I honestly did not want to order both an iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus this year. After many years of comprehensively reviewing iPhones — an exhausting process — I was looking forward to spending this year’s iPhone release kicking back and enjoying one of the two new models like a regular customer.
The only problem: I couldn’t decide which model I wanted.
I’ve used an iPhone 6 Plus for the past year, loving the typing experience (for the first time on any iPhone) but hating its size in my pockets (also for the first time on any iPhone). My hope was to switch to an iPhone 6s, and I expected to do so if the 6s proved to be nearly as good as the 6s Plus. But after a weekend playing with both new iPhones, alternating full days of usage between them, I think I’ve come to a different conclusion…
Cameras. This feature is more important to me than any other — I love taking photos and recording videos with my iPhones, so this year’s upgrade to 12MP stills/4K video/5MP selfies was justification enough for me to get one of the new models. On paper, the iPhone 6s Plus’s optical image stabilization (OIS) should have been a key deciding factor. But after reviewing a lot of video footage shot by others, and doing a few tests on my own, I found the real-world iPhone 6s/6s Plus camera differences to be much less significant than I’d expected.
Last year’s 6 Plus was introduced with OIS, but Apple said very little about what the feature would actually bring to the table — it turned out to be useful only for slightly improving low light performance when snapping still pictures. This year, the 6s Plus rear camera OIS can be used when shooting video, as well. In practice, it only appears to make a real difference when the iPhone is really being jostled — think “recording in a bumpy car” rather than “walking through your house.” On the still side, I did some direct photo comparisons in varied lighting conditions, finding a typical difference of one ISO step (50 to 100 or 1600 to 2000), but occasionally a larger difference (as shown above). Sometimes, this translates into a small but visible difference in the amount of light and detail gathered. Other times, the differences are invisible.
In short, iPhone 6s Plus pictures and videos are likely to be extremely similar to iPhone 6s features under normal circumstances. So don’t consider the Plus OIS a “must” unless you have very, very specific needs meeting the conditions above.
Battery. Despite smaller batteries, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus run times both seem roughly comparable to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus that preceded them under normal usage conditions. I’ve seen suggestions that the 6s Plus slightly underperforms the 6 Plus in longevity, and they’re consistent with what I’ve noticed. But the 6s Plus remains the iPhone to choose if you don’t want to worry about mid-day charges. I gave each phone a highly comparable full-day spin, complete with Apple Watch pairing; the 6s was nearly dead by early evening, and the 6s Plus was ready to last through the end of the night. If you’re thinking of dropping $50 to $100 on an external battery pack that will thicken your phone to extend its life, you’re better off just going with the iPhone 6s Plus in the first place.
Screens, 3D Touch, and Haptic Feedback. There are no obvious visual differences between the screens of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus relative to their predecessors; they both remain Retina-quality despite their significant pixel count differences and sizes. Your naked eye won’t likely notice a difference between them in resolution, color, or any factor other than size. The biggest issue you would notice may well be the distance your finger travels — swiping from the left of the screen to the right takes more physical motion on the larger screen than the smaller one, which could matter for some gestures (including multitasking and page flipping).
On the other hand, though they’re more similar than I’d expected, the haptic feedback from 3D Touch feels a little lighter on the iPhone 6s than on the iPhone 6s Plus. And on a related note, the somewhat overaggressive vibration engine on the iPhone 6 Plus has been toned down on the iPhone 6s Plus, which was one of the small annoyances exclusive to the larger model last year.
Size and Weight. Yes, each phone is a little larger and heavier than its immediate predecessor, and yes, the weight difference is a little more noticeable on the 6s Plus than on the 6s. Old cases still fit, albeit with a very slight bulge; new cases tend to be more forgiving. In any case, the extra weight doesn’t matter. I’m personally just glad that Apple has switched to a more resilient aluminum this year, reducing the need for a thicker, reinforced shell to prevent the real or imagined risk of bending.
Another way to look at this: the iPhone 6s Plus itself isn’t more comfortable in the pocket than the iPhone 6 Plus, which was a major factor steering me towards the smaller iPhone 6s. But thanks to the superior construction, it has less of a need for a thick case, which could indirectly improve its profile for some people.
Conclusions. Despite my reservations about the iPhone 6 Plus, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to stick with the same form factor this year and keep the iPhone 6s Plus. While the camera differences weren’t important enough to swing me in one direction or the other, the balance of other factors pushed me to the larger device. It’s hard to go back to a smaller screen even though the iPhone 6s is entirely sufficient for most purposes, and the noticeable difference in battery life between the iPhone 6s and Plus is difficult to ignore. I’m looking forward to switching from my thicker prior-generation iPhone 6 Plus case to something smaller and more pocket-friendly.
What did you decide to do this year? I’m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!
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