Apple iPhone 6S review: S for superb

dav

It’s safe to say that the iPhone has a decorated reputation among tech enthusiasts and beyond. Actually, you could call it the Bruce Wayne of the smartphone world: it’s stately on the outside, but dig into its true nature, and you’ll discover why millions around the world idolise it.

That’s not to say its as interesting as Batman and his ol’ bag of tricks, because no one is as interesting as Batman and his ol’ bag of tricks. However, Apple has been sure to load the S version of its biggest selling device ever with an even bigger sack of tricks this year.

As an Android user, I’ve always looked at the iPhone as a status symbol and nothing more than that. I saw it as a phone that people just wanted to be seen using. I never quite understood what the allure of the half-eaten apple was, especially since the company’s products retailed for the same price as a light aircraft.

But this was the judgement of a naive teenager.

dav

In more current times, coming from the LG G4 as my daily driver, I took hold of a silver iPhone 6S 16GB for a week and a bit to see if I could cut it without my large, brilliant best friend. Did I survive? Well, I’m still here. But let’s start from the beginning.

Unboxing

There is something special about getting an Apple product to review, partly because these products aren’t launched as regularly as other companies’ wares, but it’s also thanks to the theatrical unboxing experience you get with its products. With that said though, I did wonder where the Broadway appeal is in the iPhone 6S’s starkly simple box.

Apple provides a bland enclosure with a little fighting fish on the top. The box itself houses the bare minimum, including the traditional (and terrible) Apple earphones, a micro travel charger and a lightning cable that will probably shrivel up and die after its fourth use like every other Lightning cable ever.

Other goodies include the mandatory user guides an warranty info, sleeved in a neat paper pocket.

dav

Overall, it’s not as dramatic an unboxing as the Apple TV was, but we were sufficiently excited to have the device in our grasp nevertheless.

Design and aesthetic

And that excitement was warranted after we slid the phone out of its box.

Apple hasn’t done much with the iPhone 6S compared to its predecessor.

There’s now an S inscription at the phone’s rear, but ultimately, the phone is a little thicker than the original device. Even though nothing much has changed, we can’t deny that Apple still has a stunner on its books. It’s easily the prettiest phone ever made (with the Huawei Mate S perhaps giving it a run for its money), with rounded corners, a tapered zero-gap screen and a slight metallic sheen, especially noticeable on the sliver unit.

dav

For Apple newcomers, it’s not a complete step into the unknown design-wise either, thanks largely to the number of companies attempting to replicate its design language.

The TouchID home button and fingerprint sensor is at the phone’s bottom-front, with the power button on the rounded right hand side and volume rocker on the left. Apple’s retains the do-not-disturb tab on the left hand side too, which makes an incredibly satisfying clunk when it’s flicked.

At the rear, the iPhone 6S’s camera protrudes beyond the shell by a millimetre or two, sharing space alongside the dual LED flash. Up front, the phone’s dominated by its 4.7-inch screen and the selfie camera. And yes, those tell-tale aerial bars are still present, but I can’t imagine an iPhone without them.

dav

All this is rounded up by slight chrome detailing around the TouchID button, and the shiny Apple logo at the iPhone 6S’s rear — a now staple in all Apple product designs.

And if you’re not too interested in the plain silver finish, other colours available includes garish gold, a more classically-appeasing rose gold and the traditional space grey which is a bit too dark for my liking.

Internals and specifications

While aesthetically speaking there’s not much of a departure from the iPhone 6, the S variants usually get more acute tweaks beneath the pretty facade. The iPhone 6S continues that trend. This is where Apple really improved the iPhone 6, or what you’d expect from an S phone, really.

In comes the rapid Apple A9 chipset made in part by rivals Samsung and TSMC (our review unit was made by the latter), as well as a wad of 2GB of RAM, up from the 1GB in the iPhone 6. That might sounds like a meagre ration, but it’s genuinely not in this case. I’ll explain later.

iPhone 6S review 4

But what is disappointing are the next two numbers: there’s 16GB of internal storage and no expansion slot — which remains Apple’s most idiotic design decision — and a fixed battery that’s smaller than the iPhone 6’s at 1715mAh. There’s another curious design decision.

Key numbers:

Dimensions: 138.3mm x 67mm x 7.1mm
Weight: 143g
SIM Type: Nano SIM
Display: 4.7-inch, 1337×750, 326ppi
Chipset: Apple A9 (with Apple M9 co-processor) | dual-core 1.84GHz CPU | PowerVR GT7600 GPU | 2GB RAM
Storage: 16GB (Around 12GB usable)
Imaging: Rear: 12MP, f/2.2 aperture, five-element lens, phase detection autofocus, True Tone flash | Front: 5MP
Video: 4K at 30fps; 1080p at 60fps
Battery: 1715Ah fixed
OS: iOS 9.1

Beyond the battery, the most interesting development is the camera. It now shoots in 4K thanks to its tweaked 12MP rear sensor and improved lens setup, but you’ll likely find this space evaporate in daily use. Just before I handed the phone back, around 3GB free space remained on the phone, in just over a week’s worth of use.

Beyond this, there’s also a 5MP iSight camera up front, which is a welcome improvement over the smaller 1.2MP sensor previously fitted. Selfie fans rejoice.

iPhone 6S review 3

But overall, Apple’s improved almost every facet of the iPhone 6’s internals, except the battery which could leave some users  a little bitter. There’s a faster processor, a better camera arrangement, and a denser screen. But does this translate into a better user experience?

Performance

On paper at least, yes.

I can’t think of a faster phone on the planet right now, at least in terms of single core grunt. Geekbench numbers are well into the 1000s, which is extremely rapid for a smartphone. Of course, the iPhone 6S loses out on multitasking performance because it only has two cores, but I never quite felt that it was running out of steam regardless of the application.

2GB of RAM is also more than enough for the new iOS 9 OS, which is one of the leanest operating systems I’ve used in a while, and it manages multiple apps running in the background extremely well.

Apple’s using LPDDR4 RAM in the iPhone 6S, which is a lot sprightlier than the previous generation RAM. And you can definitely tell. It’s the same sort of RAM used in the Samsung Galaxy S6, both of which are the two fastest phones I’ve used this year.

iPhone 6S review 5

If there’s one area where the iPhone 6S really thrives though, it’s gaming performance. It’s amazing. Antutu’s Project Anarchy benchmark for instance, a game demo that aims to tax the phone’s internals to its maximum, was swatted aside like a housefly. It averaged in the 60 frames per second region for a benchmark that the Samsung Galaxy S6 could only complete at around 48fps.

It’s truly a little fireball this phone.

Benchmark results:

AnTuTu 5.7.1: 58 485
Geekbench 3 Performance: (Single core) 2550 (Multi core) 4444
Geekbench 3 Battery: (Total time) 4h31:11 (Score) 2711
GFXBench OpenGL 3.1: (Manhattan 3.1) 1945 frames, 31.4 per second; (T-Rex) 2852 frames, 50.9 per second

Note: Geekbench and GFXBench numbers are per benchmarks listed on the Geekbench and GFXBench sites.

And the camera improvements on paper do make a noticeable difference in some scenarios.

Thanks to OIS’s omission, snapping images requires a steady hand at the best of times, but if you happen to be calm enough, or invest in a decent phone tripod, you shouldn’t have an issue. I also found that images were rather dull and drear when snapped in the shade or inside, not something I experienced with the S6, or even the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact. But beyond this, photographs snapped in bright light yielded impressive results.

iPhone 6S sample snaps
left right

Iphone 6s Review 1

Iphone 6s Review 2 Iphone 7

Iphone 6s Review 3

Iphone 6s Review 4

Iphone 6s Review 5

Iphone 6s Review 6 Iphone 7

Iphone 6s Review 7

Dav

Dav

Hdr

Dav

Dav

Dav

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 017

I clearly have an obsession with fruit.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 018

The iPhone 6S has an annoying habit of saturating some colours, while leaving background flavours lacking in the shade.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 019

Another example of an image that'll need a few touch ups.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 020

The lens is definitely sharp enough to focus on objacts fairly close to it.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 021

It's not a bad automatic mode, and judges exposure length and ISO well by itself.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 022

A flowering acacia, probably one of the best pictures snapped with the iPhone 6S.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 023

I moved slightly while snapping this picture.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 024

Colour balance is spot on in this snap.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 025

The bark of a cork oak tree. Note the ridiculous detail this sensor absorbs.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 001

Another good example of this camera's focusing abilities.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 002

Cape Town's Civic Centre rapid bus transport station. Pretty gorgeous.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 003

Table Mountain, and Devils Peak on the left.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 004

Another washed out image taken inside.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 005

Fooling around with bright light here. It's not as good as the LG G4 in this regard.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 006

If you're after silhouettes, this is not a bad choice.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 007

Another example.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 008

And the obligatory sunset photo. Touched up later in Instagram really revealed this picture's beauty.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 009

A rather friendly looking spider.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 010

A rather upset looking seagull.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 011

Looking across the Atlantic Ocean, this camera really has a knack for snapping gorgeous landscape images.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 012

Our Apple TV unboxing.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 013

The iPhone 6S's flash isn't all that bad.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 014

Without the flash, colours seem washed out and dreary again.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 015

Some colours are really over saturated, again pictured in the shade.

Iphone 6s Sample Snaps 016

Chili anyone?

The iPhone 6S still lacks the manual camera modes we’ve seen on the LG G4, the Sony Xperia Z5 and the Huawei Mate S so far, but auto mode, and the number of options available should suit the most avid snappers. And indeed, there are a host of great camera apps available on the App Store, like Retrica and VSCO that give photographers more power.

When engaging in taxing tasks, like recording in 4K, the iPhone 6S almost never gets hot, except perhaps while charging. And charging takes around three hours from completely empty. It’s not slow, but it’s not astoundingly quick either considering the small battery.

And speaking of battery, the iPhone 6S’s reservoir doesn’t drain as quickly as I thought it would. It’s probably the perfect size for the phone, and lasts just over a full Saturday running around Cape Town. Sure, you could drain it in a jiffy by recording everything you see in 4K, but Apple privileging design in this case over usability was a well measured consideration.

iPhone 6S review 6

All in all, I genuinely find it difficult to fault the iPhone 6S’s performance in any area, except perhaps the base storage model and the lack of any additional cheap storage expansion solutions.

If you can see beyond that, it really is a great package.

Practicality, usability and software

Without speed considered though, there are some remarkably brilliant features on the iPhone 6S that makes it worth a look in an Android world.

3D Touch is incredibly useful, especially once you’ve got to grips with which apps feature it and where it’s most advantageous. The iOS Instagram app, for instance, was one of the first to jump on board with the idea, and features a number of nifty 3D Touch shortcuts.

On the home screen, hold the Instagram icon and a shortcut menu pops up with options to snap a new post, send a direct message, check your activity roll or search for users or tags. Inside the app, a more forceful touch on a user’s name brings up a floating bubble that features his or her profile. Letting go sends you back to the main Instagram activity feed.

hdr

The Mail app is another stellar example, and makes replying to messages much easier. What’s made more impressive is the one handed use advantage here as well. You don’t necessarily need to hold the iPhone 6S with two hands to use 3D Touch, and in that sense, you really do have access to more settings and shortcuts with one hand than you do holding an Android phone with two hands.

It might sound gimmicky, but it feels remarkably organic for a feature that’s less than a few months old. It is currently only brushing the surface of what’s possible, but 3D Touch does seem like a system that’s destined to get better over time.

On the whole, iOS 9 does have its bugs but they aren’t as apparent, or don’t destroy the user experience as noticeably as Android Lollipop’s select issues. Moving to iOS for the few days I did was a seamless experience, and hell, it was actually more enjoyable than using Android. There’s something I never thought I’d ever say.

The settings tray and app drawers are easy to use, and easy to find. The Notifications tray always shows relevant information when I require it, while the settings tray shows just enough useful information.

iPhone 6S review 2

I will say this though: the actual settings page is a bloody mess, and I struggled to find what I was looking for almost every time, be it battery information or screen settings. I was lost. But thankfully, the search function was there to find me again.

I also didn’t find I used Siri all that often, largely because I didn’t use Google Now on Android. Sure, Cortana on a tablet I can understand in part, but I’m generally not privy to digital assistants.

Additionally, moving from an Android device and not having a back button is one of the biggest annoyances. It’s probably the one thing I missed the most from an Android perspective.

Overall, the iPhone 6S as a daily driver is an astonishing phone. The software and hardware complement each other so well, and that’s the main advantage Apple has with building its own wares.

iPhone 6S review 7

Value for money

It’s difficult to place the iPhone range alongside its peers, because it offers users something different. Something so different and user-friendly in fact, that it’s extremely clear why the iPhone 6 has sold so many units across the world.

For around R11 000, the iPhone 6S in its 64GB guise does seem worth it, but there are many other Android phones that offer better specs at a lower price. Arguably, these don’t have the overall seamless user experience that Apple products have, and can you really put a price on that?

Main competition:

iPhone 6S: R11 649
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact: R8799
Samsung Galaxy S6 32GB: R7895
Huawei P8: R6999

If you were interested in purchasing a 16GB model, don’t. It’s the one thing I regret about this device. Not having enough storage for your music, snapped images, 4K videos and bags of emails makes it an awkward choice, especially for the price. But the two larger storage option phones seem like no-brainers.

iPhone 6S review 1

Ultimately, it feels like Apple looked at the iPhone 6, addressed the issues, beefed up the device’s weak points, and nailed it. It doesn’t offer some of the greatest on-paper specs, but in the hand, I can’t think of a better device experience I’ve had this year.

Verdict: I love the iPhone 6S. There, I said it. If you want a phone that’s always going to be by your side, that will never argue with you and that will look as good as your smug little face while using it, then the iPhone 6S is for you. I can’t find too many faults, but it’s just a pity that only the super-wealthy can afford the 16GB let alone the 64GB option.

Score: 9/10

Andy Walker
More

News

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.