On the seventh day the designers rested. In came the engineers. And the master of controversy struck again.
Apple is proud of the bold move of removing the audio jack. But in pretty much every other aspect they’ve seemingly taken the conservative route. On the outside, the new iPhone looks basically the same as the iPhone 6/6s.
Well, it’s not as easy as that. The iPhone 7 is in many ways a better phone. We can see some of the issues we had with the last iPhone sorted and, no, we are not claiming credit for it – simply acknowledging the fact.
Waterproofing, stereo speakers and, finally, reasonable storage options – and that’s on top of the usual performance upgrades we’ve come to take for granted every year. Think this is the story of the iPhone 7? Apple’s first water-resistant handset, first quad-core processor, first pair of stereo speakers on a phone.
Not trying to build suspense. The story has been hijacked and you know it. But we’re going to tell it anyway.
- Water-proof metal unibody with redesigned, less-obtrusive antenna strips
- 4.7″ 16M-color LED-backlit IPS LCD of 750 x 1334px resolution, 326ppi, wide color gamut, 3D Touch tech
- Pressure-sensitive Home key powered by a brand new Taptic Engine
- Quad-core (2+2) 64-bit Apple CPU, hexa-core GPU, 2GB of RAM, Apple A10 Fusion SoC
- 12MP F/1.8 camera with a quad-LED flash, optical image stabilization, phase detection auto focus, wide color capture, face and body detection; 2160p@30fps video recording
- 7MP F/2.2 front-facing camera with BSI sensor and HDR mode, 1080p@30fps video
- Comes in 32, 128, and 256GB of built-in storage
- Second-gen Touch ID fingerprint sensor
- 4G LTE Cat.12 (600Mbps); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; Bluetooth 4.2; Lightning port; GPS with A-GPS and GLONASS; NFC (Apple Pay only)
- 1,960mAh battery
- No 3.5mm audio jack (ships with a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter)
- No microSD slot
- No dual-camera of the iPhone 7 Plus
- NFC functionality limited to Apple Pay
- Still no fast or wireless charging, no IR port or FM radio
- No user-replaceable battery
- Scratch-prone Jet Black model
- Screen resolution not flagship-grade
Once you wrap your head around the missing audio jack (it’s not the end of it, you can get a designated adapter for your favorite headphones), the Apple iPhone 7 is a major upgrade. IP67-certified water-resistant body. Bigger and brighter camera with OIS. New FaceTime cam. Stereo speakers. Faster processor and 50% GPU performance increase, more RAM. New pressure-sensitive Home key powered by a new taptic engine. Revised storage options.
The new Home button, rather the lack thereof, is nearly as controversial as the missing audio jack. Apple used the same taptic engine behind the MacBook’s trackpad, so things might actually turn out better there.
Apple doubled the storage capacity on all three flavors, so it finally starts at 32GB, the other two being 128GB or 256GB. Unfortunately, fast or wireless charging still doesn’t mean anything to Apple, which is a shame in 2016.
Anyway, the iPhone 7 is ready to get unwrapped, so let’s get to it. Head to the next page for our traditional hardware and exterior checkup.
Unboxing the Apple iPhone 7
The Apple iPhone 7 comes in a very familiar box, which packs an A/C adapter, a Lightning cable, and a pair of EarPods ending on a Lightning plug.
Unboxing the iPhone 7
There is also a Lighting to 3.5mm adapter so you can continue using your headset of choice. You can get extra adaptors from Apple if you like to have a designated adapter for each of your headphones.
Apple iPhone 7 360-degree view
At 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1mm, the iPhone7 is exactly the same size as the 6s. The new flagship managed to somehow lose 5g down to 138g.
Design and build quality
Next year is the iPhone’s 10th anniversary and that perhaps explains why Apple settled for refining the iPhone 6 design instead of going for a complete overhaul. Or they might have wanted to avoid a double shocker where people end up hating the new look, blaming it for the missing audio jack and “fake” Home button.
Apple iPhone 6s next to the iPhone 7
Speculation aside, the iPhone 7 may look too familiar, but feels different enough and still pretty relevant. A subtle change makes a good enough difference – the antenna strips have been pushed all the way to the top and bottom, following the phone’s curvature. They are less intrusive this way and almost invisible on the black and jet black models.
The new antennas flow with the phone’s curves • How it used to be
We’ve already seen similar antenna design in phones like the Meizu Pro 6 and Apple did well to acknowledge the need for improvement.
There are two other visible changes to the iPhone 7’s unibody design: the camera hump is bigger but also more discreet and, of course, there is no audio jack.
The new camera hump
In recent times every new generation of iPhones has introduced a new color option, and the 7th is no exception. Apple has retired the Space Gray paint job in favor of two new Black options. Just Black is the new matte black flavor featuring the same grippy finish as its Space Gray predecessor, while the Jet Black is a true blast from the past.
The Jet Black iPhone 7’s glossy finish looks amazing and evokes fond memories of the iPhone 3G and 3GS. It is only available for the 128 and 256 GB models, which suggests Apple considers it the premium color option.
Unfortunately, the Jet Black edition is highly scratch-prone and picks up fingerprints in no time. Even Apple admitted the Jet Black phones are not for everyone as their shiny looks are rather easily ruined by scratches unless protected by a case.
Handling the iPhone 7 is a pure pleasure – it’s very thin and lightweight, while the 4.7″ screen makes it one of the most compact flagships out there. Even though the iPhone 7 is rounded in shape, the matte finish provides a secure enough grip, while the waterproofing will take your worries away even if you do drop it in water.
Handling the iPhone 7
Quite expectedly, opting for the Jet Black one will require some extra care, but we must admit it looks even better than its matte counterparts.
Apple did a great job of making the new iPhone 7 a competitive and attractive proposition, even though the design is not what you would call new. It still feels as premium as it did two years ago.
At the bottom of the iPhone 7, there is the Lightning jack and two grilles. Teardowns have revealed that there is a mic behind both of these grilles, but one is joined by the phone’s primary speaker, while the other sits next to a seemingly unused space inside the phone. Apple responded to that and claims it’s a barometric vent, which is used to allow access to the ambient air for the barometer sensor in the otherwise water-tight body of the iPhone 7.
A notable omission on the bottom is the 3.5mm audio jack but more on that later.
The top of the iPhone 7, on the other hand, is perfectly clean.
The bottom • the second speaker • the top
The left side of the iPhone 7 has the well-known mute switch and the two volume keys. The right one houses the power/lock key, and the nano-SIM ejectable slot.
The left side • the mute switch • the right side • the nano-SIM slot
Finally, the back of the iPhone 7 shows the only visible change – the new antenna bands moved to the top and bottom. The camera lens is bigger and is less protruding and there is a new quad-LED true-tone flash around.
The small hole between the lens and the flash is the third microphone found on board the phone – most probably the one that is used for noise-cancellation during calls. It’s real shame that with all those mics on board that iPhone 7 still records its videos with mono audio. But we digress.
The redesigned back • the new camera
The front of the Apple iPhone 7 is familiar, though there are a few surprises beneath the surface. Above the screen is the earpiece, the new 7MP FaceTime camera and a bunch of sensors.
The earpiece now doubles as a speaker, part of the two speaker setup introduced with the iPhone 7. The second speaker is where it has always been – at the bottom under a nicely carved grille.
The front • the earpiece/speaker
Below the screen is the second novelty – the Home button with a second-gen Touch ID fingerprint sensor. While the ID scanner is the same as on the iPhone 6s, the Home key is something we have a lot to talk about.
Below the screen • the new Home key
First, it’s no longer a button. It’s a flat round piece, which does not physically sink in when pressed. Instead, it’s connected to Apple’s updated Taptic Engine inside the phone. The iPhone 6s also had a Taptic engine but the module was much smaller.
Thanks to the taptic engine, the key is pressure sensitive and can differentiate between pressing and tapping.
The Taptic Engine works nice and creates a nice illusion of a real click. You can even configure the force of the feedback. It may take a few days to get used to the new clicks, but once you do, and trust us – you will, you’ll hardly miss the old physical feedback.
Configuring the feedback for new Home key
But some of us are still missing the reassuring travel of a physical key and can’t shake off the feeling that the new key feels like innovation for the sole sake of innovating as opposed to filling a particular need. Not only the press feedback is inferior to a real button but the bigger Taptic Engine module is now occupying a big part of the space vacated by the 3.5mm audio jack.
Of course, we wouldn’t have objected if the pressure-sensitive Home was the only way to ensure waterproofing but we can see both Samsung and Sony making waterproofed phones with physical keys.
There is another aspect and that’s longevity and repairs – Apple may as well have gone for the new key design so that they don’t have to deal with faulty Home buttons and phones bricked (the infamous Error 53) by unauthorized replacements of faulty button/fingerprint sensor combos.
But whatever the reason for this move, the worst part is that Apple is not frank about it. It’s instead beating around the bush claiming technological innovation while the replaced part provided better user experience overall.
It’s the same situation with the 3.5mm audio jack. It’s like Apple is hiding the real reasons for removing it. They didn’t really need to get rid of it because they don’t have an industry-wide standard to replace it with except… Bluetooth. Could it be that it’s the push towards wireless Bluetooth audio to blame? After all, the company just came up with a new wireless set called AirPods, which retails for $159. No, we’re not conspiracy theorists.
Apple iOS 10
Apple unveiled iOS 10 last June. As part of the new update Apple refined the lock and home screens, the notification and control centers, the 3D Touch experience, Siri, and improved the system apps.
Since the beginning the iOS user experience has successfully revolved around a few basic premises anyone can pick up quickly and iOS doesn’t bring any changes in that direction.
First – the homescreen. All apps go there and you can group those in folders. There are no widgets on the homescreen, there is no separate app drawer either.
The new addition to the homescreen is the fixed leftmost Today page, which now supports various widgets, including the mandatory Spotlight search. But more on the Today page later.
The homescreen • All apps are there • A folder • The Today pane • Spotlight search
Second – the Notification Center. It’s a page you bring down from the top and it has all your notifications.
Notification Center • Today page in Notifications • Notification settings • Notification settings
Third – Control Center. You slide out this pane from the bottom and it packs quick toggles and quick shortcuts. You can swipe the contents of the pane left and right to get to music controls and HomeKit menus.
The Control Center
Fourth – the Settings menu. Every setting is packed in there, just like with any other mobile OS. It isn’t the best organized settings menu we’ve seen as there are quite a few inconsistencies, but it does the job.
Now that’s out of the way, join us as we explore some of iOS 10 features in more detail trying to see what’s new and what’s gone for good.
Apple has redesigned the lockscreen and even though it seems familiar, it has lots of new features. It now supports pick up to wake and the phone lights up every time you take it in your hand.
There is an easier way to access the camera now – just swipe left. If you swipe right, you’ll find your Today widget page. At a time when Android has just gotten rid of the lockscreen widgets, Apple is keen on bringing them back.
The new lockscreen • quick camera access • Today page • PIN • You need to press for unlock
The screen may wake up automatically, but it doesn’t unlock when you laying your finger on the Touch ID sensor. Instead, you’ll need to press the Home button to go further. This ensures you have the opportunity to interact with the widgets and notifications on your lockscreen but many users will find this new way inconvenient. Luckily, you can enable Rest Finger to Open option from Accessibility -> Home Button. The Today page on the lockscreen, along with the Notification and Control Centers can be disabled.
Speaking of the Notification Center, it has been redesigned with new bubble-like notifications. The Today page is also available here.
The notification screen shows all your recent notifications that you can 3D Touch to expand and see additional options. A notification can be expanded into a card where you can see a lot more content and even images and videos. iMessage, for example, will not just show the message but when expanded show the entire chat that you can scroll through and reply to as if you are in the app. You also get more than two options when you expand a notification now, which is handy. This works within the Notification Center, on the lockscreen, and if you are in another app.
The Control Center is now comprised of three panes – one with toggles and one with music controls. Its design also features bubbles. There is a third Control Center Tab if you are using the new Home app – shortcuts for your home appliances.
Unfortunately, the Control Center is still a rather sad place that prioritizes unnecessary functions and no customizability. For one, you can’t get to the Settings menu by longer pressing of the toggles. Secondly, neither AirPlay and AirDrop, nor Night Shift deserve the prime time location that they get on the panel, and should have been reduced to smaller buttons. And finally, the four toggles at the bottom can be 3D Touched for additional functionality but you cannot add or replace any of them. This is rather frustrating as there was ample scope to turn it into something truly useful here.
Notification Center • Control Center • Control Center
Let’s talk about this new Today page we’ve mentioned so often. It’s like a homescreen with a list of widgets and you choose which ones should be present. The top is always the Spotlight search field, and then you can put weather, calendar, Siri app suggestions, and whatever widgets your apps are offering.
The Today screen shows you the clock as well as all your widgets. Widgets have also been updated in iOS 10 and look similar to notifications. They support two sizes now, the default compact size and an expanded size you can get to by tapping Show More. A developer can choose to show additional information this way by expanding the widget to a much larger size. Adding and removing widgets works the same way it did before, and the Add Widgets screen will show all your widgets that are present on the device from the installed apps.
Today • Today • Adding widgets • More widgets • Disable Today within Touch ID settings
The Today page is the leftmost page on your lockscreen, homescreen, and Notification Center. If you prefer, you can disable it altogether.
The 3D Touch functionality got implemented into even more places across iOS and Apple is fighting well for its last year innovation. It may have started as a gimmick, but its usefulness is growing with each update.
You can use the 3D Touch on various app icons to reveal quick actions. But now Apple has expanded those quick actions with system apps by showing an additional row of favorites, quick contacts, recent music, and other relevant app-specific content. When you 3D Touch an icon that has a widget, the widget now appears along with a list of 3D Touch options. You can also 3D Touch folders now to rename them and see the apps inside that have a pending notification.
Using 3D Touch across the interface
Naturally, pop-up preview of pictures, web links, messages, mails, notes, and photos, is available.
Popping content with 3D Touch
You can now force press on notifications (both in the Notification Center or the pop-up ones) and expand them into actionable balloons. Apple calls those Rich Notifications. This means you can chat on Viber, respond to messages, or mails, straight from those 3D Touch bubbles and then return to what you were doing without ever leaving the app.
A notification • Replying with 3D Touch in a bubble • 3D Touch overview of a conversation
Siri has gotten an update, too. It is now opened to developers. What does this mean? Well, you can call an Uber via Siri. Or send Viber text and photos. Or send money through a Money app such as PayPal. If an app is compatible with Siri, you can now ask Siri for specific third-party app actions and it will do it.
Lyft and Siri
Lastly, you can now finally uninstall some of Apple’s own apps from the phone. Well, maybe not fully uninstall, but they do get hidden. You just have to press and hold on them to remove them like third party apps. Not all apps can be removed but the list of ones that can be removed is longer than those that cannot, and other than basic apps like Phone, Safari, App Store, Clock, Messages, Photos, Camera, Settings, Wallet, Find my iPhone, and Health, all the other apps can be removed. This frees up some memory but not a lot. Once you remove them, you can get them back by going to the App Store and searching for Apple’s apps.
Apple did a good job refining the interface and there are enough new features to enhance the user experience without complicating it. You may never use some of those and you will still get to experience the iOS in its full beauty. But if you do, you may find it easier to just force press on something or ask Siri to do stuff instead of you. It’s nothing ground breaking, but it’s definitely moving forward.