It's Wednesday evening and I have a question for my wife: Should I get an iPhone 6s?
She has an answer, but it's not the one I'm looking for. "Don't you have any better questions to ask?"
Here's the thing: I'm halfway through my two-year contract, and so if I do want a new phone, I've got to buy my way out of my contract and sign a new one — or buy my way out of it and pay full fare for an unlocked device, which will almost certainly involve some Kafkaesque negotiation with my carrier. But after playing with the new iPhone 6s Plus for a few days, I'm thinking about it. There's a lot to like. (I didn't test the smaller iPhone 6S. But it features the same hardware improvements discussed below.)
Even the stuff that seemed a little silly from afar has turned out to be pretty great. Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple's new "Live Photos" feature, which extends a snapshot moment by capturing the critical few seconds just before and after a picture is taken, is "a medium that hasn't existed before. It's like discovering a new form." I described this as near-Jobsian hyperbole because it is, and because, like so many wonderfully outspoken folks on Twitter, I too have seen plenty of GIFs!
But you know what? Live Photos are great*. I was fully prepared to dismiss them as an S-year gimmick. But they're actually quite compelling. Some are briefly humorous, others are totally worthless; but when you get a good one, it's really something else. If I were a new parent, I would upgrade to the 6s for Live Photos alone. It's a powerful feature, powerfully executed.
My daughters say Live Photos are a lot like the moving pictures in Harry Potter, and they're not all that far off. Certainly, they make scrolling through photos on the iPhone playful, infinitely more interesting, and, on occasion, utterly fantastic. I wish I had Live Photos of my daughters when they were babies. I wish I had a Live Photo of my wife that one time at the Dovre Club years ago when she was still only my girlfriend. I now have multiple Live Photos of my dog behaving like a dope, but I wish I had some from when he was an equally dopey puppy. Perhaps I'm a sentimentalist. Maybe I just haven't seen enough GIFs.
And then there are the things you don't think about until you hold it. The iPhone 6s Plus is pretty much identical in form factor to the 6 Plus, the handset I carry now — though it feels vaguely different in a way I can't quite describe. Maybe that's because of the new whatever "Series" alloy aluminum used to build it — I don't know. That material, which Apple describes as "the same grade used in the aerospace industry," may or may not have contributed to the 6s Plus's resilience when I stupidly dropped it in the driveway this morning. My iPhone 6 Plus did not fare nearly as well under a similar use case scenario. Either way, I should be more careful with my phones.
Apple says the iPhone 6s portfolio is faster than previous iPhones, and it is. It's snappier and you do notice — if that matters to you. I found the iPhone 6 to be pretty snappy, too. That said, I'm pretty sure this thing blows the doors off the 5s. Whether the device delivers on its promise of faster LTE and Wi-Fi, I have no clue. Maybe? Also: Who am I to judge incremental improvements in LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity? I'm just a guy who streams a lot of metal.
Peek and Pop Safari
I'm relatively certain the camera on the iPhone 6s takes better pictures than its predecessor. I am not a hardcore photographer. Nor am I a hobbyist photographer. I take pictures of my wife and kids, my dog, and, on now too-rare occasions, fish that I wish were larger. Last week, I took a picture of a burrito. It was delicious. The photos I've taken with the new 12 megapixel rear camera on the iPhone 6s look a little bit better than the ones I've taken with the 8 megapixel one on the iPhone 6 — and even my not-at-all-a-photographer's eye can see that.
Apple says this is because of "improved local tone mapping" and an "advanced pixel technology" called Focus Pixels. It probably is. I don't care. What matters is that pictures of my daughters look warmer, sharper, more detailed, whatever. And they look equally good when I blow them up. What matters is that the iPhone 6s selfie I took with my dog looks better than the one I shot with the 6. Is this because the iPhone 6s's "True Tone flash" matched the ambient light around my dog and me to deliver more "true-to-life colors"? OK, sure. But again, I don't care. What's important here is that iPhone 6s dog selfie > iPhone 6 dog selfie. Also: 4K video sure is nice and crisp; I don't have a 4K TV. I just want to be able to shoot good video with my phone, and I can. Onward.
These new features are great, all of them. But realistically, they're not enough for me to justify an off-year iPhone upgrade, which I'm told by certain parties who shall remain nameless is "a reckless purchase — possibly stupid."
But 3D Touch, the most significant of the iPhone 6s's tentpole features, is. Easily. Built on a system of sensors that detect touch pressure across the face of the iPhone 6s's display, 3D Touch triggers pop-up menus and previews based on how firmly you press down. Currently, it supports two interactions "peek" and "pop," with peek calling up a preview of an app or message, or a brief contextual menu, and pop launching the app itself. Each interaction is accompanied by a different tiny vibration that helps you distinguish between them. It is surprisingly useful — particularly for power users who do a lot of work from their iPhones. I'm already using it constantly, and I am impressed with how good it is at interpreting the force of my touch. It's very much an Apple innovation — a seemingly subtle change so thoughtfully executed that it proves transformative.
Does that also sound like Jobsian hyperbole? Probably. But I think 3D Touch is likely the biggest innovation to the iPhone UI since the iPhone UI. And it's largely why the answer to the question I posed earlier is "yes."
Peek and Pop Contacts
Oh. I imagine that since this is intended as an "iPhone review," it should include a completely subjective personal criticism, and also some commentary about Siri and battery life. So, here:
• Rose gold is ugly.**
• Until the advent of iOS 9, I almost never used Siri, Apple's intelligent personal assistant. Now that I can activate it anywhere with a "Hey, Siri" command, I find myself using it more frequently — mostly to play music and send text messages, and occasionally to search the web for words I didn't say. With the iPhone 6s Plus, Siri feels a little more responsive — even when answering questions I never asked. Eat up, Martha!
• Last week I used the iPhone 6s Plus all day long doing all sorts of stuff with it, and forgot to charge it that night as I typically do. The following day, I again used it to do all manner of stuff; truthfully, I used the hell out of it. Then I plugged it into a car charger on my way home from work, because it occurred to me to do so — but I didn't urgently need to. Anyway, the phone didn't die. But then again I didn't try to run down its battery by watching more than 14 straight hours of HD video, either.
So, yeah. It's a great phone. You should probably buy it if you're considering buying an iPhone. I probably shouldn't, but I'm going to anyway.
* Live Photos are about twice the size of a typical 12 megapixel photo, so I can store fewer of them on my phone. But I'm not buying the 16 GB iPhone, nor do I see why anyone would. The only thing a 16 GB iPhone is good for is Apple's margins and making people wish they'd spent the extra money on a 64 GB iPhone.
** My wife and daughters disagree. Vehemently.
Want to read a different take on the new iPhone? Check out Nicole Nguyen's thoughts in BuzzFeed Life.
John Paczkowski is the managing editor for BuzzFeed San Francisco. Formerly deputy managing editor for Re/code and AllThingsD, he's been covering the intersection of technology and culture since 1997.
Contact John Paczkowski at John.Paczkowski@buzzfeed.com.
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