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Apple iPhone 6s Plus review: Now even cheaper

iPhone 6S Plus hero shot
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £619
Incl VAT

The iPhone 6s Plus is incredibly fast, adds the brilliant 3D touch and has a top-notch camera – it’s a superb high-end phone


  • Excellent 3D touch
  • Powerful A9 chip
  • 3.5mm headphone jack


  • Expensive over Android rivals
  • Storage space can't be expanded

If you thought that the ‘S’ versions of Apple’s iPhone were a small upgrade before for the next big release, prepare to be impressed by the iPhone 6s Plus. With this model almost every element important to a smartphone has been changed, from the CPU and camera to the touchscreen interface. What’s more, Apple has focussed on making genuine improvements, not simply adding features just because the technology exists. It’s refreshing to see and makes this the high-end phone to beat.

As is usual for a new handset release, the new features largely rely on a combination of hardware and software. Since launch, when the phone ran the iOS 9 operating system, Apple has released an updated to iOS 9.1, iOS 9.2 and, more recently, iOS 9.3. As well as the usual bug fixes and tweaks, iOS 9.1 massively improved how Live Photos work. Given these changes, I’ve updated that part of this review to reflect the new features.

With iOS 9.2 the changes weren’t quite as big or as important, but 9.3 brought with it a handful of new features, including Night Shift, lockable notes plus smaller improvements to the Apple Health dashboard, Apple CarPlay, Apple News and 3D Touch.

Night Shift, is the update’s biggest new feature. Found in the Settings app under Display & Brightness, this0 reduces the blue light output of the iPhone 6s Plus’ display in a bid to help you get a better night’s sleep. Exposure to too much bright blue light, says Apple, “can affect your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep”. You can control when this comes on and switches off, and how intense the effect is, depending on what you’re comfortable with, but otherwise it’s a pretty simple new setting.

The lockable notes feature does exactly what you’d expect, allowing you to secure notes jotted down using iOS’ native Notes app and preventing them from being viewed until you’ve entered your password or dabbed the TouchID sensor. Locking notes is as simple as tapping the Share button and selecting Lock Note.

3D Touch, meanwhile, benefits from enhanced shortcut support: hard press the Settings icon on your home screen, for instance, and you now get shortcuts to the Battery, Wi-Fi, Mobile Data and Bluetooth settings. Hard pressing the App Store icon now pops up shortcuts to Update All and Purchased, which are particularly useful additions.

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iPhone 6s Plus review: Build quality

From the outside, you really can’t tell the difference between the iPhone 6s Plus and the iPhone 6 Plus. Both are pretty much the same size and shape, although the iPhone 6s Plus is 0.1 mm taller and wider and 0.2mm thicker. I think it’s fair to say that you really can’t tell the difference by look alone. The iPhone 6s Plus is a little heavier at 192g versus 172g of the iPhone 6 Plus, but this is only really noticeable when you hold both at once.

When the iPhone 6 Plus launched last year the initial reaction was that it was huge. Now, one year on, having used the phone day-in and day-out, the Plus model no longer feels so big. In fact, I find it the perfect size for me and like the extra screen space. Some people will still prefer a smaller phone, though, which why the iPhone 6s will likely prove the more popular handset in the long run.

iPhone 6S Plus power button

So, why are there subtle differences between the 6S Plus and 6 Plus then? Well, for starters, the iPhone 6s Plus is built using 7000 Series aluminium, which is the strongest alloy that Apple has used in its phones. The cynical will say that this move is all due to the ‘bendgate’ controversy surrounding the original handset, but I think that’s unfair. Although there were some cases of the iPhone 6 Plus bending, it was down to too much force being placed on the device, rather than any structural failing. What Apple’s done this time around is to make its new phone even tougher, which has to be a good thing.

What hasn’t changed is the spot-on build quality and attention to detail. With its neatly curved edges and the way that the front glass curves down to meet the sides, the iPhone 6s Plus is a gorgeous phone. It also remains well designed, with the left side holding the volume buttons and mute switch, while the right side has the power button and SIM card slot.

iPhone 6S Plus mute switch

Even better, this year, you’ve got a choice of four colours: space grey, silver, gold and the new rose gold – the latter has a much more subtle finish than you might expect from the images. The extra weight and size come down to the extra technology that Apple has fitted inside. In terms of design, though, it’s practically impossible to spot an iPhone 6s Plus in the wild – the overall appearance hasn’t changed from the iPhone 6 Plus.

iPhone 6s Plus review: 3D Touch

I was expecting the iPhone 6s Plus to get Force Touch, which was first announced with the Apple Watch, but 3D Touch goes one step further. Essentially 3D Touch adds pressure sensitivity to the iPhone’s screen, allowing you to interact by varying the amount pressure you apply. The difference is that Force Touch can only distinguish between a press and a hard press, where as 3D Touch has an extra level of sensitivity.

One of the big new features this allows is Peek and Pop. In Mail, for example, you can hard press on an email to Peek at its contents, and you can even slide up for common actions (Reply, Delete, etc), to the right to mark as read or unread and to the left to delete. However, press harder again and you Pop into the message, where you can edit it as normal. Similar operations work with Messages and in Safari, where you can preview a link before opening it.The Taptic engine (a vibration motor dedicated to 3D Touch) gives you force feedback when you engage 3D Touch, creating the sensation that you’ve done something physical rather than activated a software feature.

iPhone 6S Peek and Pop

3D Touch is used throughout the operating system. One of the most useful is on the Home Screen, where you can Press on icons to bring up a shortcut menu, such as to create a new email by pressing Mail, write a new message by pressing Messages or take a selfie by pressing Camera. You can also bring up the task switcher by firmly pressing on the left-hand side of the screen. It’s a little quicker than using the home button and I found it considerably easier as I didn’t have to readjust my grip on the handset. It quickly makes a big difference to how you use your phone and is one of the features that I believe is really useful, not just put in because Apple could.

The humble keyboard also benefits from 3D Touch. You can now firm press anywhere on the keyboard to turn it into a trackpad that controls the text cursor, making selecting text so much easier; goodbye fiddly magnifying glass. 

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iPhone 6s Plus review: iOS

Although my full iOS 9.2 review goes into more detail, it would be remiss not to talk about the operating system in this review, given that it’s such a key part of any smartphone. With iOS 9.2, Apple has a mature, slick and stable operating system. The combination of this OS and the efficient processor is fantastic, with every transition and animation running smoothly. With the latest update, Apple has introduced a few changes that are worth noting.

First, Apple Music has been improved, so you can now download tracks stored in your cloud storage, which effectively means that you don’t have to hook your phone up to iTunes in order to fill it with music. Apple has also improved playlists, so you can create a new one and add a track to it at the same time.

The other big change is MailDrop support. Already a part of OS X, MailDrop uses your iCloud storage to send big files via email: the recipient gets a download link. Now, this feature may not seem that useful on an iPhone, but it means that you can email large videos or any file stored in iCloud directly via your phone. This can be extremely handy if you’re a heavy iCloud user.

iPhone 6s Plus review: Display

While the technology behind the screen may have changed, up front the IPS LCD panel is largely the same as last year’s. The 5.5in display still has the same 1,920×1,080 resolution, which delivers a sharp 401ppi. In simple terms, this means everything looks pin sharp. Are phones with 2,560×1,440 screens slightly sharper? Yes. Does it make such a difference that I’d care? No. That’s always been Apple’s attitude to competition: the iPhone isn’t about headline specs, but getting the right features that you’d expect to find in a high-end phone. A Full HD resolution certainly fits into this category.

iPhone 6S Plus hero shot

Display quality is very good, too. Looking at photos, I found them to be sharp, bright and vibrant, with plenty of detail. The Expert Reviews colour calibrator showed similar results, with the iPhone 6s Plus able to display 91.3% of the sRGB colour gamut, with a reasonably low black point of 0.44cd/m2, a maximum brightness of 572.14cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 1,331:1. Samsung’s SuperAMOLED screens tend to have marginally better colour reproduction and deeper blacks, but they’re not as bright indoors and I marginally prefer the level of detail in Apple’s displays.

iPhone 6s Plus review: Performance and battery life

Inside the phone is the brand-new A9 dual-core chip and, for the first time with an iPhone, 2GB of RAM. More RAM doesn’t make the phone faster, but means it can deal with larger images and video files, and more Apps can be held in memory at once, making for quicker multi-tasking. Apple claims that the new CPU is up to 70% faster than the previous generation and our benchmarks appear to verify as much. Peacekeeper, a test of browsing performance, returned a score of 4,620 on the iPhone 6s Plus, which is the highest that we’ve ever seen and way ahead of the iPhone 6 Plus (2,588) and the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ (1,549).

iPhone 6S Plus Peacekeeper benchmarks

Running Geekbench 3, the iPhone 6S Plus scored 2,516 in the single-core test compared to the 1,625 that the old iPhone 6 Plus scored. That’s also a lot quicker than the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, which scored 1,463. Only in the Geekbench 3 multi-core test did the Galaxy S6 Edge+ move ahead with its score of 4,934 compared to the iPhone 6S Plus’ score of 4,374. This is because Samsung’s phone uses a quad-core processor, double the number found in the iPhone.

iPhone 6S Plus Geekbench graph

Graphics performance has been improved too, with Apple claiming that the A9’s GPU is up to 90% faster than on the previous generation. Running the GFX Bench Manhattan Offscreen test, the iPhone 6s Plus scored 2,454, making it the fastest phone that we’ve ever tested. In real-world use, the iPhone 6s Plus handled games like Hearthstone with ease, producing beautifully smooth movement on screen.

iPhone 6S Plus GFX Bench graph

Largely, what makes a phone work well is the combination of hardware and software. Once again, Apple has got that exactly right and iOS 9 runs so smoothly on the iPhone 6s Plus. Every transition and interaction is spot on, with no judder. It’s this kind of efficiency and performance that many Android devices still can’t cope with.

Apple has had to reduce the battery size slightly to make room for new features like 3D Touch, fitting a 2,750mAh battery into the phone. In the Expert Reviews battery playback test, run with the screen set to a brightness of 170cd/m2, the phone lasted 14h 58m, which is practically the same as last year’s phone.

iPhone 6S Plus battery graph

This is largely down to the A9 chip being more efficient and iOS 9’s battery management. Day-to-day, I found that my iPhone 6s Plus lasted well, with plenty of charge even after relatively heavy use. I still had to charge it each day, but this has been the case with smartphones for a while and I really don’t mind doing so. As with previous iPhones, this model is charged via the Lightning adaptor on the bottom. Apple ships its standard 1A USB charger, but you’ll be able to charge your phone quicker if you use a 2.1A charger, such as the one that ships with the iPad.

iPhone 6S Plus Lightning port

iPhone 6s Plus review: M9 Co-processor

Apple has integrated the motion coprocessor (the M9 in this case) into the A9, which is the first time the two chips have existed on the same silicon. There’s a big power advantage of doing so. The M9 connects to the accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and barometer, taking live measurements which can be for health tracking, with the phone capable of measuring the number of steps you take, stairs you climb and, now, your running and walking pace. With the M9, the phone also knows when it’s not moving, so it can save battery life by not hunting for wireless signals, for example. A new feature is that the M9 can monitor the phone’s microphone at all times.

iPhone 6s Plus review: Siri is always on

This means that Siri is effectively always on and you can wake it by saying, “Hey Siri”. This was always an option on older iPhone models, but only when your phone was plugged in; now the feature works all of the time. An obvious problem is, what happens if someone else says, “Hey Siri”? For that reason, you have to train your phone to recognise your voice only. It proved to be accurate in my tests, with my voice activating the voice assistant, but ignoring other people. This feature isn’t going go to change the world and it’s not as radical as the other new tech in the phone, but it’s certainly useful and means you don’t have to fiddle around holding down the Home button.

iPhone 6s Plus review: Camera

Previous iPhones stuck to an 8-megapixel camera sensor, as it keeps noise down to a minimum, even is resolution is lower than the competition. I was only going to be happy for Apple to increase resolution if it could maintain image quality, which it has done with the iPhone 6s Plus’ 12-megapixel camera. It’s a completely fair trade-off between image quality and resolution, and pushing for a higher megapixel count would have destroyed the balance.

iPhone 6S Plus camera

Each pixel in this new sensor is 1.22-microns, which makes them slightly smaller than the 1.5-micron pixels used in the 6 Plus. Traditionally, smaller pixels get less light, which means more noise in images, but the new sensor combats this with backside illumination, which increases the amount of light captured, and a reduction in crosstalk (light bleeding from one pixel to the another).

With more pixels we also get more phase detect AF points, which means faster focusing in all conditions. I have to say that it does; shooting outside, you get the full quality you’d expect, with bright colours and near-on perfect exposure, while the extra megapixels deliver more detail than I’ve seen from an iPhone before.

iPhone 6S Plus outside sample shot

iPhone 6S Plus outside sample shot BT Tower

Move inside into lower light and the camera continues to shine. I found that the phone impressively captured low-noise, detailed images in pretty much all lighting conditions.

iPhone 6S Plus sample shot kitten running

Like its predecessor, the iPhone 6s Plus has optical image stabilisation, which helps capture blur-free photos even when it’s relatively dark. Of course, there are times where there’s simply not enough light, but the True Tone flash is there to help. This uses dual LEDs to match the ambient light, resulting in more natural shots. I was impressed when I first saw this technology and remain impressed today. As you can see from the shot below, you can’t really tell that a flash was used.

iPhone 6S Plus still life flash

Apple has also made improvements to the front-facing camera, upping the sensor from 1.2-megapixels to 5-megapixels. There’s no LED flash, but the software-based Retina Flash uses the iPhone’s screen to match the ambient temperature when capturing low-light selfies. I can apologise for the subject of the photos below, but you can clearly see the difference with and without flash.

iPhone 6S Plus selfie with Retina flash

iPhone 6S Plus selfie

More resolution is good news for panoramas, as you can now take massive 63-megapixel photos, which look absolutely amazing: zoom in and you keep getting more layers of detail.

iPhone 6S Plus panorama

iPhone 6s Plus review: Live Photos

The biggest new mode is Live Photos, which captures 1.5 seconds of footage before you hit the shutter button and 1.5 seconds after. When you use 3D Touch to press on a Live Photo the video kicks into action and shows some context around the photos. Videos are a relatively low 12fps at a resolution of 960×720, with the dip in quality immediately obvious compared to the full resolution still.

When the phone was first launched, Live Photos weren’t particularly intelligent and would record you raising and lowering the phone, which left you with a lot of blurry video before and after the shot. As a result, capturing the best quality Live Photo meant that you had to raise your phone, wait, take a shot and then hold your position. With iOS 9.1, Apple has largely fixed the issue, using the phone’s sensors to detect when it’s moving and only recording the video portion while the phone is stationary. It means that you might get slightly less video than previously, but it’s all (largely) useable, and my Live Photos certainly improved in quality.

For the absolutely best quality Live Photos, it’s worth positioning the iPhone 6s Plus first, taking the shot and holding your pose for a couple of seconds. This ensures that you’ve got the maximum amount of high-quality video. For those key moments that you can pose, it’s really worth conditioning yourself to do this, as you’ll be much happier with the results in the end.

I think Live Photos are a great addition, as they bring context and life back to moment you’ve captured. When you look back at photos it’s all too easy to forget what was going on when you captured a moment, but Live Photos brings everything back. Any phone running iOS 9 can play the Live Photos when they’re shared using iCloud Photos, as can OS X El Capitan’s Photos app, and integration with social networks should follow soon too.

iPhone 6s Plus review: 4K Video, smoother video and hi-resolution slow motion 

Apple has increased the modes available when shooting video, with 4K the standout feature. It’s not turned on by default, and you have to enable the mode in Settings -> Photos & Camera -> Record Video.

iPhone 6S Plus video settings

Footage shot at 3,840×2,160 looks stunning, even at 30fps, with so much more detail than you get from Full HD. While the iPhone can’t display 4K video at native resolution, you can pinch-to-zoom to get into the image and get more detail. While you’re recording, you can grab 8-megapixel images on the fly. Alternatively, once you’ve got the video on your Mac, you can pull out frames as 8-megapixel images: get the right frame and you’ll look like an amazing photographer. The downside is that 4K video eats storage, with one minute taking around 375MB. As a comparison between 4K video and 1080p, you can view the frames pulled out of shot video, with 4K on top and 1080p below (click to view full screen).

iPhone 6S Plus 4K sample frame

iPhone 6S Plus sample frame 1080p

For that reason, you may want to stick with the other new mode, 1080p at 60fps – up from 30fps on the iPhone 6 Plus. Double the frame rate means smoother and more natural-looking video and is the mode that I suggest that most people use.

Slow motion has been on the iPhone for a while, but always at a 720p resolution. With the iPhone 6s Plus, you can now choose (via the settings app as above) to shoot at 120fps at 1080p, as well as 120 or 240fps at 720p. It’s really a matter of choosing what’s more important: a higher frame rate or higher-quality video. I think that the new 1080p mode is the best and you can see a sample video below.

Of course, you still get the intelligent time lapse mode, so you can speed up slow events, such as the sun rising, documentary style.

iPhone 6s Plus review: Wi-Fi and mobile data

With a new phone come the inevitable upgrades to the wireless capabilities. First, the new LTE-Advanced chip allows for theoretical maximum download speeds of 300Mbit/s over 4G. EE has enabled this technology in parts of London, although I’ve only seen real-world speeds hit around 70Mbit/s. Still, given that this is faster than most people’s broadband connections, it’s good to have support for the latest mobile standards. Naturally anyone outside the catchment area for faster speeds won’t benefit from them, however.

Wi-Fi has also been upgraded, so that the 802.11ac chip now supports maximum throughputs of 866Mbit/s. Of course, this is another theoretical maximum, one which will depend on your wireless router supporting 802.11ac speeds, although the Wi-Fi chip was fast enough to deliver my BT Internet’s full connection of around 74Mbit/s, making for extremely quick download speeds and smooth video streaming.

iPhone 6S Plus back

iPhone 6s Plus review: Touch ID

The upgraded Touch ID fingerprint sensor is faster to respond than on previous iPhones, which makes it that little bit more quick to unlock and authenticate app store purchases. This kind of iterative improvement is good to see, particularly a Touch ID has moved from being just a way to unlock your phone to a system for securely entering passwords in supporting apps and for making payments via Apple Pay, in-store via NFC and from inside supported apps.

iPhone 6S Plus Touch ID 

iPhone 6s Plus review: Storage

Note: In September 2016, Apple discontinued both the 16GB and 64GB models, replacing them with the 32GB and 128GB models. They’re priced at £549 and £649, respectively.

The entry-level iPhone 6s Plus comes with 16GB of RAM (£619), which is very stingy by today’s standards. You’ll most likely fill the phone with apps, music and photos very quickly, and even though iOS 9 is supposed to reduce the size of app downloads on smaller capacity handsets, you may end up having to clear it in order to make room for future software updates. It’s more than a little annoying that 32GB isn’t the standard entry-level point. In fact, there’s no 32GB model, as the next version is 64GB (£699). It’s the version that I recommend for most people – there’s enough room for apps and a sizeable music collection without having to limit the number of photos and videos you take with your phone. Finally, you can get the 128GB version (£789), which is useful for anyone with a large media collection, lots of apps, or plans to shoot lots of 4K video. 

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iPhone 6s Plus review: Verdict

The iPhone 6s is full of genuinely new and useful features, including the excellent 3D Touch, the powerful A9 chip and a greatly improved camera. Combined with the excellent iOS 9 operating system, the combination adds up to the best high-end smartphone that you can buy if you’re already sold on iOS. Anyone running an iPhone 5S or older should upgrade to this phone (or its smaller sibling, the iPhone 6s); if you’ve got an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, however, the reasons to upgrade aren’t quite as compelling, and you might want to wait until the iPhone 7 is released.

If the iPhone isn’t for you, our best smartphone guide will have a suitable handset.

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ProcessorDual-core 1.8GHz Apple A9
Screen size5.5in
Screen resolution1,920×1,080
Screen typeIPS
Front camera5 megapixels
Rear camera12 megapixels
FlashYes (dual LED), Retina front flash
Memory card slot (supplied)N/A
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1
Wireless data4G
Operating systemiOS
Battery size2750mAh

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