The iPhone 6s is easily one of the best work phones on the market, thanks to a killer combination of fast performance, solid security and productivity-boosting software features. Plus, the latest iPhone offers something you won't find on any other smartphone: a pressure-sensitive display that opens up genuinely useful new functionality.
In other ways, the iPhone 6s lags behind the competition, with mediocre battery life and limited storage space. So are those pressure-sensitive gestures — which Apple calls 3D Touch — enough to recommend the iPhone 6s over similar flagship phones?
The latest iPhone might not look much different from last year's model, but it's actually gotten stronger in the interim. Apple upgraded the back of the device to a more durable aluminum, and made the front panel from a stronger pane of glass, so it's less likely that your phone will break after a short drop. That's a big perk if you depend on your smartphone for work.
Visually, the iPhone 6s is virtually identical to the iPhone 6, which means it's a handsome smartphone. It sports the same gently curved edges as its predecessor and the same sophisticated accent lines. The one aesthetic difference is the introduction of a new rose-gold color, alongside the traditional silver, gray and gold models.
Apple has traditionally made the iPhone slimmer and lighter with each iteration, but that's not the case here. The iPhone 6s (5.04 ounces, 0.28 inches) is actually slightly heavier and thicker than the iPhone 6 (4.6 ounces, 0.27 inches). The extra heft can be attributed to the new components that enable 3D Touch.
If I have one complaint, it's that the iPhone 6s still sports an unnecessarily thick bezel, especially at the top and bottom of the display. Phones with smaller bezels, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6, manage to pack in significantly larger screens without sacrificing overall portability.
The iPhone 6s sports a nice 4.7-inch display, delivering sharp text and vibrant colors. If you're coming from an older-generation iPhone, you'll certainly appreciate the screen's relatively roomy dimensions; it provides a good amount of space for everyday tasks like viewing documents and managing your email inbox.
On the other hand, the 4.7-inch screen feels a bit cramped compared to the 5.1-inch display on the Galaxy S6. And screen-intensive tasks like editing spreadsheets on the go will be much more comfortable on 5.5-inch phones like the larger iPhone 6s Plus or the LG G4, or even the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 5.
Competing phones also offer sharper displays. With a resolution of 1334 x 750 pixels, the iPhone 6s' display didn't look as crisp as the Galaxy S6's screen, which packs 2560 x 1440 pixels. On the plus side, the iPhone 6s does boast a bright screen, topping out at 452 nits of brightness, beating the category average of 430 nits. A bright display is easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight.
Despite some initial skepticism, I found that the iPhone 6s' new 3D Touch functionality is more than just a novelty. It opens up new ways to use the iPhone that are useful enough to find their way into your daily workflow.
It works by using pressure sensors beneath the screen to sense how hard you're pressing, allowing for a bunch of new touch gestures that do different things depending on the context. For example, if you're viewing Google search results in Safari, you can press hard on a link to load a preview of the corresponding Web page. From there, you can press down even harder to load the page, or let go to return to the search results page.
I also liked using 3D Touch inside the Mail app. Pressing down hard on an email message in your inbox lets you preview it. Then, you can slide to the right to trash it, slide to the left to mark it as read or swipe up to reply. It feels great, once you get the hang of it.
And that's the biggest potential problem with 3D Touch: You'll need to get the hang of it before it actually feels useful. And because the pressure-sensitive gestures do different things in each app, the whole system can feel more than a little opaque at times. Tinkerers and power users will love 3D Touch for its cool time-saving gestures, but I suspect that many users will stick to doing things the old-fashioned way.
No smartphone is speedier than the iPhone 6s, thanks to Apple's new A9 processor. The chip helped the iPhone 6s (as well as the A9-powered iPhone 6s Plus) outperform all rivals, including Samsung's Galaxy S6, which was previously the fastest phone we'd ever tested.
Our real-world speed test tasks a phone to open up a huge 1.6GB PDF file — a feat the iPhone 6s pulled off in just 82 milliseconds. The Galaxy S6, in comparison, took 127 milliseconds.
That might sound like a small difference, and it is. In reality, competing flagship smartphones like the LG G4, HTC One M9 and Galaxy S6 all feel about as fast as the latest iPhone for most everyday tasks. But that doesn't stop the iPhone 6s from providing the overall snappiest smartphone experience I've seen.
It wouldn't be a new iPhone without a big software update. The iPhone 6s introduces iOS 9, a new iteration of Apple's mobile operating system. It's not quite as transformative as iOS 8 was last year, but it still offers plenty of new features that will help you be more productive.
For starters, you get a smarter version of Siri, Apple's virtual assistant app. Siri is now capable of understanding commands in context, which means you can type or say, "Remind me to finish this later today," when you're in the middle of reading an email, for example. Siri will understand that you're referring to the email message and will set a reminder accordingly.
The app is also more proactive, pushing alerts and reminders to you before you ask for them. For example, Siri might remind you about an upcoming appointment on your calendar — complete with the estimated travel time, based on current traffic conditions — so you know when it's time to leave.
Other improvements include a new Low Power Mode, which limits background processes to improve your battery life. You also get an improved keyboard with easier access to frequently used features like copy and paste.
I also liked the updated Notes app, which has new extra features that bring it more in line with competing apps like Evernote and OneNote. And iOS 9 includes dozens of small time-savers, like the ability to search your phone's settings using keywords.
The iPhone 6s (alongside the 6s Plus) is the first model that responds to hands-free voice commands, even when the device is unplugged and sitting across the room. After a little bit of setup, you can simply say "Hey, Siri," to activate the voice command prompt, then state your request. You can save a note, set a calendar reminder or perform a quick Web search, as a few examples.
I love voice commands because they make cumbersome tasks effortless. Manually typing in a note on a smartphone app is almost more trouble than it's worth, but with voice commands, it takes just seconds. And the always-listening iPhone 6s makes it even easier, allowing you to perform quick actions on your smartphone without ever picking it up off your desk.
I also like using that functionality to track down my phone when I can't remember where I set it down, since saying "Hey, Siri" causes the iPhone 6s to emit a tone.
Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor is still one of the best in the business. As in past models, the scanner is embedded in the iPhone 6s' home button; just rest your finger on it to instantly unlock your smartphone. It's a great way to keep your work phone locked down without having to fuss with a password screen every time you power on your device.
A nice front-facing camera is a boon on a business phone if you plan to use it for videoconferencing with long-distance clients or colleagues. The iPhone 6s delivers improvements on that front, offering one of the best front shooters on any smartphone. Apple upgraded the camera to 5 megapixels, up from 1.2 MP on last year's iPhone 6. More importantly, it captures clearer images with richer, more accurate colors, especially in low-light situations like an office.
No iPhone has ever truly impressed on the battery front, and the iPhone 6s is no different. The phone ran for a middling 6 hours and 46 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's well below the smartphone category average of 7 hours and 51 minutes. And to make matters worse, the iPhone 6s actually died about 45 minutes sooner than last year's iPhone 6 on the same battery test. The iPhone 6s' shorter battery life can likely be attributed to the battery's smaller size.
Fortunately, the 6s has one nice trick up its sleeve to help mitigate the battery issue: Low Power Mode. This mode strictly limits background updates and reduces visual effects when you're getting low on juice, or when you manually toggle the feature on. It can provide about an extra hour of battery life when you need it, which should help you get through the end of the workday, or to the end of your next business flight.
Do you need more than 16GB of storage space on your work phone? That's what you'll get with the entry-level iPhone 6s model, which sells for $650, or $27 per month. It's a big disappointment to get so little storage in 2015, especially when competing flagship phones from HTC, Samsung and LG all offer a minimum of 32GB.
Apple says that most users don't use more than 16GB of storage, but business users who need to install a bunch of apps or store lots of large files may find themselves short on space with the low-end iPhone 6s. You can upgrade to the 64GB model for $749 ($37.45/month) or get the 128GB model for $849 ($42.45/month)
The iPhone 6s' new 3D Touch functionality is neat, but it's not the reason that business users will want to choose this smartphone over competing devices. Instead, the device will help you stay productive with a combination of speedy performance, excellent software and good security features. For business users, the sophisticated design and improved camera are just icing on the cake. I just wish the phone offered more storage and longer battery life.
Still, other smartphones might be better options, depending on your needs. The Galaxy S6 has a bigger, sharper display and longer battery life (with wireless charging and quick charging capabilities). And the Galaxy Note 5 is a truly impressive productivity device, thanks to its roomy 5.7-inch display and built-in S Pen stylus.
That said, you can't go wrong with the iPhone 6s, which is another excellent work phone from Apple.