The iPhone 6s and iOS 9 are six months old. Here's what we think.
It's been an eventful six months for iPhone and iOS: Though the 6s is just a half-year old, it's been joined by a 4-inch upstart — the iPhone SE — and iOS 9 has seen three significant updates, culminating with iOS 9.3. Is the iPhone 6s still best in class? Have any of our iOS wish list items been checked? Here's our six-month review.
First: Are you still happy with the iPhone 6s and iOS 9?
Yeah. Hell yeah. For the last couple weeks I've been shrink-graded to the iPhone SE, but my heart is still with iPhone 6s Plus. It's everything I loved about the bigger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus but with the convenience of 3D Touch and a much-improved camera. Oh, and ludicrous speed.
iOS 9 wasn't as transformational as iOS 7, which had a whole new design, or iOS 8, which changed the functionality game with extensions, but it's been solid. The biggest thing it's given me is compatibility with Apple Watch, which is huge but another topic entirely.
Internally, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are just about perfect. They have a stunning camera for both photographs and video, blazing fast processor, and I almost never run into slowdowns, even when attempting somewhat memory-intensive tasks. When it comes to the exterior, however, I'm still not convinced. My iPhone 6s is rose gold and stunning — but you'd never know, because I've kept it in a case my entire time with the phone. The slippery rounded bezel is still too prone to slipping out of my hand for me to want to ever risk it caseless; my iPhone 6 still bears gravity's scars, and I'm not stupid enough to do it a second time. Instead, my 6s lives in Apple's Smart Battery Case, both to keep it protected and to extend its battery life. I had no qualms about my battery life on the 6s Plus, but once I returned to the 6s, mid-day drain became a definite problem for my power-user habits.
iOS 9 has continued to impress as Apple's internal team polishes. There are still bits that elude me — despite the Proactive system being a neat concept, I rarely use anything the phone suggests save for recently-opened apps — but the company has made big strides in solidifying the operating system and pushing forward great initiatives like Night Shift.
I haven't used the iPhone 6s as much as I thought I would back in September, largely because I immediately gravitated to its larger sibling, the 6s Plus. While I spent most of the previous year with the iPhone 6, thinking its Plus counterpart too big, something coalesced in the intervening 12 months, and now I can't get enough of the 5.5-inch screen.
It also helps that iOS 9, despite lacking picture-in-picture (which I believe to be a fundamental omission from the 6s Plus), feels more like a full-fledged desktop OS than ever before, even on a phone screen. Subtle things, like the interchange between 3D Touch-based multitasking and quick access to content through the Today menu in Notification Center, makes a huge difference in getting things done. And it's so much easier to type on the larger screen, especially in portrait.
I was never happy with Apple's decision to update its flagship phone exclusively as a larger device. That's why I never upgraded to the iPhone 6 or 6s. Thank goodness Apple launched the iPhone SE this year. I finally have a current model device, but it feels exactly the same as my favorite design, the iPhone 5.
As for iOS 9, overall, I'm pleased. Since updating to iOS 9.3, there are a few features that are even more impressive, like Night Shift mode.
Let's talk iPhone first. What size are you using right now?
iPhone SE, because shiny and new. But I used the iPhone 6s Plus from September until March, and I'll be back to using it again fairly soon. If the iPhone is a pocket-sized window into the internet and apps, then the iPhone Plus is the biggest such window that will still fit into most pockets.
That means, when I'm out and about, even if I don't have a MacBook or iPad Pro with me, I can still get some measure of work done. Oh, and watch surprise Star Wars or Marvel trailers at a decent size. That's invaluable.
I just switched back to an iPhone 6s after months of using 6s Plus — and wow, does it feel better. Now, the 6s Plus has a lot of phone going for it: I love its optically-stabilized video and huge screen, and it's hard to say no to its incredible battery life. But I found that as nice as having an almost-tablet in my pocket is, it's also a bit dangerous if you have a job you can get done with a computer. I'd frequently spend longer amounts of time attempting to work on my 6s Plus rather than switch over to my iPad or Mac — even when the task made far more sense to do on the larger devices. I guess I'm device lazy. Switching back to the 6s has gotten me out of most of these bad habits, and I can't say I hate being able to put my phone comfortably into a pocket again.
iPhone 6s Plus! But also iPhone SE! And the contrast is so stark it's almost comical. Going between them, as I have been for two weeks or so, allows you to see the diversity of experiences inherent in using the same operating systems with a screen nearly 40% larger and with over two million more pixels.
Subjectively, going back to using a one-handed phone is a relief, but typing is cramped and reading is much more difficult (though it could be due to my quickly-aging eyes!). That said, I'm going to stick with the iPhone SE for a while and see what comes of it.
iPhone SE in the house!
Are you sticking with the 6s, or are you coveting the SE?
I'm using the SE because it's review season, and I want to give it a fair shot, and because it really is the fastest engine in the smallest body imaginable. But I'll be back on iPhone 6s Plus eventually.
The display size simply can't be beat for me, and that camera — including the optical image stabilization — is just aces.
And yeah, I do miss 3D Touch when it's not there. I've made it a point to use it to increase my navigational speed and so now I'm pressing hard on the SE and it kinda keeps looking at me like "What's your problem, pressy person?!"
I thought very, very briefly about picking up the SE, but in the end, chose the 6s to return to. I love the design and form-factor of the 4-inch screen, but it's just a teensy bit too small for my purposes. 4.7-inch is the sweet spot for my enjoyment — and my pockets. And though most people may look at 3D Touch as a niche feature, I love having it on my iPhone. I use left-edge multitasking constantly, as well as the Settings app's 3D Touch shortcut to turn on Low Power Mode.
There are a couple of things keeping me from going SE full-time: the vibration motor, which sounds like a chainsaw compared to the Taptic Engine inside the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus; and 3D Touch-based multitasking, which I didn't realize how much I used until I no longer had it in front of me.
Six months in, what's your favorite feature?
The speed and optics. I'm cheating by bundling them together, but the A9 processor includes the Image Signal Processor (ISP) that helps make the camera so great.
I can grab my phone, take a picture, and have something not only usable, but natural and often times beautiful, without any fuss or muss. And when you just want to capture a moment, especially a fleeting moment, that's all that matters.
What I can capture with the camera still blows me away. Though Apple may not be alone at the top of the camera pile anymore, I still feel like the A9+12MP iSight consistently offers the best camera experience in the smartphone world. I'm also a huge fan of Live Photos and leave the feature on practically all the time, because I love seeing what little quirks those three seconds of video pick up on either side of the shutter.
Seconding Bader. Camera and Live Photos are a constant delight. I've even taken some hero shots for iMore with my iPhone camera over my DSLR — camera you have with you, and all that — and they've come out great. I also really enjoy 3D Touch shortcuts, even if no one else does.
What are you less than thrilled with?
If Apple would just delete the bezels, double the battery size, and make it twice as light, it would be perfect. Oh, wait? You mean in a universe with physics and stuff. Okay…
I wish iPhone 6s also had OIS. I wish I could double-click the sleep/wake button to quickly access the camera. I wish it had four speakers like iPad Pro, so I didn't cover up the sound so freaking always. I wish the screen was 10-bit and DCI-P3 color space. (Yeah, sure, native @3x would be nice to avoid the scaling flicker, but only when it's power-efficient.)
But those are more hopes for the future than condemnations of the present. Apple made a lot of smart choices with the iPhones 6s, and it shows.
Battery life on the 6s isn't great for power users, especially coming from a 6s Plus. The iPhone Smart Battery Case helps a ton, but if I have to hide my beautiful phone in a case, I sure wouldn't mind if Apple put out just a few more colors in its lineup: Rose gold case for Rose gold phone, maybe?
The iPhone 6s Plus is massive: it's heavier than its predecessor, and compared to other 5.5-inch phones on the market, it feels unwieldy. Apple has to, at some point, improve the screen to bezel ratio, which will hopefully cut down on the amount of extra space above and below the display. While I understand the home button is necessary for a number of tasks, I'm hoping it gets incorporated into display itself at some point — if not iPhone 7, then iPhone 8!
As I mentioned before, I'm less than thrilled with the size of the iPhone 6s. After watching Ren and Bader taking pictures with their iPhone 6s, I can admit that the larger screen does look like it is great for photography, but it is still too large to be comfortable for me.
What's your number one wish-list item for iPhone 7?
Lighter. Hey, stop laughing. Seriously. When I use an iPhone 6s Plus I use it constantly. I check messages while out walking, I read before going to bed, and it's still heavy enough that I feel the weight after a while.
Apple's "obsession" with thinness has always been a side effect of lightness, because lightness is core to usability. iPhone 6s Plus traded some lightness for 7000 Series aluminum, a Taptic Engine, and 3D Touch. Just like iPad 3 did for Retina. I'd like to see the Plus get that lightness back and then some. Just like iPad Air.
Oh, yeah, and even more waterproofing, inductive charging, dual cameras, and, of course, delete the bezels!
I would not mind a case redesign for iPhone 7: The screen size is great, but those curved bezels will be the death of my phone if left caseless. With something as gorgeous as the rose gold iPhone, you want to feel like you can show it off, not hide it away in a case.
I'm also hoping for more depth of field in the iPhone 7's camera. When taking photo comparisons last month with the Galaxy S7, I definitely felt a bit jealous comparing my macro photos to the S7's gorgeous f/1.7 aperture — though Apple would need to first fix the light and pixel dilation problems a larger aperture would present.
As attractive as the iPhone 6s is, I believe Apple overcorrected from the 5s. The all-metal phone is too slippery, and often feels precarious while in the hand without a case. I don't worry about screen resolution or pixel density; I worry about the phone slipping from my hand and cracking on the concrete. Here's hoping the iPhone 7 has a more hand-friendly design.
Better be four inches is all I'm sayin'. No, actually, I'm certain the iPhone 7 will not have a four-inch model. But, if there is going to be a second generation iPhone SE released at the same time as the iPhone 7, I'd hope for 3D Touch.
Apple needs to go back to the drawing board on the EarPods. Those things are so uncomfortable (and the name is stupid) that I can't wear them for more than 10 minutes at a time. I know there are hundreds of third-party earbuds that are better, but I'd like to be able to use the freebies without them literally bruising my cartilage.
iOS: How's it been treating you?
Pretty great. I love the new deep and back links in iOS 9. They make it much easier to move into apps at specific places, and back out of them to exactly where you were before. The new typeface, San Francisco, is gorgeous and makes everything look fresh and elegant. News is a first step to what I hope will be a system-level news service. The new Spotlight stuff is really useful, though I'd love it to be a full-on, first-class Siri variant for text entry. And wow-bang do I love the new Notes app. The old one was a useful text sync tool. The new one lets me collect almost anything and have it available almost everywhere.
For iPad, everything from Split View to keyboard shortcuts makes working on an iPad much less work and much more productive. More of that, please.
Even with its occasional bugs, iOS 9 is lovely to spend time in — and between iPhone and iPad Pro, I spend a lot of time in it. As with all operating systems, there are still bits that need improvement, but I'm overall quite happy with what I can do in iOS 9.
Never better! I've reached a point where I spend more time on my iPhone than I do on my laptop, and increasingly feel comfortable taking on tasks, from editing documents to filing tax returns, that I wouldn't have just a couple of years ago. Much of that can be attributed to the incredible developer community, but credit to Apple for sticking with its single-screen modality and adding features, such as Handoff, Today widgets and Extensions, that add considerable value for power users. It's a deft balancing act that continues to defy expectations.
I haven't had any complications with iOS 9. The only real issue I've had is remembering all of the cool features that weren't there in iOS 8.
Your favorite feature?
Oh, not fair! If I had to choose, it would be deep and back links on iPhone, and multi-window multitasking on iPad.
On the iPhone, it's going to have to be iOS 9.3's Night Shift. I could never get into Fluxx on the Mac becuase the graphic designer in me saw nothing but "ORANGE!", but that feeling has gone away surprisingly quickly with iOS and Night Shift. Maybe it's because I'm largely viewing text and tweets at night, rather than photos and huge desktop screens, but I'm very thankful for the feature making bright white screens easier on the eyes. On the iPad, Split View is how I live my life. Without a Mac laptop, Split View and the keyboard's quick app switcher make my day-to-day work at iMore possible, and they've completely changed how I use the iPad, full stop.
It's a small thing, but being able to clear every notification from an entire day, rather than by app, has completely changed the way I interact with my iPhone. It took a long time, but I can finally say that Apple's notifications are as good as Android's, which was an area the OS underperformed for many years.
The app suggestion feature is one of my favorites. In the morning, the Remote app is on deck for me to control my Apple TV. When I connect my iPhone to my iHome iDL100 alarm clock at night, my sleep aid app, myNoise is right there on my Lock screen. I also love the additions to the Notes app. I'm all about making lists and the checklist feature in Notes is the best thing Apple ever did for productivity.
Your biggest frustration?
Most of my frustrations have been fixed over the last few years. I agree with Serenity and Bader that a better Home screen for iPad would be fab, and better custom keyboard support is overdue. I also wish Skype wouldn't ring on my phone after I've answered on my computer. Or call relay, same thing. More than anything, I'm looking forward to what's coming next.
Notification Center, despite its helpful widgets, is a mess. Widgets are helpful. Notifications are helpful. But the current display is chaotic and highly unhelpful. I really want to see Apple take a redesign stab at it in iOS 10.
Also: Home screen redesign, anyone? The 12.9-inch row of home screen icons just looks farcical at this point.
Third-party keyboards are still treated as second-class citizens, which I don't understand. It feels like Apple threw the functionality in there with iOS 8 and forgot about it. But I want to swipe with SwiftKey and predict with Fleksy, but neither are stable enough to continue using for more than a few hours.
iOS 9.3: Improvement? Too many bugs?
I've had no major bugs with iOS 9.3. Night Shift is neat, and the education stuff is the beginning of something special. Notes lock is okay, but I want it on the system level for every app. And I want News in more countries. Feels like even Apple Pay is moving faster, and that's... demoralizing?
Night Shift! What an awesome addition. Subtle, yes, but it's meant to just work. I don't have any quantitative data to suggest I am sleeping better, but I believe it's taking me less time to actually fall asleep now, which I think is the goal.
As mentioned above, I heart Night Shift. I'm also finding myself actually using the News app, now: The algorithms have been much improved, and I'm getting information I actually care about, rather than articles that seem to be pulled out of the sky.
Well, since Apple had to immediately pull the update for older devices, and then subsequently send out a second update to fix a bug with links in Safari, I'd say iOS 9.3 was off to a bad start. But, I haven't had any problems since the initial changes. I'm a big fan of Night Shift. I've been using Flux on my Mac for years, so I'm familiar with the concept. When my face is in front of a screen starting at 6:00 a.m., you'd better believe I don't want that harsh blue light burning my retinas first thing in the morning. So, yeah. I think the 9.3 update is an improvement.
Your top wish-list item for iOS 10?
Home screen redesign, home screen redesign, home screen redesign. Pretty please.
Let's start recognizing the Plus line for what it is: a small tablet. I want picture-in-picture and split-screen multitasking in landscape mode.
The only thing I can think of is better Handoff and Continuity. It is a source of frustration for me because sometimes Handoff and AirDrop works perfectly, and other times, I am stuck trying to figure out workarounds because I've lost the connection between devices.
What are your impressions?
Do you have an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus? How are you liking it, six months in? Let us know below.