Apple iPhone 7: quick-fire wrap of the first reviews

The verdict from those who've had a hands-on first look.

Apple's iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are now open for orders (see NBR's quick summary guide to the iPhone 7's new features here).

Kiwi reviewers have yet to get their mitts on the new handsets, but here are some quickfire highlights of the first US reviews.

My short take: the bashing over the lack of a headphone jack has perhaps been a bit over-egged (you do after all get Lightning buds and an adapter in the box, plus the option to buy the — admittedly bit pricey — wireless AirBuds for $289).

And jack-gate has eclipsed what could turn out to be a big iPhone 7 Plus selling point: it's 2x optical zoom camera (the iPhone 7 has a standard single camera on the back).

The addition of waterproofing and stereo speakers are big pluses (if playing catch-up with high-end Androids). 

The New Yorker says smartphones have already decimated sales of compact cameras from 125 million to 35 million a year. Now, with the iPhone 7, it says cameras further up the food chain are under threat:

iPhone 7 and the new photo frontier
While in most ways the device launch was predictable, the iPhone 7 Plus, with its souped-up camera, made a big impression on serious photographers. The iPhone 7 Plus has two lenses—a 28-mm.-equivalent, 12-megapixel lens and a 56-mm.-equivalent, 12-megapixel telephoto lens. Apple has managed to pack a lot of premium features—longer exposures, better aperture, and the ability to shoot digital negatives, which professionals call DNGs. A DNG is, essentially, a photo file that captures all the visual information possible for further manipulation, such as enhancing shadows or removing highlights. The new iPhone uses circuitry, software, and algorithms to create images that look and feel as if they came out of high-end cameras. Tellingly, Apple’s presentation of the camera’s abilities was the one aspect of the biennial iPhone rollout that wasn’t mercilessly mocked on social media.

The iPhone 7 colour line-up. Note also the twin cameras. One is for wide angle pics, the other for 2X optical zoom.

The New Yorker also says, "Apple isn’t the first phone company to reach the market with dual-lens systems. LG and Huawei have already introduced them in their high-end phones. But Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus is the first major phone to marry the dual-lens system to immense computing capabilities [with the iPhone 7's new A10 Fusion processor]."

That means an iPhone 7 Plus with its dual camera can pull off a trick for a smartphone: "Thus far, expensive stand-alone cameras with great lenses have been the ones able to offer what is called “bokeh,” a way to blur the background and focus on the subject in the foreground."

The New Yorker also references a blog post by Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer, who raves about the iPhone 7:

Just as our two eyes work together to detect depth, two lenses do the same. By using the disparity of pixels between two lenses, the camera processor can figure out how far away parts of the image are. (If you’re interested, this paper goes into specific detail about how this method works.)

The magic is how software takes information from the two lenses and processes it into an image. Between the extra data collected from this new hardware, and the advancement of machine vision technology, the new iPhone camera is going to be incredible. Depth of Field is one of the last features necessary to complete the full migration from handheld camera to camera phone.

Wired was one of the first publications to try out Apple's key companion to the headphone jack-less iPhone 7, its AirPod wireless earbuds ($269). Its report:

Hands On: Apple’s AirPod Wireless Earphones Look Crazy, But Work Great
The white buds look like Apple’s EarPods, the headphones that have shipped with every iPhone for years, so it’s not surprising that they feel the same way too. They’re much lighter than most Bluetooth headphones, and nestled comfortably into my ears.

In every meaningful way, they really are just EarPods with the cord chopped off. That means they don’t sound great, though they’re probably good enough for most people. 

I had to turn the volume all the way up to be able to hear Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” over the din of the room.

They look kind of silly, though, like your earphones are melting out of your ear and down your face. Or like you stuck a lollipop in your ear. Or like Apple actually did make AirPods by cutting the cables on your EarPods, but cut them a little too low.

Wired's reviewer goes on to say the functionality is excellent. An infrared sensor turns the AirPods on or off as you take them in or out of your ear. You can also use them for voice calls or Siri commands. And automatic synching to multiple devices (Mac, iPad, iPhone) seemed to "work really well".

Verge reviewer Vlad Savov laments the removal of the headphone jack but finds that overall:

The iPhone is still a fundamentally superb phone
The new A10 Fusion chip once again adds without taking away: more CPU, more GPU performance, greater efficiency, longer-lasting battery. The iPhone 7 devices have the longest reported battery life of any iPhone generation, which is the sort of meaningful upgrade almost everyone values. And their water resistance, something the iPhone 6S already had unofficially, has also been IP67-certified. So now there's some extra, warranty-friendly peace of mind.

The iPhone 7's Retina display has the same pixel resolution as the iPhone 6s, but is 25% brighter, Apple says. 

Savov says you probably won't notice the improvement on a daily basis, albeit for the positive reason that the 6 series screen is already great. "The display, for example, is supposed to have a wider color gamut and have higher max brightness, but it was already of a high caliber on the 6S series," he says.

Another Verge reviewer, Dieter Bohn, is a fan over the iPhone 7 overall but hates the new home button:

Another thing I tried: the new home button, which uses a "taptic engine" to give you physical feedback when you press it — it's pressure sensitive, too, so it can tell if you really mean to press it or just tap it. And it's awful. On a MacBook trackpad, you get this uncanny feeling that you're actually hitting a button. On the iPhone, the whole bottom of the phone just sort of "kicks." It's not bad haptics like you remember, with weird vibration, it's just a new kind of bad haptics. It doesn't feel like a button at all. It's a bummer.

The removal of the phone jack helped make space for an iPhone first: stereo speakers. In its first look, UK site Tech Radar gives them the thumbs up, saying:

Let's start on the outside first though: the new iPhone has dual speakers, rather than the single mono output at the bottom of the phone. These are positioned top and bottom to create decent stereo sound, and the different angles make listening to tunes or watching films a real treat.

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