They're back, and as you might (and should) expect, they're better than ever: the 4.7" iPhone 7 and 5.5" iPhone 7 Plus. Though they don't look remarkably different on the outside, save the two new black colors and relocated antenna lines, Apple has made significant improvements in processing power, durability, display quality and cameras. Throw in iOS 10 (which is also available for several older generation iPhones), and you've got a fresh experience. The two new colors (or technically the absence of color) are matte black and jet black. The jet black model is super shiny and very pretty. It also shows fingerprints like a beer bottle in a pizza joint and scratches more easily than the other colors. It's still made of aluminum but uses a different anodization process that can show micro-abrasions. Surprisingly, it's a bit more sticky and grippy than the other finishes--usually shiny things are more rather than less slippery.
Same as it ever was?
Some critics have complained that the new iPhone looks much like the two previous generation models-- the iPhone 6 and 6s. It's true, they are the refinement of that design, and as such the antenna lines have moved to the very edges so they don't run roughshod through the back of the phone, and the camera location and hump are a little bit different. Yes, there's still a hump and Apple would have to make the phone thicker to make it flush. We know Apple likes skinny, and I'm guessing they think customers like skinny too. The antenna lines on the black models are black, so they blend in. Why doesn't Apple use matching colors for the gold, rose gold and silver phones? It's a pigment vs. radio interference issues--believe it or not, pigments can affect RF.
The essential design is on its third year, and I too have been guilty of saying "ho-hum, where's that new every two year design." We've come to expect that since Apple's been creating new designs with every non- S release. Then I thought harder on the matter, and realized that this is still a very ergonomic and attractive design... and it looks really, really good in the new black options. It doesn't look like any other smartphone on the market. Do we want change simply for the sake of change? I suppose that's not unfair since the technology inside improves in small ways as the smartphone matures, and high end phones have become fashion statements. But I also want Apple to come up with something really good, something that excites me as much as the Leica-inspired iPhone 5 design that still lives on in the iPhone SE. I've worked in R&D departments, and it's not easy to come up with something that's iconic, ergonomically excellent, durable and practical. So I won't get huffy about a design that's actually still really lovely, but that doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to the design reinvention that the iPhone 8 may bring.
On the design upside, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are water resistant and harder to bend. The display sizes and resolution remain the same, but Apple has updated their IPS panels with the higher DCI-P3 color gamut, a cinema standard that well exceeds sRGB. Reflectance is as ever very low, contrast is high, color calibration is near perfect and brightness on auto-brightness reaches 700 nits. DisplayMate, the display uber-scientific geeks rate it as the best mobile LCD they've ever tested.
Definitely not the Same as it ever was
The home button is now solid state with no moving parts. That means no satisfying hardware move and click, and it means no more worn out home button switches (that switch was the only moving part in the iPhone). The new home button looks just like the old one, but the clicks are generated via haptics, or Apple's Taptic engine, as they call it. Just as with Force Touch, tactile feedback is via haptic vibration, and when the phone is on a desk, it does feel like the button is clicking. Hold the phone in your hand and you'll feel the whole phone vibrate a bit, so it's a little less convincing. It took me an hour to grow accustomed to it, no doubt due to iPhone muscle memory (I instantly adjusted to the HTC 10's haptic home button because I had no expectations or memory of something different). After a day I and others in our office grew to like it and prefer it over the old mechanical button. It still does the familiar things--double-tap to launch Apple Pay when the screen is off. Double-tap when the screen is on to multitask. Long press to bring up Siri, and triple press to turn the camera into a handy magnifying glass.
The fingerprint scanner is even faster, if you can imagine that. It's too fast if you just want to wake the phone to see notifications and the time. Thus Apple changed the sleep screen and added raise to wake. Pick up the phone and you'll see the notification screen, which we've seen on some Android phones from Moto and the Nexus 6P. Swipe sideways and you can launch the camera without unlocking the phone, swipe in the other direction and you'll see calendar entries and news items. Nice. So taking an impromptu photo or video is as simple as picking up the iPhone and swiping the screen. Good times.
Faster than Other Phones (for Now)
Every year Apple churns out the fastest CPU, then Qualcomm or Samsung's Exynos answer with an even faster CPU for their high end models. The Snapdragon 820 was the winner a few months back, and now the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus thoroughly trounce it on benchmarks. Honestly, the silicon is now so fast, it's hard to say this even matters unless you're a fanboy of one platform or another. The Apple A10 Fusion CPU is clocked at 2.33 GHz and it's Apple's first quad core design (the Snapdragon 820 is also a quad core CPU with a similar two high power and two low power cores design). The new M10 motion coprocessor allows for features like raise to wake, as does the M9 used in the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus and iPhone SE.
The iPhone 7 has 2 gigs of DDR4 RAM and the iPhone 7 Plus has 3 gigs. RAM is managed differently in iOS vs. Android, but Android fans will likely brag that they typically get 4 gigs of RAM in their high end phones. iPhone fans will brag that Apple's memory management means you need less RAM... the truth is somewhere in between. We haven't experienced lag in the new iPhones, nor have our Safari tabs manically reloaded due to RAM constraints. The experience is good. Doubtless, even more RAM would mean even more apps could stay loaded in memory, ever ready. That said, I haven't noticed much of a difference compared to the 12.9" iPad Pro with 4 gigs of RAM.
Storage capacities have doubled, so you have 32, 128 and 256 gig options, with each increment adding the usual $100 in price. Given the huge jumps in storage between price tiers, that doesn't feel like a rip-off like moving from 16 to 64 gigs last year.
Deals and Shopping:
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus Video Review
iPhone 7 Plus Camera Portrait Mode (background blur- bokeh) Review
Camera Comparison: iPhone 7 & iPhone 7 Plus vs. Samsung Galaxy S7 & Note 7
Is this Courage?
Apple called their decision to do away with the 3.5mm audio jack an act of courage. OK, there's a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter in the box and a set of Lighting earbuds... it's not the end of the world. But the Lightning port is Apple's proprietary connector that they license to manufacturers ($$), and the do-good thing would've been to move to the more universal USB-C port (granted, it's a little thicker, but how skinny do we need our phones to be?). I'm not against removing the 3.5mm jack as long as there's an adapter in the short term so I can use my nice high end earbuds and headphones NOW. The 3.5mm jack has been around a very long time, and maybe it's time to make room for more essential components like bigger batteries (which these phones have) and Taptic engine modules (err, OK). But the proprietary connector irks me. They probably irk you too, because you'll have to pay for yet more expensive Apple cables and adapters. Losing that tiny little Lightning to 3.5mm adapter (and you will unless you leave it permanently attached to your favorite headphones) costs $9. Granted that's a lot cheaper than Apple's usual $20 to $50 cables, but it's still aggravating.
Stereo Speakers and More About Audio
While we're on the subject of audio, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are the first iPhones to sport stereo speakers. There's one on the bottom edge (where it always was) and another in the earpiece. Audio is richer and louder, and this makes me happy on a daily, if not hourly basis. You'll probably enjoy it too. Sound from the Lightning port to 3.5mm high quality headphones (via included adapter) has better stereo separation and more pronounced highs and bass, which is particularly good for movie soundtracks. The bass is a little heavy and that can make it less clear than your home stereo or the class-leading LG V20 with its crazy fantastic ESS Sabre 32 bit audio DAC. Compared to the outgoing iPhone 6s it sounds better and it matches the HTC 10 that has better than average smartphone audio. Apple uses the same Apple/Cirrus Logic 338S00105 Audio IC and Codec as the iPhone 6s, but they appear to be using new amps with the 2 Cirrus Logic 338S00220 audio amplifiers. The Lightning port can output 24 bit audio, while 3.5mm is limited to CD quality 16 bit.
It's all Wet
New for the iPhone, but not new for smartphones in general, is IP67 water and dust resistance. The iPhone can survive up to 30 minutes submersion in water up to 3 feet deep (unofficially, the iPhone 6s managed this too). Samsung's Galaxy S7 and Note 7 family of phones also offer this feature, as have some Sony Xperia phones. This is an important feature--sprinklers, a quick wade into the pool and heavy rain won't kill your iPhone. You can gently rinse it under the faucet or drop it (ugh) into the toilet and it will survive. You can't shoot a water canon at it or go deep diving.
Cameras are Better, and there are More Lenses on the iPhone 7 Plus
The iPhone 6s took darned good photos and 4K (as well as 1080p) video. It was one of the best on the market, but Samsung bested Apple with a bit more sharpness and OIS (optical image stabilization) on all GS7 models (Apple offered OIS only on the iPhone 6s Plus). Now both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have OIS, and Apple's new image processing engine brings parity with the S7 family. Apple one-up's Samsung with the iPhone 7 Plus by offering two lenses. You get the traditional wide angle lens and a 56mm telephoto lens (actually what us camera geeks would call a normal lens, since it's not exactly long enough to be called true telephoto). That 56mm lens is heaven to me, as a serious photographer. A 50mm lens is traditionally the first lens you buy for an SLR, since it's neither too wide nor too zoomed in. Some consider it the traditional walk about lens that mimics the eye's field of view (others say 35mm is). All that aside, the tele lens is perfect for taking pleasing portraits that don't exxagerate noses and ears like wide angle lenses. They're also great for zooming in at 2x without resorting to noisy and detail-losing digital zoom. I think Apple got this right--we rarely need super-wide angle like the LG G5 and LG V20 offer, unless shooting the Grand Canyon or realtor shots of home interiors. More often we want to zoom in a bit without the significant quality penalty we pay with digital zoom. As a serious photographer (see my photos on Instagram and Flickr), I simply adore the 56mm option on the iPhone 7 Plus. Alas, the smaller iPhone 7 doesn't get the dual lens setup, and has only the usual wide angle lens.
Both cameras share the same wide angle (aka traditional camera phone lens that's around 28mm), 4K video recording at 30 fps (excellent quality) along with slow motion and panorama options. In our tests, OIS worked only for the wide angle lens. The cameras capture more color with a P3 color gamut to match the updated displays (that's wider than the usual camera sRGB). You can shoot in RAW (DNG) format using apps like Adobe Lightroom Mobile. Shooting in RAW format allows you to recover some shadow detail and create a slightly more dSLR-like image. No, these cameras don't rival an SLR or mirrorless camera like my Sony a7, but they are equal to the Samsung Galaxy S7. The iPhone 7 family of cameras and the Samsung Galaxy S7 cameras are as good as it gets for smartphone photography right now. Apple will offer a software update in October 2016 that adds a depth of defocus effect, aka bokeh, or in this case faux-keh since it's a software generated mix of what the two lenses see to create those SLR-like blurred backgrounds. HTC and Nokia have offered a similar feature, but it's never really captivated the masses...we'll see if Apple fares better.
Apple claims 1 hour of additional actual use time (screen on time) thanks to slightly larger batteries. In our tests, that's an accurate claim compared to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. The iPhone 7 has a 1960 mAh battery and the 7 Plus has a 2900 mAh battery. The usual small square charger is included in the box, and there's still no super-fast charging or wireless charging.
If you're an iPhone person on schedule for an upgrade, go ahead and do it. Heck, you're probably not even paying that much attention to reviews since you're already sold on the iPhone and iOS and are simply ready to move to the latest model. For those who are also considering their Android options and have a fondness for iOS, these are very enjoyable phones that generally just work fast and well. Given Apple's past track record, they should stay fast and responsive and have top quality apps with occasionally more polish than their Android counterparts. You won't get the customizability and design variations that you will with Android's many brands and models to choose from, but you already knew that since it's an old story.
Display: iPhone 7: 1344 x 750 Retina IPS display (326 PPI). 1400:1 contrast ratio. iPhone 7 Plus: 5.5", 1920 x 1080 full HD IPS Retina display. 401 ppi, 1300:1 contrast ratio. Both have ~700 nits brightness on auto-brightness, 625 nits on manual brightness. iPhone 7 Plus supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer. Both models have a wide color gamut DCI-P3 display, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, compass, barometer, gyroscope and fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.
Battery:1960 mAh Lithium Ion in iPhone 7. 2900 mAh Lithium
Ion in iPhone 7 Plus. Battery is not user replaceable.
Performance:Apple quad core A10 Fusion 2.33 GHz, 64 bit CPU (ARM compatible, custom Apple design). Apple M10 motion coprocessor. 2 gigs DDR4 RAM in iPhone 7, 3 gigs DDR4 RAM in iPhone 7 Plus.
Size:iPhone 7: 5.44
x 2.64 x 0.28 inches. Weight: 4.87 ounces. iPhone 7 Plus: 6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches. Weight: 6.63 ounces.
Phone:Supports both GSM and CDMA with LTE 4G.
Camera:Rear (main) camera: 12 MP with 2-tone quad LED flash, 6 element f/1.8 lens. iPhone 7 Plus adds a 56mm f/2.8 lens. Both phones have optical image stabilization (OIS) and sapphire crystal lens cover. Can shoot video at 4K @30fps and 1080p @30 and @60 fps, and slo-mo video at 120/240 fps. Has front-facing 7 MP 1080p camera with BSI sensor, f/2.2 lens and face detection that can be used with Facetime video calls and Skype among others.
in stereo speakers, mic and Lightning port (3.5mm standard 3 ring stereo headphone
GPS: GPS with GLONASS and digital compass.
Security:Fingerprint scanner embedded in home button. Works with Apple Pay.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac with MIMO (dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz), NFC and Bluetooth 4.2.
Software:iOS 10 operating system and core applications. Siri, iCloud, Apple Maps, Safari web browser, email, Messages for text/MMS messaging, Stocks, iTunes, App Store, Phone, Clock, Calculator, Photos, Camera, Voice Memos, Reminders, Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Compass and Settings. iLife and iWork suites are included as a free download from the App Store.
Storage:Available in 32, 128 and 256 gig capacities.
In the Box: iPhone, charger, Lightning USB cable and Lightning EarPod earbuds with inline mic.