Dr. Mac's First Look at the iPhone 6s

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #143

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a new iPhone 6s, so I ordered one at approximately 2:01 AM (Central) on September 12, making me among the first to place an order, which arrived on Friday. I’m still getting to know it, so this is more of a first look than a comprehensive review. That said, here are my initial impressions:

I opened the box and my first thought was that it looks exactly like an iPhone 6 with only the tiniest of cosmetic differences. I tried it in several iPhone 6 cases I had lying around and it fit perfectly in all of ‘em. (TMO's Bryan Chaffin put together a separate list of cases we tried.)

Before I could use the new phone, I attempted to do the things I always do when migrating to a new iPhone: Make two encrypted backups. Why encrypted backups, you might ask? Well, if you don’t encrypt your iPhone backups, they won’t include important stuff like passwords and health data. When you back up to iCloud, the backup is encrypted automatically; when you back up to your hard disk, however, you have to click the Encrypt iPhone Backup checkbox in iTunes to encrypt it.

So I tried to back up to iCloud first. That failed and continued to fail well into Friday night, spewing a cryptic message: “The last backup could not be completed.”

I wish these error messages were more informative... 

I eventually gave up on iCloud and made two encrypted backups to my hard disk. Then I began migrating my stuff from the backup to the new iPhone 6s. Suffice it to say that things didn’t proceed smoothly. Most of Friday was wasted trying to get my old stuff backed up and onto the new iPhone.  First, a bunch of my apps never loaded completely on the new phone. I re-synced a couple of times but still had some apps stuck in the “installing” or “loading” mode.

Then I noticed that my Apple Watch was spontaneously un-pairing itself from the new phone. I’d look and it was paired; I’d look again five minutes later and it wasn’t. Finally, I erased and restored both the iPhone 6s and the Apple Watch, which seemed to set things right.

The point is that it took me over 8 hours to get my new iPhone ready to use. It's never taken me more than an hour (or two at most) before, so you might want to plan to migrate to your new iPhone at a time when a few hours of intense frustration won’t affect your mental health (or at least won't affect it much).

After a very rough start, however, I must say the iPhone 6s has met or exceeded my expectations in almost every way.

The first thing I started playing with was 3D Touch, which knows just how hard you press on the screen, adding a whole new dimension to navigating on your iPhone. For example, to deal with unread mail in your inbox you press on messages to preview them. Then, without lifting your finger, you can:

  • Swipe up for additional options: Reply, Forward, Mark, Notify Me, and Move Message
  • Swipe left to mark the message as unread
  • Swipe right to archive (or trash) the message
  • Press harder to open the message as usual

The bottom line is that it now takes much less time to work my way through a long list of emails or iMessages (since this trick also works in the Messages app). Needless to say, this way of doing triage on your mail or messages is much faster and easier. 

3D Touch is also a standout on Home screens, where you can press on an app icon and see a list of shortcuts known as Quick Actions. For example, when you press on the Camera icon you get to choose from:

  • Take a selfie
  • Record a video
  • Record a slo-mo video
  • Take a photo

After you make your selection, the Camera app launches directly into that mode.

The new Live Photos are another interesting innovation. When enabled, your photos come to life when you press on them in the Photos app, displaying a second and a half of video before and after the photo. The good ones are stunning but I wasted a lot of time trying to get good ones. And when you import Live Photos shot on the 6s into Photos on the Mac, they appear as two files – a 3 second video clip and a still image. My Photos collection is big enough as it is; I’m not sure I like having duplicates (a still and a three second video) of everything I shoot with my iPhone. Ergo, I’m leaving it turned on for now, but I reserve the right to turn it off soon. We’ll see how it goes.  

Something interesting happened a few days before the phone arrived…  I received an email from Apple offering a free online personal setup session with an Apple Specialist. This was a first for me and I was curious, so I set up an appointment and met (online) with Misty the Apple Specialist on Sunday morning. It was a great online chat experience and far more convenient than a trip to the Genius Bar. I didn’t expect to, but I even learned something I didn’t know: The new iPhone S models both include “live” wallpaper (Settings > Wallpaper > Live), which play back stunning HD video on your lock screen when you press down on it. It’s totally useless but it’s also among the most beautiful pieces of eye candy I’ve ever seen on any iPhone. 

There is one last thing: I ordered mine in the new Rose Gold metallic finish, which is a lot pinker than I expected. I’m fairly secure in my manliness, but I think it may be too pink for my tastes; I may have to return it.

Unretouched photo: Is it too pink?

Speaking of returning it, the pinkness isn’t my only issue. I thought I’d be satisfied with the iPhone 6s being smaller than my iPhone 6 Plus, but I already find myself pining for a larger screen (not to mention a better camera). And while the new iPhone 6s camera is somewhat better than my old iPhone 6 Plus camera, the new iPhone 6s Plus camera with optical image stabilization (which my rosy new iPhone 6s camera is lacking) should be even better. 

I’ll keep you posted.

And that’s all he wrote…