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3D Touch may change the way you use your phone, but developers will have to get on board first
3D Touch may change the way you use your phone, but developers will have to get on board first

Apple introduced the iPhone 6s with the tagline, “The only thing that’s changed is everything.” While not everything has actually changed (you’d be hard pressed to visually tell the difference between the iPhone 6 and 6s), there are many differences under the hood that make the newest iPhone a marvel.

After waiting in a very small line for the new iPhone 6s Friday, I took the phone through its paces over the weekend. I tested the 4K video on an antique train, shot some cat photos and let just about everyone I talked to try out 3D Touch.

Speed

iPhone6s-4Color-RedFish-PR-PRINT-e1441835328667While 3D Touch and the 4K camera stole a lot of the attention and are the focus on Apple’s marketing campaign, speed is the killer feature of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. The A9 chip and 2GB of RAM make even the iPhone 6 seem slow, and they’re also powering some of the best parts of the new phone. From smooth animations when using 3D Touch to quick 4K video processing, the iPhone 6s just oozes power.

That added speed isn’t obvious at the outset and likely won’t be the thing people remember about their phones, but it did improve the experience of using the new device. It was perhaps clearest in the Touch ID sensor.

Previously, my fingerprint unlocked my phone pretty often on the first try, but I did have to wait for it to register. With the iPhone 6s, I’m frequently wondering if I locked my phone before I put it in my pocket. The fingerprint sensor is blazing fast on this phone. If you want to see the notifications on your lock screen, you’ll have to get used to hitting the lock button rather than the home button to light up your display.

3D Touch

A fast phone also helps make 3D Touch feel more real. The best spot to test 3D Touch is on the home screen, where you can launch straight into an action within an app. However, one of the trickier parts is learning how hard you have to press to activate the pressure sensors (if you don’t press hard enough, you’ll be put into the mode where you rearrange apps). But with super-clear animations, it quickly becomes obvious when you’re using the right amount of pressure.

Instagram may be the best app for 3D Touch right now, with the feature available just about everywhere you'd expect it to be.
Instagram may be the best app for 3D Touch right now, with the feature available just about everywhere you’d expect it to be.

3D Touch is a very pleasant way to add new interactions to a touchscreen, but many of those interactions aren’t quite there yet. While some apps, like Instagram, Twitter and Dropbox, have added support for launching into actions from the home screen, they haven’t quite standardized the in-app use of the pressure-sensitive screen.

For example, Twitter lets you launch right into a new tweet, direct message or search. But within the app, I haven’t found any use of peek and pop — Apple’s phrases for previewing and then opening content with 3D Touch. It would be great to peek at a link or pop open an image in my timeline, but Twitter doesn’t seem to recognize harder presses as anything different than long presses.

However, it’s better than Facebook, which doesn’t have any 3D Touch support at all. And with Facebook’s many apps, including Groups, Messenger and Moments, the social networking giant might not have a unified 3D Touch system for a while.

However, Apple’s native apps do a great job with the new interaction. I haven’t found a place in a native app where I tried 3D Touch and it didn’t do what I was expecting. Links, dates and addresses are always peekable, and popping is pretty quick. The only downside is that things always load in Apple’s apps, so if you use Waze for directions or Inbox for email, you might find less use for the popping part of peek and pop.

Cameras

Another highly-touted feature of the iPhone 6s is the 4K video camera. Again, the speed of shooting and watching 4K video is crazy. As far as I can tell, the footage looks pretty good. You can check it out in the sample video below. But the problem with 4K footage is that many people, myself included, don’t have the ability to play it back in full resolution. Luckily, the iPhone defaults to 1080p capture, which is more reasonable for playback and will save space on your phone.

While 4K video is nice, iPhone owners will probably get more use out of the 12MP camera, along with the new Live Photos. The ability to shoot better and better still images is the most obvious improvement in iPhones year after year, and this year is no exception. The photos look great, with large color ranges, great performance in low light and bright light alike, and Live Photos add a new dimension to every capture.

Plenty of detail and accurate color reproduction in my cat's fur
Plenty of detail in my cat’s fur and accurate color reproduction on this iPhone 6s shot

There are some downsides, like blown-out highlights in high-contrast situations and difficult macro focusing for close-up shots. Live Photos are also a bit of a disappointment. The moving pictures are stuttery, and right now, the only good way to share them is to hand your phone over to someone else. Apple needs to let users export Live Photos as videos (to upload to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) before you’ll see the feature really take off.

Should you buy this phone?

With all that said, you don’t have to buy this phone. The iPhone 6 is still a great device, with plenty of speed, a great camera and all the interactions you need to use your phone. But if you’re in the market for a new device, the iPhone 6s is a great choice.

While 3D Touch isn’t widely used yet, expect developers to think of new ways to take advantage of it in upcoming apps and updates. Live Photos seem like a gimmick now, but wait until your social feeds are full of Harry Potter-like images (hint: it’ll be awesome).

As with every iterative update from Apple, the iPhone 6s has a few cool features, but you can probably wait for the next one if your current phone is holding up okay. However, if you do upgrade, consider the Apple Upgrade Program, which includes Apple Care and yearly upgrades. While you would no longer truly own your phone, it does mean you’ll always get the latest and greatest without having to stick with a single carrier for the rest of time.

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