In 2007, Apple changed the mobile landscape by introducing the iPhone. While it didn't happen over night, the iPhone changed the mindset of consumers and increased their expectations when it came to mobile experiences. In 2015, Apple is still pursuing the pinnacle of excellence, albeit with a leveled playing field with competitors like Samsung, HTC, LG and others. Despite some of these companies introducing their devices a few years later, many have adapted, creating their own niche in the Android device segment. In 2007, I was one of those people that scoffed at the iPhone when it was first released. While thousands waited outside of stores to procure their coveted iPhone, I was using a Nokia N95. I won’t lie to you - I dismissed what Apple was doing, I dismissed the iPhone.

Since 2007, I have swapped back and forth from Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone. I was a late bloomer to the iPhone experience with my first encounter occurring sometime in 2011. At this point, Apple had done a fairly good job of refining the iPhone experience. iOS was much improved since its inception, the App Store had exploded with developer support and the physical attributes of the device were becoming more appealing. I didn't believe the hype surrounding Apple's iPhone, but I was undoubtedly curious as to what made iOS and the iPhone different. Luckily, a buddy of mine was upgrading to the 4s and sold his iPhone 4 for a steal. This would become my first foray with iOS and an the iPhone and simply put, I was hooked.

With such a tremendous experience, I naturally decided to upgrade to the iPhone 5 the following year. The handset was lighter, thinner, and offered a larger screen at 4-inches. But, several months in, I started to lose that "good" feeling. Although, in my opinion, the phone was top of its class, I yearned for something different. After six months, I abandoned the iPhone in favor of HTC's One (M7) and never looked back. Apple released the iPhone 5s, but I didn’t have a shred of temptation. By that time I had already transitioned from the M7 in favor of the Nokia Lumia 925 and later the Nexus 5. Both, weren’t the best devices, but each offered something that I truly enjoyed.

Much like clockwork, Apple tends to release a new device each year. But, 2014 saw a deviation from this pattern as Apple unleashed two new handsets. After years of banter from loyal Apple consumers, Apple finally gave in to the larger phone craze and introduced the 4.7" iPhone 6 and 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus. The 6 and 6 Plus received rave reviews, despite the devices short comings compared to its Android or Windows Phone competitors. For quite some time, the competition had been utilizing faster processors, increasing RAM and offering higher megapixel cameras - Apple on the other hand has been busy refining. Rather than throw more at the iPhone, Apple chose to improve on areas without compromising the user experience. This has been occurring for the past few iterations of the iPhone and although the first one was a revolution to the mobile industry, the subsequent releases have been more about evolution.

This year's iPhone 6s and 6s Plus continue that trend, evolving and refining last year's product. While the physical aspects of the device are identical, there have been some changes under the hood along with some notable new additions. Although previous "s" models have been considered incremental upgrades, this year's model pushes the "incremental" label a bit further with its introduction of several key upgrades.

Design

The front of the device is dominated by a large 5.5” 1080p LCD display and Apple’s sapphire coated home button with improved Touch ID sensor (it's extremely fast). Above the display, Apple's new 5MP Facetime HD camera is present, along with ambient and proximity sensors. The curved display melts away to a stronger 7000 Series aluminum body that Apple hopes will prevent last year's "bendgate" fiasco.

In order to limit protrusions and keep the device as simple as possible, the device's power and volume buttons sit almost flush with the frame. These buttons that were previously designed to attract attention (iPhone 5s and older) have now been reshaped into oblong circles that give them a less pronounced feel. But, don’t let the shallow design fool you, each button provides excellent feedback that is complimented by a very distinct clicking noise when pressed. In fact, the only protrusions that still seems to exist is from Apple's rear camera. Although highly criticized when first introduced with the 6 and 6 Plus, the problem has abated, as other manufacturers are following a similar trend of including a better sensor for a small compromise. The back also houses the dual LED flash with the bottom edge sporting the customary speaker grill with mono speaker, microphone port, Lightning port, and headphone jack.

Although there is a bit more heft and a miniscule addition to thickness, the combination of the glass front, aluminum construction, smoothed edges and thin profile (72mm / .29 inch) make the iPhone 6s Plus a sleek and solid device. But, this comes as no surprise considering the 6s Plus is nearly identical to last year’s model. While there could’ve been improvements from last year’s design, this is generally not customary of an “s” release and a full revamp will most likely arrive in next year’s refresh.

Display

For years Apple refused to increase the size of its display. But, with the iPhone 5 and 5s we saw Apple compromising by going from a 3.5” to a 4” display. While Apple might have thought they were moving mountains, a majority of the public were beyond ready for something much bigger. Luckily, Apple finally yielded to the overwhelming pressure of trend and released the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

With the iPhone 6s Plus, Apple offers the same design and still utilizes a 5.5” display. Apple has been known to source some wonderful displays in the past and the iPhone 6s Plus is no exception. The new 5.5-inch panel is touted as a Retina HD display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and 401ppi. This is the highest resolution screen that has ever been produced for an iPhone. The screen is an IPS panel that utilizes a LED backlit dual-domain pixel display that provides excellent colors and viewing angles. While it’s tough to distinguish between a standard IPS panel and one that has dual-domain pixels, it becomes apparent when you tilt the device to an almost unusable viewing angle. Naturally for some, 1080p has grown a bit long in the tooth, but I think that this is the sweet spot currently for mobile devices until manufacturers can manage acceptable battery life on devices with higher resolution displays.

For those that love tactile feedback, Apple's 'Taptic Engine' is the holy grail. It's difficult to explain the sensation that you get when using the iPhone 6s Plus, but when the new vibrating mechanism activates for the first time - it's truly on another level. It feels as though each type of vibration that Apple is trying to create is being perfectly replicated. For example, when there is knock, you feel a knock. It's no longer about just prolonging or shortening a vibration, it's about how crisp or dull the vibration can be made to replicate a certain feeling. It's easy to feel the difference when transitioning back and forth from a traditional vibrating mechanism to the Taptic Engine. While there is nothing wrong with the traditional mechanism, much like experiencing something new, you don't know know what you're missing until you try it.

But, Apple didn't create this new technology purely to improve the tactile experience. Instead, it was meant to be paired with Apple's new '3D Touch' display. 3D Touch is a new feature that allows an iPhone to sense how much pressure is being applied to the screen. Since this is an entirely new method of interaction, Apple had to revamp iOS so that it could showcase the new technology.

‘Peek’ and ‘Pop’ are two new means of interacting with your screen that allows a user to preview and experience content in an entirely new way. Although not omnipresent, the interactions are sprinkled all throughout Apple's latest iOS 9. Currently, there are only a handful of 3rd party apps, but a majority of Apple’s core apps like Mail, Photos, Messages, Calendar and more are supported.

Apple dubs the ‘Peek’ interaction as anything that will allow you to press and experience a small snippet of what you are trying to view. This peek will generally act as a pop-up, bringing up a small window that will allow a user to preview an email, image and the like. By applying more pressure on the Peek window, you will be able to “Pop” that preview into a full and uninterrupted experience. While it does seem useful, I found myself relying on the ways of old to interact with a majority of the OS and apps because it was simply faster. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that 3D Touch will gain traction through maturation with a heaping of help from creative developers. But for now, its not really a game changer some would have you believe. Furthermore, I think that Apple is just laying the groundwork for something bigger, something that will eventually be introduced in the future that could once again revolutionize the iPhone.

Software

Although iOS was first introduced in 2007, it has still retained much of the same design elements and characteristics since its first version. Over the years, Apple has added little things here and there and slowly evolved the platform. Perhaps the most dramatic revamp of the OS came in September of 2013, with the introduction of iOS 7. The new version brought completely redesigned icons and a revamped UI. The OS also brought new features like an improved camera interface, control center, and other updates. While iOS 7 had a whopping 89% adoption rate, the OS wasn’t universally heralded as previous iterations, receiving criticism for its flashy design, bright colors, and instabilities. Two years later, Apple has refined the OS even further, but has weighed a majority of the revisions and improvements towards its tablet products.

Much like every year, Apple claims that their latest version of iOS will be faster, more efficient and more intuitive. iOS 9 doesn’t offer as dramatic of a change as iOS 8, but it does build on the platform to create a smoother more intelligent experience. As for new additions, Apple has added a "News" section that now collects all the important things you might want to read into one place. For anyone that has used an RSS feed, this is pretty much the same thing, but made more elegant to conform with Apple's iOS aesthetic. The "Notes" app has also been improved to allow the addition of a photo, map, or web link. Users can also doodle on Notes making it more diverse and flexible. Naturally, the Notes are now able to sync across all of Apple's platforms via iCloud. The "Maps" application has also been improved with more ways to navigate with the addition of public transit systems that will show subway lines and stations, buses, trains, and ferries.

Siri, the personal digital assistant that started a trend has now become more intelligent allowing for deeper searches and further integration. The assistant can now also be brought up with a "Hey Siri" voice command for handsfree assistance. Although the above is just a small sampling of what has changed, even with the overwhelming amount of updates to the OS, it still feels like the same old iOS. Even with less restrictions, there are still only a small handful of options available for customization. Also with the introduction of new elements, each iteration of iOS becomes less stable, and iOS 9 is without exception. While not a common occurrence, there were instances when the OS would hang for a second, touch responses were not detected or various little things here and there. Just to be clear, these incidents occurred only a couple times during my two weeks of use.

Although Apple could expand and create something unique, Apple is forced to adhere to a formula. They have unfortunately pigeon-holed themselves into an area where they cant deviate due to its demanding user base. Because of this, Apple is left with an iOS that constantly has a new coat of paint, but is still supported by the same old frame that has honestly lost a majority of its luster.

Performance

The iPhone 6s Plus is powered by Apple’s proprietary A9 chipset. The A9 is a 64-bit processor that Apple claims will offer 70% better CPU performance and a 90% increase in graphics performance compared to the previous iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. There has also been an increase in the memory, which upgrades from 1GB to 2GB. The 6s Plus also still offers a motion coprocessor (this time the chip is embedded into the main CPU) that will directly collect data from the accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, and barometer data.

While the specifications may seem paltry compared to other devices on the market, the iPhone 6s Plus performs extremely well. This may come as surprise for those unfamiliar, but Apple has for the most part in the past, delivered devices with exceptional performance. For day-to-day use, the phone is quick - opening web pages and applications without hesitation. Beyond general use - the UI, animations and gaming are smoother thanks to iOS 9’s utilization of Metal.

Putting it to the test, the numbers reflect the experience with Futuremark’s 3DMark registering an impressive score of 26,498. In terms of comparison, the device outperformed nearly every mobile product on the market. The iPhone 6s Plus also tested well with GFXBench 3.1, topping the charts in a majority of the tests or establishing itself in the top five. Naturally, numbers can always be manipulated, but if these numbers are to be believed, the iPhone is far ahead of the game while maintaining its fairly ‘modest’ specifications.

Camera

While competitors have been pushing the boundaries when it comes to digital imaging, Apple has chosen to stay its course by offering a refined and simple experience. Luckily, Apple did chose to bump up the megapixel count for this year’s release and the 6s Plus offers a 12 megapixel camera with optical image stabilization and 4K video. This isn’t the highest megapixel camera available on the smartphone market, but it’s been optimized to produce some wonderful photos and videos.

Like previous generations, the camera is quick to focus, shoot and is highly accurate in day or night shots. Although the camera does not have a wide variety of shooting options, it does offer the basic and most used features like panoramic, time lapse, and more. New for 2015 is the addition of ‘Live Photos’. This new mode records a few seconds before and after you take a photo, resulting in a animated image with sound that brings a trickle of life to an otherwise still moment. While Live Photos are neat, it remains whether this will become a prominently used feature amongst iOS users.

Much like the pictures, the video capabilities of the new iPhone are excellent - shooting crisp videos in optimal and low-light conditions. While the low-light performance could be a bit better, without the capability to manually control and expose pictures or videos, you are working with one of the best auto modes available.

Although the competition is offering better, Apple's claim to fame has always been about consistency. While you can't dominate your subjects with enhanced manual modes, you can always and still feel confident that the iPhone will shoot accurate, quick and impressive pictures and videos without the need for much thought.

Conclusion

Overall, the iPhone 6s Plus is the best iPhone to date. But, that’s not surprising considering Apple's meticulous adherence to incremental changes without tampering with a winning formula. So whether this is your first time buying an iPhone or upgrading from an older model, Apple has added just the right amount in this "s" entry to make consumers happy.

But, what about the iPhone when compared to its peers. For the past few years I have struggled with the sense that the smartphone industry has grown stagnant. Instead of innovating, a majority of companies have chosen to participate in a fruitless “arms race”. While this may produce the “best” handset on the market, it doesn’t necessarily produce a quality handset. When Apple entered the smartphone market in 2007, they had no choice but to deliver the most innovative and advanced handset that the world had ever seen. In 2007, Apple was the newcomer and they were entering a crowded market dominated by giants like Nokia, Blackberry, Palm, and the like. But, due to the innovations introduced (multi-touch, App Store, etc) they were able to pioneer a movement that brought better handsets to market.

Now, almost ten years later, Apple has become the worst offender out of the bunch, opting year after year to play it safe. In 2015, this is becoming even more apparent as brands like Samsung, Microsoft even lesser known players from China are no longer playing catch up, but are becoming the leaders in their segment, pushing technology further. It's without a doubt a difficult thing to innovate year after year, but Apple was a company that used to deliver this across all of its line of products. While there is a need to preserve certain elements when introducing new products, Apple has long become a company that drags its feet when it comes to delivering jaw dropping products and has instead chosen to rest on its laurels. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are without a doubt at the top of the pile, but how much better could they be? How much further can Apple take a product to really distance themselves from the competition? Because at this very moment, they are being overtaken by not one, but several companies vying to be crowned the new leader over a complacent Apple.

But, to be fair, this is the best iPhone to date and it works exactly how it should. It’s solid, reliable and performs above expectations when it comes to daily tasks and use. Best of all you get a tremendous amount of use from the device on a single charge with most times seeing two days. Again, it might not offer a 2K display, 20MP camera or something revolutionary - but it does offer one of the most solid experiences when it comes to a mobile device. This is the best iPhone Apple has ever produced, but it is no longer the best option (there are lots to choose from).

 

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