The first thing you notice abut the iPhone 7 is that you can easily mistake it for an iPhone 6/6s. They share a form factor, hand-feel and (very similar) weights of 143 grams or 192 grams (for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus respectively) compared to the slightly svelter 7’s 138 grams/188. Other dimensions are the same: 138.3mmx67.1 by 7.1mm thick for the 6s/7, and 158.2×77.9 by 7.3mm thick for the 6s Plus and 7 Plus. Both have the same screen dimensions too: 4.7 inches diagonally, and 5.5 inches diagonally for the Plus.
So what’s new? Quite a lot. In fact, as soon as you click the Home button, your 7 will feel different, for it’s not a mechanical (press in and bounce back) button at all, but a pressure-sensitive solid disk that, thanks to ‘haptic feedback, feels as if it ’clicks’. This is typical of Apple – a solid button is less prone to breakdown and easier to keep waterproof, but engineers and designers clearly decided the feel of a click was important enough to retain somehow. So if you’re wondering what Apple was thinking, leaving off the headphone jack, it’s this little trembling motor that explains it, for this bigger ‘Taptic Engine’ overlaps the space where the jack entered the 6 and 6s body. (Yes, the iPhone 6s has a Taptic Engine too; it’s smaller and the new version is more advanced). also, the removal of the jack allowed for a slightly bigger battery.
For further under the hood, Apple has been very busy indeed. For a start, iPhone 7 is the first water resistant iPhone – not full-immersion proof, but rather shower proof. This will lengthen its life while removing some worry from yours.
The Taptic Engine gives feedback for far more than just that faux-click Home Button. In games, tap a blaster and feel its kick. Pistols can have rapid-fire pulses you can feel; strings you play in, say, GarageBand for iOS make the iPhone subtly thrum in your hand. My cheap and cheesy favourite is rolling the onscreen Timer or Alarm time-setting dial in the Clock app, which also triggers an audio ‘click’ to further enhance the feeling. But it also reacts to the 3D Touch feature introduced with iPhone 6s: the harder-press you can do for messages that arrive on the Lock screen to reply, for example, or the press-on attributes of Apps on the Home screen. Expect more apps to take these capabilities on board.
Sight — So at first sight, this might look the same as iPhone 6 and 6s, but it feels different in new and clever ways. It also looks different once you start experiencing this screen. On the 7, the screen is still 1334×750 pixels at the ‘Retina’ resolution of 326ppi (1920×1080 and 401ppi on the Plus) and both have the same contrast ratios of 1400:1 and 1300:1. ‘Retina Display’ means you can’t discern the actual pixels like you can with the naked eye – and believe me, if you never knew you could, look at an iPhone 3 screen or an early iPad. Ouch.
But it’s brighter: maximum brightness is 625cd/m2 compared to 500 cd/m2, and it shows a wider colour gamut. In use, this looks great – it’s slightly warmer, with intense tones and great detail.
Actually, while we’re talking about the way things look, some of the iPhone 7s do stand out at a glance from the 6 range: there are new colour options since there are two black models: the striking, glossy Jet Black (main picture, above) as well as a regular matte Black, joining the existing metallic silver, gold and pink.
Shootin’ match — So the screens are brighter, but the cameras are also higher resolution. The front-facing camera is 12 megapixels; same as for the 6s but the 6 was 8 megapixels. But in the 6s, only the 6s Plus has optical image stabilisation whereas both models of the 7 has it. Be warned that the camera is slightly closer to the outer edge, meaning the camera cut-outs in cases for the 6 range will impede the lens. But the camera is more complex too, with a six-element lens compared to 5, and this 28mm camera has a wider aperture, which means it captures images better in lower light (it’s f1.8 instead of 2.2).
The bigger 7s has two front-facing cameras: a wide-angle and a telephoto (56mm, f/2.8). Both have digital zoom up to 10 times (the 6s only goes to 5x) but the Plus has Optical Zoom up to 2x, so rather than enlarging the pixels (yes, it looks pretty awful pretty quickly) the 7 Plus actually has moving lens elements to do the first stage of the zoom at full quality, and both models have optical image stabilisation for smoother video recording, and even smoother Live Photos (I still think this is a silly gimmick, but whatever). Also, the lesser camera above the screen, for selfies, FaceTime/Skype etc is 7 megapixels as against 5 for the 6s. And don’t worry, the 7 still uses ‘Backside Illumination’, which is not for that kind of selfie: it’s a built-in digital image sensor that increases the amount of light captured to improve low-light performance. The 7 does do better in low light.
Sounds good — Another thing you’ll notice is that the 7 sounds better. The on-board (internal) speakers are louder and clearer. It also acts in stereo now, if you hold the phone in landscape mode, you should be able to hear separation between the channels since it’s using the top ear-piece speaker (for phone calls) for one channel and the bottom speaker for the other, but they’re so physically close together on iPhone 7 I could barely distinguish any difference except when I created a track in Garageband and panned it hard to one side or the other – maybe it’s more noticeable on the bigger-bodied Plus, but either way, it’s still going to be way better via earbuds or headphones.
But what about the lack of headphone jack?
You have three ways to listen to music: via a pair of Lightning-compatible headphones (a pair of Lightning EarPods are included in the box), or use a pair of 3.5mm headphones with the included adapter (I find it hard to substitute my snug-fitting Apple In Ear Speakers) or wireless headphones connecting via Bluetooth – Apple’s own version of these will be available soon (left, picture from Apple Inc).
OK, some of you may be able to hear the difference between over-wire and over-the-air audio, but I sure as hell can’t, but I never have been good at hearing what those pro audio people swear is ‘better’, even when my ears were a lot younger. If I get good bass, some definition and some overtones, I’m happy. But if you’re not like me, or at least you like to think you are not like me in this regard, you’ll prefer a physical connection for your audio.
So I’m no authority here – audio sounds fine to me via my In Ear Speakers and the jack to Lightning adapter which Apple includes in the box. In fact, audio site what Hi Fi thinks this solution actually sounds better than the jack of the 6.)
Chips — iPhone 7 has the new 64-bit A10 Fusion chip with an embedded M10 motion coprocessor compared to the 6s A9 with embedded M9 motion coprocessor. This A10 is a quad-core processor with two high-performance cores with two high efficiency cores. This makes the A10 more efficient, delivering the same perceived performance as the A9 while using less power, but able to unleash high-performance cores when pushed. This low-power ability can lead to a full two hours more battery life than the iPhone 6s, and I didn’t test that with a stopwatch but I’m definitely charging it a less than I had to with my trusty old 6.
Mind you, this surprised me – startup speeds: from off to the lock screen, my iPhone 6 took 42 seconds – the iPhone 7 only 16.
Oddly, perhaps, the handy 64GB model is definitely gone from Apple’s options – you can get the 7 in 32, 128 or the pretty massive 256GB, whereas the 6s was 32GB or 128GB.
Conclusion — In use, to be brutally honest, the 7 feels like an incremental change rather than a new model. Just as the 6s is demonstrably better than the 6, this feels like, well, a ‘6ss’. It is definitely better, but it doesn’t feel like a full model change. The rumour mill says Apple will pull out the stops with the 8 (or will it be called the 10?) Since this model, should it appear in 2017 in place of a ‘7s’ will mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone’s introduction.
I’m not trying to sell it short – it’s a fine phone. If you were going to buy an iPhone tomorrow, you’d be mad to prioritise a 6s over a 7 unless that extra couple of hundred is just too hard to justify.
What’s great — Water resistance; faster; expanded, more sophisticated Haptics for better feel and response. Great cameras, beautiful screen
What’s not — I could say the lack of jack, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But it might bother you.
Needs — Developers to get on board with the possibilities of that Taptic Engine and Apple’s clever, more powerful A10 processor.
iPhone 7, 32GB, 128GB or 256GB only, starting at NZ$1199 for the 32GB 7, $1399 for the 128GB and $1599 for the 256GB. The 7 Plus is $1429 for the 32GB, $1629 for the 128GB and $1829 for the 256GB. (iPhone 6s starts at NZ$999; $1199 for the 6s Plus).
From — Selected telephone retailers; Apple online.
Apologies this took a while to arrive – it took me a little longer than usual to get my hands on one.