Is The New iPhone 6s Worth It?

Photo: Courtesy Apple.
The iPhone 6s doesn't go on sale until Friday, but Refinery29 got the chance to test drive the new iPhone a little early. If you've been wondering whether it's worth upgrading this time around, wonder no further. We took Apple's latest from the streets of California to the beaches of Hawaii to answer: What's it really like to use the iPhone 6s?

In short: terrific. The iPhone 6s builds and improves upon its predecessor in just about every way. Both cameras are vastly improved, Touch ID is significantly faster, battery life is superb. Sure, Apple has reinvented the wheel a bit here, but additions such as the iPhone’s new 3D Touch capability — which lets you press the phone’s screen to pull up shortcut menus for apps like Messages, Camera, and Calendar, or “peek” at a website link without actually opening the page — feel like a fresh way to navigate your handset rather than a rusty rehashing of the trusty old right-click.

Related: How To Use The iPhone 6s

While it looks the same as an iPhone 6 (save for the handsome new rose-gold color option), the iPhone 6s is a big step forward. Thanks to a speedier processor, 3D Touch, and a number of other iPhone 6s and iOS 9 features, you can get things done on your phone more efficiently than ever before. This means less time spent tapping, swiping, and waiting on its 4.7-inch display, and more time spent doing whatever else you love to do — and taking photos and videos of those moments.

Related: 24 Things You Can Only Do On The iPhone 6s

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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Selfie Game: Strong
Apple seriously upped the quality and capabilities of both the front- and rear-facing cameras in the iPhone 6s. The front now shoots 5-megapixel images and has a clever hack: In place of an actual camera flash, the screen flashes brightly instead. In many cases with low or uneven lighting, this pseudo-flash does a great job of making what would normally be a dark, un-usable image share-worthy, brightening the photo without turning the on-screen faces ghostly pale. In moderate, "maybe I need a flash?" scenarios, the results are (perhaps unsurprisingly) hit or miss. Sometimes, the flash helps the image; other times, the additional lighting ends up harsh. This camera is more sensitive to movement than its lower-pixel predecessor, resulting in slightly blurred images (or shaky video) if you don’t have a steady hand; using the flash does help with this issue.

[Editor's Note: All images are scaled down from original size to fit website requirements.]
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
And at 12 megapixels compared to the iPhone 6’s 8, the rear-facing camera can capture so much more light, color, and detail in images than before. I took the phone on vacation to Maui, where I shot jungles, clouds, and lots and lots of beaches. In daylight photos, the variations in blues in the ocean and sky were noticeably greater on the new iPhone. Even with the sun below the horizon or at a candlelit tiki lounge, the camera could pick up enough light for rich, beautiful photos.

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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Apple introduced a new camera feature for the 6s to help capture such moments: Live Photos. Live Photos records the second or so before and after you hit your camera’s shutter, resulting in something between a video and a GIF. It can capture the happy chatter before a group photo, the crashing of waves on sand, or the way a flower flutters in the breeze. Perfecting the Live Photo requires a slight change in behavior — instead of snapping a picture and lowering your phone immediately afterward, you need to hold the phone still before and after you tap the shutter (a Live Photo update is on the way to correct for this, ending the Live Photo if you raise or drop the camera suddenly).

While a pre-planned Live Photo glamour shot turns out feeling like a well-manicured Instagram, I actually found the more impromptu and accidental Live Photos more entertaining: one of my boyfriend where he says “I think these sunglasses make me look fat,” and another of a hen pecking at someone’s leftover breakfast biscuit on the ground. These are the things that make you smile and chuckle and really remember what an experience was like — the things you may have forgotten if you’d only snapped the photo you were planning to take. If social media platforms start letting you post Live Photos to networks soon (and Facebook does plan to), I think Live Photos could take off in a big way. I certainly had fun taking them — lots of them.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
But then, of course, when you want to capture longer than two or three seconds of life, you can take video — 4k video, in fact. 4k video has four times the pixels as 1080p HD in each shot, so you can really get Planet Earth levels of detail. Honestly, right now, there’s no real reason to shoot anything in 4k unless you actually have a 4k monitor or television, or you want to zoom in on (ENHANCE!) part of what you recorded. Save a little space on your phone and stick with 1080p HD at 60fps, particularly if you’re filming action shots (you can record from 720p to 4k, adjustable in Settings). Either way, though, the video quality is excellent and captures low-light scenarios better than earlier iPhones.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Touchy, But In A Good Way
For the first time, your iPhone can detect not only touch, but pressure as well. With 3D Touch, you can press (rather than just tap) to gain access to menus, shortcuts, and other features on your phone. If you’re one of those people who gets satisfaction out of pressing physical buttons, you’ll really like this feature.

When you press an app icon from the home screen, a quick action menu that pops up that lets you accomplish a task with one or two fewer taps than normal. You can press the Maps app icon to quickly search for what’s nearby or get directions home. In Messages, you have the option to send a text to one of your most recent contacts; from the Camera app, you can tap to take a selfie or record slo-mo. Honestly, in most of these cases, it maybe saves you a fraction of a second over using the app the old-fashioned way. Maps seems to be the biggest 3D Touch time saver, in my experience.

The pressing action you make with your finger is longer and more forceful than a simple tap, but it's still subtle — not like what you have to do with one of those pressure-sensitive checkout displays at the grocery store. A satisfying haptic feedback vibration lets you know when you’ve done it successfully.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
You can also use this pressure-sensitive gesture within apps like Mail and Photos. You can “peek” with an initial press, which lets you look at content, like an email, without leaving your inbox. From there, you can give an extra press to “pop” open the email if you decide you want to reply to it right away. Similarly, in Photos, you can peek at a Live Photo or video to play it without going full-screen.

3D Touch is definitely convenient, but it has a few downsides. First, it takes a few days of practice to differentiate between the pressure levels of a tap, a peek, and a pop. There’s also the issue that, when you do preview an email or a photo, your finger is obscuring part of the screen. Lastly (and this is more of a personal quibble), I wish you could customize what quick actions you can take when you press an app icon. For example, right now you can only start the timer, start the stopwatch, or create an alarm when you press the Clock icon — why can’t I set an existing alarm from this menu?

Once a few upcoming third-party apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Dropbox roll out their 3D Touch integration, this capability will transform the iPhone into even more of a power-user device.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Speedy All Around
Everything about the iPhone 6s is faster: app loading, LTE capabilities, and autofocus on photos and videos.

Touch ID, the fingerprint sensor in the iPhone’s home button, is blazingly fast. No more press-then-pause to wake your iPhone up. Most of the time, the iPhone 6s snaps awake the instant you press the home button. Apple claims it’s twice as fast as the old button, and that certainly seems accurate.

Inside, everything is powered by a speedier, more efficient A9 processor. Between improvements with this chip and with iOS 9, I noticed markedly better battery life over an iOS 8-running iPhone 6. With my normal usage, which usually leaves 25-50% battery left on a good day, the iPhone 6s was at 50-75%; for heavy usage that would normally require an extra charge or battery pack on an iPhone 6, the 6s still had more than 25% battery left. (And the 6s Plus has even better battery life.)

The iPhone 6s can also now handle “Hey Siri” requests anytime. Previously, your iPhone could respond to Siri queries sans home-button press as long as it was plugged in. Now, you can access Siri anytime, anywhere, by just saying “Hey Siri.” A query made from a locked screen takes a second or so longer than with the home-screen open.
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Photo: Courtesy Apple.
Paired with the vast software improvements in iOS 9 (you can read more about that here), the iPhone 6s feels like the most complete iPhone yet. Pieces that before felt disjointed and disparate — Siri, search, Maps — now fit together holistically for a more efficient smartphone experience. And pieces that were pretty good before, such as the camera and Touch ID, are now faster, more accurate, and more fully featured. 3D Touch adds an extra layer of shortcuts across the OS that are there if you need them, and can be ignored if not. And Live Photos offers a new way of capturing moments that could completely change how you take photos.
In the iPhone’s case, reinventing the wheel seems to be a very good thing.