The new iPhone 6S out in the wild

2 October 2015 | Episode |

This is the best camera I have ever owned!

Last weekend was the first time I picked up a new iPhone on launch day. I upgraded from my beloved and trusted iPhone 5. It had been a great tool for what I’m trying to accomplish in the outdoors, but it was getting a bit long in the tooth and it was time to upgrade.

A day after I picked up the phone, I headed with my family to Mt. Rainier National Park to volunteer at National Public Lands Day.
We had a blast planting native plants and revegetating an area which many years ago had been a car camping ground. More on that in a later post.iphone4

In this post I want to share my early observations with the new iPhone 6S and how it performs in the wild.

The focus

Every new iPhone Apple releases comes with a bunch of new features. Most are cool, but only some make sense for taking the device outdoors.

Most of the time when you are out on a hike you are offline, out of any useful cell range, and sadly, bears don’t share their wifi connection. The most sensible thing to do is to put the phone in Airplane Mode right at the trail head. This gives you longer lasting battery life.
This also means any social media apps and functions are useless. No point in checking emails. Please don’t.  It isn’t like you are streaming live video from the National Park, or are you?

So with that in mind, here are the areas I focused on in my first test this last weekend:

The speed of the device

iphone1It’s fast. Damn, I upgraded from an iPhone 5. The new 6S is screaming fast in comparison. This is the first time I had Touch ID on a phone. With my old iPhone, I thought it was a gimmick and never bothered with a passcode. Then, I enabled passcode and in the outdoors accessed the camera via the direct lock-screen slide function.
Now, the new Touch ID is incredibly fast, which has been widely documented. It is so fast, you hardly see the lock screen anymore.
If you use your phone mainly for taking pictures, want lots of them and want to be fast enough to catch the moment, then this new Touch ID speed is perfect for you. Several times during the first weekend, I checked to see if the Touch ID was actually working. Every time I used it,  it unlocked the phone so fast.
The overall speed of the device brings improvements across many areas of navigation the phone, but when you’re outdoors you’re not really multi-tasking that much. All you want to do is unlock and take a picture, or unlock and check the GPS. For this, the new phone is incredible. It sounds simple, but it was a delight to use the phone in the outdoors.

The camera

I’m not a big camera aficionado. I need my camera to be quick and capture the moment. For this test, I didn’t try the new Live Photo features, didn’t capture any 4K video, or slow-mo videos.
In the past, whenever I captured video content, I never post produced it anyway. I want stills to use for this blog, for posting on social media, and for slideshows for the family.
I brought the ol’ 5 with me and took some photos in comparison.
Un-cropped, un-processed, just sized down to make sense for the web, here are the comparison pictures.comp5 comp4 comp3 comp2 comp1


I can’t wait for the Topo Maps+ app update for iOS9. I love the app. I download my map tiles before I head out. I track my hikes, as well as find myself on the high-res too map. It provides me with accurate elevation information, compass data and coordinates.
The new phone works well with the app and is now even faster.


The battery life

iphone2It’s always tough to compare a 3 year old phone, and a 3 year old battery with a brand new out of the box, never used battery. In this early test the battery was sufficient, but I also used the phone a lot and I did notice it battery meter dropping. Since iOS9, the phones have a low power mode which kicks in at 20% battery life and it slows the battery drain down by shutting down several processes. This seems like a good feature that will prove useful as I test it further.
As I mentioned before my big recommendation is to put the phone into Airplane Mode. This prevents the phone from constantly trying to triangulate cell towers, which sucks the battery dry.


The size

iphone3iPhone users who made the jump last year already are used to the  iPhone 6 size, but for me it was a big adjustment. It still is. The new phone is big. I do wish, especially for my outdoor activities, that they would’ve made a 5 form factor phone with the new specs. I would’ve never gotten the bigger size. I can barely fit the new phone into my running belt. I did buy a case for the phone and enjoy the rubbery protection. When I take the phone out on the trail I feel a bit more comfortable. But the bigger size, paired with the grippy rubbery backing makes the phone a pain to pull in and out of my pant pockets. Without a case it would slip out of my pocket easier, but it would probably would slip easier out of my hands too. On the other hand, the bigger screen is great for looking at the pictures you took, and you get more map details onto the screen. The size is a tradeoff that I am reluctantly embracing.


In conclusion

Every new phone is beautiful and a joy to hold in your hand. This one is big, and I’m trying really hard to love it. Yes, the screen is great and I will get used to that size.
The battery life is on par with my old phone. Now that it’s so fast I want to use it all the tim,e and for more things than I used my old phone for. (My iPad mini is being reduced to a great Music Player. Hello son, here is your Xmas present! (don’t tell him that, I swear)) All this extra usage is challenging on the battery. It’s enough, but just enough, not comfortably enough.
The speed is what kills me. Unlocking the phone and activating the camera is damn fast. This alone is worth the price of admission. I can’t wait to take a ton more pictures when I’m out there. It’s really, really a great device for picture taking. It’s the device that allows you to bring your memories home with you, not just to share with family and friends, but for you to remember the best times of your life. Withy new iPhone 6,  I got to watch and be a part of  my children planting native plants in a National Park, later hearing them calling it the best day of their life. Now, the new camera makes those pictures of our day look damn amazing.

The iPhone 6S. It’s a phone, it’s a personal communicator. Out on the trail, it becomes foremost a really, really really awesome camera.