Apple iPhone 7 – controversy meets courage
9/10
The Good

Metal constructed phone with water-resistance protection
Fusion A10 delivers outstanding performance
Great for gaming
Incredibly svelte body
Solid construction makes it feel super durable
Stronger volume output with stereo speakers
Upgraded storage capacities

The Bad

No headphone jack
3D Touch home button feels odd at first
Microphones produce muffled voices

Bottom Line

If you can't live without the headphone jack, it's best to stick with the iPhone 6s for now. Change is inevitable, which is partly why this one is the most controversial iPhone ever, but it does exactly what it needs to do - it's an upgraded model that blends all the elements in making it an all-around great phone. We'll mourn the headphone jack for now, but the promise of better is already here.

Being revolutionary has always been in the DNA of Apple, evident in the devices they’ve gone on to produce over the course of nearly the last two decades. That’s a long time, especially when you’re playing in the crowded consumer electronics space. Everyone wants to do the next big thing. Take Samsung for instance, who has risen amongst the ranks to become one of the biggest forces in the smartphone world with its line of Galaxy smartphones, but even with all their acclaims and achievements, Apple is still regarded by many folks as the premier player in the mobile market.

Even in this never-ending competitive market, the Cupertino based company has continually remained unflinching in the face of competition. Apple’s iPhones remain dominant, not only for the prestige and reputation that accompanies them, but also for their ability “to just work.” This year’s introduction marks 9 years since the original model revolutionized the modern day smartphone, so there’s always that level of anticipation whenever Apple announces its latest model(s). With that, we say hello to the iPhone 7, a “courageous” ambition for a company that’s known to start trends.

The culture surrounding the iPhone is unlike anything else in the space, so when Apple does something bold that some might be apprehensive about, such as removing a port that’s been a standard for such a long time, it’s sure to cause a huge ruckus. To validate their decision, Apple says it comes down to one word; courage. “The courage to move on, do something new, that betters all of us.” While that was all tough to absorb initially, we’ve been spending a deal of time getting to know the latest iPhone. It’s of course the best iPhone they’ve produced to date, such as the case with any successor, but this year’s model will be scrutinized deliberately more than previous ones – just because of its defiance.

Design

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Let’s begin with the most pressing matter, the iPhone 7’s lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack. Without it on board, it means that we’re presented with a slimmer and lighter package stuffed with even more precious hardware under the hood. In that regard, the iPhone 7 managed to do nicely, since every successive phones strives to be thinner and lighter than their predecessors. The thing about the lack of the headphone jack, though, is that it all comes down to convenience – the option to just use a pair of headphones or connecting it to a receiver.

By eliminating the jack, they’ve inadvertently opened up a new conundrum in the process. Those wishing to use their traditional wired headphones are now required to use the included Lightning to headphone jack adapter, which is nice of Apple to include without an additional purchase, but then there’s the matter of remembering to bring it along with you. Alternatively, you can just go the wireless route, but detractors will vouch for how the wired solution is still superior in terms of quality.

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Either way, it’s a heated topic with no definitive answer on whether it’s a good or bad decision. While other phones that forged the jack didn’t face nearly the same level of scrutiny, such as the Moto Z, it’s not surprising at all that we’re seeing more of a commotion here with the iPhone 7. Again, the tradeoffs for removing the jack here ensures a slimmer overall package – plus the addition of some other new hardware and design qualities that we’ll talk about now.

Superficially, it’s hard to deny that this is a radically different design, just because it bears many of the iconic characteristics of iPhones past. Most certainly, we can say they’re evolutionary designs from what we’ve seen most recently with the iPhone 6 and 6s. However, Apple deserves some credit for bringing water resistance to a unibody metal constructed phone – something that few are able to do. And that’s noteworthy to mention, given the kind of adversity that comes with engineering a phone with water resistance, especially one composed out of metal.

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With their new IP67 water resistance protection, it means that it’ll withstand minor splashes and whatnot, but Apple is careful to mention in the fine print that full submersion is not recommended. Technically, the IP67 certification means it can withstand submersion under water for a short period of time, however, it’s something that Apple refrains owners from doing. Furthermore, the fine print say that “splash, water, and dust resistance are not permanent conditions and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear.” So yeah, it’s nice that you won’t need to worry about the iPhone 7 getting damaged using it while it’s raining outside.

The 7000 Series aluminum looks and feels great, providing the adequate amount of integrity that you probably wouldn’t expect from something with a svelte body. While Apple introduces two new colors into the mix, black and jet black, we were a bit surprised by how the latter seems to be a fingerprint magnet for smudges. Of course, this is something you’d expect from something with a high-gloss finish, but the jet black variant feels more plastic than metal – so to that degree, it doesn’t necessarily exude the same level of premium as the other finishes.

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Despite that, we have few qualms relating to its build quality – it’s impeccable in every facet. There’s even more of that cohesiveness with its design, as the antenna lines for our review unit, the black color, are now so subtle that you can barely make them out around the sides. Even with all the advances made to the design of the new iPhones, we can’t help to wonder why Apple is still unable to make the cameras flush. They seem out of character, especially for a device that has been meticulously fashioned to be one of the most stylish phones around.

Apple designed the iPhone 7 with the intent of making it thinner, lighter, and easier to handle. All of those qualities have been targeted and achieved, and when you throw in the fact that they’ve also added an IP67 certification, it just solidifies its overall design. These new additions all make it an evolutionary design worthy of praise, but the most radical (and controversial) thing about the new design is the headphone jack being totally removed. Change is something that many folks have trouble adopting, so it’ll be interesting to see if it takes even more courage to bring it back.

Display

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At the end of the day, however, it still proves in being effective enough for reading text, watching videos, and surfing the web. The only area where its resolution will be seen as inadequate is virtual reality, but knowing that Apple has yet to enter that territory with its devices, it’s not something that negatively affects the phone.

Specs aside, the iPhone 7’s Retina Display continues the series’ solid reputation when it comes to all of the practical situations of using the display. There’s no concern with visibility on sunny days, since it manages to push out a maximum luminance of 620 nits. Even though that threshold isn’t a record breaker, it’s still nonetheless more than potent to see whatever is on screen – during a bright sunny day. Also, the viewing angles are superb as well, ensuring that minimal distortion is seen at wide angles.

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Moving onto color temperature, this year’s iPhone is a smidgen colder at 7366K, which gives the color white a subtle bluish tinge, but it isn’t as pervasive in tone as other displays I’ve tested. And while Apple touts the screen’s wider color gamut, wherein color pop in an expressive manner on screen, there are a few anomalies when it comes to its color accuracy in the sRGB color gamut spectrum. It’s not bad at all, given how the colors blue, teal, and green all seem to hit their reference points, but there are subtle deficiencies in accuracy with magenta, red, and yellow. Like we said, it’s not bad to the point that colors are totally unrealistic.

So, what can we say about this year’s Retina Display? For starters, it’s more of the same when you think about it. From the specs, size, and qualities, there’s not a whole lot that makes it more compelling over rival smartphones in the space. It’s a good display that gets the job done, and that’s about it!

Performance

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Apple has never been the company to be boastful about its phones’ specs. That has never been the case, and nor does that change here with the iPhone 7, which unsurprisingly enough, is the most powerful iPhone to date. Whereas its rivals feature quad-core, octa-core, and even deca-core processors, at the heart of it all here with the iPhone 7, is the new quad-core Apple A10 Fusion chipset, which leverages a new quad-core architecture – up from the dual-cores of the previous generation models. Combine that with 2GB of RAM, it might seem quaint still by comparison to some high-end Android smartphones, but don’t let that fool you one bit!

The A10 Fusion chipset breaks down to four cores, consisting of two high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores. Therefore, depending on what you’re doing, the appropriate cores will work to provide the most suitable performance – while also providing optimized battery consumption in the process. With the embedded M10 motion coprocessor, the iPhone 7 is proclaimed to be 2x faster than the iPhone 6, but it doesn’t take us long to realize its snappiness for ourselves.

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Consistency has always been one of the iPhone’s strengths, so that continues to be present here with the iPhone 7. Moving around the interface, it’s hard to deny the kind of fluid movements that the iPhone 7 exhibits – whether that’s the kinetic movement of the Safari browser, or scrolling through the photo gallery. Everything is simply accompanied with tight responses, with barely any hiccups with its overall performance.

In gaming, too, the iPhone 7 commands a smooth frame rate with most of today’s popular titles, ensuring that the action is never compromised. From what we can attest in our experience gaming with the iPhone 7, frame rates hover around the 60 FPS mark – with it rarely deviating from that. And the benchmark scores indicate the kind of powerhouse that is the iPhone 7.

Hardware

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One area that Apple has been reluctant to deviate from the norm is storage. For the longest time, the base storage for the iPhone has been a measly 16GB, but they’ve finally increased it to 32GB. Considering that they were able to save on some of the iPhone’s precious real estate by eliminating the headphone jack, you’d think that they could’ve at least brought on expandable storage. Well, that’s not the case here, nor do we believe it’ll ever happen either. That introduction would mean relinquishing Apple’s control of having a completely locked system. As condolence, however, the other two capacities rounding out the mix are 128GB and 256GB – generous indeed, but they diminish the base model’s value.

One of the iconic characteristics about the iPhones over the years that made it so distinguishable has been the home button, which then incorporated a Touch ID fingerprint sensor with the introduction of the iPhone 5s. A quick touch and press of the home button on the iPhone 7, long time users will notice it’s no longer the same. Instead of being presented with that tactile feedback, the home button is no longer mechanical with its operations. Instead, it leverages the same haptic feedback from Apple’s 3D Touch technology to deliver that home button push. It feels alien at first, but we suppose it’s a matter of adjustment.

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Speaking of 3D Touch, the Retina Display continues to leverage the same technology, giving users an alternative form of interaction with the phone. Some people use it a lot, others don’t. While it does eliminate a few processes, essentially streamlining them, we wouldn’t go far to say that it’s something that greatly improves the experience as well. Due to its ability to distinguish varying degrees of pressure, it kind of has that note-taking like ability strictly using our fingers. Yes, firmer presses producer thicker strokes, but we don’t feel that it feels as practical as using the Galaxy Note’s S Pen.

Another new feature is the introduction of stereo speakers, a first for the iPhone line. Traditionally, the iPhone only featured one that was position along the bottom edge of the phone, but now it seems as though the earpiece is leveraged produce to stereo sound. When it comes to watching videos, it absolutely offers a far more presentable approach for the experience. And of course, its output resonates strongly over last year’s model, producing a substantial amount of power – albeit, sharpness is more prevalent at the loudest setting. Besides that, we have no complaints about the performance or experience.

Cameras

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Every phone wants to capture beautiful photos that spur the imagination, it’s just such a focus for broad spectrum of consumers out there that want to capture the moment – without missing a beat. Apple’s smartphones have always been in constant contention in this particular area, just because of the straightforwardness and ease of doing the task at hand. This year’s iPhone 7 receives the usual upgrade treatment, but when reading the specs, it doesn’t seem to be all that different. With the iPhone 7 Plus on the other hand, its configuration makes it the more compelling of the two.

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Okay, so the iPhone 7 is fashioned with an upgraded 12-megapixel rear camera. The new changes include its wider f/1.8 aperture lens, quad-LED True Tone flash, and optical image stabilization. Out of the bunch, the latter is arguably the most compelling because OIS was reserved to the 6s Plus – whereas the iPhone 6s didn’t have it. Video recording is available in a myriad of resolutions and frame rates, up to 4K recording, while slow motion is available at 240 FPS at 720p and 120 FPS at 1080p. Meanwhile, the front camera sees an upgraded 7-megapixel one. Generally speaking, though, the camera package here isn’t something we’d brag in being leaps or bounds better than its predecessor.

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The beauty of the iPhone is that it makes taking photos a snap, without much thought or process behind it. That’s partly attributed to how the camera interface is simplified to only offer the most basic of functions. And in that regard, the iPhone 7 is a champ when it comes to snapping photos quickly. At the same time, though, the lack of finer controls means that you’re going to be forced to download third party camera apps – in order to gain advanced functions, such as manual controls. Sure, you do have modes such as panoramic, burst, time lapse, live photos, and filters, but they’re the generic bunch we’d come to naturally expect nowadays.

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Due to its affinity for over-simplification, it’s just a pain to change the video recording resolution, or slow motion rate, just because the options are not directly there at our disposal in the interface. Rather, we need to trouve through the iPhone’s settings menu, scroll down to the camera section, and then proceed to change the settings. It’s a painfully labourous procedure, which is just one annoyance we have with the experience.

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We’ll quickly sum it up by saying that the iPhone 7 is an excellent shooter, an all-around performer that excels highly in all areas. That’s fantastic news, but if you’re coming up from an iPhone 6s, you probably won’t notice the slight improvements – unless you really look into the shots, where there are characteristics that indicate them. First and foremost, the iPhone 7 is a standout performer when the conditions are ideal. When lighting is abundant, photos captured by the 12-megapixel camera are accompanied with sharp details, proper exposure, and neutral toned colors. However, in brighter areas of a shot, it tends to overexpose them – hiding the details in the process.

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When there’s strong contrasting light sources, the HDR mode does nicely to tone down areas of under and over exposure, to neutralize the shot without appearing too artificially produced at the end. The end result is an image with proper exposure, as highlights and shadows are appropriately adjust to draw out the details. It’s really good, and we tend to like how the automatic HDR mode tends to know when to come on for the correct occasions. Panoramics have always been a strong point for the iPhone, since it’s done in such a straightforward manner – where the stitching process is always spot on.

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Taking selfies isn’t a problem either with the 7-megapixel front-facing camera, just because there’s a fair amount of details capture when the conditions are ideal, as well as illustrating a pleasant level of contrast. It seems, however, that its color reproduction seems to favor a warmer tone.

Under low light, the camera’s performance acts much like anything else out there. There’s obviously not as much detail here, often appearing more speckled and soft, but shots still manage to come out decently exposed – including when lighting is almost non-existent! The most impressive part about the outcome is that noise is kept to a minimum, but the drawback here is just the softer composition of the shot. As for color reproduction, it definitely casts a duller tone in comparison to shots taken under perfect lighting, but we still feel as though its shots are up there.

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The iPhone 7 clearly excels with still shot photography, but it also does superbly with video recording as well. Addition optical image stabilization to the camera in this year’s model makes a world of difference from last year’s performance, as recorded footage are significantly more stable. We see the difference right from the moment we started shooting video, both 4K and full-HD. In comparison to the OIS-less iPhone 6s, the iPhone 7’s footage makes it seem like we’re floating on air as we’re recording.

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Besides its ability to remain stable, videos captured by the iPhone 7 are rich in detail and clarity – without being too oversharpened. Low light performance is commendable, but there’s still some subtle presence of noise; making for a hissy appearance. Well, at least there isn’t too much artifacting elements when panning quickly. Indeed, the overall production is softer and accompanied with colors that are a smidgen washed out, but again it’s in the same caliber as other flagships currently around.

The iPhone really helped to usher the rise of slow motion video capture with smartphones, and here with the iPhone 7, is still continues to excel in similar fashion to last year’s model. You can achieve some smooth slow motion action at 1080p, but you can go farther at 720p because of its 240 FPS capture. Yes, the details aren’t as abundant with it, but hey, it’s arguably the best at producing slow motion footage.

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So what can we say about the camera here with the iPhone 7? It works exquisitely, something we sort of expect, given Apple’s history and reputation with its previous offerings. From taking photo quickly and easily, to its solid all-around performance, it has all the necessary bag of goodies to appease the majority. The only area that might be of concern is its inability to allow users to have finer control of how shots are composed. Much like the software experience, simplicity is placed higher on the totem poll than say, manual controls. The phone doesn’t make it easy for enthusiasts that want more out of the camera, so that means they’ll need to simply download third party apps to achieve their desires.

Software

Simplicity has been, and will always be, in Apple’s DNA because they’ve kept true to that ideology. From its design, extending all the way down to its software experience, simplicity is evident in all aspects of the iPhone 7. With its latest mobile platform, iOS 10, Apple has tweaked the operating system accordingly, but it’s still the same iOS experience at its core that we’ve been exposed to with the last few iterations.

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On the surface, the look and feel of the platform is a familiar one with the usual grid-like arrangement of the homescreen. Android users who have been accustomed to relying on widgets will be thrown back by Apple’s implementation, but the platform continues to favor simplicity above everything else. New users might probably feel that it comes off as disorganized, due to just seeing a vast canvas filled with nothing but icons, but there’s a degree of organization by combining icons to form folders. And while Apple tries to sell that the interface features widgets, they’re nowhere close to being in the same caliber as what Android offers – there’s just no comparison. Then again, the simplification of the homescreen has been a mainstay since the beginning.

It’s apparent that Apple has an affinity to rounded edges, evident in not only how the icons appear in the homescreen, but also in the way notification windows look. And when you figure in how the platform takes on a stacked approach, you get a sense of depth – like in how the homescreen has that out-of-focus look when the notifications panel is pulled down and revealed. Many new features accompany iOS 10 here, but the experience doesn’t differ from other iPhones running the same software.

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Those new features include enhancements to the iMessaging experience, like having the ability to send stickers, writing down handwritten notes, sending your heartbeat, and replacing words with emojis as you type your message. Siri, too, gets better because it’s now compatible to work with apps from the App Store – whereas before, Siri’s reach extended mainly to the iPhone’s native apps. The new Home app allows users to add HomeKit-enable accessories, making it the one-stop portal in automating everything in the home.

However, the raise to wake feature, where the screen turns on by itself due to nudging or picking up the phone, seems like a feature that’s not available to all iOS devices. It’s present here in the iPhone 7, making for quick glances at the time, date, and notifications, but it’s not available with older devices like the iPhone 5s. It’s a useful feature, but given that the entire screen turns on because of this, it becomes a bit more obtrusive when it’s dark. Conversely, the same feature found in many Android smartphones, like the LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7, is far more discrete because specific sections of the display are lit.

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Yes, the core features are still present here with this latest iteration of iOS. Where it pales in comparison to Android, however, is in the area of productivity and multi-tasking. While you can still move in-and-out of apps by double pressing the home button, there’s still no true side-by-side apps multi-tasking with the experience – so that might detract users who are keen about productivity.

Battery

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Whenever a phone is slimmed down over its predecessor, the natural thinking is that the battery capacity has been diminished as well. Here with the iPhone 7, though, there’s no worry because we can vouch that it’s not compromised in any sort of way. Unofficially, there’s 1960 mAh battery cell somehow stuffed into its svelte casing – up from its predecessor’s tally of 1715 mAh. While it’s safe to say that its battery life is improved, when it’s compared to other smartphones, it’s still better-than-average.

It doesn’t have the same longevity as recent devices we’ve tested, like the Moto Z Play, for its caliber of being a high-end smartphone, it certainly delivers the same kind of longevity we see in other flagships in the space right now. In fact, a fully charged battery easily carries us over a single day of normal usage, which still has enough gas in the tank to get us through the start of the next morning. Oppositely, recharging the phone using the included Lightning cable requires it being connected for 150 minutes before it’s back to full capacity. It’s not the fastest, nor is it a slow one either.

Call Quality

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When it comes to handling phone calls, the iPhone 7 suffices for the most part on both ends of the line – better on our end, though. That’s because the earpiece musters up a subtantial amount of volume to discern in even the noisiest of conditions, which is helped by its clarity and strong resonance. Switching over to the speakerphone, the combination of its two speakers working in tandem with one another allows for voices to maintain their integrity in almost every situation. Hearing our callers is never a problem, thanks to the overall volume output of the speakers. On the other end of the line, however, it’s a different story because our callers mention that we sound a bit distorted; almost muffled in a way.

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Pricing and final verdict

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Apple has never shifted from its strategy when it comes to pricing its new iPhones. The same configurations are still present here, as the iPhone 7 is priced at $649 (32GB), $749 (128GB), or $849 (256GB). Unless you’re the kind of person that doesn’t take a ton of photos, we’d recommend at least going with the 128GB model, seeing that 32GB is just too skimpy for a phone that has no storage expansion.

Apple paints a convincing picture with its new iPhone, not only because of the reputations of its predecessors, but for the fact that this year’s model is more aggressive than before. For starters, the new redesign is impressive on so many levels, boasting a skinnier profile than ever before – while also bringing water-resistance protection to phone constructed from metal. That alone is a big obstacle to overcome, but somehow they were able to do it. They’ve added stereo sound in the process too, while the new A10 Fusion chipset has proven to be a knockout champ in terms of processing performance.

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Nearly every facet of the iPhone 7 has been upgraded in some capacity, resulting in a phone that doesn’t disappoint. However, the area with the biggest concern and contention is with something they’ve taken away. The elimination of the headphone jack is without a doubt the thorn on its side, as it forces consumers to do one of two things – go wireless or use the adapter. Wireless would incur an additional cost, but the adapter means making sure you keep it safe when it’s not being used. It’s an inconvenience to say the least, but this controversial change is going to end up being an afterthought; much like how microUSB replaced miniUSB.

It sucks now, but when it’s just one small piece to a larger puzzle that is the iPhone 7. When it comes to what consumers want in a smartphone, the iPhone 7 hits the mark in many categories. Yes, it doesn’t have the army of features we get in the Samsung Galaxy S7 or Note 7, nor does it have the camera-centric controls of the LG G5, but the iPhone 7 does exactly what the iPhone 7 needs to do – and that’s being a simple, hassle-free smartphone that doesn’t overwhelm. Apple might be crucified for removing the headphone jack, making it a tough change to accept in the near term, but the tradeoffs for not having it meant getting more in return.

In the greater scheme of things, the iPhone 7 is a solid smartphone worthy of consideration. Its status of being an all-around performer is undeniably what makes it a force to be reckoned with in the space.

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