This is the Apple iPhone 7, the twelfth of its name, successor to the iPhone 6s, and the best iPhone ever.
What Is It?
The iPhone 7 — starting at $1079 for the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and $1269 for the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus — may look nearly identical to the 6s, and that’s because from the outside, it almost is — but those evolutions come in small but significant ways. The most obvious is around the back of the iPhone 7, where you’ll see antenna lines that have been moved to the top and bottom of the phone, in white on the silver and gold and rose gold models and in a dark grey on the matte black and jet black variants. The camera bump — yes, there’s still a bump — now has smoothed edges, appearing more like a mesa rising from the flatlands of the iPhone’s rear aluminium casing than a sharp-edged obelisk. And, yes, if you hadn’t already noticed, there’s no headphone jack on the bottom of the iPhone 7, only a solitary Lightning connector — but more on that later.
It’s under the hood that the most significant changes to the iPhone 7 have been made. The new Apple iPhone uses a quad-core 64-bit processor of the company’s own design, called the A10 Fusion — with two power cores and two efficiency cores, it promises better performance for computationally intensive apps and better battery life for lightweight ones. The motion-sensing coprocessor has been upgraded, too. The iPhone 7’s 1960mAh battery is 15 per cent larger than the 6s’s 1715mAh; the 7 Plus’s 2900mAh is 5 per cent more than the 6s Plus’s 2750mAh. Apple says that the 7 and 7 Plus get two and one hour longer battery life respectively versus their predecessors. And finally, storage has doubled in every iPhone 7 variant — the previous 16GB base model has been banished for 32GB, the 64GB variant is now 128GB, and the top model has an astonishing 256GB of internal storage capacity.
Around the front, though, there’s an almost-invisible upgrade: a home button that no longer clicks, replaced by a pressure-sensitive circular panel. Press and you’ll activate a tactile feedback sensation from the iPhone 7’s new Taptic engine, a powerful and customisable vibration motor that can be anything from a click to a buzz to a thump depending on its contextual use within iOS. You can adjust the intensity of the home button’s click, too. Two new colours join the iPhone 7 line-up, bringing the total to five. Well, Space Grey has been deleted in favour of a matte finish called Black and a shiny, piano-black Jet Black — both of which are currently in high demand both in Australia and around the world — while silver, gold and rose gold persist from the iPhone 6s. The same 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen sizes remain on the 138x64x7.1mm, 138g iPhone 7 and 158x78x7.3mm, 188g iPhone 7 Plus respectively.
And implicit in the release of the new iPhone is the release of a new version of iOS, the 10th iteration of Apple’s unique and bespoke operating system that runs its iPhones and iPads. If you want a new iPhone 7, you’re getting iOS 10, and that means you’re getting everything that entails — a first-party messaging system called iMessage that lets you talk to your friends in the most diverse ways possible from text to GIF to digital scribbles to giant emoji, integration with a quickly growing smart home ecosystem, a smarter-than-ever voice-activated Siri virtual assistant, and an Apple App Store full of over two billion apps. And, of course, iOS is the only operating system that supports the Apple Watch.
What’s It Good At?
This is the best iPhone ever, in so many different ways. But you already knew that, right? What you want to know is how. The average user will see the biggest improvement in the iPhone 7 — whether they’re coming from an iPhone 6 or earlier, or from almost any Android phone, or even from a Windows Phone — in two areas. The first is the iPhone 7’s massive amount of processing power, which is frankly insane on paper — equalling an Intel performance desktop CPU from 2011 in computational grunt — but that translates into an utterly buttery and smooth experience of iOS, in everything from the speed with which TouchID operates to the speed with which apps launch and re-launch, to the speed with which the camera can blast through a series of full-resolution HDR Live Photos or 4K video recording. The iPhone 6 and 6s weren’t exactly slouches, but they are both solidly outclassed by the iPhone 7; if last generation was a fuel-efficient V6 cruising at highway speed, the 7 is a V12 just waiting for you to step on the throttle.
Apple continues to make incredible behind-the scenes improvements that it — surprisingly — doesn’t tell people enough about. The new home button and Taptic haptic feedback engine are a quantum leap in the usefulness of smartphone vibration, in exactly the same way that 3D Touch added another level of interaction to the iPhone 6s. The iPhone 7’s home button doesn’t physically move or click, but the right amount of pressure triggers an appropriately powerful buzz from the phone’s Taptic vibration motor. Haptic cues now pervade the iPhone 7’s iOS 10 interface, in everything from the physical cue you get from navigating through a drop-down list of numbers to the subtle vibration bump you get when hitting the end of a page in Safari. With 3D Touch and Taptic, the iPhone 7 is the most interactive smartphone — in the way that it communicates back to its user — that has ever existed. This may sound boring, but it’s actually incredibly useful even if you don’t notice it — probably because you don’t notice it — and it’s the kind of thing that every smartphone will have within the next few years.
The camera on the iPhone 7 is an improvement from the iPhone 6s — that much is obvious. It’s more capable in daylight and low light, with a faster f/1.8 lens and optical image stabilisation and brighter more capable quad-LED flash. It’s only an incremental improvement rather than anything ground-breaking on the previous iteration of the iPhone, but that optical image stabilisation means you’re more likely to capture a blur- and shake-free photo in low light. Similarly, the flash makes low-light photographs of a subject against a background more realistic, especially with skin-tones — and let’s be honest, those dimly-lit pub shots are where the iPhone needed the most help, so it’s good to see improvement here. But the biggest change of the iPhone 7 is in the iPhone 7 Plus, which has a second camera module with a telephoto lens and half the field of view of the original — making it better for portrait photos and close-up shots. You can see a comparison of the two here, along with some tests with the 1x and 2x lenses:
iPhone 7 Plus cameras compared with the same shot. Less perspective distortion on the 2x — better for portraits. pic.twitter.com/QrA78J8UPi
— Campbell Simpson (@csimps0n) September 18, 2016
Then the two iPhone 7 Plus cameras compared again, from the same position. 1x obviously better for landscapes. pic.twitter.com/Bj5Qff0oLI
— Campbell Simpson (@csimps0n) September 18, 2016
Another iPhone 7 improvement is in the screen, although you’d have to compare it to the iPhone 6s to notice the difference. If you use your phone outdoors, like everyone does, you’ll appreciate the 25 per cent brighter maximum luminance. Everything from the camera through to the screen now support the P3 cinema standard wide colour gamut, too, which means significant leaps forward in the quality and gradation of colour representation. Oranges and yellows especially are improved; you’d have to look closely to notice the extra detail in saturated parts of the screen before colours crush out to pure orange, for example, but it’s the kind of change that makes a difference throughout the entire experience of using the phone. it still doesn’t pop like an OLED — it doesn’t have those perfectly black blacks — but it gets damn well close. The 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and 5.5-inch Plus may have relatively low 1334×750 and 1920×1080 pixel resolution, but I genuinely don’t notice the difference during day-to-day use compared to a 2560×1440 pixel panel from one of Apple’s many and varied Android competitors.
Oh, and the iPhone is
waterproof water resistant now! The new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are both IP67 certified to survive immersion in a metre of water for 30 minutes, which means they’re more than capable of surviving a run out in the rain, a trip to the beach, or an accidental journey to the bottom of the bath or the bottom of a beer glass. In exactly the same way that Sony’s Z Series and Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note phones are resistant to the elements, albeit technically even more so, Apple joining the legion means you’ll be able use your phone in more places than ever. It’s the kind of feature you hope to never have to put to the test, but like insurance it only proves its value when you actually need it, and having that little checkbox filled out on the spec sheet is the important part. Don’t go throwing your phone in the toilet any time soon, but just know that if you have to, you can.
What’s It Not Good At?
My chief criticism of the iPhone 7 is its design. But even that criticism has to tempered somewhat by the fact that the iPhone 7’s design is excellent — nobody can deny that it’s a beautiful piece of industrial design, and it’s a significant improvement in a lot of ways upon the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus that came before it. But it’s still recognisably an iPhone 6 or 6s in its shape and overall design — a curved-cornered rectangle with a flat unibody aluminium shell. No, the aim of this criticism is that the iPhone 7 still has a big chin to house that circular home button, and the top bezel — which only has a front-facing camera and small stereo earpiece speaker in it — is equally large. When Samsung can nearly eradicate the bezel on all four sides of the Galaxy Note7, Apple’s design starts to look dated. There’s a lot of dead space around that screen, and there are thinner phones out there with equally capacious batteries. It’s hard to see how Apple is pushing the envelope when you just pick up an iPhone 7 and turn it over in your hand.
Why, God? Why. Why has Apple not embraced some measure of fast-charging standard in its iPhones? The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus may not have especially large batteries in the scheme of modern smartphones, and the A10 Fusion may be an incredibly efficient processor — both of these things are true! — but that can’t change the fact that it takes a long time to funnel fresh electrons into the iPhone, especially if you’re in a hurry and every percentage point counts. Look at it like this — Samsung can hit 18 Watts (9 volts, 2 amps) maximum during its adaptive fast charging, and Oppo’s VOOC Flash Charge will reach 25 Watts (5V 5A). The USB wall wart that Apple includes in the box with the 7 is 5 Watts (5V 1A). That’s a huge, and problematic, difference. Do yourself a favour and buy an iPad charger (12 Watts, 5 volts, 2.1 amps) at the very least. But Apple has to change this for the iPhone 8 or it will be left behind; fast charging is just as important as efficient usage of that charge by the phone itself.
Finally, yes, some people are going to miss the headphone jack. I didn’t think I was going to be one of them, until I got to the gym and realised that I’d packed my Bose QuietComfort 20 earphones, but not the $12 adapter. I’ve also used the bundled Lightning version of Apple’s EarPods more than any other set of EarPods ever before, because I haven’t had an alternative. Another day, I got to the gym and realised I couldn’t use the Lightning headphones while also charging (without a $60 adapter). I’m a huge fan of Bluetooth, and I can’t wait for the AirPods, but they are another thing to keep charged. To be honest, it’s not a big deal — you’ll get over it! Lightning headphones will become more popular, as will Bluetooth ones — but it’s just a little frustrating. If you buy an iPhone 7 you’re at the start of the eradication of 3.5mm, and that means you’ll (probably) have to make some compromises along the way. It’s frustrating sometimes, and that’s all there is to it.
While the iPhone 7 Plus’ dual camera is the best implementation of its kind in any smartphone so far, it’s missing one of the most appealing features that Apple announced during the launch. The Portrait mode — which uses both cameras’ depth-sensing focus and 100 billion calculations per snap to intelligently pick out the background from the subject and foreground in a portrait snap, and then applies some image blur in different intensities to different parts of the image — won’t be available until later this year. The swipe-with-a-thumb zoom feature is excellent, too, but I wouldn’t use digital zoom unless I had the iPhone 7 steady on a tripod; I’m exclusively shooting at 1x and 2x to get that perfect optical-lens clarity in my photos and I don’t think I’ll change that any time soon. While the digital zoom is convenient, the iPhone 7’s camera(s) still have tiny sensors that inevitably lose detail and make noise more visible as you zoom in. It’s also worth keeping in mind the fact that the iPhone 7 Plus’ 56mm-equivalent lens has a f/2.8 aperture versus the 28mm’s f/1.8, so it’s letting in only a little more than a quarter of the light — which means more digital noise in low light.
I don’t have one to demonstrate this in a real world setting, but visiting the Apple Store yesterday — two days after the iPhone 7 launched — I did see some noticeable small scuffs and scratches on the glossy, pianoesque Jet Black models out on display. Apple even goes so far as to say the finish “may show fine micro-abrasions with use”, recommending a case to keep the rear of the phone pristine. If you like your phones scuff-free, I think an alternative finish is probably a pretty good idea. As it has been every second since the iPhone was officially announced, my choice remains the utterly sexy Matte Black. The Jet Black is a very, very good looking piece of technology and probably represents the future of Apple’s iPhone design more than any other finish at the moment — it’s almost seamless from front to back — but I’d wait until Apple refines the process with the next iPhone myself.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. If you want to buy an iPhone, the $1079-plus iPhone 7 is the one to get. You’d be silly to buy an iPhone 6s when the 7 is available, and the SE is only appealing if you need a seriously small phone. Whether you buy the iPhone 7 against an equally high quality Android flagship phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note7 or S7? That’s another question. If it were up to me, I’d recommend the Android phone to someone that wants to (and is happy to) tinker with their phone to get the best out of it, installing different launchers and adding home screen widgets. I hate to say it, but the iPhone 7 Just Works — iOS 10 is the most refined iteration of an operating system that has always been easy to understand and mostly consistent to operate, and the hardware that it’s running on is genuinely world class.
If your choice is between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, as usual we’d defer to your preference as to which size of phone you’re happy carrying around in your pocket or purse or satchel or handbag every day. Both phones are quite large for their screen size, so if you’re comparing them against the latest and greatest from Samsung or Sony or LG you’ll probably only be entirely comfortable with the Plus if you’re equally happy with a Note7 or G5-sized handset. Personally, I love the 7 Plus for its dual camera, which adds massively to the iPhone’s utility as a photographic tool, but the 7’s main camera is the better of the two on the 7 Plus and captures excellent images in bright and low light alike.
The iPhone 7 feels like a foundation in some ways for the next iPhone. It has dual cameras, 3D Touch, the brilliant Taptic engine, a virtual home button, waterproofing, no headphone jack. (That final one isn’t anywhere near as big a deal as you might think, by the way.) All of these are features that — we hope — will persist on the next iPhone and the iPhones after that, as the design changes and the phone’s bezels get smaller and it gains an OLED display. If you buy an iPhone 7, you’re buying a glimpse into the future, and you’re buying all the advantages and disadvantages that go along with that. Me? I’m proudly an early adopter, and I love the iPhone 7 for exactly that reason. It’s the most radically experimental, but also the most refined and streamlined, iPhone ever.