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iPhone 6s vs iPhone 6s Plus: Why the Plus Wins

Choosing between Apple's two flagship phones is not just about picking small or big. Yes, the screen sizes of the iPhone 6s (from $649) and 6s Plus (from $749) are a major consideration, but there are other factors at play. Both phones also differ when it comes to their cameras, software, battery life and price.

The new iPhones benefit from the new 3D Touch feature, Live Photos and Apple's fast new A9 processor, but based on our analysis, the iPhone 6s Plus is the better choice. Here's our round-by-round breakdown.

Design/Portability

Both versions of the new iPhone sport sturdier bodies made of 7000 series aluminum, and they have a strong glass cover in the front.

Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Samuel C. Rutherford / Tom's Guide)

You can also get both devices in the new Rose Gold color, in addition to last year's three hues. Otherwise, the physical difference between these phones is pretty stark.

Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Samuel C. Rutherford / Tom's Guide)

At 6.2 x 3.1 x 0.29 inches and 6.8 ounces, the iPhone 6s Plus is definitely a handful compared with the iPhone 6s' 5.4 x 2.6 x 0.28 inches and 5 ounces.

The Plus fit in my front jeans pocket, but I could definitely tell it was there when I climbed stairs. By comparison, I barely noticed the iPhone 6s in my pocket.

I needed to hold the smaller iPhone 6s closer to my face when watching Game of Thrones.

Winner: iPhone 6s. The iPhone 6s is easier to carry and use with one hand.

Display

This round is a no-brainer. It's not that the iPhone 6s' 4.7-inch screen is bad — it's plenty bright and colorful. However, its low 1334 x 750-pixel resolution seems dated now that you can get a full HD Android phone for hundreds less. The iPhone 6s Plus gives you 1920 x 1080 pixels, plus a bigger canvas at 5.5 inches.

Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Samuel C. Rutherford / Tom's Guide)

I noticed a huge difference between these two iPhones when watching Game of Thrones on the HBO Go app and various movie trailers. I felt like I needed to hold the 6s closer to my face to see the action.

Although Apple says that both models are equally bright, we did see slight differences in our testing. The iPhone 6s Plus averaged 498 nits, which is brighter than the iPhone 6s (452 nits). Both new iPhones scored nearly perfect color accuracy with Delta-E ratings below 0.5 (0 is perfect).

Winner: iPhone 6s Plus. Its larger and sharper screen is much more impressive.

Camera

The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus make the jump to 5 megapixels from 1.2 megapixels for the front camera and to 12 megapixels from 8 megapixels for the back shooter in this generation.

Outdoor Photo Comparison: iPhone 6s (right); iPhone 6s Plus (left) | Credit: Mark Spoonauer

(Image credit: Outdoor Photo Comparison: iPhone 6s (right); iPhone 6s Plus (left) | Credit: Mark Spoonauer)

In daylight photos, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus delivered similarly impressive results, with fantastic color and contrast.

However, only the iPhone 6s Plus offers optical image stabilization, which enables the handset to capture better images in low light. We put this to the test by using both Apple phones to snap a shot of tchotchkes in low light.

Low-Light Comparison: iPhone 6s (right); iPhone 6s Plus (left) | Credit: Mark Spoonauer

(Image credit: Low-Light Comparison: iPhone 6s (right); iPhone 6s Plus (left) | Credit: Mark Spoonauer)

The Plus snapped a brighter photo without losing much sharpness.

Winner: iPhone 6s Plus. You'll simply get better images in dim conditions without having to use the flash.

Software

Both the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus run iOS 9, giving you access to a new Proactive Assistant (swipe left from the home screen), Siri enhancements and improved Notes and Maps apps. However, only the Plus continues to feature a dual-pane mode when you turn the phone to landscape orientation, allowing you to view more info at once.

iPhone 6s Plus in landscape mode. | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford

(Image credit: iPhone 6s Plus in landscape mode. | Credit: Samuel C. Rutherford)

For instance, in the email app, you can see your inbox on the left and the content of your messages on the right.

You should see at least 1.5 hours of more battery life on the iPhone 6s Plus.

Same thing goes for the Notes and Calendar apps. You can also view the home screen in landscape mode — which you can't on the iPhone 6s. In other words, the 6s Plus feels more like a mini computer, and it should for the extra $100.

Winner: iPhone 6s Plus. The dual-pane view in certain apps makes you more productive with the phablet.

Battery Life

With the new Low Power mode option in iOS 9, the new iPhones can last through most of the day, but the iPhone 6s Plus has more staying power. The Plus packs a 2750 mAh battery, versus a 1715 mAh battery for the iPhone 6s.

On our battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE at 150 nits of screen brightness, the iPhone 6s lasted 6 hours and 46 minutes on AT&T's network. The 6s Plus lasted a much longer 8:43 on T-Mobile. Granted, we've found that T-Mobile phones tend to offer more endurance than other carriers' devices, but you should still see at least 1.5 hours of more runtime on the Plus.

Winner: iPhone 6s Plus. The bigger battery delivers.

Price and Value 

If you're willing to pay full retail price, the 16GB iPhone 6s Plus costs $100 more than the 16GB iPhone 6s. For that kind of premium you should get more storage, but that's the subject of another column. The delta looks less daunting, though, when you look at monthly installment plans.

On Verizon, for example, the 16GB iPhone 6s starts at $27.08 per month for 24 months and $31.24 for the 16GB iPhone 6s Plus. That extra $4.16 doesn’t seem like much, but you could apply the same delta toward jumping from 16GB to 64GB on the iPhone 6s. That's four times the storage. AT&T's pricing is fairly similar, with the 16GB 6s costing $21.67 per month for 30 months and $25 for the 64GB model.

iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s PlusView Deal

Apple charges a little bit more per month because its upgrade program includes Apple Care+ support. Regardless, we're talking about a $4 to $5 monthly difference between the 6s and 6s Plus

Winner: iPhone 6s. Assuming you don't mind a smaller screen, the iPhone 6s is the better deal.

Best Choice: iPhone 6s Plus

Overall, the iPhone 6s Plus is our top pick between Apple's two new handsets. Both are great devices and have a lot to offer, but the Plus' larger and sharper display, better low-light camera and longer battery life make it the one we'd buy.

The iPhone 6s benefits from a lighter and more compact design you can more easily use with one hand (without having to engage Apple's Reachability software) and a lower starting price. Ultimately, though, the iPhone 6s Plus is the best iPhone you can buy.