Smartphones these days have become boring. They are iterative improvements of models that were launched before. If you change them every year, then the advances become less evident. Every second Android smartphone is prone to this problem. But, phones based on Google's operating system aren't alone, Even Apple's mighty iPhone is not spared. That's why instead of trying to hard-sell innovation, Apple sticks to a tick-tock cadence, where one year it brings out massive design changes and the next it brings through massive performance and usability changes. These models are dubbed the 'S' models.
Year 2015 happens to be the year of the 'S' models. So we have the iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6S Plus - the big boy Apple smartphone. Competition for Apple hasn't been stiffer. Android smartphone makers like Samsung have upped their game by leaps and bounds. Android itself has improved a lot - its latest version comes with new tricks that the iPhone can't hope to imitate in the short term.
When you talk about big screens though, you don't naturally think about Apple's iPhone. Instead you think about Samsung's Galaxy Note. Last years model was a good first attempt, but Apple will never settle for a good first attempt. Its products are supposed to be the best.
Armed with a new display technology and vastly improved internal parts - the iPhone 6S Plus looks largely similar from the outside, but does it have enough mojo to take the title of the best big screen smartphone in the world? We find out?
Design and build quality
Apple's 'S' models of the iPhone normally look visually identical. The iPhone 6S Plus is no different. Changes on the outside are subtle for the sake of functionality. In fact the biggest change is the new colour. This year we get a chic 'rose gold' colour, which looks more like pink than a gold.
The iPhone 6 Plus was an elegant looking smartphone with great fit and finish. The iPhone 6S Plus too looks elegant. While Samsung's new Galaxy smartphones are stunning with glass and metal - their designs are decidedly loud. Apple's aren't.
You notice some change when you pick up the new iPhone 6S Plus. It is heavier and minutely taller and thicker than its predecessor. Apple doesn't openly point that out, but it does mention the changes in the specs. It is now 7.3mm thick. 0.2mm thicker than the previous model. It remains thinner than Samsung's new Galaxy Note 5.
At 192 grams - the iPhone 6S Plus feels quite heavy. Thankfully, Apple has nailed the weight distribution so well that it doesn't feel insanely awkward.
The build quality is what will strike you. It feels rock solid. Gone are the days of the iPhone feeling a little fragile. Apple has used a new series 7000 aluminium which is of the same grade that is used in aircrafts and that makes all the difference. So much so that, we accidently dropped the iPhone 6S Plus from a height of about 5 feet and the phone came out unscathed with just a minute ding on the casing.
What we don't like is that the iPhone 6S Plus is much larger than phones that have bigger screens than it such as the Galaxy Note 5. On the top and bottom, the borders are just too big. As in 'S' models, Apple doesn't change the core design of the phone, this was probably bound to happen. Size reduction should happen in the next iPhone. It desperately needs it. It is too big, even for a big phone.
The iPhone 6S Plus retains a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS display, which isn't too bad as it is plenty dense with 400 dots per inch. It is an accurate screen in terms of colours, which look true to real life. It also has superb viewing angles and is adequately bright. However, it will not mesmerise you the way Samsung's Galaxy note 5 screen will with its outlandish colours and searing contrast.
While the resolution has remained the same, there are other changes. Firstly, Apple has changed the cover glass on the screen. It has worked with Corning to develop what it calls the strongest cover-glass found on a smartphone.
Secondly, Apple has introduced a new technology it calls 3D Touch. It is a new type of pressure sensitive display technology, which adds functionality to the phone and changes the way we use it. For the good, obviously.
The premise is simple. When you press down on the screen, it is able to understand the amount of pressure that is being applied and will respond with a vibrating feedback to notify you. Depending on the app being optimised for it - it offers different functions.
At the moment, however, it works more like a glorified 'right click' on some Apple apps and third party apps, which too is a very good thing. It also works with a layer of tempered glass and there is no change in the user experience.
The 3D touch is unique to the iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6S Plus. It does enhance the experience in a meaningful way at least for iOS users. The concept of press and hold has been non existent on iOS, but on Android it has been present. Still, Android phones don't have just detailed pressure sensitivity and no app on Android gauges the pressure and uses it to offer different functions.
For the first time in four years, the iPhone camera has gotten a resolution bump. This year the iPhone 6S Plus has a 12-megapixel camera with big 1.22 um pixels, optical stabilisation and a f/2.2 aperture. Optical stabilisation also makes its way to video. The phone supports new image format which Apple calls 'Live Photos' and also 4K video, which has been there on Android phones for at least two years.
How's the image quality? The short answer is very good. However, it comes with a caveat. One also has to say that the iPhone isn't the undisputed king in mobile photography anymore. Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Plus smartphones leapfrog it in many areas. In fact, if you stick to just sharing photos on social media you'd probably think that it's not even an upgrade from the iPhone 6.
But there's been a big upgrade. The iPhone excels at colour reproduction. So, unlike Samsung's phones there is no artificial enhancement to the picture clicked from the iPhone 6S Plus.
The iPhone really shines at wide-angle scenes where it can showcase its amazing dynamic range. It is great for shooting scenes with changing light. An image at dusk clicked with the iPhone will come out better than most phones in the market including the new Galaxies.
In low-light, the iPhone doesn't unnaturally brighten photos up like Samsung's phones. That appears to be a deliberate decision and also due to a narrower lens. It, however, comes with a better flash. The dual-tone flash on the iPhone 6S Plus works really well and is one of the only flash systems in the market that don't ruin low-light images.
4K video too shot with the iPhone 6S Plus comes out crisp. It doesn't have a lot of shake and the phone always gets the focus right. The audio is also of the highest quality.
With selfies being all the rage these days, Apple also decided to bump the front camera to a heart 5-megapixel resolution. The real innovation is that Apple has figured out a way of making the screen light up like the rear flash and it makes a world of difference. Selfies taken indoors with the iPhone 6S Plus will come out better than a Samsung Galaxy.
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The iPhone 6S Plus is powered by iOS 9, which comes with a bunch of new additions. However, many of the additions of iOS 9 aren't available in India. For example - the News app. But still, thanks to the fluid and straightforward experience by iOS 9, the iPhone remains one of the easiest phones to operate and also one of the smoothest.
iOS 9 is a refinement of the operating system which also makes allowances for the new pressure sensitive display. Using some clever software in lockstep with the new pressure sensitive display Apple gives us a peek into what the future of smartphone operation holds for all of us. In the coming months once more apps are developed for the new 3D Touch display, this will be more than a peek for sure.
The email app is a great example. Apple has multiple actions, which are defined as peek and pop. Tap and hold on an email, you can get a preview. While doing so, you can flick up and get quick actions like reply, reply all and forward. Tap harder the email pops open. The same action works inside the messages app. On the home screen you press and hold on certain apps you'd get a quick actions menu, which works just like the mouse click of the PC. Depending on what the app developer wants, it can offer certain shortcuts to functions within the app with you needing navigate through the app.
So, imagine you want to take a selfie. Instead of going into the camera and switching the camera, you can tap and hold the camera icon and a quick actions menu will present you four options - take selfie, record video, record slo-mo and take photo. It is as simple as that and all this makes the iPhone a more efficient computer. Make no mistake as developers figure out a way of integrating 3D Touch in their apps, we all will not use our phones the same way and it will be for the better.
Pressing and holding on the sides of the screen also summons the app switcher. You can still do that by double tapping the home button, but now you have one more way. Lastly, if you press and hold on the keyboard - it goes into this new trackpad mode, which is just awesome for people who need to make or edit big documents on the phone. This is especially true of the iPhone 6S Plus, which gives it some real productivity chops up against the might Samsung Galaxy Note 5.
Apple has also refined the keyboard in landscape mode which now works better for creating content.
Siri is also working significantly faster. It recognises the Indian accent with ease and searches for queries at a blistering pace similar to Google Now.
Apple hasn't fixed notifications in iOS, which is a pity considering even the Touch ID is lightning fast that you'd not even realise you have notifications.
The iPhone 6S Plus is the fastest smartphone in the world by a mile. Heck, some benchmarks suggest it is as fast as a 2-year-old MacBook Air and faster than the new MacBook Apple released earlier in the year.
So what's inside? The phone is powered by a dual-core A9 processor clocked at 1.7GHz with just 2GB RAM. How is the performance? Well, if we had to put it in a word, we say scintillating. No hangs, no lags and everything ran faster than the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy Note 5. We mean everything - app load times, web pages, app switching. But that's only perceptible if compared side-by-side as the aforementioned devices are scorching fast in their own right.
The iPhone 6S Plus is also the best smartphone in the world - by again - a mile, if you want to play games on it. We played Asphalt 8, Minecraft and Modern Combat and the graphics weren't much off than what you'd get on an Xbox 360, if not better at times. Frame rate drops were non-existent and the experience was just delightful.
The amazing thing is while doing so the iPhone 6S Plus never got warm. This is a far-cry from what happens on the Android side of things where phones are packed to the rafters with 8-core processors and 4GB RAM and they start becoming toasty like a thin-crust pizza.
Call quality was good and we faced nothing out of the ordinary. We tested the phone on Airtel's 4G network in Delhi NCR.
Speakerphone quality was also very good for both calls and also listening to music. However, phones like the HTC One (M9)+ and Moto X Style are louder.
The biggest pain point of owning an iPhone is the battery life. Many hoped Apple would fix this issue and build a bigger battery in the iPhone 6S Plus. Apple, instead made it smaller. It now has a 2,915mAh battery, which is also smaller than the one on the Galaxy Note 5.
Thankfully coupled with the new power saving features on iOS 9. The battery life did not change. We're talking about 30 hours of battery life with medium to heavy usage and a little more with lighter usage. This too on a shoddy network with weak signals and poor 4G, which sucks more life out of battery.
This was also better than the battery life we found on the Galaxy Note 5, which was a little lesser.
Unfortunately, Apple doesn't offer any fast charging tech. Charging the battery of the iPhone 6S Plus takes time. That being said, it does ship it now with a 10 watt charger.
Should you buy it
Make no mistake the iPhone 6S Plus is the fastest smartphone ever made. It also comes with a new screen technology which will likely change the way use our phones. It is what the 15-inch MacBook Pro is to pro users: an absolute battleship which can handle anything that you throw at it. At the same time, it exposes weaknesses of the Apple's 'S' models. Because Apple needs to bring out new features in a similar design sometimes compromises are made. For instance, the pressure sensitive technology makes it thicker.
But still, the iPhone 6S Plus is a jack of all - it has a great camera, it is the best phone to buy to play games and with improvements in iOS 9, it is now much better to get work done. However, it doesn't have any feature that will lure away a hardcore Galaxy Note user.
In fact, some perplexing decisions by Apple have made it a harder phone to recommend. It starts at a mind-boggling Rs 72,000 for the meagre 16GB version, which anyways we wouldn't recommend. You should only buy it if you don't care about the amount of money you're spending - if you do, then you should consider either the older iPhone 6 Plus or the Galaxy Note 5.