iPhone 6s Review: A Gamer's Perspective

What's changed for mobile gamers?

iPhone 6S playing AG Drive
Jim Squires

Every year September rolls around and, like clockwork, Apple unleashed a brand new iPhone on their adoring masses. The latest model, the iPhone 6s, looks a lot like last year's iPhone 6 at first glance. But if you look under the hood, you'll find there are an important handful of little differences.

The question is, do these differences add up? And what, if anything, do they mean for the iPhone gamer?

Horsepower

The iPhone 6s is sporting Apple's new A9 chip, which Apple claims is up to 70% faster than the A8 that powers last year's iPhone 6, with up to 90% better graphical performance. Big numbers are all well and good, but what does this actually mean in terms of gameplay?

Before we go much further, it's important to point out that my base for comparison isn't the iPhone 6, but the iPhone 5s that first launched in September 2013. Like most people, I found myself locked into a two-year contract -- and considering how common such contracts are, this may actually be a more useful comparison for our readers than a straight 6-to-6s comparison. 

With that in mind, I can safely say there is a noticeable improvement in how smoothly a game runs, and how sharp a game looks. Where my iPhone 5S would occasionally see some framerate chugging in games like Vainglory, the experience runs as smooth as silk on the 6s.

And in terms of visuals, some games feel like they've made the jump from standard definition to HD, with sharper, brighter, and cleaner graphics absolutely noticeable. Call of Champions is a good example of this.

The improvements aren't universal, of course. Most games that ran well on my 5S seem to run no better on my 6s.

But for those top tier games that offer some extra oomph? The iPhone 6s has it where it counts.

3D Touch

With the exception of a better chipset,  the only new feature that Apple can really crow about is 3D Touch: a new mechanism that can sense the amount of pressure you're putting on the screen and produce different effects as a result. Primarily this is being used outside of games for things like pressing hard on a link in Safari to bring up a preview without leaving the current page or pressing on the Twitter icon to shortcut to where you'd like to go in the app.

At the moment, 3D Touch feels like more of a gimmick than a feature, but I think that's the case with any new technology before developers figure out how best to use it. It's worth noting that in the weeks following the iPhone 6s launch, few game developers seem to be making any kind of a launch-window effort.

At the time of this writing, only two of the hundreds of thousands of games on the App Store are taking advantage of 3D Touch: AG Drive and Magic Piano by Smule. The former lets you dictate how much pressure you're putting on the accelerator when racing, and the latter will adjust the volume based on how hard you're pressing each note; not unlike the difference between striking a piano key firmly and pressing it gently.

3D Touch has tremendous potential for gaming, and over the next year, we'll no doubt see some impressive uses of it (like the upcoming Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade). But as of now, in the weeks following the iPhone 6s launch, there's very little to play that takes advantage of this feature.

Battery Life

Much to my delight, I've found that the battery on my iPhone 6s was a massive improvement over the iPhone 5S, with lengthy gaming sessions draining my device at a fraction of what I'd dealt with previously.

Having said that, if you're considering an upgrade from a 6 to a 6s, be warned: they promise the same battery life (and very likely live up to that), but the battery itself has a slightly smaller capacity.

Do Gamers Need to Upgrade?

It may sound like a cop-out to say "it's up to you," but really, it's up to you. If you're happy with your current device and find that the games you play are running well, there's really nothing groundbreaking here that necessitates an upgrade just yet. Wait until you're having problems or until a slew of great 3D Touch-capable games launch before taking the plunge.

But if, like me, you've found that gaming on your iPhone is getting sluggish with the latest releases, your battery is draining quickly, and graphically intense games make your iPhone hot enough to cook an egg on, then yes, you'll be very happy you've made the switch to the iPhone 6s.

And besides, even if there are only two games using it, AG Drive is just that little bit cooler now that it has a 3D Touch gas pedal.