Ap­ple’s lat­est is miss­ing the wow fac­tor, but solid fea­tures stand out

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY -

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.

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