Two Weeks with iPhone 6s

I’ve spent the past two weeks with the newly released iPhone 6s and while I didn’t plan on writing a full review, I suppose that’s what this ended up being. I think the majority of potential iPhone 6s customers will be coming from a device released prior to the iPhone 6, but most of the iPhone 6s reviews I’ve read were written by users who came from an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. I, on the other hand, moved to the 6s after spending two full years on an iPhone 5s. As such, my comments will be written from this perspective.

But first, I’d like to write a quick aside about FedEx. I ordered my iPhone 6s from AT&T minutes after preorders went live and it was scheduled to arrive on launch day. The problem is that I had to be at my day job at 1PM. I was hoping that the FedEx driver would arrive before then so that I could sign for the package before heading off for work. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out.

The delivery didn’t come in time and I frantically navigated to FedEx’s website in hopes of pre-signing for the package. My plan at that point was to give my fiancée’s father a call to pick it up when it arrived (after regularly checking Deliveries, naturally). But for whatever reason FedEx’s website wouldn’t allow me to pre-sign and I was forced to come to grips with the idea of spending the entire weekend without my new device.

A few hours later I received a text message from my fiancée telling me that the FedEx driver had called her and left a message asking if she would be able to meet up with him later in his route to pick up the iPhone. My fiancée’s phone number was associated with the package (being the primary line on our AT&T account) and he had a good idea of what the package contained. Knowing that there would be no other way for us to receive it before Monday, he went far above and beyond to ensure that we received our new iPhone as soon as possible.

My fiancée met up with him at one of his local business deliveries and, after signing for the package, sent me “iPhone now in my possession” via text message. Rarely do you see such an incredible example of customer service. So to that FedEx driver, thank you. You made my day.

3D Touch

I’d consider 3D Touch to be the feature with the most “wow factor,” but truth be told, I haven’t used it much in any practical situation. Though, I imagine this will change as time goes on and third-party developers add support in their applications. Currently, the only non-Apple app that I have installed on my iPhone with 3D Touch support is Fantastical — so far, it’s great, but the update only came out a couple of days ago and there’s no telling if I’ll continue to use the feature long-term.

As for 3D Touch at the system-level and in iOS’s built-in apps, it’s fine. I was expecting to be blown away by it, but that just hasn’t happened yet. I’ve peeked and popped in Mail and Safari, I’ve switched applications with a forceful swipe, and I’ve jumped into specific areas of an application by pressing its icon — so far, none of it has stuck. I’ve been using the iPhone since the initial model’s launch day and have built up very strong muscle memory that could take a long time to break — double clicking the home button is like second nature to me at this point.

I do think I’ll eventually form habits around 3D Touch, to the point where I’ll be lost if it ever goes away, but for now it’s a neat feature that demos well and is mostly forgotten until I accidentally press too hard on a link in Safari.

Battery Life

Coming from my iPhone 5s, the 6s’ battery life improvements can be described in one word: “dramatic.” To be fair, my 5s had gone through a full two years of recharge cycles and its battery was beginning to show its age — I’d often have to keep it in airplane mode while not in use in order to make it through an entire work day. But the 6s can make it from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed at night without having to be plugged in, easily.

I haven’t done any scientific battery testing, but when I check my usage time in Settings at the end of the day, I’m typically seeing about 6 hours of use with 20-30% left. That’s an order of magnitude better than the 3-4 hours of use before my iPhone 5s would power down.

If your current iPhone is still getting 6-7 hours of use before it dies, I wouldn’t run out to buy a new handset for more battery life alone. The 6s and 6s Plus would certainly be an improvement over your current handset in that regard, but the cost of a new phone isn’t worth the extra hour or so you’ll be able to get each day (especially with iOS 9’s improved battery management and Low Power Mode). The new iPhone’s battery is certainly good, but I’d say it’s only life changing if you’ve owned your current device for more than 18 months.

Camera

I don’t take pictures very often, certainly not in my day-to-day life. When I do take pictures I want the best quality possible, but I could probably count on one had the number of instances in which I take a lot of pictures throughout the year. As such, I’ve only ever taken a few shots with the iPhone 6s and all of them were of different product options in a store that I sent to my fiancée as a way of asking which ones she preferred.

So rather than discuss my opinions about Live Photos (which I still think are incredible), the new 12MP sensor (which I assume is a nice improvement), or the use of the device’s display as a true tone flash (which I believe is very clever), I will recommend Austin Mann’s camera-focused review of the iPhone 6s. It’s a relatively short nine-minute read (according to Instapaper) and well worth your time if you’re interested in iPhone photography.

Update 10/13/15: I’ve since spent an afternoon taking photos with the iPhone 6s and I couldn’t be happier with the resulting shots. The published images have been left completely unedited and in their original form to showcase what the camera is capable of.

Speed

It’s crazy to think about, but the iPhone 6s is actually the most powerful computer I’ve ever owned in most circumstances. I ran GeekBench (iOSMac) tests on my iPad Air 2, 2011 MacBook Air, and iPhone 6s and found that the 6s bests the other two in all instances aside from some multi-core tasks. That’s absolutely astounding. If you would have told me four years ago that I would be able to purchase a computer that fits in my pocket and is more powerful than my top-of-the-line 11-inch MacBook Air at most tasks — with better battery life, to boot — I wouldn’t have believed you. It still seems almost impossible.

But that’s the state of things today. Apple is capable of developing ARM chips that are more powerful and significantly more power-efficient than x86 processors from just a few years ago. To say the iPhone 6s is fast would be an understatement — it launches apps with no hesitation and its 2GB of memory is the real deal. In my two weeks with this device I’ve never had a webpage reload when switching between multiple windows in Safari and no task that I’ve thrown at it felt sluggish. The whole system runs as smooth as butter and I can imagine I’ll feel very comfortable using this device for my typical two years without any hint of jealousy when new iPhones are announced next year (at least from a performance standpoint).

Design

It’s difficult to describe how well designed the iPhone 6s is unless you see it in person. I purchased mine in space gray and it’s truly striking. I’ve heard rumblings in the past that Apple has had difficulty matching the space gray color across devices and model-years, but my 6s and iPad Air 2 match perfectly.

I’m sure many of you iPhone 6 owners came to this conclusion long ago, but it’s amazing to me just how reminiscent this design is to the original iPhone. It looks sleek and slim — I’ve already received countless comments from friends and colleagues about how thin the device is. But taking design cues from the original iPhone is not without its faults. The iPhone 6s is slippery. Especially when I’m pulling it out of my pocket — I always feel like I’m going to drop it. Luckily, the only time I actually have was on the carpeted floor in my living room. Though, I am worried that one day it’ll get away from me over a concrete floor and I’ll be stuck with a shattered screen. I’ve been told that the 6s’ 7000 series aluminum feels more grippy than the iPhone 6, but I’m comparing it to the angular shape of the iPhone 5s — a device that I only dropped once in the entire two years that I owned it and what I’d consider to be the most “grippy” model Apple’s ever made.

The device feels incredibly sturdy, though. Maybe it has to do with the extra weight when compared to previous iPhone models, but this thing’s like a brick — in a good way. On launch day there were plenty of videos depicting various bend tests to see how strong the 7000 series aluminum was, and although I’m not interested in trying to bend it myself, I can say that it feels like a device that’s capable of taking a beating without a hitch.

The camera bump is still a huge disappointment to me. iPhone 6 owners might have had the opportunity to get over it by now, but I can’t help but cringe every time my finger nudges the lens. Especially when you contrast it to the smooth edges around the screen and the rounded sides. The camera bump sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s definitely not a deal breaker, though, I’m sure I’ll eventually get over it. It’s also worth noting that I don’t use a case on my device — never have, never will — but the fact is, the majority of iPhone owners keep it in a case. Most cases completely hide the camera lens’ protrusion and prevent the vast majority of users from ever having to experience the discomfort of their pinky brushing against it as they pull it out of their pocket.

That brings me to the other major problem I have with the 6s’ design — the side lock button. I completely understand why Apple decided to move the button to the side, but not a day goes by that I don’t accidentally hit the volume buttons. If the volume buttons disappeared from the side of the device, the lock button would feel perfectly placed. But there’s no other natural location for the volume buttons to be. The lock button placement on the iPhone 6 and 6s are a compromise that I wish Apple didn’t have to make.

Now remember, I’m coming from the iPhone 5s and this is my first smartphone with a larger than 4-inch display. It was a dramatic change at first. My home screen felt barren with two empty rows and it took me several days before I developed a strategy for adding new icons to it — since then I’ve completely reorganized all subsequent home screens and might write about it sometime in the future.

I was surprised at how quickly it took for the larger display to feel natural to me. I still have a hard time reaching buttons in the far corners when using the device one-handed, but for nearly everything else it feels fine. There was almost no adjustment time for typing, it didn’t feel awkwardly large in my pockets, and I rapidly grew accustomed to the increased screen real estate. In fact, I picked up my fiancée’s phone a few days ago and it felt downright minuscule compared to the 6s.

One last little annoyance with the iPhone 6s’ design — and trust me it’s almost not worth mentioning — there’s been a few times when I really missed the iPhone 5s’ flat sides. There would occasionally be times when I’d balance my 5s on its side to playback YouTube videos while I’m working on my iPad. Unfortunately, that’s no longer possible. It’s certainly not as crucial as it used to be given that the iPad now supports picture-in-picture with iOS 9, but Google hasn’t yet added support for it in the official YouTube app. I’ll get used to it and its not like it was something I did very often, but being able to stand the 5s on its side was definitely handy in some situations.

Overall

The iPhone 6s is an outstanding device. I still have some problems using it one handed and I think I still prefer the industrial design of the iPhone 5s — the best iPhone ever made. But the 6s is well worth upgrading to if you still have an iPhone 5s or earlier. After using it for two weeks I can say that I have no idea how owners of Plus models get by. The 4.7-inch display feels like the absolute maximum size I could stand to use full time — I don’t think I’d manage to last more than an hour with a 6s Plus — it’s just too big. However, I don’t believe the 4.7-inch form-factor is the be-all, end-all. And while I doubt I could go back to a 4-inch display at this point, I’m willing to bet I’d be most comfortable with something in-between those two sizes. I’m not sure if Apple will ever do it, but something closer to 4.3-inches might be the sweet spot for me.

But regardless of my display size preference, the iPhone 6s is a truly magnificent device that shows how far ahead Apple is compared to the competition. The marriage of high-quality materials alongside features that are only possible when you design the hardware and develop the software serve as a great example of why Apple’s strategy of controlling the entire experience is vastly superior to designing an operating system that other companies install on their handsets. Alan Kay said it best: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”

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