Reviews Are in on the New Apple iPhones

The early reviews are in on the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus introduced last week. A select number of reviewers from major publications and blogs got their samples this past week. While I was not one of them — I’ll get a sample loaner next month — there’s a strong consensus among those who have been trying the phones out. There’s agreement that the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have a number of good internal improvements, but they are not so compelling that an upgrade is recommended, and some think you might be better off waiting for next year.

The biggest improvements are not big by most standards, but are evolutionary changes that improve the phone’s performance. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have a faster processor, slightly improved battery life, and are now water-resistant, but not waterproof. That means they will endure a splash or a brief drop into a glass of water or a quick dunk in the pool, without being destroyed.  The new  phones also offer more memory for the same price, a minor concession, considering Apple charges about four times their cost for memory upgrades.

As good as the cameras are, they’re now even better. The 7 now has a shake-resistant feature found on the 6 Plus that reduces blurriness under low light conditions. And the 7 Plus has two cameras that take two images at the normal field of view and at 2X tele, and can use information from both images to create more pleasing results through software processing.

You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the appearance of the 7 series iPhones compared to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus introduced in 2014. Apple has kept the same appearance: a thin slab of aluminum and glass with rounded corners.

But if you look closely you’ll see that the earphone jack, a small hole on the bottom of the phone, has been eliminated. Apple has decided that we can listen to our music, radio or phone calls using either a Bluetooth wireless headset or a new headset that plugs into the Lightning connector. That’s the connector at the bottom center of the phone we now use for charging. It’s a proprietary connector and Apple charges $3 or more to any other company that wants to plug their accessory into it.

The removal of this industry standard  connector has gotten the most attention, and for the most part, it’s not been praise. Both alternatives Apple wants us to use add to our inconvenience and create new pain points. With the Bluetooth solution you need to buy more expensive earphones, keep them charged, and then suffer poorer quality audio. Bluetooth cannot transmit as high a quality audio compared to the earphone jack and often suffers dropouts.

If you use a headset with a Lightning connector (there is an adapter included to work with your old headphone), you are unable to listen to and charge your phone at the same time. Apple says few people do that; I would disagree with that.

What’s ironic is that Apple has touted the advantages of going wireless, yet encumbers us with the need to now use all sorts of wired adapters. Belkin has already announced a huge $40 adapter that lets you both charge and use your headphones at the same time. And unlike most other brands, Apple still has not built in wireless charging, a feature that lets you rest your phone on a charging plate or insert it into a slot, found in many new cars and at some Starbucks coffee shops, that charges your phone without any wires.

While these new iPhones still cannot match the latest hardware from Samsung, on a feature by feature basis, the new updated iOS10 they come with is better than ever. There are a number of new features that make it even easier to use, add usefulness, and keep Apple ahead of the slowly improving Android OS. All iPhones from the 5S on will be getting a free upgrade to iOS10 later this month.

If you now have an iPhone 6 or 6S series from 2014 and 2015, an upgrade will bring you some modest gains. As an owner of an iPhone 6, I’ll not spend the money to upgrade, and I prefer to keep my phone with the audio jack. The cost of the iPhone 7 is $649 and the iPhone 7 Plus is $769 with 32GB memory.

One speculation as to why Apple hasn’t incorporated any significant changes to the form factor since 2014 is that they are working on a major new design for 2017, the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. A major change would allow them to make significant improvements, such as an edge to edge screen to make the phone smaller, wireless charging, higher resolution, and a larger battery, matching or exceeding the latest Samsung Galaxy phones. That’s another reason to consider waiting until next year.

The iPhone 7 series go on sale September 16.