Love it or hate it, Apple’s iPhone 7 is arguably the most popular phone on the planet. Year in and year out it consistently sells truck loads of units in September and always finishes strong around Christmas, and even lackluster quarters for Apple still bring in loads of cash thanks to the success of the iPhone.
But this is an Android publication, and Apple’s successes or failures aren’t really relevant to most of what we write about here. Not directly, anyway. But there’s no denying the strength of Apple’s yearly flagship, so why not take it for a test drive and see how it stacks up to the best of the best from the Android camp? Let’s dive into the iPhone 7 from Apple.
The iPhone 7, like the iPhone 6s and 6 before it, features Apple’s
patented popular sleek design with rounded edges. The physical design hasn’t changed in three years, so you’re very likely familiar with how it looks and feels at this point, even if it’s just from seeing stock images online or a friend that inevitably has an iPhone.
It may not be an exciting design anymore, but all things considered, it feels really good and looks great, even if it’s a little basic at this point. Apple is known for their attention to detail and that’s incredibly clear with the iPhone 7; nothing feels out of place, and everything seems very intentionally designed.
The face of the device sports the iconic Apple home button/fingerprint scanner below the screen, and you’ll find a speaker, camera, and proximity sensor on the top. There’s no LED indicator for notifications which is a huge plus for Android devices, and although Apple tries to make up for it in the software, that’s still a design element that I imagine many of us love from different Android phones.
The home button on the iPhone 7 is not actually a button, however. It’s simply built into the face of the phone with no moving parts, but Apple’s Taptic Engine simulates a button press when you apply pressure to it. If you turn the phone off and try to press it, you won’t feel anything, but when it’s on it legitimately does feel like a button click. It’s not on-screen keys, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
The edges of the device are smooth and rounded, with a blank top edge, a power button on the right edge, and volume keys and a vibration toggle on the left edge. That vibration toggle is easily one of the best parts about the iPhone and was one of my favorite things about the OnePlus line because it easily allows you to shut your phone up without digging through settings or even turning the screen on. All of the buttons feel very carefully machined and designed and are probably some of the most satisfying buttons you’ll ever use on a phone. We’ve all probably used a phone or two with slightly mushy keys, or buttons that only respond properly 95% of the time, but that’s completely absent here. Obviously most flagship Android phones have high enough quality control to avoid that, but sometimes it does slip through.
The bottom of the phone features Apple’s proprietary lightning port and two downward firing speakers, and, yep, no headphone jack. It’s the most courageous bottom of a phone you’ll ever see.
The back of the device is where you’ll find the new, larger camera sensor, an LED flash, and a reflective Apple logo. They’ve also redesigned the antenna bands to fit around the top and bottom sides of the device, creating a much more clean aesthetic that looks considerably less like an HTC flagship.
The phone itself is incredibly thin, but it does feel really, really good in hand. The edges are comfortable, it’s a great size with a 4.7-inch screen (even if it does have some pretty large bezels) and pretty much everything is within thumb’s reach.
|Apple iPhone 7||Apple iPhone 7 Plus|
|Announced||September 7, 2016||September 7, 2016|
|Release||September 16, 2016||September 16, 2016|
|Display||4.7-inch (1344x750) IPS LCD||5.5-inch (1920x1080) IPS LCD|
|Processor||Apple A10 Fusion||Apple A10 Fusion|
|Storage||32GB / 128GB / 256GB||32GB / 128GB / 256GB|
|Rear Camera||12MP w/ phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization, dual-LED flash||12MP + 12MP w/ phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization, dual-LED flash, 2x optical zoom|
|Battery||1960mAh (non-removable)||2900mAh (non-removable)|
|Sound||Front- and bottom-facing stereo speakers||Front- and bottom-facing stereo speakers|
|Software||iOS 10.2||iOS 10.2|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac||Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Sensors||Ambient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, barometer, fingerprint||Ambient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, barometer, fingerprint|
|Measurements||138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1mm||158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3mm|
|Colors||Jet Black, Black, Silver, Gold, Rose Gold||Jet Black, Black, Silver, Gold, Rose Gold|
It’s tough to compare an iPhone to an Android device in the performance category because of how drastically different the two operating systems are and how they handle things like background apps, but there’s no denying Apple cares about the user experience on their phone more than anything. They also have an incredible processor in their custom A10 Fusion chip that, in all honesty, smokes everything else on the market.
If there’s a way to slow an iPhone 7 down, I’ve yet to find it. Jumping back and forth between apps, browsing the internet, playing games, you name it. Whatever you can throw at the iPhone 7, it will handle. Or, at least, it’ll make you seem like it’s handling it.
One of the key differences between iOS and Android is how Apple strictly controls what’s going on with the phone to keep the user experience consistent. When you’re jumping back and forth between apps, for example, Apple severely limits what resources those background apps have access to. When you’re browsing the internet, the phone will stop certain things from loading if you’re scrolling up and down the page. It’s extremely effective resource management, and even though it can gimp certain potential features, it means you’ll never see the phone hiccup no matter what you’re doing.
Gaming performance is top-notch, even in some really demanding titles, the fingerprint scanner is lightning quick, and all of the gestures and animations and everything else in the phone are fast, but fluid.
Simply put, the iPhone 7 lasts all day, easily. It’s consistent, and I never have to reach for a charger before I get home from work. The most impressive part about the battery life, however, is that Apple only uses a 1,960mAh battery in the iPhone 7. That’s only about 60% of the size of most current flagship Android devices but still manages to match the longevity of bigger phones, which will make even the most diehard Android enthusiast a little jealous.
The biggest drawback of the smaller battery, however, is the screen-on time. If you’re watching hours and hours of videos or constantly browsing the web, the iPhone’s stellar battery life falls back to reality and matches or falls a bit behind some other flagships. That’s still impressive for a sub-2,000mAh battery, but it really shines in normal daily usage where the screen isn’t on for six hours straight.
Part of the reason why the battery life excels is the iOS’s incredibly aggressive background apps policy. It’s not like Android where things can stay open; iOS keeps a very tight leash on what apps can do in the background, which means you get slightly less functionality with a bonus of those apps being unable to consume much extra battery life. Newer Android phones that utilize Doze mimic this functionality, so if you’ve played with the slightly delayed and bunched notifications that happen to an idle Android phone, you’re probably already familiar with the general idea of how iOS handles background apps to conserve battery.
Yep, iOS versus Android. Apple can make the best hardware with the slickest design ever, but for many users, iOS is going to be a deal breaker.
Long story short, iOS is very good, but very different from Android. There’s significantly less (read: absolutely zero) emphasis on customization, but a ton of emphasis on the polish and user experience of the software. That’s good and bad, depending on what parts of Android you do and don’t like.
If you’ve ever used MIUI, whether on a Xiaomi phone or with a custom ROM, you might get the gist of how iOS functions. Your “home screens” are all you have to work with, and all you have are app icons. You can sort apps into folders, but all of the apps have to line up in rows. You can’t space anything out, you can’t put widgets anywhere, and you’re stuck with those app icons, titles, and everything else that comes prepackaged. It’s definitely boring, but it’s also pretty functional. Apple’s Spotlight search, which is accessed in the Notification Center or by swiping down from the home screen, works really well for quickly finding apps and other content, so organization is never really an issue, even if it is a little plain.
Oh, and the Notification Center is atrociously bad compared to Android’s notification system. iOS just dumps all of your notifications into one list that’s not always very well organized, and there’s no clear all button. Apple introduced a 3D Touch feature to clear all of the notifications from a certain day, but it’s easy to get backlogged and have several days worth of notifications that require several taps to clear out. It’s not a great system, and it’s lacking the extra information and dynamic actions that Android offers.
3D Touch, by the way, is Apple’s newest feature that was introduced with the 6S. It’s still present on the iPhone 7, and it’s actually a really, really neat way of interacting with the device. Instead of long pressing, you forcefully press on a piece of text, a notification, an app icon, or anything else, and iOS pops up a small contextual menu. You can access widgets by 3D Touching an app icon, you can quickly reply to text messages or trash emails by 3D Touching a notification, and it allows you to do things like zooming in on an image without leaving your current page or app. Think of it like the right-click functionality on a Windows computer, but for a mobile OS. It’s definitely something that I hope to see become mainstream in Android phones sooner or later, because it’s hard to go back once you’re used to it.
A major drawback that’s simultaneously a huge selling point is Apple’s baked in apps. iMessage, Photos, Apple Music, Notes and Reminders, and a ton of other stuff are preloaded on the iPhone 7, and you’re going to use them whether you like it or not. The apps themselves are usually fantastic: well designed, fast, and full of functionality. However, iOS doesn’t have a system like Android that allows you to change default apps, so when you open a link in the Mail app, you’re going to Safari, not Chrome. When you tell Siri to play music, it’s going into your music library or Apple Music. You can forget about Google Play Music or Spotify. If you like the apps and services, this won’t bother you, but if you want to mix and match things, it’s a frustrating limitation.
You can kind of get around it by using some of Google’s apps that link together. If you’re using Inbox, for example, there’s a setting that will allow you to open links in Chrome or Safari. Completely useless if you want Firefox as your default browser, but the option is there.
With all of that being said, that tightly walled platform does have some advantages that Google could learn a thing or two from, the biggest of which is probably how consistent iOS is. Apple enforces app guidelines to the point where they won’t even allow apps onto the App Store if they don’t look and perform a certain way, which is a heavy handed approach that leads to everything feeling much more coherent than what you get on Android.
Swiping in from the left side of the screen will always take you to the previous screen, for example, instead of Android’s grab bag of a back button, and whenever you open a new app there’s a shortcut at the top left of the status bar to “multitask.” Fundamentally, all the functionality of a back button is still in iOS, just without the dedicated button.
Despite Google and Apple not making all the third party apps that are available on their respective platforms, it’s hard not to notice that iOS gets a better selection, either. Whether that’s because of fragmentation, fewer devices, better developer guidelines, or some other reason, apps tend to get newer versions with more features faster on iOS than they do on Android. Looking at you, Snapchat.
Siri is also a major disappointment once you’re used to Google Assistant. Apple was the first to offer a real virtual assistant in a smartphone, but they’ve since fallen way behind compared to what some others have created. She can handle basic tasks (set a timer, create calendar events, send your mom a text message) but the complex stuff really throws her for a loop and she’ll end up taking what you said and searching it with Bing. Cool, Siri, but I could’ve done that myself.
A lot of the differences between iOS and Android will come down to personal preference and how much you care about customizing your phone, but one thing that makes iOS really shine is the privacy controls. Google introduced granular app permissions into Android a few years back, but it doesn’t work for every app and doesn’t work quite as well as what Apple does. iOS very easily lets you toggle permissions for apps on and off without breaking anything, including disallowing location information, access to your camera and microphone, and access to personal information stored on your device. I don’t know that Google can ever completely match that because of the drastically different business models of the two companies, but there’s no denying that Apple takes privacy a little more seriously than Google.
Apple takes their camera very seriously, and it shows. We’ve compared it to other Android phones before, and it’s no slouch even against Google’s magical Pixel HDR and other high end devices.
The biggest takeaway from Apple’s camera that I’ve really only seen in one other device is the consistency. Like the Pixel, it’s really, really hard to take a bad shot with the iPhone 7. It doesn’t let you tweak very much, but whatever Apple uses for their automatic mode works extremely well.
Shutter speed is always quick and colors are accurate, especially on the iPhone 7’s extremely accurate screen. It’s a good fit for photographers or designers who need an exact color, not just a saturated image that looks great but isn’t 100%.
Indoor shots are good, outdoor shots are good, low light shots are okay.
The biggest pitfall to Apple’s camera is that they’ve been leapfrogged by some other smartphones in a dark environment. The iPhone 7 still does pretty well, but Google especially nails low light images with the Pixel’s wonderful camera.
In typical Apple fashion, the camera isn’t the best of the best in every situation. It’s really good in almost all situations, and it’s consistent.
Is the iPhone 7 better than a Google Pixel, or a Samsung Galaxy S7, or any number of other Android phones? It’s way too subjective for anyone to actually make that call. There’s no denying that Apple’s hardware is some of the best in the business, but the software is going to be very polarizing. If you like iOS, Apple makes a phone that’s more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the best that Samsung, LG, Google, or anyone else can put out. It may not win in every category (excluding the processor), but Apple’s selling point is their ecosystem; your iPhone talks to your iPad, which talks to your MacBook, and all of them share purchases, content, and will all get updated as soon as new software is available. That’s something that no Android OEM really attempts to match.
But if you don’t like iOS, Apple could put out the absolute best piece of hardware you’ve ever seen and most of you wouldn’t even consider the device. The lack of a microSD card, or a file manager, or the ability to change default apps is a sensible deal breaker for many users, and there’s not much Apple can do to change that without drastically overhauling their hardware, software, and design philosophy.
It’s a fantastic phone, and it’s exactly what Apple and their users want. But it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. There are plenty of other options to pick from on the other side of the fence.