The new Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus may not be the upgrades many were expecting, merely refinements of every technology that Apple does best.
First and foremost, the iPhone 7 design is much the same as 2015’s iPhone 6s, but with smoother lines and less visible seams. It’s familiar but noticeably different.
A number of recent smartphones do offer similar premium features and hardware (see panel for the key features of the new handset).
The iPhone 7 – like the many iPhones before it – is a neck ahead of the current competition, but for how long remains to be seen.
Unwired for sound
Let’s talk about the removal of the headphone jack, AKA the future. Yes, many will bemoan the loss of the 3.5mm analogue socket that has served humanity well for many, many years.
The lack of a 3.5mm socket means the Lightning port is now used for both power and audio.
“But without it, how will I listen to music and charge my iPhone?!” The answer is: use an adapter or Bluetooth headphones. If you rarely need juice, the included EarPods or the Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter will allow you to conduct your life the way you have for years.
If you do want to upgrade, you likewise don’t have to buy Apple’s new AirPods, but considering the tech involved, $229 is not terribly expensive.
As part of this cutting of cords, a dedicated wireless audio chip, called Apple W1, ensures the AirPods Bluetooth audio experience is unsurpassed – and that it is. The difference this tiny chip makes is truly astounding.
Wireless earbuds are not known for their stability, instead for being highly susceptible to dropouts from surrounding interference.
I tested these by walking through the electromagnetic minefield that is a local JB Hi-Fi store and experienced zero dropouts, so the AirPods will do their job.
The iPhone 7 camera is quite an improvement on iPhone 6s. Apple has created a camera that drinks more light than its predecessor, is faster and more colour accurate.
The camera on iPhone 7 Plus, on the other hand, is a dual-camera system – one wide-angle lens, the other a telephoto zoom lens – yielding superior focus and depth, richer colour and clarity. You start with the wide-angle lens; tap the 2x icon and the telephoto kicks in, with up to 10x digital zoom.
In a comparison test between iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone SE, the 7 and 7 Plus reveal greater detail and sharpness than any previous model iPhone.
iPhone 7 Plus is not the first smartphone dual-camera system, but it’s the best camera Apple has ever made and likely the best smartphone camera currently available… until a rival ups the ante.
Note: The iPhone 7 Plus DSLR-style ‘depth-of-field’ is not currently available (due later this year), so has not been covered in this review.
Fear no water
Both iPhone 7 models are dust proof and water resistant to one metre and will protect you from a variety of H2O accidents. We wouldn’t recommend immersing your new iPhone to test this, although someone on YouTube soon will. For now, if you want a truly waterproof phone, you’ll have to stick to your Samsung or Sony handset.
Take me to pizza
A special mention must go to Siri.
The digital personal assistant market has been dominated for some time by Google Now, what with its deep search abilities (no surprises there) and complex AI understanding.
Siri has grown up somewhat, been loaded with a more complex artificial intelligence and can now offer assistance to a greater degree.
For example, with the simple query, ‘Take me to pizza’, Siri will offer options for nearby restaurants, select the top-rated establishment, then open Maps and give directions.
There are many refinements in iPhone 7: the new Home button, which gives a haptic tap to imitate a conventional button click; room-filling stereo speakers; many UI improvements of iOS 10; the water resistance.
These differences are noticeable when switching from iPhone 6s, so any other model of iPhone will be more of an upgrade. If you’ve been holding onto your iPhone 5s or iPhone 6 until a better model came along, iPhone 7 is the one.