Introduction, design and screen
Let’s get right down to it: if Apple had launched the iPhone 7 in place of the iPhone 6S last year, it would probably have been the phone of the year.
We’re used to the S variants of the iPhone being minimal upgrades – just the right amount of change to encourage a purchase by those with ageing handsets – and if the myriad changes on this new iPhone had arrived in 2015, it would have been fantastic.
Instead of the iPhone 6S, with just a 3D Touch screen in the way of new features and a few power boosts here and there, we’d have had a waterproof handset with dual speakers, a brighter and more colorful screen and a boosted 12MP camera that took better pictures than the one on the iPhone 6.
Changing the home button from a clickable entity to something that responds to pressure – and possibly even the loss of the headphone jack – would have been seen as innovative and alternative in a sea of identikit handsets.
And if Apple had thrown in the new Jet Black finish with a top-end 256GB storage model… well, that would have been a real challenger, a chance for the brand to cast off the ‘tick-tock’ mentality of keeping the smaller upgrades confined to the S variants, and remind us that it just makes great phones.
But that didn’t happen, and now the metronomic quality of Apple’s upgrades seems to have come to a halt – or the pendulum is stuck.
- Picked up the new handset? Check out our iPhone 7 tips and tricks guide
Because with the iPhone 7 we’ve got another ‘tock’. The initial reaction of dubbing this an iPhone 6SS is unfair, as it’s more than just an S upgrade – but it’s not as much of a push forward as many would have expected given the large changes on the iPhone 4 and 6 in particular.
Although maybe there’s a second pattern emerging here – the odd-numbered iPhones keeping things incremental before the big changes on the even-numbered models. Either way, the iPhone 7 is another very good, but not great, handset from Apple.
Short on time? Then check out our video review of the iPhone 7
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8nn0a2XNNs
iPhone 7 price and release date
- Launched September 16
- Launch price: 32GB – $649 (£599, AU$1,079)
The iPhone 7 price starts at $649 (£599, AU$1,079) for the 32GB model. If you fancy upping your storage to 128GB you’ll need to shell out $749 (£699, AU$1,229) – which is the same cost as the 64GB iPhone 6S when it launched.
Power users, meanwhile, will want to check out the $849 (£799, AU$1,379) iPhone 7 with an iPhone-first 256GB of storage, giving you masses of storage space.
The iPhone 7 inherits the same pricing structure as the iPhone 6S when it launched back in September 2015 – at least in the US and Australia it does; for those in the UK the aftershocks of Brexit are being felt, with a £60 price hike for the iPhone 7 over the 6S.
- Water resistance brings confidence in robustness of device
- Same design as previous two years
- Headphone jack removal is inconvenient
The two big design changes on the iPhone 7 are big talking points: it can now survive plunges into a swimming pool, thanks to the water-resistant chassis, and the headphone jack on the bottom of the phone is no longer there.
Let’s start with the biggest of those changes: the omission of the headphone jack. It’s a bold move from Apple – although calling it ‘courageous’ during the launch event was a bit much, and has led to some warranted memes – and one that could shake up the headphone industry.
The loss of this port will impact users in varying degrees: for some people it’ll be no more than a shrug before they get on with their day, because they only use the EarPods in the iPhone box – and those are still there, just with a Lightning connector.
For others, though, it’ll be an inconvenience, as they’ll need to attach the short white dongle to the 3.5mm jack on the end of their headphones in order to plug them into the Lightning port.
In a survey conducted over three commutes, we noticed that out of 60 people wearing headphones, 34 were using the bundled EarPods that Apple offers – given than many of those people might not have been using an iPhone, that’s a higher number than expected.
Losing the headphone jack also severely limits those wanting to buy a new pair of headphones for use with their iPhone, given how much we all listen to tunes or watch films on our phones these days.
Sure, you can buy regular 3.5mm headphones, but then you’ll have to connect the adaptor. If you want to get something directly compatible you’ll either need to go Bluetooth or Lightning-ready – and there are fewer decent models available to buy in that latter category.
You could, of course, try the new Apple AirPods, which have been developed on a new wireless standard. A quick Public Service Announcement: you DO NOT need to buy these to get audio on the iPhone 7.
Three separate people have told us that that’s what they thought was the case when Apple launched them – that’s something the brand needs to clarify soon.
There’s also another reason not to buy them: they’re incredibly expensive at $159 / £159 / AU$229, and all they really do is cut the wire from the EarPods you get in the box. The sound quality doesn’t feel like it’s much better, and while the ability to tap one pod to activate Siri, or remove a Pod and have the sound instantly stop, is cool, it’s not really worth the cash.
Plus, there’s also the fact that they don’t look the most elegant in the ears – and if you struggle with the fit of the EarPods, these things are going to fall out all the time.
They do have a lot of charge, come with a cool magnetic carry case (which also adds 24 hours of charge, to the point where we’ve not even come close to running ours down during the review) and free you from the wires… but these feel more like reference designs for future wireless Apple devices than the must-have iPhone accessory.
The overall design of the iPhone 7 is actually rather impressive when you consider some of the changes that have taken place. The waterproofing always add thickness, as the seals will need some space within the device.
The new dual speakers, which fire out of the earpiece and the bottom of the phone, also needed somewhere to go, which starts to explain why the iPhone 7 is 7.1mm thick… the same as the iPhone 6S, and 0.2mm more than the iPhone 6.
Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that these features aren’t the first of their kind to market, but there’s something unexciting about the iPhone 7 being waterproof. It’s been done already by Sony on the Xperia Z and Samsung on the Galaxy S7, and those phones combined impressive design with the reassurance that you could sling them in a lake and still have a working phone.
It’s a really nice feature to have, and to iPhone users it’ll be a complete novelty – although they’ll be aware that many Android-toting pals will have had the feature for a while. But it’s a necessary move from Apple, and it’s good to see.
The home button, that iconic design from Apple that’s endured throughout the years, has changed dramatically too: it’s no longer a clickable, physical entity, but a sunken point on the front of the phone that responds to the force of your touch.
Initially, it seemed terrible, something that would be impossible to get used to; the loss of the dependable, pressable button was awful, and we kept getting no response when trying to get back to the home screen from within an app.
But then, suddenly, it clicked (well, not physically), and it felt like a completely natural motion. After a while we forgot what was happening, and when you remember that nothing is moving beneath your finger it’s quite an odd sensation.
Despite the same / slightly higher prices (UK readers can thank Brexit for that one), Apple has doubled the storage sizes on offer with the new iPhone, with 32GB, 128GB and 256GB options. While it’s nice to be able to move files on and off your phone, these new capacities kind of put the debate over why the iPhone doesn’t have a microSD slot to bed – it’s not needed any more.
The overall design of the iPhone isn’t anything new really – unless you’re looking at the jet black version. This darker version has the antenna bands colored in, a black iPhone logo and a weird shine to the plastic.
It’s kind of like an iPhone 5C was given the Pretty Woman treatment, if that makes any sense.
This model does scratch very easily though, so you’ll need to sling it in a case the second you get your hands on it… which rather defeats the object of owning it in the first place.
The iPhone’s design hasn’t changed a great deal from the 6S, with the only significant alterations other than the loss of the headphone socket being the larger and more protruding camera lens, and the two speaker grilles at the bottom of the phone.
These dual grilles are deceptive though – only one actually fires out sound, while the other is entirely aesthetic, perhaps trying to distract us from the lack of the headphone jack.
As it’s so similar to the iPhone 6S, it’s familiar for most iPhone users. The screen is a little hard to reach with one thumb, but not overly so – and the strong build quality in the volume and silencer switch is still as evident as ever.
Apple knows how to put together a smartphone, and it’s done so effortlessly again here.
- 25% brightness boost and more colors are hard to spot
- Sharpness is still far lower than competitors
- Contrast ratio for movie watching could be better
The main change to the screen on the iPhone 7 is the brightness and color, as it’s otherwise identical. The same 4.7-inch 1334 x 750 resolution display is on offer here, meaning that if you hold it side by side with something like the Galaxy S7 Edge, you’ll notice the lack of sharpness.
However, in day to day use you won’t notice much wrong with the screen at all, as even at the HD resolution on offer you’ve still got a large amount of pixels, so internet browsing and movie watching is still clean, clear and crisp enough.
There’s also 3D Touch in the mix again – it’s an identical system to that on the iPhone 6S, where the handset can detect the amount of pressure your finger is exerting on the screen. We were promised loads of apps that make use of this, but while most icons will do something when force is exerted, it’s not often very useful.
How you view this screen depends on what phone you’re coming from on – if it’s the iPhone 6 or lower, then you’ll love the display, as it’s brighter, more colorful and just as crisp as before. If, however, you’re moving from something like the LG G4, then you might struggle with the lower res, as side by side there is a drop.
This is where Apple sets out its stall when it comes to its screens: it’s not about the sharpness, or the number of nits of brightness – it’s how the display looks when it’s in your hands that matters.
And to that end, the iPhone 7 is a step forward. The screen is more colorful – not in an overpowering technicolor way, but just in terms of richness, with the depth of color matching that of the cinema screen.
The brightness is also improved in the right way – again, it’s not overpowering, but more of an upgrade in the right way, giving you an easier look at the screen when it’s at full brightness.
The white balance of the display is also improved to a warmer tone – there were rumors that Apple was going to be using the same True Tone display as seen in the iPad 9.7, and it feels like elements of that are true.
One thing Apple badly needs to sort out, though, is its auto brightness feature. The current setup is to blind you if you look at the phone in the dark, where other phones are more adept at dropping right down to the lowest possible brightness to save you from burning out your retinas.
Apple will maintain that it’s done enough with the screen to make it a great viewing experience without packing in too many pixels and forcing the battery to work hard unnecessarily. To a degree that’s right, but in truth if this is the best that can be done on battery life then it’s something of a problem, as the iPhone 7 isn’t stellar in that department.
That’s the feeling that comes across when watching movies on the new iPhone: it’s fine, but nothing special. The contrast ratios don’t feel as clear and crisp as on other phones, and the size is a little small compared to others.
Perhaps that’s an unfair criticism. The size of the screen is precisely what attracts some people, and as such it’s presumably acceptable for media.
However, the size of the phone should be able to accommodate a larger display, pushing closer to the edge of the handset rather than the amount of bezel used. Of course, it’s terribly naive to just say things like ‘make the screen bigger!’ ‘Put in more battery!’ ‘Shove in more pixels!’ as everything is a trade-off.
But, as other brands seem to have managed it, it seems that thinner bezels are at least possible.
Talking of watching movies, the dual speakers that Apple has popped into the new iPhone are a real upgrade. The location at the top and bottom is a little weird, given that they fire in different directions, but the sound quality is much better than before.
They don’t have the impressive sound quality of the speakers on the iPad Pro, but that has extra chambers and four speakers, so that’s understandable.
The audio is a little on the tinny side, but for just showing off a YouTube video or watching a movie in a quiet room they’re fine. It’s not a perfect setup for listening to music – there needs to be more bass for that – but Apple has pushed things forward well here.
Specs, iOS 10 and performance
- New A10 Fusion processor offers huge, industry-leading performance
- Music playback still excellent in all forms
- iOS 10 is a bit more complex, but usable
The iPhone 7 comes with the new A10 Fusion chip, once AGAIN the biggest, whizziest and shiniest chip Apple has ever put in a phone.
This time though it’s a quad-core affair, with two cores used for the high-powered stuff and two for the tasks that don’t need full power. The intended result is for the phone to last longer when you’re just checking your email – but we didn’t see much evidence of that.
However, the speed of the iPhone isn’t a problem – that’s for sure. There’s very little you can throw at this phone that it can’t handle, be it quick photo adjustment in Adobe Photoshop, or more heavy video processing on the go.
The stats bear this out as well. We usually run Geekbench on every phone we review, but the developers have just upgraded this to Geekbench 4, so we’re not sure if the numbers correlate.
To be sure, we also ran the new software on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and the iPhone 6S. The results were rather startling: despite having fewer cores and reportedly less RAM, the iPhone 7 was 4% faster than the S7 Edge.
More predictably, the iPhone 6S is about 20% slower than the new model – something you can see in our speed test, where both phones just run through a selection of apps.
How does this translate to real-world performance? Well, the aforementioned speed of opening and closing apps is impressive, but that’s not the whole story. Where the iPhone 7 really comes to the fore is when you’re just ripping through different apps, opening up music before browsing the web and then playing a game.
It’s quite a feat to produce something that plays back music or podcasts so well, and with such decent sound quality, as well as rapidly browsing the web or checking your emails.
We’re absolutely way past the need for such power, but at the same time, it feels nice to know the iPhone 7 is an upgrade.
Talking of musical performance, the audio quality on the iPhone 7 is superb as ever. It’s a hard time to choose between Apple Music and Spotify, for instance, but both offer clean visuals and, if you’re willing to dig, Apple’s platform is quickly becoming a decent alternative to its rival music streaming firm.
The audio performance is good on both, and more good news is that you’ve not lost any functionality with the loss of the headphone jack: plug in a pair of headphones with the adaptor and you’ll still be able to get all the use out of the inbuilt controls, for instance.
It’s hard to say whether the Lightning port connection for headphones improves things, but without an adaptor you can’t listen to music and charge the phone at the same time… which is a real pain.
Gaming too is superbly strong on this phone, once again ably assisted by the improved performance from the A10 chipset.
What does that mean in real terms? In theory, much more impressive games visually. In practice, however, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. Many of the titles that can use this extra power are yet to come out, and we’ve lost count of the times Apple has told us we now wield console-quality graphics in our hands.
That said, there is one new feature that really improves the gaming experience: Taptic feedback from within the phone.
The new vibrating engine delivers smaller, more targeted buzzing of the phone, so when you’re firing a machine gun, or crashing a car into the side of a wall, it feels more realistic and engaging. It sounds like a small thing, but if this is the kind of feature that’s been made possible by the omission of the headphone jack then we’re not complaining.
The new iPhone is always the poster child for the new version of any operating system, and the iPhone 7 is no exception.
Apple’s new iOS 10 is one of the best the company has ever put together – but it’s something of an acquired taste.
There’s a lot more going on here than before, with the ‘left of home screen’ panel containing all manner of updates and information – it’s like the News panel and the notification pane from the top of the phone have been merged into one, with more information and widget choices readily available.
The lock screen has also been given an overhaul, with the same pieces of information available with a swipe across. The iPhone 7 also has ‘raise to wake’ enabled, so whenever you pick up the phone it’ll instantly wake itself.
Apple says this was done to stop people missing the lock screen altogether, such is the speed of Touch ID, and that’s mostly been solved here.
But what it has done, especially when combined with a non-clickable home button, is create something of an unlocking vortex when you’re trying to interact with the lock screen.
Pick up the phone, play with some widgets and decide you want into the phone – suddenly, you’ll place your finger down to open things up through Touch ID, and you’re not in. The phone is now telling you to press the Home Button again… for no good reason.
That’s probably the most complex element of the OS though, and anyone coming from an Android phone will enjoy the range of widgets and new twists on board. However, those upgrading their iPhone might not find quite so much joy.
- Battery life improved, but not by enough
- Charges fairly quickly from dead, but topping up can be harder
- Improved performance when watching video
Now, onto a crucial part of the iPhone 7: the battery life. This is a tricky one, as has Apple said it’s increased the battery life and efficiency through the improvements to the iPhone and the A10 Fusion chip.
The latter is a key part, as it’s designed to make the new iPhone separate into two task machines: on the one hand, two cores can run the harder stuff, such as video editing, multiple background processes, photo manipulation etc.
The other two cores are much more lightweight, but better at making sure you can still get your emails and browse the lighter apps – presumably Kindle reading would come under this category.
What’s not clear is which set of cores do what – it would be great to know how to activate the lower-power cores only, because during our tests we didn’t see any evidence of great battery life at all.
There are always mitigating circumstances, but every day by around five o’clock things were getting dicey in terms of battery. Looking at the stats, the reasons were many and varied: one day it was Spotify running in the background that was taking its toll, the next the use of the phone as a portable hotspot, and the next Facebook was pulling the power.
There was also a lot of ‘Home & Lock Screen’ taking up the power, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given how short an amount of time we spent there. Is that just the screen being fired up? Either way, it takes a decent chunk of the battery.
In short, it’s hard to see where Apple has improved the battery life on the iPhone 7, because despite a 10% increase in battery life over the previous model, it was hard to see where that improvement was coming from.
The charging speed of the iPhone 7 is decent though – Apple’s not put a number on it, nor made this the big feature on stage, but if you plug your iPhone into a faster 2.1A iPad charging block it’ll juice up the handset faster.
That’s not something a lot of people will do, or even be aware they can do, but in 30 minutes they’ll get around a 25% boost in battery power, with that absorption rate maintained until later in the charge cycle.
Later on, when the battery is getting close to topped up, the charging definitely slows down, although it does trickle over the line eventually.
We’ve seen other people claim excellent battery life for the iPhone 7, but for the life of us we can’t work out how that’s happening. Even trying different power-use levels on the phone rarely led to better battery life.
We ran our usual battery test (HD video at full brightness for 90 minutes) and that’s where you can see how the iPhone 7 has improved: where the previous iPhone 6S managed to drop 30%, the new handset only lost 23% for the same test. It’s not as good as some other phones, but for the iPhone lover (who doesn’t want a phablet) this is the phone to go for.
Does the iPhone 7 have decent battery life? Well, we’ve needed to charge it sooner than most phones of its ilk, and while we get the trade-offs needed to create this phone (the thinner design, for example) it still feels odd that Apple’s not gone all-out on battery life yet.
- New color capture does work well
- Low light performance now excellent
- 12MP resolution is still perfectly fine for smartphone snaps
Before we get onto the actual camera performance, let’s look at the specs that Apple is promising with the new camera: a 12MP lens, an improved f/1.8 aperture sensor for better lower light photos, an enhanced ability to gather color and light into the lens, and a dedicated image processing chip to speed things along when taking multiple snaps.
Oh, and the front-facing camera has been upgraded too, to a 7MP option when you’re taking pictures of yourself – and that’s meant to be better in lower light too, to make sure you get the right pictures when you’re out for dinner at a candlelit restaurant or getting down in da club.
It’s a real shame that Apple didn’t decide to include the dual-camera array that it’s added to the iPhone 7 Plus here too – it would have been a killer feature, and just the kind of upgrade many are looking for to help convince themselves the new iPhone is the one to go for.
But, it’s not here so… how does the iPhone 7’s camera bear up in real-world usage? About as well as you’d expect, with Apple making a few small steps forward in a number of areas, rather than making a colossal stride forward in picture quality.
One thing that Apple has always done is favor the more natural image when taking a picture, meaning you won’t get a heavily saturated picture. Instead, colors will be more muted but true-to-life – if that’s the kind of thing you want, then this phone will service your needs well.
That does mean that when taking lower-light shots you’ll see a bit more noise, as smoothing the image doesn’t seem to happen as readily on the iPhone 7 as other models. In terms of darker shots that’s probably where the iPhone 7 has improved the most – check out the pictures of the rabbit in the dark on the next page to see how much things have come on since the iPhone 6S.
We took the two phones out for a little test (the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 6S) and, lo and behold, every photo was a little bit better.
The colors were nice, the brightness better, the sharpness the same but also looking better thanks to the new color-capture ability.
This is in addition to the usual range of impressive tweaks on an iPhone: the ability to switch on HDR mode, Live Photos, the flash and a few other smaller settings.
However, the improvements seem pretty minimal overall (the low light excepted), meaning that if you’re after an iPhone with a decent camera you can probably just buy the iPhone 6S and get the same amount of joy from it, and save some cash into the bargain.
Apple should be applauded for its stance on photography – the idea of keeping it pure and simple and not confusing things with pro modes rammed down your throat the moment you turn on the camera.
It would be nice if the inbuilt camera app had some more settings you could tweak, but there are multiple apps out there to do such things for you – so if you do buy the iPhone and want to improve the camera experience, it’s totally possible.
If you’re reading this review, chances are you’re wondering whether the iPhone 7 is worth buying. Well, the new iPhone isn’t the phone that many will have been waiting for, as it comes with a similar look and feel to previous models.
That’s a critical point, as it will sit shoulder to shoulder with the iPhone 6S on shop shelves, and while there are upgrades, they’re more slight changes and tweaks than sweeping updates to bring a whole new iPhone experience.
If you’re thinking about buying a new iPhone (and aren’t interested in the larger frame of the 7 Plus), the question you should be asking yourself is: do I go for the 7 or the 6S?
Let’s face it, Apple knows how to make great phones, and the foundations of the iPhone are excellent – that’s why so many millions are instantly sold each year – so it comes down to whether you want to buy the new iPhone, or can get most of the same benefits by paying a bit less.
The biggest updates to hook onto are the fact the iPhone 7 is water-resistant, and has more powerful dual speakers for showing off videos to friends. These are good upgrades, but don’t seem to be enough to entice people we’ve spoken to.
What’s in the box? Find out in our iPhone 7 unboxing video
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mX_alFmT_k
The brighter and more colorful screen, the more powerful innards, the slightly larger battery and the upgraded camera feel more like the kind of changes we get on the S variants of the iPhone, not a new-numbered model.
It’s hugely disappointing that only the iPhone 7 Plus got the dual-camera array, as being able to use optical zoom, create DSLR-esque effects and get improved snaps all round would have been a real reason to entice people to move to the latest iPhone.
The upgrades to the internal memory are thoroughly welcome though, with the doubling of the capacity for the same price (or a touch more in the UK as exchange rates fluctuate), a move we’ve been begging Apple to make for a long time.
The price is still high for what you’re getting – but then again, we’ve said that time and again about a new iPhone, and people keep buying them… so perhaps at some point that argument ceases to be relevant.
The loss of the headphone jack does make sense – possibly. But even if this does turn out to be a masterstroke, it’ll be a couple of years before it stops being an inconvenience… which is about the shelf life of the iPhone 7.
Who’s it for?
There are some clear indications as to the type of person who would enjoy the iPhone (beyond someone who’s just going to buy the latest model because it’s there).
The camera is probably the biggest hardware upgrade in terms of its low-light capability, and combined with the water-resistant nature of the iPhone 7 it’s good for someone who just wants to capture the precious moments day by day – so if you’ve got kids doing adorable things constantly, want to document time with friends or are just obsessed with taking snaps of pets, you’ll get something from this phone.
It’ll also be good for those people who like to watch films without headphones, as the dual speakers really help sell the handset in that respect (although you’ll need to be careful not to cover the speakers).
You’ll also need to either be: a) someone who only uses bundled iPhone headphones, b) someone with a single pair of headphones they use daily, so you can put the adaptor on and forget about them or c) someone willing to invest more money in Lightning or Bluetooth options instead.
Should you buy it?
Apple has hit its marks with the iPhone 7, delivering upgrades in the right areas and to a decent level at times – it knows the level it needs to hit to make the iPhone seem new, and it’s done just enough to achieve that.
The water resistance is mostly there to improve your confidence in the robustness of the phone, and you’ll need to be clear as to how you’re going to listen to music on the new phone.
If you have three pairs of 3.5mm jack-connected headphones in constant rotation, it’ll be mere days before you get incredibly frustrated that you can’t use your phone.
The real question you should ask yourself here is: should I just go for the iPhone 6S? That phone has the same sharpness of display, a similar camera, the same dimensions and the same iOS capabilities – plus a clickable home button and a headphone jack, familiarities some will love.
The iPhone 7 isn’t a huge upgrade; it’s a few small – but useful – steps forward.
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