Spectacular without surprises: What critics think of iPhone 6s

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Check out our iPhone 6s metareview.
Photo: Apple

It’s been two weeks since Apple announced its latest iPhones, and the first reviews are in — letting the rest of the world know what we can expect to find this Friday (or possibly before, if you’re an AT&T customer.)

So what do reviewers think? Mainly that 3D Touch is the way of the future, that Apple should concentrate on battery life, and that the iPhone 6s may just be Apple’s greatest handset yet… although the iPhone 7 will be better.

Yep, it’s a mixture of insane expectations coming into contact with an iPhone that was only ever going to be a marginal improvement on last year’s best-selling iPhone 6.

Check out the highlights below:

The Verge

The Verge‘s Nilay Patel starts his review with the Jony Ive-angering suggestion that the physical design of the iPhone 6s isn’t one of Apple’s strongest:

“The 6S Plus feels particularly surfboard-y in comparison to the Galaxy Note 5, LG G4, and Moto X, which all manage large screens in less ungainly packages. You get your choice of silver, space gray, gold, and now a very pink rose gold iPhone, but it feels like these phones were designed to be put in cases no matter what color they are.”

However, it’s internals that matter for any iPhone “s” and this year’s big selling point, 3D Touch, is described as a “highlight feature.” Despite already being incorporated into both the Apple Watch and new MacBook, The Verge calls the iPhone 6s version of 3D Touch, “by far the most successful at integrating the feature into the natural flow of the interface.”

The handset’s camera upgrade is also singled out as a positive, although it’s unlikely to be a noticeable improvement to anyone just sharing photos on Facebook.

The review ends with a solid 9.0 score for the iPhone 6s, but concludes that the 6s isn’t exactly a must-buy:

“[I]f you have an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and you’re not ready to sign up for a yearly phone upgrade program, you might not feel the usual pull to get a new iPhone unless you really want a better front-facing camera. The speed improvements are incremental, the battery life is about the same, and it’ll take a while for developers to really make use of 3D Touch. And by the time that happens, it will probably be time to buy an iPhone 7.”

Wall Street Journal

The strangely muted tone continues with the Wall Street Journal, whose reviewer, Joanna Stern, starts by noting that:

“The iPhone 6s is… an iPhone. The best iPhone yet. But it’s also proof that smartphone innovation has plateaued and what we demand most in our newest phones are improvements to the essentials.”

Stern offers a mixed view of whether or not Apple manages this — criticizing the battery life of the new handsets (“The No. 1 thing people want in a smartphone is better battery life. And the iPhone 6s doesn’t deliver that.”), but praising the speed of the new A9 processors and renewed Touch ID sensors.

Like The Verge, she also gives a thumbs-up 3D Touch, although says that it takes a while before it becomes ingrained in your “iPhone muscle memory.”

Walt Mossberg’s review

No-one is more synonymous with Apple reviews than Walt Mossberg, who provides an alternative iPhone 6s review for The Verge.

Mossberg writes that the handset secures, “the iPhone’s place as the best smartphone on the market,” with improved speed and cameras, combined with valuable new features like Live Photos and 3D Touch. The veteran reviewer concludes:

“The iPhone 6S is the best smartphone out there, period. If you already own last year’s model, you might not find its new features compelling enough to upgrade. But, if you own an older iPhone, or an Android phone you’re ready to ditch, this new iPhone will make you much happier.”

TechRadar

TechRadar gives the iPhone 6s a four-star review, but echoes many of the expected conclusions about the handset being evolutionary, as opposed to iPhone 6 revolutionary.

3D Touch is given plenty of discussion space, and the conclusion is that while at first “it feels unnatural” due to its newness, over time this has the potential to be a great new feature for the iPhone.

There is, however, criticism of battery life, and also of Apple’s decision to make the phone “considerably” heavier than the iPhone 6.

Stuff

Stuff praises 3D Touch, noting that it has:

“[S]ome supremely convenient uses with other native apps – the ones Apple makes itself. You can can jump directly into a new email in Mail and open a new tab straightaway in Safari – shaving seconds off your smartphone navigation. That may seem small change in writing, but over the course of the months and years you may spend in the iPhone 6s’ company it will equate to a snappier, more satisfying user experience.”

The iPhone 6s is described as a “speed monster” thanks to the A9 chip, while the screen resolution gets a more tempered “[not] a patch on other phones’, but Apple knows how to get the best out of its displays.”

Stuff ends the review by saying that, “‘Everything’s changed’ is pushing it, but within the 6s’ familiar body lies a surprising amount of innovation.”

Pocket Lint

As with everyone else, Pocket Line digs 3D Touch, but notes that it may be some time before we see its full potential realized.

“We think 3D Touch is a great addition – although it’s a feature that will involve you having to reprogramme the way you use the iPhone, at least at first. That’s not to say it’s a waste of time. 3D Touch is very clever and as it’s system-wide it’s going to be really interesting to see how this develops into other apps. Developers, including Facebook, have already promised to utilise the feature, although we’re yet to see any real-world examples of what that will mean.”

In the end, the reviewers note that the iPhone 6s is, “the most exciting S model for a long time,” but would be better suited for iPhone 5s owners than the majority of iPhone 6 users.

Conclusions

I haven’t yet gotten my hands on the new iPhone 6s, but for me these reviews demonstrate the weird bind Apple is in right now.

The Wall Street Journal review opens with the line, “The next iPhone doesn’t teleport you to your meetings. It can’t defy gravity, and it won’t brush your dog’s teeth. And it turns out most people are OK with that.”

Sure, it’s meant to be a humorous comment, but it speaks to the wackily-inflated ideas people have about what the new iPhone should be each year.

The fact is that no reviewer who awarded a score gave the iPhone 6s anything other than fantastic (four of five stars, 90 percent, take your pick). None of the new features Apple has added are written-off as cheap gimmicks, but acknowledged as long-term game-changers.

And yet despite this, many of the reviews carry on like a dad reading a disappointing school report out loud.

I try to enjoy Apple’s new technology on its own merits, and try not to get suckered into the insane over-expectations which crash Apple stock after every new keynote. But there must be some way of making sense of a world in which the latest iPhone can be both the best iPhone ever and an entirely skippable event at the same time.

Maybe the “s” in iPhone 6s stands for Schrödinger?