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iPhone 7 review: Thanks to huge performance gains, iPhone travels at the speed of business

jason-cipriani-author.jpg
Written by Jason Cipriani on
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9.0

iPhone 7

Outstanding
$189.99 at eBay$154 at Amazon
Like
  • Apple finally added water resistance
  • New and improved camera
  • The A10 Fusion chip is incredibly fast
  • A bright, vivid display thanks to new display tech
Don't Like
  • Battery life can still use some work
  • Lack of second camera on the standard iPhone 7 is disappointment
  • The new home button is weird at first
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Every year a parade of Apple executives take the stage to introduce a new iPhone. Each executive details a list of new features, changes and tweaks, exclaiming this iPhone is the best iPhone Apple has ever made.

Yet each year, analysts and pundits mock the hyperbolic proclamation (and rightfully so). Most complaints are rooted in the belief that Apple isn't doing enough to move its smartphone line forward, as Samsung seems to have passed Apple when it comes to innovation.

As CNET's Scott Stein detailed in his review of the iPhone 7, the iPhone 7 consists of a series of subtle and not-so-subtle changes.

There's a new home button that's not really button, a speaker grill in place of the headphone jack, the iPhone 7 is now water resistant, and it comes in two new colors: black and jet black.

The iPhone 7 begs the question: Is Apple pushing the smartphone forward, or only doing enough to get by? I think it's a little bit of both.

Specifications

  • Processor: Apple A10 Fusion
  • Display: 4.7 inch 1334 x 750 pixels resolution LED screen with 326 ppi
  • Operating system: iOS 10.0.2
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 32GB/128GB/256GB
  • Cameras: 12 megapixel rear with 7 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Water resistance: IP67 rating
  • Connectivity: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
  • Battery: 1,960 mAh
  • Dimensions: 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm and 138 grams

Of course the Jet Black finish scratches

Leading up to the announcement of the iPhone 7 line, a steady flow of rumors and speculation set the exception the new iPhone would look nearly identical to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S. To some extent, the rumors proved true. Beyond moving the antenna lines, a different camera bulge, an extra speaker grill along the bottom, and two new colors the iPhone 7 shares a lot of the same aesthetics of the iPhone 6s before it.

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Apple sent me a Jet Black iPhone 7 review unit, which I've used as my main phone for the past week. I spent five of those days without a case, despite Apple encouraging Jet Black owners to use a case in order to prevent scratches on the iPhone 7.

Yes, the Jet Black finish scratched. No, the scratches aren't big enough to warrant mass hysteria or some other form of protest. The scratches are primarily found at each corner on the back, near the antenna lines. A quick glance at the back of the phone and you'd never know the scratches were there. It's only after closer inspection that you can see the new imperfections.

That said, if you're someone who wants your phone to look pristine far into the future, the Jet Black finish either isn't for you, or you're going to have to cover it up with a case.

Beyond the scratch-prone Jet Black finish, the iPhone 7 also comes in Rose Gold, Gold, Silver, and Black.

It's what's on the inside that counts

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

When I upgraded from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S, Apple promised the A5 processor in the 4S was a speed demon. I bought into the hype, and honestly couldn't tell a difference in speed between the two devices. It was the only time I have regretted upgrading my iPhone on a yearly cycle.

Apple has continued to tout and promise increased performance gains with each new generation of iPhone and corresponding "A-series" processor. Sometimes I notice increased speed during random tasks, like restoring a device, or opening an editing a photo. However, overall the speed gains have been welcomed, but at the end of the day, merely incremental.

With the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7, the increase in performance is no longer lip service from Apple. From the first time I opened a Google Document, a task I'd grown accustomed to waiting on my iPhone 6S, the difference in speed was immediately apparent.

I noticed similar speed increases across the board, but think it's worth calling out specific instances. I use the Workflow app for a myriad of tasks and shortcuts, one of which is to evaluate my schedule for given day and return blocks of time when I'm free in order to coordinate meetings and conference calls. Running this workflow on my iPhone 6S usually took a four of five seconds to process, but on the iPhone 7 that time is cut in half. The same can be said about navigating Excel spreadsheets, and attaching Dropbox documents to an email in the Mail app.

The iPhone 7 is incredibly fast, there's no other way to say it.

According to Apple, the iPhone 7 should get about two extra hours of battery life over the iPhone 6S due to processor optimizations and a bigger battery in the iPhone 7. In use, however, I experienced the same exact battery life on the iPhone 7 as I did on my iPhone 6S. That is to say, after a 14 hour day of use my phone was running on empty every night as I went to bed.

Taking the iPhone 7 on a business trip will undoubtedly require a battery case or external battery pack to get through the day.

Apple finally did away with the base 16GB model, with the iPhone 7 line now coming in 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB models, meaning you can store more documents or photos on your device and lessen your dependence on the cloud.

A camera half as good as the iPhone 7 Plus

The iPhone 7 is equipped with a 12-megapixel rear camera and a seven-megapixel front-facing camera. For the first time, Apple has added optical image stabilization to the smaller iPhone, while also improving low-light shooting across the iPhone lineup.

This is one area where I desperately wanted to see Apple catch up to Samsung's Galaxy S7 line, which leaped past the iPhone's camera quality back in March. When forced to decide between carrying the S7 Edge or my iPhone 6S to when I knew I would be taking a lot of photos, I would pick the S7 Edge every time.

A photo during an night out captured in low-light with the iPhone 7. Previously, I would have only trusted the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge to get this shot.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

After testing the iPhone 7 camera, outdoors in sunny and cloudy conditions, and in low-light situations, my confidence in the iPhone's camera has been restored. With the iPhone 7 Apple hasn't surpassed the Galaxy S7 Edge's camera, but it's now on the same playing field.

For the first time ever, I ordered the Plus size iPhone for my personal device. I've previously detailed my reasoning, as well as discussed my first weekend adjusting to a bigger iPhone. After only a few days with the iPhone 7 Plus, I had to switch to the iPhone 7 to complete this review. Almost immediately I missed the camera on the iPhone 7 Plus; specifically the telephoto lens and its ability to optically zoom in.

In the past, the difference between the regular and plus size iPhones' cameras was optical image stabilization. Now that the iPhone 7 Plus has a second camera lens and a series of features that accompany it, those who prefer the smaller iPhone 7 are missing out.

Headphone jack and home button changes

Goodbye headphone jack, hello water resistance!

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

In exchange for giving up the headphone jack, you gain a water resistant housing and a new wireless pairing technology developed by Apple. Outside of the brief demo of Apple's W1 chip I experienced at Apple's iPhone 7 event, I haven't had the chance to test out the new technology so I'll reserve judgement until later.

I can say I missed having the headphone jack on one occasion, when I was attempting to use a smart food thermometer that uses the headphone jack to communicate with an app on my iPhone. Thankfully Apple includes a 3.5mm-to-Lightning dongle with each iPhone 7, or my $80 thermometer would have been rendered useless.

Users who are frustrated with the move have every right to be, especially if he or she has invested in expensive headphones. It's hard to think towards the future when you have $300 headphones with a 3.5mm plug that no longer works with your new iPhone sitting on your desk right now.

After testing out and adjusting settings related to the new home button, I no longer find it awkward to use. For those unfamiliar, the iPhone 7's home button no longer moves. Instead, it senses how much pressure you use and responds accordingly.

If you're upgrading to the iPhone 7, there will likely be a period of acclimation to the new button. Accidental triggers of Apple Pay or Siri are common until you get the hang of it.

The $650 question

Should you upgrade to the iPhone 7? There's no straight-forward answer here. The iPhone 7 line has two of the best iPhones Apple has ever made, but the iPhone 7 isn't my favorite iPhone of all time. I would give that award to the iPhone 7 Plus for its superior camera and added battery life.

And then there's the rumors that have already begun about next year's iPhone, claiming the 10th anniversary model will feature a radical new design and features.

It's hard for me to tell someone to wait and see what next year's iPhone will bring us before making a decision to upgrade, as we don't truly know a thing about it beyond rumors. Rumors that often proven half right.

I have no problem recommending the iPhone 7 to someone who is looking to upgrade an older iPhone or Android device. It's fast, water resistant (I dunked my review phone a few times with no ill effects), takes solid photos, and comes in shiny (or matte) new colors.

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