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SALT LAKE CITY — Rumors persisted prior to the launch of the iPhone 7 as to whether Apple would make substantial changes, aside from eliminating the 3.5 millimeter headphone jack, knowing that the 10th anniversary model would launch next year.
While some improvements have been made over prior models, several days spent with the iPhone 7 left me wanting more.
For starters, there are technically two new colors for this year, with the long running space grey retired in favor of matte black. The all new jet black has a glossy finish that, like competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy S7, is prone to fingerprints, makeup and oil being drawn to it like a magnet. Fine scratches are also being reported by users in great numbers.
Apple claims a 25 percent increase in screen brightness, compared to the previous 6S, and sharper colors from the new wide color gamut Retina screen. In practice, the differences were not visible to the naked eye, with one exception. I did sense better visibility outdoors in sunlight than with past models.
Apple’s Retina screens are good ones but still lag behind the industry leader, Samsung, in terms of brightness and color sharpness.
While Apple reserved the dual lens rear camera, which improves the ability to zoom in on distant objects, for the Plus model only, there are improvements for the 7. Optical Image Stabilization aids in focusing shots on the 12 megapixel rear camera. A new four-LED flash has made a substantial difference in taking shots indoors at restaurants and in rooms that aren’t well lit.
The most notable improvement is the wide aperture lens on the rear facing camera that allows for more light without the flash. I was very impressed by improvements in low light picture quality compared to prior iPhone models. The front facing camera has been bumped to 7 megapixels and worked well although it did not perform nearly as well in low light as the rear camera.
The new A10 Fusion processor promises greater speeds than before but, honestly, iOS has never placed the demands on a processor that Android phones do. The phone was plenty fast and smooth and probably didn’t need processor improvements to be impressive in this area.
More impressive was the fact Apple has accentuated a variety of haptic and vibration improvements throughout the phone that were both noticeable and lent a touch of fun to otherwise routine functions, such as setting an alarm or a calendar entry. Clicks and scrolls and vibrations could be felt and heard as confirmation of what was being completed on screen.
The aforementioned headphone jack has been replaced by a dongle adaptor so that traditional 3.5 millimeter headphones can be used via the lightning connector. The dongle works perfectly, but I found myself looking for it, and forgetting I’d need it, often. One question is whether iPhone users will shell out $159 for the new wireless AirPods that eliminate the need for the dongle.
For the first time, the iPhone includes stereo external speakers and they are much louder and clearer than those they replaced. Videos and short stretches of music work well without headphones.
Battery life improvements for the iPhone 7 have been touted but aren’t noticeable. The iPhone 7 definitely lags behind the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Edge in terms of real world battery life.
Water resistance is another new feature I was anxious to test. While Apple does not recommend the longer term dunks needed for underwater photography, for example, the days of a brief dunk in the pool or bad weather ruining an iPhone should be over.
I ran the phone under a running faucet and had no issues whatsoever, conducting a call on speaker phone while doing so.
Apple has increased memory options this year to 32, 128 and 256GB but the $100 charged for each jump in memory continues to be the worst value in all of consumer electronics.
Now for the big question. Should an iPhone 6 or 6S user, who has been debating an upgrade since the iPhone 7 launch, pull the trigger or wait until the rumored big changes come next year?
I would wait. Not only does the iPhone 7 not look much different than the 6S, the seams hiding the phone’s antennae have been refined and the home button is no longer a physical button to depress, but none of the improvements for this year are game changers. Several of the changes will not be noticeable to most users.
Expectations will be high for the iPhone’s 10th anniversary model next year and I’m betting Apple will try to meet them.
Did you buy the iPhone 7? What do you think of it compared to older models? Let us know in the comments.