iPhone 6s Plus review: One fast smartphone

An iPhone 6s Plus is seen at the Apple retail store in Palo Alto, Calif. Sept. 25, 2015.

An iPhone 6s Plus is seen at the Apple retail store in Palo Alto, Calif. Sept. 25, 2015.  (REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

The iPhone 6s is, if anything, fast.

The 5.5-inch iPhone 6s Plus is the first smartphone I’ve used that feels as snappy and powerful as an Intel PC.  That’s saying a lot. It feels so fast, in fact, that I wish there was a docking station that I could drop it into and use it as my PC too. That’s how fast it is.


Apple said at the launch event in September that the iPhone 6s with its new A9 processor has a “new transistor architecture.” Translation: better performance.  A lot better, by my estimation.  A bigger helping of RAM also speeds things up: the iPhone finally has 2GB of RAM instead of the longstanding 1GB.

All of this means speedier apps as well as improved gaming and quicker image and video processing, to mention just a few.

I did some of my own benchmarking, via Geekbench 3, on my iPhone 6s Plus just to prove to myself that I wasn’t imagining things. Instead spewing out a long list of benchmarking results, I’ll focus on two numbers:  The so-called a “single-core” and “multi-core” scores, which indicate the device’s performance when using the various processing units on a chip.  Single-core processing is used for typical smartphone functions, such as accessing an app, whereas multi-core processing is used for more compute-intensive tasks such as gaming. For the new iPhone 6s Plus, the single-core was 2,535, versus 1,607 for the older iPhone 6 Plus. That’s 60 percent faster.  Multi-core scores were also impressive: 4,404 vs. 2,870, for the 6s Plus and 6 Plus, respectively.

Related: Apple unveils iPad Pro, new iPhones, revamps Apple TV

And comparisons with the Samsung Galaxy 6S Edge show the iPhone 6s’ single-core performance is a lot faster, according to results posted by AppleInsider.  

That’s not all.  Maybe more surprising are the benchmarks posted by Anandtech that show the 6s' flash (NAND) storage performance now approaching that of a PC. Smartphone/tablet flash storage (offered in increments of 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB for the iPhone 6s) has always lagged way behind PCs – but that appears to be changing now.

And there are other ways that the new iPhone 6s is quicker.  For example, the photo app opens faster on my 6s than the 6.  And when I’m sorting through photos, everything zips.  Web pages and Google Maps load and perform faster too.  And even the fingerprint scanner, aka Touch ID, is more responsive.  There’s invariably a lag when reading my fingerprint on the older 6 Plus but no discernible lag on the 6S Plus.


One mildly unpleasant surprise has been the camera. While it’s still a very good camera, it doesn’t appear to be a lot better than the camera in the older 6 Plus.  Apple may have done itself a disservice by setting the expectations too high.  At the launch event, Apple talked a lot about stepping up to a 12-megapixel sensor in the 6S (from the 8-megapixel sensor in the 6).  So I was expecting to see more of a difference. When I’ve done blind comparisons with photos from my 6 Plus and 6s Plus, I have occasionally selected the photo from the older 6 Plus as superior.  That said, after a careful comparison of over a dozen select photos, the 6s does consistently produce better results: there is more detail overall, better low-light performance, and more realistic contrast in photos of white objects, like bright white flowers, among other improvements.  So, it’s definitely a better camera but just not the leap that I expected.  

Related: iPhone 6s review roundup: mostly good, some bad

I will qualify that last statement by saying that as I use the 6s Plus more and more in the coming months, I will know more about how much of a step up it is – or isn’t.  So, it’s only fair to give it more time.  Finally, I’m not going to discuss 4K video in this review because I haven’t had time to put it through its paces.

But I will touch on Live Photos, which shows live action a second before and after the shot.  I don’t have a strong opinion about this one way or another.  It’s cool to press on a photo and see a snippet of live action but it’s doesn’t bowl me over.  I could be in a minority on this one, though.  I can see this becoming popular and tapped into in new and interesting ways.

3D Touch

Let’s be clear: 3D Touch is only in its infancy.  As more apps take advantage of it and developers find novel ways to tap into it, it will undoubtedly improve.  3D Touch works by sensing how hard you press on the display.  For example, by deep pressing on the Apple photo app, you can quickly access “search” or get to your most recent photo.  Or by deep pressing on the camera app, you can take a photo, record video, or take a selfie. Certainly helpful but not (yet) mind-blowing.

Related: iRing? Apple publishes a patent for a smart ring that controls your touchscreen

But there is one 3D Touch feature that does show the promise of 3D Touch apps to come: if you deep press on the left edge of the display, you get immediate access to an app switcher (known as multitasking in the PC world). So you can flick through all your running apps and, when you’re inside one of those apps, easily jump to another.  This can be a game changer for users who want fast-and-easy multitasking.  The only downside: it’s not something that everyone is going to be able to pick up instantly.  That’s because deep pressing on the edge of the iPhone’s display can be a hit-or-miss proposition. If you don’t press hard enough, for example, you’re taken to a separate search screen with “Siri Suggestions” and “News.”  This can be confounding to non-techies and I can see some people just giving up after a few tries.

Obviously, I haven’t covered all of the new features of the iPhone 6s but I’ve tried to touch on the ones that I think are the most important in the ten days that I’ve had the phone.  Next month, I will do a more extensive review after I’ve had a chance to do a deeper dive.