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Apple iPhone 7 Review

FIRST IT GIVETH, then it taketh away. The iPhone 7 is a decidedly mixed bag in terms of innovation. A ‘solid state’ capacitive button has replaced the squeezy Home button of old and, lest we forget, the 3.5mm headphone jack has gone in favor of Apple’s new wireless standard.

Yet on the face of it, it’s business as usual. It’s only when we peek past that copycat exterior that we find the beating heart of an altogether more interesting beast.

Design

The iPhone 7’s brushed aluminum unibody has been crafted to perfection, but we wouldn’t expect anything less. Everything gleams and glints, from the highlights surrounding the Home Button and Lightning port to the precision-drilled holes in the speaker assembly, all helping to evoke an air of luxury.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

The comparisons with the iPhone 6S are many, but those rounded edges, minute 7.1mm frame, and 138g weight mean that the phone sits comfortably in the hand.

The iPhone 7 debuts two Black and Jet Black color options alongside the Silver, Gold, and Rose Gold of old, but note that Jet Black is available only in 128GB and 256GB configurations.

We appreciate that Apple has tried to better disguise the antenna lines, but the solution is like something you’d expect from a third-party case. This is true for our Rose Gold model, at least, and the Gold too from the looks of things. The darker designs don’t suffer from the unsightly corrector-fluid lines.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

The iPhone 7 is the first iPhone to be fully IP67-compliant. This isn’t the highest rating it could have been awarded, but still means it’s water and dust resistant. However, Apple has taken the same stance as Samsung in that liquid damage isn’t covered under warranty, so some care must still be taken.

While the Galaxy S7 can last a full thirty minutes of submersion in 1.5m of water, the iPhone 7 can only really be pushed to 1m. This is still more than enough to survive an outing in the British summer rain or a trip into the bathtub. Casting our rubber duck aside we dunked the iPhone 7 into water 50cm deep and kept it there for as long as we dared. After the time was up and we’d dried the device off, we were pleased to see it hadn’t suffered any ill effects. Business as usual.

A new taptic (haptic feedback) engine underpins the iPhone 7’s Home button. The design manages to cram in functions like Siri, Touch ID, and Apple Pay, so the iPhone 7 feels more responsive despite losing the button style of old.

The fact that it doesn’t actually move is a little disconcerting at first, but the click can be tailored to individual taste and we soon adjusted to the new way of doing things.

It’s worth pointing out here that the button’s Touch ID support means that you can’t use it with gloves without first turning on the AssistiveTouch feature.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

Dual-speakers offer a stereo soundstage that doesn’t scrimp on the details but can be a bit tinny at times. Only one speaker hides behind those aforementioned grilles and the other can be found next to the earpiece. It turns out that the taptic engine that powers the new Home button needs more space than we first thought.

As much as we might want to add our voice to the scandal the internet is calling #headphonegate, we want to offer a balanced appraisal of the situation.

The 3.5mm headphone port is no more, but it’s still possible to use your existing headgear with the bundled Lightning to 3.5mm adaptor. The removal hasn’t got us riled up, but that’s not to say we understand and agree with it.

However, we’re not crying over losing the ability to simultaneously listen to music and charge our device. We don’t know about you, but that’s quite a rare scenario for us.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

The W1 chip makes pairing a device almost instantaneous, and it’s now easier than ever to propagate that pairing across all your devices thanks to the clever use of the iCloud. Some may say (us included) that the pairing process wasn’t all that difficult in the first place.

Ultimately, you’re going to need to invest in a pair of W1-toting headphones to really reap the benefits.

That’s not to say Apple wants to leave you high and dry, as a pair of EarPods are included in the box. Sure enough,, they use the new Lightning connection but there’s no apparent benefit to the user by going down this route.

As for the EarPods themselves, they’re about as good as previous efforts, so we can envisage your local neighborhood CEX getting inundated any day now. Call us cynical, but we don’t really get the logic behind the move. We hope to goodness that in the years that follow we don’t see ‘headphone jack’ listed as a feature on future smartphones.

Apple has described getting rid of the jack as “courageous”, but we beg to differ. There’s nothing courageous about ripping out a hardware standard (never mind how old it is) to replace it with something that better serves its own needs.

If Apple manages to shift even a few hundred thousand new accessories all the aggravation would be considered a success, never mind forcing a change on iPhone users that no one asked for.

Performance

One of the first things you’ll notice is the speed. We’re not sure what voodoo Apple has cast on that A10 Fusion chip, but it multi-tasks like a wizard.

Notably, the A10 is Apple’s first quad-core SoC. Two cores are dedicated to the more demanding, resource-heavy stuff (gaming, video editing, photo manipulation, etc), and two cores just keep the phone ticking over. These cores run at just a fifth of the load of the more power-hungry ones thanks to a new performance controller.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

Geekbench returned scores of 3,450 for single-core and 5,625 for multi-core.
That’s easily a higher single-core score than the Galaxy S7 and OnePlus 3. Even the OnePlus with its gargantuan 6GB of RAM is unable to beat the iPhone when it comes to multi-core comparisons, scoring just 4,223.

Apple said that the A10 provides 40 percent faster processing than the A9 chip before it. Similarly, the iPhone 7’s new GPU is capable of delivering a performance increase equivalent to 50 percent. Judging by our benchmark results we’re inclined to agree. It is by far the most powerful iPhone so far, and could even be the most powerful phone ever.

The iPhone 7 is so quick that Safari must employ some sort of future pre-cog skills that enable web pages to load before we’d even finished typing. It’s mightily impressive stuff.

We should also note that during our review we didn’t fall prey to the EarPod woes reported previously on the INQ or hear any hissing sounds coming from the iPhone 7.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

Display

Apple has stuck to the tried and tested 4.7in Retina HD display for the iPhone 7. The panel has a resolution of 1334×750 pixels, along with 326ppi. This is nothing special, especially when put next to the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s still good, but it’s a shame we haven’t been treated to a resolution bump. It is 2016, after all.

Apple has said that the iPhone 7 screen is 25 percent brighter than the screen on the iPhone 6S, but if you’re coming from an Android device, the 4.7in the display is going to come across a bit on the small side.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

The new brighter display is capable of around 705 nits and has a wider color gamut. In practice, this imbues it with a more natural aesthetic than its competitors. We love Samsung’s inky dramatics, but the contrast can sometimes come off as a little other-worldly.

There’s a lot of bezel on show. Look at the Galaxy S7 and recent outings from LG and you’ll see that the large expanse of dead space is beginning to look a little outdated.

Cameras

We were all expecting more from the iPhone 7 in the design department, and if you look at the specs sheet you might charge the cameras with the same crime. Thankfully that’s not the case, and there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye despite the same 12MP sensor.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

For starters, there’s an improved six-element lens and a wider f/1.8 aperture. The Dual LED (dual-tone) flash found on the iPhone 6S has been upgraded to Quad-LED, increasing brightness levels by 50 percent.

In practice, it’s clear to see that the iPhone’s color-capturing ability has been improved. Colors are pleasing (and not in that overtly artificial manner like with Samsung’s phones), and brightness levels are impressive as the f/1.7 sensor lets in slightly more light (even on murky days, like in our samples). Sharpness is just so. Even in low light, we were more than happy with the results.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

Apple iPhone 7 Review

Apple iPhone 7 Review

Apple iPhone 7 Review

It’s a similar story when it comes to shooting video. Like the iPhone 6S, the iPhone 7 can film in stunning 4K, but the added optical image stabilization corrects any shakiness and delivers far smoother results.

The FaceTime HD camera uses a new 7MP sensor (the iPhone 6S had 5MP) and takes advantage of the same wider color gamut for brighter, sharper selfies. The duck face is still all on you, though.

This is a promising start, so we’re even more tempted by the dual-lens tech on the iPhone 7 Plus.

Software

The iPhone 7 is quite clearly the poster child for iOS 10. Apple has added support for Siri in third-party apps, meaning that you can now control the likes of Uber, Facebook, and WhatsApp using your voice alone. We tried it with LinkedIn and managed to successfully instruct Siri to send a message to one of our contacts.

Swipe left from the Home screen and there’s an entirely new view that crams in a cocktail of content: event reminders, alarms, news stories, weather, and stock information, not to mention the ability to add even more widgets of your own.

Raise to Wake sounds like something that would rouse Mumm-Ra from his slumber, but instead, it cleverly rouses the lock screen when the phone is picked up. And if you’re concerned about the phone turning on inside your pocket, the iPhone 7 refused to recognize any shaking or tapping despite our best efforts to trick it.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

We experienced minor connectivity problems in the days following launch, like being unable to connect to the iTunes Store, but we put this down to Apple’s servers taking a hammering.

The iMessage app comes with new emoji, and something altogether more terrifying. The addition of stickers, fireworks, balloons, and confetti turns what was once a sensible message client into a kaleidoscopic playground of lunacy. If you have our sort of friends you can turn it all off, but perhaps give it a taste first before deciding it isn’t for you.

You’ll observe various nips and tucks elsewhere. The Apple News app, for instance, has had a welcome interface update, and now offers the ability to receive push notifications from your favorite outlets.

iOS 10 is not a reason in itself to invest in Apple’s new handset. iPhone users running iOS version 8.3.1 (and above) have been able to upgrade to the latest version since the 13 September release date.

Battery and storage

The iPhone 7 has more storage from the off. Gone is the lowly 16GB option and in marches a new 32GB model. 64GB is also no more, and instead, there’s a choice between the large 128GB or larger 256GB.

The storage shake-up is cause for celebration and commiseration. It’s about time Apple did away with the outdated 16GB, but the next stop being 128GB leaves us with nothing in between. 32GB is still on the small side, and Apple’s militaristic stance on removable expansion could leave some in a quandary.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

We know it’s cool to bash Apple, but we can’t overlook the iPhone 7’s lack of fast-charging ability. When will this madness end? You can, of course, still take advantage of the often underused iPad mini charger, which provides a welcome boost, but we’d rather the innovation was directed here and not in a new Home button, for instance.

Apple quotes 14 hours of life and we’d say that’s refreshingly honest. A full day’s use is realistic, assuming you follow a similar working pattern to us. A 7.30am start with moderate to heavy use during the day would see the iPhone 7 need to hit the hay at around the time we stop for our cocoa.

The battery lasts just long enough, but it should go for longer seeing as it represents the largest capacity in an iPhone so far.

Price

The iPhone 7 is the same price as the iPhone 6S in the US, but Brexit means that UK buyers are in for a price hike. Frustrating.

Apple iPhone 7 Review
The iPhone 7 starts at £599 in the 32GB configuration, rising to £699 for the 128GB model and £799 for the 256GB model. All three can be bought from the Apple Store.

If you want to shop around, Carphone Warehouse has a £52 per month tariff that comes with a one-off payment of £9.99.

Contracts on Three start at £43, with a £149 payment. The network will include Feel at Home roaming with all sales of the iPhone 7.

Apple iPhone 7 Review

In short

With the loss of the headphone port, it seems almost as if Apple sees itself as the Messiah delivering us from capable and convenient standards. Congratulations, Apple. You’ve created a solution to a non-problem.

Scorn aside, we can’t ignore the feats that Apple has pulled off with the iPhone 7. The A10 Fusion processor is a force to be reckoned with, water resistance is long overdue, and the camera might just be the best Apple has put into a phone.

Yet it’s not an essential upgrade by any means. The iPhone 7 is more like Apple’s experimental phase. David Bowie’s Berlin years, if you will. It’s not going to be for everyone, and if you crave more from a phone take a look at the iPhone 7 Plus.

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Our verdict

The iPhone 7 isn't a revolution, it just does things differently. Another solid effort.

  • Design