Let’s get right down to it: if Apple had launched the iPhone 7 in place of the iPhone 6S last year, it would probably have been the phone of the year.
We’re used to the S variants of the iPhone being minimal upgrades – just the right amount of change to encourage a purchase by those with ageing handsets – and if the myriad changes on this new iPhone had arrived in 2015, it would have been fantastic.
Instead of the iPhone 6S, with just a 3D Touch screen in the way of new features and a few power boosts here and there, we’d have had a waterproof handset with dual speakers, a brighter and more colorful screen and a boosted 12MP camera that took better pictures than the one on the iPhone 6.
Changing the home button from a clickable entity to something that responds to pressure – and possibly even the loss of the headphone jack – would have been seen as innovative and alternative in a sea of identikit handsets.
And if Apple had thrown in the new Jet Black finish with a top-end 256GB storage model… well, that would have been a real challenger, a chance for the brand to cast off the ‘tick-tock’ mentality of keeping the smaller upgrades confined to the S variants, and remind us that it just makes great phones.
But that didn’t happen, and now the metronomic quality of Apple’s upgrades seems to have come to a halt – or the pendulum is stuck.
Because with the iPhone 7 we’ve got another ‘tock’. The initial reaction of dubbing this an iPhone 6SS is unfair, as it’s more than just an S upgrade – but it’s not as much of a push forward as many would have expected given the large changes on the iPhone 4 and 6 in particular.
Although maybe there’s a second pattern emerging here – the odd-numbered iPhones keeping things incremental before the big changes on the even-numbered models. Either way, the iPhone 7 is another very good, but not great, handset from Apple.
iPhone 7 price and release date
- Launched September 16
- Launch price: 32GB – $649 (£599, AU$1,079)
The iPhone 7 price starts at $649 (£599, AU$1,079) for the 32GB model. If you fancy upping your storage to 128GB you’ll need to shell out $749 (£699, AU$1,229) – which is the same cost as the 64GB iPhone 6S when it launched.
Power users, meanwhile, will want to check out the $849 (£799, AU$1,379) iPhone 7 with an iPhone-first 256GB of storage, giving you masses of storage space.
The iPhone 7 inherits the same pricing structure as the iPhone 6S when it launched back in September 2015 – at least in the US and Australia it does; for those in the UK the aftershocks of Brexit are being felt, with a £60 price hike for the iPhone 7 over the 6S.
- Water resistance brings confidence in robustness of device
- Same design as previous two years
- Headphone jack removal is inconvenient
The two big design changes on the iPhone 7 are big talking points: it can now survive plunges into a swimming pool, thanks to the water-resistant chassis, and the headphone jack on the bottom of the phone is no longer there.
Let’s start with the biggest of those changes: the omission of the headphone jack. It’s a bold move from Apple – although calling it ‘courageous’ during the launch event was a bit much, and has led to some warranted memes – and one that could shake up the headphone industry.
The loss of this port will impact users in varying degrees: for some people it’ll be no more than a shrug before they get on with their day, because they only use the EarPods in the iPhone box – and those are still there, just with a Lightning connector.
For others, though, it’ll be an inconvenience, as they’ll need to attach the short white dongle to the 3.5mm jack on the end of their headphones in order to plug them into the Lightning port.
In a survey conducted over three commutes, we noticed that out of 60 people wearing headphones, 34 were using the bundled EarPods that Apple offers – given than many of those people might not have been using an iPhone, that’s a higher number than expected.
Losing the headphone jack also severely limits those wanting to buy a new pair of headphones for use with their iPhone, given how much we all listen to tunes or watch films on our phones these days.
Sure, you can buy regular 3.5mm headphones, but then you’ll have to connect the adaptor. If you want to get something directly compatible you’ll either need to go Bluetooth or Lightning-ready – and there are fewer decent models available to buy in that latter category.
You could, of course, try the new Apple AirPods, which have been developed on a new wireless standard. A quick Public Service Announcement: you DO NOT need to buy these to get audio on the iPhone 7.
Three separate people have told us that that’s what they thought was the case when Apple launched them – that’s something the brand needs to clarify soon.
There’s also another reason not to buy them: they’re incredibly expensive at $159 / £159 / AU$229, and all they really do is cut the wire from the EarPods you get in the box. The sound quality doesn’t feel like it’s much better, and while the ability to tap one pod to activate Siri, or remove a Pod and have the sound instantly stop, is cool, it’s not really worth the cash.
Plus, there’s also the fact that they don’t look the most elegant in the ears – and if you struggle with the fit of the EarPods, these things are going to fall out all the time.
They do have a lot of charge, come with a cool magnetic carry case (which also adds 24 hours of charge, to the point where we’ve not even come close to running ours down during the review) and free you from the wires… but these feel more like reference designs for future wireless Apple devices than the must-have iPhone accessory.
The overall design of the iPhone 7 is actually rather impressive when you consider some of the changes that have taken place. The waterproofing always add thickness, as the seals will need some space within the device.
The new dual speakers, which fire out of the earpiece and the bottom of the phone, also needed somewhere to go, which starts to explain why the iPhone 7 is 7.1mm thick… the same as the iPhone 6S, and 0.2mm more than the iPhone 6.
Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that these features aren’t the first of their kind to market, but there’s something unexciting about the iPhone 7 being waterproof. It’s been done already by Sony on the Xperia Z and Samsung on the Galaxy S7, and those phones combined impressive design with the reassurance that you could sling them in a lake and still have a working phone.
It’s a really nice feature to have, and to iPhone users it’ll be a complete novelty – although they’ll be aware that many Android-toting pals will have had the feature for a while. But it’s a necessary move from Apple, and it’s good to see.
The home button, that iconic design from Apple that’s endured throughout the years, has changed dramatically too: it’s no longer a clickable, physical entity, but a sunken point on the front of the phone that responds to the force of your touch.
Initially, it seemed terrible, something that would be impossible to get used to; the loss of the dependable, pressable button was awful, and we kept getting no response when trying to get back to the home screen from within an app.
But then, suddenly, it clicked (well, not physically), and it felt like a completely natural motion. After a while we forgot what was happening, and when you remember that nothing is moving beneath your finger it’s quite an odd sensation.
Despite the same / slightly higher prices (UK readers can thank Brexit for that one), Apple has doubled the storage sizes on offer with the new iPhone, with 32GB, 128GB and 256GB options. While it’s nice to be able to move files on and off your phone, these new capacities kind of put the debate over why the iPhone doesn’t have a microSD slot to bed – it’s not needed any more.
The overall design of the iPhone isn’t anything new really – unless you’re looking at the jet black version. This darker version has the antenna bands colored in, a black iPhone logo and a weird shine to the plastic.
It’s kind of like an iPhone 5C was given the Pretty Woman treatment, if that makes any sense.
This model does scratch very easily though, so you’ll need to sling it in a case the second you get your hands on it… which rather defeats the object of owning it in the first place.
The iPhone’s design hasn’t changed a great deal from the 6S, with the only significant alterations other than the loss of the headphone socket being the larger and more protruding camera lens, and the two speaker grilles at the bottom of the phone.
These dual grilles are deceptive though – only one actually fires out sound, while the other is entirely aesthetic, perhaps trying to distract us from the lack of the headphone jack.
As it’s so similar to the iPhone 6S, it’s familiar for most iPhone users. The screen is a little hard to reach with one thumb, but not overly so – and the strong build quality in the volume and silencer switch is still as evident as ever.
Apple knows how to put together a smartphone, and it’s done so effortlessly again here.
- 25% brightness boost and more colors are hard to spot
- Sharpness is still far lower than competitors
- Contrast ratio for movie watching could be better
The main change to the screen on the iPhone 7 is the brightness and color, as it’s otherwise identical. The same 4.7-inch 1334 x 750 resolution display is on offer here, meaning that if you hold it side by side with something like the Galaxy S7 Edge, you’ll notice the lack of sharpness.
However, in day to day use you won’t notice much wrong with the screen at all, as even at the HD resolution on offer you’ve still got a large amount of pixels, so internet browsing and movie watching is still clean, clear and crisp enough.
There’s also 3D Touch in the mix again – it’s an identical system to that on the iPhone 6S, where the handset can detect the amount of pressure your finger is exerting on the screen. We were promised loads of apps that make use of this, but while most icons will do something when force is exerted, it’s not often very useful.
How you view this screen depends on what phone you’re coming from on – if it’s the iPhone 6 or lower, then you’ll love the display, as it’s brighter, more colorful and just as crisp as before. If, however, you’re moving from something like the LG G4, then you might struggle with the lower res, as side by side there is a drop.
This is where Apple sets out its stall when it comes to its screens: it’s not about the sharpness, or the number of nits of brightness – it’s how the display looks when it’s in your hands that matters.
And to that end, the iPhone 7 is a step forward. The screen is more colorful – not in an overpowering technicolor way, but just in terms of richness, with the depth of color matching that of the cinema screen.
The brightness is also improved in the right way – again, it’s not overpowering, but more of an upgrade in the right way, giving you an easier look at the screen when it’s at full brightness.
The white balance of the display is also improved to a warmer tone – there were rumors that Apple was going to be using the same True Tone display as seen in the iPad 9.7, and it feels like elements of that are true.
One thing Apple badly needs to sort out, though, is its auto brightness feature. The current setup is to blind you if you look at the phone in the dark, where other phones are more adept at dropping right down to the lowest possible brightness to save you from burning out your retinas.
Apple will maintain that it’s done enough with the screen to make it a great viewing experience without packing in too many pixels and forcing the battery to work hard unnecessarily. To a degree that’s right, but in truth if this is the best that can be done on battery life then it’s something of a problem, as the iPhone 7 isn’t stellar in that department.
That’s the feeling that comes across when watching movies on the new iPhone: it’s fine, but nothing special. The contrast ratios don’t feel as clear and crisp as on other phones, and the size is a little small compared to others.
Perhaps that’s an unfair criticism. The size of the screen is precisely what attracts some people, and as such it’s presumably acceptable for media.
However, the size of the phone should be able to accommodate a larger display, pushing closer to the edge of the handset rather than the amount of bezel used. Of course, it’s terribly naive to just say things like ‘make the screen bigger!’ ‘Put in more battery!’ ‘Shove in more pixels!’ as everything is a trade-off.
But, as other brands seem to have managed it, it seems that thinner bezels are at least possible.
Talking of watching movies, the dual speakers that Apple has popped into the new iPhone are a real upgrade. The location at the top and bottom is a little weird, given that they fire in different directions, but the sound quality is much better than before.
They don’t have the impressive sound quality of the speakers on the iPad Pro, but that has extra chambers and four speakers, so that’s understandable.
The audio is a little on the tinny side, but for just showing off a YouTube video or watching a movie in a quiet room they’re fine. It’s not a perfect setup for listening to music – there needs to be more bass for that – but Apple has pushed things forward well here.