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iPhone  header logo
 IPHONE HARDWARE REVIEW
iPhone 6s review
Fatter and faster
 
 Handset: iPhone 6S 
 Manufacturer: Apple 
 Price: From £539 
by Jon Mundy
If you were an average consumer, you'd have already made your mind up about the iPhone 6s by now.

This is the latest version of the most popular smartphone brand in the world, from the biggest tech company in the world.

It's possible the only phone release this year that will have been covered in the evening news, and it's already sold more than 13 million units at the time of writing, less that a week after its release.

But you're not an average consumer, are you? Otherwise you wouldn't be here, wondering what a gaming-focused website thinks about a £600 mobile phone.

So, with due attention to specs and colours and all that jazz, let's take a look at the iPhone 6s from the perspective of someone who likes their smartphones, but REALLY likes playing mobile games. Just like you.

Design



If you're not particularly au fait with Apple's design methodology, you might think it's a little cheeky that the iPhone 6s looks just like the iPhone 6.

And you're right, it does look the same. To the naked eye, it's virtually identical - unless you opt for the new beguiling/gaudy (delete according to taste) Rose Gold colour.

But this is how Apple has always run its smartphone business. Its design cycle operates on a two year basis - so every other year, out pops a completely new-looking iPhone. Those are the plain-numbered ones.

The years in between are the 'S' years, where little if anything changes on the outside, but lots of work is done on the phone's internal components and capabilities. This is an 'S' year.

What differences there are in the iPhone 6s's external design might even be considered as negatives. It's a little bit thicker than its predecessor, and it's a not inconsiderable 14g heavier.

You might read some reviews saying that this improves the feel of the iPhone 6s, but that's a little fanciful. They wouldn't be saying the same thing if they'd ever embarked on a two hour Call of Champions session, that's for sure.

More weight is never a good thing in a portable device, but it's not a deal breaker by any means - especially when you consider why that weight has been added. Which we will, but not yet.

In actual fact, the iPhone 6s design has been radically modified. You just can't see it. It's now much tougher than before, with a rugged new form of aluminium making up its chassis and a more scratch-resistant form of glass on its front. If you like going case-free, as many gamers do, this is a major plus.

One flawed design choice carried over from the iPhone 6 is the positioning of the speaker. It's on the bottom edge of the phone, and it's ridiculously easy to cover with your hand when gaming. It's not stereo either.

Features



As I've mentioned, Apple concentrates more on internal matters with its 'S' phones, so the iPhone 6s has a number of notable new features.

One of these is the iPhone 6s's new 12-megapixel camera.

Yes, an increase in megapixels (among other improvements) means that the iPhone 6s takes even better pictures than before, but as the iPhone 6 already took great photos, that's not such a big deal.

There's also a new 5-megapixel selfie-cam, but you don't strike me as the sort of person who takes their selfies too seriously. Don't let me down here.

No, the big new camera feature Apple's trying to flog here is Live Photos. These are essentially little three second animated GIFs that are automatically captured when you raise your phone to take a picture.

The idea is that you capture the moments (including the sounds) around your shots. This has the potential to work well when taking shots of people and events, but not so much if you use your camera for a lot of practical memory aids (taking pictures of articles, labels, recipes and such) and other shots of inanimate objects.

Also, you'll invariably find yourself with lots of shots of your shoes as you put your camera down, though Apple is working on fixing this.

The issues with these Live Photos, which take up twice as much space as normal images, is that Apple hasn't changed its storage options. 64GB and 128GB are fine, but the default 16GB option is way too small - particularly if you intend to download and retain a lot of games. Which you do, obviously.

We haven't even mentioned the iPhone 6s's biggest new feature yet. It's called 3D Touch, it could have major ramifications for mobile gaming, and we'll discuss it more in the very next section.

Screen



The iPhone 6s's 4.7-inch display is identical to the iPhone 6's, which means it's also got the same 750p resolution. This doesn't hold a candle to the latest Android phones, but then they're invariably much bigger, and it's still debatable whether you really need a 2K picture on your phone.

What matters is that the iPhone 6s display is plenty crisp enough for the kind of HD content (including games) that you'll be experiencing on it. It's also bright, vibrant, and just about usable with one above-average-sized hand.

Of course, if the mobile gaming experience is of paramount importance to you ahead of all other practical matters, you're probably better off with the iPhone 6s Plus. Its 5.5-inch 1080p display is bigger and considerably sharper, making for a superior gaming canvass.

The real story with the iPhone 6s's screen, though, is 3D Touch. This is the main reason the iPhone 6s is larger than before, but the compromise is worth it.

This new screen technology essentially registers the weight of your press, adding a whole new axis to your interactions.

Apple uses this new input method in a number of ways, but its implementation has been helpfully described elsewhere as a kind of 'right-click for iOS'. Just as you hit the right mouse button on your computer to access little shortcut menus and alternative options, so 3D Touch operates on the iPhone 6s.

Press a little harder on the screen on the camera app icon, and a little menu will pop up offering you the chance to jump straight to the selfie camera. Do so on the phone icon, and you'll be offered a list of frequently used contacts to quickly call up.

It works within Apple's apps, too. Press a little harder on an email in your Mail inbox and you'll be able to preview it without opening it. Then just increase the pressure to pop into it, or release to go back to the inbox. It works the same for internet links received in Mail or Messages.

The potential gaming applications are many and varied, and some of them were highlighted during the iPhone 6s announcement when forthcoming shooter Warhammer Freeblade was demoed.

During the demo, you could simply press a little harder to zoom in while shooting, without having to take your finger off the screen.

Making intuitive sense of these disparate uses is the Taptic Engine - a much more sophisticated vibration motor that provides little contextual taps and prods depending on how hard you're pressing the screen and whether the action is accepted.

Overall I'm impressed by how 3D Touch works, but it's up to third party game and app developers to apply the technology properly. Right now, Apple's implementation is excellent, but a little isolated.

Gaming & Performance



It's kind of been forgotten over the years, but the 'S' in Apple's S-models used to stand explicitly for 'Speed.'

Judging from the iPhone 6s, it still does. This thing flies.

If you've read many smartphone reviews from specialist websites over the years, you'll know that this has become a bit of a meaningless statement.

Of course a new phone is faster than the last one. It rarely changes the basic experience of accessing apps and games, opening the camera, and surfing the web, though.

In gaming terms, I'm afraid that remains the case. It's Apple's own fault really - the tight leash it holds on its hardware and the way developers utilise it means that even an iPhone 5S will will still run new games brilliantly well. Some problem, eh?

I tested a range of 3D games that are known to put Apple's hardware through the ringer on the iPhone 6s. These included Vainglory (which featured in the iPhone 6 launch event), Infinity Blade III, Real Racing 3, XCOM: Enemy Within, and Dead Trigger 2. They all played flawlessly... but then they all play flawlessly on the iPhone 6 too.

Put simply, we just don't need the iPhone 6s's all-conquering A9 CPU and 2GB of RAM to enjoy the games on the App Store to their fullest. Not right now, at least.

Naturally, as we move into 2016 and 2017, that will change - not least as developers start making 3D Touch-enabled games.

As for general performance, the iPhone 6s makes meaningful improvements in a number of thoughtful ways.

For example, the A9 chip that powers it might well be ridiculously fast. But it's the way it works with its newly expanded RAM allotment to keep opened apps and websites in stasis in the background (rather than constantly reloading them) that makes a real difference.

So too Apple's TouchID system, which is the fingerprint recognition gizmo stashed under the home button. It's an all new and improved version - the first since it launched with the iPhone 5S - which responds to your touch almost instantly.

With Apple pushing its TouchID-authorised Apple Pay mobile payment system hard - including here in the UK - this performance boost makes a real, meaningful difference in day to day life.

The Good



The iPhone 6s brings a meaningful improvement to performance that feels like more than just the usual spec one-upmanship.

Multitasking is suddenly genuinely useful, TouchID is near-instantaneous, and gaming performance looks guaranteed to be beyond adequate for several years to come. Buying an iPhone 6s is as close to assured future-proofness as it's possible to get for a mobile gamer right now.

Speaking of which, in 3D Touch, we could have the future of smartphone game controls. Expect to see plenty of games coming out over the next 12 months that incorporate another layer of input sophistication off the back of it.

Add in a more rugged construction and an improved camera, and you have a worthwhile purchase for any non-iPhone 6 owner.

The Bad



There's no denying that Apple has had to compromise a little on form factor in order to squeeze in that 3D Touch tech - the iPhone 6s is noticeably chunkier than the iPhone 6.

Also, its 4.7-inch, 750p display won't be suited to some of the more advanced and complex games on the App Store in the way that the iPhone 6s Plus and some top Android phones are.

It's also about time Apple thought about relocating the iPhone speaker to a place that isn't prone to being covered when gaming. It was a problem with the iPhone 6, and it's a problem here.

While it's at it, Apple should finally ditch that 16GB entry model - it's not nearly enough to hold even a moderate number of games, photos, and apps.

Overall



Apple has supercharged the iPhone 6 to produce the iPhone 6s, a familiar-looking phone that's actually been completely revamped on the inside.

The iPhone 6s's increased performance will enable you to play the latest games for years to come, while its new 3D Touch feature will positively shape the design of smartphone game interfaces over that same period.

It's not the best gaming phone out there - that honour belongs to the iPhone 6s Plus with its larger and sharper screen. But it's the second best, and is arguably a more usable phone day to day.
 

Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy 6 October 2015
An impeccably made phone, the iPhone 6s's familiar design houses unparalleled power and an innovative new input system that could influence the path of mobile game design for years to come
  IPHONE 6S REVIEW
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 [READERS' RATING] N/A 
Specs Size138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm
Weight143 g
Battery1715 mAh
CPUApple A9 dual-core 1.84 GHz
Memory16GB / 64GB / 128GB 2GB RAM
Screen4.7-inch IPS LCD with 750 x 1334 pixel resolution
SoundMono speaker, 3.5mm headphone socket
Input/OutputLightning port
NetworkingWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
Other features12-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front camera
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