While my time with the iPhone 7 Plus has still been brief, I was able to use it out in the world over the past day and have some further impressions about Apple’s new flagship handset. This is a device worthy of discussion and debate.
One of my admittedly many pet peeves is that bloggers and tech journalists often take far too little time to fully review a product. One wonders, for example, if a few exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7s might have dulled all the positive reviews of that device. You know, if the reviewers had spent more than a few days with it.
Sign up for our new free newsletter to get three time-saving tips each Friday — and get free copies of Paul Thurrott's Windows 11 and Windows 10 Field Guides (normally $9.99) as a special welcome gift!
"*" indicates required fields
But you don’t have to cite extreme examples to understand why a rush to judgment can’t make for a good review. From the uninformed opinions you see at too many tech blogs to the overly-positive cheerleading of anything Apple releases in The Wall Street Journal or New York Times, there are few meaningful reviews to be found.
I try not to do this. I try to use products I’m reviewing, over time, in real world situations. I’m not going to take one lap around a park to determine that Apple’s silly new Air Pods work just fine because the real issues with such a device might only become obvious when you run out of juice on a cross-country flight. Likewise, I’m not going to look at the Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter that Apple packs in the box with the iPhone 7 and declare the problem solved. It’s not that simple. Readers deserve better than that.
Look, we all have opinions. One can view Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack cynically, and declare that it was done for lock-in reasons, and thus Apple is evil. Or one can look at that same decision and see the forward-leaning nature of what they’re trying to accomplish, see it as a step towards a more elegant future.
My opinion? Both of those stances are at least partially correct. (Well, maybe not the evil part.) Apple could have adopted industry-standard USB-C and softened the blow, and it could have—should already have—introduced wireless charging to the iPhone as well. Apple, in my opinion, is kind of inscrutable, and because so many people simply love the company, it’s kind of hard to introduce common sense and logic into the conversation. They hear the complaints, sure. They just don’t listen to them.
So I’m going to do something with the iPhone 7 Plus that I haven’t done in years. I’m actually going to review the thing. But since that review is weeks out—and hopefully will hit at right about the time when new stock actually becomes available and you can buy one, or not—-I’ll just be using the thing until then. Using it. And judging it.
With a purchase like this, there is the first-day euphoria, the temporary adrenaline rush one gets simply by buying a shiny new thing. Fortunately, I brought my wife along with me for this particular ride, and she was a sobering bit of reality for me and anyone in earshot. When I was literally congratulated by an Apple Store employee for purchasing an iPhone 7 Plus, I accepted it stupidly, still glowing from having navigated the mess of an Apple Store and the complex and time-consuming iPhone Upgrade Program requirements. But my more level-headed wife—who does not give a shit about Apple or its cult—replied coolly, “what are you congratulating him for? Buying something?”
That snapped me out of it. And it brought back the Paul most of you will recognize. I added, “Actually, I didn’t even buy it, I just leased it.” The Apple employee’s face went from a dull, angelic smile to confusion. This isn’t the way things were supposed to go.
That said, it’s not like my first impressions article would have been anything other than honest. Once you escape from the museum-like austerity of the Apple Store and are away from its blue-shirted monks, reality has a way of intruding quite quickly. And fortunately, it was a bright sunny day. Why am I even at a mall? I started wondering as I walked away from the Apple Store. I would have recovered from this experience on my own, and before I started putting fingers to keyboard for any write-up.
But first impressions are … first impressions. They lead in some cases to long-term relationships, and since my wife has already entered this story, allow me to add that I knew that she was the one the moment I met her almost 30 years ago. But sometimes first impressions lead to disappointment, as the reality of the thing you were so impressed by starts to intrude on your happy thoughts.
And on that note, in just 24 hours, the iPhone 7 Plus has given me a bit of delight, and a bit of disappointment. There’s no black and white here, despite what you may have read elsewhere. But there is a lot to discuss.
I’ll save some of that for my eventual review, but let me provide a few glimpses of the ups and downs.
My wife and I had been planning to go out last night for a few weeks: We had purchased a Travelzoo voucher for a half-off meal at Bar Boulud in Boston and had made the reservation for last night. I figured this might be a good early test of the iPhone 7 Plus camera.
So I did what I always do before leaving the house: I went upstairs and prepared to shave and shower. We keep a Nokia speaker in the upstairs bathroom, and I use it to listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I get ready. So I’m standing there with a towel, clothes, and my new iPhone, and I’m holding the headphone cable from the speaker in one hand and the iPhone in the other. And I literally had that few seconds of hard reset while I absorbed what I already knew but had somehow forgotten. This thing doesn’t have a headphone jack.
Breaking from the spell, I finally ran downstairs to grab the one Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter that Apple, again, bundles with the phone. And resolved to order a few more, which I’ll place strategically, upstairs in the bathroom and in my travel bag. (I ordered them this morning.)
The lesson? The reality of the headphone jack removal could hit you at a bad time. I was lucky in this case, because I was home, and the adapter was readily available. But had I forgotten this on a flight at the start of a trip, I would have been much more upset.
There were two more delightful moments.
The camera is pretty great. I took a few shots outside at dusk, and then a bunch in the dimly-lit restaurant, and I was reassured that these pictures were of the quality I expected, or even better. For this outside shot, taken quickly while in the car at a red light, I used the 2X optical zoom.
And for this and the other food/restaurant shots, there was no flash involved.
The battery was the second happy experience. I had inexplicably forgotten to charge the new iPhone all day, and when we left, I suddenly realized this and saw that the battery was just at 48 percent. Throwing caution to the wind, we drove into Boston, ate, visited a friend quickly, and drove home. Five or six hours and many photos later, the battery was at 28 percent. That’s fantastic, though to be fair, the iPhone 6S Plus battery life was never problematic either.
Beyond these obvious moments, there are some other … notes, I guess.
That new virtual Home button I was unsure of yesterday? Having pressed it possibly one hundred times already, I love it. And while schlepping with the older-type Home button on my second-hand iPad will now forever be painful, this is something Apple did right.
Installing apps and then turning off most notifications is a time-consuming and ongoing process. This isn’t Apple-specific, but it’s a weirdness of the smartphone generation that we spend so much time on this every time we get a new device.
And the gold color? It hasn’t been a problem. In the case, the iPhone looks just like a silver model. But I had wanted black, and that would have visually been quite different. Maybe next year.