iPhone 7 Review: Glimpse of the Future
November 1, 2016
Every year, the tech world lights up in the final months of Summer to discuss rumored features for the latest iPhone model before Tim Cook takes the stage in September to officially unveil it. Invitations to the event go out, and people analyze them, scouring for clues about anything that we might not already know.
It is because of this immense interest and dedication that Apple has the confidence to make bold moves such as killing the ages old 3.5mm headphone jack. It is also the reason that they must make nearly perfect devices. Even the slightest errors can cause users to lose trust in the brand, which causes the brand to lose sales. Has Apple created a perfect phone this year? That depends on who you ask – but they certainly have tried.
Photo Credit: Andrew Roth
Overall, the iPhone 7 looks very similar to its predecessors, which came in the form of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s. There are a few noticeable changes, such as the antenna lines blending in on the Matte Black and Jet Black finishes; the antennas are now located at the top and bottom of the device rather than creating a rectangle on the back of the phone, and are colored to blend in with the two black variants of the phone. They remain a neutral grey on the Silver, Gold, and Rose Gold models, which Apple says is due to limitations on what you can color them without interfering with their capabilities. And yes, there are two different types of black iPhones now – one is a soft metal, and the other has a glossy finish (warning: the Jet Black iPhone is extremely easy to scratch. Cases are a must). Both variants feel great in hand, so ultimately your decision should be based on aesthetic.
The iconic home button no longer moves. It’s not an actual button any more, but rather a stationary, pressure sensitive component, making it more durable compared to previous generations of iPhones. While you will notice this when you use the new device for the first time, it is very easy to get used to, in part thanks to the Taptic Engine, which gives you a slight buzz as feedback. There are three options for how strong of a reaction you get, ranging from a soft buzz to a hard one. This new engine works great when you’re holding the device in your hand, but is still strange when the phone is on a flat surface such as a table; it feels almost as if you are pushing the entire portion of the device under the display. The Taptic Engine has been implemented in other ways as well. When opening the Notification Center, you will get a slight bounce feeling that adds real world velocity to the on screen actions. As a whole, this is a major step forward for technology – especially when compared to Android devices’ current haptic feedback systems. Unfortunately, Apple says that the iPhone 6s will not be receiving these new features, even though it has its own Taptic Engine on board.
Gone are the days of fretting about getting your phone wet. The iPhone 7 has gotten the necessary certifications to be considered water resistant, though not quite waterproof; some water on the exterior of the phone due to rain won’t harm it, but it is not advisable to completely submerge the device for extended periods of time.
Part of what made Apple able to take the final leap to water resistance is their infamous decision to remove the headphone jack. No more can you plug any set of headphones that you own into your device. Instead, you will need either a wireless headset or a pair that connect through your Lightning port. It is the latter of these which ships with the phone – every iPhone 7 comes packaged with a pair of Lighting EarPods, in addition to a Lighting to 3.5mm dongle which allows you to plug any headphones you already own in. Outside of the new wire, not much has changed about the EarPods; as The Verge put it, they “sound average-to-bad and fit either fine or not-great depending on your ears,” a major letdown on Apple’s behalf (especially since they acquired Beats several months ago). Luckily, additional Lightning to 3.5mm dongles cost only $9, making it very realistic to buy several and leave one plugged in to every pair of headphones you own now. If neither of these options please you, Apple has also begun selling AirPods (EarPods without the wire) for a cool $159. Thanks to a brand new W1 chip, the headphones will pair with your iOS or macOS device effortlessly and then seamlessly bounce from iOS device to iOS device after being paired once. Beats is also preparing three wireless headsets with a W1 chip on board, though two charge with Micro USB and one with Lightning, continuing to add confusion to the situation. Bluetooth devices without a W1 chip still get the same inefficient setup process, and AirPlay seems to have been abandoned. All of this adds up to a half-baked system which locks you into Apple’s ecosystem – not dissimilar to their various apps on iOS. This will have to change in the future if Apple is going to continue trying to create a world for the wire cutters.
Other than easier water resistance, the missing headphone jack does bring one major improvement to the device. Listening to music on your device itself has become more realistic, thanks to a new set of stereo speakers. At first glance, it appears as if both speakers are on the bottom of the device, but this is not the case; the grille on the bottom left is actually a vent. One of the two speakers is located where it always has been, at the bottom right of the phone, and the other is sneakily also placed where it’s always been – the earpiece is now a full volume speaker. Audiophiles will still want to hook up to a nice Bluetooth speaker, but for day to day use with games and movies it is a definite improvement.
Apple’s new flagship device brings with it noticeable improvements to the display. Rather than focusing on increasing the pixel density to create 2K or 4K displays as many phones have done, Apple instead focused on changes that you will feel – more colors have been added to its range, and saturation has been digitally increased, making everything on screen feel warmer. Most apps don’t take advantage of the new wider color range yet, however you can easily spot the difference when comparing photos on the display of the iPhone 7 to that of the iPhone 6s.
Photo quality has increased thanks to this wider range of colors – not only can the display show them, the camera can capture them. Apple has also addressed the camera bump – users’ second biggest complaint about the design of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s, behind only the antenna lines. Rather than a rigid metal protrusion, the body now curves leading up to the camera lens.
Photo Credit: Andrew Roth
Perhaps the biggest outcome of the mobile revolution, everybody has a decent camera on them at just about all times. Every year, each manufacturer trots out their new flagship device, and it always features an improved camera as one of its primary talking points. Apple’s iPhone 7 is no different, though the biggest improvements are included exclusively in the iPhone 7 Plus.
Featuring a faster f/1.8 lens, the addition of optical image stabilization, a new four color True Tone flash, and a wider color range for the new display. Thanks to the faster lens and the optical image stabilization, the camera performs much better in low light situations compared to its predecessors, though the Galaxy S7 still seems to outperform it in most scenarios, in part due to the iPhone’s lack of precise manual controls.
Samsung Galaxy S7 (left) vs. iPhone 7 (right)
These are improvements without a doubt, but are incremental ones at best. Apple’s primary efforts went into the iPhone 7 Plus, which features two lenses rather than just one – the same f/1.8 28mm wide-angle lens as its little brother, and an additional f/2.8 56mm telephoto lens. Both lenses operate simultaneously, though for the time being the purpose of this remains to be seen. Currently, it serves only one purpose – a 2X optical zoom. In a future version of iOS, Apple will add the a bokeh effect for close up shots, but the camera still seems to be lacking something compared to other dual lens setups which have given users features such as the ability to change the focus of a picture after it is taken, or to take three dimensional pictures. This could, and hopefully will, be fixed by third parties.
Almost as important as the main camera, the front facing camera has seen improvements over its predecessors as well. Replacing the ages old 5-megapixel shooter is a new 7-megapixel lens. Photos come out looking bright and sharp, though the lens does not take shots quite as wide as the Galaxy line of devices. Retina Flash is taken straight out of Snapchat, but it belongs right where it is in the stock camera app.
Photo Credit: Andrew Roth
Apple has made this by far the most powerful phone on the market – their new A10 Fusion chip has four cores: two high power, two low power. Low power cores use less battery life, and are activated for simple tasks like browsing Facebook, while high power cores are used for apps with intense graphics, such as games. Benchmarks indicate that the phone with A10 Fusion chip on board is faster than even the iPad Pro with an A9X chip, though many people likely won’t feel the difference due to the types of apps they use; in my day to day use of Facebook, Twitter, Slack, etc., I rarely had reason for the phone to tap into the high power cores. Even the two low power cores are an improvement, though – while performance may be matched, battery life is stretched out much longer.
Whether or not you will truly feel the difference of the new chip ultimately rests on the shoulders of third party app developers. It is a waiting game that we are all too familiar with when it comes to iOS; only when app developers begin to embrace the new features can we determine whether or not they are truly worthwhile. The problem with this is that it could take a very long time – many times developers are just starting to scratch the surface of what the new devices can do when Apple is getting ready to announce its next generation.
Photo Credit: Andrew Roth
Undoubtedly, the iPhone 7 is an improvement over the iPhone 6s, and is a beautiful device. The battery lasts longer, the camera is better, its design is refined, iOS 10 is jam packed with new features, and its performance is second to none. But ultimately, whether or not this device is for you comes down to one question. Do the features outweigh the inconveniences of the missing headphone jack?
In my opinion, no. They do not. The primary feature of the dual camera set up doesn’t ship with the phone, app developers have not yet embraced the A10 Fusion chip, wide color range, iMessage apps, Taptic Engine, or Siri commands; all of iOS 10’s biggest features. And, yes, the missing headphone jack is a major inconvenience when paired with a half-baked ecosystem of wireless headphones to replace it. Users are locked into Apple and Beats headphones exclusively to get the best experience, or else you will frequently be faced with the decision of charging your phone or listening to music.
If you enjoy living on the cutting edge of technology and want a preview of what the iPhone 8 will be like, then by all means this is a great device, even if slightly underdeveloped. Otherwise, you are better off waiting until the next generation brings its radical changes to the market. This iPhone lays the foundation for the iPhone 8. It will be next year’s model which actually builds on that foundation and makes a phone for the future.
An unlocked, entry level iPhone 7 will cost you $649, and prices range up to $849 for the 256 GB model (yes, 256 GB – all the price points have doubled their storage, meaning the new entry level is 32 GB and the max is 256 GB).
The Blazer would like to thank Verizon Wireless for sending us this unit for review purposes. You can purchase an iPhone 7 from Verizon on their website, found at https://www.verizonwireless.com/, and can follow them on Twitter at @Verizon to stay up to date on all the latest tech news.
Andrew Roth is a third year staff member of The Blazer, and is the current Production Manager. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @andrewr727, send him an email at [email protected], and view his other articles here.