The iPhone 8 and iPhone X are here. But, the iPhone 6S is still available, starting from £449.
For all its “fast moving innovation” the tech industry is a predictable thing sometimes. Every other year Apple puts an ‘S’ on the end of its last phone, buffs it up with a few tarty new features and delivers it to splendid applause.
That’s a horrific simplification, of course, but the general point stands. The iPhone 6S is that phone this year, and it adds some clever new ‘taptic’ features, camera improvements and a radically faster processor to last year’s iPhone 6.
You can get it in Rose Gold now if you fancy a change. But whatever your feelings on the matter, rest assured this another excellent phone from Apple.
All ‘S’ phones look like their forbears and the iPhone 6S is no different. Even the screen is the same. It’s not the very best there is – Samsung’s OLEDs are in a different league in this respect – but it’s excellent for an LCD.
Contrast is great and colours are natural. Some might argue its 326 pixels per inch (ppi) isn’t sharp enough, but that argument doesn’t hold water with me. It’s plenty sharp enough.
Before I move onto the interesting stuff, however, it bears repeating what a successful design this is. Not only does the iPhone 6S look great, it’s naturally comfortable. Everything just fits.
Having lived with the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ recently, it’s a pleasure to return to a phone that’s comfortable to use in one hand, and which has volume buttons I don’t jog accidentally in my pocket.
Beyond the flashy new features and new Rose Gold option, Apple gets the basics right. That matters.
But what is flashy and new? After all, if something isn’t new enough, then it’s rubbish, right? The undoubted highlight is 3D Touch. Like Force Touch, which Apple introduced on the Apple Watch, 3D Touch detects how hard you press on the screen, opening up new interactions for app developers to explore.
There are effectively three levels of pressure – the regular tap, a slightly harder press and one further level beyond it. Each one, depending on the context, will trigger a different action.
But the pressure is “analogue” in nature – 3D Touch doesn’t just detect three levels of pressure, but all the points between. This opens up some interesting potential, particularly in games, which I’ll expand on in a moment.
Related: iPhone 8
Sign up for the newsletter
Get news, competitions and special offers direct to your inbox
Sadly, making room for the new Taptic Engine that helps power 3D Touch means a small, 5% reduction in battery capacity. Apple says that improved power efficiencies in iOS 9 and the new Low Power Mode ensure the iPhone 6S’s battery life is similar to the iPhone 6.
Other serious changes concern the cameras. Apple has increased the resolution of the iSight Camera (rear) and Facetime HD camera (front) to 12-megapixels and 5-megapixels. That’s 50% and over 300% more pixels respectively – not small numbers considering the 6S uses the same size sensors.
This means sharper, more detailed photos – read more about that in the iPhone 6S camera section. It also means the iPhone 6S can record 4K video at 30fps, which will be great for that 4K TV you (probably) don’t own.
Finally, we have a new processor – the A9. While there’s plenty still to learn about the inner workings of the new dual-core chip, a core speed bump from 1.4GHz to 1.8GHz heralds some serious performance improvements.
First, though, 3D Touch. This is, without question, the defining feature of the iPhone 6S. As explained above, 3D Touch lets the iPhone detect different levels of pressure and trigger new actions depending on how hard you press.
It’s the kind of feature that demands exploration and experimentation from users and developers alike. At first, you’ll explore the home screen – pressing harder on icons to see what happens. Sometimes it’s nothing, which is frustrating, but sometimes you’ll be presented with shortcuts to specific actions.
For example, “3D Touch” on the Camera app icon – I can’t help feel “Force Touch” is a better verb – and you’ll get shortcuts to take selfie or shoot a video.
Try it on the Maps app and you can quickly share your location or get directions directly home. The Music app will launch the Beats1 radio station; the Calendar app will create a new event; the Wallet app will show you your last transaction. You get the idea.
All these little shortcuts are useful, but it’s inside apps where 3D Touch shows real dividends. My favourite feature is pressing down on the keyboard to drag the cursor around accurately. It’s a simple thing, but it makes correcting mistakes and basic editing simple and effortless. You see, basics.
The other key strand of 3D Touch is what Apple calls ‘Peek’ and ‘Pop’. In short, press hard to ‘Peek’ at the contents of an item (e.g. an email, message or hyperlink) and press harder still to ‘Pop’ that into full screen. Relaxing the pressure, meanwhile, sends you back to where you came.
It that sounds naff and pointless to you, I assure you it isn’t. Mail and Messages are the best examples of how useful Peek and Pop is. Peeking into a message previews its contents without marking it as read, which shortens the irritating flow of checking a message, leaving it and then marking it as unread again to look at later.
(I know that’s what ‘flagging’ is for but how often do you flag emails and just forget them? I do it all the time.)
Peeking and then sliding the window upwards reveals further actions, such as sending a standard reply or forwarding it to someone else. It’s great for checking a link to see if it’s genuinely useful, or you can slide it up and select ‘Open in new Tab’.
Even in its infancy, 3D Touch is a great and convincing addition to the iPhone. It’ll only grow in potency as developers explore and discover new ways to use it, and they certainly will. The enduring strength of the iPhone is how developers seize upon new features and make them their own.
All of this is enhanced by the new Taptic Engine – a redesigned motor and software stack that delivers subtler, smarter taptic events.
I like it even more than 3D Touch itself. The way the Taptic Engine delivers short, precise and gentle ‘blips’ adds a new dimension to notifications. You’ll quickly learn the pattern and character of these vibrations, so you can instantly discern what kind of alert you’re getting without looking. You can customise them to an extent, too.
It’s a far cry from the iPhone 5 and 5S, which rumbled fiercely with all the subtlety of a small, yappy dog. Once you’ve used the iPhone 6S and experienced the difference, you’ll wonder how you ever put with that racket. It’s great.
The only disappointing aspect of 3D Touch are Live Photos. Although nominally a part of the Camera app, it’s a barefaced tech demo for the 3D Touch feature. Basically, when enabled Live Photos record a short snippet of video along with a photo. Pressing on the photo activates the ‘Live’ version, but quickly grew bored of the feature and turned it off.