I rarely review new iPhones in this column because by the time we’ve gone to press, there’s normally been a flood of reviews and most Apple aficionados will have already bought one. But the response to the iPhone 7 and this, the 7 Plus, has been rather muted. There are reasons for this. Above all, the shape hasn’t changed much from the 6 series, which is a first for Apple – until now, it has always made the iPhone look and feel different every two years.
And there are other factors – a sense, for example, that smartphones in general have peaked and the 6 does most of what we will want for the foreseeable future. There’s also a feeling that the iPhone has settled into comfortable middle age. And while it remains the most popular (a billion sold in nine years – a rare case of a luxury offering being the biggest-selling in its category) and the best, in my view, it looks too familiar; if you see someone using a futuristic-looking phone (the pyrotechnic Note7 notwithstanding), chances are it’s a Samsung. Some are even suggesting that Apple is saving an exciting new, possibly borderless, device for next year, to mark the iPhone’s 10th anniversary.
So is the 7 worth getting out of bed for? My answer is an unhesitating yes. The 7 is a little-acknowledged masterpiece, especially in the superb new black finishes. For me, the 7 and 7 Plus are like the Beatles’ last album, Let It Be. In 1970, when it came out, everyone was getting a bit blasé about the Beatles, even bored with them. The album wasn’t received rapturously, and its superlative quality only began to be appreciated later.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus’s Get Back feature? For me, it’s the new, wireless AirPod headphones (available soon), which look a bit odd, like you’ve left a cotton bud hanging out of each ear, but are absolutely brilliant, both the sound and the way they automatically connect – they have optical sensors and a motion accelerometer to detect when they’re in your ears.
The Long and Winding Road? Spoilt for choice: the non-mechanical, haptic feedback home button? The enhanced water resistance? The brighter screen and longer battery life? Or the astonishing camera, especially the twin-lens version in the 7 Plus? This has a 2x optical, 10x digital zoom and (coming later as a download) a portrait mode, which throws the background out of focus just like a DSLR. The iPhone 7 deserves to be a success – Across the Universe.