It’s been nine years since Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. Back then, the most sought after phone looked like this, and the company that made it was actually relevant. It would be an understatement to say that the iPhone turned the smartphone industry on its head. No one had seen anything like it, and it went on to change the way we used our smartphones, much like it changed the smartphone itself.
Along the years the iPhone introduced us to several innovations. Things like a large capacitive touchscreen that didn’t need a stylus to operate and fluid UI that scrolled like physical objects with kinetic motion. These are the things we take for granted today but were groundbreaking back then. Then there are other things as well, such as the Retina display that resulted in phones now having more pixels than your average HDTV, or the App Store that provided customers a unified platform to find new and interesting apps for their phone, and provided a source of income for millions of developers. I would even go so far as to count Siri, which, for all its faults, was the first of its kind and something others have been trying to emulate since.
As the years went by, the groundbreaking revolutions gave way to more measured evolutions. The iPhone’s success meant that competitors were no longer releasing sliding phones with physical buttons but were actually pushing pretty hard on innovating on their end as well. This meant it was often the iPhone that was left behind trying to catch up with what everybody else was doing.
This year’s iPhone 7 is no different. Sure, there are plenty of improvements over the last year’s iPhone 6s but very little of it is new on paper when you look at what other manufacturers have been offering over the years. The question is, does it really matter anymore and should the iPhone really reinvent the wheel every time instead of just focusing on being a good phone? And more importantly, is it even a good phone? The answer to the first question is no. As for the second, let’s find out.
While Apple does release a new iPhone every year, the design has only ever changed with every generation of iPhone. A generation of iPhone has historically (well, since the iPhone 3G anyway) included two phones. So there was the 3G/3Gs, 4/4s, 5/5s, 6/6s, and now the 7. Going by that logic, you would be right to expect a brand new design for the iPhone 7. After all, we did get one with the 3G, 4, 5, and the 6. But it seems there has been a mistake this year. Either that, or Jony Ive decided to go on a really long vacation.
We talked about ‘evolution, not revolution’ before but it seems Apple has really taken it to heart this year. The design of the iPhone 7, let’s just say, is familiar. It would be wrong to call it identical to that of the previous generation of the iPhone (it sounds worse when you say previous two iPhones) as there are definite changes here and there, all for the better, fortunately.
Let’s start with the most obvious one, the new colors. The iPhone 7 (by the way, when I say iPhone 7 here on, I’m mostly referring to both models and not just the smaller one, unless specified otherwise) comes in two new colors: black, and jet black. The black is just that. Black. Not slate. Not Space Gray. But black. This no-bullshit version of black is something I have been waiting for from Apple for a while and I’m glad we finally get it. It’s absolutely glorious and looks just about perfect to me. It’s black the way it should be done, and I’m glad Apple finally did it.
The other black is jet black. This one goes through several additional processes to give it the ultra-glossy mirror-like finish. When clean it almost looks like glass to the point where it blends almost perfectly with the actual glass on the front, giving it a monolithic appearance. It would have been a thing to behold if it wasn’t so flawed. The polished aluminum surface is extremely soft and susceptible to scratches. You don’t really need to manhandle it to scratch it, merely keeping it on a surface and picking it up every day is enough to scratch the edges. In fact, you can also scratch it just by wiping it with a cloth, which is actually very necessary because apart from scratches the glossy surface also picks up a lot of smudges. It’s also hard to clean and if you try hard you end up scratching it. This weird catch-22 situation means I gave up trying to clean it after a couple of days. The only positive aspect about this finish is that it is more grippy than the matte finish on all the other colors, but that’s really a small consolation. Using the jet black model can be quite stressful, to be honest, and you’re constantly worried about damaging it. If you’re that sort of person just avoid this model.
As for the other colors, you still get the silver, gold, and rose gold from last year, and they look pretty much the same, and have the same practical matte finish as the black model.
Another visual change is to the antenna lines. The iPhone 6 generation was notable for introducing truly terrible antenna lines to the iPhone. Other manufacturers like HTC had done full unibody metal phones before with wonderful results so why couldn’t Apple figure out a better way?
Fortunately, things are better this year. Instead of two ugly antenna lines on both ends you only get one, and it’s a more graceful curve around the edges. Not ideal, but much better. The gold and rose gold still pack bright white antenna lines. The silver model has a darker gray colored lines. The black model has pitch black lines that are practically invisible, and the jet black lines are actually invisible since they are polished to the exact same degree as the metal and hide under the scratches and fingerprints perfectly. If you have either of the black models, you wouldn’t even notice the antenna lines. As for those buying the white models, you don’t really have taste anyway so who cares what you think? Just kidding.
Or am I?
Moving on, one minor aesthetic difference is that there is no recessed area around the volume buttons. The 6 series had this gap surrounding the volume buttons that had a polished surface but the 7 just has the buttons sticking out the side. And yes, the camera bump is now part of the main body and doesn’t look like a cheap embellishment tacked on top. It also makes the 7 Plus wobble when you keep it on a table but the smaller 7 is fine.
Now we get to the good stuff. One of the major improvements to the design of the iPhone 7 is that it is now finally and officially water resistant. Both models carry an IP67 certification, with the 6 referring to complete protection against dust and the 7 to water-resistance for up to 1m submersion underwater for 30 minutes. Beyond that the water pressure will exceed what the speaker grilles can block and enter the device. In any case, it’s not meant so you can swim with the phone. The IP67 rating allows you to use the phone in rain or near a pool. Also, if you accidentally drop the phone in a toilet you don’t have to worry about killing it.
As with deep water, you should also not subject the phone to high pressure jets of water. And avoid hot showers or saunas. Unlike water, steam will have no trouble entering the phone. Remember, the insides of the phone can still get damaged by water; it’s just designed not to let water in there.
Speaking of which, if water does somehow get in there, that’s on you. Apple’s warranty policy (like everyone else’s) does not cover water damage, so make sure you don’t push your luck too hard and use the phone within its limits.
The good thing about the water resistance on the iPhone is that it did not come at the cost of design sacrifice. Samsung and Sony showed us that you can make a water resistant phone that does not look like it’s wearing the Hulkbuster armor and fortunately Apple does not regress on that. The only allusions to its water-resistance are the rubber seal that runs between the display glass and the metal and also the rubber gasket surrounding the SIM card tray, that makes the tray slightly harder to push back in. It’s also the only point where a user can potentially mess up; not having the tray shut tight will allow water to enter the phone. Again, that will be on you.
Of course, I did test the water resistance by dunking the phone in water. As expected, nothing really happened to the phone but it did temporarily affect the speakers, especially the one at the top. It took quite a while and several minutes of playing audio for all the water to be expelled from the speaker grilles. Apple should have included a test tone on the iPhone 7 like it does on the Apple Watch Series 2 that helps expel water from the speaker grille faster by playing a frequency that causes the most excursion in the driver. It did cause me to worry initially and wonder if the speakers are ever going to recover. Fortunately, they did.
The other cool new design change is a switch to a capacitive Home button. Gone are the days of the Home button dying on you. To be honest, the one on my 5s still works fine after two years of use but it is not uncommon to find people with broken Home buttons on their iPhone, to the point where it is now also common to see the AssistiveTouch being enabled even on phones with working Home buttons as a precautionary measure.
Like the display the new Home button is pressure sensitive and can tell when you’re pressing down on it, at which point it triggers the Home function. It also creates a two-step haptic feedback, the first to emulate a physical button being pressed down and the second, lighter one to emulate the button being released. It’s kinda cool actually but the effect is somewhat ruined by the fact that it is not localized to the surface of the button and the entire bottom of the phone vibrates. Also, when the phone is not in your hand but sitting on a surface, pressing the home button causes some of the vertical vibration to get dampened as the phone won’t vibrate freely. This causes the haptic feedback to lose some of its feel and at the lower setting (there are three to choose from) you can barely feel it. Still, in everyday use you don’t even realize you’re not pressing a physical button and the haptic feedback is so uncanny that if you didn’t know what was going on you probably wouldn’t even notice the button isn’t actually moving.
As a side note, I want to point out that taking screenshots is a bit finicky on the iPhone 7. Previously I could take a screenshot without thinking too much about it but now I have to be careful with the timing of the two presses. If you press the Home button before power button then the phone will go Home and shut down without fail 100% of the times. You either have to click them exactly at the same time or press the power button slightly before the Home button. I’m not sure what went wrong here and if the new Home button is to blame but taking screenshots on the iPhone 7 is slightly more stressful than before.
That was all the new stuff, but some things haven’t quite changed, like the general design of the phone, for example. Simply put, if you weren’t a fan of the iPhone 6 series design, there isn’t a lot here to win you over. I didn’t mind it too much back then but I have to admit I am starting to get tired of seeing this design now. The worst part of this is that the phone just launched, which means we are going to have to look at it for another year. And then another year because Apple doesn’t usually change its designs within a generation. Hell, it barely changes it over two generations now, so we are stuck with looking at basically the same phone for over four years. And this is the most popular smartphone in the world so it’s everywhere. You don’t have to buy it to look at it, you are still going to see it. Imagine if Maruti decided one day to make a terribly boring design, and then instead of changing it every few years just kept making minor adjustments to it… oh, wait.
Aesthetics aside, there are also some very real functional issues with the iPhone 7 design, specifically with the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s been two years now but the Plus model of the iPhone still feels like it was designed by someone with only a vague understanding of the human hand. It literally looks and feels like the smaller iPhone was stretched in every direction, without much thought being put into how the ergonomics are going to be affected. The power button, for example, is so far up it might as well be on top of the phone. The Plus is also taller, wider, thicker, and heavier than practically every other 5.5-inch phone on the market. Take the Galaxy S7 edge, for comparison. It is smaller than the 7 Plus in nearly every aspect and is also lighter, while also having a 5.5-inch display and a bigger battery. It baffles me how some people like to point out and praise every minor detail in Apple’s design but continue to ignore this abomination for two years straight. Worst of all, it baffles me how Apple itself continues to do this. Not only does it reek of sloppiness but also a hint of disdain for people who prefer big phones, as though somehow they are not worthy of the care and attention to detail. It is possible to make a relatively comfortable big phone and Apple continues to show its ineptitude for the third time in a row.
Both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus ship with an updated display that improve upon a couple of things, the most important one being the inclusion of wide color support.
Before I talk about the display itself, I want to talk about color spaces. A color space is a specific collection of colors within a particular color model, which in this case is RGB. Within RGB we have several color spaces such as sRGB, Adobe RGB, and the one of special interest here, DCI-P3. Each of these color spaces encompass a particular set of colors within the visible color spectrum. All the digital images we see today conform to one of these color spaces. The most popular by far is sRGB. Practically every digital image uses sRGB color space. Most displays use sRGB. Most operating systems support only sRGB. Most software support only sRGB. As you can tell, it is pretty much the standard now for displaying images on the internet and on digital devices in general.
Now, as it happens, sRGB isn’t the widest of all the color spaces within RGB color model and there have been attempts to use other color spaces for a while now. Adobe RGB, developed by Adobe, obviously, actually covers 40% more of the visible color spectrum than sRGB. These days it is a common option on cameras for saving images in JPEG. But in terms of adoption, it’s not even close to sRGB. But why don’t we just switch to Adobe RGB, or an even wider color space, such as ProPhoto RGB then? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Let’s take the example of a DSLR. If you choose to save the image using Adobe RGB color space, you will save more color information on the image. However, to view the image properly you will need a computer with Adobe RGB support. You will also need software that can display Adobe RGB images. You will also need a monitor that covers 100% of the Adobe RGB color space. If you choose to publish the image, the online service needs to support Adobe RGB to display it properly (most don’t). The person who views it then needs an operating system and monitor to view the image in Adobe RGB. Do you see the problem here? If that’s not bad enough, if any software does not properly support Adobe RGB at any point in that chain there is a chance that the image will actually look worse than sRGB. This is what prevents most photographers from shooting in Adobe RGB or for the world to just adopt wider color spaces.
Now with that primer on color spaces, let’s take a look at what Apple is doing here. Apple is using DCI-P3 color space on the new iPhone 7. Apple first introduced this on the Retina iMac couple years back, both in terms of software (macOS) and the display. Then it was brought to iPad Pro 9.7-inch. With iOS 10, DCI-P3 support was added natively to iOS (you will still need hardware to view it, though) and with the iPhone 7 Apple now has two more devices with native P3 support on both, hardware and software.
So here’s the thing with P3. Unlike sRGB or Adobe RGB, which are primarily used for digital images, P3 is primarily used for digital film. You can see why Apple added it to the iMac, then. Macs are frequently used for digital movie production work and a machine natively capable of working with the default color space would be a boon. However, I don’t see why Apple chose to bring it over to iOS. Sure, P3 is wider than sRGB and roughly on par with Adobe RGB, but it covers slightly different areas of the color spectrum than Adobe RGB. If you compared P3 versus Adobe RGB, you will see the former cover more of the reds while the latter covers more of the greens and cyans. The thing about Adobe RGB and what makes it especially good for photographers is that it covers the entire CMYK color model used by printers. P3 is not designed for printing so it doesn’t cover as much of CMYK as Adobe RGB. Now the funny thing is Apple itself only uses the wide color gamut for photos and not for videos, so a smarter choice would have been to go with Adobe RGB. But instead Apple went with P3, which seems like a lazy thing to do as they already went with it on the Mac, where it does make some sense, but for the sake of compatibility decided to use it on iOS as well, instead of doing the right thing and using Adobe RGB.
So the displays, then. Both I believe have 100% coverage of the P3 color space, and hence by extension, the sRGB color space (and also by extension, roughly 93% of the Adobe RGB color space). Now wide color support on the hardware side is not new for phones; several Android phones, most notably by Samsung, have been supporting wider spaces such as NTSC for a few years now. But there is a big difference in the way Apple has implemented it. First of all, NTSC is an irrelevant color space for anyone to support, as no one in the industry actually uses it for anything. Second, the Android operating system does not include native support for any color space other than sRGB. This means when paired with a wide gamut display you end up seeing absurdly saturated colors, which is different than seeing wide color. A saturated color is a color whose value has been increased often to a point where it is clipping. Wide color actually has more shades of colors. So every time you see claims of wide color on Android devices, rest assured the claims are complete bullshit.
Apple has color management utility baked into iOS now, which knows exactly how to deal with different color spaces. Every image is displayed in the color space it natively supports. If an image has wide color, you will see the wider color range. Otherwise you will see the standard sRGB image. Without native color management, the OS would saturate the sRGB image, which is what happens on most Android phones these days that boast of a batshit crazy color gamut.
So now the million dollar question: how do the displays look? In terms of color accuracy, second to none. Apple was the first to color calibrate the displays on its phones, something others eventually caught on, and it continues to nail it with the iPhone 7. Not only are all the colors pitch perfect, the white point is also accurate this time around. I always found the white point too cool on Apple devices, as if Apple decided to set that one thing off to a value that visually looked like white but wasn’t technically accurate. This time it’s accurate, which does give the display a yellowish hue but to me it looks great. Other aspects of the display, contrast, brightness, viewing angles, are all great, too.
But what about the resolution? On the bigger 7 Plus I really have no complaints. 1920×1080 on a 5.5-inch panel looks perfectly good to my eyes. Would I want a higher resolution panel? Sure, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t really be able to see the difference. There is also the thing where the 7 Plus, like the previous Plus models before it, runs the system at 2208×1242 and then downscales it to 1920×1080, so some images do look sharper thanks to the upsampling.
The smaller iPhone 7, however, is a different story. We still get the same 1334×750 resolution at 4.7-inch. You could say the resolution hasn’t changed in two years but a more shocking thing is that the pixel density hasn’t changed in six years since the iPhone 4 with the first Retina display. Steve Jobs may have told us we can’t distinguish beyond 300 PPI but that’s not really true and even the average human eye can see the difference in higher pixel densities. These days you get sub ₹10,000 phones with 1080p display, which are notably sharper than the iPhone 7 display. I’m not saying the display on the iPhone 7 is bad, but I’m also not comfortable paying as much as this phone costs and still being shortchanged on these basic things. Just give it a higher resolution display already.
The one thing you can never complain about not changing with every new iPhone is the SoC, or the system on chip. This year the new iPhones come with Apple A10 Fusion chip. The Fusion part refers to the use of four CPU cores in pairs of two. The A10 Fusion uses two high performance “Hurricane” cores, and two new low performance cores. Depending upon the workload the OS switches between the two high performance and low performance cores, but unlike some of the other solutions out there, such as ARM’s big.LITTLE, which is a heterogeneous architecture and used on Samsung’s Exynos and select Qualcomm Snapdragon models, the A10 Fusion never runs all cores at the same time, so it is still essentially a dual-core CPU. Apple claims a 40% improvement in CPU performance over the A9, which should come entirely from the two new high performance cores.
In terms of GPU, we don’t have the exact part name and I don’t possess the tools nor the know-how to dig deeper into the OS and find it out. All we know for now that it is a six-core unit and is 50% faster than the one on A9.
The smaller iPhone 7 maintains the same 2GB RAM from the 6s but the 7 Plus gets 3GB. From what I’ve heard from some developers, apps tend to consume more memory on the 7 Plus due to the 3x scaling. However, it would have been nice to see the smaller model also get the extra RAM. It might not need it immediately, but greater RAM always comes in handy a couple of years down the line.
Storage also gets a welcome boost. All capacities have been doubled, which means the base model now mercifully starts at 32GB instead of the pitiful 16GB of previous iPhones, and the higher models now come in at 128GB and 256GB. Now there is said to be a difference in performance between the three storage options, with the base 32GB being slower than the 128GB and 256GB options. Both my phones are 256GB so I can’t really comment on this but even if the 32GB is slower it should still be within Apple’s tolerance levels for performance, as it still has to do things like 4K recording, which requires fast storage. If I ever get to use the 32GB model, I will update the performance section with my comments on it, but for now I will let it be for the lack of direct experience.
In terms of connectivity, Apple continues to expand upon the excellent LTE band support with the iPhone 7, and the iPhone is still the best ‘world phone’ you can buy today in terms of universal band support. Wi-Fi is dual-band 802.11ac with MIMO, and for short range you get Bluetooth 4.2. NFC is present but once again limited to only Apple Pay. A vast array of accessories today have NFC support for easy pairing, which Apple continues to ignore despite having the requisite hardware. Moving on, navigation is taken care of Assisted-GPS along with GLONASS, but no support for the Chinese BeiDou system.
Lastly, wired connection is once again taken care of by the Lightning connector. Unfortunately, we are still looking at USB 2.0. Apple has shown us that it can do USB 3.0 on Lightning with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, yet every new iOS device that came since has continued to have USB 2.0. I guess we are expected to fill out our 256GB iPhones over USB 2.0, then. Or worse, over Wi-Fi.
My iPhone 7 units came with iOS 10.0.1 out of the box, although there have been three updates since then, which means they are now sitting at 10.1 at the time of writing.
The uniformity of iOS means there really isn’t a whole lot of difference when you go from one device to another. Sure, the iPads and iPhones are different but among themselves there isn’t a colossal difference. I write this as someone who owns an iPhone 5s, which is three years older to the iPhone 7. Yet, I could probably count on one hand the thing that the iPhone 7 does that my 5s does not.
One of them is 3D Touch. Sure, the 6s does it as well, but it has been refined on the 7, both in terms of software and hardware. The iPhone 7 comes with a new Taptic Engine that has greater levels of variance between the intensities it can generate. This allows the software to fine tune the feedback to the particular action. One of the ways the OS uses it is with the new System Haptics feature, exclusive to the 7. Several of the UI actions are now accompanied by a subtle haptic feedback. Things like flicking a switch, scrolling through a list of items (such as the numbers in the timer), the new animations in iMessage, or even subtle things like the Notification Center hitting the bottom of the screen. All of these points are well chosen and coupled with a perfectly thought-out vibration strength it makes the whole thing feel meaningful. I much preferred having this feature, as it added a sense of physicality to the UI. If, however, you don’t like it then you get the option to disable it.
Coming back to 3D Touch, I must say I found this feature a lot more useful than I thought I would. I didn’t personally care much for the feature where you can press on icons to see shortcuts, and to be honest, most of the time I didn’t even remember it existed. What I use a lot, and I mean a lot, is the awkwardly named Peek and Pop. In the year since the 6s came out, plenty of apps have added support for this feature and you can Peek all sorts of things, most notably links within apps. This is great when I quickly want to see what the link is to but without opening it in the browser. If I do decide to check it out properly, I can always press harder to Pop it.
Another great use of 3D Touch is with the keyboard, where I can press hard on the keyboard to go into cursor mode and then move it around wherever I want. As someone not at all a fan of the terrible cursor navigation otherwise present on iOS, where tapping on the screen causes the cursor to go to the beginning or end of the word instead of where you actually tap, this feature is a huge boon.
Other than that there is also the DCI-P3 wide color support, that I already talked about. To be clear, it is now baked into iOS itself with iOS 10 but the iPhone 7 is the only other iOS device, apart from the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, that has hardware support for it as well with the display, so you can experience it properly (or at all, rather). Right now I don’t think any applications are making use of it but I’d love to see games, in particular, include wide color support. Imagine how amazing games like Transistor, Monument Valley, or Badland 2 will look with an even wider color palette.
As for differences between the two iPhone sizes, the Plus model continues to make excellent use of the big screen. One thing I liked about Apple’s implementation is the consistent UI scaling across different iPhone models, which means by and large things have the same physical size across my iPhone 5s, iPhone 7, and iPhone 7 Plus. This allows the bigger iPhones 7 to show more content compared to the 5s/SE, and the 7 Plus to show even more content than both of them. For someone so used to the smaller 5s, using the 7 Plus was a revelation, like breaking down the tiny window in your wall for a bigger view of the outside world. In comparison, the iPhone 7 display seemed like a decent middle ground but I’d still take the 7 Plus over it any day. The 7 Plus also comes with other perks, such as a more elaborate keyboard in landscape mode and landscape rotation for the homescreen, but neither of these are particularly useful. Both models feature Reachability, which was introduced with the iPhone 6, that brings down the content of the screen with a double tap on the home button. While it’s entirely unnecessary on the smaller iPhone 7, at least for my hands, it would be hard to live without it on the 7 Plus.
Speaking of iOS as a whole, there is a fair bit to appreciate and also a fair bit to complain about. The core OS comes with a solid bunch of default apps. Everything from iMessage to Safari to even the default Mail apps are quite good and don’t make me hunt for alternatives immediately while I setup the phone. There are some that aren’t great, like the garbage Photos app that keeps adding unnecessary features; first it was the Recently Deleted folder that automatically saves all your deleted images, making you delete them twice, and now it also finds and shows faces from random images. Never mind the fact that it still shows screenshots and videos in the main Camera Roll album, even though they have their own folders now. The new Music app in iOS 10 is also unnecessarily convoluted and Maps still doesn’t work well in India. Still, by and large, it’s more hits than misses. The good thing is that with iOS 10 you can even uninstall the apps that you don’t want.
But I think the best thing by far is the third party app ecosystem. iOS developers consistently outdo themselves when it comes to creating top-notch applications, time and time again. Not only does the platform have an eclectic collection of exclusive apps that you won’t find anywhere else, but even the apps that are multi-platform almost always work better on iOS. Take Snapchat, for example, an incredibly popular application. It’s not even funny how much of a difference there is between the iOS and Android versions. iOS developers are also quick in adopting new features. On the day of the iPhone 7 launch, Instagram announced wide color support in an upcoming update. You just don’t get that on Android, not yet anyway. If you want the latest and greatest applications, iOS is still the place to be.
Then there are other things, such as 3D Touch, which, again I’ve come to love, iMessage (the service), integration with macOS, integration with an ever growing range of Homekit and Healthkit devices, integration with a growing range of Apple CarPlay systems (manufacturers seem to prefer CarPlay over Android Auto if they just want to go with one), Apple Pay (in markets where it works) and great fitness tracker that works with all major fitness devices. Best of all, if you want to use Google or Microsoft services it’s fine because they both have iOS apps available that are mostly pretty good. Heck, they are often better on iOS than their native platforms.
But like I said, there is a fair bit to complain about as well. iOS has some of the highest conflict points that I have seen in any operating system that are a constant source of annoyance to me. Take Control Center, for example. The gesture for bringing it up alone frustrates me, as it has a tendency to pop up when I’m just scrolling through an app and makes me struggle when I actually want to access it. The Control Center itself is frustrating as you still don’t get the option to customize the toggles to things you want. I’d love to have buttons to toggle the data, hotspot, or even location access from here like I can on most Android phones, but that’s simply not possible. To add insult to injury, Apple adds mostly useless options here that don’t get a lot of use, such as AirDrop. And just look at the size of that Night Shift button! And now with iOS 10, you also get a second panel for audio controls, which makes adjusting brightness even harder as most of the time you end up swiping the panel.
Then there are other things, such as
not being able to clear all notifications at once from the Notification Center, the stock keyboard with its incredibly daft auto-correct that simply refuses to learn new words or correct rather simple typos, the still janky implementation of third party keyboards, the volume bar box that covers a big chunk of whatever video you are watching every time you use it, the still unintuitive procedure to dismiss an incoming call, the inability to use letters on the phone pad to enter name instead of numbers that every other phone lets you do now, the convoluted system for stickers and effects in iMessage, lack of Unicode 9.0 emoji at the time of writing, the main Settings app that keeps getting more and more chaotic, and the lack of file manager to access basic files such as images, videos, audio, and documents in one place. There are also other issues, like with the camera app, that I’ve mentioned elsewhere in dedicated sections. These might seem small things in isolation but when combined feel like death by thousand cuts.
There is also a distinct lack of polish and refinement now in Apple’s software, whether it’s iOS or macOS. It feels weird to say this because this was a forte of Apple in the past but now the company seems to have lost its focus. Adding new features is great but it shouldn’t come at the cost of refinement and attention to detail. At this point Apple really needs to take a step back and work on existing features instead of build in new ones. Janky homescreen animations, weirdly shaped buttons, text that is horribly out of alignment on the AirDrop buttons or just oddly large in the Music app, and the occasional freezing and crashing are not things you expect to see on the company’s flagship device. And make no mistake, the iPhone is Apple’s flagship device. Sure, there are more expensive Macs but we all know by now that Apple doesn’t care enough about the Mac business. This is what makes it all the more disappointing because if Apple can’t get its flagship device to work properly then what can we really expect from the company’s other products?
With as much power as these phones have under the hood, it’s no real surprise that both phones are blisteringly quick. I don’t like to talk about benchmarks a lot because they truly mean diddly squat in the real world but holy christ on a tricycle does this thing rip through them. Suffice to say I’ve never quite seen numbers like these, and I’ve seen a lot of them.
Benchmarks aside, the iPhone 7 does truly feel incredibly fast in real life. Apps open instantly, things load quickly, and progress bars are mostly for decoration. I was able to edit 42 megapixel RAW files from the Sony α7R II on the phone in Lightroom, something that would definitely slow down my MacBook Air, but not once did it feel like I was pushing the phone even close to its edges. The simple act of closing, opening, and switching between apps is so phenomenally quick that at times I found myself doing it just for the heck of it. The smaller iPhone 7 feels particularly quicker to me somehow, but when I compared them side by side they didn’t feel any different so maybe I’m imagining it.
One could attribute the speed to the SoC but it’s also the storage that deserves some of the credit. Apple uses state of the art NVMe controller interface for the flash storage, which provides some incredible read and write speeds. The storage speed on your phone affects every task you perform, as they are all a series of random read and write tasks. If your storage is fast, everything feels fast, and that is exactly what’s happening on the iPhone 7. Apart from speeding up every task you perform on the phone, I also noticed how things like app install times, software update install times, and even boot times were fast on this phone compared to my 5s. Those on the 6s probably wouldn’t notice much of a difference as Apple used similar storage solution there but those coming from older iPhones like me are going to be blown away.
Another fast piece of tech on the iPhone 7 is the fingerprint sensor. Again, it’s the same 2nd gen Touch ID sensor from the 6s and it’s just as fast as ever. Now truth be told, I have used faster fingerprint sensors over this year but the one on the iPhone 7 is still crazy stupid fast by all means. The only thing I don’t like is how long it takes you to setup the reader when you’re adding your prints, and other companies like Google have a significantly quicker setup time. But once you get through that torture you probably will never have to do it again, so it’s not a huge deal.
I did have some performance issues on the new iPhones. I had a much bigger writeup on this before the iOS 10.1 update came out and fixed some of the problems. However, I still see some stuttering here and there in the UI animations, and some of the apps don’t scroll very smoothly. The thing is, because the phone is so damn fast otherwise, these few instances really tend to stick out like sore thumb, and once again point to the lack of polish in iOS.
I also want to note that both phones tend to heat up but the iPhone 7 Plus can heat up a lot at times. It depends on what you’re doing most of the times but playing audio through the speakers or using high brightness settings particularly causes it to heat up faster. I have taken a liking to playing this game called PinOut and since the speakers are good enough now I don’t bother with headphones but I gotta admit, the phone becomes uncomfortably hot while I’m playing, to the point where it has to reduce the brightness until it cools down. The smaller iPhone 7 also gets warm but it never gets as hot and as frequently as the bigger model. It’s possible the higher resolution display on the 7 Plus is causing the processor to work harder and produce more heat.
There were also complaints of coil whine on the iPhone 7. Fortunately, neither of my units had this problem and not once during my usage did I hear any sound other than out of the speakers, even under load.
I thought I should have a dedicated section for this, as a lot is going on with the iPhone 7 with regards to the audio. First I’d like to talk about the stereo speakers. I’ve had people ask why you need stereo speakers on a phone, and if you cared about the sound wouldn’t you just use headphones? The answer is simple, in every case you were to use the speaker, having two of them is better than one. There are cases where you would just use the loudspeakers over headphones. Like for YouTube videos, which you just start playing as they usually don’t last long enough to justify pulling out your headphones. Or games, which again, most people play with speakers. In both these situations having stereo speakers help. Your YouTube videos definitely sound better and as for games, the stereo positioning makes a world of difference.
With the iPhone 7, Apple has incorporated the two speakers in the exact same place where every iPhone ever has had its two speaker. One of them is at the bottom and the other is in the earpiece. The earpiece speaker obviously had to be upgraded for this, but it’s not something you can tell from outside. At first I had my doubts with this arrangement, as the two speakers are clearly firing in different directions. But as it turns out, Apple nailed this aspect of the phone.
For one, you absolutely cannot tell the speakers are pointing in different directions. Even if you don’t cup both ends the sounds seems to be coming from either side of the phone, and that’s good enough for me. The intensity of the speakers has been adjusted so that despite their differences they sounds the same. It’s only when you keep the phone on a table does the bottom speaker gets a surface to bounce off from and ends up sounding just a tiny bit louder.
As for the channels, Apple intelligently switches them depending upon orientation. In portrait, the bottom speaker is left channel and the top is right, which is just pedanticism to be honest because you can’t really tell. If you turn the phone clockwise there is no difference and the speakers continue to play as it is. If you turn the phone anti-clockwise the speakers instantly swap channels and this is done without any pause in audio. Now you have the earpiece speaker playing left channel and the bottom speaker is the right channel. The switching works even if you have disabled UI rotation and is universal system-wide, regardless of the app that is playing the audio. In other situations, such as for speakerphone, both play sound in mono.
The audio quality of the speakers is actually quite fantastic. I’ve always thought that the loudspeakers on Apple devices are excellent but the iPhone 7 speakers sound particularly nice. They are a lot cleaner, with decent amount of bass and good emphasis on vocals so the content you usually play on loudspeakers, such as YouTube videos and podcasts that have a lot of vocals in them naturally sound good. They also get quite loud and the good part is that there is no change in the audio signature as they get louder, because you usually see other phones drop the bass (not in a good way) when you turn up the volume, or outright distort if they don’t. There is no distortion here, and even at maximum volume the speakers sound very good.
The best part is that the speakers sound great despite of the water proofing. On most other phones the speaker output takes a big hit when you place a hydrophobic grille in front but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the iPhone 7.
I tried playing music on them and they were pretty decent but YouTube videos were just perfect. Even games sound good on these and like I mentioned before, the stereo positioning makes all the difference. I would still recommend using headphones though as some of the modern games have really good audio that no loudspeaker can do justice.
Speaking of headphones…
If you are expecting an all mighty rant on this then you are not getting one. I personally don’t care much about it. I have been Team Wireless for a while now, as is any sane person. It baffles me that people are arguing over which cable is better to transfer audio instead of going wireless and helping speed up the development of wireless headphones. I’ve had a bunch of great headphones over the years and I’m very particular about the quality of sound I put in my ears but when it comes to the comfort and convenience factor there is just no contest, wireless headphones win every single time. What you lose in terms of audio quality due to the lossy nature of the compression required to send the audio data over the pathetic bandwidth of Bluetooth (weakest link in the chain, honestly) you more than enough gain in terms of convenience. Not having a thick cable running by the side of your head and being able to to just get up and walk around the room are things you never thought you needed until you switch to wireless headphones. It also solves the problem of not being able to charge the phone while using headphones. The only true drawback of Bluetooth headphones right now is their cost but as phones without headphone jacks get popular I’m certain the cost will go down and this will no longer be a factor.
As for other people, most use the headset that comes with their phone. In that regards, the iPhone 7 users are sorted, as the phone comes with a pair of Lightning EarPods, which apart from the connector are otherwise identical to the standard EarPods. These are some of the best earphones to come bundled with a phone. In my experience they fit well and the audio quality is good enough for even me to use them sometimes without cringing as it happens with headsets bundled with other phones.
Apple also provides an adapter to plug in your regular headphones into the Lightning connector. You can also plug in headsets with volume controls made for older iPhones into the adapter and they buttons will work through the adapter. The tiny adapter has a tiny DAC and amp built-in and is a lot more sophisticated than it looks. There was no difference in audio quality to my ears when using the adapter with my 5s and connecting the headphones directly to the phone so it’s doing its job just fine.
Coming back to wireless audio, I do have a complaint (don’t I always?). Despite Apple’s push for wireless audio the company continues to ignore better audio codecs. As far as I know, the iPhone 7 still uses AAC codec for Bluetooth over Qualcomm’s superior aptX used in some other smartphones. What’s interesting is that Apple has been using aptX on Macs for years now but won’t on iOS. Perhaps the W1 chip uses better audio codec, but that is limited to the AirPods and one Beats model for now and I doubt Apple is going to open it up for other OEMs.
Speaking of AirPods, Apple did allow me to try them out briefly but since they are still working on it we didn’t get review units. In the very (very) brief time that I tried them for, they kinda sounded like EarPods, which isn’t surprising but also a bit of a let down. The EarPods sound fine for something that comes bundled with your phone but the AirPods are going to cost $159 in the US and ₹15,400 in India, and that’s a lot for wireless EarPods. The pairing process is very simple though; you just bring it close to the phone and open the case. The case did kept closing on me though while I was pairing and there were some minor issues re-pairing a set from another phone. I assume they will iron out these issues in the final version.
The iPhone 7 has a new camera system on the back of both models. The smaller iPhone 7 has a 12 megapixel camera sensor, which from what I know is only known so far as a 2nd generation Sony EXMOR R, without any specific model number. It is mated with a new f1.8 aperture, which is significantly wider than the f2.2 on the iPhone 6s, and the widest yet for any Apple camera. The main advantage of a wider aperture is that it allows more light in, which on smartphones with their tiny sensors makes a considerable difference. It allows the camera to use a lower ISO and/or a shorter shutter speed, which results in a less noisy and less blurry shot, respectively. A wider aperture also causes a shorter depth of field, which produces a very desirable blurry background for close up objects. The disadvantages of a wider aperture are softer images, especially around the corners. For this Apple had to revamp the optical system and it now has a six-element lens over the five-element on the 6s. The extra element will help achieve counter the effects of the wider aperture by sharpening the image. The smaller iPhone 7 also gains optical image stabilization, or OIS, which was previously exclusive to the Plus model on the 6 and 6s. OIS stabilizes the sensor using information from the accelerometer and gyroscope. It counters the motion of the camera by using a floating lens system that moves in the opposite direction of the shake, thereby reducing its effects to a degree. With a stabilized lens, the camera can use longer shutter speeds for photos in low light as it no longer has to worry about camera shake. For videos, you get smoother capture with less visible shake. Of course there is still software stabilization, or EIS, and the two work in tandem on both models.
The iPhone 7 Plus goes a step ahead and features two cameras on the back. One of them is a standard wide-angle lens, and the other is a telephoto lens. The wide-angle camera system is identical to the single camera on the back of the smaller iPhone 7, so let’s focus our attention on the second lens.
While the standard wide-angle lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28mm, the telephoto lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 57mm. It is important to state ’35mm equivalent’ because their actual focal length is very different, 3.99mm and 6.6mm, respectively. Anyway, if you do the math you get a 2x optical zoom on the telephoto lens over the wide-angle, ‘optical’ being the keyword here. Except for very, very few phones, most use digital zoom, which works by cropping a portion of the original image and either blowing it up to the resolution of the original image or saving the crop as is. Because of this, you don’t really get any additional detail when you use digital zoom as you’re simply blowing up the original image, which gets worse the more you zoom. With optical zoom, the lens system does the job of “zooming in” and the image is already magnified even before it reaches the sensor. This gets you closer to the scene, which then gets captured at full resolution giving you 100% detail that the sensor is capable of.
The telephoto lens on the iPhone 7 Plus does exactly that. The 57mm focal length takes it twice as close to the subject and behind it sits the same 12 megapixel sensor, which then captures a full resolution image. This means in ideal conditions you get identical image quality but with a 2x zoom.
This time, it’s ‘ideal conditions’ that’s the keyword…s. The telephoto camera has a much narrower f2.8 aperture, which means it captures considerably less light than the wide-angle camera. It is also not optically stabilized. These two combined means the telephoto camera system is really not suitable for low light situations, as neither is the camera getting enough light from the f2.2 aperture but also can’t use a longer shutter speed to compensate due to the lack of OIS. Due to this Apple cleverly decided to disable the telephoto lens in low light situations. You can still zoom, all the way to 10x like you could otherwise but you’re only using the wide-angle lens and anything beyond 1x is being done digitally. You can easily check this by covering the second lens in low light; it makes no difference because it’s not being used.
There is a difference in how the two phones zoom. On the smaller iPhone 7, all zoom is digital zoom, which is why you’re limited to only 5x to prevent massive image degradation. You also don’t get the slick new UI for zooming on the smaller phone and have to use pinch to zoom like always. On the 7 Plus, 1x to 2x zoom is done by the wide-angle lens digitally. At 2x the second lens kicks in and the transition is seamless because both cameras are always on and since they are so close there is no parallax distortion when switching between them. 2x is zoom relative to the first lens’s perspective but really you’re just using 0x zoom on the telephoto lens. Beyond 2x we are once again in the digital domain. The 7 Plus digitally zoomes to 10x, which seems a lot but you need to remember we have a 2x factor applied when we switched to the second lens, so 10x is only again relative to the first lens’ perspective and we are really doing 5x digitally with the second lens. Unfortunately, in low light since the second lens isn’t available, this doesn’t get limited to 5x. Apple really doesn’t want you to figure out what it’s doing behind the scenes so in order to make it seem that everything is the same you still get the 10x zoom but now on the wide-angle lens, and that means you’re digitally zooming the image to 10x, in low-light, which as you can imagine looks really, really bad.
The zoom interface on the 7 Plus is slightly different. There is a 2x button to immediately jump to the second camera output but you can also smoothly twirl the on-screen dial to move anywhere between 1x to 10x in 0.1x intervals. Again the phone switches between the two camera outputs seamlessly and you never think you’re moving between them. In comparison the LG G5, which also has two cameras on the back takes second or two to switch between them since only one runs at any given moment.
Along with optical zoom, the other party trick of the 7 Plus camera is the Portrait mode. Introduced with the iOS 10.1 update and still in beta stage, this mode lets you create that shallow depth of field effect in the background of portrait shots, characteristic of cameras with big sensors and bigger lenses. This mode works exclusively with the telephoto lens. It uses the two lenses similar to the way we use our two eyes, and that helps it create a 3D map of the subject and figure out the z-axis distance of the camera to the subject, the depth of the subject itself, and the distance from the subject to the background. It also uses facial and body recognition to separate out the subject from the background. For the effect to work you need to be within a certain pocket of distance from the subject, not too close that the subject dominates the frame and not too far that the camera can no longer separate the subject from the background. The camera app tells you to move back and forth so you are within that pocket. Once there, you get a live preview of how the shot will look once you take it. The preview is a bit crude, and the final image is always better. Like HDR, the camera saves two images, one with and without the blur effect applied, and this too can be changed.
Now this feature isn’t new, and we first saw this on the HTC One m8 that had a dedicated depth sensor, and later other phones tried to recreate with just one camera. However, Apple’s implementation is so far the best I’ve seen. I’m also glad they decided to do this, as gimmicky as it might seem to some. The small sensors and lenses of smartphone cameras means they will never naturally have the depth of field of big cameras. It’s just physics. But this often makes taking certain shots, particularly portraits on smartphones cringeworthy. As good as these cameras have gotten at landscapes and macro, portraits on smartphone cameras look terrible because the subject is not sufficiently separated from the background, resulting in a very cluttered image. Apple’s solution is not perfect but it’s much better than what anyone else has achieved in this field and more importantly, makes it possible to take portraits without wanting to delete them immediately.
Now coming to the camera interface, the Camera app is largely the same that it has been for years now, with only incremental additions. One has to consider that this is likely the world’s most commonly used camera interface of any camera, not just phones, so Apple can’t just make dramatic changes to it. Still there are things it could improve. The top row of buttons is unreachable with one hand on the larger 7 Plus in portrait. In landscape, tapping the button opens options that appear over the viewfinder and depending up the viewfinder contents could sometimes be hard to see. Also, having expanding options feels daft in my opinion to begin with. Instead of clicking HDR and then hunting for the tiny On button it would be a lot better to just tap the HDR button multiple times and cycle through the three options. Same for the flash. The camera app also has no settings whatsoever. All the settings are placed in the main Settings app, so if you decide to change the video resolution you have to head over there and look under Photos & Camera. Also, even though the camera now supports RAW, you will have to download another app for that as the built-in app won’t save a RAW image along with the JPEG, unlike every Android phone with RAW image support.
Now let’s talk about the image quality. As I mentioned, the wide-angle camera on the 7 Plus is identical to the single camera on the back of the 7, so the observations about that camera apply to both.
The standard camera on the iPhone 7 is undoubtedly excellent. For starters, the level of detail captured is quite decent. I say decent because we have had camera phones with higher resolution, with 16 megapixel being quite common a while back and even 21 megapixels, until manufactures dialled back on the resolution for larger pixels and better low light performance. The larger pixels undoubtedly help in low light but outdoors under bright light the effects of dropping going down on resolution are noticed and although 12 megapixels is fine for full size samples, especially for posting online, you don’t have much room to crop. Again, this is not a huge deal but in future I would like sensors to evolve to a point where we can have improved sensitivity without cutting down on the resolution.
The camera does seem like it’s making good use of its 12 megapixels, however. The image processing retains a good amount of detail even after the noise reduction has been applied. The image processing indeed remains a strong point of the iPhone camera. Apple maintains a good balance between a completely flat image and tasteful color grading. The color, contrast, and white balance are generally very good, pleasant enough to be shared directly and neutral enough to not fall apart if you choose to edit. However, the iPhone again has a tendency to err on the warmer side, and some images come out warmer than the original scene. By and large, however, the photos taken by the iPhone 7 camera have a good look to them. Of course, phones like the Galaxy S7 and Pixel produce sharper contrast and saturation, a good camera is the one that saves the image as is without messing too much with it. The user can always edit the image to taste but it’s harder to edit an image that’s already heavily processed for you.
The HDR mode on the iPhone 7 works a bit differently than on my 5s. In most images I took, the HDR images are darker than the SDR images. In order to prevent blowing highlights it brings down the exposure but it really doesn’t do much to the shadows. This I found really weird, as the whole point of HDR is to bring up the shadows while controlling the highlights, but this only seems to be doing one of those things. The dynamic range otherwise is not bad so you don’t necessarily have to enable the HDR mode and at times the HDR mode helps, especially when there is sky involved as it can capture the gradations in the color better but I feel Apple needs to work more on the shadow recovery aspect.
In low light, the wider aperture and OIS work to give you cleaner looking images. Noise is usually well under control because in most situations the camera doesn’t have to crank the ISO much and as a result the colors also don’t suffer much. I rarely saw it go above ISO 400 and quite often it stays at surprisingly low ISO, a testament to the aperture and stabilization. It’s only when things get really, really dark does it tend to get into the upper reaches of its ISO limit, which tops of at 1500. That’s when things get ugly. Fortunately, that rarely ever happens and if it really is that dark you should be using the flash.
The flash, meanwhile, has also been updated and now has four LED, two white and two amber. Unlike most other phones, the iPhone uses the flash with a technique called slow sync. Normally phones uses a really fast shutter speed with flash because the light is so intense but with slow sync, the camera uses the flash with a longer shutter speed so along with the light of the flash the shutter lingers around to also capture ambient light. This prevents the white wash we see on most other camera phones, and the iPhone flash images also have some of the surrounding light creating a more natural image. It also helps that the flash itself isn’t pure white and can module the intensity of the white and amber LEDs based on the scene for optimum white balance. I almost never use the flash for my photos but I love how far and beyond the iPhone’s unit is compared to the other phones, making them look rudimentary in comparison.
The iPhone 7 camera also excels in speed. The app doesn’t quite start at the same speed as the S7 or Pixel camera but it’s still quick. What’s really quick is the autofocus that instantly snaps onto the subject and shifts smoothly during video. Capturing and saving photos is also quick, even in HDR and portrait mode.
The second lens of the 7 Plus does wonders for composition. Due to having a fixed focal length, smartphone cameras have always had wide angle lenses to be on the safe side but this does not bode well for composition. Quite often you want to capture something and when you pull out your phone you realize a whole bunch of other stuff is in the frame along with it. Previously you would have to capture and crop but now you can just use the 2x lens and losslessly crop the image, which significantly helps in composing the shot. The shot of the Rajabai Clock Tower, for example, was taken from a distance. With the main lens I would have ended up with the entire playground in frame but with the 2x lens I was able to isolate just the tower and some foliage for a more focused image without any eye-catching distractions.
Now coming to the portrait mode, the effect by and large works well if you use it for capturing portraits of people. It does have a lot of caveats, though, and those are largely due to the limitations of the telephoto camera system. The tiny aperture really doesn’t do the camera any favours and things are made worse by the lack of OIS. Apple slides these limitations under the rug with the Photo mode in low light by completely disabling the telephoto lens but in Portrait mode the camera can only use the telephoto lens. In less than ideal lens the noise can be considerable in images. You also need to be very stable with these because the lack of OIS means there is no stabilization in play. And then there’s also the thing where the effect itself sometimes is not 100% effective at times, and it especially has problem with people’s hair as it can’t accurately decide at what point to place the blur effect as not enough light bounces off dark hair.
Still, I think Apple is on to something good here and I want to give it benefit of the doubt because if it manages to pull it off and work well 100% time then we can finally get rid of distracting backgrounds. For now it mostly works well for portraits and is a bit sketchy with non-human subjects. I really hope they bolster that second telephoto lens in the next iPhone for this feature to work better.
I’ll only briefly touch upon wide color here since I talked about it before in the Display section. JPEG images saved by the iPhone 7 camera, regardless of the camera app used, are in DCI-P3 color space. This means they can theoretically store a wider range of colors than other cameras that only save in sRGB. I say theoretically because you won’t always see the richer colors, even if you’re viewing on the iPhone 7 or a computer with a P3 compatible display. When visible, the difference is usually subtle and heavily depends on the subject. All in all, it’s a nice thing to have but not something you are going to notice on a daily basis.
One interesting thing to point out here is how the phone shares its camera images. As I mentioned before, the wide color images could actually look worse if the device you are viewing it on doesn’t support the color space. Apple understands this so the phone actually creates an sRGB version of the image for sharing. But again this depends how you share the image. If I use AirDrop or email it, the phone sends the original P3 image. If I use a third-party app like Instashare, the phone can’t quite figure out to still send the P3 image as it is essentially a file transfer utility, so it instead sends the sRGB version. I suppose for apps like Twitter, Facebook, etc. too it shares the sRGB version. Apple will probably have its internal list of apps that it deems appropriate for sharing the wide-color version. Everything else will get the sRGB version, just to be safe, which seems about right.
The iPhone 7 camera can also capture RAW. You will need a third party app (I used Manual) but it’s great that you can finally capture in RAW. I think Apple is using a great sensor and having the RAW sensor dump can be very useful. As good as Apple’s image processing is, sometimes you have to take matters in your own hands with regards to colors, contrast, white balance, and exposure adjustments. RAW files also let you better control the dynamic range of the shot in post and I could bring up shadows far better than Apple’s anemic HDR mode. Overall, it’s a fantastic tool for photographers. I just wish the built-in camera app let you capture RAW
Moving away from stills to video, there is not much of a change on paper compared to the 6s. You still get 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60 and 30fps, and 720p at 30fps. Slow motion can be recorded in 1080p at 120fps and in 720p at 240fps. OIS and EIS are now available on both models. Video quality really is excellent. The 4K video notably has no crop, a common thing on most other phones that use a 1:1 area in the middle of the sensor, which often creates a substantial crop but Apple seems to be using the full sensor output. Actually, there is a small crop but that’s only so that the EIS could work its magic. The final output is full of detail and very well stabilized. You can see that in my sample video above. Also note how shaky the image becomes when moving to the telephoto lens due to the lack of OIS, and the zoom makes it more noticeable.
I also tried the 1080p video at both frame rates but I don’t quite have samples for them. 1080p video is something other companies curiously suck hard at, especially when they have 4K option. 1080p video on most phones looks like upscaled 720p video, because in most cases that’s what it is. It’s no joke when I say my iPad Air takes better 1080p video than most smartphones, even expensive ones. Apple is really good at 1080p video and the iPhone 7 does a great job at both frame rates. Normally we see a degradation in quality at 60fps as the bandwidth has to be allocated for the extra frames but I didn’t see a noticeable drop in frame quality despite the doubled quantity. Then there is also the 720p option, which is also fine for what it is (720p).
The slow motion modes also work well with good resolution and detail despite the increased frame rate. I hate having to choose between 720p at 240fps and 1080p at 120fps, though, and hopefully by next year we are doing 1080p at 240fps.
My biggest gripe with the video is the lack of stereo sound. The iPhone 7 has more microphones on it than the Bigg Boss house but continues to record audio using the single microphone on the back. I’m not sure what’s Apple’s reasoning here but it would be really great to have stereo audio recording, especially now that the phone itself has stereo speakers.
I will only briefly talk about the front camera on the iPhone 7. After updating the front camera from 1.2 megapixels on the 6 to 5 megapixels on the 6s, we get a rather quick update after just one year. This year we have a 7 megapixel sensor (probably Sony again) with f2.2 aperture, Retina flash, wide-color capture and 1080p video. Image quality was really not impressive. Images are soft even in bright light, and almost looked like they were out of focus at times. There is also a lot of noise in low light situations and the dynamic range is quite poor. Apple also uses quite a restrictive focal length, which doesn’t fit more than one person comfortably in the frame. I’m not a fan of the ultra-wide front camera lenses with their almost fish-eye lens level barrel distortion but surely Apple can do better than 32mm.
The iPhone 7 has a 1960mAh battery while the iPhone 7 Plus has a 2900mAh battery, a roughly 200mAh increase over the last year’s models. On top of that we also have a new chipset with power saving cores, as well as a new version of iOS. All this combined has resulted in some really good battery life on both the models. The smaller iPhone 7 can give you around 6-7 hours of usage time and around 15 hours of standby time, enough to get you through an entire day. The larger iPhone 7 Plus manages 8-9 hours of usage and around 25-27 hours of standby. I should specify that I also had the Apple Watch Series 2 paired to the 7 Plus the whole time. Without the watch or with some lighter usage you could even get through two days with this phone. All in all, battery life really isn’t a concern with the iPhone 7.
Which is just as well because they take really long to charge. Well, “really long” is a bit of an exaggeration but the smaller iPhone 7 does take two hours and the larger model three hours to charge from 1% to 100%. This is largely due to the bullshit 5W charger provided with both phones. When used with the 12W iPad charger you reduce the charging time by an hour on both but not everyone has the iPad charger lying around. Even with the iPad charger I feel Apple could do better here. So far only the 12.9-inch iPad Pro supports fast charging and even that requires the 89W MacBook charger (!) to be purchased separately along with a Type-C to Lightning cable. Most flagship Android phones now come with some form or other of fast charging. If Apple doesn’t want to use Qualcomm’s Quick Charge it could either use USB Power Delivery standard or develop its own. OnePlus has Dash charging that charges its 3000mAh battery in just over an hour with its 20W charger.
And fast charging is not just about 1% to 100% times. It’s about how fast your phone can go from dangerously low battery to a reasonable amount that can get you by for a few more hours when you hopefully will be able to charge it properly, and the iPhone chargers suck at this. Bringing the OnePlus 3 back for comparison, its ‘roughly an hour for full charge’ figure is impressive but what is even more impressive is that it reaches 60% battery in 30 minutes. The iPhone 7 Plus takes two hours to do the same.
Verdict: They are good phones Brent
It’s been a long journey to get here and I applaud you if you managed to read every word. If you decided to jump directly here, that’s fine. I understand.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are some of the best phones I’ve used this year. There really is a lot to like about them. They are good looking phones that are phenomenally well built. The display quality and calibration on both is top-notch and the importance of this really cannot be overstated. They are mind-blowingly fast and just blaze through everything you throw at them. The cameras are excellent and the addition of a second one on the 7 Plus is more of a gift than a gimmick. The battery life is great, too. And there’s more to love, such as the wonderful stereo speakers, the water-resistant design, the incredible Taptic Engine coupled with 3D Touch functionality and the unparalleled App Store and its range of third party apps and games.
There are flaws too, of course, such as the low resolution display on the smaller iPhone 7, the poor ergonomics on the larger iPhone 7 Plus, the general lack of polish and refinement in iOS 10, and the lack of fast charging.
I’m also not a fan of how farther apart the two models are drifting. Granted there is a price difference but it seems the smaller iPhone is being left further behind with every update. Not only do you lose on the higher resolution display and bigger battery but you also get none of the dual camera features. Moreover, you get one whole gigabyte of RAM less. This just accelerates the ageing of the smaller phone faster and two years down the line the two will be farther apart than they are now in terms of performance and usability.
Unfortunately, by far the biggest con remains the price. Just because we are used to it now doesn’t make it okay. And it’s starting to give other companies like Google the wrong idea that they too can get away it. It’s not okay, regardless of who does it. I know Apple likes to separate itself like some sort of luxury brand, but this is still a commodity item whose price diminishes with every passing day. No way do these things deserve to cost as much as they do, even if you count the weak Rupee against the Dollar.
I want to reiterate that these are still great phones and I wouldn’t stop you from buying them, provided you have the cash. If you’re an iPhone user on an iPhone 6 or older and understandably wants to stay within the iOS ecosystem then it’s a great upgrade and you will find a lot new here to appreciate. If you have a 6s, maybe hold on for another year. If you’re an Android user, then now’s as good a time as any to make the switch if you are on the fence about it. If you have no allegiance and just want a good smartphone, I would say there are some great options available in Android for a whole lot less money. You can get a Galaxy S7 edge, for example, which is considerably cheaper and an excellent phone in its own right. You can even save some more money and get the OnePlus 3. It’s crazy how many things that phone can do at its price and, more importantly, how well. Only get the iPhone 7 if you absolutely must have an iPhone, in which case this is the best one to get. And if I have to choose between the 7 and 7 Plus I’d go with the 7 Plus for the better display, camera, battery life, and long term usability.
About this review
This review may be a bit longer than what you expected when you clicked the link. The goal here really was to provide as much information as I can that I gained from using both the phones for a few weeks now, and also being an iOS user in general. I hope the review covered everything that you ever wanted to know about the phone, and perhaps a bit more. If there is anything that is missing, let me know. You know where to find me.
Aside from that I also have another thing to say. Writing something like this takes a lot of time and effort. Anyone who does blogging regularly knows it’s not as easy as it looks. A lot of work had to be put in and as you can probably tell, I’m the only person running the show here.
I considered having ads as a means of revenue for this site but I’m personally not big on ads, and neither are most people. So instead I am putting a link to a donation page here (no need to provide accurate info). If you feel this review was useful, helped you or someone you know in anyway, and think work of this kind deserves some form of compensation then please go ahead and use the link to leave whatever amount you feel is right. Or not, that’s fine too.
Going forward I will try and do more such reviews, assuming people are interested in reading them. I am somewhat tired of short, mostly pointless reviews on the internet written after two days of using the phone. I’m not saying every review should be this long but a review by definition is a detailed account of something and if it doesn’t cover all the points sufficiently then it’s nothing more than a hands-on. What I’ve done here is write a review that I personally would like to read, and I hope there are others who would like it as well.
If you like reading long reviews like these, let me know. Again, you know where to find me.