iPhone 7 hands-on: Bye-bye headphone port, hello one hell of a haptic Home button

September 20, 2016
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It’s not the waterproofing that impresses at first fumble…

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The iPhone 7 has just been unveiled in San Francisco, at Apple’s annual September keynote, this year at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. While the rumours were correct that the design has again escaped a radical overhaul, looking very similar to the iPhone 6S (and 6) despite the antennas being shifted to be more seamless, there is a lot new under the bonnet.

Not in shops till September 16, the fact the iPhone 7 is waterproof now is a huge selling point, bringing it in line with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7, but much like the extended battery life, it’s not something we can test till it’s out in the wild without throwing a bottle of water on it and getting forcibly removed.

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Instead, we dashed around and grabbed the phone briefly to get a feel for what you’ll really notice from the off.

First up, the good stuff: the new Home button is magnificent and the early runner in “best new update” among the collected masses. Taking the Force Touch tech from the MacBook’s trackpad, its sensitivity is programmable so you can make it firm or loose depending on your taste.

We had grown a little tired of the iPhone 6’s loose control and this is a real upgrade. It also gives out haptic feedback, too, to confirm choices but also to act as rumble on games. It’s the 3D Touch you will actually use.

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The 4.7″ screen has been updated, too. The resolution sadly hasn’t been given a boost, but its new, much-vaunted wider colour gamut really pops. This is to make use of the better 12-megapixel camera, given the iPhone 6S Plus’s optical stabilisation and then some, although talk of six-element lenses and 60% faster shutter speed will have to wait for further probing.

The pre-prepared photos we saw looked impressively bright with great contrast, but again, let’s wait and see till thumb-fingers here gets it outside and, importantly, on a night out.

The new colourways are good, too – Space Gray is gone (RIP), with Gold, Silver and Rose Gold retained, but two really sleek new black looks. After initial craving for the Jet Black, its glossy finish proves an absolute fingerprint apocalypse, so we’re very much erring on the side of Black, which has a classy matte finish that adds grip too. Splendid.

The rest of the iPhone, as with most phones, is about software, and iOS 10, out the week before the handsets, looks like a major upgrade, offering plenty of quality features, from redesigned maps to Siri-powered HomeKit via the biggest overhaul of Messages we’ve ever seen.

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But remember: everyone with an iPhone 6S will get all that, too. What’s impressive, as ever with a new Apple phone, is how speedy it is, and the new A10 “Fusion” chip chucks apps around with real purpose.

Now, the controversial stuff: rumours were correct and the 3.5mm audio port has gone bye-bye, replaced with a single Lightning port, surrounded by some impressive stereo speakers, the solitary socket powering the phone and supplying audio to your headphones.

Apple’s Phil Schiller said this took “courage” and that’s definitely one way of putting it,going on the online backlash – you now can’t charge your phone while using headphones, which feels like a bit of a compromise, much like the USB Type-C adaptor issues of the MacBook.

The good thing is that Apple is throwing in an adaptor in every box too; the bad news is it’s a bit on the big side. The real upshot of this, though, is to shift people on to wireless headphones: explicitly the new, available-separately-cum-October AirPods, which we’lltackle elsewhere as there’s lots to talk about there. TL;DR: we’re not fans initially but are open to have our, erm, heads turned if you will.

iPhone 7: First Impressions

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A new iPhone always brings much bluster, but the iPhone 7 looks like a very solid upgrade. Despite not being a totally-rethought design, the new black looks and shifted antenna make it appear more different than we initially expected, while the camera and power have clearly had a kick up the arse.

Waterproofing has already been done well by Samsung, but Apple’s addition is a welcome one. Those spilt drinks and accidental toilet drops are a worry no more. Alongside the improved screen, iOS 10,improved storage options and a Home button that keeps on giving, there’s a lot here to impress.

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Yet, like the iPhone 4 was the “you’re holding it wrong” phone, this looks like it’s going to be the “you’re listening to it wrong” one with the audio port being nixed – you can tell Apple knows it, too, as it dedicated such a long time to explaining it in the keynote.

It will be interesting to see whether, like the culling of ports on MacBooks and Facebook’s endless controversial functionality changes, the slightly OTT angst at this will result in damaged sales or, as is usually the way, no more than hot air. We suspect the latter – there’s much here to enjoy.

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