The iPhone 7 series was supposed to disappoint. It didn't look much different from the last two iPhones -- a break from update tradition by Apple -- and wasn't expected to offer any wow features that could stir buyers.
But when Apple CEO Tim Cook and other execs unveiled the latest iPhones on Sept. 7, they revealed a slew of lust-worthy features. Housed in silver, rose gold, gold, black or the new Jet Black casings, the new iPhones include a blazing fast architecture; a notably better display; waterproof housing; a new haptic-based Home Button; a dual-speaker setup; and a revamped camera system that in the larger models offers real optical zoom.
The only potential for user backlash came in the form of a missing headphone jack, replaced by the Lightning connector.
Despite pre-release angst that the new models wouldn't sell, the initial batch sold out in minutes on Sept. 9 and delivery times for tarrying buyers slipped into October.
Early bird special
I did not tarry. I was up at 3 a.m. ET on Sept. 9 to order my iPhone, as I've done every year since online ordering became available. (Before that, I used to stand in lines all night with several hundred other buyers in Orlando malls.) I managed to get in my order by 3:07 a.m. By then, ship times for the Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus model I wanted were already two weeks past the official Sept. 16 launch date. I opted for the top-end model with 256GB of storage.
While the iPhone 7 is essentially all-new under the hood, aesthetically, the new kid on the block is the Jet Black model. It's the one that offers the biggest visual differentiation from last year's iPhone 6S -- the shiny surface finish is the result of a nine-step anodization and polishing process lovingly spelled out at the iPhone launch event.
As I read early reports that these models were magnets for fingerprints and smudges -- and saw the ominous statement from Apple that the finish was susceptible to micro-abrasions -- I began to doubt my choice. I don't use a case for my iPhones; what's the point of getting this year's must-have model only to cover it up?
As it turned out, worries about the finish were the least of my concerns. I used the Apple Upgrade Program to purchase my iPhone 7 Plus (the program comes with the AppleCare extended warranty and lets you trade in the device for a new one every year). Turns out the Upgrade Program uses the address on file with your carrier, something that cannot be changed. My old address is in Florida. I now live in Rhode Island. See where I'm going with this?
Like other obsessive Apple fans, I tracked my phone as it bounced around Asia, sat for several days with no shipping activity then arrived earlier than expected last week -- in Florida. (The renters of my house in Florida were kind enough to overnight the iPhone to my current address, where it arrived after its Where's Waldo trek yesterday.) Even with all the sight-seeing, my iPhone still arrived two days earlier than the initial estimate.
Let's get this out of the way first. The Jet Black iPhone is indeed mirror-like, with a fit and finish so dramatic that I've felt the need to really, really baby it. For the first time ever, I've looked into cases. Speaking strictly in aesthetic terms, the Jet Black iPhone is lust-inducing. Its housing is a real-life version of what I've always wanted an iPhone to be: sleek and reflective, with a display that shines from the inky abyss like a sci-fi prop come to life.
Sadly, I expect all too soon that the ultra shiny Jet Black finish will be marred with scratches ruining the black jewel. That's to say nothing about the accumulation of fingerprints and dirt. I know there were other color options, and I refuse to carry a case. So I have decided to accept my fate. Some say that wear adds character to a device, but I wish I could freeze the look of the device directly out of the box.
Somehow, I will adjust.
Setup and first impressions
With the iPhone 7 in hand, what do I think? I think it takes a long time to get a new iPhone up and running, even though Apple's well-hewn practice makes it easy. This time around, after backing up my old phone and restoring apps and data using iCloud, I still had to re-enter numerous passwords. I thought that's what Keychain (the universal password manager that is synchronized between all of your Apple devices) was built for.
Once the iCloud part of the process was done, I plugged the iPhone into my Mac to sync with iTunes and copy over my music, movies, TV shows and other files. At the end, I still had about 35GB of storage remaining.
The phone is responsive, as it should be with its new A10 Fusion quad-core processer. Last year's iPhone 6S scored highly, both in real-world and benchmarking tests, and the iPhone 7 is faster still. I haven't yet put the phone through its paces, mostly because yesterday was spent syncing over data, entering passwords, and personalizing the device. (I am definitely not looking forward to rebuilding the People database in Photos.) Those details will come later, when I wrap up my full review.
It's just a phone!
At the Sept. 7 launch event, Apple focused on several areas in which the iPhone 7 improves on the iPhone 6S. That includes battery life -- one to two hours longer depending on model -- display quality (with warmer whites and higher peak brightness in sunlight), system speed, and, most of all, the camera.
Since all of these were well-engineered in the 6S series, I'm looking forward to finding out whether Apple has delivered. I don't expect the headphone jack to be a big deal for me because my primary earphones are Bluetooth-based. And I'm already appreciating the faster architecture, doubled storage capacity, and the optical zoom in the new camera system.
In my short time with the iPhone 7 Plus, I've found this year's updates to be real improvements -- even if not by leaps and bounds. The Jet Black finish is lustily beautiful, and surprisingly "grippy" for such a smooth finish. But I know "micro-abrasions" will almost certainly appear, marring the beautiful look. And fingerprints. There will be many fingerprints.
I had that in mind as I set up the phone. It's why one area of personalization, in particular, snagged me this year. Since the iPhone 3GS arrived in 2008, and every year since then, I've named the latest model "miPhone." It works on several levels for me.
This year, though, the name doesn't work.
That's why I'm calling my new iPhone 7 Plus Heartbreaker.