Review: iPhone 7 and AirPods

After meeting with Apple following its iPhone event last week, I’ve been using a jet black iPhone 7 and a black iPhone 7 Plus. I’ve also been using the new AirPods wireless headphones with a number of devices. What strikes me about the new devices is how Apple is so meticulous with the details of its products. These devices, in conjunction with the software they’re running, truly show Apple’s commitment to the user experience.

Jet Black and Black

When Apple first showed the jet black—glossy—iPhone on the big screen during the keynote last week, I was absolutely sure that’s the new color I wanted. Even when they showed the black—which is a matte black finish—I still wanted jet black.

Then I walked into the Hands-on area that the company setup for press to spend some time with the products. I fell in love with the black finish and haven’t looked back.

You do have to appreciate the amount of work that went into the jet black finish, though. Here’s a short description from Apple:

The high-gloss finish of the jet black iPhone 7 is achieved through a precision nine-step anodization and polishing process. Its surface is equally as hard as other anodized Apple products.

Nine steps for just a finish. That just screams Apple detail.

Apple does warn that the glossy finish may show “fine micro-abrasions” with use. That makes sense just because it is a high gloss finish, but to be honest, I don’t care about nicks and scratches on the casing as much as I do if the screen scratched. So far it’s looking really good.

I was surprised to find the jet black finish was not slippery in my hands at all. I think I expected it to be just because it was so glossy. The truth is, it was as comfortable in my hands as the black model was.

The only reason I usually prefer the “Plus” model iPhone is because the screen is larger, which is easier for me to see without using my reading glasses. Now there is another reason to use the Plus: the new camera.

Camera

There are a lot of improvements in the iPhone 7, but if there’s one feature that will get used the most, it has to be the camera. iPhone is the most popular camera in the world now because it is the camera people have in their pockets. It’s always been a good camera, but these new changes will appeal to most and help everyone.

I’m not a great photographer by anyone’s standards. Anything Apple can do to make my photos better is a plus for me. There are a couple of things I struggle with when taking photos: Zoom and low-light conditions.

Apple certainly took care of the zoom problem. In the iPhone 7 Plus they included two cameras—one is the same camera included in the iPhone 7 and the other is a telephoto camera.

flower

flower2

flower3

When you take a picture, it shows you onscreen that you’re shooting at 1x. If you tap on that area, it immediately changes to 2x and zooms the shot. This is optical zoom so there are no digital artifacts or any other problems associated with digital zoom. Just a clear zoomed picture.

Of course, you can then manually zoom in on the object and get even closer—up to 10x. Even this is much better than the iPhone 6s Plus that I was using before.

purple

purple2

purple3

The low-light conditions I have the most trouble with is at concerts. That is especially tough because there are bright lights on the stage and darkness in the crowd. The iPhone 6s Plus did a pretty good job for me, but I haven’t been able to test out the iPhone 7 under similar conditions yet. I’ll let you know how that works out.

The new camera comes with Quad-LED True Tone flash, optical image stabilization, and a larger ƒ/1.8 aperture. All of these features are going to help me take better pictures.

I have been running around taking pictures of flowers because they have such vibrant colors and they allow for great zoomed shots. I usually shot at 1x, 2x, and between 5x-6x.

I thought the camera was remarkable in both iPhone 7 models.

One feature that wasn’t available to test was Depth-of-field. This allows you to focus on a subject and blur the background. I’m really looking forward to trying this later this year.

Working in conjunction with the camera is the new Retina HD display. The iPhone 7 display 25 percent brighter than the iPhone 6s and it uses a wide color gamut, so colors on screen are what you expect to see.

Without the wide color gamut, you can take a picture and the colors don’t always match exactly. You can really see the differences when looking at images with vibrant colors.

The Home Button

The new Home button on iPhone 7 is not really a button, but a pressure-sensitive piece of glass that works with Apple’s taptic engine. With this, you get tactile feedback when you are using the Phone.

When you press down on the button, you receive feedback through the button—whether you’re pressing it to go from an app to the home screen or invoking Siri, you will get feedback, just like the old Home button.

You can adjust the amount of haptic feedback you get in preferences. Simply increase or decrease the amount to your liking.

I have no issue with the Home button, although I did invoke Siri quite a bit in the first day or so using it. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I seemed to keep my thumb pressed on the button for some reason. It wasn’t a big deal, I just needed to lift the pressure off the button for a second and everything was fine.

Water resistant

Apple made a good move in making the iPhone splash, water, and dust resistant.

For some people, this is an invitation to take it swimming with them to prove some kind of point. I would recommend you don’t do that.

Here’s how I see Apple’s “resistant” feature for the iPhone. They understand that in our every day lives, stuff happens. We spill things, fall in water, and we worry about what it does to a device we’ve spent a lot of money purchasing.

They designed the new iPhone 7 to help mitigate some of those concerns for us. That doesn’t mean we should be complete morons and throw it in a lake.

Audio and the Headphone Jack

Who knew that audio would be such a big deal with an iPhone launch, but it is.

As we all know, Apple did away for the old headphone jack. Honestly, I don’t see a problem with it—get rid of it and focus on giving us some more modern technologies in the iPhone 7 and future versions.

Space is at a premium on the iPhone, so you have to ask yourself, would you rather have optical image stabilization, stereo speakers, and a bigger battery, or would you like the headphone jack? You can’t have both.

I say ditch the headphone jack.

When people started talking about removing the headphone jack months ago, I said Apple would include an adapter—mostly likely in the box—and they did. You can still use your old headphones if you want.

I have a set of $800 Future Sonics Ear Monitors, so I know all about quality ear pieces. If you’ve ever researched in-ear monitors, you know that Marty Garcia invented them, and he’s the one that founded Future Sonics. These are the best in the industry, period.

Now, in addition to the adapter, Apple is including a set of Lightning EarPods in the box with the iPhone 7. If you don’t want to use your old headphones, you can just use the ones that come with iPhone.

Either way, you are covered. The new EarPods sound just fine for the majority of people.

The only time this may be an issue is when you need to charge the iPhone 7, and want to listen to music using a set of wired headphones. In the week I’ve been using it, I haven’t found myself in this situation.

I use the iPhone 7 all day long and the battery lasts all day for me. I don’t have to charge my phone during the day, so I’m able to listen to music with the wired headphones or with the AirPods. It just doesn’t seem to be an issue for me.

AirPods

If you want to feel even more freedom, you can also try the new AirPods. I have tried Bluetooth headphones in the past and they all sucked. The music didn’t sound good and the connection was horrible.

I have seen all kinds crazy things written since the keynote about the AirPods. Some people say they will drop out of their ears when they walk or run, others say we will lose them because they are so small.

Most of these things have been written by people that have never touched the AirPods. I have been using them for almost a week now and I can tell you that those concerns are not warranted at all.

I am not a child, so I think I can keep track of my AirPods—I have for a week with no problem at all. If you don’t think it’s within your ability to keep track of a pair of headphones, then clearly these are not the right accessory for you.

Before we talk about the coolness factor of the AirPods, let’s look at the fit and audio quality.

The AirPods actually fit my ears better than the wired EarPods. One explanation for this could be that the wires create a tension point using the EarPods to be pulled out of your ear a little bit.

This could be the reason that most of us complain about the EarPods fit over the years. They never really fit me that well either.

However, the AirPods fit very comfortably in my ears. They are not as snug as my Future Sonics, but that makes sense—they weren’t molded to my ears.

I walked, jumped, ran, shook my head around, bent down, tipped over, and did every other move I could think of to make the AirPods fall out of my ears—they never did.

I thought the audio quality of the AirPods was exceptional for Bluetooth headphones—actually it was just exceptional. I’ve been using them much more than the Lightning EarPods because they were so convenient and they sounded so good.

Nothing will ever replace my Future Sonics Ear Monitors, but will I use the AirPods a lot? Absolutely!

AirPods Are Cool

Most users have paired a Bluetooth device to our iPhone at some point. It’s either a little painful or a lot painful—very seldom do things just work the way they’re supposed to. Apple fixed that.

All you have to do with the AirPods is open the case. The iPhone 7 recognizes they are available and brings up a screen on the iPhone with one button that says, “Connect.” Press it and you’re done.

airconnect

My AirPods were connected to my iPhone 7 Plus, Mac, and Apple Watch all at once. Not just one device, but all of my devices.

airpoddone

I did this several times because I wanted to see how it worked. I ran into a little problem at one point. I opened the AirPod case, the iPhone recognized that I wanted to pair, and I set the case down. The lid snapped shut when I put it on the table, which caused the pairing screen to go away. The iPhone seemed to lose the AirPods even after I reopened the case. It told me to hold the button on the back of the case to pair the AirPods, which is basically how you would pair them to a non-Apple device.

The trick when pairing the AirPods is to hold it in your hand after you open the lid. Do that, and you won’t run into the issue I did.

The AirPods will respond to whatever device invokes them. For instances, when you put them in your ears, you will hear a tone telling you they are ready. Press play in Apple Music on your iPhone and music will start playing. If you then press play on your Apple Watch playlist, the AirPods will automatically switch to that device for playback.

I was playing a song from my Apple Watch, activated Siri on my iPhone 7, the AirPods switched and activated the mic, I asked Siri a question, and when I was finished they automatically connected back to the watch to finish the song.

That’s pretty cool.

The AirPods also know when they are in your ears. If you are listening to music and someone comes up to speak with you or you’re in line ordering a coffee, you can just take one out and the music will automatically pause. When you put the AirPod back in your ear, the music will start playing again automatically.

At one point during my tests, I took one AirPod out of my ear and the music paused like it should. While I was standing there with the AirPod in my hand, the music began playing again.

I wondered what had happened and then I realized I closed my hand around the AirPod. It thought I had put it back in my ear again, but I hadn’t. I made the sensor think it was back in my ear.

This happened a time or two while the AirPod was in my pocket too. It just thought it was back in my ear, even though it wasn’t.

Battery life is always a big issue with devices these days. Apple says the AirPods have about 5 hours of listening time—that’s a little conservative, but pretty accurate in my tests.

airpodbattery

Unless I’m on a plane, I don’t listen to music with headphones for hours at a time. I’ll go for a walk and listen for an hour and then stop; take a break and listen for 10-15 minutes; go to the store and listen while I shop; talk on the phone. My habits are all over the place, so it’s hard to nail down.

I will say this: the only time I ran out of battery on the AirPods is when I meant to run them dry. It took 15-20 minutes to get them charged to 100% using the charging case.

The AirPods will also seamlessly switch when a phone calls in as well. I’ve made and received phone calls using both headphones, in which case you can hear out of both headphones; taken out the left headphone, which then turns off; did the same with the right headphone; and then put them both back in.

The mics on the AirPods seem to be very good, although its hard to do a meaningful test when you can’t tell people why you want to test the microphone. I had one person comment, unsolicited, that I sounded really good while using the AirPods, but he didn’t know why. I didn’t tell him.

Using a double-tap on the side of the AirPods will invoke Siri when using the iPhone. It will pause the music, and then bring up Siri—ask your question, Siri will give you the answer and then return to playing the music in 5 seconds. A completely hands-free operation.

You can change this to have the double-tap do play/pause instead on the iPhone if you like. This is what happens when you use double-tap on AirPods using the Apple Watch.

These are the details that we expect to get right and they certainly did with the AirPods and how they work with the different devices we use.

When you walk around most cities you see the distinctive white Apple headphones all over the place. I would not be surprised at all that this time next year, you will see AirPods be as ubiquitous.

While they may not be for the audiophile, they are perfect for the average user and those that want convenience. That’s what Apple is going for here and they nailed it.

Like I said before, if you are an audiophile and insist on using your old headphones, you can do it using the included adapter.

Bottom Line

What I want from Apple is to build devices that solve complex problems with simple solutions. I want them to make things more efficient for me as a user without going through any pain from using their products. That’s exactly what they provided with the iPhone 7 and AirPods.



  • John

    Thank you for long and thoughtful review. I have on order a Black 7+ with as much storage that I can jam into it. Reasons:

    • It will be my everyday camera – my Sony a6000 will see less action
    • I’ve been wanting to play with video more
    • Like Jim, I like the larger screen
    • I’ve been doing more photo editing on my iPhone, I plan to do more
    • I’m on the road a lot and iPhone is my channel to everything
    • I deserve a treat cause I’ve been good
    • OK, you sold me on trying the AirPods

    Overall I disagree with many in the press, I think the iPhone 7 will be a big winner. Photography as a differentiator is not to be underestimated. The design isn’t boring, it’s pretty amazing. Like Leica and Porsche amazing. 6 months from now people will be impressed with the sales numbers – especially when compared to other high end phones like the Galaxy 7.

    Finally if Boy Genius Report and cnet don’t like the AirPods then they are probably worth a look.

  • Hardik Panjwani

    A couple of questions:

    1) Do we know if the AirPods will work with the 6s’s/SE?

    2) Is the headphone jack staying or disappearing on the iPod touch?

    • Brandon Knope

      http://www.apple.com/shop/product/MMEF2AM/A/airpods

      The compatibility section shows it goes back to the iPhone 5!

      • Hardik Panjwani

        Cheers!

    • iOS 10 and watchOS 3 for AirPods to work. otherwise they degrade gracefully to normal BT.

      • Hardik Panjwani

        Thanks!

    • mcghee33

      1.Yes the main protocol is still bluetooth 4.2 and will work with any bluetooth device that supports 4.2. 2. We don’t know yet

      • Hardik Panjwani

        Cool, kindly drop a line if you find out. 🙂

  • Steve Trease

    So, it is inevitable that people lose individual EarPods.

    If I lose one, say the right one; then buy a replacement set and lose the left one; will there be a way to pair/link the left and rights I have left over so that I can continue to use them or will they just be so much more ewaste?

    • coolguykeith

      Apple will be selling individual airpods in the rare case that one is lost

  • can office call-warriors use one AirPod at a time while chasing the other to double usage?

    • 181

      15 minutes of charging gives 3 hours of use, so I would guess 5 minutes would get you an hour. You have to use the bathroom, right? 🙂

    • Yes.

  • mjfadaway

    I’m confused. You said when Apple presented Jet Black on stage, “you knew that was the color you wanted”. But when you actually walked to the hands on area you “fell in love with black and haven’t looked back”. Then after that you said “I don’t care about nicks and scratches on the casing as much as I do if the screen scratched. So far it’s looking really good.”….. So do you have Black or Jet Black? Or both?

    • stsk

      He has both (for now).

      • mjfadaway

        Which does “he” like more? Sounds like he loves them both.

      • coolguykeith

        but which is he keeping?? 😛

        • stsk

          Matte Black

  • Charles Hawkins

    Did you find the lack of a remote to be much of an issue when using the AirPods? They look pretty tempting and my EarPods are getting pretty worn out, but I do use the remote on said EarPods quite a lot to adjust the volume and skip forward and backward. It’s hard to imagine doing those things with Siri and I don’t have a watch, so it seems reaching into my pocket for my phone each time would be the only real way. Other option would be the BeatsX which will have a remote, but it’s not clear how pocketable they are and I greatly prefer the EarPods style of buds.

  • RodoBobJon

    Regarding the AirPods: how quietly can you talk and still have Siri hear and understand you? If Siri is going to be my primary playback controls, it’d be nice to not have to talk to myself in public too loudly.

  • fastasleep
    “Using a double-tap on the side of the AirPods will invoke Siri when using the iPhone. It will pause the music, and then bring up Siri—ask your question, Siri will give you the answer and then return to playing the music in 5 seconds. A completely hands-free operation.”

    So which appendage are you using to tap the AirPods, dare I ask?

  • tipoo2

    “Nine steps for just a finish. That just screams Apple detail.”

    Or, modern manufacturing 😛 The Honour 8’s rear finish takes more steps than that.

    • Herding_sheep

      No, not really. Its not just about the number of steps.

      As someone who works in modern metal fabrication and finishing, I can tell you that Apples process for the Jet Black finish is unique, above and beyond, and only something Apple would do at this level of volume. There are much easier and cheaper options to polish and anodize aluminum, especially for 7000 series aluminum which is much harder to polish to this pristine mirror look. The results don’t even come close, from what I’ve seen of the Jet Black.

      You can even compare Apples finishing process for the Mac Pro. It’s more traditional, albeit with state of the art machinery. The iPhone 7 process on the other hand is very untraditional, with pretty stunning results. Take a Jet Black 7 to any machine shop or finishing house, ask them to guess what material it is, and I promise you they’ll be impressed to hear 7000 series aluminum. Apple doesn’t bullshit when they say they invent new processes. They also take very complicated processes, and develop ways to implement them into unimaginable scale, which is the real achievement.

      That’s Apples secret sauce that can’t be copied. They can have their style and aesthetic imitated, but right now their process engineering work is second to none. Nobody is better at this sort of thing than Apple. And that is thanks to the ID team, but ALSO the Op team that Tim Cook built.

  • “I have a set of $800 Future Sonics Ear Monitors, so I know all about quality ear pieces. If you’ve ever researched in-ear monitors, you know that Marty Garcia invented them, and he’s the one that founded Future Sonics. These are the best in the industry, period.”

    Best? For what? Your preferences? Your taste? I wouldn’t make bold statements like that when it comes to questions of personal taste and likings.

    Sorry but I am an audio pro for 35 years now and I’m always sceptical when someone’s trying to tell me a product is “the best”.

  • Pranav Kumar

    Can you pl comment on speaker quality ?

  • I found myself clicking the photos of this review multiple times, wanting to see the full-resolution version. Sadly, you included 400×315 pixel versions only. Kinda ridiculous for all the photo and display tech we have in 2016…

    • I found a way to see the full-res photos. Open them in a new browser tab, then edit the URL and remove the last ‘-‘ and the characters that follow it, until the ‘.’