and games were easily handled by the A9 chip. You can scroll through your photos at speed, and graphics such as maps render smoothly and quickly while zooming in and out is fluid.

The iPhone 6S managed to score some pretty amazing benchmark results to support this real-world impressive performance, with 219.9ms in Sunspider and 1,743.4ms in Kraken, where a lower score is better. Running the Basemark OS II app test where higher scores are better, the iPhone scored 2,305 overall, 4,032 systems, 1,382 memory, 4,181 graphics, and 1,212 webs.

The iPhone 6S’s nearest competitor we’ve benchmarked so far is the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, which managed a relatively paltry 351.1ms in Sunspider, 4,076.9ms in Kraken, and overall 1,778, system 3,578, memory 1,287, graphics 2,493 and web 871 scores.

The M9 coprocessor measures motion data from three different points – the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass – to support fitness apps and navigation systems, among other features. Previously the Mx chip was separate from the main CPU, but it’s now embedded into the A9 processor for enhanced performance.

This has a couple of key benefits. Firstly, the motion sensor can be always-on without draining battery life, so just like with the Apple Watch it can measure your pace without needing GPS. It’s also the integrated M9 coprocessor that enables an always-on virtual assistant, meaning you can shout ‘Hey Siri’ at any point and get a response rather than only when the iPhone 6S is plugged into a power source, as long as your phone is unlocked.

Camera

This is where we see one of the biggest upgrades on the iPhone 6S, with an improved lens for the front- and rear-facing cameras.

The front-facing FaceTime lens has gone from 1.2MP to 5MP, while the rear-facing iSight lens is now 12MP, up from 8MP. Focus Pixels help the iPhone 6S focus faster and better, to go with its ƒ/2.2 aperture. We definitely noticed the improvement in the auto-focus, with the iPhone 6S much quicker to react and take the shot compared to previous models.

Apple said that it had worked hard to ensure that increasing the pixel count would not reduce the quality of the images captured, something that can happen when you start to capture more pixels.

The image below was taken using the iPhone 6S with no filter or HDR, showing the iPhone 6S doesn’t oversaturate images and offers natural colors and lighting for shots.

Apple iPhone 6S review

You can also shoot 4K video on the iPhone 6S in 3840×2160 resolution at 30fps, as well as 1080p HD video at 30/60fps and 720p at 30fps. The camera can also take 8MP shots while filming in 4K mode, so you can capture a single moment, or live photo while recording.

Apple has also added a Live Photo feature, which lets you take a mini video, capturing 1.5 seconds of action before and after the photo is taken. This worked well when we tried it out, although our cats didn’t always help in some of the test shots by sitting stock still anyway.

For Facetime-calling fans, you can take advantage of the new 5MP lens with 720p HD video recording. In our tests, the caller’s image was clear with good color balance, while selfies are of decent quality even when zooming right in on the photo.

You can also pick easily from the six different shooting modes – Photo, Square, Pano (as in panoramic shot) for stills, and Video, Slo-Mo in 1080p at 120fps or 720p at 240fps, and Time-Lapse mode, which speeds uptime. Filters are accessible by clicking the three overlapping circles. There’s also the timer tool for selfie group shots with a pause of three or 10 seconds, while Burst lets you hold down the shutter button and take 10 shots per second.

The image below was taken in a dark room with no lighting using the flash, and as you can see the colors are fairly natural.

Apple iPhone 6S review

The iPhone 6S is definitely an improvement on previous versions, mainly down to its being much quicker to take snaps with the new auto-focus tech, and images that are of high quality with lots of clear definition and vivid detail.

iOS 9

The iPhone 6S ships with Apple’s latest mobile software, iOS 9. This offers improved battery life – more on this in the battery section later – bolstered security via a six-digit passcode requirement and context-aware search.

iOS 9 has the same look and feel like iOS 8, albeit with a new San Francisco default font that replaces the traditional Helvetica seen on iOS devices, not that we noticed a huge amount of difference.

Notifications are now sorted chronologically, rather than being illogically grouped by app.

Unfortunately, iOS 9 isn’t as exciting on the iPhone 6S as it is on the iPad Mini 4, iPad Air 3, and upcoming iPad Pro when it comes to multi-tasking, and is lacking the Slide Over, Split View, and Picture in Picture additions.

But there has been a more minor multitasking improvement, which now lets you see an elongated card view of all your open apps via a double-tap of the home button. Another new feature makes it easier to return to a previous app, thanks to a link that appears at the top left of the display inviting you to go back. We found both of these minor improvements very useful for regular iPhone use.

However, there’s a smarter version of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri to try out, which gains a new user interface and the ability to deal with requests in a more contextual way, making suggestions based on a user’s location or what is currently on the screen of your iPhone 6S.

Sliding to the furthest left menu reveals a list of ‘Siri Suggestions’ filled with recent contacts and apps, and headlines Siri thinks you might want to read. And if you have a weekly call at 10am every Friday, or check your emails during the morning commute, your iPhone will supply direct links to make the call or use the mail app at these times if you swipe left.

The contextual improvements mean that if you’re reading an email, you can ask Siri to remind you to reply to the email the next day, for example.

For business users, better integration between iOS 9 and Microsoft Exchange means attachments can be added to Calendar events and meetings can be easily scheduled across time zones.

Apps

The Mail app has been updated so if you get a phone call from an unknown number and that number is stored somewhere in your email, your iPhone 6S will tell you who the call might be from.

Apple iPhone 6S review

Notes now support formatting, photo insertion (shown left), and handwriting, and you can quickly switch between typing and drawing. iCloud syncing lets Notes created on the iPhone promptly appear on your MacBook and iPad when switching to those devices.

iOS 9 also gives the native Maps app an overhaul, adding a Transport feature that will map out public transport routes across London and other major cities when you’re searching for directions. But the minor addition isn’t enough to make us give up our Google Maps app for the Apple rival just yet.

Apple News will be coming to the UK on the iPhone 6S at some unspecified point, probably with the rollout of iOS 9.1.

This will let you pick your favorite news sources and topics, and will learn about your news habits and collect relevant articles together in a personalized digital magazine.

Publishers will also be able to create articles tailored for Apple News, including interactive galleries, videos, and animation.

Apple has replaced the Passbook app with Apple Wallet, where you’ll now find all your event tickets, boarding passes, and Apple Pay cards.

Security

As mentioned earlier, Apple has shored up security on the iPhone 6S through the requirement of a six-digit passcode, replacing the previous four-digit version.

Alongside the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, these remain the major security features of the Apple smartphone. You can either scan in a fingerprint when first accessing your iPhone 6S, or via the General option in the Settings menu after entering your six-digit passcode.

Touch ID and passcode are great features for business users, as it means you can add an extra layer of security to your smartphone to protect sensitive data if it gets lost or stolen, giving IT managers a little extra reassurance when dealing with the barrage of employee-bought devices. Touch ID can also be used to restrict access to certain apps and for purchasing items via Apple Pay, which works the same way on the iPhone 6S as with previous iPhones, as well as to the device as a whole.

Apple iPhone 6S review

Touch ID is easy to set up by gently tapping the home button until the phone has gathered enough data to save your fingerprint, and you can set up the sensor to recognize prints from different fingers on your own hands or someone else’s, which is handy if your partner or friends often check things on your phone for you. We found the fingerprint scanner easy to set up, and with each iteration of the technology on newer iPhone models, it has got noticeably better at recognizing our fingerprint more often and quicker.

The Find My iPhone feature is also aimed at making it less likely that people will be able to access your data if your phone is lost or stolen. If you try to turn off the Find My iPhone feature or erase the iPhone’s content, you need to give your Apple ID and password, and even if the device is reset, it will still require your log-in details to access anything, in a move by Apple to combat the growing problem of iPhone theft.

The Per-App VPN feature, which lets firms secure access to enterprise applications that workers access via their iPhone, has also been improved. It can now be configured to work with the built-in VPN client on iOS, which supports both the IPSec (IKEv1) and IKEv2 VPN clients, while apps configured to use Kerberos will automatically launch Per-App VPN when a user logs in.

Apple has also made a tweak to enterprise app installation, so those installed via an MDM solution are explicitly trusted and won’t ask the iPhone 6S user for trust confirmation. Firms can also disable the installation of enterprise apps from other sources through a new restriction.

However, the iPhone 6S still lacks a feature similar to Samsung Knox or BlackBerry Balance, which separates personal and corporate data, with the latter under the control of the IT team.

Storage and prices
The iPhone 6S comes in 16GB/64GB/128GB models, priced at £539, £619, and £699 SIM-free respectively, the same as for the iPhone 6 at launch. But you now have the extra color model to choose from, with rose gold added to the existing silver, gold, and space grey models.

Battery

According to iFixit, the iPhone 6S’ Lithium-ion pack comes in at 3.8V, 6.55Whr, and 1715mAh, a small but notable decrease from the 1810mAh battery in the iPhone 6, probably to make room for the Taptic Engine.

But despite this slightly smaller model, Apple still quotes up to 14 hours of talk time over 3G, with up to 11 hours of online use over WiFi or HD video playback, and up to 10 days in standby, the same as for the iPhone 6. We tested the battery life against the video playback claim and found that we got just over nine hours out of the iPhone 6S, a disappointing result compared with the 10.5 hours we managed to get from the iPhone 6 running the same tests, with the screen set to auto-brightness.

A decrease in battery life was expected as Apple has included a slightly smaller battery, but we didn’t expect as high as a 15 percent drop. This was more surprising as for the final 10 percent of battery life, we chose to run the new low power mode, which temporarily reduces or turns off background app refresh, Hey Siri, mail fetch, and automatic downloads.

We also got less battery life out of the iPhone 6S in day-to-day use, with light to medium use leaving us with around 40 percent of charge left at the end of the day, compared to the 50+ percent we’ve been used to from the iPhone 6S. The poor battery results could also be down to the fact that the iPhone model we were testing features the Samsung-built A9 chip, which has been reported to affect battery life. Although, Apple has denied this would cause such a large disparity.

Apple iPhone 6S review

Connectivity

The iPhone 6S lets you make calls over WiFi when on a wireless network, which will be useful when in areas of poor mobile signal, although currently only Vodafone and EE support this service. It also supports Voice over LTE for high-quality audio on voice calls, but UK users are still unable to take advantage of this owing to the current lack of operator support.

Aside from this, the iPhone 6S offers support for GSM/EDGE/HSPA+/HSDPA/LTE 4G networks, along with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth 4.2, and NFC.

In Short

The iPhone 6S offers the same high-quality screen and great performance as the iPhone 6, and 3D Touch is an impressive piece of tech and useful addition. But it’s disappointing that battery life has been affected to such an extent by the Taptic Engine.

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