If the last three iPhones lay face up on a table in front of you, you’d find it difficult to tell the new Apple iPhone 7 apart from the iPhone 6S or the iPhone 6.
On the outside, this year’s model isn’t very different from the two phones that have come before it. Everything is familiar; it’s got the same rounded corners, aluminum unibody construction, and circular home button.
Sure Apple’s given the iPhone 7 a fresh coat of paint – with matte and shiny black options. It’s also tried to hide the unsightly antenna bands that once used to streak across the phone’s back side. But snap on a case, and this new iPhone doesn’t look new at all.
However, that isn’t the story of the iPhone 7. One year away from what’s expected to bring the biggest iPhone update since the original iPhone, Apple is making bold, almost painful strides towards what it envisions the iPhone to be.
One change is felt, not seen.
While the iconic home button looks the same, it’s actually not a button anymore.
Like the trackpad on newer Mac laptops, it’s just a touch surface with some high-tech stuff under the hood. It still feels like a button, but you’re not really pushing down on one.
A taptic engine underneath responds to your touch and vibrates to mimic the feel of a button press. It’s not quite the same feeling, and it might take some getting used to. In fact it’ll feel weird for a while, but Apple says this makes the home button more responsive, customizable, and durable.
While this change may feel jarring at first, it grows on you. So much so that after a week of use, I actually prefer it now. When you get the chance, give it a try, and keep an open mind.
The same taptic engine also delivers new kinds of haptic feedback: subtle vibrations in response to certain actions that make it feel like you’re interacting with an object that’s more than a cold piece of hardware. For example, when you pull down on the notification shade, the phone vibrates as the shade bumps against the bottom of the screen.
Another change is about what’s taken away, not added: The iPhone 7 does not have a headphone jack.
Apple believes that being tied down by cables goes against the very essence of a mobile device and feels it’s calling is to take up the difficult and painful task of moving the technology forward.
The new iPhones still include wired headphones that plug into to the same port you use for charging, plus an adapter that will allow you to use your old pair or any other pair of headphones for that matter. Apple will also soon sell new wireless headphones called AirPods which brings the experience closer to what they envision.
It is expected to be a painful transition. The wireless headphone industry has yet to take off and there are only a few other third-party headphones that plug into Apple’s proprietary Lightning port. But just as they removed the optical drive and ethernet ports from their notebook computers before the industry was ready, Apple believes it will all make sense to users soon.
As can be expected from each yearly update, the iPhone 7 refresh brings incremental improvements including a better battery that last 2 hours longer, a brighter display, stereo speakers, including a front-facing one, and a faster processor.
This year too, Apple plays catch up to its competitors bringing water resistance to the iPhone 7 like some Samsung and Sony phones have had for many years now.
We still don’t recommend taking the phone swimming, and warranty doesn’t cover water damage, but the iPhone 7 should survive getting soaked in the rain, an accidental spill, or a good rinse.
Also long overdue is a bump in storage capacity. Last year’s 16GB base model was much less than everyone else was offering, even at lower price points. This year, the iPhone 7 starts at 32GB of built-in storage and goes all the way up to 256GB.
Where it seems Apple’s spent the most time on is in improving the iPhone’s camera.
Both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus have the same 12-megapixel cameras but with faster lenses that perform better in low light and give photos that creamy depth effect when shooting subjects up close.
The iPhone 7 now gets optical image stabilization (once only reserved for the Plus model) to compensate for shaky shots.
While the iPhone 7 Plus gets two cameras: a wide-angle lens like on the iPhone 7 and a telephoto lens for zooming in closer on subjects.
The second lens gives the iPhone 7 Plus 2x optical zoom, and makes for a pretty good portrait lens also. You tap on an on-screen button to go zoom in, perfect for getting closer to your subjects when you’re physically as close as you can get.
Soon, Apple will release a camera update that will blur out backgrounds to give photos more depth. Portrait Mode, as they’re calling it, is now available as a preview for beta users, and should be available before the end of the year.
When it comes to camera performance, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are not going to replace your DSLR, nor are they the best we’ve seen on a smartphone. But they are great cameras, and if the iPhone camera is the only camera you’ll ever own, you won’t feel short-changed.
Sure the iPhone 7 didn’t take that big of a leap in terms of hardware and features. But where it did make changes, it made bold moves.
It isn’t as exciting as say the Note 7 from Samsung but what Apple does so well is that it ensures that everything just works, and works great. And the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are no exceptions. They’re backed up by good hardware, great software, and a rich ecosystem of apps and services. That all make up an experience that till now is unmatched.
So is the iPhone 7 your GadgetMatch?
If you’re looking for a phone that looks sexy, or has revolutionary new features – this is not it.
If you’re an Android user looking for a reason to switch – this may not be the time.
If you own any of the two previous iPhones – waterproofing, stereo speakers and the improved cameras are compelling enough reasons to upgrade BUT you may want to wait.
2017 is the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, and we hear magical things are being whipped up.
But if money isn’t an issue, and you want the best iPhone available today, or if you’re really due for an upgrade, go for it. The iPhone 7 won’t disappoint.