After 1,434 Days of Testing, My Review of the iPhone 6S Plus

When the iPhone 6S Plus was released in September 2015, The Verge said it was "the best iPhone ever made, and it is right now the best phone on the market." Techradar said that with the iPhone 6S Plus, "Apple has reinvigorated its phablet," which was a word tech blogs used at the time. "Do you want or need a new iPhone? Great, buy this one," Wired said.

Motherboard did not review the iPhone 6S Plus when it was released, but I did buy one in March of 2016 and, pathetically and without exaggeration, have not stopped using it for more than a few hours at a time since. Now, after 1,434 days of rigorous real-world testing, I'm finally ready to give my impressions of the iPhone 6S Plus.

The short version is that it's a good phone, and in a better world it could be the last phone you'd ever own, but the world is not as good as we want.

According to an email receipt, I bought my iPhone 6S Plus on March 11, 6:17 p.m. at Apple's SoHo store in Manhattan. I got it along with a black leather case ($50) and a Lightning cable ($30). The phone itself was $850, meaning the final price after taxes was $1,009.27, which is less painful to write today than it was to pay in 2015.

The best thing I could say about the iPhone 6S Plus is that the price almost makes sense given how long it's lasted. I've used it for several hours a day, every day, for years, mostly to text, read articles on the internet, watch videos, and use various messaging apps. Less often, I've used it to play games, take pictures, and record interviews.

Since I got it, I probably dropped the phone from sitting, standing, or table height once a day on average. Most of those falls were with some kind of case on, but I abandoned all cases in 2018 after an argument that ended with me foregoing the case in order to make a point I no longer remember. In April of 2019, I dropped the iPhone 6S Plus on the concrete floor at VICE's office, without the case, and shattered the screen terribly. At that point, the phone's battery also couldn't hold a charge for more than a few hours, so I replaced the screen and battery at an independent repair shop for $185.09.

That's exactly what Apple didn't want me to do. As Motherboard has reported for years, Apple has gone to great lengths to make it difficult for me to repair my phone. It lobbies against laws that would make it easier for repair shops to access parts, sues repair shops, and fearmongers about the mostly non existing risks of repair. The company does everything it can to push users to buy new phones, or take their phones in for repair at Apple stores, but I persevered.

Given the disposable nature of modern electronics, it's remarkable that a complicated piece of technology like my iPhone 6S Plus lasted this long. I've dropped it hundreds of times and downloaded iOS updates designed for phones four or more generations ahead of mine. I don't want to be gross, but it's fair to say that every form of waste that my body produces has at least made contact with my iPhone 6S Plus at some point, which I do try to clean regularly with an antibacterial or alcohol spray and a microfiber rag. (I'm sorry, but if you've owned a phone for a significant period of time, research shows that's probably true about your phone as well.)

I have, on several occasions, used the phone in the shower. Sometimes I hold my phone out in front of my dog and ask him to eat it, but he refuses because he's a good boy. I often joke about shoving the phone up my ass, but have not, because I am a coward.

That's not to say it's not worse for wear: There's a visible dent in the upper right, back corner of the phone. Ever since the repair shop replaced my screen, the touchscreen has been a little screwy, leading to more butt-dialing and butt-texting. Sometimes I'll take the phone out of my pocket after walking the dog and find that it'll be locked because it's been entering the wrong security pin in my pocket dozens of times. When I drop it now, sometimes the screen pops out of the frame a bit, and I push it back in.

iPhone 6S Plus
My iPhone 6S Plus, shot with an iPhone XR. note the dent in the upper right corner. Image: Emanuel Maiberg

One time I walked into the office in the morning and the phone speaker just started playing an episode of Pod Save America, which is embarrassing enough, but I live in fear of the day that the same will happen with an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. Depending on what Rogan is talking about, it could be the end of my career.

Other than those problems and the 2019 repair and battery replacement, the phone more or less serves my needs just as reliably as the day I bought it. I don't personally know anyone today who uses a phone as old as mine. My wife, who got an iPhone 6S Plus the same day I got mine, has upgraded her phone twice since. Even Motherboard's editor-in-chief Jason Koebler, who is a leading reporter on the right-to-repair movement, has upgraded his phone twice in the time that I've had my iPhone 6S Plus: First to an iPhone 7 Plus, and then to an iPhone 11 Pro, which he revealed to me one morning by saying, "Hey, want to see something horrible?"

Koebler, who at the time of writing was in the tropics, did not respond to a request for comment.

I don't know why I have stuck to the same phone for four years while my colleagues, friends, and family have not. I don't think I'm cheap. In fact, I'm known to (and often ridiculed for) spending too much money on technology. I have an expensive PC, which over years I've upgraded with ridiculous accouterments like a 144hz monitor and a split mechanical keyboard. I don't mind spending money on things, I just hate getting scammed. As far as I can tell, the idea that I need to get a new phone every year or two just because Apple makes new phones or because my carrier offers an "upgrade" which is really just a way to trap me into a multi-year contract, is a scam.

When I see someone with a new and objectively more powerful phone, I'm not jealous. I don't want to unlock the phone with my face. I don't wish it had a bigger screen. I don't long for more and better cameras.

If anything, people with more recent versions of the iPhone are jealous of my 6S Plus—its tactile home button, its headphone jack, and the thousands of dollars in savings that its long life implies.

Mostly, the phone does what I need it to do—read and write over the internet—and tragically far more than I need, like sending me push notifications from news apps I forgot to disable or delivering my location to shady data aggregators.

The iPhone 6S Plus is my first, and so far my only, Big Phone. These, at first, were an object of ridicule. Steve Jobs himself said that "no one's going to buy" a big phone before Apple made them, which makes their current ubiquity all the more embarrassing, a tacit admission that we are powerless to let these screens literally take up more space in our lives.

The smartphone is a window into the world. The bigger the window, the more of the world you see, and the world is often bad. This is the screen that quivers and glows in the middle of the night with ominous texts. It's the screen I leaned up on my nightstand and watched as I fell asleep to a live video of Trump's 2016 election victory speech. It's the phone that rings when my parents need to tell me that someone has cancer or has died. For some reason I only have bad memories of the phone, though I know that it has delivered good news as well. It does not spark joy.

Limiting my time with the iPhone 6S Plus has been my biggest issue with it. Apple tried to address this with the Screen Time feature, which I assume is designed to humiliate me by showing me exactly how much time I spend looking at the phone's screen and which cruel app held my attention there.

I have mostly not had Twitter installed on the phone since that night in November 2016. For about a year, I would often watch YouTube videos on my phone before going to bed. One night in December of 2019, I was up until 3 a.m. watching TikToks in bed, and woke up with a sore shoulder from holding the phone up at a weird angle. Since "I pulled my shoulder watching TikToks in bed" is the dumbest true statement I've had to make in quite some time, I have since been good about not bringing the iPhone 6S Plus to bed. I leave it on my desk and read instead. I can't overstate what a positive effect this has had on my life.

The iPhone 6S Plus and I are now in a kind of equilibrium. I don't love it, but not because it is bad or old technology, but because it's a type of technology I wish I didn't need to have. Getting a new and improved phone might be a thrill for a bit, but I imagine I would soon settle into the same relationship, and that's not a thrill that's worth the price of a new iPhone, or the unnecessary waste created by a phone that still works but is suddenly garbage.

I'm sure that one day soon my iPhone 6S Plus will break beyond repair, Apple will release an iOS version that won't work on it, or a security issue will force me to get a newer device. Until then, I'm sticking with it. It can do more than I ever needed any smartphone to do. If you have one and it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if it's broke, fix it until you can't anymore.

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