Last year, I said that was no such thing as a perfect device but the iPhone 6s Plus was damn near and would be till the iPhone 7.
So here I am today, with an iPhone 7 Plus in my hand and thinking to myself what is the perfect device and more importantly what is the point of the iPhone 7.
The annual Tame Geek review is always split into two sections, hardware and software. That’s not going to change this time round but what will be different is that after nine years of iPhones, I can’t help but get a little philosophical.
“It looks just like an iPhone 6s!”
Okay, that is the standard reaction that you get with both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 plus. It’s quite simple to say and is almost always used by the detractors of Apple and they repeat a line like that every year without fail.
The thing is for all this new generation of iPhones look like the previous ones, the design is a constant example of evolution and refinement. The antenna lines from the last two years have been banished to the top and bottom of the device and in both the black and jet black colour variants, are almost indistinguishable from the case. In most instances you have to catch them in a certain light to even realise that they are still there.
Speaking of the jet black, you’ll see in the gallery below that I have some pictures of the iPhone 7 in jet black. One of the reasons that this review was slightly delayed, is that my pre-order had initially been for an iPhone 7 plus in jet black. After battling the Apple ordering system and having my order confirmed at 8:07, I was greeted with a shipping time in early October. Bit of a pain but one that yielded it’s own reward. When the devices actually came out I went to the Apple Store (as you can see) and I handled/fondled the jet black. I then after doing so, changed my mind and subsequently kept my eyes open to pre-order a black model that I could pick up in store and now have.
The jet black was an interesting thing to behold. It’s mirror sheen is very impressive and it looks every bit as good when you see it as it does on the videos. There is only one problem, in the videos nobody is holding it. They are such a fingerprint magnet, I can’t help but think they’re going to live there entire lives inside cases. Which is a damn shame as they deserve to be seen. As somebody who likes to use his iPhone out of a case, I couldn’t bear this. That’s why I went with matte black.
This has been a decision I’ve not regretted. The actual stealth look of the black is something equally as impressive as the jet black. It’s actually hard to take a picture of it as it seems to suck in the light around it.
Apart from the stealth styling and the moved antenna bars, what is there to write home about with regards the hardware? Three big things; The screen, the camera and the chips inside.
The screens have always been one of two things on the iPhone, good or great. The screen on the iPhone 7 Plus however is excellent. It’s quite hard to tell them apart (6s Plus and 7 Plus) when you are in an environment such as an Apple Store, but after more than two weeks worth of use you really start to feel the benefit. Colour reproduction and light levels all seem far more balanced and natural which makes using it more comfortable to us in any scenario.
Integrated into the screen is the 3D Touch system which thanks to iOS 10 is actually quite important and impressive now, giving a sense of depth through the software rather than just on top of it as you get out of a typical display.
Also a resident of this display is the new physical/solid-state home button. The first time I used the new home button I thought ‘this is going to be a problem’. After about my 10th click I stopped noticing it. There’s a lot of people withering on about how the haptic engine over reacts when you press it but really it doesn’t. The feedback from the haptic engine actually goes right the way through the system adding yet another level of depth to your physical interactions with your software environment. The speed of the touch ID sensor and the feedback from the haptic engine make the home button feel like it should.
The next big change to the Plus is the dual camera system. Now with to sensors and lenses, there is standard wide aspect camera and a 2x zoom equivalent. This gimmick becomes immediately useful when you start playing with it. The two physical cameras mean that you can frame shots quickly and easily without loosing the feature benefits of 4K video, HDR imaging and panoramic mode. I’ve yet to play with the new Portrait mode, but I’ll post my thoughts on that when I do. Where this camera really stands out is with it’s image processor. The dedicated chip doing millions of calculations per picture is the most impressive part of the package. When you look at the images below taken in low light, you can see that the processor has worked some impressive magic to ensure images are not just filled with noise. For instance, the image of Edinburgh at night, was taken at about 2am and in years gone by would just be a noisy mess.
I’m still experimenting with this camera, but I have to say, at this point I’m no longer considering replacing / updating my Sony mirror less camera, as this may we’ll be all the camera I ever need. Especially considering the 128GB of onboard storage the device has.
The image processor leads nicely in to the chips inside the device. The new A10 processor is the most logical mobile processor I’ve ever seen. When you need power it uses the powerful cores, when you don’t it uses less powerful ones. Genius. This is only achievable by having full control over your operating system and hardware. The power and 3GB of RAM make for a mobile powerhouse faster than Apple’s MacBook line (bar the Pro) but the real power is in power management. Seriously, you’ll read reviews from people that spank phones to death to test there batteries, but in real world use, the iPhone 7 Plus, is the first iPhone I’ve had that not only lasts a full day of uses, but uses a full day of heavy use and not getting below 20% remaining. I rarely now see the ‘low power’ mode option pop up. If you tax the phone though, by say, playing an hours worth of Real Racing 3, that battery will drain and the device will get quite warm, but there’s nothing new there.
So, OK, there’s one hardware feature I’ve not talked about and every bugger else has, sound. The iPhone 7 Plus comes with dual speakers, by utilising the top and bottom speakers to give stereo sound, which is great when playing games or watching video (no more cupping the bottom of the phone to get the sound to go forwards).
There is however a missing headphone socket. Some people have a problem with this, I for one, do not. See, I’ve been using Bluetooth headphones for 2 years, I don’t use an aux socket in my car and the phone comes with an adapter in the box! Seriously, people, it’s 2016 not 1916, it’s time to move on. You can be damn sure that no one will kick up a fuss when Samsung inevitably remove the socket from their flagship next year.
iOS 10, you glorious thing. As ever, I started beta testing the latest iOS in June of this year and like every year before, the new OS works it’s best on the newest hardware.
The thing with iOS is that it has always been an iterative product. Small incremental improvements over 9 years have made it, arguably the best mobile operating system. The most rounded out app environment and the absolute best links between hardware and software.
The iterations in this particular version have been about creating speed and improving information access. The operating system in general feels snappier on all the devices it’s installed on and on the iPhone 7 Plus, feels like the fastest computer I own.
This speed means getting to your information is even faster. Siri, has been rolled in to the search that exists in the OS and provides smart results based on your search terms. Apps, content, places, appointments, the list goes on.
As I’ve done a few times before, I’ll highlight some of the things that I’ve enjoyed while using the device & OS combo:
- The phone logs my car’s location when I park it
- Touch 3D is now useful almost everywhere
- It’s, so damn, fast
- Haptic feedback everywhere it’s useful
- Maps with transit and app integration works amazingly in a city
- Photos app has so much functionality, you can delete a lot of other apps
- Siri is so smart, she can show you photos based on your description
- Apple Music has gone from OK to excellent
The only way to get a full experience from a mobile device is to have a combined approach to software and hardware. The iPhone has done that for almost a decade and now, Google is on the way to do with their new Pixel line.
So, what happened in 2016 to give us this phone. Well, it happened more than a decade ago. Apple decided to make a box and put a mobile operating system in. With over a billion of them sold in 9 years, we can safely say it worked and what they created was the world’s best computer and its most popular camera.
I’ve had every generation of iPhone and I’ll continue to buy and use them, as they are the best devices for my life. I can also wholeheartedly recommend the iPhone 7 Plus to anyone that wants a slightly large phone that will be the best computer you own.
It’s at this point, I usually say something along the lines of this being the best iPhone till the next one and while that is true, this year, it comes with an extra level of truth.
See, the iPhone will be 10 years old in January (publicly anyway) and that means we’ll have had 10 generations of design and technology iteration when the next iPhone lands in 2017.
The design, will likely be the big factor. Talks of complete glass enclosures, curved displays and completely buttonless design. It’s safe to say that, yes, the next iPhone will be exceptional when it comes to internal technology, but the design will set the standard for what a smartphone can be, just as the glass rectangle of 2007 has set the mold for the last decade, Apple’s next design will set the mood for the next 10 years.
We have become cyborgs thanks to companies like Apple. We’ve gained the power of augmented communication and supplement gaps on our knowledge and ability with a constant digital companion. With the AirPods on the horizon and the popularity of the Apple Watch, the next hub of your life, your iPhone, will still be important but what it does will further our cyborg nature. Augmented with AI (with privacy where Siri is concerned) and ubiquitous 4G, 5G and soon to be white space Internet connections, our mobile devices will become the second iteration of the future and it fascinates me to see where that will take us.