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iphone 7/7 plus review

Iphone 7/7plus

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The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are deeply unusual devices. They are full of aggressive breaks from convention while wrapped in cases that look almost exactly like their two direct predecessors. Even that continuity of design is a break from convention; after almost a decade of Apple’s steady two-year iPhone update pattern, merely retaining the same design for a third straight year plays against expectations.

Inside that case, everything else about the iPhone 7 is a decisive statement about the future. The dual cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus promise to usher in a new era in mobile photography. The iconic iPhone home button is no longer a physical button, but instead a sophisticated ballet of pressure sensors and haptic vibration motors that simulate the feel of a button. The new A10 Fusion processor blends two high-power cores that rival laptop performance with two low-power cores that combine with a much larger battery to extend run time by up to two hours.

And, yes, Apple has removed the headphone jack.

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Removing the headphone jack is an act of pure confidence from Apple, which is the only company in tech that can set off a sea changes in the industry by aggressively dropping various technologies from its products. Floppy drives, optical drives, its own proprietary 30-pin iPod connector, flash, even USB — Apple decides that it’s time to move on, and it has a massive installed base of customers that love and trust the company who make it happen. And now it’s decided that — yikes — the headphone jack is over.

After using the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus for about a week, it’s clear to me that Apple has forceful, but considered opinions about how the next generation of phones should fit into our lives. But it’s also clear that the iPhone 7 is a transitional step to that vision of the future, not a complete expression of it. The question for would-be upgraders is

DESIGN

There’s really no getting around it: the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus look more or less exactly like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from 2014. They are now water resistant, which is nice, although they’re not fully waterproof — keep them submerged in a meter of water for more than 30 minutes and things might not go your way. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and Note 7 are technically even more water resistant, but I think it’s basically a push — you can get these phones casually wet now without catastrophe, and that’s a big win. If you want to go snorkeling with your iPhone, you should probably get a case anyhow.

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Apart from the water resistance, there are three main external differences between the 6 and 7: first, the antenna lines on the back have been tweaked and colored to blend into the body on the matte black and glossy jet black models, which is a welcome refinement. (The antennas remain a dull gray color on the silver, gold, and rose gold variants; Apple says there are limits on what colors can be applied.) Second, the camera bump has been enlarged and more artfully curved into the rear casing, which looks particularly handsome on the smaller phone with a single camera.

And third — here it is again — there’s no headphone jack.

But really, once you put the iPhone 7 in a case, it looks exactly like an iPhone 6. And if you get a jet black model, you’ll want to get it into a case immediately — my jet black review unit scratched and scuffed almost instantly, and the only time it’s remained fingerprint-free is when we literally handled it with white gloves for the photo and video shoots accompanying this review. Apple is being unusually open about the propensity of the jet black finish to scratch, but beyond that, I’d get the matte black anyway — it just looks meaner.

The iPhone 6 has always been one of the more utilitarian designs in Apple history, and a smoothed-out camera bump and less visible antennas don’t really change that. Apple’s competition is getting better at making beautiful phones, and nothing about the iPhone 7’s design exceeds the rest of the industry. The iPhone 7 Plus in particular is actually falling behind its large-screened competition; the 6 Plus was always a bit of a surfboard, and new devices like the Galaxy Note 7 fit enormous displays into much smaller, tighter packages. (Too bad about the explosions, though.) This is still a phone that looks best in a case.


HOME BUTTON, DISPLAY, AND SPEAKERS

he iPhone 7’s new home button will elicit instant reaction from people; it’s much more different than you might think. The button no longer moves at all — it’s totally solid, just like newer MacBook trackpads. A linear vibration unit that Apple calls the Taptic Engine jolts when you apply pressure to the button, tricking your brain into feeling a click. It’s nothing like the clumsy haptic feedback on other phones, which I’ve always disliked — it really does feel like a click.

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This system works tremendously well on MacBooks, but on the iPhone 7 it feels like the entire bottom of the phone is clicking, not like you’re pushing a button. You can set the haptic feedback to one of three force settings that make it feel like a harder or stronger click, but it’s definitely still strange, especially if the phone is lying down on a table instead of in your hand and you can see that you’re just pushing against nothing.

IT FEELS LIKE THE ENTIRE BOTTOM OF THE PHONE IS CLICKING

I’m sort of okay with all this, but other people who’ve tried my review units really don’t like it. There’s something about a really great button, and the iPhone home button was an all-time great button. Apple says it switched up the home button to make it more customizable and more durable — there’s a lot of people with the software button floating around their iPhone screens — but it’ll take some adjustment to really get used to. You’ll have to try it to decide for yourself.

The Taptic Engine also adds all sorts of other fun feedback to iOS 10 — when you drop the notification shade down, the phone does a little bump, for example. It makes it feel like the software on the screen has real weight and inertia, and I love it. Third-party apps can use the Taptic Engine as well, and I’m really hoping the industry adds support faster than the slow, somewhat muted rollout of not-very-useful 3D Touch support. Taptic Engine feedback is the first really valuable new UI concept I’ve seen on phones in years, while 3D Touch always seemed like more of a gimmick. It’s strange that the iPhone 6S won’t get these features even though it has a Taptic Engine; Apple says the unit in the iPhone 7 has been revised and made more precise, but it’s still an odd omission.

3D Touch is still present on the iPhone 7’s display, and the display itself is improved. It’s not as insane as the 2K and 4K OLED panels that have been popping up on Android phones, but it’s a sharp, bright, and beautiful LCD, and sharp, bright, beautiful LCDs are very nice to look at. My review unit is also noticeably warmer than the iPhone 6S display, which I’ve come to appreciate.

THE DISPLAY CAN SHOW A WIDER RANGE OF COLORS NOW

You won’t notice it in most apps, but the display can show a wider range of colors now, which is really obvious when you look at photos taken by the iPhone 7’s camera — which now also captures a wider range of colors. Photos taken by the iPhone 7 look ridiculously good on the iPhone 7 display; you can tell the difference between a 7 photo and a 6S photo on the 7’s screen almost instantly. That’s the only place you’ll really see the benefit of the new screen for now, but it’s another place where app developers can really take advantage of powerful new hardware. Instagram has already announced an update to support wide color; let’s hope others follow suit.

Apart from the revised camera, the new home button, the screen, and — heyo! — the headphone jack, the other notable external hardware change to the iPhone 7 is the addition of stereo speakers. One speaker is at the bottom of the phone, as it has been, and the other is actually integrated into the earpiece. They’re much louder than before, and sound decent, with better treble performance in particular. They’re never going to replace real speakers, but you can watch a bunch of YouTube videos or Snapchats and not get annoyed, and conference calls are dramatically improved.

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