After five years of writing phone reviews, I’ve learned that no new phone comes without a pain point or two. After writing five iPhone reviews, I’ve learned that those pain points produce widespread criticism no matter what.
The iPhone 5 annoyed people with its new Lightning charger. The iPhone 5S was still tiny among huge Android devices. The iPhone 6 brought us #bendgate. The iPhone 6S underwhelmed buyers with a lack of noticeable new design or features.
The iPhone 7 has no headphone jack.
Related: iPhone 7 Plus review
As any upward-pointing sales chart will demonstrate, none of those other flaws have managed to hobble the iPhone’s popularity. But the latest – a step backward in functionality – has skeptics wondering if the iPhone’s supremacy is waning. The answer is complicated.
Where do I plug my headphones in?
Though Motorola beat it to the punch, the iPhone 7 will likely go down in history as the device that killed the 100-year-old audio jack. Some of us, like DT audio guru Caleb Denison, are understandably upset about the death of the headphone jack on iPhone 7. I’m torn on the subject.
Wires are awful. They get twisted. They get knotted. They get caught on chairs and yank your headphones off your ears. But for all these flaws, an open headphone standard means can use one pair of headphones – even a 30-year-old-pair – with any audio device in the whole world. Well, until now.
Apple has eradicated the headphone jack and instead wants you to go wireless, or use the Lightning charge port for audio. The iPhone 7 even includes a pair of Lightning EarPods and a headphone jack adapter, so you can keep using your old headphones (at least, this year).
In testing, I found the change somewhat annoying, but mostly benign. The Lightning EarPods sound fine (if they work at all, see below) and I’ve spent most of my time using the Lightning adapter with our favorite earbuds. Audio fidelity seems unaffected, and I’m looking forward to testing Apple’s wireless AirPods when they come out, and branching out to other Bluetooth earbuds as they finally start to go on sale.
But hey, it is waterproof
Commenters will get angry at me for using the word “waterproof,” since the iPhone is technically “water resistant” with an IP67 rating. But if you can submerge it in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes … that’s pretty much waterproof to us. So no, don’t take it swimming on purpose, but it won’t break if someone pushes you into the pool or it starts to rain when you’re on a run. We submerged our iPhone 7 and 7 Plus many times already, and they enjoy taking a good bath. Popular repair site iFixit put one in a fish tank for more than seven hours and it survived just fine.
Water resistance means one less thing you have to worry about. Now, if only it were drop resistant, too. Maybe that will come next year.
The rest of the design is similar to the iPhone 6 and 6S. Apple managed to get rid of two antenna lines along the back of the aluminum phone, and it now comes in two fancy new colors: black and jet black. We unequivocally love the matte black, and the jet black is gorgeous, if high maintenance. It picks up a lot of fingerprints, and the glossy finish does collects small scratches fairly easily. You may be better off with a silver, gold, rose gold, or regular black iPhone 7.
Two speakers — one on the bottom and one up top – mean you can watch movies with stereo sound. It sounds considerably better than older iPhones and many other phones, except for HTC devices, which always have amazing sound.
There is one last design change that will affect your day-to-day life a little. Apple has replaced the physical Home button and Touch ID fingerprint sensor with a haptic button that mimics the sensation of clicking with vibration. The change likely has to do with waterproofing and some other silly reasons, but after several days with the 7, we like the new Home button more. It takes a day or two to get used to the new feel, but it is ever so slightly more responsive and makes Touch ID more useful.
iOS is still highly competitive, and gets updates
iOS 10 doesn’t shake things up immensely, but Apple has added some smart, common-sense features that we cover in depth in our iOS 10 review. Lockscreen notifications have significantly improved, though they still lag a little behind the wonderfully swipe-able Android notifications. iMessage also has a host of small improvements that add a lot of joy to chatting.
We have submerged our 7 and 7 Plus many times already and they enjoy taking a good bath.
The fact that Apple guarantees software updates for about four years, with regular security updates every couple months, is a colossal reason to choose an iPhone over any Android phone. (Except Nexus devices, which share a similar blessing from Google.) Most Android phones — including from big-name producers like LG, Samsung, and Sony – are lucky to get a couple updates in the two or three years you own them. Those companies don’t put out enough updates themselves, and let wireless carriers control who gets updates, leaving users in the dust.
Besides denying users awesome new features this year, Android’s update problem leaves hundreds of millions of Android phones vulnerable to attacks. We’re hoping Google addresses it soon.
It’s a very powerful phone
The iPhone 7 is almost as powerful as the larger iPhone 7 Plus, but not quite. It has only 2GB of RAM, compared to the 3GB in the Plus, and its 4.7-inch IPS LCD screen, though vibrant, is only 750 x 1,334 pixels.
Aside from that, it has the same A10 ‘Fusion’ quad-core processor in it. The novel idea (at least, for an iPhone) here is that two of the cores are high efficiency, and will use less battery, but the other two, more powerful cores, are ready and waiting whenever you want to boot up a video game or do something more taxing. Apple claims the new chipset improves graphics capabilities by 50 percent compared to the A9 chip in the iPhone 6S.
In 3DMark and Geekbench 4 benchmark tests, the iPhone 7 outperformed the iPhone 6S by a significant margin, and outshined the iPad Pro and Pro 9.7 in every test but one. That’s remarkable, considering Apple is selling the iPad Pro as a PC replacement. It also handily outperformed the Galaxy S7, LG G5, and Huawei P9 in our tests.
When it comes to storage, the cheapest iPhone 7 ($650) has 32GB of internal storage, which should get you through a year or two of usage if you don’t take too many photos or install too many apps. We recommend that you pony up for the 128GB unit for an extra $100. It will take all the pressure off of storage management for you, and a little peace of mind is worth the price, in our opinion.
The camera falls short of fabulous
The iPhone 7 camera is noticeably better than the 6S, if you’re in low light conditions, and if you’re coming from an iPhone 6, you’re in for a treat. Against competition like the new LG V20 and Samsung Galaxy S7 series, we still prefer the iPhone camera overall, but it’s a tight race. Apple tends to capture colors and scenes in a more natural light, while Android competitors like to oversaturate colors. But to repeat: The Galaxy S7 and LG V20 are two amazing cameras that are absolutely on the level with the standard iPhone 7’s 12-megapixel rear camera and 7-megapixel selfie cam. The aperture on the rear shooter has been increased to f/1.8, and it gains optical image stabilization (OIS) this year, which is fantastic. You can record 4K 30fps videos with ease on this phone.
Like all smartphone cameras, the iPhone still hasn’t nailed how to take shots of people in the dark if there’s a light source near them. Either the background looks good, or you do. If you like to use the flash, though, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have a better flash that Apple claims will offer 50 percent more light. We thought it looked a little better than usual, but no flash still looks better than a shot with flash. At night, we do think the Galaxy S7 often produces slightly better shots than the standard iPhone 7, though it’s a close race.
The iPhone 7 Plus is a different, much more epic, story. It has a second 12-megapixel camera on it, which gives it 2x optical zoom, and will also add a neat DSLR-like bokeh effect in the coming months.
Improved battery life
So far, we’re impressed with the iPhone 7’s battery life, which is at least 12 hours of solid use – two more than the iPhone 6S. The iPhone 7 battery grows to 1,960mAh, up from 1,715mAh in that model, which probably explains most of the extra life. My iPhone 6S tended to end the day at about 30 percent when it was new (after one year, it’s at 10 percent), and the iPhone 7 is ending the day at about 44 percent battery life most days. I still end up charging it every night, so there’s no real change in habit, but it’s less stressful when you have plentiful juice.
Warranty information and customer service
The iPhone 7 comes with a one-year limited warranty that covers manufacturing defects. You cannot return an iPhone if the battery goes bad slowly, or its outer coating gets worn or scratched due to use, and sadly, water damage is not yet covered either. You can read the full warranty here.
AppleCare+ will extend the standard warranty to two years for $100, and cover you if you break the phone by dropping it, at least partially. Instead of $100+ for a new screen, AppleCare+ users only pay $30. Other damage is $100.
Outside of its programs, Apple’s customer service, especially in its many stores, is better than any other phone maker’s. Its service agents are usually very up front and helpful. If you don’t live near an Apple Store, the company also offers live chats on its website.
We have a few weird problems with our iPhone 7
We purchased an iPhone 7 on launch day, and encountered a couple strange defects. Apple claims it has no other reports of these issues, and we haven’t read any reports of any online, but we wanted to make you aware.
- The SIM tray broke: When we used a paperclip to pop open the Nano SIM card tray and put in our card, the tray wouldn’t budge. After some pressing really hard, the paperclip slipped and actually tore off a tiny section of the tray. This is likely because of the complex new internal mechanism that operates the tray, and the water seal around it.
- Our EarPods don’t work right: They started randomly cutting out on the first day we began using them, and now when we plug them in, sometimes the phone doesn’t even realize headphones are in at all, and just plays off the speakers. Other times, it will play, but cut out if the connector gets jostled at all. It now happens too regularly and frequently to use the pods at all.
These problems are anecdotal, and Apple has already agreed to investigate, so we won’t factor them into the score unless they turn out to be widespread.
Should you buy it?
DT Mobile Editor Malarie Gokey wrote up one of the most in-depth reviews you’re going to find on the iPhone 7 Plus. Our conclusion: It’s a fantastic phone. Yes, its lack of a headphone jack is frustrating at times, but the water resistance, fast processor, and dual rear cameras with 2x optical zoom make up for it.
The iPhone 7 is almost identical to the 7 Plus. It is also a fantastic phone, is cheaper and smaller than the Plus (which should make some of you happy), and also has a camera that’s as good as any Android phone we’ve used, though it lacks the extra camera and 2x optical zoom. It also has slightly worse battery life.
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Unless you need a new phone right now, you should hold off or choose a different phone than the standard iPhone 7. The 7 Plus is more expensive, but a far nicer device, despite its daunting size. There is very little about the standard iPhone 7 that is worth upgrading from an iPhone 6S, or even a 6 that still runs well. It looks almost the same, and you should milk your headphone jack while you have it.
If you’re coming from an Android, don’t buy a new phone unless you really need a new device. But Apple’s customer service and regular software updates are a good reason to consider an iPhone when the time comes, even though they’re expensive and do have a few annoying quirks, like no headphone jack.
What to buy: If you’re going to buy an iPhone 7, go with the Plus. It’s better. And make sure it’s 128GB+, not jet black (it scratches easy and is a fingerprint magnet), and a Sprint or Verizon model while you’re at it. If you buy Sprint or Verizon, your phone will work on any carrier. If you buy an AT&T/T-Mobile model, it will not work on Sprint or Verizon. This is good if you intend to sell it down the road, but also good in case you decide to switch carriers.