Apple may have another hit on its hands with the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, if initial reviews of the latest smartphones out of Cupertino are any indication. The first wave of iPhone reviews hit the web today (Sept. 22), with testers lavishly complimenting the new features Apple added to its smartphone lineup.
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which hit retail shelves this Friday, Sept. 25, introduce a number of new features, highlighted by 3D Touch and camera improvements. The former lets you preview messages, web pages and other information with a firm press on the iPhone's screen while also adding shortcuts to the home screen. Camera improvements include a 12-megapixel rear camera, an improved FaceTime camera on front that now uses the iPhone's screen as a flash and Live Photos, which add motion and sound to still images.
Reviewers generally praised 3D Touch, though the feature seems to be in need of adoption by third-party app makers to really take off. Opinion was more divided on Live Photos, while reviewers seem to think that Apple has added enough camera improvements to stay a step ahead of rival Samsung. If there's one common complaint among the first iPhone 6s and 6s Plus reviews, it's the fact that Apple continues to offer a 16GB model, even as demand for larger-capacity smartphones grows.
Here's what individual reviewers think of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
Wall Street Journal
While Joanna Stern likes the iPhone 6s, she writes in The Wall Street Journal that smartphone innovation has clearly plateaued. Instead, she focuses on whether the new phone adds what's missing from its predecessor, finding that the iPhone 6s delivers on some fronts but misses the mark on others.
"I had to remind myself to use 3D Touch at first, but after two weeks, it’s becoming part of my iPhone muscle memory."
"The absolute best thing about the 6s is Live Photos. While capturing a still photo, it also captures a bit of live action. They’re awesome for reliving fun moments, especially of an active puppy or child, and anyone with an iOS 9 iPhone or iPad can view them."
"The No. 1 thing people want in a smartphone is better battery life. And the iPhone 6s doesn’t deliver that."
"If there were ever an iPhone that needed more storage, it’s this one, yet Apple continues to rip off customers with a 16GB base model ($649 without payment plan/contract), rather than offer a 32GB one."
Walt Mossberg's review for Recode finds that Apple added enough new features to its latest phones to justify an upgrade, with 3D Touch being the most important addition.
"After using it as my main phone all day every day for a couple of weeks, I believe the 6s is the best version ever of the best smartphone on the market, especially when combined with the new iPhone operating system, iOS 9."
"The iPhone 6s has a new, 12-megapixel rear camera, up from the eight-megapixel shooter Apple has used for years. But more megapixels can produce worse photos unless the sensor is improved, and Apple has taken pains to do this. The result in my tests — always performed with out-of-the-box auto settings — was sharper, more vivid photos than on the iPhone 6, especially at close distances and in low light."
"The base model, at $649, still comes with just 16 gigabytes of storage, while some other premium phone makers, including Apple’s top rival, Samsung, now start at 32GB for about the same price. This can be an important issue, since you can easily run out of space if you have a lot of photos, and the photos from Apple’s new cameras will be larger."
"[Live Photos] take up twice as much space as standard 12-megapixel shots. The feature is on by default, but can be turned off. This is another reason why it’s time Apple boosted its base-model storage to 32GB."
Editor-in-chief Nilay Patel is impressed with 3D Touch -- "It does far more than just turning pixels into buttons — it turns them into dynamic objects," he writes in his Verge review -- but calls the feature easy to forget unless you're a power user. What's really needed, Patel concludes, is app makers to add support for 3D Touch to their own apps.
"The foundation for 3D Touch is solid and well-considered, and it’s easy to see how the latent potential can turn into reality."
"The improvement in quality from the iPhone 6 to 6S when using the front camera is just tremendous; it takes realistic and usable photos now, not just pixelated approximations of moments from the past."
"The iPhone 6 design remains Apple's least elegant design since the plastic blob of the iPhone 3G and 3GS, thanks to its slippery shape, camera bulge, and weird antenna lines. The 6S Plus feels particularly surfboard-y in comparison to the Galaxy Note 5, LG G4, and Moto X, which all manage large screens in less ungainly packages."
"Between 4K video and Live Photos that eat up double the space of regular photos, it would be better if the richest company in the world took a little loss on its profit margins and sold phones with a reasonable amount of base storage."
New York Times
Brian X. Chen tests 3D Touch and Live Photos for the New York Times, and comes away with mixed feelings on the usefulness of the new features.
"Why not just shoot a video? The short answer is that there will be tiny moments in life where you would never have guessed you wanted to shoot a video, and now Live Photos has a chance to capture them."
"For owners of iPhones that are at least two years old (which includes the iPhone 5s and any generation before that), the new phones are an excellent overall upgrade."
"It was fun experimenting with 3D Touch, but I rarely felt compelled to use it."
"I strongly recommend against the 16-gigabyte model, largely because Live Photos are twice the size of a normal photo. For just $100 more, you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of your iPhone with 64 gigs."
Edward C. Baig says an upgrade to the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus isn't necessary, but those who do upgrade will be satisfied with their choice. His only major complaint in the USA Today review: a bit of a learning curve with the 3D Touch feature.
"The phones have outstanding 12-megapixel rear cameras and 5-megapixel front shooters. I was generally quite pleased with the sharpness and color on pictures I took under all sorts of lighting conditions."
"I expect you to be more than satisfied with the HD videos you shoot, especially on the 6S Plus which gets optical image stabilization to help ensure smooth video."
"3D Touch is something I think you’ll ultimately embrace, but don’t expect to master it immediately, even with subtle touch feedback. Even after several days, I sometimes pressed too hard or too gently or wasn’t precise enough."
3D Touch and Live Photos may be grabbing all the attention. But Sam Grobart's Bloomberg Business review cites the iPhone's improved processor as the real star of the show.
"We’re used to hearing that New Phone has a faster processor than Old Phone, but in this case, Apple’s A9 processor just screams with speed."
"3D Touch is executed perfectly. The question remains: What can you do with it? Right now, not all that much. ... Since third-party developers can and will take advantage of it, 3D Touch will probably benefit from additional programmers futzing around and coming up with new applications."
"Apple and others have hailed Live Photos as something revolutionary. I’m not so sure. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the feature seems little more than a nice, extra mode for the camera."
Lance Ulanoff calls the iPhone 6s Plus "something of a performance beast." While his Mashable review argues that it may not be a must-have upgrade for people with more recent smartphones, he says he'll find it hard to go back to an iPhone without 3D Touch or the ability to shoot 4K video.
"The iPhone 6s Plus handily beats the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ on Geekbench single-core scores and, despite the Galaxy's eight cores, also edges it out in multi-core performance numbers."
"I honestly can’t think of how Apple could have done this better. 3D Touch alone almost makes the iPhone 6S Plus worth the price of an upgrade."
"Apple says Live Photos help you capture those serendipitous moments that sometimes happen before and after you take a photo. I understand what they’re saying and have definitely missed a moment here and there, but even though I find the results entertaining I am unconvinced this is a must-have feature."
For Buzzfeed, John Paczkowski was charmed by Live Photos which he was "fully prepared to dismiss them as an S-year gimmick. But they’re actually quite compelling." He's also using 3D Touch regularly and is "impressed with how good it is at interpreting the force of my touch. It’s very much an Apple innovation — a seemingly subtle change so thoughtfully executed that it proves transformative."
At TechCrunch, Matthew Panzarino says the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus defy the expectation that the "tock" releases in Apple's "tick tock" update cycle are mere refinements, thanks in part to the A9 processor. "In terms of performance, the ‘tock’ years are really kicking the ‘tick’ years in the butt," he writes. He also calls 3D a major step "towards a future where our digital devices are as easy to comprehend and manipulate as the physical world is with our fingers."