Review: Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are great -- but way too expensive

  • Tushar Kanwar, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 09, 2015 11:56 IST
Apple’s new iPhones look the same as last year’s models. But inside, everything has changed. (Tushar Kanwar)

You would be hard-pressed to tell the new iPhone 6S and last year’s iPhone 6 apart if you put them next to each other. They look the same. They feel the same. And yet,says Apple, “the only thing that’s changed is everything.”

That is not just marketing spiel. The iPhone 6S, and its larger cousin, the 6S Plus, feature faster chips, better cameras, and a brand new input method called 3D Touch. But are they worth the king’s ransom that Apple is charging?

New wine, old bottle

The iPhone 6S and the 6S Plus are slightly heavier than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (192 gm versus 172 gm). That’s not much, but the new models are just as un-ergonomic, bezel-heavy, and slippery has last year’s iPhones. There’s no denying the amazing craftsmanship on these devices, but there is an unwieldiness to the size that you just can’t shake off.

Apple makes the new iPhones from stronger 7000-series aluminium, the same material that it uses to build the cheapest Apple Watch. And this time around, there’s a brand new rose gold colour (it’s just pink, but rose gold just sounds, well, classier).

How deep is your touch

The biggest change in the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus is the pressure-sensitive display that Apple calls 3D Touch. It allows the phones to gauge how much pressure you apply to the screen and react accordingly. Pressing down hard on the Camera app, for instance, will pop out a menu to let you quickly take a selfie, for instance. Pressing down on the Phone app quickly pops up your favourite contacts. The phone vibrates subtly under your finger to let you know that it has registered the extra force.

3D Touch allows the screen to sense different levels of pressure. You can press down hard on an app to bring up a Quick Actions menu, for instance (Tushar Kanwar)

Inside apps, you can press hard to preview a message, email, or a link to “peek” in, and then press harder to “pop” in (Apple’s words, not mine). Hundreds of apps already support 3D touch, and once developers get more creative, the possibilities are exciting. Pressure-sensitive gaming could be a genre of its own in the future.

The flipside, however, is that it’s hard to know what 3D Touching something will achieve — you don’t know what hidden door a 3D Touch will open unless you try it. And then you have to remember to use it on a regular basis. After all, pressing down hard on a screen feels, well, wrong. It’s a habit that takes time to form.

My other grouse with 3D Touch is that it isn’t everywhere. Why can’t I 3D Touch Control Center to open even more settings than it already offers? Why can’t I 3D Touch apps that Siri suggests I use? 3D Touch has tons of room to mature.

Hit me with your best shot

The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus finally feature bumped-up 12 megapixel rear cameras. Images are richer in detail and — this is an iPhone hallmark — are more color-accurate and consistent across a variety of scenes.

Apple’s idea of super-brightening the display to serve as a quasi-flash for the front-facing 5MP camera is ingenious in its execution and works really well in typical selfie situations — dimly lit bars and concerts, parties, and more. The phones also shoot in 4K, although that insane-definition format gobbles up 375 MB of storage for each minute you shoot.

That said, thanks to Apple’s decision to decrease the size of individual pixels in the camera sensor results in reduced low-light performance compared to the previous iPhones. So depending on what you’re shooting, the new iPhone cameras can go head-to-head with the best smartphone cameras out there — but they’re not the best cameras this year period.

Live Photos bring your still pictures to life. Simply 3D Touch a still image and watch it move.

A cool feature of the new iPhones is Live Photos. The phone essentially shoots a few frames before and after you take a picture — and the effect is a sense of movement if you 3D Touch a picture. It sounds like a gimmick, but if you’re a new parent or have pets, Live Photos are pure gold.

Pedal, meet metal

And then there’s the rest — faster processor, more memory, better graphics, and more. It’s hard to notice the difference unless you’re multitasking between demanding apps like games, or if you have dozens of tabs open in Safari.

Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint sensor, is now lightning fast and way more accurate; and battery life is about the same as last year’s iPhones — so you can get through a heavy day without lugging around a charger.

It’s all about the money

Owning a 6S or a 6S Plus is an expensive proposition. With Live Photos and 4K video gobbling up space, I can’t recommend the base level 16 GB model to anyone, which means you’re looking at spending upwards of Rs. 70,000 for a 64 GB model.

That’s hard to justify for a phone, no matter how good it is. Check out some great deals on the year-old-yet-supremely-capable iPhone 6 and 6 Plus — or save some money and pick up one of the many supremely competent Android flagships out there.

Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist who has written for The Telegraph, Outlook Money, and GQ India. He tweets @2shar.

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