I’ve been using the new iPhone 6S Plus on loan from Apple for the past few days. (Along with the iPhone 6S, it started shipping last week in 11 countries; Apple says it has already sold more than 13 million of the two models.)
It’s more of an upgrade than I had anticipated. And it has caused me to question the way I buy and own my phone, which has become my primary mobile computer.
I wasn’t expecting much. The iPhone 6 Plus, Apple’s first giant-screen phone, was a game-changer for me; I called it the “best computer I’ve ever had.” It has gotten a bit slow, noticeably showing some of its hardware constraints. But I was happy to ride it out.
The new iPhone, however, feels crazy fast, with upgrades across the board. This is evident in real usage and on paper. Unlocking the phone with my fingerprint—something I do dozens of times per day—is now instantaneous, as is launching apps. Web pages seem to remain in memory longer, and don’t refresh as often. A speed test indicates the iPhone 6S Plus is as fast as Apple’s new MacBook.
3D touch is a useful power move
The iPhone’s new pressure-sensitive “3D touch” screen could be useful for games and drawing apps. But it’s also a power move for saving time: App makers can add 3D-touch shortcuts to their homescreen icons, so you can jump directly into Shazam-ing a song, composing a tweet, or listening to the podcast episode you were playing earlier.
It’s early, but these shortcuts feel satisfying, powerful, and futuristic, and I’m excited to see where they go. It’s easy to imagine something like hailing an UberPool to the office or home with one tap, or peeking at your favorite teams’ scores by 3D-touching the ESPN app.
This plays into the growing trend of invisible apps that Quartz’s Zach Seward has written about. And it’s exactly the sort of super-fast shortcuts I’d love to see on the next-generation Apple Watch—and the iPad.
New 3D-touch actions are hard to discover, and don’t always feel intuitive. But this seems like the most interesting new feature in a while.
Live Photos are a fun bonus
Apple’s new camera feature lets you record a short video while you’re framing your still shot.
This isn’t compelling when shooting landscapes or nonmoving objects, and some have written it off as a gimmick. But if you have a child or a cute dog, and regret how few videos you shoot of them relative to the number of still photos, it’s a delightful, free bonus feature. (Free, that is, beyond the cost of storage. Remember, friends don’t let friends buy the 16 GB iPhone.)
Apple has made a Live Photo tool available to developers, and Facebook will reportedly implement it. It doesn’t immediately seem like the way all photos will eventually be taken or viewed, but it’s a cool option. One area for improvement: It would be nice if the video frame rate was higher on future versions.
The rose gold is pretty pink
It looks nice in some lighting, a little silly in others. It’s really up to what you like. But after using a black or gray iPhone since the beginning, the white screen border is the most jarring. If I buy one, I’ll stick with gray.
To upgrade annually?
Like most people, I purchase a new phone every two years when my wireless contract is up for renewal. So I’ve generally avoided the iPhone “S” model years, and haven’t felt like I’ve missed out on anything.
But in addition to the new iPhone’s speed boosts and features, Apple has introduced a new way of buying one, called the iPhone Upgrade Program, which allows you to lease an unlocked iPhone and upgrade to a new phone annually.
It’s a bit more expensive than other installment plans available from carriers, and Apple is only offering it in the US so far. Also, the idea of renting a highly personal gadget—instead of owning it outright—still feels a bit strange.
But it’s making me think twice. If Apple is going to make future ”S” updates as significant as this year’s, and if the iPhone continues to serve as my primary mobile computer, I’m seriously considering it.