Apple has delivered a solid upgrade that lays the groundwork for future iPhones, according to initial reviews.
Maybe the positive reviews are having an impact. The company has already sold out of initial stock of some models of the iPhone 7, according to a Reuters report early Thursday morning.
The elimination of the headphone jack, a sore point for some consumers, was a major focus of all reviews. But probably the phone's biggest downside is also the most obvious: it looks pretty much identical to the two-year old iPhone 6, as all reviews mentioned.
Here’s a brief roundup.
The iPhone 7 gives you “more” of everything that’s important in a smartphone today, including “more speed, better camera, better screens, faster LTE, more battery life, more water-resistant,” Ars Technica said in its iPhone 7 review. Except for one thing you get less of: the venerable 3.5mm headphone jack.
“Apple believes that wireless audio is the future, but instead of waiting for the future to get here, the company is forcing the issue,” Ars Technica wrote. Note, however, that Apple is already known for forcing or accelerating the obsolescence of technologies, like the floppy disk and optical drive. And Apple has eased the pain of the transition by providing an adapter in the box that allows you to plug in your old 3.5mm headphones.
The new wireless AirPods ($159), which use Apple’s more stable version of Bluetooth (courtesy of Apple’s W1 chip that’s inside the AirPods), got a thumbs up. But they’re pricey.
“AirPods may be expensive, but at least you’ll get an audio-quality upgrade if you spring for them,” Ars Technica said, citing things like “clearer and louder” bass. But the review noted that they have come under “switf and unforgiving” criticism for their appearance when you put them in your ears.
And what about the iPhone 7's new camera tech?
“In our sample shots, the 7 and 7 Plus cameras don't look all that much better than the 6S and 6S Plus cameras when there's plenty of light available,” Ars Technica said. “It's in low light where the 7 and 7 Plus cameras really shine.” The review cited big improvements in shots taken at night.
Smartphone battery life is a perennial complaint. Here, the iPhone 7 seems to excel. “In [the Journal’s] punishing lab tests, the iPhone 7 lasted 10-and-1/2 hours. The 7 Plus...lasted about 10 hours,” the Journal said, adding that’s about 1.5 hours better than a new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, respectively.
The phone’s water resistance lives up to its billing too. The iPhone 7 “survived a half-hour in a fish tank” according to the review.
Like many reviews, the Journal devoted space to the elimination of the headphone jack. While acknowledging that not everyone will agree with the move, the Journal points out that it was done for a practical reason. “It freed up a ton of space inside a phone that’s already more packed than a subway car to do more practical things we really want.”
Besides, it’s time to make the move to wireless headphones, according to the review. “The most convenient workaround to not having a headphone jack is to make the leap to wireless earphones,” the Journal said.
The Verge sees the iPhone 7 as a statement about things to come from Apple. Despite having a physical design almost identical the iPhone 6/6s, “everything else about the iPhone 7 is a decisive statement about the future,” The Verge said.
The reviews cites, for example, the dual cameras on the bigger and more expensive iPhone 7 Plus which “promise to usher in a new era in mobile photography.” In short, the future of smartphone photography is dual cameras. While the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus both have a new f/1.8 (28mm equivalent) wide-angle lens, the Plus adds a second f/2.8 (56mm equivalent) lens. (Those “f” numbers basically translate as: the smaller the number, the wider the lens aperture is, which generally means brighter images.)
By having that extra lens on the Plus, you can do a “true” optical 2x zoom, a first for an iPhone. The only downside is that the second camera isn’t quite as good as the main camera, meaning zoomed photos won’t be as high quality as non-zoomed photos.
Overall, however, the main iPhone 7 camera held up pretty well in side-by-side comparisons. “We conducted some pretty extensive camera testing against a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, an iPhone 6S Plus, a Fuji XT10, and a Canon 5D MkIII...The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus clearly hold their own, but I don’t think they blow the pack away,” The Verge said.
The iPhone 7 also has a better front camera. It’s now 7 megapixels, a decent step-up from the 5-megapixel camera of the iPhone 6s.
Like most reviews, the Times was impressed with Apple’s new A10 processor. “The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are tremendously fast — more than double the speed of the two-year-old iPhone 6,” the Times said.
The verdict on the missing headphone jack was mixed. “After a while, I didn’t miss the headphone jack as much as I thought. Apple is pushing people toward wireless earphones...I found AirPods to be a decent first attempt at wireless audio, though there were glitches,” the Times said.
The next iPhone: Maybe the most interesting part of the The New York Times review of the iPhone 7 was a tidbit about the next iPhone. “Next year’s iPhone will have a full-screen face with the virtual button built directly into the screen,” the Times said, citing two people at Apple, who spoke anonymously to the Times.