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The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are all about subtle, powerful changes

Engadget Engadget 7/09/2016 Chris Velazco

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The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are here, and wouldn't you know it -- just about all those leaks were right. It goes without saying that we're not looking at a massive redesign here, either. There are the new Black and Jet Black finishes, the camera humps have change, the antenna bands have been moved and they're more subtly worked into the body. The list goes on, but ultimately we're working with iPhones that look and feel quite a bit like last year's models.

That's sure to disappoint some of you -- Apple's seemingly regular timing for dramatic updates didn't help -- but after a bit of hands-on time, it's clear that the changes Apple did make with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are more meaningful than you might think. Read on for our first impressions of Apple's updated handiwork (in no particular order).

  • In general, it's really hard to get a sense of how snappy a new smartphone is when a company shows it off for the first time. Apple has said its new A10 Fusion processor is its fastest slice of mobile silicon ever, and it definitely felt very fast while I was thumbing through apps and trying to launch webpages. Then again, of course it would -- these are brand new devices loaded up with mostly clean builds of iOS 10. What's more important is how well this level of performance will persist over time, so we'll have to see about that.
  • The new 12-megapixel camera(s) seem to work really nicely -- they're quick to focus and captured some well-exposed, vividly colored photos in the thick of Apple's press scrum. Then again, the room itself was well-lit, which is obviously the sort of environment smartphone cameras excel in anyway. Using the iPhone 7 Plus's new dual-camera setup was slick, too, even if it feels a lot like what LG did with its G5 earlier this year. In fairness, Apple's implementation feels a little more consistent since both sensors are the same resolution (the G5 had one 8-megapixel and one 16-megapixel sensor each), and tapping to switch between 1x and 2x modes was as dead-simple as you'd expect. Most importantly, it only felt like a gimmick for a few moments -- after that, its flexibility felt valuable and obvious.

  • Man, that new Home button is weird. iPhone newcomers won't have any trouble adapting to the change, but it feels almost jarring to someone who has used iPhones pretty regularly since the 4's launch in 2010. It works like force-pressing one of Apple's new Macbook trackpads, but it doesn't really feel like it -- you'll feel a blip from the phone's Taptic Engine instead of feeling the button depress like you're using a 3D Touch gesture on the screen.
  • Apple can chalk it up to "courage" as much as they want, getting rid of the headphone jack makes things much trickier. I asked multiple Apple spokespeople whether or not you could somehow charge the iPhone 7 while the included EarPods were plugged in, which seemed like a straightforward, yes or no sort of question. I still haven't gotten a straight answer, though I'll update this post when I do. At the very least, accessories that use the headphone jack -- like, say, Square readers -- will continue to work fine with the included Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter.
  • That Jet Black finish is beautiful, but it probably won't stay that way for long. A spokeperson said Jet Black iPhones have an oleophobic coating meant to keep them from getting too oily, but it can only do so much -- it took moments for my hands to reduce the phone to a smudgy mess. That said, it never felt like the phone was going to slip from between my fingers, which is saying something for a klutz like me. Apple also said that the Jet Black iPhones are more prone to scratches, but I still get the impression it'll sell really well -- though maybe not as well as the more conventional Black.
  • Apple's press pit was a madhouse, and as a result it was damned hear impossible to get a sense of the iPhone 7's new stereo speakers. Still, I figured out a few things -- while Apple's on-stage imagery sort of made it look like there's a another discrete speaker on top of the phone, the audio just comes out of the main earpiece speaker.
  • The iPhone 7 Plus is only a few grams lighter than the 6s Plus that came before it, but that feels like a significant differences. I had to stop using the 6s Plus because its weight and width were enough to make my wrist hurt after a while. The 7 Plus, on the other hand, might be just light enough to mitigate some of those issues.
  • I can't wait to spill a drink on these things.
This is a developing story, stay tuned for more.

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