IPHONE 7 UPGRADES ARE WORTH IT — EVEN AIRPODS
Apple’s latest is missing the wow factor, but solid features stand out
After nearly a week of using the iPhone 7 Plus, what stands out is its excellent camera and the fact we finally have an iPhone that can get wet. The funky-looking optional wireless AirPods aren’t bad either.
The $769 iPhone 7 Plus is a solid, albeit incremental, upgrade to the company’s seminal smartphone. I’d buy it and recommend it to those of you in the market for an upgrade, though it’s not leaps and bounds ahead of the rival Galaxy Note 7, which before its exploding batteries necessitated a recall, posed a formidable challenge to the iPhone.
I’ve concentrated my review on the 7 Plus model, which I’ve used more than the smaller 7 ($649).
Seven takeaways: uFamiliar design. Apple is hyping the aesthetics on the glossy new jet black finish model, which for the record, does look swell and feel great. (The phones are made of aluminum.) It’s also a magnet for fingerprints and smudges.
Worth noting: Any cases you bought for a recent generation iPhone won’t fit the new phones.
Though the latest models bear a strong resemblance to their predecessors, the internals have been markedly refreshed. As before, the Plus model has a 5.5inch display; the 7 model a 4.7inch screen. uImproved camera: Worth the hype? In a word, yes, though excellent as it is, don’t think you’re getting a portable DSLR. But for a point and shoot in your pocket, bravo. To my (unscientific) eye, the camera quality in the 7 Plus is similar to the shooters in the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 7. High praise.
On the 7 Plus, I snapped countless pictures under all sorts of lighting conditions and walked away impressed. The cameras are fast to fire. The larger f/1.8 aperture yields better pictures in low
This is a strong handset for sure. But if you can hold out, there’s already talk the truly dramatic leap forward for iPhone comes next year when this seminal smartphone celebrates its 10th anniversary.
light. The presence of optical image stabilization on both phones is a big deal. My own shakes shooting video on a San Francisco cable car were successfully minimized.
The two new iPhones share the same first-rate 12-megapixel rear cameras and fine 7-megapixel front cameras (for selfies, Face Time, etc.). But the 7 Plus gains a second rear 12-megapixel camera.
The benefit: At a tap of a button you can exploit a 2X optical zoom, to effectively go from a wide-angle shot to telephoto (at f/2.8) or back. From there you can slide your finger (or pinch to zoom) to take advantage of a digital zoom feature up to 10X. Of course, digital zooms are not the same as optical zooms; all you’re really doing is blowing up a portion of the image, which can reveal imperfections.
uIs the controversial removal of the standard headphone jack a big deal? Less so than I thought. Apple includes EarPods that connect through the Lightning port on the phone, as well as a dongle that lets you use your own standard 3.5mm headphones. Not elegant, but it works. I left the dongle connected to the Bose headphones I often use. If you’re prone to losing things such as this, it’s $9 to replace.
By using the Lightning connector you’re tying up a port you also use for charging, meaning you’ll need a dock or separate adapter to do both simultaneously. Belkin, for one, has announced a $40 dongle to solve this problem.
Apple is pushing the use of Bluetooth wireless headphones, including models from Beats, and new Apple branded AirPods. The preproduction units Apple supplied for testing sounded quite good and were a breeze to pair and charge. (Apple promises five hours of juice.) All you do is open up the dental floss-sized case they
come in, and they’re paired not only to your phone, but via Bluetooth to other Apple devices you own. You can also double-tap to summon Siri. But at $159, they’re pricey, and judging by the reaction I got from colleagues and family, funny looking.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are the first Apple iPhones with stereo speakers — another feature found first in some rival smartphones. They’re louder than the speakers in earlier iPhones and sound better, too. uHome button. Removing the standard headphone jack has gotten the most attention, but changing the Home button may take even more getting used to. Apple has replaced the mechanical button on prior iPhones with a customizable solid state pressure sensitive button that supplies haptic feedback through the company’s “Taptic Engine.”
This button doesn’t physically move, though you get the sensation it does. As before, the Home button invokes Siri, multitasking, Touch ID, Apple Pay and other functions. uWater and dust resis
tance. Yes, this feature is long overdue. You’re not going to shower with your iPhone. Or drown it in a fish bowl. But I did those things to test the water resistance of the phone. It survived, suggesting it should withstand less challenging encounters.
uBattery. Apple is claiming a relatively modest but welcome increase in battery life — up to an hour on the 7 Plus; two hours on the 7, compared to the prior. I didn’t do a formal test but the claim seems in line with my experiences.
Apple still hasn’t matched Samsung (and others) with such convenience features as fast and wireless charging.
Apple has added a more power-efficient processor with its A10 Fusion and doubled the storage capacity on the new phones (32GB, 128GB, 256GB). Too bad there’s still no expandable memory card option.
uiOS 10. An important part of the iPhone 7 experience comes with iOS 10, the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system, which I’ve been using, at least in beta, for a couple of months. I won’t dwell on it here, since the software comes as a free update to prior models.
It does bring numerous improvements to the Messages, Phone and Photos apps, among others, and to Siri, with Apple’s vocal digital assistant finally opened to developers, though not yet fully implemented. For example, Siri couldn’t yet hail me a Lyft.
Apple’s wireless AirPods are pricey at $159.