iPhone 6S Plus review:

Bigger is (mostly) better

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4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Improved speed, better cameras, always-on Siri, and pressure-sensitive 3D Touch display compared to last year's 6 Plus. And it has slightly better battery life, a bigger higher resolution screen, and optical image stabilization for photos and video that can make a difference.

The Bad It's really big. It costs more than the smaller iPhone. Other phablet-sized phones offer longer battery life.

The Bottom Line The iPhone 6S Plus has a few key advantages that give it an edge for serious iPhone users, but its big body still may not fit for a lot of people.

9.0 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Camera 9.0
  • Battery 7.0

I don't usually like really big phones. I want phones that can fit in my hand. But last year I switched from an iPhone 6 to 6 Plus , to see what difference it made it my life. Its advantages turned out to be really useful: a bigger battery, a larger screen with higher resolution. And I realized, when I switched back to an iPhone 6, that optical image stabilization made a difference, too...sometimes.

I missed the surer, clearer pictures in low light that the Plus gave in a pinch in darkened press rooms during live events. (For better or worse, that's the sort of place where I need good smartphone photography in a pinch.)

And yes, I came to love the Plus for its pro-type features, and even for its near-tablet feel. For videos, and games. But as a normal phone, its size never seemed truly comfortable to me.

Just like last year, the new iPhone 6S Plus and iPhone 6S are nearly similar except for a few key advantages on the larger model. The Plus gets you a 5.5-inch display instead of the 4.7-inch one of the iPhone 6S. And while the Plus's camera sensor and resolution is identical to that on the smaller iPhone, it adds optical image stabilization, which can deliver more blur-free photos in certain light conditions (especially if you're zooming). Unlike last year's Plus, that stabilization works when shooting videos, too. And you get a bigger battery that lasts just a bit longer. It costs more, but its perks are worth it if you're a mission-critical user of your phone camera.

But oh, that size.

I'd probably use a Plus over a 6S. But for most people, I still think the smaller 6S is the way to go.

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iPhone 6S next to 6S Plus. It's bigger. Sarah Tew/CNET

What do I mean by 'too big'?

For some people, the Plus might not be too big at all. But for many others I've talked to, it is. There's nothing wrong with a 5.5-inch screen, but the 6S Plus -- like the 6 Plus before it -- seats that screen into a phone that has a larger top and bottom bezel than many big-screened Android phones. End result: it's wider and longer than similar 5.5-inch competitors, albeit thinner. See the photo below for comparison, next to the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and last year's Nexus 6. The Note 5 is a tiny bit less wide and tall, but has a larger 5.7-inch screen. The thicker and ever-so-slightly wider Nexus 6 has a 5.9-inch screen.

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Left to right: Samsung Galaxy Note 5, iPhone 6S Plus and Google Nexus 6. Sarah Tew/CNET

The width and length usually make more of a difference to me, and my pants. I have pretty large jeans, and my pockets accommodate the Plus fine. Other people I know don't have that luck.

The Plus still doesn't fit easily in one hand, either. I find myself using a pinky tucked underneath.

You do get a 5.5-inch 1,920x1,080 resolution display instead of the 4.7-inch 1,334x750-resolution screen of the iPhone 6S, which matters mostly for photos, videos, and Web browsing. You can fit a bit more of everything on screen at once, as long as apps take advantage (many do, some still haven't upgraded).

Super-powered with 3D Touch and better speed

For more on what the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus offer, read my whole iPhone 6S review . Know that the new A9 processor and double the RAM (2GB) from last year's iPhones means faster-feeling system speed, and apps that load better when you swap between them. And the extra perk of always-on Siri means that, especially for drivers, hands-free operation works even the phone's not plugged in.

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3D Touch has potential, but takes getting used to. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

3D Touch is the promise of a whole new type of interaction with the touchscreen; this phone has a pressure-sensitive display that does different things when you press in with your finger. Everything from pop-out menus to previews of Web links before you open them, and a growing library of apps and games that are starting to make the most of this tech. It can measure a whole range of pressure gradients, which means this could be used for sketching and art apps in particular. On a larger-screened tablet-type phone, that could get very interesting. At the moment, however, 3D Touch is more subtle additions and potential than anything eye-popping or world-changing. It's definitely worth keeping an eye on, however, because iOS is bound to transform to take advantage of it down the road.

Fall leaves, shot on 6S Plus rear camera. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Cameras: A reason to upgrade for serious users

I'm about to show you an extreme example of why optical image stabilization matters.

I took a photo in the nearly-dark CNET PC lab using the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Using the 6S:

Dark lab, full-size photo, 6S. Scott Stein/CNET

6S Plus:

Same dark lab, 6S Plus. Scott Stein/CNET

As you can see, these photos are pretty similar. To a casual eye, not much is different. But! Then I digital-zoomed all the way in on our grimy test keyboard and snapped a photo.

On the 6S:

Digital zoom at max: blurry keyboard (6S). Scott Stein/CNET

On the 6S Plus:

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