It is September again - that time of the year when Apple releases new iPhones. Trevor Tan tests the latest iPhone 7 and 7 Plus to see if they are worth your moolah.
DESIGN - SAME BUT DIFFERENT
Despite being a full upgrade from 6 to 7 without any "S" suffix, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus look almost like the previous two generations of iPhones.
There is no front and rear glass construction, as rumours claimed. In fact, both iPhones share the same physical dimensions as their immediate "S" predecessors. Thickness, length and width are the same, with the same display size and pixel resolution. However, they are up to 5g lighter than their direct predecessors.
Both new iPhones are rated at IP67, which means they are dust resistant and water resistant (they can be immersed in depths of up to 1m for 30 minutes). You can practically wash the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus after they get dirty or smudgy.
The big news is the lack of a headphone jack. In its place is another set of speakers (more on iPhone's audio later). If you choose one of the two new black models - black or jet black - you can hardly see the antenna bands.
The other three colours - silver, gold and rose gold - have the familiar white fronts, while the black models have both their front and back in black.
The back of the black and jet black versions are finished in matte black and glossy black, respectively. Both finishes pick up a fair share of smudges, but the jet black model is more susceptible to fingerprints and scratches.
I know I am definitely going for a black iPhone 7 Plus, but I am still undecided on which one.
NEW HOME BUTTON
Another design change you cannot see but can feel is the new Home button. It is no longer a physical button but a touch-capacitive button.
Using a new Taptic Engine, the Home button gives haptic feedback when you press it. You can customise the strength of the haptic feedback. I put it to the highest strength.
It takes a little while to get used to it, as you need to press slighter harder to unlock the phone rather than merely touching, like for the previous Home button.
Other than that, it is the same Home button you use for Touch ID, Apple Pay, taking screenshots and Siri.
However, to reboot the iPhone now, you have to press the volume down button (instead of the Home button) and On/Off button together.
CAMERA AND DUAL-CAMERA
The iPhone is the world's most popular camera, according to photo sharing site Flickr. And Apple has improved on the camera of the new iPhones.
Although it has the same 12 megapixels as its predecessors, the iPhone 7's rear camera now comes with a larger f/1.8 aperture (from f/2.2) that allows up to 50 per cent more light into the improved image sensor for more details.
Both new iPhones also feature a quad-tone flash, instead of the previous dual-tone, for more natural skin tones.
Previously, only the iPhone 6s Plus' rear camera had an optical image stabiliser (OIS). But now, both iPhone 7 and 7 Plus' rear cameras have OIS.
Present in the iPhone 7 Plus only is a dual-camera system, whereby one 12-megapixel camera uses a wide-angle 28mm focal length and the other 12-megapixel camera uses a telephoto 56mm focal length. This translates to a 2x optical zoom, but the telephoto camera lacks OIS.
Both iPhone 7 and 7 Plus deliver sharper images with greater details, even in the darker image areas, than their predecessors. Auto white balance is spot on, and the camera does not produce over-vivid and too-contrasty photos. Image quality is equally top-notch for the 2x zoom lens.
Selfie lovers will like that the front-facing camera has been upgraded to seven megapixels from five megapixels previously, and images appear much sharper too.
Using the quad-tone flash under incandescent lighting, I found the skin tones in the images to be more natural than the iPhone 6s Plus.
Another feature coming up later this year with iPhone 7 Plus' dual-camera is the bokeh effect - out of focus areas - for portraits, for a beautifully-blurred background. I very much look forward to that.
APPLE IPHONE 7
PRICE: $1,048 (32GB), $1,218 (128GB), $1,388 (256GB); available on Sept 16
PROCESSOR: A10 Fusion chip with 64-bit architecture with embedded M10 motion co-processor
SCREEN: 4.7-inch Retina HD display with 3D Touch; 1,334 x 750 pixels
CAMERAS: 12-megapixel rear camera f/1.8, 7-megapixel front camera f/2.2 WEIGHT: 138g
BATTERY LIFE: 4/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
OVERALL: 4/5 [ST Digital Editor's Choice]
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are both armed with the new A10 Fusion chip that features a four-core processor design. It consists of two high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores for up to 40 per cent faster performance than the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
In addition, the iPhone 7 Plus has 3GB of system memory - upgraded from 2GB from 6s Plus, according to the benchmark test app GeekBench 4. But the iPhone 7's system memory remains at 2GB.
The iPhone 7 scored 3,364 (single-core) and 5,314 (multi-core) points in the GeekBench 4 benchmark test, while the iPhone 7 Plus scored 3,322 (single-core) and 5,315 (multi-core) points. This is an increase in performance ranging from 25 per cent to 49 per cent compared to iPhone 6s and 6s Plus respectively.
Graphics-intensive games, such as Implosion and Infinity Blade 3, display great texture and play smoothly without any lag. It will certainly be more than enough for your Pokemon Go hunts.
In addition, the storage capacities of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have been doubled from their predecessors. So, I can finally get a 256GB iPhone for my growing photo collection, which is reaching breaking point.
Like the iPad Pro, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus deliver great stereo output from their built-in stereo speakers. You can easily tell which end of the phone the sound is emanating from, or when you switch the orientation of the iPhone.
But the headphone jack is gone. I rarely listen to music on my iPhone, as I have an iPod touch for that purpose. So it is not much of a loss to me.
Out of the box, you get Apple's EarPods with Lightning connector and a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter. So, you can still use all your old headphones.
Listening via the EarPods with Lightning connector and the old EarPods using the adapter on an iPhone 7 Plus, I found minimal differences between the two, in terms of audio quality. The Lightning EarPods do have slightly sharper vocals and a tad more bass.
Unfortunately, the Lightning EarPods do not work with my iPhone 6s Plus and iPod touch. So do not buy one thinking you can use it with your current old iOS devices.
Plus, the new iPhones do not support wireless charging. I see that as an issue with some users who want to charge and listen to music at the same time.
To stress-test the battery, I looped a 720p video at full brightness and full volume, and with Wi-Fi on.The iPhone 7 lasted 7hr 40min, while the iPhone 7 Plus lasted eight hours.
This means that both iPhone 7 and 7 Plus lasted 50 minutes more than their respective predecessors, which is no mean feat.
Under normal use which includes regularly checking Facebook updates and e-mails, both phones should easily last through a full working day - unless you are playing Pokemon Go all the time.
VERDICT: The Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus might not have the bells and whistles or spanking new design of their competitors, but they are still undoubtedly two of the best smartphones in the market. Personally, the dual-camera of iPhone 7 Plus is enough for me to upgrade my iPhone 6s Plus. Question is: black or jet black?