Apple dumps the headphone jack, adds a second camera, and overhauls the home button on its latest flagship smartphone
Yes, it’s true. The iPhone 7 has finally killed its 3.5mm headphone jack. If you want to listen to music on the iPhone 7, you’ll now need to either listen wirelessly over Bluetooth or buy a new pair of Lightning-powered headphones. But you know what? It’s actually not all that bad.
For starters, the iPhone 7 isn’t the first phone we’ve seen that’s ditched the headphone jack. That honour goes to Motorola’s Moto Z. Likewise, the sheer number of rumours and leaks pointing towards no headphone jack over the last few months has definitely helped soften the blow somewhat.
We’ve also discovered that connecting your headphones over Lightning does have its benefits. The Lightning-based in-ear buds we’ve seen from JBL and Libratone, for example, are able to incorporate active noise-cancelling (ANC) technology without the need for bulky battery packs, as the power required to activate the ANC comes from the Lightning connector itself.
In fact, Apple has also introduced its own wireless headphones to help wean its customers off its wired Earpods – the new Apple Airpods. These look and feel very much like Apple’s traditional Earpods, but don’t have any wires. They’re also exceedingly easy to pair with your phone. Just remember to bring the charging case with you, though, as they’re so small they’re probably quite prone to getting lost.
It needn’t prevent you from using your favourite headphones, either, as Apple, in an unusually generous gesture, is including an adapter in the box, alongside a pair of Lightning-enabled Earpods, of course.
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Regardless of whether you buy Lightning-powered headphones or stick with your current pair using the adapter, you still won’t be able to charge your phone on the go and listen to music at the same time, so we’ll have to wait and see how irksome this is in everyday use once we get one in for review. Watch this space.
Of course, with no headphone jack taking up precious chassis space, that frees up some space in the case. The first beneficiary is audio: the iPhone 7 now has stereo speakers, with the second speaker at the top of the phone ensuring maximum stereo separation. Whether you’ll be able to tell the difference between the mono sound from the iPhone 6S and the stereo audio from the iPhone 7 remains to be seen, however.
Both the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are also water- and dust-resistant to the IP67 standard, which means you’ll be able to drop it in up to one metre of water and leave it there for up to 30 minutes – although you probably want to avoid doing that too often.
From the front, the iPhone 7 and its larger sibling look largely as they have done for the past two generations: rounded corners, a sizeable space above and below the screen and a circular home key in the centre below the display.
There had been some rumours in the build up to the launch that Apple would be removing the Home button, as well as the headphone jack, but as you can see from our hands-on photographs this is one rumour that hasn’t proven accurate.
There is a nugget of truth here, however. It has replaced the mechanical aspect of the button, and replaced it with similar Force Touch tech as used in Apple’s MacBook Pro and MacBook products. It will still click when you press it, but (hopefully) it will be less prone to failure than the traditional home button we’ve seen previously.
Whether it’s any more reliable or not remains to be seen, but after trying it out in the hands-on area at the launch event I can confirm that it works brilliantly; Apple has clearly worked hard on the feel of the button because it really feels like you’re using a mechanical button, yet there’s no mechanical movement whatsoever.
The screen sizes and resolutions haven’t changed, though: the iPhone 7 has a 4.7in screen with a resolution of 750 x 1,334, just like the 6 and 6S before it, and the iPhone 7 Plus is once again a 5.5in, 1,080 x 1,920-pixel display.
So, how do you tell the difference between the iPhone 6S and the iPhone 7? Answer: flip it over. That’s where everything has changed. A new colour and new finishes are available: Jet Black, which uses a special polishing process to produce a high-gloss finish, and plain black, which is matte like the current iPhones.
Apple has also moved those pesky antenna lines that used to stretch across the rear of the iPhone 6 and 6S on the iPhone 7, leaving you with a completely seamless finish across the rear. Whether this is a change for the better, depends on your sensibilities, and after laying hands on one for the first time, I can confirm it’s very nice, and the design does look a little cleaner, but it isn’t a dramatic departure.
Dual camera for iPhone 7 Plus confirmed
What’s more likely to have caught your eye than the removal of the antenna lines, or even the shiny new Jet Black finish, is the iPhone’s bigger camera module. Okay, okay, so the camera module isn’t actually bigger on the regular iPhone 7. Instead, the smaller iPhone gets an improved camera setup this time around, with the addition of optical image stabilisation, a brighter f/1.8 aperture which allows 50% more light through to the sensor, an improved ISP, new sensor, six-element lens and a new quad-LED True Tone flash. Resolution remains the same, though, at 12-megapixels for stills and 4K for video.
Instead, it’s the iPhone 7 Plus that gets the fancy pants dual-camera setup. And what a departure it is. After years of concentrating on simplicity and image quality above megapixels and gimmicks, Apple has backtracked and gone for the biggest gimmick of all – a secondary camera – in a move, apparently, mimicking the LG G5 and Huawei P9, two phones that launched earlier this year.
Apple, as ever, has its own take on the dual-camera system, however. Instead of adding an extra wide-angle camera like LG, or one dedicated to black and white photography like Huawei, the iPhone 7 Plus’ snappers are both the same resolution – 12-megapixels – and have the same size sensor at 1/3in. It’s the optics that are different across the two, though, with one wide-angle 28mm and the other a 56mm telephoto lens, allowing you to zoom in and out without loss of detail.
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All you have to do to zoom is tap a small 2x icon at the bottom of the screen in the camera app. Holding the icon and dragging it lets you zoom even further; right the way up to 10x in fact, although anything beyond 2x will still be digital zoom. One interesting thing to note here is that I noticed from my quick tinkerings is that there’s no way to zoom in and out after you’ve captured the image. The dual camera captures only one image, not both simultaneously, it would seem.
The dual camera also enables another feature: simulated shallow depth of field, although this isn’t available now and won’t be until later this year. Before you get excited, though, let’s get one thing clear. It isn’t quite the breakthrough Apple says it is. Other smartphone manufacturers, notably HTC, have tried it in the past, and they’ve failed. Can Apple pull it off? Well, it’s more likely, but I won’t be holding my breath.
As mentioned above, Apple is sticking with the same screen sizes and resolutions with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus – I’d expect little more from a company that has for so long championed the cause of Retina displays.
That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that there are no improvements at hand. The screens on the new iPhone 7 handsets are “25%” brighter, and have wide-gamut colour support, too. What does this mean?
Essentially, that colours look more vibrant than before, with more pop and impact, and first impressions are that the iPhone 7’s display is indeed very, very lovely. It’s the “wow” moment, if you like, of this particular release, and it looked particularly impressive when I tried the new “HDR” Instagram filters mentioned in the keynote.
As expected, the iPhone 7 will launch with Apple’s brand-new, quad-core A10 Fusion processor. The A10 Fusion has two high-performance cores and two “high-efficiency cores” which run at 1/5th of the power of the high-power A10 cores. In fact, it has “the longest battery life ever in an iPhone” according to Apple. Let’s see.
In theory, these new low-power cores ought to offer superior battery life over previous iPhones, but when you need the extra juice, the new processor should deliver in spades. Apple claims the A10 Fusion’s faster cores are “40% faster” than the existing A9 chip on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, and its GPU is faster, too – “50% faster” than the A9’s GPU, according to Apple. Not that the iPhone really needed to be any faster; even now, a year on from its launch, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus remain among the fastest smartphones on the market.
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But you don’t want to hear about slight performance increase because that’s just boring dull. No, not when Apple has finally, at long last, belatedly, not before time and in a move long overdue ditched the 16GB iPhone in favour of a 32GB base model. It seems like we’ve been asking for this forever – at least since the iPhone’s camera was capable of shooting 1080p video – but now it’s actually happened, and it’s a very good thing.
The knock-on effect of this is that the next size of iPhone up moves to 128GB and 256GB, effectively a doubling of capacity over the equivalent iPhone 6S. There’s no microSD slot, of course, but the bigger capacity of the iPhone 7 means that’s no longer as big an issue as it once was.
As with every new iPhone launch, the iPhone 7 comes with the latest version of iOS, which in this case will be iOS 10. I’ve already been using the beta on my iPhone 6S, and it’s a solid update, if unspectacular. Here’s a quick summary of all the key headline features.
There’s a new lockscreen, which now gives each notification its own interactive bubble. Swiping to the left of the lockscreen brings up a list of widgets and a search bar, and it’s now easier to access the camera from the lockscreen, with a simple swipe to the right.
You’ll also be able to delete Apple apps (finally), and Siri has now been opened up to developers, so you should see more Siri support across third party apps. Mail and Messages have also received small design tweaks, and the iOS Photos app now has facial recognition, making it easier to create dynamic libraries for different people.
Price and release date
Apple rarely changes the price of its latest iPhones, so it should come as no surprise to discover that the new models cost precisely the same as the outgoing iPhone 6S and 6S Plus – at least in the US. UK prices, unfortunately, have soared (probably thanks in no small part to the effects of Brexit), with prices starting at £599 for the 32GB iPhone 7 running to a painful £919 for the 256GB iPhone 7 Plus.
By comparison, the entry-level iPhone 6S only cost £539 when it first launched last year, while the entry-level iPhone 6S Plus cost £619, so you’re looking at an increase of £60 for the regular iPhone 7 and £100 for the iPhone 7 Plus.
Here’s a full breakdown of the UK prices for each handset, which will be available from 16th September (iOS 10 will be available to other iPhone users from 13th September):
|iPhone 7, 32GB||£599|
|iPhone 7 Plus, 32GB||£719|
|iPhone 7, 128GB||£699|
|iPhone 7 Plus, 128GB||£819|
|iPhone 7, 256GB||£799|
|iPhone 7 Plus, 256GB||£919|
In an interesting move, Apple will not only be giving the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus a price cut, but it will also be increasing the base storage on both older handsets. In fact, you can order a 32GB iPhone 6S now on the Apple website for £499 or an iPhone 6S Plus for £599.
That’s great news for anyone who can’t quite stretch their budget to an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, but it’s not the only way of saving money on your new iPhone fix. Apple also announced during the launch event that it would be extending its iPhone upgrade programme outside the confines of the US to the UK for the very first time.
Get the best iPhone 7 deals right here
So what is the iPhone upgrade programme? Essentially, it’s a mobile phone contract similar to the one you’re probably already paying for through your mobile network provider. However, instead of only getting a handset upgrade every two years, under Apple’s system you can upgrade to a new handset every time Apple brings out a new model – every year, in other words. The bonus is that you’re not tied in for two years and yuou can switch networks whenever you change your phone, too.
Precise details haven’t been unveiled for the UK yet, but we do know that prices will start at £33.45 a month. I’ll be updating this article with more details just as soon as I have them.
So much for surprises. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are essentially everything the rumours predicted they would be, pretty much top-to-toe. The 3.5mm headphone jack has been entirely discarded, the home button transformed, the cameras improved and the design refined and cleaned up.
In typical Apple fashion, the iPhone 7 is an iterative upgrade, yet it has somehow managed to raise the bar a little higher, and in the process set the standard for the smartphone industry in the year to come.
You can expect, for instance, every other major manufacturer to now rush to remove the 3.5mm jack from their own flagship handsets, and replace them with USB Type-C headphones. Motorola has already achieved this feat with the Moto Z. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more dual camera setups, although as others have already been experimenting with this more extensively, that shouldn’t prove a shock to the system.
Has Apple has taken things a step too far? That’s hard to say, although I’d wager even a move as dramatic as removing the headphone jack probably won’t dent sales too much. As for the rest of it, well, you’ll have to wait for our full review for the final verdict on that, but so far it looks all fine and dandy.