The new Apple iPhone 7 is excellent. It’s certainly an improvement on the iPhone 6s, but there are many aspects that haven’t changed much. Has it usurped the Samsung Galaxy S7 as the best smartphone?
What we think
Sleek and stylish, yet expensive and controversial. Removing the headphone jack was bold, as Apple pushes customers towards its wireless AirPods, but other changes show progress from the iPhone 6s.
- Better battery
- Excellent camera capabilities
- More powerful processor
- Dust and water resistant
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
- No 64Gb memory option
- Similar to iPhone 6s
- Very expensive
The aluminium Apple iPhone 7 has a very similar look to its predecessor, the iPhone 6s. It’s even exactly the same size, measuring 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1mm (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 inches), with a screen size of 4.7 inches. The only difference here is that Apple has shaved off five grams of weight.
When it was confirmed that the headphone jack no longer features – arguably the single biggest change from the iPhone 6s – I assumed this was to make the phone thinner, so it was very surprising to find it is the same thickness as the previous versions. However, the phone is still very slim, and now allows for a bigger battery, among other changes.
I am surprised Apple didn’t increase the size a bit, as the market has seen a growing trend towards a larger screen. The phone is easy enough to hold in one hand, admittedly, but I personally would appreciate a larger screen for streaming videos.
Of course, if you want a bigger screen you could opt for the iPhone 7 Plus, which has a screen size of 5.5 inches, but comes at a higher cost, and is much less comfortable to hold in one hand.
Other than the lack of headphone jack, the biggest change to the exterior of the phone is actually the home button, which is no longer a physical button (it still serves as a fingerprint sensor though). It doesn’t move at all anymore, which took a little getting used to. When you apply pressure, it jolts instead. Apple has used very clever technology known as Taptic Engine, to trick your brain into feeling a non-existent click, via a network of haptic vibration motors and pressure sensors. It isn’t perfect, and not everyone will like it replacing the iconic physical button, but it has a definite ring of the futuristic.
The phone now has built-in stereo speakers located on the bottom, either side of the Lightning connector and microphone, as well as another built-in stereo speaker on the front of the phone, towards the top. This helps to greatly improve the audio quality when playing music and videos without headphones or speakers connected.
With an LED-backlit IPS LCD, capacitive touchscreen, the display is clear and sharp. This is in spite of the resolution only being a comparatively disappointing 750 x 1334 pixels (326ppi), identical to the iPhone 6s and substantially lower than the Galaxy S7, which has a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels (577ppi).
Thankfully, there are more colour choices for the body available with this version. The glossy Jet Black and matte Black designs join Rose Gold, Silver and Gold as options, with Space Grey being dropped. While Jet Black sounds to be the most popular among current customers, I really like the sleek look of the Black version. Be wary that the Jet Black design seems to show abrasions and scratches more clearly than the other options, due to its glossy finish.
Included in the box is a pair of EarPods with Lightning connector, a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter, a Lightning to USB cable and a USB power adapter.
As mentioned, the 3.5mm headphone jack is no longer. Instead, Apple supplies a pair of its own wired EarPods, updated to fit into the Lightning connector, and handily include an adapter as well, to ensure you can still use your own headphones if you want to – and who can blame you? I’ve not rated the comfort or sound quality of Apple’s earphones very highly in the past, and would much rather keep using my own.
The adapter itself is quite an ugly, annoying hassle. Luckily for Apple, the more the adapter annoys people, the more likely they are to buy the new, completely wireless earphones released alongside the iPhone 7; the AirPods.
Why are these meant to be better than normal wireless headphones? Because instead of running on Bluetooth, which can be a bit slow and fiddly to pair, these contain a chip known as the W1, allowing the earphones to connect to your phone much quicker, and allow for more features to be used.
The AirPods also contain dual optical sensors to detect when they are placed in your ear, as well as microphones, dual accelerometers and an antenna.
These little earphones (which are somewhat evocative of electric toothbrush heads) come with a case which doubles as the charging ports. They are completely wireless and protrude from the ear. So far, they haven’t fallen out and become lost, but for the price, the little buds seem terribly easy to lose.
I think the worst thing about the AirPods however, is that astonishing price. Apple wants £159 for a pair of these, on top of the huge amount of money you need to fork out for the new phone itself. The AirPods don’t work with any other phone or device, limiting their use. I don’t think the positives are that big a deal, and I’m totally convinced I will lose them. I’m even worried about them being stolen – surely there’s a risk of people easily grabbing them out of your ears and running off with them?
Another big annoyance is that you cannot charge your phone and listen to music on wired earphones at the same time, because of the limits of the single Lightning connector.
Also, it’s very strange that despite Apple buying out Beats Electronics, there doesn’t seem to have been any collaboration between the two over earphones. This is the most expensive iPhone ever, and as such I feel the comfort and quality of the EarPods needs to be improved considerably.
The decision to make the iPhone 7 dust and water resistant was very important. Samsung recently showed this could be done effectively with the Galaxy S7, so it was crucial that Apple stepped up and matched them. It now provides users with confidence their shiny new phone will survive the dreaded toilet dip, pint splash, or butter-fingers over concrete stairs.
The iPhone 7 has IP67 protection, which means it has scored 6 for dust protection (the highest possible score), and a 7 for water resistance. Although the maximum score possible for water protections is 9, it at least means the phone should survive being submerged 1m into water for 30 minutes, so you can probably say goodbye to the overnight bowl of rice CPR tactic.
Within the iPhone 7, Apple has introduced its new quad-core A10 Fusion Chip with 64-bit architecture, as well as an embedded M10 motion coprocessor and 2Gb of RAM.
This new processor delivers a dazzling, speedy performance, much like the previous A9 chip managed, but with greater efficiency this time around. Meanwhile, the graphical performance of the A10 is improved thanks to a new six-core GPU.
So, the A10. For demanding tasks, there are two high-performance cores, while for more basic tasks, there are two low-power cores. A new performance controller makes a decision on which cores are used to handle each task taking place, to reduce unnecessary power expenditure. This isn’t a new technology – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core chip found in North American Galaxy S7 phones utilises it – but it’s pleasing to see Apple has included tech to match.
This all means that combined with the bigger, better battery, the iPhone 7 is able to last around two hours longer than before, with medium usage. You might not necessarily notice a drastic change in speeds compared to the iPhone 6s – Geekbench testing indicates its performance is 22 per cent better than the iPhone 6s – but clearly there are other benefits.
The iPhone 7 runs the newest Operating System for Apple devices, iOS 10, which is definitely the best one yet. Changes to Apple Music, iMessage, Siri, and Apple Maps are among the improvements made, which will enhance the user experience much more.
Now this is an area where Apple has performed very well. While the main camera on the rear of the phone is still 12MP, it has a new f/1.8 aperture, six-element lens, in addition to a Quad-LED True Tone flash. There is also a wider colour capture, and Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS). Meanwhile, the iPhone 7 Plus has been blessed with a fancy dual-camera.
The camera on the iPhone 6s was actually very impressive, so there wasn’t a great deal more Apple could do to improve on it. Capturing more colours and improving the quality of low-light photos are the main differences noticeable with this new camera, enabling you to take excellent photographs.
Meanwhile, the front-facing camera has received a nice boost up to 7MP, allowing you to take better quality selfies and video calls. The phone provides 4K video at 30fps, and you can even take 8MP photos while filming in 4K, which is very cool.
I think pictures captured on the iPhone 7 are pretty much on the same level as those taken using a Galaxy S7, with nothing major really setting them apart. All in all, they’re both exceptional for a phone camera.
Thankfully, the battery receives a bit of a boost on the iPhone 6s model, with Apple’s website claiming it now provides up to two more hours of battery life.
The iPhone 7 features a non-removable Li-ion 1,960mAh battery, up from 1,715mAh but still considerably behind the Galaxy S7 which features a 3,000mAh battery. The iPhone 7 Plus has a 2,900mAh Li-ion battery.
We watched a 90-minute film on full brightness, and the battery went from 100 per cent to 75 per cent, which isn’t too bad. The phone can provide up to 13 hours of wireless video playback, or 14 hours on Wi-Fi. Charging it up from 0 per cent is pretty quick, but it definitely slows down as it approaches full charge.
If you’re going out after school or work, you will generally need to top it up a bit before you leave, for it to last until you arrive back home. If you’re heading out for the night, it’s best to have it fully charged really, in order for it to last you through to the morning.
Unlike the Galaxy S7, the iPhone still doesn’t support wireless charging, which now more than ever would be convenient due to the headphones plugging into the Lightning connector.
All in all, the battery is fine, lasting through the working day with moderate use, but it’s not as good as its rivals, and Apple needs to bridge this gap in the future.
The memory storage options for the Apple iPhone 7 are 32Gb, 128Gb or 256Gb. There’s no MicroSD card slot, so you will need to think carefully about the internal memory size you choose.
Thankfully, 16Gb is no longer an option – I have always felt that this is simply too small for such a powerful phone – but interestingly, neither is 64Gb. Personally I feel 32Gb is adequate, while 64Gb would be perfect for me, so it is a shame Apple removed this option.
Instead, customers are directed upwards to the considerably larger memory sizes, which unfortunately means Apple can get away with charging a higher price. For the casual user, 32Gb should be fine, but if you store a fair amount of data and apps on your phone then you will probably need to go for the 128Gb.
If you were to purchase a SIM-free Apple iPhone 7 outright, you’d better have deep pockets. The 32Gb version costs £599, the 128Gb version is £699, and the 256Gb version will set you back £799.
While these prices are exceptionally high, they are fairly typical of Apple products, coming as no surprise to anyone. The company has always been seen as more of a luxury, high-end brand, compared to its rivals, and as such its products are expensive – arguably overpriced.
While I personally don’t feel the iPhone 7 is great value for money, the prices are unlikely to dissuade too many Apple fans, who generally still pay up for the latest releases.
I don’t think there is any reason for iPhone 6s users to upgrade to the iPhone 7, as the phones are pretty similar, and aren’t cheap, so you would be better off waiting for the next instalment and saving your money.
For anyone who cannot quite afford the iPhone 7, the Galaxy S7 is worth some serious consideration, coming in at around £500. For those on more of a budget, the Nexus 5X is only around £200, and has performed very well indeed.
Overall, the Apple iPhone 7 is a fantastic phone, providing serious competition to the basically perfect Samsung Galaxy S7. It’s the best iPhone ever made, without a doubt.
It’s very pleasing to see Apple make its (very) expensive device water resistant, to reduce the likelihood of it breaking due to water damage. Meanwhile the new camera provides excellent images and it’s a huge relief to see a bigger battery, following the annoyingly short battery life experienced with the iPhone 6s.
However, a number of aspects have remained unchanged. I’m surprised neither the phone or screen size has increased at all, but most disappointing to me is the fact the screen resolution is the same as the iPhone 6s was, with even many budget smartphones beating the iPhone 7 in terms of display.
The jury is now out on whether the new headphone design will be celebrated or hated. Removing the standard headphone jack was a very big move by Apple, and we shall have to wait and see if it pays off. £159 for AirPods is an outrageous price to pay on top of the iPhone 7, while the adapter is an ugly hassle. I don’t think the improvements made as a result of ditching the headphone jack make up for how inconvenient it is for users.
Given the choice, I would go for the Galaxy S7 over the iPhone 7, primarily due to cost. While the 32Gb iPhone 7 costs not much more than the 32Gb Galaxy S7 did on release, it doesn’t have expandable memory and I prefer to have a normal headphone jack.
Both smartphones are staggeringly good, and carry similarities such as being water resistant and providing better low-light photos. However, if you opt for the S7 over the iPhone 7, you might actually have some money left to pay the rent at the end of the month.