An Honest Review Of The Apple iPhone 7

Is the removal of the headphone jack really that big a deal?

Tick, tock, tock. That’s the sound of the iPhone clock skipping a beat this year - or at least that's what the rumours had us all believing.

It might not be the huge upgrade everyone was hoping for way before the leaks and rumours started springing up, but there's still a whole lot of new about Apple's latest uber-phones.

That includes a tweaked design, faster internals, more storage, and that brand new camera - or cameras, if we're talking iPhone 7 Plus.

We weren't all that convinced during Tim Cook's keynote - but getting our hands on one readjusted our expectations.

A familiar face

The iPhone 7 really hasn't changed all that much from the 6S or the 6. The biggest difference? The antenna lines are a bit more inconspicuous now that they run along the top and bottom instead of across the back of the phone.

Black is evidently the new Rose Gold, with Apple replacing Space Grey with not one, but two dark hues. Both phones have matte Black and glossy Jet Black options, with the latter needing a regular wipe down in the demo area. The darker shades also help the antenna bands blend in better, if that’s always been a bugbear for you.

The latter will only be available on the 128GB and 256GB iPhones, so there'll be no doubt that you're rocking the best Apple has to offer when you pull one out of a pocket on the train.

I thought the Jet Black was a tad too shiny and plastic looking, but the matte Black is a lot more understated and in line with Apple’s familiar, Ive-inspired design.

Tweaks for the future

Force Touch on the MacBook and Apple Watch were a sign of things to come, and now the iPhone has some haptics all of its own. The familiar home button isn't a button anymore, instead sitting solidly with the rest of the phone. 

It means that when you've got your phone switched off, there won't be any give or movement to it at all if you give it a prod.

Power it on, though, and that Taptic Engine (vibration motor to you and me) gives some physical feedback to make it feel like a physical button.

If you want it to feel like the home button of old, you can dive into the Settings screen and push the Taptic intensity all the way up to the max for a deep click. The default level gives a more muted press.

It’s a clever way of conditioning anyone that's given 3D Touch a bit of a wide berth, as there'll be no way to avoid it now. Time to get on board the pressure sensitivity train, people.

Sound choices

It's what's missing, rather than what's new, that has had the internet up in arms. The rumours were true: the headphone jack has been ditched in favour of Lightning. 

The bundled EarPods now come with a Lightning connector – or you could always cough up extra for the new AirPods and go wire-free.

There is at least an adapter in the box, so you can cling onto that pair of faithful buds or cans you just can't let go of, but it's pug ugly and a little extra something you'll have to carry around. 

You'd think that scrapping the headphone jack would free up space for a second speaker - there's what looks like a speaker grille in its place, after all. Well, it's half-true: the iPhone 7 has stereo sound, but the second speaker is hidden at the top of the phone. That new grille is just for symmetry. 

Getting sound from both ends makes for better separation when you're trying to catch up on Stranger Things though, which can only be a good thing. It should make for a more improved gaming or movie-watching session - if you can’t be bothered to look for your adapter.

Under the hood

Another year, another digit added to Apple's CPUs. 2016's A10 Fusion chip is quicker (no surprise) but also more power efficient (praise Jebus). Both iPhones performed beautifully, responding to every swipe and tap instantly and playing some graphically demanding games smoothly. 

You will notice it the most when you’re playing intensive games instead of just Pokémon Go, but I'll have to put it through some real-world testing to see how it stacks up for day-to-day use.

Games also get to use Taptic feedback now, so switching between a machine gun and a missile will give different vibrations. I can see it becoming really addictive, so you'll probably need to keep a charger close to hand - you're going to be playing for longer, and draining your battery faster.

Apple has finally ditched the lowly 16GB storage for the entry-level iPhone 7; it now starts with a much more manageable 32GB instead.

Just keep in mind that the 64GB option is gone now too; you've got to step up to either 128GB or 256GB. Not a problem if you've got the cash to splash, but annoying if you don't plan on filling your phone with that many apps, videos and music.

Twice as nice

Camera addicts have always had to step up to the Plus version of the iPhone to get the best camera tech, and that's no different for 2016. It's rocking dual 12MP sensors: one with a wide-angle lens and the other with a telephoto zoom.

Combine their powers and you've got 2x optical zoom, or 10x digital. Tap the screen and the zoom dial lets you really get close in on your subject, but quality still takes a hit. Don't use digital zoom, seriously.

The vanilla iPhone 7 gets optical image stabilisation (OIS) for its single 12MP sensor, which helps snap steady shots without any camera shake, and both phones have wider aperture lenses to let in more light. I couldn't test it, but it should come in handy for night-time shooting.

Both phones can snap photos in a wider colour gamut, and they certainly look stunning on the colour calibrated Retina HD display of a 7 Plus. Contrast has definitely taken a step up, and colours look rich and vivid.

The front-facing camera has been bumped up from 5MP to 7MP on both phones, so you'll get sharper, more detailed selfies no matter which one you go for.

Apple's working on adding a dedicated Portrait mode to the camera app, which'll turn out images with deeper bokeh and depth of field, but it wasn't ready to try out at the launch event. We've seen a few demo photos, but until we get to give it a go, there's no telling if it's any better than the hundreds of apps (and handful of Android phones) that already do this kind of photo wizardry.

Initial verdict

Along with an injection of iOS 10, the iPhone 7 feels like a different beast to its predecessor - but not so much that it feels like a stranger.

It's not the smartphone revolution we've been waiting for, but still feels like a refined upgrade. Its newfound water-resistant capabilities mean you don't have to be so precious about your iPhone anymore, either.

Apart from size, there didn't used to be much separating the bigger iPhone from the smaller one, but it’s now time for the iPhone 7 Plus to shine in its own right. The camera certainly looks promising, but whether this is a feature worth paying S$200 more remains to be seen. 

We'll let you know when we get our hands on the review units.

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