We test out the only three phones currently on the market with pressure sensitive screen technology – the iPhone 6s, Huawei’s Mate S and the ZTE Axon Mini.
At the launch of the 6s, Apple’s Jony Ive proclaimed that the device’s new 3D Touch technology signalled “the next generation of multi-touch.” But despite what many think, the iPhone isn’t the only handset out there with a pressure sensitive screen and we want to find out which one puts this new technology to good use most effectively.
ZTE Axon Mini – Force Touch
The newest of the three phones in our lineup, the ZTE Axon Mini is an oddball device that just launched in the UK, with a skew of Android 5.1 that’s a little rough around the edges (namely down to some translation issues in the English build) and some questionable faux-stitched leather in its design work. That said there are some handy features on offer thanks to the phone’s Force Touch technology (we’re not sure how ZTE hasn’t been sued by Apple for using the term ‘Force Touch’ but that’s the name it’s gone with).
The functionality of the phone’s 5.2-inch Force Touch display is built around the company’s own MiFavor 3.2 UI. You can test and set pressure sensitivity from within the settings menu, giving you plenty of control over just how hard you need to press the display in order for a Force Touch gesture to be recognised.
Within general operation, Force Touch gestures can be used to open up secondary options on apps – like quick access to favourite contacts or making new calendar entries, but you can also preview images from your gallery, enlarging thumbnails, or skipping backwards and forwards between images when viewing things fullscreen, the same even applies in video where pressing either side of the screen during playback is an easy way of rewinding or fast-forwarding footage.
Easily the most unique implementation of Force Touch on the Axon Mini is that you can record pressure on password entry, meaning the phone only unlocks if you press the right characters with the right pressure levels in the correct combination, for added security.
The Force Touch display is only available on the ZTE Axon Mini Premium, which can be had from £229.99, making it the most affordable handset such technology right now.
Read next: ZTE Axon Mini Review: In Depth
Huawei Mate S – Press Touch
Chinese smartphone maker Huawei actually beat Apple to the punch, just days before the iPhone 6s was formally unveiled, announcing that it would launch a special variant of its late 2015 flagship the Mate S, complete with a pressure-sensitive display.
The technology employed by the handset was dubbed Press Touch come retail and bares a number of similarities to its Android brethren the Axon Mini, but on the whole the experience feels tighter, more responsive and more precise.
Similarly to the Mini, you can customise the level of pressure sensitivity the phone reacts to and you have the ability to open up secondary features from apps simply by hard pressing on their icons. You can preview photos from the gallery view, but unlike the Axon, you can also zoom in on specific areas of an image with an impressive level of control.
Huawei also got creative with the technology, including a Fun Scale app that lets you work out the approximate weight of certain objects (best used when showing the technology off to your friends) and you can even swap out the convention on-screen navigation button for invisible replacements that responds to force. The Mate S also boasts a quick-launch feature where you can assign quick-launching apps to the top left and right corners of the display, again activated by a hard press.
Huawei’s Press Touch-laden Mate S smartphone is a finely-crafted blend of milled aluminium with pillowed 2.5D glass, it’s a stunning device outright and packs other standout features like a front-facing LED flash and 32GB of inbuilt storage with expandability. Yours for £569.
Read next: Huawei Mate S Review: In Depth
Apple iPhone 6s – 3D Touch
The 6s is an unquestionably elegant smartphone, with tons of power, a beautiful display and a well thought out user experience. The team behind 3D Touch had to find meaningful ways to implement the pressure-sensitive screen technology amidst the natural look and feel of iOS and overall they did a fantastic job.
Apple dubbed the most talked about example of 3D Touch ‘peek and pop’ and it’s an OS-wide experience. Whether it’s a web URL in the browser, a photo thumbnail in the gallery or a map link in an iMessage, you can push firmly to see a floating preview of the selected content, which will close if you remove pressure or ‘pop’ out into a full screen view if you push even harder. It’s particularly useful for checking the content of emails and messages more rapidly.
If you’ve taken any Live Photos (another feature that debuted with the iPhone 6s) then using 3D will animate said images, whether that be from the Photos app or your lock screen – we’re not really sure about this one, partly because Live Photos are such a seldom used feature and partly because a long-press would have been just as effective.
The last obvious use of 3D Touch is one both of the other handsets also leverage. Firmly pressing on app icons brings up quick-access to different features, like the selfie camera from the camera app or favourite contacts from the phone app. The biggest difference and the key differentiator between Apple’s take and its rivals is that third-party developers have also started to introduce this functionality into their own apps.
Offering an API to developers in this way is the key to giving 3D Touch the edge in this race. Both ZTE and Huawei have proven that Apple could have done a lot more in-house stuff with the technology, but this strategy means Apple doesn’t have it, it simply gives the tools to its vibrant and loyal developers and by proxy it makes their star smartphone better over time.
Read next: Apple iPhone 6s Review: In Depth
Both the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus boast a 3D Touch-capable display, with the 16GB 6s starting at £539 and the 16GB 6s Plus from £619. Despite what appears to be the biggest scope for the technology however, you get more bang for your buck with regards to storage from both the flagship Huawei Mate S or the mid-range ZTE Axon Mini, the choice is yours.