Hold on to your hats because what I'm about to say might shock you: The new iPhone is better than the old iPhone.
Apple (AAPL, Tech30)'s iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus are available on Friday, and many people must do the annual soul searching that comes after an Apple release. Do you jump now, wait another year, or stick with your Android phone?
Many smartphone owners are on an every-other-year upgrade cycle. A few hardcore Apple lovers get the latest iPhone annually. Waiting years until your last phone is a broken, sluggish, former shell of itself is also a completely valid upgrade philosophy.
For anyone on the fence, it all comes down to the new features. I tested the best new additions on a rose gold iPhone 6S Plus. (The iPhone 6S Plus is essentially just a really big iPhone 6S, so the review applies to both models.)
Let's jump in.
What is it? There are two new ways to touch the iPhone screen: harder, and harder than that.
The iPhone 6S screen detects pressure, a feature Apple calls 3D Touch. Pressing harder than a tap mostly triggers shortcuts and previews. The phone issues different vibrations to let you know you've pushed hard enough.
On the home screen, pressing on an icon opens a pop-up window with shortcuts for that app. When you're inside an app, pressing and holding on elements or text can show a preview (called a "Peek") of things like images, links, maps, and emails. Push harder and it will open full screen (called a "Pop"). Press on the left side of the screen to trigger the carousel that shows other open apps.
Is it any good? Getting around the phone is absolutely faster, when you do it right. The 3D Touching takes a bit of practice. I keep making the same mistakes, like not pushing hard enough on an icon and making all the apps jiggle instead. Or pressing on things that don't support 3D Touch (not even the current temperature, Apple Weather app?).
It will probably always be a bit of trial and error, as more third-party apps add support for pressure. Right now it works on the big Apple apps and a first wave of third-party apps including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Evernote, Twitter, Opentable, Dropbox and Weibo. More will follow, hopefully finding new and interesting ways to take advantage of pressure sensitivity, like drawing and gaming.
Our brains will memorize what peeks and what pops quickly enough, and 3D Touch will become second nature.
What is it? A Live Photo is a proprietary new kind of photo that combines a three-second video with a still image. To bring a still image to life, press hard on the image and keep your finger down.
When you take a photo on a 6S with Live Photos turned on (front or back camera), it automatically records 1.5 seconds of video with audio before and after the image. Sadly, they're only viewable on Apple mobile devices running iOS 9 or the upcoming OS X El Capitan (you can share them as normal photos anywhere). Third parties like Facebook, Getty and We Chat plan to add support for Live Photos by the holidays.
Is it good? When the moment is right, Live Photos are legitimately very cool. They remind me of the animations the Google Photos app automatically makes from a burst of photos.
The moment is not always right. The assumption is that the seconds before and after a photo is taken are also worth saving. Many of my shots started with a blur of movement and ended with a close up of the floor or my pants. Or of someone awkwardly holding a smile. I started adjusting my normal photo taking habits, slowing down to increase my ratio of usable Live Photos.
Once you take a Live Photo, there's no way to delete the video part and just keep the photo on the phone. You can turn it off in Edit mode, but the video is not deleted, which isn't very helpful if you're trying to clear up space.
What are they? Apple knows a major selling point of the iPhone its cameras, so it showers them with attention. The 6S has a 12-megapixel camera on back that can shoot 4K video, and 5-megapixel camera on the front for FaceTime and selfies. Apple also made a bunch of under-the-hood improvements for better photos.
One of the only feature differences between the 6S and 6S Plus is that the latter has optical image stabilization.
Are they any good? Compared to the same photos taken by an iPhone 6, the iPhone 6S's images do look higher quality. But my favorite new fun feature is on the front camera. There's a flash option that is actually the iPhone screen lighting up to full brightness. It doesn't just use white light though, it detects the lighting conditions and tints the screen accordingly.
What is it? "Hey Siri" is Siri but without any touching.
Say the phrase "Hey Siri" near a sleeping or locked iPhone 6S and start talking. The digital assistant springs to life at the sound of your voice.
This feature isn't new, but being able to use it without being plugged into a power source is. Hey Siri on the iPhone 6S works even if you phone is on the dash of a car or pinned under a stack of $20s in your purse.
Is it good? This isn't just for knitters, jugglers, and people who just got manicures. The future of smart assistants is hands-free, just ask Amazon, Google and Trekkies. Any frustrations with this feature are the same issues I've had with regular Siri, like a shortage of third-party integration.
Is it a must-have?
The iPhone 6S is absolutely a solid upgrade, if you need one. It has some drawbacks, including some extra weight and no real battery improvement. But 3D Touch makes for a better experience across the board and general performance improvements are worth a leap from a 5S or older. Live Photos are just a cute bonus.