AMITIAE - Friday 30 October 2015

Arrival of iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus in Thailand (1): Hands-On Experience

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

iPhone 6s Plus

Today sees the release of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus in Thailand. I have had one of each of the new models in my hands for a short while. On the outside, these look identical to the models that are superseded, but that is a misconception many have about the "s" years. Apart from the shape, almost everything is new.

I have been using a silver iPhone 6s Plus and a rose-gold iPhone 6s for the last couple of days. I had previously been using iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus so was able to make a fair comparison between the two models. These new phones are not simply a rehash of what I have had for the last 12 months.

Prices here have risen in comparison to the previous models in line with currency fluctuations in many countries. When the phones were released in Malaysia recently, similar increases were noted. Last week, I examined Apple hardware prices in Thailand and compared these with the US-$ prices. I found that although the numbers were higher, they were in line with exchange rates and once VAT was factored in, prices were close to what consumers are charged in America,

iPhone 6s
iPhone 6s - Image Compliments of Apple

Since the latest iPhones were outlined, I have seen countless reports about the lack of change in the 6s models, but that is not the case. Anyone who puts that idea forward has either not examined the technical specifications, is lazy, is deliberately misleading the public or is a liar. Or perhaps all of these.

It starts with the body, which is a new type of aluminum. When Apple announced this version of the iPhone was to use the 7000 series alloy, some suggested this was a choice to prevent the bending that some had reported in the iPhone 6 series models.

I headed for a metallurgist I know who works in the Engineering Faculty where I am based. He explained about the choice of this metal. He thought that the 7000-series alloy was overkill as it has about the same performance as the 6000-series aluminum before, but it provides higher gloss compared to other alloys. Its smooth surface is comparable to stainless steel. With its higher hardness levels it is particularly scratch-resistant.

The glass too has been changed. Although Apple famously used Corning's Gorilla Glass in the past. Now the type of glass from Corning is not specified; but it is what happens underneath the glass that is of particular interest to users. Sensors under the glass detect pressure, something like the face of the Apple Watch and the trackpad of the MacBook. This allows new features to be added: actions are possible simply by adjusting the amount of pressure.

I first saw this during the Apple event that introduced these iPhones and thought it was useful, but trying it myself (even with the experience of the Watch and the MacBook) is still a delight. It starts with the wallpaper. I selected one of the brilliant fish that Apple has used to identify this iPhone, when it is used, pressing on the image animates the fish.

A sidenote here about those fish. While they were initially a mystery to the normal Apple expert sites, they were the work of Thai photographer, Visarute Angkatavanich. The images (and more) are available for purchase.

I strongly suggest this is viewed full-screen [GKR]

A search now finds a number of sources about the images, but DL Cade on Petapixel has an outline of how the images were taken.

With any new iPhone model, a clue to performance is in the processor, this time the A9. A number of analyses were made of the chip, with Daniel Eran Dilger reporting on AppleInsider that benchmarking shows it is "more than 50 percent faster at multicore operations and nearly 60 percent faster in single core tasks". More detailed tests by Joshua Ho on AnandTech show a number of improvements have been made.

Let me also add that my brief experience of these phones confirms in a practical way that they appear to be much faster at whatever they have been asked to do; and that is certainly reflected in the way the devices handle images. For example, I have one of those fighting fish as the image on home screen and lock screen. When I press on the lock screen, the image moves: just a few frames, but this feature will please a lot of users, especially when they produce their own Live Photos.

I had been looking forward to these new iPhones since the first rumors appeared, particularly with the idea of a 12 MP camera. As soon as I had set the phones up, I tried the camera. Even in a relatively dull office, the images were sharp and clear. I had already seen some test images, but to be able to produce similar was encouraging.

iPhone photos

I spent a couple of hours using the camera in a series of settings, trying out the camera (Photo and Square), Burst Mode, Video and Slo-mo. The photos and the videos were sharp, clear and saturated. I was particularly pleased with the way a video I took produced white clouds against a blue sky a couple of hours before sunset.

iPhone photos

With the iPhone 6s Plus, I also took a video of vehicles running parallel to the main road from the side window of a taxi. The stabilisation that is available with the larger iPhone is a major benefit to smooth out the shakes that I had experienced in the past, particularly when on the move.

iPhone photos

iPhone photos

Using a combination of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus, I took a series of photographs nearer the close of the day and was quite satisfied with what the devices were both able to produce as the light reduced.

iPhone Photos iPhone Photos iPhone Photos

The cameras in iPhone have improved considerably and with the 12 MP camera the quality of output is impressive. Numbers do not tell the whole story and with the iPhones, a combination of the camera unit, the CMOS image sensor, the lens assembly and (increasingly) the software produce far better images now.

iPhone Photos iPhone Photos

The 5 MP facetime Camera is also an improvement on the iPhone 6 and that allows better quality selfies. This is helped by the new Retina flash. The screen itself is used: after a pre-flash to deal with red-eye, the screen flashes to light a face better in poorer light conditions.

iPhone photos

A particular feature that the iPhone 6s devices have is Live Photos. Invariably, when a photograph is taken there are moments that the shot may miss. When the feature is on, about 1.5 seconds of sound and motion are recorded before and after and this is viewed by pressing the screen when the photograph is displayed. The Live Photo was also active in Photos on my MacBook Pro, but editing on the Mac or iPhone gave me a warning that only the core photo itself would remain.

Image size for photos is 4032 x 3024 (12 MP) for both iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. Square images were 3024 x 3024 (9.1 MP). File sizes varied considerably from around 2 MB to just over 4 MB when I examined the images in Aperture (no Live Photos).

Live Photos Video

I was a little surprised to find that video settings are changed not in the Camera app but the Settings > Photos and Camera panel where there are 4 options:

  • 720p HD at 30fps

  • 1080p HD at 30fps

  • 1080p HD at 60fps, and

  • 4k at 30fps

A text warning underneath these settings explains how much space a minute of video for each is expected to take: 60 MB, 130 MB, 200 MB and 375 MB respectively. Having to access the Settings panels to change the video resolution means that this cannot be done on the fly. This does of course add a certain level of safety.

The feature that makes Live Photos work is the 3D Touch. This uses some of the technology that is already available in the MacBook and the Apple Watch, both of which use additional levels of pressure to provide more actions. As the Trackpad on the MacBook and the screen on the Apple Watch are pressed, so the haptic feedback indicates to the user the amount of pressure used.

3d Touch 3d Touch 3d Touch

The iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus have a new Taptic Engine that has been improved and provides feedback to the user much faster. As well as Photos, there are a number of app icons on the Home Screen that react to 3D Touch pressure both from Apple and 3rd party developers.

  • The camera icon offers - Take Selfie, Record Video, Record Slo-mo, Take Photo;

  • Safari - New Tab, New Private Tab, Show Bookmarks, Show Reading List;

  • Map - Directions Home, Mark My Location, Send My Location, Search Nearby;

  • Photos - Most Recent, Favorites, Search;

3d Touch 3d Touch 3d Touch

I found a number of 3rd party apps that responded to 3D touch, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Dropbox and Line. Any apps that do not have this feature enabled gives the user a double tap of haptic feedback: just to let you know. I did find however that pressure needs to be carefully applied as if I pressed too hard the icons started dancing ready for me to move them around. Early days here.

3D Touch also works within certain apps, such as mail, where a list of messages can be pressed and the message appears on screen (Peek); if the user wants to read that message in the full screen version (perhaps to reply) pressing a little harder makes it appear on screen (Pop). The feature also allows some extra actions: by swiping the message left or right it can be marked Read (or Unread) or sent to Trash.

Some 3rd party apps will also add features that use 3D Touch and more will be added in time. As an example, the Mobile Monet app was updated today with pressure sensitive brushing.

My main phone last year was the iPhone 6, although I did use the iPhone 6 Plus for several months. While I am used to the smaller of the two devices, the 5.5" screen of the iPhone 6s Plus has a certain appeal, particularly as I have to read with glasses: it just makes it easier. There are three other specific points that I considered before deciding to make the larger phone my main device this time: battery life, low-light photo capabilities and video stabilisation.

iPhone 6s
iPhone 6s

The iPhone 6s is a nimble device and its 4.7" screen is sharp and clear, but I decided that the larger device will suit me best for the moment. There is one additional factor: the Apple Watch. I now have an Apple Watch Sport to go with the Apple Watch and only one can be paired with an iPhone (I was told). That means if I swap the watch, I may have to swap the SIM card too.

iPhone 6s
iPhone 6s Plus

Both devices are the same size as the models they supersede, although battery size is slightly smaller to make room for that Taptic Engine and other components. Despite this, we are told that battery life should remain the same as Apple has made changes to ensure that the iPhones are more efficient. It is too early for me to make any comment on that but I have not seen any serious complaints about this in the time these new iPhones have been in users' hands in other countries.

A user in Thailand (Korat) tells me he has ordered his online and (apart from the addressing in Thai) the transaction was smooth, although he needed to contact his credit card company because of the Thai details. His order was processed and shipping time is 3-4 days.

These new iPhones come in 4 colors: Silver, Gold, Space Gray and Rose Gold. There are now charging docks available in the same colors as well as Leather and Silicone cases in a range of new colors for both devices.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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All content copyright © G. K. Rogers 2015