Friday, October 7, 2016

Apple iPhone 7 Plus Mini Review

Apple launched the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in the United States, Canada, Australia (Hi, Jodi!), the United Kingdom and other locations around the world on September 16.

Let's just get a couple of things out of the way right from the get go. First, iPhone 7 Plus has, practically, the exact same body as the iPhone 6 Plus and 6S Plus. The next major redesign is expected to be the 2017 model, which will mark the tenth anniversary of iPhone. Secondly, the 3.5mm headphone jack is gone. Done. Stick a fork in it.

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, despite their names, are actually the eleventh generation iPhone models. This includes the original iPhone, released in June 2007, and the iPhone SE, released in March of this year.

iPhone 7 Plus Hardware


Exterior Changes and Enhancements

New for the 2016 model year, iPhone 7 Plus comes in two new finishes - the high gloss Jet Black and, my personal favorite, matte Black. Gone is the Space Grey option. Silver (aka White), Gold, and Rose Gold round out the color options. Besides two new color options, there are some other differences you should be aware of.

As for the rest of the exterior of iPhone 7 Plus, the camera bump frame is now part of the back plate. The plastic antenna lines that ran across the back of the iPhone are gone. The antenna lines that do remain are much harder to see as they almost perfectly blend into the case. There is a real possibility that if you aren't looking for them, you won't see them on the Jet Black or matte black iPhone models.

iPhone 7 Plus has the exact same dimensions and weight of the iPhone 6S Plus. Sadly, while an iPhone 6S Plus case technically "fits" the iPhone 7 Plus, the cutout for the camera is all wrong and you will have to buy a new case, or cases if you like to switch things up regularly. At least we got a bonus last year with the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6S Plus cases being interchangeable. Looking ahead to next year, I do not expect the cases to interchangeable either due to the rumored exterior casing changes.

Stereo Speakers and the Lighting to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are now outfitted with stereo speakers. To get stereo sound, Apple kept the original speaker at the bottom right of the device and added a new and improved speaker at the top of the phone. The speaker that you hold near your head when making a phone call is also the other have of the stereo speaker pair. To test out the sound quality of the new iPhone, I used both, my iPhone 7 Plus, my iPhone 6S Plus, and my 5K iMac to play The Del-Vikings' Come Go With Me (Single Version) from their album "20th Century Masters - The Millenium Collection: The Best of The Del Vikings" which was purchased form iTunes.

I started the test by first listening to the song on my 5K iMac with my 20 year old Cambridge Soundworks small desk speakers and sub-woofer. Then, I listend to the first 30 seconds on the iPhone 6S Plus, followed by the same 30 seconds on my iPhone 7 Plus. To my old ears, I personally felt that the iPhone 7 Plus most closely matched the warm, rich sound from iTunes on my iMac. On the iPhone 6S Plus and iPhone 7 Plus, the volume was set to 50%. Just for fun, and to use a song that my kids would know, I repeated the same test with Taylor Swift's Blank Space from her "1989" album. I still felt that the iPhone 7 Plus offered a better listening experience than the iPhone 6S. Your opinion of the sound quality and my selection of music will vary.

The elimination of the 3.5mm headphone jack has gotten the Internet in tizzy. For me, it's not a big deal for a few reasons, not least of which, when I listen to music or podcasts on my iPhone I do so with a pair of wireless PowerBeats ear buds. At the office, I have a pair of old Apple ear buds that came with my work issued iPhone 4S. So I have an extra Lightning to 3.5mm adapter at the office. Again, as with the stereo speaker test, the results are subjective, but I found the sound quality of music played back on to the PowerBeats and iPhone 4S era ear buds with the adapter to be the same as that of my iPhone 6S Plus. I did get burned once by not having a 3.5mm jack on my iPhone 7 Plus when I had to drive my wife's car to work. Her car doesn't have Bluetooth and iPhones connect to the in-car stereo via a...yup, you guessed it! A 3.5mm aux headphone jack. (I know. We're living like savages! It is 2016, after all!) So, I listen to FM radio on the way to work and used my adapter on the ride home so I could catch up on my podcast queue.

The Display and the Home Button

During the iPhone 7 launch event that took place on September 7, Apple spent a lot of time talking about the display in the new iPhone. Looking at the same Home screen (the exact same icon arrangement with the exact same wallpaper) I can't see a difference between them. I am sure that there are technical differences that I do not know to look for or am not trained to detect, but in terms of every day usage, I just don't see the difference.

I was expecting the iPhone 7-series phones to have the True Tone feature that debuted earlier this year on the (baby) iPad Pro 9.7". I guess that's a feature that will have to wait until the 2017 iPhone.

3D Touch is the same as it has always been from the iPhone 6S-series. I encourage everyone who has an iPhone 7-series phone to 3D Touch everything to discover new shortcuts. Apple, distressingly, keeps 3D Touch actions well hidden in the UI and you will need to discover them on your own. Show of hands: Who knew the Stocks app has a 3D Touch action?

iPhone 7 Plus also has a new, solid state, 3D Touch solid state physical Home button. The new Home button is fully integrated Touch ID sensor, which isn't mechanical like all of the past Home buttons on older iPhones. Instead, to simulate a button press and the "click" feel, the iPhone 7 Plus Taptic engine vibrates. I know the button isn't moving, but my mind sure think it does. You might need a day or two to get used to it. You can use the new Home Button feedback setting (Settings > General > Home Button) to control how forceful the haptic feedback is. There are three options. I prefer the "2" setting myself.

The Hardware Changes You Cannot See

Mercifully, Apple has finally abandoned the 16GB memory configuration. Hallelujah! The last few years have proven particularly challenging for people like my wife who always get the "cheapest" iPhone and then promptly fill it up photos of the kids and cat memes downloaded from Facebook and Instagram. What space is left after that is filled with a handful of apps. iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus provide some relief.

Starting with iPhone 7 models, Apple has doubled the amount of memory for each of the storage tiers. The new storage options are 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB. This change, which many have felt was long overdue, I think, will give people like my wife a better customer experience overall. I should note here, that if the iPhone 7 Plus was a car, the Jet Black version would be considered the "special edition" as it is only available in the 128GB and 256GB storage configurations. I recently saw an iPhone 7 at Apple Trumbull. It looked nice, but it was covered in finger prints and I could see at least a half dozen scratches in it's glossy finish on the back. That would drive me insane. I do not regret my matte Black color decision. Not for one second.

iPhone 7 Plus Dual Camera System

A new feature that is only available in the iPhone 7 Plus, and the primary driver for my decision to continue to be a paying member to the "Plus Club", is the new and improved 12MP cameras. Yes, as in two. The iPhone 7 Plus has the standard 1.8 aperture wide-angle 12MP camera that was included in the iPhone 6S Plus. New this year is the inclusion of a 2.8 aperture telephoto camera. Both cameras work in tandem and give you the option to use a 2x optical zoom or a 10x digital zoom. I am not a "camera guy". In my initial tests in direct sunlight or a well lit room, photos taken with the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 6S Plus look equally crisp. A picture of my cats in waiting for breakfast in my kitchen in low light looked much better than I was expecting. (I didn't have my iPhone 6S Plus with me at the time, so I have no comparison photo.) A second photo is took at a wedding this past weekend of my wife and her sisters with very low light was better than I expected, but does get "muddy" when I start to zoom in. Apple is also working on iOS 10.1, which is currently in beta testing, that will add a new digital bokeh photography option. Bokeh photography, in layman's terms, is that cool style where the subject is in sharp focus while the background is blurred out. Personally, this is the camera feature that I have wanted to be able to do for a long time, but never knew what it was called or how to do it. There is no work as to when iOS 10.1 will be released. If I was a betting man, I would guess that iOS 10.1 will be out before the end of the year.

For people who prefer the smaller iPhone, Apple is now shipping optical image stabilization in the 4.7" model. Previously, optical image stabilization was a feature that had been reserved for only the larger 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6S Plus. Now all iPhone 7-series owners will get the feature.

Water and Dust Resistance

Lastly, there are three invisible enhancements to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus that you can't see, but will be glad are there. Starting with the iPhone 7-series, iPhone is now splash, water, and dust resistant. iPhone 7 has received an IP67 rating under IEC standard 60529 (Apple, Inc., 2016). Your iPhone fell in the pool? Not a problem. Youngster watching video on your iPhone and spills their drink on it? Not a problem. You put your iPhone in a blender and then turned it on? Yeah, sure. You will have a bit problem. iPhone 7 can save your bacon from life's every day problems involving water. It is not impervious. Just keep in mind that "water resistant" dones't mean "water proof". Knowing is half the battle.

iOS 10


iPhone 7 Plus ships with iOS 10 by default. iOS 10 is, in my opinion, a pretty good release. It's fast and stable. Some of the changes will take some getting used to, like the swipe to unlock gesture going way and the new look and feel of widgets, Notification Center and Control Center. I am still not a fan of the recent iterations of the Music app and the Apple Music service.

In day-to-day usage, I don't see any major differences with iOS 10 running on my iPhone 7 Plus and my work issued iPhone 6. Many of the differences I have come across so far are the little things on the iPhone 7 Plus. For example, when in Fantastical, when flipping the wheel to set the date and time for events there is Taptic feedback that you would expect if you were turning a well made dial knob. Similarly, when you zoom in or out on a photo, there is a little bit of feedback when you reach the maximum zoom levels (both in and out). Also, using the pull the refresh gesture in Mail there is a bit of feedback too. These little "finishing touches" are not essential to the overall iPhone and iOS 10 experience, but they do add to the fit and finish of iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

Conclusion


Over all, if you are looking to upgrade to a new iPhone this year, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus offer some excellent features if you are coming from an iPhone 6 or earlier iPhone. The storage upgrades alone are worth it. If you have an iPhone 6 Plus or iPhone 6S, I am not as confident saying hands down you need an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. With iOS 10, a free upgrade for all iPhone 5 and later model iPhones, the decision needs to be much more personal, in that you need to weight the pros and cons of buying a new iPhone. If you are the tech nerd in your group of friends, you probably will want to upgrade. If you like to take great quality photos with your iPhone, you will probably want to upgrade. If you have a Samsung Galaxy Note7, you will absolutely want to upgrade to iPhone 7 Plus - if for no other reasons, iPhone doesn't explode. If you are happy with your current iPhone, I don't think that there is a single "gotta have it" feature of the iPhone 7-series that demands that you go out and get one right now. All-in-all, if you need or want a new iPhone, there is a lot to like about the iPhone 7-series.


iPhone Handsets and Release Dates

iPhone (2G) - June 29, 2007
iPhone 3G - July 11, 2008
iPhone 3GS - June 19, 2009
iPhone 4 - June 24, 2010
iPhone 4S - October 4, 2011
iPhone 5 - September 21, 2012
iPhone 5S - September 20, 2013
iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus - September 19, 2014
iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus - September - September 25, 2015
iPhone SE - March 31, 2016
iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus - September 16, 2016

References

Apple, Inc. (2016, September 7). iPhone 7 Tech Specs. Retrieved October 2, 2016, from Apple.com: http://www.apple.com/iphone-7/specs/

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