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Hands on with the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus

Hyperbole, of course, but it frames how Apple is marketing its new phones as the most advanced devices on the market.

The outer shell

The exterior casing is the same—except it's now 7000-series aluminum, same as the Apple Watch, and stronger than ever before. The screen is the same—except the ion-exchange in the glass is now double what it used to be, making it stronger as well.

And, of course, it comes in rose gold. (Which is really more "pink" gold.)

Peek, pop, and 3D Touch

It doesn't feel too different when you hold it: as smooth and light as ever. I've been using both the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus for almost a year now, and I can juggle either one-handed when I have to—even with my off-hand. Thanks to Peek and pop, the new 3D Touch feature in the iPhones 6s, one-handed use is easier than ever.

The challenge with iPhone interfaces has always been their single-column nature: You have a screen, you tap to drill down or slide over, then you have to tap to go back. Peek saves you that travel. If you're looking at your inbox and trying to figure out which of the three dozen messages Kevin send you during the event has the code you need, you just touch it and push. The message floats up, and you can scan it, swipe to triage, or press deeper to go right into it.

Multitouch goes multidimensional with 3D Touch, and it works really well here. There's a taptic engine for haptic feedback, just like with the Apple Watch, but 3D Touch goes further than Force Touch: It reads the deformation of the screen to incredibly precise levels and uses a bunch of other smarts to figure out what you're doing—and how hard you're doing it. It's good enough that you can push harder to get thicker lines when you sketch in Notes, for example, and potentially in other apps, too.

It works terrifically well: Push into icons to get quick actions. Push into data detectors to get quick previews. Push into a photo... and you get Live Pictures.

The pictures themselves look like normal stills, every bit as high-resolution as their predecessors. The magic happens when you snap photos: When you open your camera and take a snap, it also takes a series of images 1.5 seconds before and 1.5 seconds after. 3D Touch on a photo, and you'll see the animation of those frames. You can use them to capture your child's smile, your friend's stumble, or the crashing of the waves. You can even set Live Pictures as your lock screen wallpaper.

They only animate when you press into them, which means they don't waste any processor cycles unless you explicitly want to see movement.

Cameras

The new camera sports a 12-megapixel sensor, but Apple didn't just slice up pixels to do it, nor did they inflate the count. They kept each pixel clean, sharp, and separated with technology like deep trench isolation, so there's as little bleeding over from one to the other as possible.

The result is clean, crisp photographs with amazing color fidelity and detail. (Also, giant 63-megapixel panoramas. Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is still a Plus-only feature—but now it shoots rock-solid video, as well.

Both iPhones 6s shoot 4K. It's 30 frames per second, but incredibly detailed. You can upload it straight to YouTube if you like and from there, watch it anywhere. (Apple's own 4K Apple TV story is, sadly, like the technology itself, still developing...)

Also, the front FaceTime camera now has a 5-megapixel sensor, and the Retina display now has a custom chip that will flash it twice as brightly to light you up for the brightest selfies ever.

Storage and specs

Apple wasn't talking RAM at the event, but they did talk storage: 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB, same as last year. Most of the people reading iMore won't want—and shouldn't get—a 16 GB iPhone. But it's there for those that want it—whether it's enterprise businesses that want to buy thousands of handsets for B2B apps and web portal access, the streaming generation, or anyone who wants the latest technology at the lowest price possible. I'm getting the 64 GB model: I haven't come close to filling up my current 128 GB iPhone.

Touch ID is now in its second generation, and twice as fast. The motion co-processor is now embedded in the system-on-a-chip, and handles the "Hey Siri" voice control prompt even when not plugged in.

Then there's that processor: The Apple A9. It's serious silicon. The raw numbers are 70% faster for CPU and 90% faster for GPU. The result is that what flew on last-generation iPhones goes positively supersonic on the next generation. That includes all the peek and pop overlays... and the games. Wow, the games.

Accessories

The iPhones themselves weren't the only things that saw a bit of a color change: We got new leather and silicon cases and new color-coordinated iPhone docks, too. And boy, are they shiny. The cases give iPhone buyers a whole new range of colors to deck their devices in, and more coordination options with the Apple Watch, too.

Bottom line

Prices stay the same. For those who worried the new reality for U.S. carriers would result in sticker shock for iPhone buyers, that was never going to happen. Carriers want to sell, not scare, so low, low monthly installments are what we got on the slides.

We also got Apple's first-ever iPhone Upgrade Program, which will let people in the U.S. upgrade to the latest iPhone every year. That's not what everyone is going to do, of course: Most people only upgrade every couple years or so. But this year it'll be the iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 5s owners who are going to upgrade en-masse. And they'll be in for a real treat.

We'll have more about the iPhones 6s along with everything else Apple announced at its September event here at iMore.com, so stick around. (And let us know if you have any questions!)

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

57 Comments
  • Is the Space Grey different, more akin to the new iPod touch, for example?
  • This is so beautiful, i really want to win
  • Since Apple pretty much only catches up these days, and none of this is new to the rest of the world, this will all be old in 6 months. By September the iFolk will have their wallets open for their 20th iPhone to stay only partially relevant. Dont hate me, thats APPLES strategy.
  • Sure buddy... Sent from the iMore App
  • He is right. If he wasn't there would not be an iPhone upgrade plan that they launched today. Planned obsolescence and desire for just one or two missing things makes you buy again next year.
  • Same thing with any other OEM. Samsung just throws in things even if people won't use them or see what sticks. Sent from the iMore App
  • Why waste your time with these kinds of comments? They don't help anyone. People purchase what they want. Get over it.
  • That is all phone / tech manufacturer strategies. Whatever divice you wrote your comment on was old and outdated about 6 months before you ever bought it. So you are doing the same thing as us iFolk. Look for the similarities and ignore the differences my brother / sister 'iDon'tKnowTech'
  • Love the new phone, but Renee, you are drinking the koolaid on price. "Low low monthly" payments. Are you kidding? $41 for the 64gb Plus. That's crazy high. The true price of these phones are over $750 for the Plus models, whether you break it down by month or not, that's a high price.
  • High priced phones exist on multiple OEM's. It sucks, yes but it is what it is.
  • Some things to note... You are paying for 24 month financing... That is $750 phone + $99 Apple Care + $75 Tax which comes to $924. Divided by 24 months =$38.50 a month. + since it's being financed through a separate company (you have to go into the apple store to get approved) they get a percentage cut of $2.50 a month as well to finance it. With that option you are allowed to upgrade every time there is a new iPhone out AND your phone is always unlocked and its looking like you can switch carriers any time (or maybe yearly) Technically if you are going to wait out the full 2 years, you own the phone outright and don't have to give it back if you don't want to. (this last part is my speculating)
  • Where is the RAM upgrade? I can't imagine they would throw such powerful specs into a phone and keep the measly 1 GB of RAM from last year's model, which was already having severe problems multitasking.
  • They generally don't talk about RAM. We'll find out when iFixit cracks the phone open later this month.
  • Or when the first reviewer runs Geekbench...
  • Maybe if Rene would've opened and closed Safari and see if pages refresh or not that at least would've gave us a hint!
  • Apple isn't interested in multitasking on androids level, or giving the user the ability to keep dozens of apps open in the background to make reloading of your most used apps (AKA lag) almost nonexistent in many cases. That is of course unless they gave the 6S/plus 2 gigs of RAM this time around. That would give it a huge improvement.
  • Space Grey looks darker like the iPhone 5 shade Sent from the iMore App
  • No ram upgrade will push me to Note 5. Come on Apple do right.
  • Seriously why does everyone keep bitching about this mythical RAM spec that we haven't seen yet? APPLE DOES NOT ANNOUNCE RAM SPEC IN IOS DEVICES. Never has. At least wait until it gets torn down and the actual specs revealed before you throw your hands up and holler FAIL! DOOMED! Even then, if the experience is there who cares? I drive a Ford F-150 with an ecoboost V6. My dad laughed because I bought a truck with a V6 until he figured out that it tows more than his truck with a V8 and gets better gas mileage. Same concept.
  • Not even close to the same concept.
  • It is stronger. I'm sure some idiot will be trying to bend it to prove Apple wrong. Can't wait to get mine. Sent from the iMore App
  • Interesting how you can shoot 4K on the phone but you have to look at it on YouTube and you can't even look at it on your own phone?
  • Not true, view your 4k content on the 5K iMac, thats the true test.
  • Yes I know but I mean on the actual phone screen instead of a Computer or website..it would be nice to have that capability
  • Yes you can look at it on your phone. Why wouldn't you?
  • Well point I am trying to make is that on the 6s (not Plus) is that it's literally a 720p resolution with 4K shooting capability huh go figure lol meaning you don't see that resolution on the phone after shooting it kind of disappointing would be nice with higher resolution to watch it without having to see the resolution online or another device.
  • Does anyone know what the ATT NEXT program is? I think it is a program were you can actually make monthly payments on a retail priced iPhone, am I right/wrong? I need the full details on this NEXT program thing.
    Thanks people.
  • Well you could call AT&T and they will explain it to you or go into a store. The way it was explained to me was you have a 12 / 18 and 24 months plan. All plans have you pay a certain set amount depending on the months you choose. Then you can hand them your current phone and upgrade to the next phone at the particular month you signed up for. If you wish to keep your phone and sell it or such... you have to wait 4 months past the time you signed up for to be able to have paid off the phone and own it (without upgrading till that point) then you can keep the phone and your monthly payment decreases till you buy another phone. As I said... go talk to AT&T or even an Apple Store Rep might help you know...but don't go asking all us people with differing opinions and aren't the ones taking your money. ;-)
  • I have AT&T Next. It is basically financing your phone over a period of 18 to 30 months depending on whether you go with annual or biannual upgrade. You are financing it at a very high interest rate and if you upgrade at 12 or 24 months to the next phone you either have to pay off the balance of 6 months or give the phone back. I don't recommend it. I'm not happy at all with the plan. If you can get a subsidized phone that is definitely the way to go but since most carriers are switching to this lease a phone business model I would recommend going through Apples finance program. This way if you choose to switch carriers you can and you won't be required to buy the phone out right in order to do it. Their plan also offers the apple care as well which was not an option for my next plan. Sent from the iMore App
  • There is no interest or financing fee. You get three upgrade points 12, 18, or 24 months. If you don't want to trade in your phone at that time it takes on average another 6 months to pay off completely, with the 12 month option taking 8 more months. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I've had AT&T since 2008. In my experience, they shaft the customer at every possible juncture. And, they will only provide more value when absolutely forced to do so, in an attempt to remain competitive. IMHO, you'd do well to look elsewhere. I'd seriously consider T-Mobile, which is constantly advancing its customer offerings. I'd be their customer now, if not for an awful experience with their customer service team as I was trying to make the switch. My experience may have been isolated, though.
  • Surprised they're 11% heavier - I find it hard to believe it's not noticeable. The Plus especially is now one of the heaviest phones you can buy anywhere.
  • It is noticeable. Ritchie is just a tool that will downplay any criticism of Apple.
  • I find it funny, maybe you will too. Look at how the majority of iPhone users use their phones today, then compare them to any other OS / Phone company out there and see how they differ - or not. Then compare the price each person paid for the privilege of using their respective device. I wonder if you'll see what I see?.
  • I would hope you see alot of people overpaying for an inferior Apple product compared to high-end Android
  • You see what you want to see... you hear what you want to hear. - The Rock Man talking to Olio from The Point. (good movie... you should check it out...it's more fun and productive than trolling)
  • Your statement wasn't clear enough for me to understand and see what you see.
  • I don't see why there is no talk about the "Live pictures(?)" feature?
  • @ReneRichie, we were wondering if the iPhone has 2gb of ram? I know that we have to wait for the benchmarks but if you would've open and close Safari and pages don't refresh maybe that would've gave us a hint!
  • Those docks are chargers? Sent from the iMore App
  • What about those new live wallpapers the fish ones are they part of ios 9 or just the iphone 6s Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I would love to see a comparison of Carriers Monthly payments vs Apples Monthly Payments and if can I pay off the iPhone early with the Apple plan (before the full year is out) do I get to keep the phone and buy the next version. I notice on the Apple site it says I have to actually go into the store to get approved for financing... so does that mean my phone will be delayed if I have to go in to complete my order?
  • I will end up buying one of the new iPhone 6s 64 devices, but now it's become a game of gimmicks more then technological improvements. At least Apple is smart enough to keep their pricing the same which will attract the faithful. Sent from the iMore App
  • They've increased prices on these phones..... Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • This is beautiful, i really want to win it http://www.genhacks24.com/dominations-hack
  • The bang for your buck isn't there anymore these phones are enormously overpriced. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Everything is overpriced.
  • Oh really? You should take a look at some of the price points Android manufacturers are offering for high quality hardware lately
  • Was going to get the 6S, no OIS forces me to the 6S+. Still hoping the new iPhone gets a bump in ram, it needs it. The added support for T-Mobile's Band 12 is fantastic. I live in a very strong T-Mobile area, faster & stronger than all the Carriers, supporting band 12 makes the new iPhone future proof. John Legere was on Periscope yesterday calling the new iPhone fantastic, I agree, still hoping for a ram bump.
  • Does anyone else see the 3D Touch as a precursor to eliminating the home button?
  • Possibly, I heard a rumor that the iPhone 7 will have a touch screen home button, no more physical button, thank god for that, so I will update next year from my 6Plus to the 7Plus, never liked the "S" models.
  • I am lucky enough to have been grandfathered on the AT&T Unlimited Data plan which I don't want to give up for obvious reasons. The question I have is, if I pay off my phone so that I own it outright, will I lose the unlimited plan if I go with the Apple Upgrade plan? Does it make fiscal sense (the plan I have is 450 minutes & unlimited data)? Can anyone help?
  • I'm in a similar situation with the Verizon unlimited plan. I chatted with an Apple rep yesterday and I was told the following info: using the Apple upgrade program will not affect your data plan in any way. You will get an unlocked phone and have to get sim/activation from the carrier- that's up to you to figure out. As of yesterday you couldn't pre-order an upgrade plan phone on the 12th (I assume because they need to approve you for financing?) but there would be stock available on Sept. 25th in the Apple stores.
  • The Rose Gold color is for chicks, Space Grey all the way.
  • Ok. Then I'm a chick., Seriously, so you think "pink" is a girlish color? Sent from the iMore App
  • Greetings Rene, do you have any idea if or how accessibility will work with 3D touch, will Voice Over users be able to take advantage of the new features?
  • Hey Rene...Any word on whether the 6 / 6 plus cases fit the 6s / 6s plus devices?