The new home button, the upgraded camera, and the painful farewell to the old headphone jack; these are our conclusions from 24 hours with the iPhone 7
The device was made available to us through the generosity of iStore.
For many weeks, we have been hearing rumors and reports about the latest iPhone that Apple is slated to launch in 2017, which is expected to include a number of far-reaching changes. For this reason, the expectations for the iPhone unveiled by Apple at its recent announcement event in early September were rather low. The assumption was that Apple was preparing for the 10th anniversary of the iPhone next year with a substantial upgrading, and would therefore be relatively modest in its current offering.
Nevertheless, there are many innovations in the iPhone 7, and these cannot be easily dismissed. The company decided to ignore the criticism of its elimination of its old 3.5mm earphones jack, and got rid of it. This is the first waterproof iPhone and the first to have a non-mechanical static home button. The camera has finally been significantly improved after remaining unchanged through the two preceding models. The design has been slightly altered, with the antennas being moved to the sides. After 24 hours with the device, we came to five fairly clear conclusions.
1. The home button: odd, but you get used to it quickly
I admit that I found this change the most intriguing. Replacing a physical button with a static one can significantly damage the experience of using the device. Apple has already proved before that it knows how to do these things the right way, and it has usually been accompanied by a substantial upgrade, reflected in the design and resulting in a better user experience. At the same time, after almost a decade without any real change in the home button, this step brought with it considerable anxiety.
The initial feeling is indeed definitely odd. A minimal and very focused vibration gives the same feeling as you get by pressing it lightly, although it vibrates the entire bottom part of the device. As part of the definition of the device when it is first operated, Apple offers users a choice of three different levels of intensity for the vibration obtained by pressing the button, and I chose the strongest. Actually, after using it for a few hours, you get used to the new button and feel like it is easy to press, but with a shorter range of movement. At the same time, I have to say that the feeling you get from a physical button is friendlier and more comfortable, and for me, it is more of a downgrade than an upgrade.
2. The unmentionable: What about the headphones jack?
I remember the moment when Steve Jobs got on the stage at the 2008 Macworld and revealed for the first time the new MacBook Air. The innovation contained in that slender computer at that time was perceived by many as a genuine marvel, and the MacBook Air quickly became a status symbol of the new generation of computers, while being sold at an especially high price.
In order to create this innovation, Jobs explained that Apple had to give up the old disk drive, which was no longer needed. In 2008, portable computers came with a optical disk drive that was needed to install software that came on disks, and this step was no trivial matter. Many people could not understand how they could install software without the old disk drive, or surrender such an essential component. Apple stood its ground, however, and its policy caused a revolution in computers, with most of the companies following its example.
The 3.5-mm jack has been with us for decades. It is practical, easy to use, and, no less importantly, it is universal in that it is not the exclusive property of any company. The switch to Apple’s lightning connector will enable the company to make great strides in the future with its sound quality and the capabilities it will be able to offer, but this comes at a price. First of all, it ties those who use it much more closely to Apple, who will now be subject to one more standard specific only to Apple. In addition, it makes the devices we have already bought a little less friendly, because from now on, we will have to use an adaptor for an operation that was formerly extremely simple.
Such an adaptor is included in the package for a new iPhone, and that is something quite unusual for Apple, showing how series the company takes the criticism of its policy. It is doubtful whether Apple will continue offering the adaptor for free with its next model, but at this stage, at least, it is the cheapest Apple-made product on the market at only $9 for someone who wants to buy a few of these adaptors separately.
In the end we must admit that in a world slowly becoming wireless, using a 100 year-old analogue connector is illogical, and is driven mostly by inertia. Someone had to do it, and it is not really surprising that it was Apple that took up the challenge by deciding to make the decisive move. It is a pity, however, that the replacement is Apple’s own lightning jack, rather than a universal connector. It is probable, however, that in the coming years, the wire synchronization for sound accessories will vanish from the earth, so it is best to just take a deep breath and calm down about it already.
3. A higher-quality screen, but the competition is still better
According to a considerable number of reports published in recent months, Apple is expected to revise the iPhone screen in the next model, thereby finally falling into line with the rest of the industry, while it currently trails far behind. The iPhone 7 has been improved in comparison with its predecessors, but the changes are purely cosmetic, and most users will probably not notice the difference at all.
The screen is still LCD, not OLED, but it is clearer, richer in the colors it can display, and of better quality than the other iPhone models that the company has launched to date. Nevertheless, the only place we managed to distinguish the quality of the upgraded screen was in operating the built-in camera app, which now displays what the camera captures with much better quality, probably as the result of the combination with the camera itself.
4. An excellent camera, and we are not even talking about the 7 Plus
One of aspects in which competition between smartphones is the most intensive is undoubtedly their cameras. For years, Apple held its own heroically in this competition by taking care to largely ignore the number of pixels and focusing on far more important elements involving the aperture, the lenses, and the sensors, which really determine the quality of the pictures that the camera eventually produces.
The iPhone 7 includes a completely new 12-megapixel camera with an f/1.8 aperture key, and for the first time, a built-in image stabilizer. The colors it produces are richer, clearer, and sharper, and it identifies not only a face, but also a body, and is able to create a distinction and automatically focus the particulars on an automated identification basis. Apple has also upgraded the built-in flash, which now includes four LED lights of various hues that make it possible to create a flash with a shade tailored to the lighting conditions when the picture is taken. Leaving the technical details to one side, however, how does the picture come out?
The answer is that even in comparison with the most recent model (iPhone 6S), the difference stands out. The iPhone 7 camera is quicker, and creates sharp pictures with warmer and richer colors that those of previous models. The biggest difference comes to the fore under difficult lighting conditions, when it simply outclasses the previous models.
5. Two loudspeakers, not one, and they sound wonderful
A slight improvement in the iPhone 7 about which Apple did not have much to say was a revision of the built-in speaker in the device. Up until now, there was one loudspeaker placed at the bottom of the device, but the iPhone 7 has added another speaker in place of where device’s headphone used to be, from where it produces high-quality and powerful sound. The result is that for the first time, the device offers the opportunity to hear stereophonic audio with two different speakers producing sound on opposite sides.
iPhone 7 Plus owners will feel the difference more, because the distance between the loudspeakers is greater, but there is also a significant improvement in the iPhone 7 that is clear in comparison with all the previous iPhone models. It is more enjoyable watching video clips or listening to clips when watching them, and the sound quality has been substantially improved.
According to all the reports and assessments, Apple is saving its most significant revisions for next year’s. Nevertheless, the model unveiled by the company this year includes more than a few substantial upgrades, including the camera, being waterproof, and perhaps most important, the major step forward in the storage volumes offered by the various models. The lower end model offers storage of 32 GB, after which the series jumped directly to 128 GB. At the same time, the feeling I came away with was that this year’s revision was not all that significant an upgrade, and I’m returning with equanimity to my iPhone 6S, without any feeling of loss.
If you own either of the two preceding iPhone models (6 or 6S), it is worth waiting for the 10th anniversary upgrade of the device. Otherwise, the iPhone 7 is an excellent device with a real step forward in storage volume with slightly better value for the money this time.