First impressions of the Apple iPhone 6s Plus: 3D Touch and Touch ID impress

Apple's new iPhone 6s models launched on Friday and after spending three days with the 6s Plus, I think this "s" upgrade may be Apple's most significant yet.

My new 64GB space gray Apple iPhone 6s Plus arrived on Friday morning and after using it all weekend, I'm ready to offer up some initial impressions. Just like every other new iPhone, except for the iPhone 5c, this newest model is the best iPhone ever.

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I took my own advice and pre-ordered a 64GB space gray iPhone 6s Plus from Apple just after midnight a couple of weeks ago. I also reserved 64GB rose gold and 128GB space gray models for pickup from my local Apple store, but since UPS surprised me with a 10 am delivery (they usually deliver my iPhones at about 8 pm) and I had already spent $928 I stuck with the 64GB model.

General hardware thoughts

The iPhone 6s Plus is nearly the same size as the 6 Plus, with just a hair more thickness. All of the cases from last year that I have tested still work with the 6s Plus. Moshi also sent me five new cases to try out and they are gorgeous and functional.

I considered trying out the new color, rose gold, but since I haven't seen it in person I wasn't willing to take the risk. If I see one this week when I travel to the Google Nexus event, I may consider trying to switch my current model for one in rose gold. I want it if it is more copper and less pink, although as a T-Mobile customer I am fine with pink too.

One thing I wish Apple would try next year is releasing more iPhones with black fronts as the space gray model is the only one with this configuration. I prefer the black front for watching video and never quite enjoyed the white front model I had one year.

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The iPhone 6s Plus actually feels almost too big to me after selling off my 6 Plus and living with the smaller Samsung Galaxy Note 5 for the past month. The Note 5 is an amazing smartphone so it will be interesting see which of these two end up spending more time in my hand over the long term.

3D Touch

One of the major new innovations in the iPhone 6s Plus is support for 3D Touch. I posted a gallery of many of the apps that currently support 3D Touch and since then have discovered more ways to use it on the new iPhone. I imagine it will take a week or so to get used to, but it could fundamentally change the way you interact with your iPhone.

In addition to four possible quick actions provided when you press down on app icons, you can also Peek and Pop within apps like email. This functionality lets you preview message contents on a pop-up screen without actually opening up the message. This support is present in other applications so try it all over your iPhone.

Stefan Constantinescu informed me that you can use 3D Touch to enable the task switcher on the new iPhone 6s. You force touch on the left hand side of the display, including from within apps, and then swipe from left to right. When you force touch you should see the screen shift slightly to the right, confirming you have properly performed the action.

Touch ID

I didn't realize that Apple also improved Touch ID until I setup my new iPhone 6s Plus and took it for a spin. Touch ID is actually now so fast and fluid that it works too well.

Since it unlocks my iPhone so quickly, I now can't press on the home button to check the time, notifications, or to quick launch the camera. Tipsters on Twitter told me to either use the power button (not very convenient) or press on the home button with the side of my finger or with an unregistered finger. It's pretty funny that a major improvement has resulted in finding ways to not use the functionality.

I've gotten used to the quick double press on my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and find that to be a killer shortcut. My memory failed me as I thought this was a feature Samsung copied from Apple, but when I double press on the home button my iPhone launches Apple Pay. The only way to quick launch the camera from a locked device is to swipe up on the icon when the display is turned on.

Live Photos

Live Photos is the feature where Apple now shows you the before and after live action that occurs around the time of the captured moment. I understand many phones work like this, but rarely save this data. Apple is now saving and revealing this data, through a 3D Touch manuever, when you have Live Photos toggled on.

HTC was the first to capture and save such data with HTC Zoe, but when it did that you could actually choose one of the 20 or so images that was captured so you could be sure to find a photo when Uncle Steve's eyes were open. Thus, I was disappointed to see that Live Photos doesn't actually let you save the perfect moment that might happen before or after the capture button was pressed.

Live Photos is fun and people I have showed it to have enjoyed seeing the actions on my iPhone display. However, so far most of my post-capture moments are of the iPhone pointing at a table or the floor as I lowered the phone. It will take me some time to perfect the Live Photos experience, but for now it's just for fun.

When capturing subjects such as kids or pets, it is fun to see what led up to the moment of capture. I took several photos of my dogs and enjoyed seeing more of the context before the final photo. It would be nice to get photos out of those moments that occurred before and after the photo though.

Hopefully, Apple or 3rd party developers will be able to tap into Live Photos and figure out a way for the technology to actually be useful. Until then, it's just a fun way to simulate Harry Potter's Daily Prophet newspaper.

Hey Siri

One of the main reasons I stuck with the first Moto X for so long, despite its inferior specifications, was the support for always-on listening and voice commands. iPhone users have been able to initiate Siri commands in hands-free mode when the iPhone was plugged into a charger. With the iPhone 6s, you can now initiate Siri at any time, whether your phone is plugged in or not.

If you are busy with both of your hands and have your iPhone nearby, it is very convenient to simply initiate a Siri session by speaking, "Hey Siri." Apple initiates a short training session for Siri when you first setup your new iPhone 6s so that others cannot launch Siri on your iPhone.

So far, I have used it several times to communicate with my family, start Apple Music, search the internet for things, set alarms, and create reminders.

Cameras

In addition to the processor and double RAM capacity, Apple bumped the rear camera up to 12 megapixels and the front camera to 5 megapixels. I don't have my 6 Plus so cannot offer a direct comparison between it and my new 6s Plus, but a few sites have performed such testing and the results seem similar. That is to say, the iPhone 6s Plus camera continues to be excellent.

I will continue to take photos and videos while comparing the results to the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy Note 5. These three phones are the best current camera phones available today so it's likely you can't go wrong with any of them.

It's great to see the front facing camera also improve. While I don't take a ton of selfies, since I travel quite a bit my family enjoys it when I put myself in photos of the places I visit. Samsung's front-facing 8 megapixel wide-angle shooter is outstanding, but Apple did well with the iPhone 6s.

Like the LG G4, Apple includes the ability to have the display acts as a light source for front-facing camera shots. So far, the iPhone 6s results have been excellent. Given that selfies are performed with the phone close by and include people, providing a light source is a reasonable approach and it's great to see Apple include this capability.

Battery life

My iPhone 6 Plus could easily last me more than a day and when you consider I take my phone off the charger at 4:45 am and try to go until 10 pm that is quite an accomplishment. I can get through most of a day with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, but I have to be careful what I do with it in the afternoon unless I quickly top off with fast charging.

So far, the iPhone 6s Plus is performing just as well as my 6 Plus used to with the phone lasting me a full day even with extensive testing. Apple has figured out how to manage power resources when the display is off.

Closing first impressions

Obviously, the new iPhone 6s Plus is better than the 6 Plus. The "s" models are usually iterative updates to the previous model, fixing several pieces of the model released the previous year. While the outside form factor remains nearly the same, the internal specification improvements and added functionality make the iPhone 6s Plus a significant update to the iPhone line.

I'm glad that I purchased the 6s Plus as an upgrade to my 6 Plus, but am not yet sure it will continue as my daily driver given how impressed I am with the Galaxy Note 5. 3D Touch will take some time to get used to, but it sure is fun to spend time discovering new elements and surprises on the Apple iPhone 6s Plus.

I'll spend another week or so with the iPhone 6s Plus before posting my formal review and contributor's rating. If there is anything in particular you want me to test out, please leave a comment.

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