Apple iPhone 7 Review
Who needs dual cameras when you've got one main camera that performs this well?
Apple's built up a well-deserved reputation for producing smartphones with some of the best cameras around, and the iPhone 7 doesn't disappoint. Although this year it's overshadowed by the iPhone 7 Plus and its all-new dual-camera arrangement, the iPhone 7 still gets to enjoy its own smattering of camera hardware upgrades, bringing in more light, creating more light of its own, and capturing pics well-equipped for display on the phone's wide-color-gamut screen.
Last year Apple gave the iPhone's main camera a resolution bump, growing from 8MP to 12MP. With the iPhone 7, we don't see resolution change any – there's yet another 12MP sensor in play – but there are ample improvements all around.
One of the most important there is the move to a larger f/1.8 aperture, allowing more light to enter the phone's camera and illuminate its sensor. That spells sharper pics of moving subjects, as well as enhanced low-light performance. And all that light flows into the iPhone 7's camera with the help of an upgraded, more complex six-element lens system.
We also see optical image stabilization graduate from being a Plus-only feature with the iPhone 6s to one present on all sizes of iPhone 7. Combined with the faster shutter speeds that f/1.8 aperture affords, it's easier than ever to snap clean, sharp pics that are free of unwanted motion blur.
And if all the extra light the iPhone 7's camera is gathering doesn't prove enough, Apple's come through with a super-charged flash this year, moving from a two-element LED flash on the iPhone 6s to a quad-LED flash here. More than just give you more light when you need it, a flicker-detection system helps compensate for unfavorable lighting conditions, keeping your shots looking evenly lit.
Then there's the front-facer, and this time we actually do get a resolution bump, from 5MP to 7MP. There's the same wider color capture as on the rear camera and the higher-res sensor means that video capture now extends to 1080p.
Stable, bright, and colorful is a trifecta of win for the iPhone 7's camera
All this sounds good, but how do the images actually look? Well, not bad at all. Comparing them with the iPhone 6s, you won't see a night-and-day difference, but the little improvements here and there add up. You'll end up deleting fewer blurry shots, see less noise in low-light pics, and enjoy richer saturation in your most colorful snaps. Front-facer upgrades aren't nearly as pronounced as those with the rear camera, and we would have appreciated even better light sensitivity, but they're still not bad.
It would have been easy for Apple to get so caught up in the dual-camera iPhone 7 Plus that it overlooked the iPhone 7's own camera upgrades, but instead it really came through. They may not make for the flashiest feature set we've ever seen, but the enhancement's the phone's camera has received add up to a package that puts the iPhone 7 on our short list of best-performing smartphone cameras on the market.
4K plus optical stabilization makes for one heck of a combination
Improvements to video recording tend to exist as a subset of still-image upgrades, and that's very much the case with the iPhone 7. That means enjoying the benefits of that larger aperture and improved color gamut, just like on still pics.
But where iPhone 7 video recording really shines is with stability, and the ability to take advantage of optical stabilization just as readily in video as you can in still pics – all while working with Apple's software-stabilizing algorithms – has the effect of producing some impressively low-shake videos. You may not get Steadicam-like results with the iPhone 7, but minor jitters will no longer threaten to ruin an otherwise perfect shot.
High-res 4K recording looks as beautiful as ever, and even the lower-res recording modes end up generating some sharp-looking clips.
Speakers come through with a nice upgrade, but headphone support pays the ultimate price
Apple's taken some big steps with the iPhone 7's multimedia package, delivering long-requested features, but also stripping the phone of basic functionality we once took for granted. Does that add up to a win, or will controversy poison any potential improvements?
Let's start with the elephant in the room: the iPhone 7 no longer has an analog headphone jack. Instead, the phone now comes with a pair of Lightning-equipped EarPods.
Apple's not the first phone-maker to take this path, but its position in the market makes the decision to remove the iPhone's headphone jack one with the potential to have industry-shaking consequences.
As we'd only hope, the new Lightning EarPods sound great – though we'd be hard-pressed to call them a big leap forward over the older analog models.
If you do intend to hold on to your old analog headphones, Apple thankfully includes an adapter with the iPhone 7 that still allows them to be used with the Lightning port. The adapter works quite well, and our tests suggest it may even be superior to the iPhone 6's built-in headphone jack. Its one (and admittedly, quite big) problem is that it seems fantastically easy to misplace. Replacements are cheap enough, with Apple selling them for less than $10, but we'd still rather not have one more accessory to carry around and keep track of.
The other big audio news for the iPhone 7 is that the handset's finally picked up stereo speakers – albeit in a bit of an unusual arrangement. Instead of a pair of edge-mounted or pair of front-facing speakers, Apple's splitting the difference: the familiar bottom-edge speaker is joined by one in the phone's earpiece.
The earpiece speaker produces sound that's a lot less bass-heavy than the bottom speaker, but even with different response curves, the two add up to produce some nice audio that, what it lacks in balance, it makes up for with long-overdue stereo separation.
Beyond all that stereo goodness, the new speaker pair is seriously loud – significantly more so than the iPhone 6s. Our one complaint is that the iPhone 7 looks like it should be even louder; one of the two bottom-edge speaker grilles (the one on the left where the headphone jack used to be) now looks like there's another speaker hiding in there, but in reality, there's only a microphone.