iPhone 7 review: A brilliant handset but one that hints at even bigger things to come

Steve Dinneen
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iPhone 7

There were no queues around the block for the UK launch of the iPhone 7.

Flash floods were a mitigating factor (plus the fact the annual pilgrimage has been on the wane for a couple of years), but I suspect it’s also because it looks so damn similar to the last one.

The aluminium chassis is the same apart from a couple of new colours and a little bit of house-keeping on the camera and antenna band: nothing that would inspire me to spend three days camping outside a shop in Covent Garden. And then there’s the lack of a hole for your headphones...

But let me put this in context: it’s brilliant. I love it. If you tried to take it from me I would fight you. It will improve your life in myriad incremental ways; your photographs will look better, you’ll spend less time waiting for apps to load, the speakers are louder. The iPhone 7 is the performance-enhancing upgrade Apple needed to stay at the front of the smartphone pack, but it will do little to dispel the prevailing wisdom that Cupertino’s finest is running low on the visionary magic that made it the biggest company in the world.

Don't have time to read this? Here's a helpful, 107-second summary Apple made...

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Au revoir, headphone jack

The most noticeable change for iPhone users is the new home button, which no longer actually presses. Instead it provides artificial feedback through its “Taptic Engine”, simulating a physical button – or, more accurately, simulating the entire end of the phone clicking down on itself. The same engine allows haptic feedback in apps, and when performing certain actions in the UI (it’s especially impressive in games, with micro-vibrations giving an extra level of immersion). While 3D Touch was initially promising but eventually a let-down, this feels like a feature that will become integral to the iPhone experience.

The second most noticeable change is more controversial – that missing headphone jack. Now your headphones plug into the lightning port and every “traditional” set of wired headphones will require an adaptor, which is included with each unit (this received a rather undeserved round of applause during the launch keynote).

Whether or not this infuriates you – personally I can live with it – is largely irrelevant: 2016 is the beginning of the end for the 3.5mm jack. In five years no high-end devices will have one. Every manufacturer will be pushing their Bluetooth cans. You may as well get used to it.

Apple’s upcoming AirPods (the same old crappy white headphones but without wires and costing £159) and compatible Beats allow for seamless pairing – i.e. without needing to go through the Bluetooth settings menu – but this isn’t available (yet) for third parties, which is legitimately annoying. As a consolation prize, you get a second speaker, giving the handset stereo sound that dramatically improves both quality and volume.

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Technical specs

Other more subtle improvements include the new A10 chip, which is 40 per cent faster than the A9 chip (iPhone 6s) and twice as quick as the A8 (iPhone 6). Those figures aren’t very useful, but in practical terms it means this is the fastest phone on the market. It’s also waterproof as long as you don’t submerge it for too long (if you want to go swimming with an Apple device, take the Watch instead). The display is also improved, although it still falls short of the best Android handsets.

As with the iPhone 6 and 6s, the 7 comes with a Plus option (5.5in vs 4.7in) with beefed up specs. Given they both sit awkwardly in your pocket, the only reason I can see to go with the smaller one is the price, and if you’re overly worried about that, you’ll probably be avoiding Apple altogether. The Plus model offers longer battery life, a better display and, best of all, a second camera that gives you the option of 2x optical zoom. This works seamlessly from the camera app, with no need to manually switch from one to the other. An upcoming (free) software update will allow 7 Plus users to create a DSLR-style “bokeh” – that blurred background effect that was once the preserve of competent photographers.

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Any colour you like

Finally, you can have it in whatever new colour you like, as long as it’s black. There’s “Jet Black”, which looks lovely in the showroom but apparently scratches if you look at it funny, or just plain “Black”. If Apple is looking for suggestions for a more descriptive name, I’d suggest “Desert Monolith Black”, or “Collapsed Star Black” or “The Dark Heart of My Soul That I’ll Never Show to Another Human Being Black”. It’s cool.

Rumour has it the iPhone 7 is designed to keep things ticking over while Apple prepares for a major update with its next handset (presumably skipping the “s” model in this cycle and going straight to the iPhone 8). Revolutionary features being touted include a screen that goes right to the edge of the handset, the complete removal of the physical home button, and a chassis made of glass and ceramic (given veracity by a new patent and the use of ceramic in some new Apple Watches).

The conclusion

Is it worth waiting it out? That depends: iPhones tend to show little depreciation in performance for a couple of years, and will still be perfectly useable after three, so if you have a 6s or even a 6, I’d hang fire (in the meantime invest in some wireless headphones). If your handset’s older than that, it’s probably ready for the great Apple Store in the sky, and the iPhone 7 will make an excellent replacement. I wouldn’t worry about missing out: one thing you can always count on is a new iPhone around the corner.