Apple iPhone 6s vs iPhone 6
Interface: iOS 9 and 3D Touch
3D Touch is great in the future tense: at launch, though, it is yet to live up to its full potential.
One of the great things about Apple is the impressive pace of iOS updates.
The iPhone 6s is here, but it runs on iOS 9 just as the iPhone 6, so apart from a few new features, the core experience is the same. That’s both pleasant and useful: we’re pleased to know we’re on the latest software, but we’re also feeling safe using the latest platform since we know that Apple has patched security vulnerabilities and will do so in a timely manner in the the years to come.
We won’t go into too much detail about iOS 9 itself: everyone knows the icon grid that meets you when you unlock your phone. The biggest perceived change in iOS 9 is the new Spotlight Search. The first thing you notice about it is that it feels just a bit slower, especially if you opt in for the full set of ‘Proactive’ Spotlight features. That's especially true for the iPhone 6 where a slight stutter is more noticeable than on the new 6s.
What Apple has done with the iPhone 6s, in particular, is add some flare that is not on the iPhone 6. The first such addition is Live Wallpapers: a selection of 9 animated, high-quality images that appear as static on the lock screen until you touch the screen with some force – it is then that they come to life in a short animation. It’s a neat new effect, but what makes it much more impressive is the option to add your own Live Wallpapers, using Live Photos as such. It’s a true personal touch: nothing compares to having your kid or loved one appear in such a lively animation on your lock screen.
Then there is the elephant in the room: 3D Touch. The new feature is able to tell whether you are just tapping or using more force to trigger different reactions. At launch, it’s limited mostly to the stock applications. We found it particularly useful in the dialer (3D Touch it to save time and quickly call someone from your recent contacts), maps (3D Touch to start navigation home), and camera (3D Touch to go take a selfie).
At the moment, 3D Touch is a really cool feature, but it'll take some time before we can really start seeing it as a reason big enough to make you switch from the 6 to the 6s.
Processor and Memory
Apple A9: new manufacturing process, huge improvement in benchmarks, yet still – both the 6 and the 6s run at, perceptively, a similarly smooth manner.
The iPhone 6s might not have changed on the outside, but it brings huge improvements under the hood. Apple started designing its own custom cores – a massive undertaking – with the iPhone 5 way back in 2012, and it has gone a long way since then.
The iPhone 6s launches with the Apple A9 system chip. It’s really two chips, though: since Apple makes the jump to a new, more efficient, FinFET manufacturing process, it had to make sure it can ship those millions of units that consumers demand and that’s why it’s double sourcing the A9 from both Samsung and TSMC. Samsung was the first to go with 14nm silicon in the mobile silicon space, so it’s no surprise that some Apple A9s are made by Samsung. What’s particularly interesting is that the remaining iPhones this year are made by TSMC on a different, 16nm process, with a larger die, and are slightly different in architectural design. Both these designs come under the Apple A9 umbrella.
And the A9 is wicked fast. It’s the fastest chip out there currently: it sweeps the floor in GeekBench, where it achieves single-core performance comparable to that of an Intel Core i5 series laptop of a couple of years ago.
Yet, we doubt that you’d be able to tell. The iPhone 6s runs smoothly, but so does the iPhone 6. We opened and closed the apps we use on a daily basis, installed new apps, opened the camera and we couldn’t see a meaningful difference in all those most commonly visited places. There are some isolated spots where that speed shows up: most noticeably when scrolling lists, for instance in the YouTube app where the iPhone 6 appears a tad jerkier, while the 6s is smooth, a bit in Spotlight search, a bit more in demanding photography apps when you apply heavy filters, in some sophisticated games, but for the most part both the 2014 and 2015 iPhone seem... just equally fast.
The other big change is 2GB of RAM. Having more RAM is a per-requisite for a good multitasking experience. This – again – will be something that only power users will notice, though. Multitasking was fast before, but now you can have more apps run in the background, so if you have, say, 10 Safari tabs open, you can switch between them without waiting for the pages in those tabs to reload. It’s also a way to future-proof the iPhone, so while it might not carry an immediately perceived benefit for light users, it’s still appreciated.
Then, we come to the storage situation. Put simply, it’s a disadvantage to have 16GB of storage on a flagship phone in 2015. It’s not enough for more active users. A particularly vivid illustration of how insufficient that seems is the new 4K video recording: you can only record around 30 minutes of video until you run out of storage completely. You also have a 64GB version (a $100 on top of the base, 16GB model) and a 128GB one (another $100 on top of the 64GB one), basically all the same storage options as on the iPhone 6.
This short rant aside, Apple has made some impressive improvements to memory speeds. It uses an SSD-class controller and storage, a mixture of SLC/TLC NAND storage. The new iPhone 6s is expected to perform considerably faster than the 6 at writing and reading large files.