Early reviews of iPhone 6s & 6s Plus praise cameras & 3D Touch, fret over …

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple iPhone 6S and 6S Plus review roundup: stronger, faster, heavier.

The Guardian is not one of those picked by Apple to receive a sample of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus ahead of its release, and will publish a review after buying one at the same time as consumers. Although the iPhone is already among the best smartphones for everyday shots, images from previous iPhones haven’t been as sharp as what rival cameras produce.

No need to grumble, this is still slim by any standard, with the phone’s increased portliness barely noticeable and the added 14g giving the phone a more reassuring heft. Easily the most well constructed handset on the market – despite increased competition from the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 – the iPhone 6S’s cool-to-the-touch metal body and softly curved edges make the phone look and feel great. I’ve talked before about how important it is that Apple owns their whole image pipeline, rather than letting a third party image processor mangle the iPhone’s photos. Nilay Patel loves the new pressure-sensitive “3D Touch” screen but admits that it’s not exactly a novel concept, even if it’s a new implementation: On the home screen, app icons can show quick actions when you push them. As last year, both phones share a lot of capabilities, so I’ll talk about both of them here and go into separate detail for the larger of the two, the 6s Plus, elsewhere.

You may have heard about the biggies: faster performance, improved camera, 4K ultra-high- definition video recording and that new 3D Touch engine that previews e-mail and apps depending upon how hard you press on the screen. Apple has resisted increasing pixel count because the truth of the matter is that more pixels in the same size sensor usually means more heat, more noise and worse detail. Apple says you don’t have to press the home button to say Hey Siri, a change from previous models, which had to be plugged in to power to make it work.

It’s not some insane lightning bolt of inspiration; Google is doing something very similar with Material Design and Microsoft has been sliding things all over the screen since someone was drunk enough to approve the name ‘Windows Phone 7 Series’. Because there are more pixels to fit, the pixel pitch has gone down from 1.5µ to 1.22µ (smaller pixels usually means less light), but I haven’t seen any impact on image quality. Apple says that it’s reduced noise by blocking light from bouncing back and forth between pixels, causing confusion that leads to those multicolored speckles you see in what should be a solid color. Basically, apple used smaller pixels because they had to fit more of them, but countered that with some pretty hard engineering challenges to correct the negative effects.

The detail is much improved, enabling better cropping and zooming of far-away subjects and crystal clear landscapes, portraits and up to 63 megapixel panoramic shots. This translates to a number of subtle changes to its dimensions, from 158.1mm x 77.8mm x 7.1mm to 158.2mm x 77.9mm x 7.3mm, and an increase in weight from 172g to 192g. Follow USA TODAY tech columnist and #talkingtech host Jefferson Graham on Twitter, where he’s @jeffersongraham and listen to his daily audio tech reports on Stitcher and TuneIn. It’s impossible to tell the difference between the 6S and 6 iPhones, save for a tinyyy [sic] ant-sized “S” on the rear and slightly more heft (the 6S phones are one ounce heavier).

The more pedantic among you may still be irritated by the fact the Apple logo still acts as a fingerprint magnet due to its highly polished surface, but it’s still preferable to having to wipe down the entire back as you have to do with other shinier rival models. What is different are the few, significant internal improvements, one of which is what I think will entice people (namely, me) to upgrade. 3D Touch is the 6S’s killer feature. Apple is wise enough to introduce new colours so seldomly that fans go into meltdown each time a new hue is inducted into the fold, and one of the main talking points around the new handsets is the introduction of the new rose gold colour (tested here), slotting in neatly next to the gold, space grey and silver shades established by last year’s lineup. Following in the footsteps of such a luxurious benchmark, the decision to extend the colour to the iPhone has been interpreted as a flagrant appeal to the burgeoning demand for the handsets within China – a market Apple considers so lucrative, Tim Cook made the rare move of speaking out to reassure investors amid fears over Apple’s performance within China’s volatile markets last month.

Photo: Geoff Pugh | The Daily Telegraph Apple’s rose gold is a funny kind of shade – its tendency to reflect or absorb light depending on the lighting conditions when photographed means it can appear anything from an icy mauve to a muddy golden brown in pictures. Stuart Miles says the optical stabilisation and phase detection autofocus make the new 12-megapixel upgrade to the iPhone’s camera a winner, but Live Photos are a mixed bag for now. Like the aluminium, the 6s Plus’ display glass has also benefited from reinforcement, and is now the most durable in the smartphone industry, Apple claims, thanks to a dual ion-exchange in the manufacturing process. When Apple’s achievement with the A9 processor really starts to shine is when you realize that you can chop and edit these enormous video files in real-time right in iMovie.

Another frustration is that audio is automatically recorded, which at times is lovely – a child’s giggle for example – but not so great when you’ve got the same child screaming in the background. These are curious but splendid photos which include in them three seconds of, not quite video, but a bunch of frames taken before and after you press the shutter button. Text is sharp, colour reproduction is accurate and contrast ratio is excellent, but if you’ve been using the 6 for the past year, there’s nothing to really offer you by way of improvement, which is a shame. While you can offload some of that to Apple’s iCloud Drive service (at a yearly subscription) a 16GB iPhone 6S Plus isn’t going to stretch as far as it used to (compounding the argument for a 32GB minimum model). The phone is able to algorithmically determine how much you’re moving your hands while your’e shooting and dynamically adjust the digital crop to present a stabilized view.

This is attuned to your voice when you first set Siri up during the iPhone activation process, which means Siri is supposed to be able to pick out your voice alone from within a crowded room. I did find that a woman of a similar age and voice range to myself was able to activate Siri from a distance by speaking a command, so maybe this is a feature which needs a bit of refining. Apple have always opted out of trying to out-pixel the competition, with many rival devices offering more than double the megapixel power (Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge +’s 16MP, Sony’s Xperia Z5’s 23MP, HTC’s One M9’s 20.7MP) claiming that adding pixels tends to degrade image quality. In the meantime the more you use Live Photos, the more you learn to leave your camera in place for the second or so after you’ve pressed the shutter, as that creates a better effect. Debate rages over quite how accurate this kind of statement is, but there’s no denying that Apple desperately needed to up its camera game to remain a true contender.

Thanks to the iSight sensor’s 50 per cent more pixels, its autofocus is now faster and more accurate, according to senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller, resulting in less accidental blur and noise. This means pictures taken on the Plus models tend to appear slightly brighter and more true-to-life in terms of colour, but the difference is very minor. The Live Photos mode is automatically turned on each time you open the camera, and a small yellow box reading Live appears on screen while you take your picture as you would normally. With Live Photos and 4K videos, your phone will fill up even more quickly, even with better compression to compensate for the higher resolution and animation. Scrolling through pictures in the Photos app triggers a brief burst of movement to remind you it’s a Live Photo, rather than a standard still image.

But Apple has refined the process and fully integrated it into the camera’s functionality instead of eliminating it to an app, and the fact you can set your own Live Photos as your lock screen wallpaper is a nice touch. Quick Actions is a means of providing shortcuts to the most important aspects of a homescreen app directly, removing the need to open the app, select and then launch your desired action.

Pressing lightly on an address within an email, for example, allows you to ‘peek’ at the point on Apple’s Maps app, and ceasing to press returns you to the message. Pressing the open Map point more deeply will ‘pop’ the new app onto the screen, opening it fully. iOS 9 has been designed to sweep through your messages and emails to automatically detect forthcoming events, flight information, addresses, links and so on to provide you with this time-saving action, all without leaving the app you’re in. You can also use Quick Actions within apps, such as peeking into a book and sliding up to share it, or likewise on a link to open a new tab, copy it or add it to a reading list.

There are those who will question just how desperately a smartphone requires pressure-sensitive capabilities, but anything which abbreviates the process of switching between apps – and especially when it comes to labourious exercises like inputting a lengthy address into a mapping app – is a good thing in my eyes. Again, the Moto X offered a similar service, which allowed you to peep inside notifications under their Moto Display function, this is not ground-breaking tech.

When sending a text or email, a force press anywhere on the keyboard makes the keys vanish and instead as you move the finger left and right the cursor in the text box moves accordingly. As with the 6, you can register up to five fingerprints to the phone for unlocking the handset, authenticating your identity or verifying purchases from the iTunes Store, App Store or iBooks Store. Huawei has already built something similar, though it’s not as cleverly implemented – expect other manufacturers to add this to their handsets as soon as they can. The new rear camera has had its pixel count boosted from eight megapixels to 12, promising reduced image noise, greater sharpness and realistic colours. I’d love to say I’d noticed a big difference but the truth is iPhone photos are so cleverly processed they have always looked stunning and been hard to beat.

Taking the shot is the key feature here: there are limited menus, few choices to make and little to distract you from the importance of point-and-shoot. I prefer the larger display and the resolution it affords me, and once you get past the novelty of carrying something akin to a large bar of chocolate, it’s a brilliant device.

Most of us don’t have a 4K TV to play such high-resolution video back on, but not only does it look great on the iPhone’s screen, it looks stunning when you pinch-to-zoom during playback. As the entry-level iPhone 5c has now been wiped from the company’s lineup, Apple is unashamedly targeting the premium market, and there will inevitably be fans who think nothing of dropping close to £800 on a phone. The battery may not be as big on these new phones as last year’s models but the improved processor and iOS 9 have meant that I haven’t noticed any drop in time between recharges.

Though there are some features which rivals have and the iPhone does not – like wireless charging and widespread NFC use – the innovations Apple has introduced are useful, intuitive and just better, actually.

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