Last week, the internet exploded in enraged disbelief when Apple unveiled the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus — minus headphone jacks. But, as I discovered while testing the device in the days that followed the keynote, a phone is much more than the sum of its ports.
For the purposes of this review, I’m not interested in “bead blah-sted anodized al-yoo-mi-nee-um.” Because high-definition closeups and carefully choreographed onstage demos are not real-world conditions, I’m more concerned about the iPhone in the context of life’s less, er, dignified moments.
I’m human, and wrote this as such.
3. A moment of silence for the headphone jack.
Listen, I was more upset than anyone. “DON’T YOU DARE, TIM!!!,” I mouthed to my computer on one particularly bleak August day, when the jack murder was all but confirmed.
(Just kidding, I live in San Francisco. Every Fogust day is particularly bleak.)
At first, the prospect of a Bluetooth-only product seemed a little…mean — and also strange. Most high-fidelity headphones use the same 3.5 mm port that’s been around for 50 years. It’s *just about* the only technology that our grandparents can still relate to! Seriously, Tim, how dare you!
But when Apple announced its proposed solution — EarPods that connect via Lightning (the name of the iPhone’s one and only remaining port) and a Lightning-to-audio-jack adapter for wired headphones, both included in the box — I put down my pitchfork.
5. The new Lightning-connected headset feels exactly the same as the EarPods that have shipped with iPhones since 2012.
The microphone is just as good for calls and FaceTime as the older version, as is the in-line remote for controlling music while your phone is tucked away. Most importantly, they still adhere to the principles of earbud physics: They go into your pocket perfectly wrapped and, without fail, leave a tangled mess. Every. Time.
The new EarPods even have a small (albeit marginal) added benefit. The Lightning connection feels more secure than the old audio jack did: After the phone fell into the “& Beyond” crack between my bed and the wall, the EarPods’ cord saved it from hitting the floor, which felt like sweet, sweet victory. A very unscientific bounce test confirmed their superior strength.
7. The new iPhone doesn’t alienate those who prefer non-Bluetooth, “old-school” earbuds or headphones, either.
When I’d rather ~be alone~ I prefer wearing big ol’ human repellants. Ones that they say, “Do not speak to me. Do not look at me. Bye.” This type of headphone typically has a wire, and that wire can be plugged into the iPhone through the included adapter and Lightning port. Simple. The new setup offers wired headphones some advantages too, like being able to control audio settings at a granular level and delivering power through the port for sets that require battery (noise-cancelling headphones, for example), even when the phone is off.
That’s it! That’s all there is! If you’d prefer to use wired headphones, just leave the included adapter connected to them (when you inevitably lose it, it’s available at the Apple Store for $9). If you’d rather not, use the Lightning EarPods. And maybe this doesn’t even apply to you because you already own wireless headphones anyway. Sales of Bluetooth headphones outsold other categories for the first time this year, and in the first half of 2016, over 54% of total headphone sales were Bluetooth. Another fun fact: The top-selling wireless brand is Beats, which Apple acquired in 2014.
The no-headphone-jack life isn’t as painful as I thought it was going to be. In fact, from a day-to-day perspective, it’s totally fine (until I lose this adapter, anyway).
8. One major downside? The phone can’t be charged and plugged into headphones without an accessory.
You’ll need to shell out extra moola for Apple’s Lightning dock ($49) or Belkin’s new “RockStar” ($40), which on the one hand is kind of bullshit, and, on the other hand, a fairly insignificant problem, especially when you’re already paying upwards of $600 for a phone.
9. The new system won’t be great for everyone.
If you opt for Lightning headphones (Philips, JBL, and Audeze already have some on the market), you’ll need to bring an extra set for your computer and every other device with a 3.5 mm port — or, if you decide to switch to Android, you’ll have to throw them away altogether. Minus one for bulk and minus one for waste.
People with aux input in their cars will need to look for a Bluetooth solution (godspeed) or buy an adapter if they want to charge during road trips.
Those who frequently take long-haul flights or train rides won’t be able to charge their devices and drown out wailing babies at the same time. Unless, as aforementioned, you buy an adapter or Apple’s Smart Battery Case, which provides one extra full charge.
You could always buy Bluetooth headphones, like Bose’s well-reviewed QC 35s with a battery life of 20 hours or Apple own’s AirPods (more on this later), but it’s going to cost you. That Bose pair is $349. Most Bluetooth headphones, across the board, are more expensive than their wired counterparts. Take Beats’ own lineup: The wireless Studio and Solo 2 headphones are $100 more than the non-Bluetooth versions, which have been removed from the Beats website.
And there are two major pain points with Bluetooth. The first is that wireless headphones don’t offer unlimited, battery-free playback like your old-school buds. Most need to be charged overnight, after a full day’s use. The second is that Bluetooth has a history of being difficult to pair and dropping connections, whenever Mercury’s in retrograde or the wind changes direction.
This, I think (I hope), will improve over time. Every new version of Bluetooth (we’re on the fifth now) consumes less energy, sounds better, and provides a more stable connection than the last. So what I’m saying is, if you don’t buy into it now, you’ll probably buy into it later — and for the time being, there’s a…dongle…accessory you can use.
10. The theme here is .
Getting rid of the most ubiquitous port in audio technology means that consumers are going to spend more money on adapters and accessories and Bluetooth stuff in the short term, which sucks, given that these damn rectangles with rounded corners already cost a fortune. But in my experience so far, there have been few repercussions and I generally think everyone needs to calm the F down.
The move, of course, was not without reason. You can read John Paczkowski on why exactly Apple needed to kill the headphone jack: to fit more processors and more camera tech into the iPhone. And Android smartphone makers are quietly discontinuing the audio jack too, like Motorola’s Moto Z, which uses its USB-C port for headphones.
Apple is often right about these things. It’s been years since I used a CD or, IDK, an ethernet cable, which Apple no longer supports. Maybe I won’t miss pulling tangled earbuds out of my pocket either.
11. What about those AirPods?
To complement the new headphone-jackless iPhone, Apple announced its own wireless earbuds called AirPods, sold separately for $159. I tried pre-production units and was generally impressed.
12. The most surprising thing about the AirPods is their mythical staying power.
The AirPods must be full of dark magic, because they do NOT fall out. Something about their giant-‘80s-earrings-esque shape helps them latch onto your ears for dear life.
On a bike ride, I thought a particularly windy descent meant certain death for the AirPods. No. I turned my hair over to blowdry it and then flipped it back. STILL NO. But then one time I went to tuck my hair behind my ear, and they went flying. Bizarre.
They feel hard and plastic like Apple’s standard earbuds, and look like them too. When they were in my ears, it just looked like I was wearing broken earbuds. The permanently angled stem that directs the microphone towards your mouth is curiously long. I wish they made you look a little bit less like a…cyborg. The sound won’t blow your mind, but they’re good enough for runs and talking on the phone, if that’s your thing.
13. The AirPods’ best feature is whatever secret sauce in Apple’s proprietary W1 chip pairs the buds to the iPhone instantly.
No settings menus, no tapping around, no button holding — once you open the lid of the floss-sized case, it’s done. The AirPods are paired. It makes normal Bluetooth look dumb.
AirPods will work with anything running iOS 10, which means they’re compatible with older iPhones and iPads too, not just the 7 and 7 Plus. And if you have a computer running macOS Sierra or an Apple Watch running Watch OS 3, it’ll detect that they’re associated with the same iCloud account and connect instantly to those devices, too.
The range on the AirPods is pretty outstanding too. I left the office and there was still a connection, even with the door closed behind me.
There are sensors inside of the pods that detect when you’ve pulled one out (which pauses the music) or double-tapped on the side (which enables Siri). It boggles my mind that a triple tap to pause or a swipe up to skip a song wasn’t programmed in.
Those who’d rather not startle random passers-by by loudly articulating words into thin air should opt for headphones with a remote control. I really didn’t love having to shout “TURN UP THE VOLUME” at Siri while I was on my bike, but I did love how weightless the pods felt and the freedom of going wire-free.
14. Will you lose them? Maybe.
Apple is selling single earbuds and replacement charging cases in anticipation. I was hyper aware of *not* leaving them in my pant pockets to be destroyed by 100 washing machine tumbles, like everything else I love dearly, though it does seem inevitable.
If you were the kind of kid who always made sure the tiny Polly in Polly Pocket made her way back into the seashell house, you aren’t going to lose your AirPods. If you don’t know where your social security card or birth certificate are right now, maybe don’t get them.
Stay tuned for a full review.
15. Water is friend, not foe.
Apple is finally ending untimely iPhone death as the result of accidental toilet drops or slips in the pool. Both devices are now rated to depths of 1 meter and 30 minutes of submersion.
Can I get a “YASSSSSSSSSSSSS.”
16. As someone who has tried to revive phones in many a rice bath, I was *delighted* to test this.
I checked email while taking a hot shower. I toted around the devices like goldfish in a plastic bag for a half an hour. I dunked them in the ocean for good measure. The phones survived each situation unscathed.
17. I unintentionally took the 7 Plus for a swim in the San Francisco bay.
I wrapped the phone in a dry bag and attached it to my waist, thinking it’d be a perfectly safe way to store valuables while I endured 30 minutes of chilly saltwater. The dry bag completely failed. It took on a lot of water — but the new iPhone was fully functioning and I happily ordered my (warm) Lyft home.
Until now, many iPhone users have looked longingly at water-resistant Android offerings. No longer.
18. The camera is better-ish.
Testing the new cameras was hard.
I knew that the lenses had a ton of new technology packed inside them:
- They can capture more colors than what standard RGB allows, and are some of the only devices that can display those colors, too.
- The FaceTime camera is now 7 megapixels instead of 5.
- The lenses are made of *six* elements instead of *five*.
- Their f/1.8 aperture lets in more light than the last model’s f/2.2. There’s a new, brighter flash.
- The iPhone 7 now has optical image stabilization, like the 7 Plus, which is crucial for capturing Live Photos that *actually* look good.
But when I was comparing images from the 6s and 7, it was *very* hard for my naked eye to tell the difference. The 6s camera is very good. It’s billboard-in-New-York-City good. Could a new camera packed in the same cramped space be that much better?
19. To discern what makes an iPhone 7 photo special, you need to really zoom in on the details.
20. Here’s a close-up of that photo.
(Click or tap to view ‘em up close.)
The iPhone 6s photo, on the left, looks smoothed over. In the iPhone 7 image, there’s more color variation in the grass and you can see more texture in the suede shoes. The skin tone of my exposed ankle (scandalous!) also appears less yellow and more true-to-life.
21. The actual quality of the image, like with the 7’s camera, isn’t dramatically different — but its zoom capabilities are.
22. Like the iPhone 7 image, the 7 Plus photo has more detail up close.
23. The 7 Plus camera has 2x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom (versus just 5x in the 6s Plus), and 6x digital zoom for video recording.
(Click on the images to see them up close.)
The iPhone 7 Plus has a fixed wide-angle lens (the same one in the 7) and a telephoto lens. There’s a new button in the camera app that really shows off the phone’s new cameras. It lets you zoom between 1x and 2x, in which you’re essentially switching between the two lenses.
Later this year, the cameras of the iPhone 7 Plus will be able to create a depth-of-field effect that gives backgrounds a gauzy, blurred-out texture.
If you’re the type of person who really crops into their photos, you’re going to notice the details. If you have a 5k iMac or a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, you’re going to be able to see the quality of the color. But if you’re just taking a hurried look at the images, you might not be able to tell the difference.
24. 3D Touch is more fun on the new iPhone.
It has a more muted punch that’s less of a vibration and more of a kick. That same haptic feedback is applied to the home button, when you pull down the notification shade, when you scroll to the bottom of the page, and other places. It’s a really pleasant way for your phone to communicate back to you. Okay, I’ve spent too many hours touching this thing, just wanted you to know.
25. What is even the point of jet black?
It’s a fingerprint magnet and scratches so easily, even Apple thinks you need a case: “Its high shine may show fine micro-abrasions with use. If you are concerned about this, we suggest you use one of the many cases available to protect your iPhone.”
26. “Black,” meanwhile, is the Kylie Lip Kit of black shades.
It is so matte, so smooth — and incredibly dark, unlike what the photos online portray. It’s not gray. It’s get-lost-in-the-abyss black. Here, close your eyes, that’s what it looks like.
27. And some stray observations.
Apple claims the battery life is two hours more than the 6s. For the iPhone 7, it runs from 12 hours (continuous web browsing on 3G and LTE) to 40 hours of wireless audio playback. On the 7 Plus, you get 13 hours of internet use on data and up to 60 hours of wireless audio playback.
I kept the phone on LTE, streamed music for several hours on Spotify, used 1.5 hours of background GPS activity on Strava, watched a video with audio over the new stereo speakers, and checked Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter incessantly. Under these fairly aggressive conditions, I got 15 hours with 15% left to go. What impressed me most was the charging time: The iPhone 7 went from 9% to 96% in just a little over an hour.
The stereo speakers are, as promised, louder than before. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
The display is bright as hell. Watching videos and reading text in direct sunlight isn’t as painful.
It’s fast at loading games and switching apps, but so are all new phones. I haven’t had enough time to fully test the A10 chip, so I’ll update on performance at a later time.
28. So, should you get this phone?
Don’t get me wrong: The iPhone is perhaps the least rugged piece of technology ever made. But the 7 and 7 Plus are more life-proof, klutz-proof than any iPhone we’ve seen — and that’s a Big Deal for people who use the iPhone as their primary camera, messaging device, e-reader, etc. day in and day out.
The new home button is no longer mechanical, which makes it virtually impossible to break (watch me try, though). The iPhone now plays nice with water. And the new, seemingly more secure EarPods’ lightning connection might be able to save more phones from tumbling out of one’s hands and onto the hard ground below. If you want to invest in something on this side of the iOS-Android divide that’ll last, I’d put your money behind this phone.
In many ways, the iPhone 7 feels like an “s” or an “in-between” device. The design of the phone is mostly unchanged. It’s the same 4.7-inch size for the 7 and 5.5-inch size for the 7 Plus. The home, mute, power, and volume buttons are exactly where you’d expect them to be. If not for the larger camera bulge, 6s cases would fit just fine.
But the truth is the killer feature — being able to check your emails in the SHOWER, for goodness’ sake — is completely hidden from plain sight. In fact, many of the iPhone’s innovations are all in the details, which, one might say, is very Apple indeed.
This iPhone (with the exception of jet black) appears to be built to last, and it will make whatever comes next seem less novel, less relevant. That may be a bad thing for Apple, but it’s a good thing for us.
29. If you’re a loyal iOS user and due for an upgrade, it’s a no-brainer: Get this iPhone.
If you’re perfectly happy with your current device, wait for it to break, preferably on its way to the bottom of a pool — and then get one. With Google’s new Nexus (or Silver Surfer) phones around the corner, wait a month or so to switch. Maybe, uh, hold off on that Samsung for a while.
The iPhone 7 starts at $649, and the iPhone 7 Plus starts at $769. Both phones are available in silver, rose gold, gold, black, and jet black and come in 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB sizes (no more 16GB! Yay!), except in jet black, which isn’t available in 32GB. Both arrive in Apple Stores on Sept. 16 in most countries, including the US, UK, Japan, China, and Australia. The iPhone ships in other places, including Russia and Greece, on Sept. 23 and in India on Oct. 7.
You can pre-order the new iPhones now at Apple.com.
- We've compiled an extensive (but not exhaustive) list of lies, exaggerations, and bullshit from Trump's first 100 days in office 💯🗒
- United Airlines settled with the man who was violently dragged off a plane in a video that spurred widespread outrage.
- Sean Spicer blamed the Obama administration for not vetting Michael Flynn before he became Trump's national security adviser 🤔
- There's a potential writers strike looming and it could suddenly cause some of your favorite TV shows to go off air 📺