As some of you know, a few of the Tab Times team were recently in Australia for the iPhone 7 launch. We talked to the fanatics sleeping in the street to buy one first, we dropped the new phones (twice), and even took a swim with them at Bondi Beach. Following the launch, I was tasked with using the iPhone 7 for a couple of weeks and reporting back. This is that report.
As some of you will know, I have a grudging respect for iPhones. I can appreciate their build quality and the smoothness and stability of iOS, but they’ve never appealed to what I want in a smartphone.
I’ve never owned an iPhone, although I do have a Mac and did have an iPod back in the day. But it has been a very long time since I’ve even handled an iPhone for more than a few minutes (the iPhone 5, in fact). So what did my little holiday fling tell me?
If anything really stood out for me it was just how... good... the iPhone feels.
That nothing has changed. Sure, it was fun to see what was new in iOS 10 (not that I had much to compare it against) and the overall experience was certainly a novelty. But my years-old impression of the iPhone is much the same today. If anything really stood out for me it was just how… good… the iPhone feels.
Not so much its feel in the hand, because I think it’s an awful, slippery little beastie that is way too easy to drop. I know you can always wrap it in a bumper case or what have you, but, as with my Android phones, I’d rather take my chances and enjoy the phone the way its manufacturer built it. Unfortunately for the iPhone 7, that’s like a wet bar of soap.
But as much as I find the iPhone 7 design to be distinctly meh, I do have to admit it feels very well made and, I guess, expensive. There’s a solidity to the craftsmanship that recalls British accents and components floating around in slow motion. Say what you will about the iPhone generally, at the very least it’s well put together.
I find the iPhone 7 design to be distinctly meh, but I do have to admit it feels very well made.
I’m still unsure about the taptic engine in the solid-state home button though. I absolutely prefer non-clicky capacitive buttons to physical buttons, but there’s still something decidedly weird about Apple’s implementation of vibration response. I’m not entirely sure why anyone needs the new button to feel like the old one, but it hasn’t been done tremendously well.
I enjoyed the silence switch (or whatever it’s called) on the side, but that’s probably because I became accustomed to it thanks to the OnePlus 2 and 3 (I know Apple did it first but I’ve never used an iPhone before). Regardless of who did it first, it’s a great thing that all phones could benefit from.
The lack of a headphone jack – easily the most polarizing of all iPhone 7 non-features – did not bother me in the slightest though. I’ve been using Bluetooth headphones for years and if I wanted to use cabled headphones I used the lightning-equipped pair of EarPods in the box. They suck but they’re no worse than any other included earbuds.
The lack of a headphone jack didn't bother me in the slightest.
If you want better sound quality from your high-end cabled headphones or simply aren’t a fan of wireless, then the 3.5 mm to lightning dongle is in the box too. As much as it’s easy to get riled up about things like this, it’s really not a big deal. It’s a pain, yes, but it’s the least painful pain you’re ever likely to encounter.
As for the software, well, it’s iOS. I enjoyed finding my way around the interface over the first few days, but I have to admit iOS isn’t exactly rocket science to figure out. I suppose this is one of its strengths: that it doesn’t take a genius to figure out.
I started to get bored with iOS after only a week.
But unfortunately for me, as someone who likes a little complexity because it affords more control, I started to get bored with iOS after only a week.
I was amazed by just how little there was to contend with in the iPhone’s software. A lock screen you can’t do much with, endless home screens full of app icons, a two-tab notifications shade accessed with a swipe from the top of the screen and a command center for Quick Settings buttons at the bottom.
I understand now why iPhone fans like iOS. It’s simple, generic and always the same. For folks like me that’s the very antithesis of what I like in a phone’s software. I love the novelty factor of constantly switching between manufacturer skins, custom ROMs and stock Android. This is why I’m pumped for the new Pixel experience from Google and probably the same reason I enjoyed iOS as long as I did.
But once that very quick learning period is over, iOS stops giving. Not only does it stop giving, it doesn’t let you change much of anything either. Sure, it’s fluid and stable, but so is Android these days, just with plenty more customization. This perhaps, more than any other reason, is why, in week two, I started picking up my Galaxy Note 7 or Nexus 6P more and more.
iOS doesn't let you change much of anything. Sure, it's fluid and stable, but so is Android these days, just with plenty more customization.
Even though I have pretty much the same app requirements on every phone I regularly use, I still mix things up with custom launchers, themes, widgets, gesture shortcuts and different layouts. I do this because I like the freedom of Android. It might be easier to use the exact same setup on every Android I own, but that would defeat the purpose of why I prefer Android in the first place.
“Be together, not the same” is Google’s Android tagline, and I love that about Android. So my S7 Edge runs Good Lock, my Nexus 6P is stock Nougat, my OnePlus 3 runs Action Launcher, my Note 7 was out-of-the-box “Grace UX” and so on. So while I could appreciate iOS as one option among many, there was probably never any chance I could put up with it being my only choice.
And so I slowly started using the iPhone 7 less and less. By the end of the trip I was basically just using it as a hotspot for my Android phones (its standby battery life is pretty good, thankfully). That, and for the camera on occasion. I do like the iPhone 7 camera. But I also like the Nexus 6P camera, and the Note 7 camera, and the S7 Edge and the HTC 10…
The days of Apple having the best smartphone camera are long gone.
The days of Apple having the best smartphone camera are long gone. But I’ve noticed over the years that iPhone fans that used to use that as a primary justification for why iPhones were so good, don’t seem to think being the best is all that important now that it’s not the case anymore.
If I learned anything about iPhones and iPhone fans over those couple of weeks it was that we’re just fundamentally different types of people. I’m the kind of person that likes confronting challenges (probably why I like tinkering, even though I’m not great at it), learning new things (why I enjoy trying new launchers, ROMs and OEM skins) and choice (why I prefer Android in the first place).
I can appreciate the esteem in which Apple’s design is held. I don’t personally like the look of the new iPhones, but I can agree that they are nicely built. I got bored with iOS quite quickly but I can also understand how that simplicity might be one of its greatest strengths. It’s samey and for me, boring, but it’s familiar and reliable.
I also had quite a lot of people make a fuss about the fact I had the “new iPhone”. This was surprising to me, because the only way anyone is really identifying the iPhone 7 from the 6 is the absence of the horizontal antenna bands on the back (I didn’t have a jet black or matte black version). That level of casual passerby scrutiny simply doesn’t exist with Android.
To sum the whole experience up, the iPhone 7 is slippery and easy to drop, but it feels expensive. It looks essentially identical to last year’s iPhone but everyone can still pick it out as the new iPhone. The most advanced iOS version ever is easy to wrap your head around because it’s basically the same as it was last year.
Even if the iPhone 7’s battery life, performance and camera aren’t the best any more, they’re still pretty damn good. But no one in the iPhone camp seems to care that much about these things anyway. The whole thing can really be distilled to the age-old dictum: you’re either an iPhone person or an Android person.
You're either an iPhone person or an Android person.
The iPhone 7 will obviously appeal to anyone that already likes iPhones. If for no other reason than it is the new iPhone and that has some magical cache to it. If you’re a long-time Android fan you might, like I did, find a few things to like about the iPhone 7, but, like me, will probably struggle to endure more than a passing fascination with it. A summer fling that was never meant to last as it were.
My sojourn to Australia is over and I’m firmly back at my desk, surrounded by the familiar and exciting Android gadgets around which I make my living. I’m comfortable in this space, but not because it’s the same or because it’s familiar.
I like it here because it’s a state of constant flux and innovation that exposes me to all kinds of things I might not have expected. Sometimes, that even includes spending time with the new iPhone. If nothing else, my brief flirtation with the other side reminded me of just how good I have it at home.
What do you think of the new iPhone? Why do you stick with Android?