In pretty much any smartphone, displays are going to be one of the most important aspects of the user experience. If a display is dim or has a highly reflective display it will be unreadable outdoors. If the contrast is low, the display can become difficult to read and not particularly appealing to the eye. Other issues like lack of color stability and contrast stability with changes in viewing angles will be much more noticeable than on something like a laptop or desktop where the monitor is usually kept at a constant position in space relative to the eye. In order to evaluate these factors we use both relative comparisons and absolute measurements. Although the human eye is sufficient for relative comparison, for absolute measurements we use X-Rite’s i1Pro2 spectrophotometer for precise color and luminance measurements, along with X-Rite’s i1Display Pro colorimeter for accurate contrast figures. Hardware alone is insufficient for collecting and presenting data, so we also use SpectraCal’s CalMAN 5 with a custom workflow, which allows for collecting and presenting data in a readable manner.

In the case of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, the display appears to be effectively unchanged from the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 6s retains the 1334x750 resolution of the previous variant, and the iPhone 6s Plus has the same 1080p resolution as well. Apple continues to use the same M2 scaler as well, which means that although the display’s physical resolution is 1080p Apple is actually rendering the display at 2208x1242 and scaling it to fit the display. The resolution of the iPhone 6s is on the low side relative to most Android devices, which is noticeable but the pixel density is sufficient to avoid any obvious problems here.

As with the iPhone 6, both the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus use dual domain pixels, which make the subpixels look more like chevrons under a microscope. This improves viewing angles by reducing the amount of color shifting that occurs when the display viewing angle is changed. As far as I can tell, Apple continues to be one of the few OEMs that pulls this off effectively. Although contrast and luminance aren’t perfectly consistent with changes in viewing angles, it basically looks like the display is painted underneath the glass. The iPhone 6s Plus does a better job at pulling off this illusion as the higher pixel density helps to eliminate some of the fuzziness or pixilation that might otherwise occur. Samsung gets close here, but for whatever reason ambient light causes noticeable interference effects and in general there’s noticeable color shift when moving the display around. Weirdly enough, the OEM that seems to be doing the best job here continues to be HTC with the One M9+.

Display - Max Brightness

Display - Black Levels

Display - Contrast Ratio

Moving on to our usual brightness and contrast testing, it looks like Apple has improved the maximum brightness of their displays with the use of the new LED backlight driver, but it’s important to note that in the case of the iPhone 6s, the maximum brightness isn’t constant. The behavior is relatively subtle, but with iOS 9 at maximum brightness the display brightness steadily lowers over the course of an hour by about 10 nits maximum. It looks like this effect tails off in both the rate of luminance decrease and overall luminance decrease as peak brightness approaches 500 nits, where the effect appears to be non-existent. It’s likely that this behavior is designed to reduce the battery impact of keeping the display at maximum brightness in all situations. Either way, peak luminance is high enough that it isn’t a struggle to read the display outdoors and contrast in low-light conditions also remains high due to the use of photo-alignment in the liquid crystal layer which helps to make the liquid crystals stay in the right shape.

iPhone 6s

iPhone 6s Plus

Display - White Point

Display - Grayscale Accuracy

In grayscale, we don’t quite see the near-perfect white balance we saw last year but gamma remains almost impeccable when compared to the industry standard power 2.2 gamma. I suspect that the units we received this time are closer to the mean for white balance compared to last year, as in general due to the blue LED backlights used in most LCDs a colder color balance will generally require less power to display than a warmer one.

iPhone 6s

iPhone 6s Plus

Display - Saturation Accuracy

In our saturation sweep testing, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus both continue to track closely to expected values for sRGB, which is the current industry standard color gamut. I don’t really have any criticism here. The previous iPhone’s displays were of similar caliber, so this is pretty much par for the course if you’re used to iPhone displays.

iPhone 6s

iPhone 6s Plus

Display - GMB Accuracy

Similarly in the GMB ColorChecker, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus both pass with flying colors. If you’re using an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus for any remotely color-critical work like viewing and/or editing photos and videos, it’s a pretty fair bet that you’ll be able to rely on these phones to provide an accurate color reproduction in pretty much any condition. Samsung does provide better contrast and the possibility of extra color saturation with their Galaxy S6 and Note 5, but this comes at the cost of potential for burn-in, increased power consumption in certain scenarios, and increased distortion with changes in viewing angles. I think this means that it basically comes out to a wash, but depending upon personal taste one may prove to be better than another.

Software: 3D Touch, TouchID, Always-On "Hey Siri", and iOS 9 WiFi Performance, GNSS, Misc.


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  • akdj - Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - link

    Hi Josh and Ryan,
    Many, MANY thanks for the insight and in depth review. I've just finished my second read (it was late last night I noticed the review and read through) and your experiences mimic mine. With a single exception. I'm a business owner, have been over 26 years now and use phones for the business and personal. I also outfit employees so I have a chance to stay 'ambidextrous', keeping a foot in Android, rest of the body in iOS ... But some things I do enjoy on both my older Note 4, & newer S6. No intrigue with the Note 5 other than its SoC, speed of internal storage and design over my older N4. As an S6 Edge owner I'm well aware of the speeds uninstalling, installing apps, opening them, the 'feel" of the newer 2015 Sammy phones as well as the exceptional speed of the Exynos processor. That said, you made a remark I don't quite agree with
    "The second generation of TouchID isn’t quite as life-changing, but it’s a welcome improvement nonetheless. Again, this is a case where there was friction in the user experience that wasn’t really noticeable until it was gone. Obviously, Apple is no longer the only one at this level of user experience with fingerprint scanners but they are keeping up."
    I'm not sure which phone you've found that parities the iPhone 6s/6+s for FP register. As it's certainly not the S6/S6+/Note 5 or LG (I've got one of their freebie 8" LG tabs from AT&T runnin LP). I'm hoping anyway lol. My silly S6 is just finally starting to correctly register 50% of the time with the 5.1 update. The previous six months I was lucky to have my thumb recognized 1 of 5 times. And it's registered as FOUR different 'fingers'.
    I'm also an owner of the 6+s and even checking the time or setting an Altman, turning the flashlight on, etc...it's so damn quick, I'm automatically on the home screen. It's ...pardon the pun, lightning fast and immediate. I guess I'm curious as to which OEM Apple is keeping up with as I had the 5s and 6+ standard as well. The Note 4 is a useless implementation and the S6, while better is a LONG way off from 'keeping up with...' Apple again IMHO. Genuinely curious as to the OEM making better or even similar performing and 'protective' measures than Apple.
    Other than that silly nitpick, I agree completely and haven't enjoyed an iPhone as much since the iPhone 4 and its HiDPI display. If I recall, another 'first', wasn't it? (Like the 5s FP reader, actually able to 'read an FP ;)). Maybe it's my aging mid 40s eyes but the higher resolutions and larger displays have literally kept pace with my deteriorating vision!

    Once again, many thanks for the perfectly balanced nerd/everyday 'Joe n Jane' subjective review of 'real world use'. Always refreshing to hear... I mean read your reviews, un-rushed to keep up with the herds the day after release or a week post NDA, minus the carrying around and using ...or simple resolution, 100% 'chart n number' reviews.
    Loved it. And I'm loving the iPhone 6s+. It's truly a computer in my pocket. I know you briefly touched on the expanded radios both WiFi and LTE, another maybe at first unnoticeable unless ...again as you mention an iCloud restoration of significant size, but a HUGE end user boon. These are incredibly fast, seemingly more 'stable' in 5MHz mode. (Maybe a bad word, stable but hard to put my finger on it, as older modems on the iPhone with AC/5MHz or is it GHz? Now I'm lost. This one seems faster, more efficient and stable than earlier versions )
    My wife has an identical iPhone 6+s. 128. Hers is Sammy mine TSMC. Neither has shown any significance in battery draw than the other. Mine measures 2238/4437 in GBench, hers 2242/4405 after six runs ...that's the mean. Power and efficiency are nearly identical after a weekend at our cabin we both had single digit %'s and used them nearly the same the entire weekend.
    Very VERY great phone
  • MarcSP - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    Thanks for your explanation :-). Still, I think there must be something else. I mean, most Samsung phones also use amoled and did not get such a low score in browsing, and the Snapdragon 800 is not a very slow SoC. Even today there are many low and even middle-end phones sold with weaker SoC. Reply
  • zodiacfml - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    i dont like apple but their engineering and design is very impressive. i wonder how the new cpu compares to a Core M. Reply
  • tharun118 - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    The best phone? Seriously? I've seen a lot of people saying iPhone as THE BEST phone, but AnandTech? Come on.. I believe that there can never be a "THE BEST phone". Yes, iPhone 6+ has a very good SoC, reliable camera, 3D Touch, etc, but like every flagship phone, there are compromises and drawbacks. For me, I choose a smartphone based on 4 major aspects. First, the screen. I know Apple lovers always defend their 320+ PPI screen saying that's more than enough and they don't need anything more. But the truth is, they are far behind Samsung and that will likely change in 7 or 7s. Second, the camera, this is purely subjective, there are people who'd prefer photos from an iPhone and there are people who'd prefer photos from 2015 android flagships (S6, Note 5, G4, 6P, etc). Third, battery and performance: Apple is better here on a tiny margin due their vertical integration. I think Android phones will never reach the exact smoothness in performance and efficiency in power consumption of the latest iPhone, due to fragmentation. Fourth, customisation: No comments here, but I understand there are lots of people who'd happily use their phone the way their manufacture tells them to. I'm definitely not one among them. I try to balance all these 4 aspects and my choice this year was a Galaxy S6. Of course, there are bonus features such as, wireless charging, quick charge (very useful), IR port, etc. But still, I wouldn't call S6 as THE BEST. Neither is an iPhone 6+. Reply
  • Vincog - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    I got iphone 6S with samsung chip here, and my battery will decrease 1% every 5 minute in use or 1% every 15 minute standby... ( take a note all background refresh off, location off, only hey siri on ) ..Even my iphone 5s is more better than this one!! 😭😭😭😭 Reply
  • Vincog - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    I got iphone 6S with samsung chip here, and my battery will decrease 1% every 5 minute in use or 1% every 15 minute standby... ( take a note all background refresh off, location off, only hey siri on ) ..Even my iphone 5s is more better than this one!! 😭😭😭😭 Reply
  • Tigran - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    Looking at GFXBench, which is an infinite loop of the T-Rex on-screen benchmark to approximate intensive video gaming we see that the iPhone 6s doesn’t last very long either, but the performance throughout the test is incredible. Due to 1334x750 display resolution and strong GPU, the iPhone 6s manages to last the entire test without any notable throttling, and effectively pegged at the refresh rate of the display.
    Why V-Sync (which limits T-Rex on-screen by 60 fps) is ignored? And what about this throttling evidence (by 20-22% in GFXBench off-screen):
  • blackcrayon - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    They mentioned that the 6s+ throttled slightly due to the higher resolution, so it stands to reason that the 6 would also throttle when rendering a higher resolution offscreen. But it's nowhere near the throttling of any of the competitors, games are still remaining playable throughout a reasonable gaming session. Reply
  • Tigran - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    You don't get it. It's not about resolution - it's about T-Rex on-screen which limits performance to 60 fps. Without this limit iPhone 6s performance would be much higher, so it is incorrect to mention T-Rex on-screen discussing iPhone 6s throttling. If there is throttling, it can decrease from 100 to 70 fps, but you will see only 60 fps during the whole test - because of V-Sync. And there is evidence off throttling in Manhattan (which doesn't reach 60 fps limit) actually - see my link above (20-22% throttling). I can add that popular Russian laboratory (overclockers.ru) tested throttling of iPhone 6s via Basemark Metal, and they found enormous throttling there - from 911 down to 525 (74%). Reply
  • zhiliangh - Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - link

    Thank you! I have been waiting for your review before upgrading any phone this year. This is a must-read iphone review. Reply

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