Bet on black: the iPhone 7 delivers the goods under the hood

Available in Hong Kong from September 16, the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus mark another milestone for Apple’s flagship device

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 10:56pm

When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone in January 2007, he touted the device as “a revolutionary and magical product” that was “five years ahead of any mobile phone”.

The following year, Hutchison Telecommunications Hong Kong was first to launch the iPhone 3G in the city, which kick-started a rapid switch by local mobile subscribers to internet-ready 3G services from voice-centric 2G services.

In 2014, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus helped all mobile network operators in Hong Kong drive more of their subscribers to adopt faster and more sophisticated 4G services.

Such has been the impact of the game-changing device.

But the latest iterations of Apple’s flagship product, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, were launched last week in the United States to muted reception since the basic design retained that of the previous two generations.

Once they have it in their hands, they will fall in love with it
Julie Ask, a vice-president at Forrester Research

“Consumers underestimate the engineering feats that the iPhone 7 brings, like the audio, camera and processing power, in such a small package,” said Julie Ask, a vice-president at Forrester Research. “While it’s hard to market performance and speed, consumers need to experience it firsthand to get it. Once they have it in their hands, they will fall in love with it.”

The South China Morning Post had a fairly limited hands-on time with an iPhone 7 test unit, with 4G connectivity provided by Hutchison Telecom’s Three Hong Kong, but this new model certainly left a very good impression.

Available in Hong Kong from this Friday (September 16), the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have three storage capacity options, 32 gigabytes, 128 GB and 256GB, and come in five case finishes: silver, gold, rose gold, matte black and jet black.

The jet black iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are likely to be the must-have models, despite the constant fingermarks users will inevitably have to wipe from its piano lacquer-like finish. This high-gloss aluminium case draws attention, much like the white iPhone 4 model when it was released in 2011.

According to Apple, the jet black finish is achieved through “an incredibly precise” nine-step polishing and anodisation process. Anodising is an electrochemical process that converts the metal surface into a durable, corrosion-resistant and decorative finish.

The result on the iPhone 7 is a continuously jet black finish; it’s impossible to tell at first glance where the aluminium ends and the glass display begins. This model is available exclusively with 128GB and 256GB storage options.

Audio is greatly enhanced by two new stereo speakers, which deliver twice the volume of the iPhone 6s

That seamless unibody design also parlays a re-engineered enclosure that makes the iPhone 7 both water and dust resistant, as well as competitive with premium water-resistant Android smartphones like the Galaxy S7 from Samsung, and Sony’s Experia Z5.

The 138-gram new iPhone model’s 4.7-inch (diagonal) Retina HD display, the branding used by Apple for its high-definition, multi-touch screens, has 1,334 by 750-pixel resolution, which makes it up to 25 per cent brighter than the display on the iPhone 6s.

A short viewing of the 1998 action movie Ronin, starring Robert De Niro and filmed in France, showed off the iPhone 7’s cinema-standard wide colour gamut, from the shadowy locales in Paris at night to the brightly lit car chases set in Nice.

Audio is greatly enhanced by the handset’s two new stereo speakers, which deliver twice the volume of the iPhone 6s.

There have been plenty of pre-launch concerns raised about the removal of the stereo jack on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, which makes them work only with compatible wireless headphones like the new AirPods that will be available separately from next month.

The beta version of the snow white AirPods works as advertised. Pairing these headphones via Bluetooth to the iPhone 7 was as simple as pressing “connect” when prompted on screen. It takes away all the hassle of pairing commonly experienced with other headphones.

Built with Apple’s proprietary W1 chip, the AirPods use optical sensors and a motion accelerometer to detect when they are in a user’s ears.

Using the AirPods within the safe confines of a typical small Hong Kong flat allowed for smooth listening from all rooms, while the iPhone 7 was left on a side table in the main bedroom.

The audio is much improved, compared with the old corded Apple headphones. The AirPods worked well with bass-heavy hip-hop tunes by Kanye West and even the classical guitar piece “Cavatina” by John Williams.

When on a call, the AirPods filter out background noise to focus on the sound of a user’s voice. The music resumes after the call is finished.

While the AirPods deliver five hours of listening time on one charge, their charging case allows a user to quickly recharge the battery in just 15 minutes. That may be enough for long commutes in the city, but more is needed for use on a long-haul flight.

The iPhone 7 sports a 12-megapixel back camera and a 7MP front camera, while the 7 Plus has a 12 MP dual camera at the back.

Both models now come with a so-called optical image stabilisation feature for better low-light photos and videos. The technology, which used to be found only in popular point-and-shoot digital cameras, compensates for handshake and counteracts motion blur.

That has resulted in the iPhone 7 taking shots with an exposure estimated to be more than three times longer than conventional phone cameras, which is perfect for taking photos in low-light conditions.

The iPhone 7 camera also has a larger aperture and a so-called six-element lens, enabling up to 50 per cent more light onto its high-speed sensor, allowing for brighter and more detailed photos and videos.

In addition, its new flash is 50 per cent brighter than the flash on the iPhone 6s.

When a user zooms in on a subject, like a coin on the palm of a hand, all the tiniest details are shown as if a digital single-lens reflex camera was used.

The fast and precise processing capabilities of the iPhone 7 can also be credited to Apple’s custom A10 fusion chip, which the company claims to be the most powerful chip used in a smartphone at present, and its updated mobile operating system called iOS 10.

While some analysts and media reports have forecast a lukewarm reception for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the highly competitive Hong Kong market has seen a steady increase in iPhone users.

Data from research firm GfK showed that percentage market share, in terms of unit sales, of Android smartphones has steadily declined to 60.4 per cent last year, down from 69.7 per cent in 2014 and 71.2 per cent in 2013.

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus will be available this Friday in Hong Kong from Apple’s online and physical stores, as well as from 4G mobile network operators HKT, Three Hong Kong, SmarTone Telecommunications and China Mobile Hong Kong.

Prices for the iPhone 7 start from HK$5,588, while those of the 7 Plus start at HK$6,588.

Data from Citi Research provided some of the main suppliers for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus:

1) The main contract electronics manufacturers are Taiwanese giants Pegatron Corp and Hon Hai Precision Industry, more widely known by its Foxconn trade name.

2) Hong Kong-listed AAC Technologies and Shenzhen-traded GoerTek are the known suppliers of the miniature speakers and microphones, as well as the waterproofing features used on the new iPhone models. They also provide the miniature microphones on the new wireless AirPod.

3) AAC also provides its proprietary haptics vibrators on the new iPhone models. Haptic refers to the technology that enables a user to feel a tactile sensation when interacting with an application.

4) New York-traded Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is the contract chip maker for Apple’s new A10 microprocessor.

5) Largan Precision of Taiwan, Tokyo-listed Alps Electric and Korean firm Cowell Electronics supply the camera modules.

6) Shenzhen-traded Luxshare Precision Industry makes the connector dongle that comes in every box of the new iPhones, which have no headphone jack.

7) Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and Toshiba provide the different memory storage options.

8) Foxconn-owned Sharp Corp and Japan Display, a joint venture between Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi, supply the high-definition, multi-touch screen, which Apple markets as “Retina Display”.

9) Taiwan’s Catcher Technology and Shenzhen-traded Han’s Laser Technology Industry Group provide the metal casing.