October 6, 2015
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As with every year, Apple introduces a new smartphone that it calls its most advanced yet and hopes to challenge the might of the Android world. This year was an ‘S” year, which meant the company introduced a few new tweaks but withheld the major design changes for the non-S cycle.

Unlike previous ‘S’ years, this year’s iPhone 6S actually has a fair amount of new features, and more than you might expect from this part of the iPhone product cycle. Is it enough to challenge the flagships of the Android world or is it better to wait for the iPhone 7 next year? As a former iPhone user who converted to Android many years ago, the iPhone 6S definitely looks like the company’s best iPhone to date. After nearly a week with the iPhone 6S, here’s my thoughts on Apple’s latest handset.

Design

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As expected from Apple, an S year handset comes with an identical design to the handset that precedes it and this year’s iPhone 6S is no different. At first glance, the smartphone looks just like the iPhone 6 and shares the design traits that have made the iPhone so popular.

As an Android user who’s grown accustomed to large smartphone displays, the 4.7-inch screen on the iPhone 6S is tiiiiiny and Apple’s tall but narrow smartphone design actually makes my hand cramp a little when stretching across the screen. Like I said, I’m used to the wider and larger displays on Android, which makes the aspect ratio and design of the iPhone 6S somewhat difficult to enjoy.

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That being said, as far as smaller devices go, the iPhone 6S definitely ticks the boxes of being powerful yet easy to use in one hand. At 7.1mm thick, the iPhone 6S isn’t the slimmest smartphone I’ve ever used – that accolade is reserved for the BLU Vivo Air LTE – but coupled with the 143 grams’ weight, it does feel quite reassuring and sturdy in the hand.

Touch ID & Apple Pay

Beneath the screen is Apple’s trademark Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which is built into the home button. Apple was arguably the first company to introduce a one-touch fingerprint sensor on a smartphone and while Touch ID has been made even faster on the iPhone 6S, the feature set is still limited to just unlocking your phone. Having used the Huawei Mate S, which also lets you control your phone using the fingerprint sensor, Touch ID does feel like it could do more.

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That being said, Touch ID is a key part of Apple Pay and this is where Apple holds the trumps over the rest of the market. While some companies have attempted mobile payment solutions with varying degrees of success, Apple Pay is ahead of the market (by a considerable amount) because banks have jumped over themselves to support it.

In a word... Apple Pay is seamless

Setting up Apple Pay requires scanning your card and adding your CV2 code. After this, you verify by either ringing your bank or activating via text message. Once done, you’re good to go and Apple Pay can be used in any retailer who supports Apple Pay or contactless payments. I went into my local supermarket and buying a few groceries (for less than £30 which is the current limit) required just putting my phone near the card terminal and holding my finger on the fingerprint sensor.

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It was quick and seamless but if you do have more than one card added, you can select which card you want to pay with when launching Apple Pay by double pressing the home button from the lock screen. You can also set one of the cards as a default and then it becomes as quick as holding your phone near the reader. Apple Pay is quick and intuitive to use and with wide support, it’ll take a lot for Android Pay or Samsung Pay to even be competitive. In a word… Apple Pay is seamless.

Here’s a video of Apple Pay in action (in my local supermarket, which isn’t Apple Pay certified but does accept contactless payments):

#applepay in action #iphone6s #iphone6 #iphone #apple

A video posted by Nirave G (@niraveg) on

Retina Display & 3D Touch

Aside from Apple Pay – which is also present in last year’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus – the standout feature in the iPhone 6S is the new 3D Touch layer atop the 750p Retina Display. The 3D Touch feature works by measuring the pressure you apply to the screen to bring up different options and although it’s the first-generation, the feature set is certainly impressive.

From the home screen, applying pressure to an app icon can bring up shortcuts to the the commonly used features in that app. For example, additional pressure on the Maps icon gives you shortcuts for Directions to your home address, lets you mark your location, send your location to others or search nearby locations.

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The list of shortcuts varies according to each particular app as the menu on the camera icon lets you take a selfie, record video or take a photo and the clock menu lets you create an alarm, start the stopwatch or start the timer, all directly from the homescreen. It’s also possible for third-party apps to use 3D Touch, with Twitter one of the first to bring support; the latest update brings a menu that lets you compose a new tweet or direct message or search Twitterland.

3D Touch isn’t just limited to apps on the homescreen however as it also adds a few other interesting features. First, from any app you can now access the multitasking menu by applying force to the left hand side of the display, but this feels more convoluted than double pressing the home button.

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Inside of apps, 3D Touch lets you peek at items without actually opening them; for example, when you’re in your messages app and apply force to a link you’ve been sent, it brings it up in a pop up window that lets you view the link without opening the link in the browser. In the Photos app, you can peek at images without opening them and then either swipe up to view options or apply additional pressure to open the photo in full.

Yes, 3D Touch can be a longer way of doing things but with long press missing from Apple’s iOS operating system, the feature is a great way to bring up additional options. From the past few days with the iPhone 6S, I can say that the feature is somewhat useful; the peek feature is something you’ll use a lot while the shortcuts from the homescreen are less useful and the multitasking menu is a shortcut you’ll probably never use.

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Apple wasn’t the first to offer a pressure-sensitive display – that accolade is reserved for the Huawei Mate S Luxury Edition with Force Touch – but the company has certainly thought about what 3D Touch can be used for. As a first-generation feature, it’s unfair to expect it to have a wide feature set, but given that Huawei’s implementation is really basic, 3D Touch is certainly well thought out. Not everything is integral to the iPhone 6S experience but it’s certainly an interesting feature and one that can only get better in the future.

Hardware & Performance

As with every year, the iPhone 6S comes with updated internals that include a dual-core Apple A9 CPU, 2GB RAM and hexacore PowerVR Graphics chipset. Considering that Android flagships are powered by octa-core CPUs and 3GB or 4GB of RAM, it would be easy to write off the iPhone based on its specs list, but this would be ignoring the key thing that sets Apple devices apart: Apple.

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Unlike Android OEMs, Apple has the benefit of controlling both its own hardware and its software, and can achieve optimisations that Android OEMs dream of. As such, in actual use, the dual-core CPU and 2GB RAM in the iPhone 6S seems to deliver performance that’s on par with the best in the Android world.

As you’ve probably come to expect, the iPhone doesn’t have a removable battery and the 1715 mAh unit inside the iPhone 6S is actually 95 mAh smaller than the 1810 mAh unit inside last year’s iPhone 6. That being said, the iPhone 6 drove me crazy, as the battery regularly died inside a day, and over the past few days with the iPhone, I’ve not yet had it drop beneath 20 percent by the end of the day.

iOS 9

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Like every year, a new iPhone means a new version of Apple’s mobile OS and this year’s iOS 9 aims to be the company’s most advanced platform yet. As an Android user who’s used to customising a smartphone heavily, the closed nature of Apple’s iOS certainly comes as a shock, but iOS has been getting better and iOS 9 is certainly the company’s best version yet.

As far as comparisons to Android go, the two platforms are completely different yet share many similarities in that they both aim to deliver information to use proactively rather than reactively. Google Now has been doing that for a long time now but in iOS 9, Apple aims to play catch up and the new proactive Siri does somewhat of a good job in doing so.

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We’re preparing a full review of iOS 9 over at our sister site TabTimes (where we’ll also look at iOS 9 on tablets in more detail) but for now, I will say that iOS 9 is a lot nicer to use than previous generations of Apple’s platform. Yes, it doesn’t quite compare to the flexibility of Android and the limitations (at least in my eyes) of the icon-based home screen do fail to make full use of the larger screen but if you are planning to switch to iOS 9, you’ll find it a lot nicer to use than previous Apple handsets.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface but stay tuned for the full review over on TabTimes in a few days’ time. It’s going to be in-depth and I’ll also touch on iOS 9 further from an Android user’s perspective.

Camera

On paper, the iPhone camera has traditionally had lower megapixels than its chief Android rivals but as they say; cameras are about more than megapixels.

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In the case of the iPhone, this has never been truer and a combination of larger pixel size and clever image processing algorithms mean the iPhone camera has been one of the best on the market over the past few years.

This year’s iPhone 6S sees Apple ‘improve’ the camera further, with a slightly larger pixel size and more megapixel coupled with better algorithms and while we’re preparing a shootout against some of the best Android devices on the market, I will share my initial thoughts on the camera.

Until last year, Apple was conspicuous in being one of a few manufacturers not to employ stabilisation in its smartphones but this changed with the iPhone 6. Or to be more precise, the iPhone 6 Plus. With two very similar smartphones on the market, Apple needed a differentiator and alongside battery and display size, it chose Optical Image Stabilisation in the camera as a key difference.

Sadly, this continues with the iPhone 6S and while the larger iPhone 6S Plus does have OIS, the iPhone 6S is missing this feature. Regardless of how Apple has improved the camera, the lack of OIS in the iPhone 6S does mean camera shake can cause final images to be blurry. Here’s a few shots captured on the iPhone 6S:

As you can see, although the images do have good colours and clarity, the lack of OIS can result in blurred images that would most likely be a lot better had they been taken by the larger iPhone 6S Plus.

A ‘new’ feature on the iPhone 6S is the Live Photos – which is the same feature as HTC Zoe and lets you record 2 seconds of video either side of hitting the shutter button – and while it’s an interesting feature, it can drain the storage of your iPhone considerably. An average image you capture is 2MB while a Live Photo comes in at 3.8MB on average.

I’ve got a 16GB iPhone 6S, which has around 11GB available and you’ll definitely fill this up quickly if you don’t turn the feature off. As a point of note, I’ve turned this off several times but after a while, when I launch the camera it’s turned on again and there’s no way to turn it off permanently.

Final Thoughts

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Before becoming almost exclusive to Android smartphones – out of choice but also thanks to the sheer number of Android smartphones and my career as a journalist – I spent a fair amount of time using Nokia smartphones and then the iPhone.

Since switching to Android, I’ve found that Google’s OS meets my needs more than Apple does but that being said, the iPhone 6S is certainly Apple’s most advanced smartphone yet. The design is atypical of the iPhone – remember the advert – if it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone? – and while I’m not ready to jump ship or anything, Apple certainly has my attention again.

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Specifically, Touch ID v2, Apple Pay and 3D Touch all have me excited, not just for the iPhone but for smartphones in general. 3D Touch especially has the potential for uses that have not even been conceived yet while Apple Pay will definitely cause the likes of Android Pay and Samsung Pay to innovate and improve in order to be competitive.

However, despite the iPhone 6S being the most advanced iPhone yet, it still doesn’t quite compare to the flexibility of Android, but that’s a personal decision. For users who don’t need all the flexibility of Android but want a smartphone that just works, the iPhone 6S will certainly fit the bill and this may be the iPhone that persuades some Android users to make the switch (which Apple wants to help you with).

What do you think of Apple’s changes and improvements in the iPhone 6S? Are you an Android user and would you make the switch? Let us know your views in the comments below guys!

Nirave Gondhia
Nirave is one of the Managing Editors and a fan of travel. He's worked in technology for over ten years (including stints at two carriers in the UK) and reported on it for nearly nine years. In my spare time, A big football (soccer to those over the pond) fan and avid supporter of Man United for over 20 years, he reads a lot, loves a cocktails and blogs about travel.
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