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iPhone 6S Plus

The iPhone 6S Plus is Apple’s second phablet, and like last year’s model it’s properly big.

The 5.5-inch screen is the biggest you can get on an iPhone and a massive step up if you’re used to an iPhone 5S. It takes some getting used to.

Usually ‘S’ models of the iPhone tend to have a few small additions over the previous phone. This year, though, Apple has made some serious improvements to the iPhone 6S Plus that make it more interesting compared to what we’ve become accustomed to.

The 4S and 5S introduced useful additions, the first with Siri and the second with Touch ID. A few other performance improvements were thrown in for good measure.

These were good phones, but they didn’t particularly excite the imagination.

The iPhone 6S Plus looks to have gone down the same road, at first glance that is. It looks almost identical to last year’s phone barring a new Rose Gold colour.

Spend a little time with it, though, and you quickly realise that the iPhone 6S Plus comes with significant improvements in all the areas you’d expect and some you wouldn’t. So aside from a boost in performance, plus a better camera and build quality, we’ve also been treated to a potentially ground-breaking innovation – 3D Touch.

Just like the iPhone 6S this is a very good phone.

IPHONE 6S PLUS – DESIGN

158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm, 192g, Nano-SIM, aluminium 7000

If there’s one are the iPhone 6S Plus could be stronger it’s design.

Don’t get me wrong: This is a very well-made phone. Every part of it fits together beautifully, and Apple has ensured that there will be no more “bendy iPhone” complaints by using a new, much tougher aluminium for the body.

 

iPhone 6S Plus ReviewThe lightly textured and slim handset is grippy, and surprisingly comfortable to hold for such a big phone. There are no awkward edges; just smooth, flowing curves that fit nicely in your palm.

The problem with the iPhone 6S Plus is the size of its top and bottom bezels. Where the LG G4 manages to cram a 5.5-inch screen in a body that’s more phone-like rather than a phablet, the 6S Plus feels unwieldy.

The 6S Plus has a screen-to-body ratio of 68%, whereas the curved-screened 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ – the 6S’s closest competitor – has a ratio of almost 76%. That means more screen for its size.

It’s height takes a little getting used to as well. It took me around a week to get comfortable with the original Plus; others may find it just too big in hand and in pocket.

Apple is aware of this and so has included a feature that lets you drop what’s on screen closer to your thumb. Gently tap the home button twice and out-of-reach icons become instantly accessible.

iPhone 6S Plus drop screen featureIt doesn’t solve everything – I still struggle to reach the bottom left corner of the screen with my right thumb – but it’s a useful feature.

The 6S Plus is also heavy, 20g more so than the iPhone 6 Plus before it. The extra weight is due to the new Taptic Engine used with 3D Touch – and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like weighty phones – they feel more substantial; others might find it a little too cumbersome, however.

IPHONE 6S PLUS – 3D TOUCH AND SCREEN

1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 5.5-inch LCD IPS screen, Ion-X toughened glass, 3D Touch

The 6S Plus uses the same display as last year’s phone, and very good it is too.

The Full HD 5.5in screen is both bright (if a little dimmer than the last model at full brightness) and well balanced, with colours looking natural and contrast levels solid for an LCD.

iPhone 6S Plus 9

Compare it with Samsung’s latest offerings and it pales in comparison, though. The Super AMOLED displays on handsets such as the Galaxy Note 5 are a class above when it comes to vibrancy, sharpness and black levels.

Even though the iPhone 6S Plus doesn’t have the best screen, it remains great. Besides, I’m increasingly seeing diminishing returns on phones display improvements. For example, having a higher-resolution QHD screen doesn’t equate to a huge difference in the user experience.

Apple’s latest innovation does, however.

I’m excited about 3D Touch, even though it’s currently limited to a handful of features. Let’s get started with what it is and what it can do.

The original iPhone was the first to feature a multi-touch screen and it revolutionised the way we interact with our phones. Pinching, zooming and swiping were all made possible, and it was one of the most intuitive interfaces ever – even toddlers could use it.

3D Touch takes it to the next level, bringing a whole new experience to the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus by cutting out swathes of extra presses. It gets you where you want to be in iOS 9 far more quickly.

3D Touch brings three levels of pressure sensitivity to the iPhone 6S Plus user interface, so if you press harder on the screen more options appear. At first the experience is a little odd.

I’m used to lightly touching a smartphone screen, so applying significant pressure feels wrong. Give it a day or two, though, and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

It works by using a pressure-sensitive display with a stronger, and more refined, Taptic Engine – the feature that makes your phone vibrate.

At the moment, 3D Touch is mostly limited to Apple apps. Touch the Camera app icon from the homescreen and, as you’d expect, the app opens. Press a little harder on the icon, though, and a host of new options appear. Want to go straight to the selfie mode? Or what about shooting slo-mo right away? They all spring to life with a heavier touch.

iPhone 6S Plus Review

The Clock app lets you immediately create a new alarm or start the stopwatch, while the Maps app provides a quick setting to get you home, mark your location (so you don’t forget where you’ve parked) or send your location to a mate.

Hard press the spacebar when writing an email and the keyboard transforms to a touchpad, so you can easily move the cursor to a specific part of the message to sort out a typo.

It all sounds simple, and it is, but it’s also a huge step forward in how you interact with apps. It’s a bit like having a right mouse button at your fingertips and it opens up a host of new possibilities.

Few third-party apps support 3D Touch at the moment, but don’t let that concern you. App developers now have access to 3D Touch, so you can expect a whole host of new features to soon appear on all your favourites.

There are a few that have taken advantage of the new feature already, and one of the best examples is the futuristic racer AG Drive.

It shows just how clever 3D Touch is. Controls aren’t limited to just slow/fast – it’s actually analogue, so when it comes to accelerating your hovership, the harder you press, the faster you’ll go.

It’s worth mentioning the curved-screened Galaxy S6 Edge+ here – after all, it’s the 6S Plus’ main competitor. The edges of the Samsung do make it achingly pretty, but they serve very little function. By contrast, 3D Touch provides zero visual excitement but plenty of great uses.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ has curved sides

Apple has improved the connectivity on the iPhone 6S Plus so that Wi-Fi is more reliable and faster than ever before. It also comes with 4G and the latest Bluetooth 4.2 standard. As always with iPhones, however, it lacks a microSD slot.

This means you’ll need to carefully consider which version of the iPhone 6S Plus you’ll opt for. The 16GB version really won’t stretch far at all – some photos, a few games and a bit of music and you’ll be clamouring for the delete key.

The 64GB version should be ample for most, with the 128GB 6S Plus perfect for those who like carrying a large movie or music library with them.

IPHONE 6S PLUS – CAMERAS

12-megapixel rear, optical image stabilisation (OIS), true-tone flash, deep-trench technology, focus pixels, Live Photos, 4K video, 5-megapixel front-facing camera, front-screen flash

3D Touch may be the new headline feature of the 6S Plus, but both cameras have also been improved.

The rear camera has been increased from 8 to 12 megapixels, bringing it closer in line to its Android competition.

As we all know, megapixels alone don’t make a good camera – the size of the sensor and pixels, autofocus, colour isolation and lens aperture and quality all play a big part, as does the image signal processor on the new A9 chip.

Here’s how it compares to last year’s phone:

iPhone 6S Plus Review

 

iPhone 6S Plus ReviewThe iPhone 6S Plus examples are on the left, the 6 Plus on the right. In most conditions, the differences aren’t pronounced. But these two examples highlight the extra detail and better colour definition of the new phone.

Apple claims to have reduced cross-talk and noise by minimising the colour leak between pixels. Called deep-trench technology, this feature does appear to offer better colours. It adds a little more depth to photos too.

iPhone 6S Plus ReviewThere’s also more detail in shots. The extra megapixels mean you can see more intricacies, especially when you zoom in.

The OIS, on the other hand, means the camera works better in low-light conditions than it does on the iPhone 6S, which lacks the feature.

iPhone 6S Plus night shotHowever, the f/2.2 aperture lens on the iPhone 6S Plus isn’t as well suited as the LG G4 (f/1.8) or Galaxy S6 (f/1.9) when it comes to taking photos in darker environments. The lower the f-number, the more light a camera brings in, and this reduces noise.

iPhone 6S Plus Galaxy Note 5 Comparison photoComparing the 6S Plus to the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ reveals that the iPhone deals better with colour and clouds, whereas the Edge+ has more detail when you get up close

The iPhone 6 Plus manages to take very good photos even though it’s “just” 8 megapixels; the 6S Plus is even better. It can also stand up to the best Android competitors out there.

You can achieve great photos off the bat with the 6S Plus – there’s no need to fiddle around with shutter speed or white balance settings in the Camera app. That said, personally I’d still like a manual mode option that lets me tinker with the settings. That’s not Apple’s way, though.

LIVE PHOTOS

Apple has added a special new photo feature called Live Photos. While not as revolutionary as 3D Touch, it does add a vibrancy and motion to photos that helps bring them to life.

The effect reminds me of the living paintings in the Harry Potter films. There’s something slightly ethereal about the low frames per second and ghosting that Live Photos add to motion.

iPhone 6S Plus Review
The “photo” part of a Live Photo

This feature isn’t so different to HTC’s Zoe, which launched a few years ago, or Nokia’s Living Images, which took a few seconds of video just before an image was captured.

Live Photos not only captures a few seconds after the shot is taken, but it records sound too.

iPhone 6S Plus Review
This is an example of a Live Photo turned into a GIF. They look better in reality

Live Photos are turned on by default; to turn them off, you press an icon of concentric circles in the Camera app.

In the first shots I took, the results were poor. Moving the camera into position and getting fingers out of the way all lead to Live Photos with a few seconds of naff video. Once I realised what I needed to do – which is to wait a few seconds before pressing shoot – I was able to capture little moments of time.

3D Touch is used to activate these photos: Press down hard and they spring to life in the photo gallery, or your lockscreen.

Initially I felt Live Photos was a little gimmicky, but after a couple of weeks using the iPhone 6S Plus, I’m enamoured with them. The movement it brings to your photo gallery helps jog your memory more than a static image.

The downside is that Live Photos take up about twice the memory of a normal image, so you can find your phone filling up very quickly. That’s not much of a problem if you splash out on the 128GB iPhone 6S Plus, but you’ll find yourself having to manage your memory far more carefully if you opt for the entry-level 16GB model.

Unfortunately you also can’t view Live Photos in action on social media yet – this is a major limitation.

4K VIDEO

The iPhone 6S Plus can now shoot video in 4K – that’s four times as many pixels as you used to get.

You need to access this setting via the Settings app, rather than the Camera app, which makes it a little buried. You’ll also need a 4K TV or monitor to view the videos in their full resolution. The iPhone 6S Plus still has only a 1080p screen, unlike the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s 5.5in 4K panel.

Apple has also enabled the OIS for video, which means better low-light performance.

SELFIE CAMERA

The front-facing camera is able to take Live Photos, too. More importantly, though, it’s now a 5-megapixel unit instead of 2 megapixels. And this bump up makes a difference, letting the camera capture far more detail.

 

As you might expect, this results in better selfies – although it also means skin blemishes are more apparent. Time to get the blusher out.

Since there’s no front-facing flash, Apple has added a feature to the screen that helps it light up your face. I’ve seen this technique used on other phones in the past and it’s never worked very well.

In the iPhone 6S Plus, though, it flashes three times brighter than the screen can normally achieve, and this does provide enough light to make a difference in dingy surroundings.

IPHONE 6S – PERFORMANCE AND FEATURES

A9 chipset with dual-core 1.84GHz CPU and PowerVR GT7600 six-core GPU, 2GB of RAM

Another iPhone, another processor – and this time it’s the dual-core A9. Apple has also finally upped the RAM to 2GB – a key element for multi-tasking.

What does this all mean? Well, in short: the iPhone 6S Plus is very fast. In fact, it surpasses even our previous fastest phone – the Samsung Galaxy S6 – in some of the benchmark tests.

IPHONE 6S
Games look and play brilliantly on the 6S Plus

While other smartphones come with four, six or even eight CPU cores, the iPhone 6S Plus manages to deliver such performance with only two. How can it perform better than those other phones that sound so impressive on paper?

It’s because many smartphone apps use only one or two cores at a time. This means that having fewer but more powerful cores is often of greater benefit than having a bag-load of cores that aren’t quite as fast.

In addition, you shouldn’t feel the iPhone 6S is shortchanging you in terms of processors. While the CPU has only two cores, the GPU (graphics processing unit) has six. With the two combined on the A9 chipset, the 6S Plus is a powerhouse – whether you’re into gaming, photo editing or general productivity.

iPhone 6S PlusIn the real world this all means that the 6S Plus is butter-smooth, and I’ve not experienced a single stutter or dropped frame while playing some of the most demanding games from the App Store.

iPhone 6S PlusFor security, the 6S Plus comes with Touch ID – Apple’s fingerprint scanner – built into the home button.

This makes your phone far more secure than relying on a simple PIN – in fact, iOS 9 now strongly recommends you use a six-digit PIN instead of the four-digit one iPhone users will be more accustomed to.

Touch ID also lets you use the iPhone 6S Plus with Apple Pay, so you can tap your phone on a touch-and-pay terminal to purchase good and services.

Apple Pay has been around in the US for more than a year now, but was only recently introduced to the UK and so isn’t yet supported by all the banks. For example, holders of a Barclays bank account can’t yet use Apple Pay.

Fingerprint scanners are by no means unique to the iPhone any more, but they’re still a great feature, making it super-easy to keep your phone secure without making unlocking a regular drudgery.

Touch ID on the iPhone 6S Plus is better than ever, thanks to the improved processor. It unlocks the phone almost twice as fast as before, giving you access to all your mobile tools even more quickly.

The final iPhone 6S Plus feature worth expanding on is something we’ve mentioned already, the new Taptic Engine.

You’ll have experienced phones vibrating when on silent before and the Taptic Engine on the iPhone 6S Plus performs a similar function, but it’s as close to those as a hamburger is to a fillet steak.

It brings a more nuanced experience to the vibrations that help you better understand what’s going on. A phone call has a different feel to a text message, for example.

It also ties into 3D Touch. Use 3D Touch on an icon that supports it and a short buzz lets you know it’s been activated. Try it on one that doesn’t support 3D Touch and you get the vibration equivalent of a head shake.

IPHONE 6S PLUS – CALL QUALITY AND SPEAKERS

The iPhone 6S Plus has a loud and clear ear speaker with noise-cancelling microphones to ensure clarity at both ends of the line.

The speakers are solid: you’ll happily be able to watch a bit of Netflix or catch-up TV using them. The issue is is their location.

Mounted at the bottom of the phone, it’s all too easy to muffle them with your palm when holding the handset in landscape mode.

IPHONE 6S PLUS – IOS 9

The iPhone 6S Plus comes with Apple’s latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 9.

It isn’t significantly different from previous versions, so for users of iPhones and iPads, it won’t feel alien. If you haven’t used iOS before then iOS 9 is as good a place to start as any – this is one of the easiest mobile operating systems with which to get to grips.

iOS 9 looks the same as iOS 8, but there have been some important refinements.

Spotlight search has been expanded to include Apple news, alongside being able to find information buried deep in apps.

iOS 9 Spotlight search issue

There’s also a handy back feature that pops up when you move from one app to another, so you can easily revert to where you were. Hit a link to an article from Twitter? Well now you can get back to your Tweets with a simple tap from Safari.

Siri is far smarter, too, featuring the ability to make contextual reminders. There’s also a new way to activate the smart-assistant on the iPhone 6S Plus: just shout “Hey Siri” and you can ask it a question. Previously, you could do this only when your iPhone was plugged in to charge.

I’ve found iOS 9 to be rock-solid on the iPhone 6S Plus, except when moving from landscape to portrait mode. On a few occasions, I found the phone would stick in landscape mode and needed a little shaking to get back into shape.

There’s a lot more to iOS 9 than I’ve outlined here. To find out more about this latest version, read our iOS 9 review.

IPHONE 6S – BATTERY LIFE

2,750mAh, non-removable Li-on battery

One of the reasons I preferred the iPhone 6 Plus to the iPhone 6 was battery life. It would last two days if I was careful. That’s useful if you ever find yourself away from a plug socket for any length of time, or if – like me – you take a lot of long-haul flights.

The iPhone 6S Plus’ battery life is on a par with its predecessor, even though the battery is a smidge smaller in size.

In normal day-to-day use I have regularly found myself leaving the office with more than 60% of battery life remaining. That’s having used it for several hours browsing the internet using 4G, watching videos on catch-up apps and making calls and texts.

In fact, I managed more than six hours of screen-on time with a single charge with the display at a little over half brightness – I found this an acceptable level indoors, but you’d need to up the brightness when out and about on a sunny day.

The test included three hours of Netflix streaming over Wi-Fi (24% battery decrease), 1.5 hours of browsing (19% decrease), over an hour or so of 3D gaming (22% decrease), 150 Live Photos with 20 minutes of 4K video (20% decrease) and half an hour of listening to some tunes on Spotify (4% decrease). The rest of the battery was with the phone idle or waiting on a homescreen.

As you can see, there’s plenty you can do with the iPhone 6S Plus before it leaves you stranded – and it certainly lasts longer than the smaller iPhone 6S.

In our like-for-like test, the 6S Plus had 12% battery remaining after it’s little brother had gone to bed. That might not sound like much, but it means a full hour and a half of video streaming and 100 photos – that’s not to be sniffed at.

iPhone 6S Plus Battery LifeI also found that the 6S Plus lasted longer than the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ phablet I reviewed recently, although it was a close-run contest.

iOS 9 brings a battery-saver mode to the iPhone 6S Plus, which helps you to eke out a few extra hours. You can turn it on yourself at any time via Settings, or it pops you a message to turn on when your battery hits 20%.

Battery-saver mode does plenty to help conserve battery life. First, it turns off all background activity from apps, and reduces the time your screen stays on when idle to just 30 seconds.

It also throttles the speedy processor’s performance. I’ve found this to be a bit of an issue on the iPhone 6 Plus – the phone isn’t as smooth or as fast as it is without battery saver turned on.

Thankfully, there are no such problems with the iPhone 6S Plus – I haven’t noticed any slowdown at all. In fact, running benchmarks in battery-saver mode shows that the 6S Plus is still as fast as last year’s model running at full pelt.

Battery saver does make a difference to the iPhone 6S Plus’ stamina. With it on all day, I’ve found battery life is extended by around 20%, depending on the type of activity for which the phone is used.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning fast-charging. Present in many newer handsets, the technology gives you the ability to charge your phone, in some cases, in less than an hour. The iPhone 6S Plus doesn’t offer the feature, so it takes closer to two hours to get the battery from 0 to 100%.

SHOULD I BUY THE IPHONE 6S PLUS?

If you’re not a fan of more sizeable phones then you should forget about the iPhone 6S Plus – they don’t get much bigger than this. You’d be better off considering the 4.7-inch iPhone 6S (below) instead.

However, if the larger form factor isn’t an issue for you then the iPhone 6S plus is an excellent phone and one that I fully recommend.

iPhone 6S 6

In the past, I’d often shied away from recommending an upgrade from an iPhone to its “S” version. With the iPhone 6S Plus, however, that’s changed.

3D Touch and improvements to the camera and performance make this a worthwhile upgrade even from last year’s model, and it’s leagues ahead of the iPhone 5S and those before it.

The iPhone 6S Plus is an expensive phone – like every previous iPhone – but it isn’t bad value. As a brand, iPhones retain their value well and Apple’s customer service is second to none – points worth considering when making a purchase.

I’ve already mentioned some of the other options. The LG G4 offers a great camera and screen and costs far less than the 6S Plus, although it lacks its design cachet.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ is the other obvious candidate alongside the the Galaxy Note 5 is (although it’s not officially available in the UK). The former looks better than the 6S Plus and has benefited from a significant reduction in price recently. However, it lacks some of the ground-breaking features of Apple’s handset.

VERDICT

If there were ever any doubts over Apple’s ability to innovate following the passing of Steve Jobs then 3D Touch emphatically quashes them. The iPhone 6S Plus is a touch of genius, even if it is a little larger than it needs to be.

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