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Jet black or matte black, iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus; these are the likely questions that many prospective iPhone buyers are trying to decide between when buying the newest phone from the folks in Cupertino. For me, it was easy, matte black and while I toyed with going for the larger Plus for the better camera, I decided that the smaller phone is the better option for me. Besides, the jet black option has a warning from Apple that it is easily scratched and considering I don’t ever use a case, I headed the warning and went the safer route.
The phone has a couple of difference from the 6S: faster CPU, no headphone jack, improved camera, and no home button. The home button is now a simple pad that you press to go to the ‘Home’ screen and I’ll have more on that later. I wanted to define the differences as that will be the focus of my review as the exterior is nearly identical to the past few generations of this phone.
I was upgrading from an iPhone 6 which means I am getting two years of refinement with the device and the processor speed improvements are noticeable. On my 6, apps were starting to feel a bit sluggish and opening the camera and switching between the camera modes highlighted this issue. With the 7, as you would expect, everything is faster but at the same time, it also heats up more. The 6 would get hot under load too but it feels like the 7 reaches higher temperatures faster than the older phone.
The big controversy with this phone is that there is no headphone jack. For me, this isn’t too big of an issue but I completely understand for some why this would anger them. I only use one pair of headphones with my iPhone and it’s when I am on a plane. So all I did was attach the adapter to that pair of headphones and that’s the end of it. If you do have multiple pairs of earbuds that you use, this would be frustrating and I don’t really buy the fact that Apple is pushing the industry forward with this move.
With that being said, after traveling with the device to Ignite, as I was sitting in the airport charging my phone, the lack of a headphone jack did become a problem; I was charging my phone and I could not listen to music. Sure, I could spend a stupid amount of money on some Airpods that I would likely lose in 10 minutes after opening but personally, I like the wired setup as it’s one less device I have to charge.
If Apple really wanted to push everyone forward, they would have dropped the headphone jack and their proprietary connector and gone with USB-C for both headphone and charging; this is a change I would fully support. Instead, we have Apple pushing headphones that are either wireless or use their own adapter which is convenient since they recently bought a headphone company.
Apple has made a big deal about its cameras over the past few generations of devices and the 7 is no different. While the 7 Plus gets the better update with two cameras, the 7 gets optical stabilization and a larger sensor. The ability to take photos in low light is easily accomplished with the 7 and pictures in broad daylight look great. Honestly, it’s a good camera and it does what it needs to do but I can’t tell a huge difference between my old phone. The sample images below are cropped to 16×9 but are otherwise untouched and the photo of the planes in the Delta hanger is at 100% zoom.
The colors are likely a bit richer and video a little sharper but I bet the average person could not tell the difference when looking at images on Facebook if I put up two photos with one taken on the 6 and one taken on the 7. That being said, the camera works well and won’t let you down which is a good thing for me as I take a lot of photos with my phone.
I was a bit worried when I saw the changes to the home button. Switching to the taptic engine instead of an actual button made me nervous at first but it’s not an issue and actually it feels quite natural. Apple did a good job with this change and for anyone who was holding off on purchasing this phone because of the home button changes, go ahead and buy the phone as you won’t regret it.
Battery life with the phone is average and it can easily last a workday but I would happily take a slightly thicker phone for significantly longer battery life. As I noted above, I did have to charge my phone at the airport (around 9PM) which means on an average day of use, the battery is fine. But, on a long day at a conference that has heavy use of my phone, the battery life still comes up short.
I have often described iPhones as the Toyota Camry of phones. If you buy an iPhone, you know you will get a quality piece of hardware/software that will get you from point A to point B. It may not be the most exciting phone on the market but it will sell in the millions because it does a great job of doing everything well and maybe one or two things exceptionally well.
You can find an Android phone that has a better camera, or one that has a faster fingerprint reader and another with a better display or longer battery life. That’s the beauty of Android but what you will have trouble finding is one that beats an iPhone in every category and that’s what the iPhone is good for. It’s a good, all-around device that keeps it stable and relatively simple without trying to push too many boundaries with each iteration.
With that being said, I was hoping that I would love the 7 as I really liked the 6 and with two generations of refinements over the 6 I expected the 7 to be something wonderfully more but it’s honestly not. It’s a good phone but if you have a 6, it may not be worth upgrading and if you have a 6S, don’t upgrade.