Although hundreds of millions of smartphones are still sold each year, these increasingly more powerful pocket-sized computers seem to be losing a bit of their luster.
Smartphones are increasingly becoming more like laptops and tablets: we really don’t need the latest and greatest model every year, or for many people, even every two, three, or four years. If something works, why change?
Well, depending on the age of the device, and the operating system version that it is running, there may be one or two good reasons.
On the Android side of the ledger, if you’re using a smartphone that’s older than 12 months, you are very likely missing out on important security updates that Google delivers with new updates of its smartphone OS. Your device could be vulnerable to hacks that could lead to identity theft or some other calamity.
Still, if you are using a three- or four-year old iPhone, you’re missing out on some important, possibly even life-changing, new features and capabilities: larger screen sizes, mobile payments, fingerprint recognition, remarkably better radios, cameras, and so on.
With the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2014, Apple entered the realm of larger smartphones that had been, until then, dominated by Samsung. These iPhones were home runs for Apple, with the iPhone 6 becoming the best selling smartphone in the world.
Over the last few iPhone release cycles, a lot of the improvements that Apple has delivered have been under the hood, supporting some nice interface improvements and offering remarkably better overall performance.
Now the iPhone 7
With that context, here are some of my early impressions of the IPhone 7 Plus that I recently acquired.
Apple introduced some new colors with the iPhone 7/7 Plus, notably jet black and black (which is a matte black color). My practical self opted for the matte black color, even though the jet black looked so darned cool.
Apple knew the jet black would be popular, but released a statement saying that the process for polishing and rendering the shiny black color would also make the surface susceptible to fine scratches.
The company recommends that customers consider buying a protective case if they are concerned about the issue.
I purchased a clear Rinke Fusion case for my new iPhone 7 Plus (as I’ve done with every iPhone I’ve ever owned). I’ve occasionally dropped phones but never had one break on me. So the cases have been doing their job.
RIP headphone jack
A couple of other obvious changes to the iPhone 7/7 Plus: the 3.5mm headphone jack is gone; and the home button is now force touch (haptic) rather than mechanical.
The lack of a headphone jack has yielded a lot of complaints on the web, and for some, it’s an absolute deal-breaker.
Those customers in the market for a new smartphone, I assume, will opt for an older model iPhone, or an Android phone (although probably not the Samsung Galaxy Note 7).
Apple does provide an adapter in the iPhone box for those who wish to continue using headphones with the 3.5mm jack.
The iPhone home button is no longer mechanical. The device’s built-in haptic engine, cleverly, makes it feel like you are pushing a mechanical button, however. For me, the feel of the home button was weird for the first week, but now I like it just fine.
I also like what those two changes have yielded for the iPhone 7/7 Plus: water resistance. Apple claims that the new iPhones have been rated to the IP67 level under the IEC standard 60529. In layperson terms, this means that you can submerge the iPhone in up to one meter of water for 30 minutes without damage. You know, like accidentally dropping the phone in the toilet. That has, apparently, been known to happen.
Apple refers to the iPhone 7 models as dust and water resistant, and warns against attempting to charge a wet phone. Instead, users should let the phone completely dry out (waiting about four hours) before charging. Also, be aware that water damage is not covered under the iPhone 7 warranty.
The iPhone 7 models now also have stereo speakers, and sound pretty darn good for casual listening of music or other audio programs.
Wide-color gamut LCD display
Another nice improvement from previous iPhone models is the wide-color gamut LCD display.
Although, LCD technology is not state of the art, the iPhone 7 display has been rated at the top in terms of color accuracy, even compared to other smartphones that are using the superior OLED technology.
The iPhone 7 displays are also not as high-resolution as many of these OLED phones from vendors like Samsung and HTC. It is said that, beyond a certain resolution, the human eye can’t tell anyway, and by driving fewer pixels, the iPhone’s battery life is better optimized.
Apple describes the iPhone 7 Plus screen as:
- Retina HD display
- 5.5-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit widescreen
- Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
- 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution at 401 ppi
- 1300:1 contrast ratio (typical)
Perhaps the biggest improvement to the iPhone 7 Plus are the cameras. Apple added a second camera to the rear unit to provide optical zoom and portrait mode, which will enable the depth-of-field (Bokeh) compositions that ordinarily are available only on DSLR cameras.
The Bokeh effect for portraiture shows the subject in sharp focus, while the background is softened. This capability is not yet available in general, but has been seen in developer releases of iOS 10.1.
The normal camera, which Apple refers to as wide-angle, is 12 megapixels (MP) and features an aperture of ƒ/1.8. The telephoto camera is 12MP, as well, and has an aperture of ƒ/2.8. Depending on the photo composition, the two cameras can be used together, or the software will choose the correct one to use (wider angle versus zoom).
The iPhone (in its many incarnations) is used to take more photos than any other device. Clearly, Apple continues to be quite serious about providing best-in-class capabilities in this regard.
In terms of video recording, the new iPhones offer up to 4K video recording at 30 frames per second, as well as optical image stabilization, now in both models.
We’re hearing about more examples where producers are using iPhones as video cameras on professional projects such as commercials, and even full-length movies.
I plan to go into more detail about the photo and video capabilities of the iPhone 7 Plus in a future post.
The iPhone 7 Plus is a remarkable evolution in the iPhone line, offering improvements in virtually every area of the device. The phone is a little lighter and feels a little sturdier than its predecessor, the iPhone 6S Plus, which I had used for the last year.
The stereo sound, improved display, better and faster LTE radio, faster and more fluid performance courtesy of the A10 processor and 3MB of memory, and larger storage capacities add up to a world-class device.
And, the new iPhones take full advantage of the new iOS 10 operating system software, as well.
If you have been thinking of upgrading to a new smartphone, and can live without the 3.5mm headphone jack (or are content to use the Apple-provided adapter), the iPhone 7 is an upgrade that I can highly recommend.
And I’m pretty sure it won’t burst into flames.