Hear that gentle whooshing sound across the nation? That’s the sound of a million iPhone 6 owners breathing a sigh of relief because they won’t feel obliged to upgrade to the all-new iPhone 6S.

Because very little has changed on the surface with the new S upgrade – the so-called ‘tock’ release to the iPhone 6’s ‘tick – Apple has actually released a TV commercial specifically addressing the apparent lack of changes. ‘The only thing that’s changed is everything’ is the tagline.

But what are the differences between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S in reality?

1. The case

The new iPhone 6s uses a new type of aluminium alloy – dubbed 7000 Series – which was first rolled out with the Apple Watch Sport earlier this year. This new alloy is reputedly 60% stronger than most aluminium without adding too much in weight. Apple also claims that the 7000 Series has a more satin-like texture, which we have to respectfully call bullshit on. As you can see from the specifications table below, the new iPhone 6S is fractionally bigger than the 6, and a whole 14 grams heavier. This is apparently down to the new material and the need to cram in the additional gubbins to make the new 3D Touch sensors work.

Worth the upgrade?

In a word, no. For most people the iPhone 6S with look and feel identical to its predecessor. The whole ‘Bendgate’ saga which implied the iPhone 6 was easy to bend was wildly exaggerated. Meanwhile the Rose Gold colour option is likely to appeal to flamboyant extroverts only (as Apple hints at in the commercial, where one is wielded by a Chris Eubank lookalike).

2. The processor

The new iPhone 6S rocks the brand new A9 processor: a 64-bit chip which Apple claims offers “desktop-class” speeds. More specifically, Apple claims that the iPhone 6S’s A9 chip is 70% faster in CPU cycles and 90% faster at graphics processing than its predecessor. If true, this would be the single biggest leap in speed since the move from the 5 to 5S in 2013, but even though on paper these boosts seem impressive, in day to day use the iPhone 6 remains one of the fastest smartphone you can buy.

Of course, you can never have too much speed – but at the moment it’s debatable what real-world benefits an iPhone 6S user will enjoy over the iPhone 6, barring nerdy bragging rights.

Worth the upgrade?

Not really. The iPhone 6’s A8 remains a highly capable processorwhich remains ahead of all but a handful of the latest Android flagship phones.

3. The RAM

Apple hasn’t officially announced it yet, but the iPhone 6S has 2GB of RAM, double that of the iPhone 6. Meanwhile many Android smartphones are boasting 3GB or even 4GB of RAM. So it should be no brainer that the RAM upgrade alone makes it worth upgrading to the iPhone 6S?

Worth the upgrade?

Well to answer both questions above: possibly. The main advantage of the extra Ram in day to day use on an iPhone is to stop Safari pages having to reload when you switch between them. This frustrating behavior is the main day-to-day issue with the current 1GB of Ram in the iPhone 6. If you find it that annoying then upgrading to the 6S may well be worth the money.

4. 3D Touch

3D Touch is arguably the tentpole feature of the iPhone 6S and is the most obvious point of difference to the iPhone 6. However the old adage, you can’t miss what you don’t know, springs to mind. If you’ve tried 3D Touch and seen the convenience it offers – contextual commands at your fingertips, the ability to peek and poke into apps and documents without leaving your ‘place’ in the interface – you will start to understand just what a big deal 3D touch can be. But if you haven’t popped and peeked you may well wonder what all the fuss is about. However it’s certainly the one new and exclusive iPhone feature that has excited the Android community, so perhaps their interest will pique the potential upgraders.

Worth the upgrade?

In our opinion, yes. Like the retina screen, it’s something that you won’t miss until you see it – and once you’ve used it you won’t want to go back to a phone where it’s absent.

5. The camera

The iPhone has always led the smartphone industry when it comes to the quality of its main camera and its supporting software – and the new iPhone 6S has significant upgrades to both its front and rear cameras.

The most obvious change is the increase in resolution from 8 megapixels to 12 megapixels, although this increase is accompanied by a corresponding decrease in the individual pixel size from 1.5µ to 1.22µ. The nub of this is that the iPhone 6s can capture more detail in its photographs, which means they can cropped more aggressively or printed out at a larger size without pixellating.

However the increased resolution also means that each photo will take up more space on your phone – and if you are unlucky enough to have the entry-level 16GB model you may well find that the space will run out sooner rather than later.

The video capabilities of the camera have also been boosted: the main marketing bulletpoint is that the camera can now record 4k video with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels compared with the 1920 x 1080 that the iPhone 6 can record.

Of course you will need a 4k TV set to view the footage on – and again if you have a 16GB model you won’t have much footage to view. Each minute of 4k video will take up 375MB of space (compared with 130MB/minute for 1080p video), which give you about 20 minutes of footage on a typical 16GB iPhone 6S.

Selfie lovers will also get a boost with the iPhone 6S: the rear-facing FaceTime camera goes from 1.2 megapixels to 5 megapixels. And the iPhone 6S also introduces a new feature – Retina Flash – which turns the display on an iPhone 6S into a giant flash panel. This is coupled with True Tone software to provide a timed and colour-corrected light source to ensure your self-portraits don’t look over-exposed with red eyes.

Finally there is the iPhone 6S-only capability of taking Live Photos. These are essentially mini-Vines – where a photograph is topped and tailed with 1.5-seconds of video. The jury is still out whether this is going to be a game changer or a short-term fad, but if you want these video-lets you’ll have to upgrade to the 6S.

Worth the upgrade?

If photography and video are among the main uses of your iPhone, then a definite yes. This is the biggest camera upgrade since the iPhone 5 in 2012. But steer well clear of the 16GB model if you want to make the most of the iPhone 6S’s improved camera specifications.

Always-on Siri

The upgraded M9 motion co-processor in the iPhone 6S now enables it to monitor for ‘Hey Siri’ voice commands even when the phone isn’t plugged into a power source. We think this somewhat overlooked feature could prove really compelling as Siri’s capabilities and performance continue to improve. Siri now provides a key user input for the Apple Watch and the new Apple TV, the cord-cutting capability of the iPhone 7 could mean that voice control finally comes of age on the phone.

Worth the upgrade?

Yes, we think so. The software and processing power now available means that Siri is finally starting to deliver on the original promise of being an intelligent, voice-controlled persomal assistant that learns from your past behaviour.

All things considered, should I upgrade from the iPhone 6 to the iPhone 6S?

The sensible answer is no. If you are happy with your iPhone 6 – which let’s face it, is still a damned good smartphone – then there’s no single compelling reason to trade it in and upgrade to the iPhone 6S. In fact, we would recommend you avoid playing with the new model at all – the less you know about 3D Touch the less you’ll crave it. Ignorance really is bliss in this regard.

Tock releases are all about polish and refinement, incremental improvements that ensure that the overall iPhone experience sets the standards for the rest of the industry. So in a sense the iPhone is competing with itself, always pushing the bar slightly higher to ensure that the competition is always playing catch-up.

Having said all that, having played with the iPhone 6S, we want one. Desperately. It really does stand out as the best smartphone on the market. So perhaps we’ll be trading in and upgrading this Christmas after all…

iPhone 6 iPhone 6S
Dimensions 138.1 x 67.0 x 6.9mm 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1mm
Weight 129g 143g
Display size 4.7-inch 4.7-inch
Resolution 1334 x 750 pixels @ 326ppi 1334 x 750 pixels @ 326ppi
Contrast ratio 1400:1 1400:1
Processor A8 chip with M8 motion co-processor A9 chip with M9 motion co-processor
RAM 1GB 2GB
Camera sensor 8-megapixel with 1.5µ pixels 12-megapixel with 1.22µ pixels
Aperture ƒ/2.2 ƒ/2.2
Video 1080p (30 or 60fps) 4k video (3840 x 2160) (30fps)
Slo-mo 120 or 240fps 120 or 240fps
Video stabilisation Yes Yes
FaceTime camera 720p (1.2 megapixel) 720p (5 megapixel)
TouchID Yes Yes
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 02.11a/b/g/n/ac with MIMO
Bluetooth 4.0 4.2
3D touch No Yes
Live Photos No Yes
Colours Space grey, silver Gold, silver, space grey, rose gold
Capacity 16GB, 64GB 16GB, 64GB, 128GB

 

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Mat Toor is the oldest man working in Old Street, the location of Phone Cruncher Towers. He remembers when it was all fields... Mat has worked in technology and mobile for over 20 years, including stints at the Financial Times, Dennis Publishing and Sony. While at Dennis Publishing he launched KnowYourMobile.com in 2007 - which has gone on to become the UK's leading mobile website. He reckons that he can get lightning to strike twice with Phone Cruncher - and he's got the team to prove it.
  • Muckton

    Since writing this I’ve been more and more intrigued by the haptic engine and feedback it provides – If it is truly as good as the Apple Watch then it could be a real under the radar game changer, if that’s not mixing too many metaphors.

  • mimran

    3D tough might turn out to be important for some apps UI. 2gb of RAM is a big improvement and the processor is a lot better. Those are kind of the 2 biggest things for me.