There’s only one thing that matters about the Apple iPhone 7, and that’s its lack of a headphone port. Everything else is irrelevant.
Except that’s utter nonsense, obviously.
That missing hole is a big deal, sure, but so are the improvements to the camera, the blistering speed of the new A10 processor, and the changes to the home button. In fact, to let any one feature dominate this review – whether good or bad – would be entirely out of keeping with the phone itself, which is the archetypal sum of its parts.
Some of the additions here may seem quite minor, but added together, they equal a surprisingly different beast from last year’s iPhone 6s.
Apple iPhone 7 audio: Hit the road, jack
Let's tackle the big issue right away. As you might have heard, the 3.5mm headphone port is no more, taken out back like Old Yeller and given both barrels by (presumably) a symmetry-obsessed Jony Ive.
You’ve got to switch to a pair of headphones with a Lightning adapter if you want to pump music directly into your ears now, or invest in some pricey Bluetooth buds. Sure, there’s a pair of Lightning EarPods in the box, but when have Apple’s bundled ’phones ever been the last word in critical listening?
So, just how big a deal is this? Well, let’s do a little fence sitting.
On the one hand, it’s an abrupt move by Apple which will definitely annoy millions of people who already own standard headphones and are quite happy with them really, thank you very much. We imagine there’ll be one or two upset headphone manufacturers too.
The change doesn’t really seem to bring many benefits and while Apple has at least included an adapter in the box so you can keep using that decent pair of in-ears or cans, it’s both pug-ugly and another thing to carry around (and lose) while you’re on the move.
On the other hand… so what? Wireless has been the future of audio for some time now and, in ditching the port, Apple has simply brought that reality forward by half a decade or so. Yes, it’s an arse if you feel the need to buy a new pair of quality headphones, but if you’re set to spend S$100 or so a month on a new iPhone the reality is you can probably afford the switch. When it works, wireless feels genuinely new and exciting.
Anyway, we've been here before. Apple does its thing, the world complains, Apple ignores the world, the world gets bored complaining and realises it still wants to buy an iPhone and yadda yadda yadda.
What you do get in place of the headphone port is a second speaker grille - however it doesn’t actually have a speaker behind it, instead just pumping out sound generated from behind the first grille. However up on top of the phone there is in fact a stealthy second speaker hidden behind the earpiece grille. All very strange.
It’s a first for Apple, and it really packs quite a lot of loud for its size. With both speakers pumping, it’ll easily overpower most other phones. Cover up one speaker and you’ll be amazed by how wide the stereo effect can be, too. Netflix in the bath just got a whole lot more immersive. And hey, this time your phone won’t drown if you don't fish it out quickly enough.
Apple iPhone 7 design: (Oil)Slick Rick
So, does anyone actually like rose gold? Nah, us neither. And the good news is that this year Apple’s colours du jour are black… and black.
You can still buy the Rose Gold model, and the Gold and Silver versions, but Space Grey is gone, replaced with a darker matte black hue. It’s joined by Jet Black, which is so glossy it’ll rival the sheen of any shampoo ad. Seriously, it’s so reflective you could use it as a mirror.
It’s undeniably gorgeous, stealthily hiding the phone’s matching antenna bands, but it’ll only stay that way if you can keep your hands off it. Once it’s in your paws, it’s on a one-way trip to Smudge City (population: Jet Black iPhones). Unless your hands come miraculously oil-free, or you’re fine with rubbing it on your clothes from time to time, you’re probably better off putting a case on it as it’s prone to tiny scratches too. That’s a shame, because that shine looks hella fine - when it’s untarnished.
Otherwise, the overall look hasn’t changed. The antennas don’t dominate the back any more (they’ve been shunted closer to the curved top and bottom) but with only a few exceptions, the shape basically stays the same as last year’s model.
It has picked up a new party trick, though: the iPhone 7 is IP67 water resistant, meaning it’ll shrug off a spilled drink, and even survive a dunking down the loo. You won’t take one swimming (and you shouldn’t because Apple’s warranty doesn’t cover liquid damage), but there’s now there’s no need to run for cover when the heavens open.
As with the colour, waterproofing is a real-world feature that will make millions of iOS devotees happy. Alright so this merely brings the iPhone in line with most Android flagships, but it’d be churlish to criticise it for tardiness when we’re just glad it arrived at all.
If you don’t like the idea of slipping a Jet Black fingerprint magnet into your pocket, but still want to stand out from the rest of the iPhone-owning world, Apple’s latest release could be just what you’ve been waiting for.
This Product (RED) special edition phone is supposed to raise awareness (and some much needed cash) for HIV and AIDS in Africa. Apple has raised a whopping £130 million (about S$227 million) to date, but this is the first time it has turned an iPhone red for the cause.
On the back, you get a metallic crimson hue that looks simply gorgeous, glinting in the light and staying smudge-free, even after a day of fondling. On the front, it has the same white glass treatment as the silver, gold and rose gold versions - not the black glass you’d find on a matt black or Jet Black iPhone 7.
Honestly, we would have preferred a black front, but the knowledge that some of your hard-earned cash will be going to a good cause will hopefully soften the blow.