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First look: The new iPhone 6S Plus impresses

Michael deAgonia | Sept. 30, 2015
The latest iPhones from Apple may look like last year's models, but that's a disguise; they deliver major changes in hardware.

This year I bought the iPhone 6S Plus -- doing what many would-be buyers did and ordering online at 3 a.m. on Sept. 12. The 6S Plus is definitely heavier than the iPhone 6 I'm accustomed to -- and it's 20 grams heavier than the model it's replacing. But it isn't anything that can't be tolerated, and that weight is a necessary trade-off for the new haptic engine and pressure-sensitive screen in the new phones. Plus, the finish on the case is still top notch: gorgeous to look at, and the device feels good in hand.

That pressure-sensitive display, one of the real advances in this year's models, wouldn't be anything without clever software support. That support, built into iOS 9, allowed Apple to introduce 3D Touch.

3D Touch in use

3D Touch is groundbreaking. In addition to the the usual swiping and tapping on the screen, you now get more features by pressing a little harder. A light press -- a Peek" -- brings up one set of options; a firmer press -- a "Pop" -- allows even more. Right now, it's used mainly for accessing shortcuts in apps right from the Home Screen (which saves you a step or two by immediately jumping right to the app functionality you wanted). It's also used for switching between applications.

3D Touch
3D Touch pops up a new menu when you press on an app's icon -- what Apple calls a "Peek." Press down harder and you have even more options. Credit: Ken Mingis

Peek and Pop, which are Apple's terms for the different options available preview and open items, respectively, in apps like Mail. But it's not all about navigation. There's also a fun implementation of 3D Touch on the Lock Screen. Choose any of Apple's Live wallpapers and when you press down on the Lock Screen, the image comes to life and then reverts back when your finger is lifted. It's very cool.

In general, 3D Touch is very well implemented, but you can tell its potential isn't yet being fully tapped. I can't wait to see where this goes once third-party developers add it to their apps. (Out of the box, 3D Touch features were only implemented in Apple's own apps, though this will change now that the iPhones are in customers' hands.)

Live Photos

The same effect is used in the new Live Photos feature. When turned on, still images that you capture on the phone include a bit of video from just before you took the picture, and just after. Then when you press on the still image, it springs to life, showing movement and sound.

 

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