6 November 2016

REVIEW: iPhone 7

Testing the hype.

We know, we know... it's been out a month now and you've probably already read several reviews of the iPhone 7. However, when Three asked us if we wanted to take a look at one, we jumped at the chance, making this our first ever review of an Apple product. First product reviewed, mind; not first product owned, with all of us having had experience of iPhone and iOS in the past. But – and here is your disclaimer – by cosmic coincidence we're all dedicated Android fans, so does the iPhone 7 offer enough to sway us to Apple. Let's see...

First up, we were sent a regular iPhone 7, not the Plus model which features a larger screen and double cameras. But still, the phone itself is a pleasure to hold in the hand, despite it being slightly smaller than the Samsung Galaxys and phablet phones we all seem to prefer. It looks and feels like a very precisely engineered device, and that should be no surprise considering how much Apple push their design department, making their chief designer, Jony Ive, a celebrity in his own right. Do you know the name of the person who designed the Galaxy S7? We don't.

Take at look at Apple's product page for the iPhone 7 and that emphasis on design and style is further augmented. You have to scroll far down the page before you find out about the actual specs, and even then Apple are always pretty vague, saying things like “twice as fast as the iPhone 6” without mentioning how fast that actually is.

The retina HD display (which is “25% brighter” - than what?) is very nice indeed, with edges that subtly curve into the aluminium body, meaning there are no jarring edges to the thing at all. It is 4.7 inches across, with a pixel density of 1334 x 750, which is admittedly excellent for screen of this size. And a decent screen is very important when you consider the most celebrated part of the 7's marketing: the camera.

Although it might not possess the headline-grabbing double lenses of the it's bigger brother, the iPhone 7's new shooter is very impressive, despite not really boasting the best specs. It is 12MP, which might not ring any excitement bells for people into these kind of things (considering that some Samsung phones have been using upwards of 16MP cameras for two years now), but the large aperture means a lot of light gets in to the sensor. There is image stabilisation running by default, so even with the digital zoom activated shots were clear, bright, and blur-free.

We have to admit, for the fortnight we had the 7, it was the camera that was used the most, especially thanks to the likes of Live photos (which snap a few images to create a micro movie of about a second long – it can be a bit creepy if you don't realise it's on and you go to look at your photos!), HDR, an easily editable exposure, and the standard in-camera effects. The focus was quick, time-lapse was easy to operate, and 4K video was smooth and crisp. As we said, it was by far our favourite part of the device.

Here's a shot:

But the iPhone 7 also heralded in iOS 10, something that none of us had experience with. This is where the Android lovers in us start to boast a bit, as it seems that over the past five years Apple has very carefully nudged their OS to mimic some of the things that make Android great. There is greater integration with Siri now, and a pull from the left on the main screen will bring up a settings page to set-up how you want the personal assistant to work. To be fair, we think Siri runs a little smoother that Google Assistant, and we've never really enjoyed having to blurt “Okay, Google!” into our phones.

But the interface of iOS 10 is still all about the app tray being front and centre. We don't like that, and never have. We think it still looks cluttered and messy, and love Android's customisable home screen with the app drawer accessed by a button. If you're used to it, iOS 10 will be no bother, but Android users might find it frustrating. In fact, it seems iOS 10 is still very un-cutomisable, which is a same. Yes, you can change the background image, and there are some nice ones to choose from – live images, even – but that's pretty much it. If you don't mind having a phone that looks like everyone else's, no worries.

But once we got over that, we actually started to enjoy using the OS. It's hot-damn quick, and page transitions are super fast and very smooth. The A10 Fusion chip seemed to handle everything we threw at it very well, despite only possessing 2GB of RAM. Wow, we've arrived at a time in tech development when a phone with only 2GB of RAM is disappointing. What a time we live in, eh?

But just like the the distinct lack of pixels in the camera sensor, Apple seems to have made the best of the RAM. We had it downloading a few apps while several web pages were open, then fired up a game. There was never any noticeable lag, and certainly no crashes. Despite this sounding like a thing a snobbish Android user might say, we can't imagine the average iPhone user ever needing more processing space than that. Christ, that does sound bad. Sorry.

And now the thing that got everyone talking following the keynote speech: the lack of a headphone jack. Yep, no jack there at all baby, so no chance to plug in your existing wired headphones. Instead, the included earpods headphones have a Lightning connector, to plug into the same port as the charge/data USB cable. They worked just fine, and Apple always seem to bundle in decent headphones with their products, at least.

Bluetooth worked great (as you'd bloody well hope it would!), and as guys who mostly use Bluetooth headphones anyway, the lack of a headphone jack didn't really bother any of us. Well, it kinda did late at night. If you use you phone for watching stuff while in bed, all you really want to do is whack in a small and comfortable pair of buds... which you can. BUT... not if your iPhone is also charging, as it tends to be at night. That was pretty annoying.

So it is a very impressive device, but one that has impressed us by working well despite the lower than industry-average specs. The price, however, is far higher than industry average, as iPhones always are. Apple are selling you more than just a phone though, and every bit of marketing the company puts out about their latest device usually has the same message – that it is “better” than the last one. They never mention the fat that it isn't better than Samsung's or HTC's or Google's latest model, just rather that it is an improvement over the most recent iPhone. But people buy in to that, because the iPhone is a safe bet. It isn't experimental or unique or overly exciting. It's a comfortable, crowd-pleaser.

So, has it swayed our minds away from Android? No. Android still wins out in terms of customisation, looks, and ease of use, plus the fact that it can be found on many models of smartphone that are objectionable 'better' than the iPhone 7. However, if you don't really give a toss about anything but having an excellent camera in your pocket (that also connects to the net and sends texts and calls) the iPhone 7 should definitely be up there on your list.

If you're rich, that is.

Three currently have plans for the iPhone 7 starting at £36 a month, with an upfront cost of £149.

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