iPhone 6s Plus review

Introduction

I have been an android user since the original Samsung Galaxy S. I have considered iPhones every year, but always thought Android was better (for me) and cheaper, so stuck with that. Last year, I got so far as to buy an iPhone 6, but after the first two weeks I brought it back and ended up with a HTC One M8. This year around I have again purchased an iPhone, but this time a space grey iPhone 6s Plus with 64 Gb of storage. So far, I am terribly impressed and I think this may be my first OS change in over 5 years. Below you can find my impressions and reasons for this.

Design and hardware

The iPhones have always been very well built and this phone is no exception. All the buttons have great feedback and it feels like it is built to last years. The only real down side is that it is way too slippery and it has been in a case from day 2 onwards, something I do with all phones anyway, though.

The actual design of the phone is fine. It is a good looking phone, and totally up there with the best in the market, like the new Galaxy phones from Samsung or the Xperia Z5 from Sony. I do think the design works better on the regular iPhone 6s, but it’s ok for the Plus as well.

The fingerprint reader

According to some studies, we unlock our phones up to 200 times a day. On recent years iPhones this is done via a finger print reader, if you choose so. According to Apple, this year’s fingerprint reader is twice as fast as last year’s. I can’t confirm that claim, but it is certainly fast. It basically registers the finger in a fraction of a second. In fact, if you wish to actually view the lock screen, you have to adapt by either hitting the home button differently (so it can’t register the finger) or by using the power button to turn on the screen.

The setup of the finger print reader is really easy and you can register many different fingers, unlike the Galaxy Note 4 that I had before and which allowed only 3 different fingers.

The screen

The screen is an interesting aspect. Apple used to have the best screens in the market, but I think that is not the case anymore. The positive aspects of the screen are the natural colour temperature, the maximum brightness, the automatic adaptive brightness, and the viewing angIes. However, the screen resolution is not particularly high. Personally, I feel it is more than adequate, but there are higher resolution screens out there and you can see it. Similarly, and admittedly this is a matter of taste, the screen has very natural/neutral colours and you don’t have the colour pop that you get on the good Samsung Super Amoled screens. And the worst thing about the screen is the blacks, they are simply dark greys. This is due to the screen technology used, but when compared side-by-side with a modern high quality Samsung screen, the difference is very noticeable, particularly when viewing videos.

All that being said, in day-to-day usage, the screen is very good and you’ll get few complaints from me. Nevertheless, it would not surprise me if Apple is working on better screens for the iPhone 7 in order to stay up to date with the competition.

The speakers

The mono speaker of the iPhone 6s Plus is located on the bottom right of the phone. Although the volume and clarity are very decent, they are not the best in the market. However, as with many things, it is good enough and not a source of insatisfaction.

The only realy downside to the speaker is its placement. It is very easily blocked. If I hold the phone in my right hand, my pinkey finger supports the phone and covers the speakers, which is just a bit unfortunate.

The camera

Apple made quite a fuss this year about its new camera. It has an increased resolution of 12MP and deep trench isolation of the pixels. The cameras have always been great on the iPhones and this is no exception. The software is fast and simple to use (although it is getting more complex every year). It focusses very quickly and accurately in most light conditions. The OIS in the Plus model is a real bonus in poor light conditions and with static subjects. All in all, I have been very impressed.

I went to a concert and recorded some footage, both video and stills. Concerts are really difficult situations for a camera, and this iPhone handled it like a champ.

The front facing camera got even more of an upgrade. Its resolution went up to a respectable 5MP and it got a selfie flash. At the same concert, in very dark conditions I made a selfie with my wife and the results was simply amazing. The only downside is that the lit up screen reflects in my glasses.

Performance and battery life

The performance of the iPhones is really something else. It responds pretty much instantly to any input. It has very occasional hicups, but at most twice a day, in my experience.

What I must particularly highlight, as an Android enthusiast, is how crazy refined all the animations and transitions are. With Material, Android has got a lot better, but iOS is on a different level. This may seem superficial, but I do feel that it goes a some way in justifying the higher price. This level of refinement in every interaction with the phone warrants a premium price. I was very impressed.

As for battery life, the Plus models have a big battery and I expected it to go long. In fact, I had no problem getting through a 17 hour days with about 30% left. The beauty of iOS is that it sips battery when you are not using it. With Android, I would be happy with a 3% drop per hour without usage. With iOS it is more like <1% per hour. That makes a whole lot of difference. With Doze mode in Marshmallow, Android should get better, but they have a way to go to achieve iOS levels.

The only real issue with the battery is the charging. It is quite slow. It has a big battery and should have come with some form of Quick Charging, if you ask me.

Operating System

One of the main reasons for not going with an iPhone before was iOS. Although very slick, it always felt very restrictied and featureless (to me). Android felt a lot better. This changed quite a bit with iOS 8, though, and iOS 9 feels like a really mature, robust and feature packed Operating System. For the first time in its history, I feel like I can use iOS full time and not miss Android. For any person that has used only iOS this sounds ridiculous, I am sure, but for me it is quite the revelation.

I like big screened phones, but I feel that it should allow for different UIs when compared to smaller screened phones. I find that iOS 9 is pretty good at that. When in portrait, the UI simply allows for more content, but when in landscape, it opens up other possibilities. Good examples are Settings and Mail where you basically get an iPad interface. With the clean interface and fonts or iOS, this works very well. Furthermore, because the home screen also turns landscape, you can use it fully landscape (unless an app does not support landscape, which happens a bit too often for my liking).

Coming from Android, I like my widgets and home screens. With the Notification pane widgets and the 3D Touch short cuts on the home screen, I feel I am pretty much sorted. Sure, it works differently, but it works well and it is just a matter of getting used to.

Another thing I quite liked was the swiping from left to right to go back to the previous screen. This interaction is intuitive and works really well. Android has a back button for this which is equally effective, but it doesn’t feel as good as the direct interaction that iOS permits. Furthermore, it worked in pretty much all apps, which is also impressive, I believe.

The only real downside to iOS that I found is that although I am sure it was simple some time ago, now with all the functionality that it has, it has become quite complex, at least for someone that hasn’t been eased into the complexity. I don’t mind it, but it certainly takes time to feel comfortable with everything and fully setting up an iPhone is certainly not for the uninitiated.

3D Touch

By far the biggest innovation this year for the iPhone, and the main reason I choose to buy one, is 3D Touch. It holds the promise of advancing User Experience on touch screen devices, and I was very eager to try it in person.

After about two weeks, I can say that I use it daily already. I find it particularly useful on the home screen, where you get presented deep links into the app that you 3D Touch. For instance, setting a timer for the tea is really quick by pressing the clock icon. Similarly, calling my wife is very easy by pressing the phone icon. It works great, and I welcome all apps to include it. In the future, it would be great if users could even select the 4 things that show up in the small list.

Within apps I have to still find a good reason to use it. Generally speaking the previewing (peak and pop) is almost not worth it to me. I find it easier and more convenient to simple open the piece of content – an email, photo, etc. – and return to the previous view by sliding in from the left. The biggest issue with 3D Touch within the app is two-fold: inconsistency and not being to manipulate the content.

Take for instance Tweetbot. In principle, you can preview photos in your timeline by 3D Touching them, however, it does not always work. Some image can’t be manipulated like this and show up some alternative menu. When this sort of thing happens too often, you end up simply not using 3D Touch.

The other issue is the inability to manipulate content. For instance, when I preview an email or a web page, often times I wish to see a little more, in that case I have to press harder and go into the actual email or web site. If this happens too often, which I feel it does, it just doesn’t pay to use it.

Lastly, being able to use the keyboard as a trackpad in text fields is a really cool and useful addition. Works like a charm!

Conclusion

I have really enjoyed using this iPhone 6S Plus. It is arguably the best smartphone in the market. It is not perfect, but it is a great all rounder. The screen and speakers are the two things that I would like Apple to work a little harder on. Performance, battery life and camera are really up there already.

If you come from iOS and will only consider iOS, naturally this is the next logical step. However, if you are not that tied to a platform, there is one big consideration: price.

Should you have almost a thousand euros to spend on a smartphone, you can’t go wrong with this phone. However, for almost 300–400 euros less you can get really good smartphones like the Nexus 6P, Sony Xperia Z5, LG G4 or Motorola Moto X Style. Sure, generally speaking they are not as good in one or two areas, but I would argue they are good smartphones in their own right. The latest Samsungs, like the Note 5, are probably equally good or even better in some areas when compared to the iPhone, but also cost about the same.

As for me, I fall in this last camp. I like the iPhone, but I am not sure I like it that much, i.e. 1000 euro much. We’ll see what happens…

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