Review: iPhone 7 – Some very specific field notes

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1-cxnav-ylljmsdhuf9hmm3g The iPhone 7 is a clear stepping stone, but it’s one that people have been asking for for years now. And in my view, that’s a good thing.

Whenever Apple makes the iPhone thinner and lighter people say that they don’t care about thinness or lightness. They want a thicker phone with a better battery. Critics don’t care about looks or gimmicks, they want functionality. And while the iPhone 7 may not be a thicker device, it packs in a bunch of little, welcome advantages over its predecessors, including a better battery life.

Which says a lot about what Apple are trying to achieve with this device. It’s a familiar phone with a number of bumps and some more controversial changes. But overwhelmingly it’s the iPhone people wanted last year. One with a better battery life (2 extra hours on the 7, 1 extra hour on the 7 Plus) and some fun new features like water resistance and…..no headphone jack. Actually, let’s get right into that.

The missing headphone jack

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Now look, I know it’s been discussed to death at this point and it’s time to move on, but I really do have to pour one out for the simple, beautiful, perfect headphone jack.

Apple’s decision to remove the 3.5mm port on the iPhone 7 is genuinely disappointing, but not just because my stupid, expensive headphones no longer plug into the iPhone 7.

No, my disappointment comes from the lack of a replacement.

The headphone jack has always been an equaliser. When I was a kid I had a cheapo FM transmitter called the Radio DJ and I loved it. Using a 3.5mm cable I was able to transmit my voice and my music throughout the house from a portable CD player. It used to blow my mind, and even at that age it was simple enough to set-up by myself. You just connected the cable and it worked. I could plug in a Walkman, a CD player, or even another microphone. It was simple. It was absolute. And it sounded perfect every time.

The smartphone is and always has been an island. You store everything on it, you protect it with passcodes, fingerprints, patterns, and to get anything on and off your smartphone you have to do these weird, unnatural dances. For photos you have to use a cloud photo system or weird mixes of iPhoto or other terrible software. To move music and movies you need to either use an app that’s built for that or deal with iTunes’ file sharing mechanisms. Even new features like AirDrop barely work at all. Each app is an island and each smartphone is a bridged-off, Trump-like sanctuary. And when you think about it, the most popular smartphone apps are attempts to make the smartphone less locked-down. Facebook lets you share photos, Snapchat makes video-sharing easy and fun, Google Docs and Drive and Dropbox let you share files.

The headphone jack, on the other hand, was one absolutely dead-simple way to share sound from your smartphone. It turned the personal communicator into a device that was easy to share. Even now that simplicity is really powerful. The word ‘AUX’ has become a part of the millennial vocabulary. People use that port to share music through cars, parties, nightclubs. Hell, even Kanye West and his rich mates used that same cable to blast music through the Madison Square Garden arena earlier this year.

And because of the simplicity of that ‘old’ jack I was able to mess with music from the age of 6. I didn’t have to ask my parents for adapters or worry about that adapter breaking or worry about if my Radio DJ had iOS 10 support or whatever. There was no latency, no firmware compatibility, no $12 a pop adapter. I was just able to plug one side into the other and go.

With the iPhone 7 that’s no longer the case, and while people will get used to it, mentally I wish I didn’t have to. Apple has very clearly put a wall up for consumers. In my first week with the phone I already misplaced one 3.5mm to Lightning port. I have to carry one pair of headphones around for my Mac and another for my iPhone. And frankly, I feel like a fool. The Lightning to 3.5mm adapter is also not perfect. Sometimes a light little tweak of the cable will leave the phone convinced that the headphones are no longer connected. It’s not the best.

Even so, for me, Apple’s current Lightning alternative isn’t the worst. I already use Apple’s EarPods. I understand the change. I may even come to respect it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a hard transition to make. Even Apple is delaying their AirPods to late October, which shows how early and fresh this whole situation is for users. It’s rough, and Apple isn’t doing consumers any favours.

If you absolutely love using the 3.5mm jack, buy an iPhone 6s. Or get used to our nightmare jack-free future.

The new home button

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Continuing the trend of seed-sowing, the iPhone 7 also features no home button, which could be another hint at a bigger-screened, button-free iPhone 8 or 9.

On the iPhone 7 Apple uses a haptic-engine, like the one on the new MacBook’s, to buzz every time you put pressure on the Touch ID ring. And it works remarkably well.

In one week I’ve already started to mentally recognise the haptic buzz as a real button press, even though I’m just putting pressure on a non-mechanical piece of glass. It feels weird, and the entire phone vibrates a little, but it could be worse.

The only downside is that it’s now a little harder to screenshot Snapchats, and depending on how you’re holding the phone sometimes the buzz doesn’t feel like a button click at all. Sitting on a table, for example, the iPhone 7 home button sometimes feels lifeless. But it’s fine.

The camera

It’s an iPhone camera. It’s really good. Maybe not the best anymore, but still good enough for almost anyone. Optical image stabilisation is a huge addition to the regular sized 7 too. But to be honest that’s pretty much all I can say.  My Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is in the shop waiting for repairs and it still doesn’t compare to my Mirrorless dedicated camera. But it’s impressive, to say the least.

The battery life, performance, design

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The iPhone 7 is crazy fast. Compared to an Android phone the performance gap is night and day. It’s consistently buttery and I’ve had zero lock-ups so far. If you like an Android you probably won’t care about that. iOS is still iOS, locked-down and Apple-centric. But the difference between iOS performance and Android performance really is startling.

Battery life is still not superb, but it’s fine. As I mentioned before there is a notable battery bump in the smaller iPhone 7 and I think it feels a lot more forgiving. But this still isn’t a (non-exploding) Note 7. It still won’t get through more than a day. And you still might want to buy a battery case if you’re going on a long flight or using the phone for hours on end.

And finally, the iPhone 7’s design is, like the 6 and 6s, pretty average. It looks fine, and I love the Rose Gold and Black colours. But I still hate the slippery feel of the phone. Buy a case for the sake of your bank account.

Some water-resistance is also a cool addition to the 7, though I haven’t had the guts to try it out. Water damage isn’t covered by warranty, after all.

The wrap

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The iPhone 7 is an amazing phone. It’s the best I’ve ever owned. It’s silky smooth, I use it to answer all my emails and to message friends and to take photos and videos and to listen to music. I have all of my notes and personal files on it. I write on it. I live through it, as sad as that may sound. And my iPhone / smartphone is the only device that I happily upgrade every year.

The lack of a headphone jack is still super annoying and disappointing, but the fact that I still want one is a testament to the iPhone 7’s otherwise sublime traits.

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