I walked into the T-Mobile store in Fairfax, Va., with my iPhone 6. This is the same phone I wrote about a year ago when I finally gave up my BlackBerry for an iPhone. I told the sales guy that I wanted to do a trade-in, and a few minutes later I had a new iPhone 6s.
Not that you’d be able to tell the difference. Unless you look at the back of the new iPhone where there’s a letter “S” in a square, it’s unlikely you’d notice that the new phone is one-one hundredth of a millimeter thicker.
You might notice that it’s a half ounce heavier, although I didn’t. Otherwise, my new Space Gray iPhone 6s looked just like the earlier model I’d traded in a few minutes before.
It wasn’t until I got the new iPhone back to my office and had restored the settings from the old phone that I noticed the significant speed difference. After I’d set up the fingerprint scanner, I found that the old practice of briefly touching the home button to see my notifications would no longer work.
This new phone and the fingerprint reader are so fast that no matter how quickly I touched the home button, the phone’s home screen would open. I now had to see notifications by flicking down the screen from the top.
Next I tried touching and holding the Maps app on the home screen. A menu popped up that would let me choose directions home, to send my location or to drop a marker where I was at the moment. For whatever reason, the Maps app thought I was in Austin, Texas, which was where I’d last used the Maps app on the previous iPhone.
The ability to press and hold the icon is an example of Apple’s new 3D Touch feature, which also exists on the Apple Watch and on some MacBooks. This feature also adds new functionality to the email and message apps, so you can press an email message and get a peek at the whole message, or you can peek at a text message.
Some of Apple’s built-in iPhone apps include the ability to respond to 3D Touch, but not all of them. When you press one that doesn’t support 3D Touch, the screen vibrates and you feel a vibration from the phone.
I found the 3D Touch feature to be of limited usefulness in some areas, but the ability to use 3D Touch to preview email and text messages was quite useful.
There Is More to the Apple iPhone 6s Than Meets the Eye
With it you can take a quick look at the contents of a message without having to go through all of the steps required to open it. A similar feature in Safari lets you take a quick look at a Web page without actually browsing to it.
Unfortunately, 3D Touch is only useful in a few of Apple’s apps and currently is not supported in any other apps that I’ve found. This means that while you can peek at a message in the iOS Mail app, you can’t do it in the Outlook mail app.
Other important capabilities of the iPhone 6s include better radios, a more efficient processor and more memory available to the CPU. The iPhone 6s now supports LTE Advanced as well as WiFi in 802.11ac with MIMO antennas. Both of those standards promise faster speeds, and 802.11ac with MIMO supports multiple spatial streams for wireless networks, which boils down to better speeds and longer ranges.
Apple’s 64-bit A9 processor is said to be 70 percent faster than the A8 processor in the iPhone 6. In addition, the M9 motion co-processor is embedded in the A9 chip, which will speed things up slightly. Despite the much faster processor, battery life remains unchanged, although in real-world use, the iPhone 6s seems to do slightly better than the iPhone 6 it replaced.
It’s not uncommon to finish the day with over 60 percent battery life left. The new 2-gigabyte application memory space doubles that on the previous iPhones, giving apps a performance boost because of the extra space.
The radios, in addition to supporting LTE Advanced, also work on a greater number of frequencies than the previous iPhones. In fact, the only difference between the various models of iPhones is that the devices headed for AT&T include LTE Band 30 and the others don’t. Phones intended for T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon are identical.
The phone’s cameras have been improved as well. The iSight camera on the back of the phone now takes photos at 12 megapixels, and they can record HD video. A menu setting also lets the phone record UHD 4K videos at 30 frames per second.
However, the screen on the iPhone 6s remains unchanged from its predecessor at 1,334 by 750 at 326-ppi resolution. As nice as this is, it can’t show full HD or 4K in their native resolution.
Overall, the iPhone 6s, and by extension, the 6s Plus, is a much more capable device than its immediate predecessor. It may look the same, but inside that sleek skin is the heart of a supercomputer and an advanced video system.