Apple iPhone 7 Plus First Impressions

Posted on September 16, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 0 Comments

Apple iPhone 7 Plus First Impressions

Well, it’s International iPhone Day ™. So I headed over to the local Apple Store—we have one in Dedham for some reason—and grabbed an iPhone 7 Plus as an upgrade from my previous iPhone, the iPhone 6S Plus. Here’s how it went.

First, I kind of lucked out. I’ll be writing a bit more about this separately, but I’ve been a customer of the iPhone Upgrade Program since Apple launched it last year, and I was curious to see how an actual device upgrade would go. My initial experience was terrible: When I woke up last Friday and looked online, I found that all of the local Apple Stores—and God help us all, there are four within 20 minutes of here—were already sold out of the iPhone 7 Plus. So I was resigned to getting my upgrade in mid-October.

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone: Enraged iPhone Upgrade Program customers complained to Apple in droves about the non-availability of new phones on launch day, so Apple caved: I received an email a few days ago telling me I could try again. And when I did, I had a slightly better experience: The colors I wanted—matte black, preferably, or silver—were still sold out everywhere. But if I chose gold or rose gold, I could get one immediately. I sucked up my pride and ordered a gold version, knowing it would be mostly covered by a case anyway.

Gold. Not my first choice. Or my second choice.

Gold. Not my first choice. Or my second choice.

I showed up at the Apple Store in Dedham a few minutes before my 11:30 reservation because I’ve been through this shit show before: I’ve never once been helped at the actual time of my reservation at an Apple Store, so I was prepared for the worst. Imagine my surprise, then, that there was no line outside the store at all and only light traffic inside. I was helped almost immediately, though a line of about 4 people queued up just as I was being led inside.

The experience was actually pretty great, though I think I helped matters by being totally prepared: I had backed up the phone, disabled Find My iPhone, and was ready with my phone, Apple ID, and AT&T passwords. The sheer amount of rigmarole we went through was pretty amazing—I mean, it is a loan, after all—but it all went smoothly and quickly, considering. The guy who helped me at the Apple Store was great, too.

Switching from the old phone to the new phone was automatic and electronic, and didn’t involve switching SIMs or any other manual nonsense. I left the store with the new iPhone in the box, still sealed. And yet it was already activated against my wireless account and ready to go. (This happened last year as well, to be fair.)

Default iPhone 7 Plus home screen.

Default iPhone 7 Plus home screen.

My wife and I grabbed lunch nearby, and I did the initial setup there. No surprises—I’ve setup iOS many times, including iOS 10—and I was up and running in minutes. Including, of course, hiding the awful gold finish on the phone with a case I had just purchased as well.

So. The iPhone 7 Plus.

The only downside to the iPhone Upgrade Program, for me anyway, is that I can’t compare this new phone to the previous one side-by-side: Apple took it from me when I did the upgrade, of course. But you’re probably familiar with the basics. The antenna design is a bit different, though it’s really subtle. (I’m not sure I’d even notice it unless I was looking at the iPhone 7 Plus and 6S Plus side-by-side because, again, I use a case.)

on-box

As you know, Apple removed the headphone jack from the bottom of the device. This is going to require some adjustment on my part, and I think I’ll be buying a few extra Lightning-to-headphone adapters (Apple includes one in the box) just in case. But Apple also includes a pair of wired Lightning headphones, and I’ll throw them in my travel bag as a backup too.

to-lose

The new Home button is, in some ways, as big a change. In previous iPhone versions, the Home button was, well, a button. Meaning a physical button that moved when you clicked it. The new version is a virtual button, and it uses haptic feedback—like the Touch 3D screen on the iPhone 6S (and 7) Plus—to simulate button presses. It’s … a little weird. I will get used to it, I guess, but it’s different enough from the Home button on, say, my iPad mini, that I’ll probably always notice it too.

in-box-secret

The biggest change with the iPhone 7 Plus, of course, and the reason I wanted this phone in the first place, is the camera. Or, should I say, cameras, as the iPhone 7 Plus actually has two cameras, or a “camera system,” as Apple calls it. This system has a 12 MP wide angle camera and a 12 MP telephoto camera, and they work in tandem.

camera-bump

In use, though, the biggest and most obvious change is that the camera also boasts 2X optical zoom, which you can toggle with a new on-screen button. This capability is transformative, and while 2X is a far cry from the 20-24X optical zoom I had on my last few digital cameras, it is a huge step forward for a smartphone. And the pictures—granted, outside on a sunny day—are wonderful looking. This is something I will eagerly test. See below for a few examples of 2X optical zoom.

A little gold peeking through there. That's OK, I'll never see that.

A little gold peeking through there. That’s OK, I’ll never see that.

Looking at the phone sitting here on the table … It’s an iPhone. It looks and works no differently from my previous two iPhones—iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S Plus—for the most part, and the only surface differences are minor. The camera is a big deal, as is the headphone jack, but for the opposite reason. It being worth the upgrade is, of course, a matter of opinion.

My very early take on this is that anyone with an iPhone 6 or newer should save their hard-earned dollars and wait. But anyone with an iPhone 5S or older now has three years of improvements to look forward to, and while the larger and curvier newer devices aren’t everyone’s choice, design-wise, I find them to be attractive and well made.

I’ll see if that opinion changes over the next weeks of course. More soon.

Optical zoom examples

Here are a few examples of the same shots at 1X and 2X optical zoom.

orange-02

orange-01

flowers-01

flowers-02

parking-lot-02

parking-lot-01

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