Before the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were even released, rumors swirled that the phones would be underwhelming, and perhaps even boring. And then on stage in California two weeks ago, Apple unveiled something very similar to what many people already carried in their pockets: The iPhone 7, from the outside, looks exceedingly similar to the two iPhone models that preceded it.
The iPhone 7 is a great refinement on an already proven design, even if it wasn’t the massive overhaul that consumers have come to expect from Apple phones every two years. The 7 has a nicer camera, a faster processor, a slightly better battery and more storage space—all things that a customer might expect when Apple releases an “S” version of one of its models.
Here’s what we found after spending time with Apple’s newest flagship phone, the iPhone 7 Plus:
At first blush, the iPhone 7 Plus, with its two cameras, seems to be where Apple spent the majority of its time upgrading this phone over the last one. The pictures shot from the 12-megapixel cameras are sharper, the colors deeper, and videos are far more stable than on old iPhones. The second camera also allows the phone to zoom optically at 2x—meaning you can zoom in twice the distance you can see on the screen with the same resolution. They say the best camera is the one you have on you, and the iPhone 7 Plus will do very, very well for you in a pinch.
If you’ve ever dropped your phone down the toilet, spilled a drink on it, or gotten in some sort of waterborne trouble, you’re in luck: The new iPhone is immune to spills and dips in water. We tested it out when we first got the phones, and although the speakers seemed to have some trouble with the wetness, everything was fine in the end. However, you shouldn’t take this phone swimming—it’s only rated to withstand a little bit of water for short periods of time (you could shower with it, if you felt so inclined), and Apple’s warranty won’t cover any water damage to the phone.
The new finishes
Apple has promoted the iPhone 7 as its first phone with “stereo” speakers, and this is technically true. When taking calls on speaker mode, or listening to music without headphones, the iPhone can blare sound out of the two speakers on the bottom of the phone, but also the earpiece of the phone. It’s not going to replace your stereo, but the iPhone 7 sounds pretty good in a pinch. But be warned: It seems that the earpiece is now also much louder than it has been on previous models. With that in mind, turn down the phone’s volume before making your first phone call, lest you blow out your ear drum.
The battery life on the 6S Plus was never a massive concern, but so far with the iPhone 7, you can easily go an entire day using your phone quite heavily and still have lots of battery life to spare. Even processor-intensive games don’t seem to be too much a drain on the iPhone.
What’s not so good
It looks just like an iPhone 6
Put it in a case, or just hold it in your hand, and it’s very difficult to tell that you’re in possession of a brand-new $800 smartphone, rather than a two-year-old phone that you could grab for about $200 online.
The new finishes
While most of them look quite nice, the new jet black finish seems to scratch so easily that if you look at it wrong it’ll lose its sheen. Even Apple recommends putting this model in a case.
The camera is still no replacement for a professional camera, no matter what Apple’s advertising suggests. And one of the double-cameras’ biggest features, the ability to create images with depth of field, such as where you can create portrait shots of people in pin-sharp focus while the background is blurred, wasn’t even available at launch. A beta release version of this software was released for developers Sept. 21, but it’s unclear when it’ll be available to the general public. On top of that, the new camera feels buggy.
The home button
The new home button takes some getting used to, especially considering it’s not actually a button. It’s essentially just a capacitive circle at the bottom of the phone that vibrates subtly when you press it. The vibration from the “Taptic” engine—the same type of vibration system that creates the buzzes and taps on an Apple Watch—feels like it comes from the middle of the back of the phone, rather than below the button, like it should. It’s just odd.
No headphone jack
Whatever you make of Apple’s “courageous” decision not to include a headphone jack in the iPhone 7, it’s a bit annoying in practice right now. You’re required to use the earbuds Apple provides, which plug into the Lightning port or use the awkward one-inch dongle to connect a regular pair of headphones to the Lightning port, which just doesn’t fit particular well in a pocket.
Doesn’t feel faster
The iPhone 7 has a new Apple A10 processor inside, ostensibly a better chip than the one in the iPhone 6S, but we haven’t found the phone to be particularly speedier than the 6S. That said, as bigger, more complex games and apps start hitting the App Store, that may well change.
Verdict on Apple iPhone 7
If you’re running around with anything older than an iPhone 6, you’ll notice a massive difference with the iPhone 7, and the upgrade would definitely be worth it. It’s a great phone, but so is pretty much every iPhone that Apple has ever released. It’s definitely not a must-have phone if you have a newer iPhone, but it also won’t disappoint you. That is, unless you have nice headphones that you like to listen to music with.
If this phone had been released just a few weeks earlier, we would’ve said that it was the second-best smartphone available on the market, behind the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. But considering those have spent the last month or so spontaneously combusting around the world, it’s hard to recommend it over the iPhone 7.