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Apple iPhone 6s review

 Review: September 2015  

Last updated September 2015

Rating: 4 stars

In a nutshell: The Apple iPhone 6s has a faster A9 processor, improved cameras, pressure-sensitive touchscreen, and is less prone to bending. It's basically an updated iPhone 6, and comes in new colour options too. As always, Apple has delivered a good product, but it's vastly over-priced.


Design & looks

Looking back one year, the introduction of the iPhone 6 was a milestone. Finally, with a 4.7 inch display, the iPhone could match the big screen experience Android users had enjoyed for years. The major flaw in Apple's smartphone had been fixed, and this is probably why the iPhone 6 was so successful. But with it came a new problem – bending. It was easy to dismiss "Bend Gate" reports as hysterical, but now with the introduction of the iPhone 6s, it seems that the bending problem was just as serious as some people claimed. Because in order to make the iPhone 6s unbendable, Apple has found it necessary to increase the weight of the phone from 129g to 143g. In one move, the iPhone has gone from being the lightest smartphone you could buy, to one that weighs the same as all the others. It's grown thicker too, just as rival phones have got thinner.

It was right for Apple to fix this problem – a bendable phone is not acceptable - but the fix has taken away one of the factors that made the iPhone special – its extraordinary lightness and thinness. Now it's just a phone like any other. In fact, is it just us, or is that same-old design starting to look rather stale? Place the iPhone 6s next to Samsung's incredibly futuristic Galaxy S6 Edge, with its curved glass display, or HTC's macho One M9, and the iPhone just looks very plain. Yes, it's now available in a wider choice of colours - Gold and Rose Gold, as well as Silver and Space Grey – but here's the thing you have to accept – it's just a thicker, heavier version of the iPhone 6. And we hate the way the camera still sticks out at the back.

So on looks, we're not too impressed, as you can probably tell.

Let's look at the screen next. You can probably guess which way this review is heading. It seems that Apple will forever be playing catch-up with display technology. The iPhone 6s has the same 4.7 inch HD display as the iPhone 6. This is not a bad screen by any standards. It's a very good screen. But at a time when even entry-level Android and Windows phones come with 5-inch screens, and the best have 4 times as many pixels as the HD screen of the iPhone 6s, it's nothing to get excited by. It's bright, but it lacks the vividness and detail of phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6. If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 5s or earlier, then this screen will probably blow you away. But if you're used to Android, you'll probably be taking a step back.

3D Touch

But Apple has come up with a twist. That screen is no ordinary screen. It's a 3D Touch screen. 3D Touch means that the screen is pressure-sensitive. Pushing the screen now brings up a new window that lets you access apps without opening them. In the Safari web browser, a light touch on a link shows a preview, and to follow the link you push harder. There are other similar functions dotted around iOS 9.

Is this a feature we find compelling? Not really. We actually find it counter-intuitive, because instead of there being a predictable outcome of touching an object on the screen, you now have to learn specific actions for each object, depending on how hard you push it.

It’s almost the same as the long-press feature that Android and Windows phones have always had, and we don’t find them to be mind-blowing. The fact that you have to push the screen to access this new functionality actually irritates us. But maybe we're stupid. Maybe this is the best thing ever. After all, we've been wrong before about Apple products.

A9 chip & memory options

Here's an improvement. The new A9 processor is twice as fast as the A8 processor used in the iPhone 6. In practice, it's hard to tell the difference. Apps open just a little quicker, and 4K video recording is now possible (see below.) It's always a good idea to have as much processing power as you can get, for future-proofing, but it won’t change your experience of the phone right now.

The RAM is rumoured to have been increased from 1GB to 2GB, and this will surely help power users and multitasking.

As always, the iPhone has a fixed memory capacity, with no expansion option, so you'll have to choose carefully which option you need. The available options are 16GB, 64GB and 128GB. If you're upgrading from an older iPhone you no doubt already have a clear idea how much storage you’ll need. We'd say that the basic 16GB version is going to be too restrictive for most users, and that 64GB is a safer option.

iOS 9

The iPhone 6s launches with iOS 9 installed. This is a relatively minor upgrade, with just a few user interface tweaks, mostly to accommodate 3D Touch, but there are also useful battery life extensions, including a new low power mode.

iSight camera

The camera has been upgraded with a new 12 megapixel sensor. Since the camera is one of the features that almost everyone uses regularly on their iPhone, an upgraded camera is a significant improvement. The iPhone 6 was already one of the best cameras on a smartphone, but at just 8 megapixels, it wasn't ideal for zooming. The increase to 12 megapixels adds some additional detail, but it’s not a game-changer.

It can now also record video at 4k resolution, which is a very welcome development. Be aware though that 4k recording is switched off by default, and that if you turn it on it will eat your memory faster than you can say "ultra high definition."

Another new feature is Live Photos, where the camera records a snippet of video just before and after taking a photo, and you can view these in your camera roll. It's very much like HTC's Zoe feature. Remember though, that this feature will also eat up your precious and limited memory.

Perhaps more significant though is the upgrade to the front camera. The 1.2 megapixel camera on the iPhone 6 really wasn't that great, and the new 5 megapixel camera on the iPhone 6s captures much more detail. In 2015, the front camera is just as important as the rear camera, so Apple is still playing catch-up here, but it's a very welcome step forward.

There's another feature we like about the new front camera – Retina Flash – which uses the screen itself as an LED flash for selfies. What a cool idea! The screen is able to flash three times brighter than normal for a split second, and it modifies its colour to suit the ambient lighting. It may draw unwanted attention from bystanders, but it will definitely improve the quality of low-light shots.


Connectivity is unchanged, with a wide range of LTE bands, plus fast Wi-Fi available. All the usual connectivity options are here, including NFC.

Battery life

iPhones have never enjoyed strong battery life. The batteries used by Apple are always much smaller than those used by most other manufacturers. The iPhone 6s uses a 1715mAh battery, compared with 2930mAh in the Sony Z3+. Even the battery life enhancements in iOS 9 can't get blood out of a stone.

You should get around 10 hours of use from your iPhone 6s, but heavy users may not manage this long. Is that enough to get you through a day? It's a tough call.

Conclusion – sorry, but no

OK. Let’s say it. We don't like the iPhone 6s.

At best, it's a minor enhancement to the iPhone 6, with a faster processor, improved camera and the new 3D Touch feature.

But it's also a heavier phone, with a design that’s starting to look quite dated. When you peel away the hype, there’s very little here to get excited about.

And let’s talk money. You can now buy an iPhone 6 for around £32 per month on contract, but an iPhone 6s will cost you £45 per month. That’s just for the 16GB version. The price difference between the 6s and the 6 is quite shocking considering how small the differences are. For this reason, it’s not a phone we can recommend, as it simply doesn't offer value for money. Of course, many people buy Apple products regardless of that fact.

One thing we've learned over the years here at S21 is that people who buy Apple products don’t tend to read reviews. So if you've read this review, you probably already know that you’re not going to buy the iPhone 6s. In this case, a more interesting question presents itself – what are the best alternatives? We’d strongly recommend the Samsung Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge, or else the LG G4 or HTC One M9. The Sony Xperia Z5 is also about to hit the shops, so there’s plenty of choice, and they all cost less than the iPhone 6s.

Editor's Note: Since writing this review, we've recieved some hate mail. That's nothing new, and we're used to that whenever we criticise an Apple product. Years back, we used to get the same thing whenever we criticised Nokia. But here's the thing. At S21 we're not haters. We are 100% impartial and have no vested interests. We don't like to see people waste their money on expensive products that don't offer value for money. We rated the 6s at 4 stars, the same as most other review sites, and we kept our review factual, making objective comparisons with other smartphones. Our conclusion was reached by following a logical checklist. We rated the iPhone 6 at 5 stars using the same criteria. Why did the 6s get a lower rating than the 6? Because of the price. We think that price is an important factor, and we think that most of our readers do too. Thank you for reading.

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