iPhone 7 Plus – An Old Design Learns New Tricks

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What Is It? – The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are the latest offerings from Apple. While the basic design of the phone has now remained the same for three years, what’s under the hood has improved noticeably. This phone is considered a transitional step before what’s expected to be a major design change for the iPhone 8 next year. The 7 Plus still has a 5.5″ screen and is slightly heavier than last year’s version. There are also a couple of new colors, including a glossy Jet Black that I think looks really sharp.

On the outside there are several significant changes. Topping the list – the end of the 3.5mm headphone jack. We’ll talk more about that later. The unit is water resistant. It now has two downward pointing stereo speakers. The speakers offer better sound than previous models, though they are still not nearly as good as listening through good headphones or speakers. And the famous “Home” button is no longer a physical button. It’s a “Taptic” touch spot, which can be programmed to adjust the force needed to activate it.

On the back of the case you’ll see a dual lens camera and a larger camera bump. The dual lens camera is only on the iPhone 7 Plus, not the iPhone 7. One is a very fast f/1.8 lens, while the second is an f/2.8 2x zoom lens. Apple and the new Google Pixel now seem to be locked in a battle over who has the best smartphone camera. I’ve tried both and won’t pick a favorite. But the new iPhone 7 Plus dual lens camera with Optical Image Stabilization, a beautiful portrait mode, and zoom capability is pretty damned sharp and quite easy to use.

Inside there’s a faster processor, more standard internal memory, and slightly better battery life. The display offers a wider color palette.

Is It 50+ Friendly? – With the newest operating system, iOS 10, the iPhone retains and enhances the accessibility features that make the iPhone very approachable for those with impaired eyesight, offering voice-over text and variable zoom modes. There are also a range of features for the hearing impaired as well as those with dexterity issues. There’s a large menu of accessibility features that I have not seen on any other phone ecosystem, but it will take you a while to find your way through all of them. You can find a general overview of accessibility here. You can also find a very comprehensive how-to for these features from iMore here. Among the easy features is a “display zoom” function that allows you to make the icons slightly larger.

Frustration Factor? – The demise of the Home button in favor of a Taptic touch spot takes a little getting used to. You can adjust the force needed to activate it, but there was something comforting about having a good old fashioned button. But I’m showing my age here.

More disturbing is the end of the headphone jack. I’m really unhappy about this one. Apple does ship the new phones with a lightning connector to 3.5mm jack dongle. And it’s cheap, only $9, so you can afford to buy a bunch to attach to all of your headphones. But that’s still not a great solution. First of all, dongles are small and will get lost. Secondly, it means that you’ve tied up the lightning connector so you cannot use it to charge the phone while you are listening to the headphones (or even Apple’s supplied earbuds). For those of us who travel and routinely listen to our tunes on trains or airplanes while also charging the iPhone, this is a real problem. There are some relatively inexpensive splitters on the market that will let you charge and listen at the same time, but again, they are dongles that are easily lost or misplaced. The best of the bunch may be Belkin’s Lightning Plus Charge Rock Star for $40, though it’s a little clunky.

Apple hopes to drive consumers to wireless audio. But Apple’s own wireless earbuds are running behind schedule, and they really don’t offer high quality sound. So, for the time being, if you want to use your wired high end headphones with your new iPhone, you’ll be dongling.

Is It Worth the Money? – The iPhone 7 Plus carries a $120 premium above the base price of the iPhone 7. So, for any of the major carriers, that’s $769 for the 32GB model in most of the finishes. The Jet Black version starts with 128GB of memory and a pricetag of $869. Prices go up from there as you add memory. Each of the carriers offers various deals with contracts and monthly payment plans. Let’s face it, this is an expensive phone. So, what do you get? For starters you get the Apple ecosystem and everything that goes with it from apps, music, and accessories. You’ll also be getting a very fast processor, a bright colorful screen, stereo speakers, but no headphone jack. You’ll also be getting a terrific dual lens camera. If you want the latest and greatest from Apple, this is it. But if you already have an iPhone 6S Plus, unless you’re dying for the new camera, you might want to hold on until next year’s rumored major upgrade with the iPhone 8. If you’re upgrading from an earlier iPhone or another phone, the iPhone 7 Plus is definitely worth a look.

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Gary is an award-winning journalist who has been covering technology since IBM introduced its first personal computer in 1981. Beginning at NBC News, then at ABC News, Ziff Davis, CNN, and Fox Business Network. Kaye has a history of “firsts”. He was the first to bring a network television crew to the Comdex Computer Show, the first technology producer on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, the first to produce live coverage of the Solar Power International Conference, and the creator of the Fox Business Network signature series, “Three Days In The Valley”. Along the way he created the History Channel Multimedia Classroom. He has been a contributor to both AARP’s website and to AARP radio, as well as to a handful of other print and web-based publications where he specializes in issues involving boomers/seniors and technology. He has been a featured speaker and moderator at industry events such as the Silvers Summit and Lifelong Tech Conferences at CES, the M-Enabling Health Summit, and the What’s Next Baby Boomer Business Summit. His column, “Technology Through Our Eyes” appears in half a dozen newspapers and websites across the country.

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