I’m an “s” kind of a guy. If you look beyond the design overhaul that comes with Apple’s numerical releases, you’ll see that a lot of established features have been slipped into the biannual “s” update. The iPhone 4s had Siri, the 5s had Touch ID, and the 6s has 3D Touch.
This new pressure sensitive screen gives you a new way of interacting with your phone. Press an icon and a new menu will pop up: squeeze the camera icon and you get options to “take selfie” or “record video”; try the clock and options to “create alarm” and “start timer” appear. Apple has essentially reinvented the right click, which is ironic given it was the one who deemed it surplus to requirements in the first place.
Apple’s own apps are the best showcase of 3D Touch: in Mail you can press on an email for a preview and either release it to spring back to the original list or press harder to respond. At each stage of your pressing you get little haptic jolts in your fingertips, like you’re massaging the heart of a mouse.
On the face of it, it’s hardly reason to spend £539 (the cheapest contract-free iPhone 6s), but after a little time this new feature becomes an integral part of how you interact with your phone (a week later, I’m using it more rather than less, which puts it ahead of Siri in the usefulness stakes). It should get better as app developers work out how to integrate it further.
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Beyond 3D Touch, improvements are more subtle. In terms of appearance, the 6s is virtually identical to the 6 (and the 6s Plus identical to the 6 Plus). Which is fine, because the iPhone 6 is a perfectly decent looking phone. It feels soft and silky in your hand. It’s not the most exciting handset to have rolled out of Cupertino – that honour goes to the iPhone 4, the slinky black monolith sandwiched between two sheets of cut glass – but we live in a world where the margins between high end smartphones are increasingly thin, and the iPhone 6 is among the best. Oh, and it comes in a new shade of gold, rose gold, which isn’t for me but you might love it. I have no idea who’s reading this and what garbage colours they like.
Apple was one of the first manufacturers to adopt the mantra: “faster, thinner, lighter”, something it has achieved in each of its previous iPhones (although not all of its iPads). This time it settles for “faster, slightly thicker, heavier, stronger”, which is fine. Having used the iPhone 6 Plus for the last year, I would never have guessed the new version is a few fractions of a kitten’s whisker thicker, although it does feel slightly heavier. The latest model is made from a new type of aluminium – the same used in the Apple Watch – which is more robust and should put paid to the (mostly spurious) #bendgate stories that dogged the early days of the 6 Plus. The glass is also more shatter resistant, although I’ve avoided testing this.
It’s also faster than its predecessor, with a new A9 chip and double the RAM. In real-world tests you won’t notice much improvement, but it does mean the handset should be future-proofed for a couple of years.
The same goes for the new 12mp camera: it’s excellent, but so was the camera on the iPhone 6, and unless you’re comparing the two under a microscope, you’ll struggle to see much difference.
One thing the 6s does bring to the table is Live Photo, which adds 1.5 seconds of video before and after your pictures (accessed by 3D Touching your picture). On the promotional material it looks great, with family photos brought to life by cute little snippets of video. In my tests it tended to capture clips of me with one eye closed before I pointed the camera at the sky. Battery life, meanwhile, is much of a muchness with the previous generation.
Apple’s tagline for this phone is “The only thing that’s changed is everything”. And while this is kind of, sort of true if you count all the incremental changes under the hood, in reality it’s a steady but not blockbuster upgrade.
If you’re already rocking an iPhone 6, this would be a welcome but unnecessary upgrade. If you bought a Samsung Galaxy 6S in April, you won’t be wailing in despair. But if you ask me what’s the best phone you can buy right now, I’d tell you it’s this one.