Say what you will about Apple, love it or hate it, the company invented the smart phone as we know it. The large screen, control by touch, a minimal set of physical keys. They were pretty much Apple (even if some of the ideas may have been drawn from elsewhere.)
But “big” is a relative word. By the time I moved into the Apple world with an iPhone 4, five years ago, the Android competition was already moving onto even bigger screens. These days Apple has more or less caught up, with the iPhone 7 offering a 4.7 inch display, and the iPhone 7 Plus going to 5.5 inches. For this review, I’m sticking with the standard iPhone 7.
The review phone was packed with the maximum amount of memory – a very generous 256GB, or a quarter terabyte. Thus the $1379. Going for 128GB brings that down by $150. The base 32GB model is $1079, another $150 reduction.
Now, 32GB seems to be the standard storage load for most premium Android phones at the moment, but do remember one thing: those phones typically accept a microSD card to expand storage by at least 128GB. With an iPhone, you’re stuck with what it comes with. Want to take a lot of photos or some video? Up to 4K resolution is supported, and that chews through a lot of storage. Like to carry an iPod’s worth of music with you? You’re going to find 32GB a touch too confining, and may end up spending a lot of time on iTunes, just managing memory contents and shuffling media on and off the phone.
So I’d say, if you can somehow swing it, do go for the 128GB model at least.
Perhaps it’s a little surprising that the HD Retina display in the iPhone 7 offers only slightly higher resolution than mid-priced Android models, with 750 by 1334 pixels. But that’s only a problem if you’re a specification junkie. In practice, putting more pixels on this phone would not increase visible sharpness or detail in any meaningful way.* Instead Apple has focused on higher maximum brightness – up to 625 nits maximum – and a wider range of colours. Apple says that it offers the P3 colour gamut, which is significantly wider than the sRGB usually offered. P3 is now the standard for digital cinema.
Apple’s architecture and operating system is entirely different to that used by the competition, so I can only mention and describe. The operating system is now up to iOS 10.1.1. Version 10 introduced a number of changes, most noticeably the display of notifications on the lock screen. These can be switched off, or you can choose which things you want seen.
The iPhone 7 comes with the 64 bit A10 Fusion chip with an embedded M10 motion coprocessor. This is a quad core unit, running at up to 2.34GHz. Two of the cores are high efficiency, using only twenty per cent of the power of the two high performance cores, which themselves are forty per cent faster than those used in the A9 which powered the iPhone 6s. Therein lies a big part of the improved battery life claimed by Apple. The high efficiency cores can run most stuff most of the time, but the high power ones kick in when some performance is required. The A10 also has a six core graphics processor built in. Two gigabytes of RAM are provided.
What does all that stuff mean? Speed. Both speed tests and real world app tests around the world show the iPhone 7 doing equivalent things to other premium phone at significantly higher speeds.
The camera has been upgraded of course. It’s a 12 megapixel model with a maximum f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilisation. There’s auto HDR, photo geotagging, a quad-LED flash, and wide colour support. For video, 4K at 30 frames per second, and full HD at 30 or 60 frames per second is supported. Slow motion at 120fps (full HD) and 240fps (at 720p) is available too. Still pictures can be captured while shooting 4K video. These are 8 megapixels, so they’re simply frame grabs.
The front (FaceTime) camera offers 7 megapixels with a maximum aperture of f/2.2 and 1080p video.
The home button is not longer a button, although it looks the same. Instead it’s a physically delineated sensitive spot with a fingerprint sensor.