Apple iPhone 7 review: Batman’s phone
Okay let’s address this headline. Why are we calling this Batman’s phone? Well, that’s what I felt about it the moment I clenched the ‘black’
Physically, the dimensions remain the same. It is 7.1mm thin and a hair lighter at 138 grams than its predecessor. Basically, it is a very handy little smartphone in the hand. In terms of ergonomics, this design remains one of the very best in the market and that’s reason alone to not change it radically. It feels superb in the hand and no new smartphone design has appeared in the market in the last two years to change this. In the new model Apple has improved this feel.
Apple is going by the age old maxim, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s why the changes that do end up in the iPhone 7 are mere refinements of the older design. The camera bump is now a cohesive part of the iPhone exoskeleton. It has been formed out of the very same metal frame and it looks nicer. The antenna lines have been further reduced and restricted to the outer edges of the phone. On the two new colours - Black and Jet black, it is almost invisible.
Heck, I’d just say this out aloud. If you’re in the market for the new iPhone then don’t even bother looking at the other colours.
The removal of the headphone jack is a bit of pain. I had my headphone jack moment within the first three hours of using the phone as I suddenly realised that I couldn't connect my phone to the car stereo. While the car had Bluetooth, I had to stop the vehicle to pair and connect it as the car wouldn’t allow me to do that while the car was moving even though I wasn't manning the wheel.
But this I believe is more of a behavioural issue. Apple has proven time and again that it can change user habits. I have already started carrying its 3.5mm to lightning adaptor in my wallet and in the car now I use Bluetooth to stream audio. Do I like this change? No. Do I mind it so much that I’d not use the new iPhone? Absolutely not. It is a tradeoff, but not something that will change the way I use my phone in a radical way.
With the faux secondary speaker grill in place of the 3.5mm audio jack, I do believe that the design of the phone makes more sense.
The other change to the design is the new home button, which is now a solid state sensor which simulates the effect of a click using the haptics in Apple’s much vaulted taptic engine. To begin with, this feels weird, but in time I found that it felt like the screen on the old BlackBerry Storm phones which needed to be depressed. By the time of writing this review, I am now fully comfortable with this new button. Importantly, I like it over some phones with physical home buttons like the Xiaomi Mi 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Users can manually set three different intensities for haptic feedback. Apple claims this will be a more reliable and usable solution for users. I haven't used the phone for long enough to test out its reliability apart from the fact that it works well. App developers too haven't customised their apps to leverage this new feature.
The last design improvement that Apple has managed is IP 67 water and dust resistance. For this, I’ll say finally! The likes of Sony and Motorola have been doing this for years and Samsung did this earlier this year with the Galaxy S7, so it was high time that Apple did this.
The end result is that I now have a phone which I can use in the jacuzzi while floating. My main purpose being blasting Pink Floyd from by UE Boom speakers, or dunking it in a pitcher of LIITs as a parlour trick at my favourite pub, bamboozling the barkeeps and some of the regulars.
Apple has added stereo speakers to the new iPhone and they sound very good. Not HTC BoomSound good, but vastly better than any Samsung phone, a leap about previous iPhones and basically something that you’d consider using as a full time loudspeaker for conference calls or casual listening sessions. They are loud and more importantly clear enough that I can blast Metallica’s new songs on it without ghastly distortion.
Perhaps the biggest change to the new iPhone 7 is the way Apple uses haptic feedback across the system. It is uncanny and it changes the experience in an intangible yet palpable way. The feedback now can be felt across a bunch of system apps, so while scrolling on the alarm clock the phone will gently nudge you. The haptics engage in a dramatic way when the phone rings and you get a message ensuring that you’re unlikely to miss anything. Heck, the vibrations are enough to wake me up from deep sleep. Overall, touch response feels more real and perhaps that’s the reason Apple calls this 3D Touch.
Apple claims that these new iPhones get the best cameras it has ever installed on a phone. That was to be expected, but what’s important is that Apple has more or less ended the deficit it had with Samsung. On some accounts the iPhone 7’s 12-megapixel camera has it all and a bit more than what the Galaxy S7 offers.
In specialised areas, Apple certainly has the better offering - for shooting live photos, 4K video, Panoramas and slow-motion video.
Like always, this camera is wicked fast at locking focus and shooting. It is dead simple to use and for most users will be the best photography tool they'd have. With the new 12-megapixel shooter Apple is able to take twin shots and fuse the images together using machine learning and improve image quality. There’s also an optical stabiliser, a f/1.8 aperture and a flicker sensor. Apple’s processor also helps the phone capture better shots.
The end result being bright and vivid pictures in daylight just like the iPhone 6S, but better. The colours look more natural, the level of detail also more and the wide aperture helps in bringing in more blur on the background. In low-light, there are huge gains. Apple has caught up with the Galaxy S7.
As Apple guns for more natural results, you don’t get an overly bright shot which looks unnatural. The iPhone 7 tries to produce true to life shots with minimal processing. It can also shoot now in RAW which will help photo enthusiasts to accrue more out of their images.
Optical stabilisation also helps the iPhone 7 capture better video which is more stable and can absorb more light. Even though the phone records audio in mono, the quality of the audio even in loud environments is commendable and one of the best I have ever seen from a phone.
Another new facet of the new camera is that it now shoots photos in wide-colour and displays them on the wide colour 4.7-inch HD display on the device. The pictures and videos taken look really good and if you're the type of person who takes a lot of photos with a flash the new four LED flash on the phone does improve things further.
Even the selfie camera has improved. There’s a new 7-megapixel snapper on the front which also gets a retina flash, which basically allows the screen to light up like a flash. Unfortunately, Apple hasn't added a wide-angle lens which is a pity but whenever engaged it took great selfies.
Apple hasn't increased the display resolution but it has added a wide colour gamut which is of cinema quality. Basically, you get the most vibrant colours that you’d imagine on a mobile LCD display. Brightness has also been improved making sure that the phone is very usable under extreme sunlight. The folks at Display Mate also claim the same.
The new display is also more efficient and when combined with the larger battery on the iPhone 7 , it can deliver up 2 hours of extra battery life as per the company. In usage, I found that the gains were more dramatic as compared to my older iPhone 6S and SE. I was managing at least 3-4 hours of extra battery life which resulted in about 12-13 hours of use that too with heavy usage.
Now, these alone are a wide array of improvements that make this one of the best phones on the planet. But for many these updates aren’t enough, but the fact of the matter is that the iPhone was always one of the most refined mobile experiences around and the improvement curves only reduces after a point.
But there’s more. With the new A10 Fusion processor Apple has further extended the gulf in performance the iPhone enjoyed over Android smartphones. There are videos on YouTube which show that the iPhone 7 runs circles around competitor phones.
In my use, I found the iPhone 7 to be extremely fast while switching apps, or while holding multiple apps in memory. On the iPhone 7 you tend to glide between apps, because things are so seamless. You don’t think about the performance because almost everything is instantaneous. It is so good that you’d forget how faster a phone it is. Even compared to the iPhone 6S, this phone feels faster.
That too with hardware that’s perceived to be inferior. The truth is that everything is optimised for Apple’s hardware and software, something that’s not possible on the Android landscape as the software comes from Google, the phone is manufactured by an OEM and the internal components come from a wide array of component makers.
iOS 10 also chips in with its two cents to improve the iPhone experience further. There are changes across the board to core system apps. Apple is making use of machine learning to make its OS smarter to what you are doing on the phone without swallowing the data on its own servers. There’s a new widgets screen which makes surfaces more glanceable. iMessage has received a radical update which now adds support for digital touch like on the Apple Watch, stickers, iMessage apps which act like chat bots.
Apple is opening up Siri to developers to make it smarter and now you can just raise the phone and the screen will light up and a click to the home button will unlock the phone as long as the finger in use has Touch ID registered. Basically, if you ever found iOS restrictive then Apple is opening is open the gates to the kingdom and bit by bit iOS 10 is coming closer to Android which is something I love. That said, there are a number of longtime Apple users who’re hating this new direction and many have even asked me to how to roll back the update on their older iPhones.
This is the best phone in the world, not because it is dramatically better than say the Galaxy S7, but because it is refined, utterly classy in its black and it just works in a shockingly languid way. Think ex England batsman David Gower, think West Indian legend Brian Lara, think Xavi Hernandez. It doesn’t strive to hog the limelight.
The best example of this simplicity is the fact that this is perhaps the first iPhone which I can use and carry around without a case. This compliment is restricted for the black one because, it stealthily hides any blemishes that usual wear and tear would cause, yet it integrates everything else that you’d want.
Who is it for? iPhone 6 users or anyone using anything older, this is a no brainer. If you’re someone who feels Android phones don’t last as long then perhaps shifting to an iPhone is a good solution. With iOS 10 it is actually the best time for an Android user to shift to an iPhone. For iPhone 6S users, the difference will be muted, but there will be flashes of brilliance in the camera, in the haptics and the battery life, but plunking down Rs 60,000 wouldn’t make sense for most, unless of course you are Bruce Wayne. But then again, this is Batman’s phone, right?