2. Hello, new iPhones.
Two weeks ago, Apple announced the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Shortly after, I shuttled down to their headquarters in Cupertino, California, to play with the new iThings IRL. Apple lent me the new iPhones to review (since they don’t actually ship until Sept. 25), and the opinions here are all mine. I’m human and wrote this review as such.
I don’t care about specs (tech dude shorthand for info like this) or abstract initialisms like A9, M9, and LEDs vs. AMOLEDs. I don’t care what new series of aluminum the “chassis” is made of. I care about features that are actually helpful, software that doesn’t crash, and nice Instagram pics. I care about utility.
So, I used the crap out of the new iPhone for a week — and this is what happened.
4. Deciding between big and bigger.
Phones are getting big. So big that men like small giant LeBron James are recruited to make enormous phones appear normal-size.
When it came to deciding between big and bigger, the choice was easy: the iPhone 6s. I have small hands and, if I had it my way, all phones would be Motorola Razr–size (RIP).
The only person I know with a 6 Plus is my news-obsessed best friend who uses her phone less as an actual phone and more as a slightly smaller/more colorful Kindle. Don’t get me wrong: The 6 Plus is a great size for reading and watching stuff. But with the new iPhone generation, the ability to touch EVERY part of your screen without having to lift your thumb is *crucial* if you want to take advantage of 3D Touch, one of the 6s’s most exciting features, which I’ll get into later.
6. Here’s the same photo taken with a Moto X and an iPhone 6s.
Interesting how the color’s a bit more muted on the Moto, huh? The Moto X, my favorite Android device, has a 13-megapixel camera compared to the iPhone’s 12-megapixel camera. This comparison goes to show that megapixels mean very little when it comes to image quality. The camera sensor and software make a big difference.
7. Now here’s the photo shot on the new iPhone and a less new iPhone.
One megapixel equals 1 million pixels, so more megapixels means bigger photos. With the iPhone 6s, you’ll get much bigger photos. The rear camera on the 6s was improved to 12 megapixels, which, at the time of the announcement, was like SO WOW MUCH COOL because the iPhone camera had maxed out at 8 megapixels for the last three years.
Other improvements include a new “image signal processor” and “improved noise reduction.” Rather than bore you with what all that means, here’s an actual picture taken with two different devices.
You know when you go to the optometrist, and they ask “A or B, which lens is better?” and they keep on showing you both A and B, and in your head you’re like “they look EXACTLY THE SAME.” This is one of those times.
When I pulled up the photos on my computer and compared them in a side-by-side photo duel, I became *deeply* suspicious.
Kaomoji for dramatic effect: (⌣̀_⌣́)
8. The extra megapixels don’t matter until you take the photos off your phone.
Here is a screenshot of the images in Preview, shown at actual size. The new iPhone 6S is on the left, and the iPhone 6 is on the right. See how the succulent on the left is bigger? Because of the 12-megapixel camera, the 6s image is 1.5 times the resolution of the previous iPhone generation.
That means being able to print higher-quality photos for cards or your new gallery wall or whatever. It also means significantly better zoom for photo and video (which can now be shot in 4K), so you can creepshot whoever’s outfit you’re lusting after on the subway in high-res.
10. Lol Live Photos are weird.
There’s a new button in the Camera app. It’s for Live Photos, a new feature that turns stills into short bursts of video. It captures the 1.5 seconds before you take a photo and 1.5 seconds after it. When Live Photos is enabled, the camera is constantly recording and deleting and recording and deleting footage in anticipation. It’s anti-FOMI (Fear of Missing It) technology.
Taking a live photo is easy. You don’t have to actually do anything since it’s turned on by default. To turn off Live Photos, simply tap on the circle icon, between HDR and timer.
The idea, in theory, is pretty cool. It’s not a GIF, because it has sound. It’s not a Vine, because it doesn’t loop. A live photo is a spontaneous and automated three-second record of time, like the moving pictures in Harry Potter’s world — but less, um, magical.
11. It could be Photo Booth for a new era.
When it first arrived on the Mac, my friends and I did. We did it for hours. HOURS.
I suspect Live Photos will be Photo Booth for a new generation. Static photos are so 2013. The Hot New Thing is micro vids via Snapchat and Vine. Today’s teens/snake people live for capital-M Moments — the funny, random stuff that happens when no one’s paying attention — and Live Photos will be there to capture exactly that.
12. Hm, brunch isn’t as cute when it’s moving.
Live Photos are an amazing way to photograph kids and pets because it doesn’t require either to stay still. But I don’t have immediate access to any small highly energetic beings, so maybe I’m unqualified to understand the true magic of the Live Photo feature. If you want to take the glorious cinematic masterpieces Apple promised, it’s really, really hard to get right. You have to be v e r y still to take a beautiful Live Photo. Most of my Live Photos were kind of boring — but that’s reality I guess. Everyday life is kind of boring.
13. One legitimate concern over Live Photos is storage space.
A Live Photo equals one still and one three-second movie clip. Storage-wise, it’s about the same as two still photos (which can range anywhere from 1 to 5 MB each), so use it sparingly if you opt for the smallest iPhone storage size, 16 GB. With 59 apps installed, 193 photos, and ~87 albums, I’ve already hit 16 gigs. But in my case, it’s music, not photos, that’s taking up the bulk of that space, at 5GB.
You’re also probably wondering: Where do Live Photos live? You can download them as movie files, set them as your lockscreen, iMessage them, or upload them to iCloud libraries. Any device running iOS 9 can view Live Photos — but only iPhone 6S phones can capture them.
Sharing live photos is limited right now. It’s up to Vine, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and the rest of the social media illuminati to support Live Photos sharing (which is available in the iOS API if you care about that kind of thing). Facebook and Weibo, the Twitter of China, have already committed to including Live Photos in their apps, and I assume others will follow suit.
Will Live Photos be the Next Big Thing? Hard to say.
Live Photos are more spontaneous, more real. Sometimes, too real. Things IRL can be very cringey. Those 1.5 “prep” seconds are awkward, like, 90% of the time. But it’s not all bad. Of the hundreds of crappy Live Photos I took, there were a couple that were .
And I think just for those few Moments, it was worth the extra megabyte.
15. I can’t stop inappropriately 3D Touching my phone.
In addition to swiping and tapping, 3D Touch adds yet another gesture to the mix. You can now press down firmly on the screen to trigger extra options.
Anyone who, like me, is enough of an asshole to have an Apple Watch will recognize this gesture as “Force Touch.”
16. I love how it feels. Is that creepy? It’s super satisfying.
When you firmly press on an app from the homescreen, you’ll get more options (known as “Quick Actions”). Press Maps, for example, and see shortcuts to search or find directions home. In Camera, you can choose to record slo-mo or take a selfie from the homescreen. You can now do more stuff in fewer taps.
Whenever something has been 3D Touched, you get a pop, a subtle vibration that lasts only a microsecond, that most definitely gives me a notifications dopamine rush every time. I can’t stop 3D Touching things that don’t even have 3D Touch capability yet.
17. Peek and pop.
I think 3D Touch really shines inside of apps.
There’s a new feature within 3D Touch called Peek and Pop. You can take a “peek” at links without having to open a new tab (), preview photos of bearded SoulCycle instructors in iMessage, and quickly view an address someone emailed you on a map simply by pressing down (on the link, photo, or address, respectively) without lifting your finger.
To “pop,” press down again and it will open the preview. In the case of links in Safari, it opens the link in the same window and in the case of Maps, it takes you to the Maps app. Peek and Pop are why being able to clutch your phone securely (refer to fig. 1, Day 1) is so important. A large phone and an unwieldy grip plus 3D Touch is a recipe for disaster.
18. It’s the little things, like better Touch ID.
I use Touch ID to unlock my phone maybe hundreds of times a day. I don’t go an hour without checking my email, perusing Facebook, posting something on Twitter — literally every opportunity I have to open my phone and do something is seized, and fingerprint unlock is the barrier to that opportunity every. single. time.
On the iPhone 6s, Touch ID is undoubtedly faster. It’s not a breakthrough. It simply works as it should. The new processor takes away the stickiness, the ever so slight delay between the press and the unlock. It’s like your phone doesn’t have a passcode and to wake it up, simply press the home button.
Sometimes it’s the little things, the invisible refinements, that have the greatest impact.
SELFIE FLASH. FINALLY. The front-facing FaceTime camera was upgraded from 1.2 to 5 megapixels, too. Drunk selfies will never be the same.
I signed strict documents to keep this new phone a secret and the flash ALMOST exposed me but my mate didn’t seem to care or notice. I was maybe too tipsy at the time to care. I am maybe still tipsy right now but still managed to upload this sick slidey before-and-after thingy. Heheheh.
Well, he finally noticed and then this picture happened.
I’ve used apps like Selfshot, which, like the iPhone 6s’s front-facing “flash,” turns the screen into a bright light. But they usually wash out your face and aren’t bright enough.
Front-facing flash on the iPhone is long overdue. It works just fine and I’m actually pretty impressed it didn’t make us look more like drunk ghosts. You know, like .
23. A day in the life of NicPhone.
Today is battery testing day. I designed stress tests meant to mimic above-average usage, also known as “music festival conditions,” a term I just made up. Phones always die at music festivals.
9:48 a.m.: I arrive at work and turn on my phone. I limit Slack use and email reply to phone only.
10:16 a.m.: Moving between Slack and email on device becomes increasingly difficult. I connect a Bluetooth keyboard to help with typing. Did you know you could do that? This is freaking rad.
11:05 a.m.: Battery down to 74%. Klink recommends that I listen to a band called Born Gold. “Start with Bodysongs,” he says. I fire up Rdio and plug in headphones. I put the iPhone to sleep for the first time in an hour.
12:02 p.m.: Still listening to Born Gold. This album is catchy but intensely energetic.
1:40 p.m.: Lunch break. While scarfing naan and curry, I watch YouTube videos for 35 minutes and I’m not proud of it. Battery down to 49%.
2:30 p.m.: I try the new always-on Hey Siri feature. I semi-shout “HEY SIRI… WHAT’S THE WEATHER LIKE IN SAN DIEGO THIS WEEKEND?” My phone recognizes my voice and no one else’s. I’m so touched.
4:04 p.m.: I go outside to get coffee, take some selfies. Battery at 29%.
6:47 p.m.: Ready for a bike ride home. Open up Strava. Battery’s at 17% and I’m afraid that the GPS will drain the phone to its last drop.
7:10 p.m.: Home. Wow, phone’s still truckin.
7:40 p.m.: While listening to more music, get a notification that 10% battery remains. Asks if I want Low Power Mode. I opt no. I like to live life on the edge.
24. The iPhone finally dies after a nearly 10.5-hour marathon of a day.
8:25 p.m.: iPhone 6s takes its last breath. You done good, buddy.
26. Better, but mostly the same.
Because it’s an in-between year, an “S” year, it’s no surprise that the iPhone 6s, in the words of many tech folk, is evolutionary and not revolutionary.
The marketing slogan for the 6s is “The only thing that’s changed is everything,” which is funny because that’s, well, not true. Take a look at the hardware. It’s impossible to tell the difference between the 6S and 6 iPhones, save for a tinyyy ant-size S on the rear and slightly more heft (the 6s phones are one ounce heavier). They’re fraternal twins that basically look like identical twins.
What is different are the few, significant internal improvements, one of which is what I think will entice people (namely, me) to upgrade.
27. The 6s’s killer feature is 3D Touch. But it depends on what apps decide to support it.
For now, 3D Touch is limited only to Apple’s non-deletable suite of apps (Maps, Notes, Mail, etc.). Facebook, Pinterest, Dropbox, and Instagram have also signed on to add Quick Actions as well as Peek and Pop to their iOS apps.
The success (or, should we say, the “6s” lolol) of 3D Touch rides on whether third-party apps, namely those made by Apple’s competitors (e.g., Gmail, YouTube, Skype), choose to implement it.
Imagine if you could quickly touch to get directions home from anywhere, via your preferred mode of transportation on Google Maps. As a biker who relies on Google Maps every day, I would figuratively dieeeeee for this.
I’m going to wait and see if I’ll be able to 3D Touch more things in more places and then decide whether I want the 6s.
28. So, should you get one?
For most people, upgrading to the newest operating system, iOS 9, will be significant enough of an improvement. Anyone with an iPhone 4s and up can download iOS 9. It’ll make your phone better in so many ways: battery life increase, a huge update to Notes, smarter Siri, and the ability to SEARCH through your settings, among many other new improvements.
The 6s phones are a small cut above any iPhone 6 with iOS 9 installed. My thoughts on upgrading from the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus are: Meh, wait for the 7. Those using an iPhone 5s or below are more likely to really feel the upgrade. Your iPhone life will be greatly improved.
If you’re thinking of making the switch from Android, now may be a more opportune time than ever. You’ll feel right at home with the new “back button” in iOS 9. You’ll probably enjoy the 3D Touch homescreen shortcuts too, which are very similar to custom actions in Android launchers like Nova and Action Launcher. The new Move to iOS app will make that process less painful as well.
29. Ultimately, it hinges on whether or not you have $$ to spend.
The 6s starts at $199 with a new two-year contract (can only be ordered through your carrier’s website at this price) or $649 upfront (can be ordered through Apple.com) for 16 GB of storage. Add $100 to that price for 64 GB and $200 for 128 GB.
Same rules apply to the 6S Plus. It starts at $299 with a two-year contract or $749 upfront for 16 GB. Again, add $100 to that price for 64 GB and $200 for 128 GB.
OR you can reserve the iPhone 6s/6s Plus “in store” to get an unlocked iPhone for $32.41 per month (6s, 16 GB) to upgrade to a new iPhone every year as part of a new program. You get a year’s worth of Apple Care ($129 value) included. It’s basically paying ~$389 a year to lease your phone.
Having the latest and greatest ain’t cheap.
30. Am I, Nicole, going to get one?
Only if I can have it in Rose Gold and Google Maps adds 3D Touch (help me convince ‘em by tweeting @GoogleMaps).
31. TL;DR Take this quiz.
32. Want to read a different take on the new iPhone? Check out John Paczkowski’s thoughts on BuzzFeed News.
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