I have now spent a full week with the iPhone 7 Plus, which I chose for two simple reasons — the extended battery life, and of course the camera. The second camera, to be precise. While I would really love to go back to the 4.7″ form factor, I have no regrets whatsoever.
I spent the last seven days using it just like I normally would. That means no swimming with it, despite the new iPhone being supposedly capable of surviving in up to a metre of water, for up to thirty minutes. The iPhones 7 have an IP67 rating, but Apple specifically markets it as being only splash-resistant. They also state that they will not cover water damage under warranty on their iPhone 7 page, in the footnotes:
Liquid damage not covered under warranty.
It appears that they are once again under-promising and over-delivering, but since the iPhone has an IP67 rating, they should cover water damage under warranty. I realise that there is no way to determine how deep or how long an iPhone has been submerged, hence this would be an easy way abuse their warranty to swap one out for a new one, but still — other manufacturers are standing behind their products.
The New Home Button
I was sceptical at first, but after a full week I’m in love with the new Home button. Not just pleased — I love pressing it and feeling the solid tap in my hand. I did spend the first few days fiddling around with the strength setting — ‘1’ was too weak, ‘2’ felt OK, but I ultimately settled on ‘3’. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the fact, that the Home buttons on all my previous iPhones and iPads felt different. Each one required a different amount of force to depress. The new Taptic Home button doesn’t imitate the old one’s feel, like a click on a Magic Trackpad uncannily resembles a physical press on the older trackpads, but I don’t mind — it’s more than good enough as it is.
The New Colours & San Francisco
The new black and Jet Black colour schemes are simply beautiful. Unfortunately, they are paired with a black front, which looks amazing, but I can’t stand looking at it. I admit I have a problem — any finger or faceprints on the front of the phone make me look for a cloth to wipe them clean. The back doesn’t fare much better from the ones that I have seen with my own eyes. My wife also reminded me how I cursed the black front on my iPhone 5 and 6 Plus. I traditionally went silver, but after four iPhones in that shade, I decided a change was in order, so I went for the pink… ahem… rose gold variant. I’m thrilled with this colour on the 7 Plus, despite not liking it on the previous two generations. The reason behind this change is simple — the new antenna lines make the back look serene and the camera bump is a much better balanced. I probably loathed the older antenna lines most in this design.
The Jet Black iPhone 7 reminds me of Darth Vader, exactly like my Space Black Apple Watch does1, but what I really want is a ‘Stormtrooper iPhone’ — white front with a white ceramic case, just like the new Apple Watch Edition. I truly hope it comes next year…
The ‘iPhone’ on the rear is now set in the new San Francisco font. Realistically, this should not make much of a visual difference, but I can’t help myself — this minor detail matters a lot to me.
The Cameras and Portrait Mode
The main reason I went for the 5,5″ form factor was the second camera module. Since I rarely shoot after dark or in poorly lit areas, I don’t mind that the sensor behind the 56 mm lens is smaller and lacks OIS. I’m sure it would be better were it stabilised, but it isn’t. I’m not about to miss out on a year’s worth of photos just to wait for Apple to add this small detail in a future model.
I did the math to calculate the sensor sizes and to the best of my ability, I found the following:
- the wide-angle lens is f/1.8 and has a 1/3″ sensor behind it; it has a focal length of 3.99 mm and a crop factor of 7.21x which translates to 28.7679 mm; Apple rounds it down to 28 mm for marketing purposes2;
- the tele lens is f/2.8 and has a 1/3.6″ sensor with a focal length of 6.6 mm; it has a crop factor of 8.65x which means the lens is a 57.09 mm lens in full-frame terms (56 mm as marketed by Apple).
I have already shot a few hundred photos with both cameras and quite frankly, I can now barely imagine not having two different focal lengths at my disposal. The perfect combination would be four — a 14 mm ultra wide-angle, a 35 mm for most situations, a 50 mm for when I need to get a bit closer, and an 85 mm focal length for portraits or as a short tele — but this is not a realistic expectation. The 28 and 56 combo is a very good choice, and I’m more than pleased with them.
I’m currently on the iOS 10 beta with a beta of the Portrait Mode function, which the Photos app defines as a ‘Depth Effect’. While it most definitely needs more work, I have had some very positive results so far. The shot above is of my wife’s grandmother, shot in a dimly lit room at ISO 640 at 1/50 of a second, and it’s more than I expected. In other shots, the camera’s software did not fare as well, but the preliminary results suggest a bright future (no pun intended). My only hope is that Apple replaces the current blur with something that actually resembles what a lens would produce. I love a good bokeh, and while this is a step in the right direction, there’s still a ways to go.
John Gruber wrote the following in his review:
I will be jealous of the Portrait mode on the Plus when Apple ships the update, but it doesn’t feel like enough to justify the way it feels in my hand and pants pocket. (After just three days, my left pinkie is killing me.) That the telephoto lens is “only” f/2.8 — I put quotes around “only” because that’s arguably a remarkable aperture for a lens system and sensor this small — and lacks OIS makes the Plus a little less compelling to me as well.
Even if Apple didn’t include the ‘Depth Effect’ in this years Plus, I would have chosen it solely for the 56 mm tele. It completely reimagines what’s possible to shoot when out and about — taking a walk or while traveling — and like I mentioned before, I don’t want to give up a year’s worth of shots just to have a slightly smaller and more pocketable phone. This is of course purely subjective, but the trade-off is more than worth it for me. Ultimately, I would love for the smaller iPhone to have both lenses and cameras, but that might take a while to become a reality.
The lack of a completely new design is not an issue at all. Just moving the antenna lines and redefining the camera bump has more than refreshed the look of the iPhone 7s — much like a new Porsche 9113. Perfecting the current form factor has paid off in my eyes, while the new cameras and colours have made helped create demand.
All I now want is a Bender sticker for the Plus — his ‘eyes’ keep on reminding me of the Plus’ rear camera.