All day every day?
We could almost hear the collective gasp of horror across the world when news of the iPhone 6s packing a smaller battery broke.
Apple’s implementation of 3D Touch and rigid adherence to a slimline aesthetic has caused the 6s to have a 1715 mAH battery, which is a downgrade on the iPhone 6’s 1810 mAh effort. Whichever way you look at this design choice, it’s an arse.
By the end of your two-year contract with the 6s, you’ll probably be charging it twice daily. In the meantime, it won’t withstand anywhere near the same amount of graphics-intensive gaming or Netflix streaming as something like the Galaxy S6 and its 2,550mAh battery. As for the OnePlus 2, that offers a whopping 3,300 mAh capacity.
Mercifully, iOS 9’s power-economising finesse means a new iPhone 6s does offer a solid day’s worth of usage. After pummelling it for a good 10 hours we're still left with a third of the 6s’ battery life remaining. This spare charge can be stretched further with iOS 9’s Low Power Mode, providing you with more than enough time to find a plug socket and drink of its sweet, sweet electricity.
If it weren’t for the 6s’ technical figures, you’d barely notice the difference between the iPhone 6 and 6s’ longevity. Still, we wish that Apple had gone a little thicker on its latest handset in order get rid of its awkward camera bump and stuff in a bigger battery at the same time.
Oh well, there’s always the iPhone 7.
iOS 9 is hella fine
One small mercy to tide you over those 12 months until the iPhone 7 is iOS 9. The iPhone 6s has been built for Apple’s latest mobile operating system, which will help a lot with battery efficiencies. Even without buying a new iPhone, updating your old phone to iOS 9 will give you almost the same satisfaction. Almost.
There are new features within Notes to make your grocery shopping lists more artful masterpieces - you can attach a photo of kale for your clueless partner for a start. Siri suggestions sum up all the shortcuts you need (recently contacted friends and apps) just by swiping to the left of your Home screen, and most importantly, it’s got that Low Power Mode we mentioned earlier.
Yes, you no longer need hyperventilate when you sink to that dreaded 20% battery low. This universally available feature switches off the biggest battery suckers within your iPhone for you so you don’t have to dive into Settings to toggle each one individually. Hallelujah.
We’ve gone into more detail on iOS 9 in our full review, but the most important thing for potential iPhone 6s owners to note is that we experienced no palpable lag with its new creative tools and deeper searches. The phone and operating system work in sync because Apple is in control of both hardware and software, which still isn’t something you can say for every flagship Android handset.
Mo’ megapixels. Mo’ detail
There’s one other major iPhone 6s upgrade to talk about. Finally, after four iterations, the iPhone’s 6s’ camera sensor has jumped upwards in resolution from 8MP to 12MP, while retaining the ƒ/2.2 aperture you’ll find in the iPhone 6’s snapper.
While you’ve always been able to rely on an iPhone to take a great photo, there's been no denying that Apple has been falling behind the pace of picture-taking progress of its Android rivals. As the results of our recent smartphone camera test showed, the 6 trailed Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and the LG G4 on crucial factors like colour, exposure and, erm, selfies.
Although it’s worth noting that more megapixels don’t necessarily mean much in the context of such small cameras, both the LG G4 and Galaxy S6 are still better-specced for photos. The G4 has a 16MP sensor with a wider f/1.8 lens for capturing more light in dim conditions, while the Galaxy S6 has a 16MP sensor with a f/1.9 aperture. You can see why Apple needed to give its own a camera some TLC.
What a 12MP sensor brings to the 6s is a lot more detail in your photos. That blob in the distance can be zoomed in upon and identified now, especially when there's loads of sunlight about. As ever with an iPhone camera, software and hardware work in perfect harmony to create images that are true to what you see in real life. That means that when they’re uploaded onto your computer, they look just as good as they did on your iPhone. You’ll get vibrant colours that aren’t oversaturated, warm skin tones, and non-distorted lines require no filter at all for your Instagram showreel.
In low light, you’re going to have a tougher time taking a great shot with the iPhone 6s. That’s because, unlike the 6s Plus, the iPhone 6s still doesn’t come with optical image stabilisation (OIS) - a nifty bit of tech that compensates for camera shake. Accordingly, low light images aren’t blurry if you have steady surgeon hands, but move a little and it will result in smudgy photos. Best rest your elbows on something before attempting a night time shot.
It’s not just the 6s’ rear camera that’s grown up. Its FaceTime camera has also been bumped up to 5MP from its 1.2MP former self. Narcissists everywhere will be happy to hear Apple is really encouraging selfie-taking in iOS 9. Alongside the Selfies folder in your camera roll is a new Retina Flash mode that causes the display to light up and behave like a True Tone flash when snapping away in dim conditions.
The result is, softer, more natural-looking night time photos. Be warned: previously unidentifiable bar selfies will now appear far clearer.
Live! Photos! Action!
To make the most of the iPhone 6s’ new and improved camera, Apple has lavished it with a couple of new features. Live Photos might sound gimmicky but these GIF-like moving images are so easy to capture, you’ll find yourself taking a load of them. Especially if you haven’t seen HTC’s Zoe software on the One (M9) pull off a very similar trick.
When you hit the trigger in the Live Photos mode, the still image is captured along with the 1.5 seconds before and after, adding a little context to an otherwise stationery snap. They’re not videos, so the best way to capture them is to keep your camera as still as if you’re taking a static photo. The yellow Live indicator will blink on to signal when it’s recording and off when it’s safe to move your camera again.
Live Photos are really addictive, but bear in mind that they’re twice the size of your normal photos, so you might want to save them for special moments when there’s a decent amount of movement. As of now, there’s no social media major support for Live Photos on any social media apps, either, but they’re said to be coming to Facebook by the end of the year. Until then, you’ll just have to settle for showing them to your friends in person or sharing them via AirDrop or iMessage.
So there are still a fair few ways to let everyone know you’ve got the new iPhone and they haven’t.
Oh hey, 4K
4K footage is the other key trick the 6s’ camera pulls and it’s pretty exciting. Especially if you’ve recently bought a new 4K TV and have already Netflixed all of Breaking Bad in Ultra High Definition.
The beauty of 4K footage is that it offers four times the details of standard HD video, which aren't exactly ghastly in the first place. This means the video of our trip to Pier 39 is so sharp it's possible to see the bald spots on its live-in sea lions. Thankfully, their stench remains in San Francisco.
Similarly to when you’re just taking stills with the iPhone 6s, its lack of OIS is a frustration. This, again, means the 6s Plus takes better video, but 6s owners can get by with a tripod or by resting their elbows on a sturdy platform.
The resulting footage is nice and sharp, and really shone when we were shooting brightly lit scenes with a lot of texture and detail, like an animal - or a pile of them in the sea lions’ case. If you’re shooting a scene with too much movement, 4K can easily get lost. Our advice? Use it selectively.
One unavoidable issue when it comes to 4K video is storage. Shooting a minute of 4K video at 30fps will take up 375MB on your phone, while shooting a 1080p video at the same frame rate for the exact same length of time will only take up about 130MB. This might not sound like much to someone packing the 128GB variant of the iPhone, but it will take a mere 40 minutes of 4K video footage to completely choke up a 16GB handset.
No wonder Apple tucks away the option to toggle between 4K and HD video within the camera’s Settings mode, so no impulsive video resolution decisions can be made in the spur of the moment.
If a week is a long time in politics, then three years is a lifetime when it comes to technology. Hell, BlackBerry and Nokia still made phones back in 2012 when the iPhone 5 was released. That was Apple’s first phone to offer 16GB storage on its entry-level model.
Now you can argue the toss about cheaper iCloud storage plans and the popularisation of streaming services, but ultimately Apple shouldn’t be selling a 16GB iPhone. Not just because the Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4, HTC One and almost every other major Android handset offer 32GB as standard.
If an iPhone is meant to be one thing, it is premium. Offering a 16GB 6s for USS$649 (RM2790) feels like we've been short changed. It’s a move that’s designed to save Apple money on manufacturing costs and upsell more people to the 64GB (US$749 (RM3225)) and 128GB (US$849 (RM3655) 6s models.
Considering the US$100 (RM430) price increase for each subsequent 6s storage option, buying the full fat 128GB almost makes the most sense. Especially, if you plan on making full use of the data-hungry new features in the iPhone 6s. At (US$849 (RM3655), it’s still cheaper than the US$999 (RM4300) Samsung Galaxy S6 of the same volume but significantly more expensive than the RM2499 leather-clad LG G4 with 32GB storage that you can bolster with over up to 2TB thanks to removable microSDXC.
Next year, we’d expect to see an entry-level 32GB iPhone. Otherwise people will struggle to get the best from their iPhone 7, and that's not we want now, do we?
iPhone 6s verdict
Apple will tell you, "The only thing that’s changed about the iPhone 6s is everything".
Is that a bare-faced lie? Not exactly. The iPhone 6s is far from a revolutionary product, but it does offer more than enough innovation to set it apart from the iPhone 6. Enough so that you can justify its purchase to yourself.
If you own an iPhone 5s or earlier, you’ll really notice the A9 processor’s added speed. If you care a lot about your picture quality, the 6s’ snapper gives you a lot more to work with. And if you always want to get more done in less time on your iPhone, 3D Touch and an always-on Siri will help with that too.
3D Touch is the 6s’ tour de force, the kind of feature that makes a practical impact on how you use your phone. We love it for symbolising what Apple does best: treating a product as the sum of its parts and proving you can make real change with a deceptively small idea. And you can’t find the feature on competing flagships... yet.
This is how you make someone feel some kind of passion for a slab of glass and metal. Not by skimping on features such as storage space.
Like any dominant force, Apple’s iPhone 6s holds a little back. Not so much that you could say it’s anything less than an excellent smartphone. But the best? That title still belongs to the Samsung Galaxy S6, which outperforms the 6s for screen quality, speed and battery life. The LG G4 is also a slightly better phone, too, if you're talking about pure numbers.
But for those determined to stick with the simply effective iOS system (and who could blame them?), the iPhone 6s is the best phone Apple has ever produced.
Of course that's stating the obvious. What's less evident is how much of a step-forward the iPhone 6s is over its nigh-on visually identical predecessor. Surprise!