Apple's iPhone 7 ($649 for 32GB, sizes up to 256GB)
Yes, it looks just like an iPhone 6s$649.00 at Apple Store. But Apple’s iPhone 7 ($649 for 32GB, sizes up to 256GB) is full of useful upgrades that look like they’ll improve photo, video, and gaming performance—as long as you’re willing to attach a dongle to your headphones. We spent an hour with the new phone at Apple’s launch event and started to get the idea, but we’ll need a week’s worth of use to see how all the new features shake out.
The iPhone 7$649.99 at T-Mobile looks almost exactly like last year’s iPhone, unless you get it in the new, glossy “jet black” finish. I’m not sure I’d recommend that, as the glossy body was attracting fingerprints pretty quickly when I saw it, and even Apple has suggested it might scratch. I’d stick with matte black, silver, or rose gold. Matte black, especially, looks terrific.
The screen seems just a bit brighter than the one on my iPhone 6s Plus$749.00 at Apple Store. The camera bump on the back is bigger. That shows the improved 12MP camera, which is now brighter at f/1.8, has a 50 percent brighter flash, and can create better photos thanks to a more powerful image processor. The front camera has been bumped from 5MP to 7MP. But if you want the new, zooming dual-camera feature, you’ll have to go with the bigger iPhone 7 Plus$769.99 at T-Mobile.
Look at the bottom, and there’s no headphone jack. What you get now is a little tail-like white dongle to convert your headphones to Lightning—and no, you can’t charge your phone and listen to Lightning headphones at the same time. Additional dongles cost $9 each, and a dock that lets you charge your phone and listen to wired headphones at the same time costs around $40-$50. It’s clear that Apple is trying to push us toward wireless headphones, such as its new AirPods$159.00 at Apple.
Other physical changes are invisible. Take the dual speakers. One appears to be at the bottom of the phone, while the other one is in the earpiece. Together, they’re much louder than the speaker on my iPhone 6s Plus, although I couldn’t judge the music quality in the very noisy demo room. I wonder if more people are going to be watching videos using the built-in speakers now that their cheap wired headphones don’t work as easily.
The phone is also water resistant, although Apple is careful to say it isn’t waterproof—this is more about protection from the occasional dunk.
When you touch the home button, you’ll notice another difference. Rather than actually pressing down, now it’s “taptic,” Apple’s word for a touch button with haptic feedback. It takes a minute to get used to, but quickly feels right, and Apple says that various apps will be able to vibrate the home button for different effects.
Under the hood, the iPhone 7 has a new A10 Fusion processor. iPhones always feel fast on the demo table, and this one did too. As with previous processors, we’ll see the advantages kick in as new third-party apps come out or when your phone is trying to do a lot of heavy lifting, such as in new games. The new quad-core processor uses a common strategy known as big-little to pair two slow, low-powered cores that don’t use much battery life, with two fast, high-powered cores that kick in when needed. That may help the iPhone 7’s battery life, which Apple says will last two hours longer than the battery in the iPhone 6s Plus does.
There are two iPhone 7 models being sold in the US, which appear to have two different modems. Both will be faster on LTE networks than previous iPhones. We’re pretty sure the Verizon and Sprint model uses Qualcomm’s X12 modem, which supports all four US carriers and a very wide range of international frequency bands. It supports 3x carrier aggregation, but it apparently doesn’t have more advanced features (which Verizon and Sprint don’t yet support) like 256 QAM and 4x4 MIMO, which are supported by the Samsung Galaxy S7$669.99 at T-Mobile. The AT&T and T-Mobile model lacks a CDMA radio, so it won’t work on Verizon or Sprint. It also supports 3x carrier aggregation, but not 256 QAM and 4x4 MIMO, which T-Mobile uses now to get the greatest speeds.
Most of these features aren’t industry firsts, but they’re firsts with iOS software, so this may be the time they take off. HTC (among others) has had dual cameras and front-facing speakers for years. Motorola just got rid of its headphone jack. Japanese firms have been making waterproof phones for a decade. None of those features seem to win sales, though. The top Android phone on the market, the Galaxy S7, doesn’t have dual cameras, front-facing speakers, or a new headphone experience.
People who want iPhones don’t want them because of the spec sheets. They want them because of iOS, third-party iOS apps, Apple’s service and support network, and the community effects of Apple-only systems like iMessage.
The real question is whether it’s worth upgrading from an older iPhone and whether it’s worth picking the big model over the smaller one. We look forward to spending more time with the phones and figuring that out.
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