Apple iPhone 7 Review: Ready Or Not, This Is The Future

At a glance, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus might both be confused for their predecessors, the 6s and 6s Plus. It's deceptive. The iPhone 7 is perhaps the most drastic revision of the phone since it was first released nearly a decade ago. It's not just the missing headphone jack. There are several other big ideas, including a new dual camera system (on the 7 Plus), a new touch sensor home button, and mercifully, newly added water resistance. These are substantial changes, and they hint at what we can expect from the future of Apple phones.

After using the new devices for a week, what's most remarkable is that Apple managed to change things up without completely ruining the iPhone's trademark polish. In fact, let's get it out of the way right now: The new iPhones are good.

Those hints at the future start with the new jet black finish option. I can't help but think the jet black finish is something we'll see more of in next year's iPhone. If you squint hard enough, you can almost see the all-glass OLED design Apple is reportedly planning for the iPhone 8 (or whatever it will be called). It's there in the invisible antenna lines and seamless transition between screen and case.

The jet black iPhone looks great when the phone is off. Unfortunately, the new finish scratches easily, and shows fingerprints. Within minutes of having my review unit, it was littered with fingerprints, and within a week, the phone was covered in faint marks.

Aesthetics aside, the real changes begin with the home button. Apple has swapped its iconic physical home button for a solid-state sensor. Eschewing the button has a few real-world advantages, like cutting out a wearable part that frequently fails, and helping seal off the chassis so the device is waterproof. But using the new home button is very different now. And different doesn't mean good. The old home button always elicited a satisfying click, which is basically gone. The new sensor gives you just a flaccid haptic tap.

Unlike the Force Touch sensors on the trackpads of the MacBook and MacBook Pro, the click doesn't feel natural now. The first few hours with the new home button were the worst, precisely because of that unnatural feeling. I've gotten more used to the new button as the days have passed.

I don't love the button, but I do think it prepares us for a future where the button is embedded in the screen. If Apple does remove the bezel home button next year, opting instead to embed it into the bottom of the screen, this sensor could be the path that helps users adjust.

The new camera system, on the other hand, is a game changer. The cameras in both devices now have a 28mm f/1.8 lens, which is better in low-light than the old phones. The iPhone 7 also gains optical image stabilisation for photo and video. This was a feature that the bigger phones already had, but it's great to see trickle down into the smaller body. Kiss those shaky shots goodbye.

iPhone 6s on left and iPhone 7 on right. The low light performance with the iPhone 7 is a lot better here. Not only is the Samsung 360 more illuminated, there is less noise in the blacks.

iPhone 6s on left and iPhone 7 Plus on right. Again, the noise levels in low light are a lot better on the iPhone 7 Plus. You can also see more details on the wall. The lighting through the window on the 7 Plus is a more natural too.

The iPhone 7 Plus camera is even more advanced. It has a second 56mm "telephoto" lens, in addition to the standard issue. Pressing a button in the camera app lets you switch between the lenses for instant 2x zoom.

It also makes a big difference in the types of shots you can get.

In Times Square over the weekend, I was able to zoom in more clearly on lit buildings in the background.

On the roof of Gizmodo, we have a great view of the Empire State Building. I can get that much of a closer shot of that building -- and the H&M Tower in the background -- than I could with a standard iPhone.

I expect to see this dual-lens setup on future phones, both from Apple and other smartphone manufacturers -- it's already available on the LG G5 -- because the it opens the door to so many possibilities. The first cool trick is portrait mode that uses both cameras, but who knows what crazy ideas developers will come up with.

If the camera is the hero of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the most polarising feature is the loss of the headphone jack. For the legions of people who use the EarPods that come with the iPhone, the change to Lightning won't impact their life. Apple provides a pair of Lightning EarPods in the box, and completely wireless AirPods will be available in late October. That's Apple's real audio frontier, but it's not quite a reality yet. I've spent some time with a pre-production version of AirPods, and while I stand by my initial hands-on, they definitely won't work for everyone.

For the rest of us, Apple includes a Lightning to 3.5mm adaptor.

It's jarring to plug headphones into a Lightning port instead of a 3.5mm jack, and if you're someone who likes to switch from headphones on your phone to headphones on your laptop, this will take adjustment. The adaptor works. Mostly. I did have a few instances where sound stopped coming out of my headphones and started coming out of my phone, which is both embarrassing and irritating.

But getting rid of the headphone jack has its advantages. Not only did it allow Apple to stuff in a slightly larger battery, it also contributes to the new phone's water-resistance. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are not waterproof -- they are rated IP67, which means you can submerge the phone in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. So if you get tossed in the pool, or drop your phone in the toilet, the device will survive. For me, choosing between a more durable phone and a headphone jack is a no-brainer. I'll take the more durable phone.

Like every other iPhone before them, the new iPhones are the fastest ever. The Geekbench 4 scores, which rate the device's speed and power performance, are impressive, besting even the burly 33cm iPad Pro. Muscle aside, the coolest feature of the new four-core A10 Fusion processor are actually its low-power cores. These are used for simple stuff like fetching background updates from apps, so you're not wasting battery on horsepower you don't need.

In the end, the iPhone 7 gets two hours more hours of battery than the iPhone 6S. That put me at about 11 hours of all-day heavy use, which is the best battery life I've had on a smaller iPhone in years. I got more than 14 hours of battery life from iPhone 7 Plus.

Next year's iPhone is going to be the real bonanza, but the iPhone 7 is helping pave the way to get there. Yet in the present this is still a damn good phone, even if its frankenstein camera and home button that's not really a button are a little weird. If you're on an iPhone 6S you don't need to upgrade but if you have an iPhone 6 or earlier, it's worth checking out.

README

  • Jet black finish is beautiful, but it will scuff like nobody's business.
  • Battery life is fantastic, for an iPhone.
  • The new home button takes adjustment.
  • The cameras are a big upgrade, especially the dual-lens system on the iPhone 7 Plus.
  • The front-facing camera is now 7 megapixels, so it's even better for selfies.
  • The depth-of-field bokeh trick isn't ready yet, but should be available in a software update soon.
  • Water resistance on an iPhone. Finally.
  • You will probably lose the 3.5mm to Lightning adaptor that comes with the phone.
  • Wireless earphones aren't super reliable yet

Comments

    The future? of what? The future of Apple? Certainly not the future for smart phones in general. There is nothing innovative about this phone that hasn't been implemented before by other manufacturers (with exception the headphone jack being removed, but then I did say innovative not marketing ploy)

      they weren't innovative in removing the jack. as is the way with courageous apple innovations, others did that first.

      I did not expect Gizmo to do such a biased artice! Such nonsence I only expect from theVerge... very disappointed cos I really love Gizmo!

    "There are several other big ideas, including a new dual camera system (on the 7 Plus), a new touch sensor home button, and mercifully, newly added water resistance." Firstly, I don't think any of these are "big ideas" at all, just inevitable ones. Secondly, they are not Apple's ideas and it has taken Apple a long time to catch up to their competitors with them.

    "These are substantial changes". No, they're not, they are evolutionary, at best. iPhones have always had cameras and a home button and they have always, by their ature, had some water and dust resistance. I'd suggest optical image stabilisation in the iPhone 6 Plus was a more substantial change.

    "That put me at about 11 hours of all-day heavy use, which is the best battery life I’ve had on a smaller iPhone in years." Really? I'm disappointed if my phone is below 20% after two days of use. When I have to start charging it every day, it's time for a new one. If you use your phone that much, why wouldn't you buy something with a replaceable battery?

    Losing the headphone jack contributes to the water resitance? I'm sorry? other phones have had water resitance for year and still have headphone jacks.

    So I've got to ask. Who are all these people taking their phones into pools or dropping them in toilets? Waterproofing seems like a major feature these days that very few people will actually benefit from. I'm surprised how much it's taken the conversation away from the glass used & ability to survive a drop, which seems the most common problem users will have.

      Quite possibly the same people who have home/contents insurance, car insurance, health insurance...

      I dont always burn my house down, but its nice to know it will be replaced if i do.
      I dont always crash my car, but its nice to know it will be fixed if i do.
      I dont always get diagnosed with cancer, but its nice to know i'll be comfortable if i do...

      Gorilla glass has gotten to a point over the years that anyone buying a phone will understand if its likely to scratch or break if dropped - it becomes superfluous mentioning it every time.

      Waterproofing a phone is just an insurance policy applied for free.
      I killed my phone from moisture simply by having it in a pocket all day.
      You sweat lots when mountain biking, but dont fall as often - the phone being in my pocket just couldnt handle the humidity

      ...and sweat from my balls.

        OK, so we are talking about gullible people. Insurance is a con. If you put your premiums away in an investment account ever year, you would be way better off.

          Until your house burns down and the couple of thousand (even tens of thousands, I'll be generous) put away doesn't cover a fraction of demolition and rebuilding...

        On this, you're probably best off adding your phone to your contents policy anyway to cover you for any eventuality. Plenty of ways to break a phone MTB riding.

        Oh, and make sure you're using plenty of chafing cream. Sounds like you've got a problem there

          No one got my CB4 reference.
          The internet is sad.

          Can you feel it? Sweat from my balls?

          And to the dude who says putting your premiums aside.... wow. thats retarded.
          On all policies a year i'd be maxing 2500.
          It's insured for theft loss damage with telstra for free anyway.

          My house is valued 750-800k.

          You do the math on a replacement by saving my premiums.
          Wow, So stupid.

          Might work if you are 18 and drive an old Gemini...

    I do find some of the choosing of the wording in this article rather hyperbolic. I happen to keep reading contradictory reviews about iPhone 7 and 7 plus. Some, like this one say things to the effect of 'drastic' changes but others are more phlegmatic and say the opposite in fact; i.e it's yet another revision of iPhone 6 when you strip away the hype. I suppose just like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder so are the perceived level of improvements in the latest iPhone upgrade.

    I'm Currently happy with the iPhone 6s plus and knowing a thing or two about previous upgrades it is fair to say IMHO the only noticeable improvement in the iPhone 7 and plus is the camera and yes we all know only the plus gets the two lenses. As for faster processor well other reviews point out unless you're a gamer you won't notice day to day differences. In fact the iPhone 7 has been shown in side by side comparisons to take longer to boot up than the iPhone 6s and plus. Counterintuitive it might be but that's what's been shown.

    But let's get the other features out of the way. Water resistance is hardly a breakthrough. Apple just decided to add it for the first time when they were ready to add it. A haptic touch home button although new does not add any real new functionality to the iPhone. And removal of headphone jack has been discussed at length as a very likely strategy by Apple to get tighter control over digital rights management in the future because lightning connector is software dependent (and therefore highly controllable at Apple's whatever future whim).

    Other reviewers point out that for most day to day photography there is no noticeable difference between the cameras on the iPhone 6s and plus and iPhone 7 and plus when in normal lighting. In low light yes the 7 series can do a bit better. As for the 7 plus twin lenses it can do some better photography with the simulated bokeh effect but the wording 'cool new tricks' sounds rather puerile. Tricks is what magicians use to amuse audiences especially children. Photography isn't 'tricks'. It's physics and understanding how light works. A X 2 zoom camera feature can at the most be charitably described by photographic standards as a small improvement. I love photography and no question the iPhone has come a long way in its camera improvements from the original. But hyperbolic descriptions of the latest cameras don't accord with the more considered appraisals that are out there.

    Does anybody else have an iPhone 7 with horrible battery life? Charged fully and I get only 3 hours usage according to the settings. I updated to the latest software when it arrived as there was an update available so not sure if it is this particular update or the phone itself.

    Sorry to burst your bubble but not only is the galaxy s7 edge IP67 water resistant, it is lighter, has a more pixel dense screen, physical home button, headphone jack, and a bigger battery. I'm not saying that one brand is better than the other but what I am saying is, the things apple did 'for the sake of water resistance' is not necessary. The removal of the headphone jack, imo, is just a way for them to make more money without innovating.

    Apple deserves every criticism it has received but there are still enough fools out there to shell out for yet another friteration.

    LOL - removal of headphone jack, such innovation.....
    such an uneducated understanding......
    Watch this and consider yourself less of a fool.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmTSN4zWeQ0

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