Updated: December 16, 2017
With the media aswirl with the news of iPhone 8 and iPhone X, any talk about a device two versions old - at the very least - probably means very little to hardcore fans and users. However, in my case, it's the simple matter of getting access to a device I've not really used before, and writing a review of my experience, trends and media hype notwithstanding. In this case, Apple iPhone 6s.
You will recall that I did test iPhone 6 and used it for a long while, writing a follow-up six-month review about it. I was rather impressed with the build quality and the camera, less so by the extremely restricted ecospace that forces you to tune into the world of Apple. With the operating system bumped to iOS 11 and the hardware spec upgraded nicely, iPhone 6 is an interesting little product. I'm betting: not my cup of tea, but still, worth exploring. With all the reserved judgment of an Apple shareholder that I am, follow me.
All right, iPhone 6s is a 4.7-inch device, with a rather unusual 750x1334px 326ppi screen, powered by a dual-core 1.84GHz A9 processor, six-core GT7600 graphics, and 2 GB of RAM, with internal capacity up to 128 GB but no card slots. From a purely technical perspective, this is a significant beef up on hardware compared to iPhone 6.
If I'm not mistaken, this is the first iPhone with more than 1 GB of RAM. Stock spec, it runs iOS 9, which I've also tested in my previous iPhone review, but this one had iOS 11, with an extra update available. Quite neat, this whole operating system upgrade path, as I'm sure it helps keep people engaged with the product. Whether it merits prolonged use, we shall see.
The last of the audio jackians.
The camera has also been upgraded (if you like dem pixels) to 12 MP, with a whole bunch of sensors and options, including simultaneous 4K video recording and 8MP still images. You also have dual-band Wireless, USB jack (still), and proprietary USB 2.0 connection. Battery capacity is "only" 1715mAh, which is significantly less than what you get in the likes of Microsoft Lumia 950 or perhaps Motorola Moto G4, two phones that I actually do own and frequently use. Whether this makes an impact on usage time, we shall see. Moreover, the battery is not removable.
Using the phone
Now, the tricky part - and the actual essence of any smartphone experience. First, let me emphasize that this is still iPhone through and through. It's immediately recognizable, and it behaves like other members of this family. This is a good thing in the sense that you get a familiar look & feel and don't need to worry about things changing and making you fret and regret and lose time. Quality and consistency are undeniable.
However, that's only one part of the equation. Being able to actually use and enjoy the device is another, and here I started to struggle some. While the interface and the usage mode are familiar, they are also quite alien to how my mind works and what it expects. My mind runs on a different frequency from a typical iPhone user. The way the system is designed makes less sense to me, although - after so much pain and tribulation recently with different Linux desktops, a completely different topic - I fully understand and appreciate that it gives its users what they need and expect.
Settings & privacy
Generally, iOS 11 is like its predecessors, but it does offer a little bit more customization than in the past. You can change wallpapers, you can remove stock applications you do not like, and there's a very high degree of control and granularity in tweaking the system settings, with a strong focus on privacy. This one, no argument. You can change different aspects of what iOS does, much more so than with Android.
Apple Store and applications
This turned out to be a sensory overload. Yes, it's relatively easy to find what you need, and within just a few seconds, you will be able to browse and search videos, music, books, or software. There are free and paid options of course, and some rather high-quality results, too.
But then, you cannot have music that has not been uploaded through iTunes, and this still makes me rather angry. Why do I have to use a special program just to upload a bunch of MP3 songs into my library? Alas, it is so. Then, the recommendations, the popular stuff, the trending stuff and similar plebeian delights are right there, in your face, taunting and insulting your intelligence. I don't mind the fact low-IQ people enjoy their stupid stuff, but showing me the kool and hip search recommendations pisses me off. It also hides the decent material one or two clicks/swipes away, because you need to wade through the dross first.
What? Why the hell would you show me these trends?
This isn't unique to Apple though. Play Store is also rather busy and noisy, except that one feels less constricted for some odd reason. Strange how seemingly identical products can be so different. Microsoft realized it the best way from the ergonomic perspective, only they didn't have any real applications, and the Windows Phone is now no more.
Still, I sometimes really wonder if I live on the same planet as these shiny companies and their audience. Obviously not. Like most quintessentially American products, iPhone is first and foremost designed to cater to the home market, and this spirit imbues the product throughout. As I've outlined in my censorship article, you cannot apply the rather narrow Silicon Valley mentality and approach to life to the wider world and expect it to work. Or maybe you can. Meh, I don't care.
If I wanted to care about politics and social affairs, I'd do it out there, in real world. I don't need guilt
trips or any
feel-goodie morality compass pointers in my smartphone. I just want non-flashy, relevant, quality content.
4K HDR, who cares? Since when is HDR relevant to making a good movie?
The default collection of programs is decent enough. Apple does its small subset of applications rather well. Stocks, Health, Weather, some others, they might not look the way I'd like them, but they give you all the necessary information, and allow you to customize things so that you're happy with the output. Better than Windows Phone or Android.
Works like a charm. Probably the best part of this device. Except ... with 3D touch, you accidentally end up recording videos that you don't really want or need. I wasn't sure why I had about a dozen small 2-3MB videos in my DCIM folder, and then figured this must be part of this new experience whatnot. I don't like this. I am capable of choosing camera modes myself, and I don't need random video clips polluting my albums.
As with iPhone 6, I compared the results to my Lumia, and also to iPhone 6. I think the combo of the refined camera and new software in iOS 11 does a better job than before. Even with strong direct light, there's less glare, there's improved contrast, higher background resolution, truer colors and a much sharper final image. Lumia still offers superior results overall, but still, iPhone 6s has very good optics. This is definitely one of the sweeter all-rounder on-the-go camera devices. This is not a professional comparison test, so please relax.
Lumia on the left, iPhone 6s on the right.
The two iPhones, side by side - iPhone 6s on the right.
Excellent results in LLL conditions.
Battery & performance
This iPhone 6s is quite fast. Very smooth and elegant. I didn't notice any stutters or problems of any kind. Even after a bit of usage, the case remains cool. Battery charges are very fast, even from a laptop. I had it plugged in an old Asus eeePC, and even after only about an hour minutes, it was up from 6% to 55% charge. Contrast this with Lumia 950 that cannot be fully charged from the Lenovo G50 laptop, because its battery pulls more energy than the laptop. Golly.
So yes, iPhone 6s has about half the chemicals than the Lumia or Moto G4, but it also eats less juice, and consequently offers similar day-to-day usage between charges. That's very nice. I like efficient design, and it seems Apple guys have really tuned their phones to the max.
So what do we have here? Apple iPhone 6s is better than iPhone 6 in almost every way, including performance, user interface, camera, and then some. I do like the noticeable improvements. I'm also quite pleased with how tight and well-built the device is. No games. Apple does high quality stuff with precision and style.
In my iPhone 6 review, I wrote I would buy a Lumia and buy one I did. Now, with Windows Phone out of the equation, for my next phone, the alternative becomes a difficult choice of compromise. I don't like Android (too much), but it offers customization and simplicity than iPhone does not have. You can also find cheaper Androids that are still suitably robust and elegant. Unfortunately, iPhone is not just a phone, it's an expensive device and a complete, closed ecosystem. No flexibility.
My impression of iPhone is better than it was, but I still think it's not a device for someone like me. I enjoy having the freedom to change defaults, even if I never exercise it, and I like simple things. Having a special charger and using iTunes for anything digital are some of the many examples where Apple forces you to do things its way. If you like that, go for it. So I guess if given a gift, sure. But out of my own volition, no. I should be angry at Microsoft for killing off Lumia, for 'twas the dream phone. And now in between a brilliant but dead product and the Patrician ways of the iPhone, I will be forced to use a plebeian Android. Such is life. Anyway, iPhone is high-quality device, but it also comes with its own cage and padlock. C'est la vie.