I Used The iPhone 7 For 5 Days — & Here's What I Thought

Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
This isn't 2007. When a new smartphone comes out, no one is going, "Holy crap, I can't believe a computer that fits in my pocket can actually do all this!" We're cynical and spoiled. We put our phones through a lot and expect perfection in return.

So naturally, the earth didn't shatter when Apple introduced the iPhone 7. It looks a whole lot like the iPhone 6s, last year's model, and when you use the phone, you'll find it's not all that different either. But while many of the phone's updates might be considered "incremental," there are three that really distinguish it from the iPhones of yore: its new home button, its improved and redesigned camera system, and (of course) its lack of a headphone jack.

We've been using a jet black iPhone 7 and a matte black iPhone 7 Plus for five days and can safely say it's a good phone. For many, it's a worthwhile upgrade. But if you're on the fence — or are just wondering what's in store when your phone ships this Friday — here's what you need to know about what it's really like to use the new iPhone.

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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
Familiar Looks

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, while a fraction lighter than their predecessors, look and feel exactly the same as the 6s and 6s Plus save for one thing: the size and shape of the camera lens. If you've got a 6 or 6s case, it will fit, but it will cover up a portion of the camera.

And you will want to put a case on it. The glossy jet black model actually feels more sticky in your hand, but its high-shine finish is susceptible to scratches and fingerprints. The larger iPhone 7 Plus, which I reviewed in matte black, felt slightly more slippery than the metallic rose gold, silver, or gold versions — and I've personally always found its larger size is more difficult to grasp firmly in my hand.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
A Home Button With A Different Click

The lack of headphone jack has been the biggest talking and speculation point since before the iPhone was even announced last week. But for me, it was the new home button that first made me say, "Oh, wow, this is different."

Like the touchpad on Apple's Macbook, the home button is no longer a true button. While it looks nearly identical to its predecessor — a slightly depressed ring below the phone's screen — now there are no mechanical button parts inside. It can sense your fingerprint and the force of a press, and when you do "press" it, you get haptic feedback that fools your finger into thinking it's actually pressed a button. When you set up the phone, you can choose between three different types of button presses, basically a light, medium, and strong-feeling press. I went with the middle, default option here.

When you first start using the phone, the new button feeling can be off-putting. But after a day or two, you don't really notice the difference anymore. What you do notice: That haptic feedback is now available in apps, so as you're scrolling a dial or tapping piano keys onscreen, you feel those light vibrations underneath your fingertips.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
Hit The Road, Jack

Looking at the bottom of the iPhone 7 for a second, you might forget that a headphone jack ever used to be there — it looks so perfectly symmetrical with its added speaker grille. But there's a lot of (warranted) hubbub about that missing port.

Honestly, I never used to charge my phone and listen to music at the same time, so I'm not bothered by the prospect of only having one thing plugged in at a time. But the lack of headphone jack is limiting for other reasons — accessories such as camera flashes and portable credit card readers used that port. The idea of using a complicated chain of dongles to attach one of those accessories to the iPhone 7 is absolutely ludicrous.

And of course, it's annoying if you have a favorite pair of wired headphones you now need an adapter for (although at least it's included in the box). And the included Lightning EarPods work basically identically to the "old" 3.5mm headphone-jack version.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
Wire-free Music Listening

And of course, you've got two other options for wireless music listening: The phone's stereo speakers and (shipping in October) the new wireless AirPods.

The upgraded speakers are terrific. They have enough oomph to fill a large room or a small apartment with music at full blast. But like most smartphone speakers, they're on the tinny side and don't have much bass. For more bass, you'll want to connect to a pair of wireless speakers instead. But if you're on a budget, the iPhone 7's stereo speakers are more than tolerable, whether you're re-watching Stranger Things on Netflix or dancing to some Taylor Swift.

If your roommates don't share your taste in music, though, you can try Apple's $159 AirPods. While they look like tiny blowdryers, they stay in your ear quite snugly, deliver comparable audio to their wired EarPod cousins, and with a double tap you can use them to make queries to Siri. They were comfortable enough that we fell asleep wearing them, and have good enough battery life that you can get one to two days' use out of them before needing to plug their charging case in again. As long as you're judicious about keeping the charging case handy and storing them after use, losing them shouldn't be a big issue — but if you have a tendency to lose things, this certainly isn't the investment for you.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
Battery Life

Apple promised in its keynote that the iPhone 7 would deliver up to two hours more battery life per day than the 6s, and that the 7 Plus would last one hour longer. While battery life really varies based on how you use your phone, I found that on a day with my "typical" usage, I ended up with 30-40% battery life before heading to bed. On a day with very heavy usage (near constant photo taking, social-media browsing, going for a short run, video watching, etc.), it lasted just about the whole day, but did need to be charged after dinner.

So worst-case scenario: You get similar battery life to what you'd see on an iPhone 6s. Best case: Your phone will last several hours longer than you'd get on any previous iPhone.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
It Can Take The Plunge

No one wants to drop their phone in the toilet, but now if it happens, you know your phone will come out fine. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are water- and dust-resistant, meaning you don't want to take it for a swim, but a dip is A-OK. Thus far, our iPhone 7 has worked perfectly fine since its plunge here.

Still, Apple recommends wiping it down with a lint-free cloth, tapping the phone so that water can exit its Lightning port, and using cool fan air to blow out any excess water in the port after a dunk. You'll also want to wait at least five hours before plugging anything into that Lightning connector.

[Editor's Note: I cleaned the toilet at least three times before taking this shot.]
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
The Camera

The camera is a phone's crown jewel. A phone with a crappy camera isn't worth a dime. Luckily, the iPhone 7 does not have a crappy camera. That being said, the improvements over the 6s weren't as striking as I would have thought — at least when it comes to the photos.

Low-light images are slightly brighter and more vivid than on last year's iPhone. They're also slightly less grainy. But overall the improvements in most photos taken with the rear-facing 12-megapixel camera were subtle — or maybe my eyesight just isn't fine-tuned enough to appreciate the wider color gamut the iPhone 7 is capable of. However, the new four-LED True Tone flash is less abrasive and more natural-looking than on older iPhones.

But for video, the difference is huge. The image stabilization in the iPhone 7 totally smooths out shaky hands, almost completely eradicates camera wobbles while you're walking, and only really gave in when I straight up jumped up and down while shooting video. The iPhone 6s video I shot at the same time felt like The Blair Witch Project by comparison.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
Double The Lenses, Double The Fun

The 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus's camera is much more impressive, though. It has not one but two 12-megapixel cameras on the back, one wide-angle lens and one telephoto lens. This allows you to enhance photos (and videos) without images turning into a grainy, pixelated mess. I used the 2x zoom feature, built into the camera app, for a variety of photos: pictures of my cat being cute across the room, pictures of my cat sleeping across the room, pictures of my cat playing with a toy across the room (kidding, partially — I also tested it in a variety of indoor and outdoor situations, from bright sunlight to sundown).

The only negative I found with the camera was in taking a photo up close — because it seamlessly decides which of its two cameras to use depending on the situation, it sometimes would "switch" cameras between my preview and when I hit the shutter button. Shooting from farther away and cropping later is a better solution here.

The 7 Plus can also zoom in on an image up to 10x (twice as much as previously). While the image quality you get when using this software-based zooming is sometimes usable, especially if lighting is good, you're better off just using the optical 2x zoom and editing a shot "closer" after the fact.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
More Selfie Power

And then, of course, there's the front-facing camera. Improving the selfie camera is always a double-edged sword: Yes, it means better selfies, but it also means blemishes and other such details are more clear and more apparent than before. Such is the case this time around.

Apple upgraded its five-megapixel FaceTime HD camera to seven megapixels. The performance in general is pretty similar, but on the iPhone 7 (top photo), its warmth is more red than yellow, and the image is much crisper. You can distinguish between individual hairs, and if I wanted to zoom in on the photo, there are enough pixels to do that without it turning into impressionism.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
More Selfie Power (Cont.)

Outdoors, the improvements with the new front-facing camera are more apparent. This looks like it was shot with a rear-facing camera, not a selfie cam.
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Photographed by Christina Bonnington.
The Bigger Picture

I plan to buy the iPhone 7. The solid battery life, excellent overall performance, and laud-worthy new features (including water-resistance, improvement in not one but both cameras, and more onboard storage) make it a valuable buy, in my book.

But if you're an iPhone 6s owner, those gains are certainly slimmer than if you've been using an iPhone 6 or older. And if you're an audiophile with a nice pair of over-ear headphones you like to plug into your iPhone, the death of the headphone jack may be a little too soon for you. Ditto if you're a business owner who uses a headphone-jack-based card reader for purchases.

There's nothing insane about the new iPhone. It builds on the iPhones of yore logically and expectedly. But its updates do make your life easier (for the most part) in small ways, and that's what I want out of a smartphone.