Every year a new iPhone comes out and every year I have taken a hard pass. Really, it’s had mostly nothing to do with the hardware. I’ve always been somewhat aware of common iPhone failures: the home button, power button, and the screen (maybe they were holding it wrong), but iOS has always left mobile power users such as myself out in the cold.
But it’s 2016 and a lot of things have changed in the mobile landscape over the last couple of years. And in some ways, things never change.
The hardware of it all
iPhone reviews don’t usually talk about specs because Apple doesn’t talk about specs but all of the reviews of every other phone does, so why not? The iPhone 7 got a pretty decent bump on the internals but the outside stayed largely the same.
|iPhone 6S||iPhone 7|
So let’s break it down, a better processor in all respects – it should be able to handle twice as much processing assuming the clock speed isn’t significantly lower, a larger battery (about 13% bigger), and Apple finally ditched the 16GB storage model, which was long overdue.
As far as the exterior design is concerned the phone, as I said before, is largely unchanged. It’s exactly the same size and dimensions of the iPhone 6S and only slightly lighter. The only noticeable difference is something you might not even notice right away unless you’re looking for it: the 3.5mm headphone jack is gone. It’s also unusual for Apple to go a third year in a row with the same design.
It really goes without saying that it’s a really slick design; it feels great in the hand and helped me decide to buy the Pixel (as opposed to the Pixel XL) but for some people it’s starting to feel stale. The rumor is that next year is going to be the big redesign – one so big that they needed an extra year to make it work – only time will tell, unfortunately.
The home button
One of the biggest failing points on iPhones in the past has been the home button. It’s obviously a very iconic part of Apple’s flagship smartphone but it’s also one of the first things to break on iPhones. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen people using the accessibility virtual home button to be able to use their phone.
The iPhone 7 finally addresses this issue by getting rid of the mechanical home button and replacing it with a touch sensitive spot on the bottom of the phone that mimics the feeling of clicking a button by using “taptic” feedback. It’s actually remarkable to me how real it feels. If I hadn’t tried to click it before it was on and I didn’t already know that it wasn’t a real button, I would have never known. It also allows you to adjust the intensity of the haptic feedback, which is a great feature. Finally, Apple isn’t saying that they know best about everything.
The bloody headphone jack
Look, the lack of headphone jack is less than ideal. I really don’t like the idea of having to think about bringing a dongle with me and that has become a valid concern for me over the course of my review period. However, for the most part I only use one pair of wired headphones that I pretty much always have with me. When I’m not using those headphones, I’m using my Bluetooth Parrot Zik headphones. In essence, 9 times out of 10, the lack of headphone jack is irrelevant and those that think otherwise aren’t using their phone like most people do.
At the end of the day, my stance on the headphone jack debacle is this: the headphone jack had to go. Apple may have been ridiculous for calling themselves courageous by removing it, but only they were able to get rid of it without being ostracized and in a way they actually were brave for finally making the decision to take that step.
My biggest issue with this move is the fact that it is now going to fragment headphones. Not to mention the fact that it further locks users into the Apple ecosystem by preventing them from using their headphones on anything other than an iPhone without yet another dongle, users of iPhones and MacBooks are currently SOL and might even be using competing standards with the new MacBooks. One thing that I’ll say is that Bluetooth definitely still sucks way too much to be a replacement standard, which means we’re just going to lean on a different wire.
The bottom line on battery life assessment is that everyone uses their phones differently. All I can really tell you is how I use my phone and how that reflects in terms of battery life. During the time that I was using the iPhone 7, it was mostly on regular work days for me. What that means is taking the phone off the charger at about 7:30, driving to work while listening to music/podcasts over LTE and Bluetooth in the car (which is about a half an hour), spending 9 hours at work, which requires a marginal amount of time on my phone (checking emails when I’m away from my desk, responding to messages, occasional phone calls, listening to more music/podcasts throughout the day), then I drive home (more podcasts), and then I use my phone for twitter and texting or whatever it is normal people use phones for until I go to bed around 11. Most days when I went to bed, the phone still had about 50% battery left.
What was actually the most impressive thing to me about the battery longevity, though, was when I took a 7 hour drive to North Carolina, listening to the Serial podcast over LTE (because I’m two years behind everyone else) and the battery drained by maybe 10% over the course of the drive.
Overall I was very pleased with the battery life of this phone. It lasted way longer than I would ever need in a normal day, in fact, it really could be a two day battery if I felt like living life on the edge.
I honestly think that at this point it goes without saying that the camera on the iPhone 7 (or any iPhone) is generally going to be top of the line. After many years of Android manufacturers lagging pretty far behind, most of them have finally gotten their collective acts together and made some really stellar cameras. In fact, this year there were several Android phones that got better DxOMark scores than the iPhone 7. Frankly, however, I think that benchmarks are a bunch of hogwash and what happens out in the real world is all that really matters.
I’m not going to say that the iPhone camera is perfect by any measure. In fact, I think that in many respects the Google Pixel camera has it beat, but when it comes to just picking up the iPhone and snapping a photo you’re rarely going to come out disappointed.
These are pictures that I took of my friend Dan (former friend after these photos go live on the internet) the morning after Halloween when we went to Chipotle. The left is a photo that I took with the iPhone 7 and the right is a photo that I took with the Google Pixel. Personally I prefer the photo from the Pixel – it’s warmer and shows a lot more detail – on the other hand, the iPhone makes a photo that’s more true to life. At the end of the day, these things really just come down to preference.
And then there’s the software
iOS 10 was a big upgrade in a lot of ways. One of the biggest user-facing changes was the new and improved iMessage app that brought with it its own app ecosystem, which lets users connect and share in new and exciting ways. To me, it made iMessage a lot more like Facebook Messenger, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like being able to shoot off a GIF to my friends without having to leave the messages app or have ridiculous stickers or Bitmoji at my fingertips.
That having been said, iOS 10 is far from the best version of iOS yet. Frankly, I think it’s a major diversion from what has previously been trademark Apple. There’s a lot about the new version of the OS that simply aren’t intuitive, which is exactly the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from Apple. The fact that I had to have someone tell me that using 3D touch on the clear button in the notifications to clear all of the notifications is a perfect example of that.
While I’m talking about the notifications on iOS, I’m just going to say that they’re still trash and move on. They’re inconsistent in nature, difficult to get to, and utterly useless if you don’t interact with them on the home screen.
The bottom line on iOS 10 is that it’s the worst part about the new iPhone. It’s unpolished in a lot of ways, I constantly ran into weird bugs, and I honestly can’t see a good reason for them to, after 9 years, get rid of swipe to unlock – something that they sued the living daylights out of Samsung for. It feels like it was rushed and it’s simply disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I know that my comments on the software are critical and brief but that’s what I feel is deserved. It’s just
Despite my many ongoing gripes with some of Apple’s design choices, this phone was one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting my hands on. As a person who uses his phone for a lot of things every day, the battery life was fantastic and the phone was able to keep up with everything that I use it for. The camera is one of the best in class and everything in iOS is still very easy to use, for the most part.
I don’t think iOS 10 is as fully polished as some people are saying and in many ways it took steps backwards in terms of intuitive use. That having been said, I’d still say it’s one of only three phones I would recommend someone would buy right now. For the average user, Apple usually knows exactly how to make the experience a simple one. The iPhone still isn’t for the power-user. If that’s something you seek, I suggest you look elsewhere, but for just about anyone else, it’s hard to go wrong.
Apple: iPhone 7