iPhone 7 First Impressions: Solid update but poor battery life
The arrival of a new iPhone is a big occasion. Increasingly, though, it needs commitment as the new replaces the old.
My black iPhone 7 Plus arrived on Wednesday, a week early. The set up process was more painful than I ever remember and, even on the first day, I am mightily disappointed with battery life. At first glance, even without power-hungry apps loaded, this new phone is draining its battery faster than my two-year-old iPhone 6 Plus. It's 5 pm on the first full day and the scale is down to 28 per cent. I suspect there is a real problem here. I chatted to another iPhone 7 Plus owner who is experiencing exactly the same rapid battery depletion.
The Which? Review of the iPhone 7 found that battery life was the worst of any smartphone. Surely this cannot be right after all the hype? And then I found this disturbing review which paints an similarly gloomy picture.
….in practice, I’ve found the iPhone 7 has the shortest battery life I’ve experienced on any mainstream phone over the past couple of years. The larger iPhone 6S Plus or Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge are miles ahead of it, and it doesn’t even come close to the tiny iPhone SE.
The battery on the 7 Plus is larger than that on the 6 Plus and we have been led to believe that battery life should be up to ten percent better than on the old phone.
It is possible that this rapid drain simply the result of having a new device: Perhaps the battery needs to get its legs before offering full life. We shall see, although I have not flagged this as a problem on previous installations. I can only think that this is some kind of software bug that Apple will soon sort out. [Following publication of this article a reader, Jonathan, has made a very pertinent comment which could explain first-day blues]:
The first day of use of any new phone restored from a several GB backup is going to be one of the most intense periods of drain on its battery. In the background, the new features of iOS 10 will be whirring away to set themselves up (e.g. generation of Moments in Photos, indexing, etc).
After the second full day of use the battery was at 45 percent at 5pm (to make a direct comparison with the 28 percent on the previous day). This is more like it and it could be easily explained by Jonathon's advice above. This is acceptable but, so far, no better than I was getting on my two-year-old iPhone 6 Plus. I hope to see a further improvement to justify Apple's battery life boast.
But back to set up. Installing a new phone used to be relatively straightforward. Now, thanks to increased levels of security and ballooning storage volumes (resulting in extended download times), the process is surprisingly time consuming. I spent some five hours yesterday evening on the initial set up and restore from the old phone. But the big bottleneck was the downloading of applications.
I'm the first to admit I have a lot of them, mostly consigned to the boondocks level on the eighth screen. That's a lot of megabytes by any reckoning. But with 150Mbps download speeds on the office network it shouldn’t take that long. I left the process running overnight and the installation had completed in the morning when I woke. I suspect part of the problem could lie with the demand on Apple's servers and hundreds of thousands of new iPhone owners starting their own installations.
Two factor authorisation is another problem, resulting in multiple requests for passwords and seemingly endless text messages and reminders on other devices at every step. Just to confuse us, there are now two versions of secure authorisation—the original Two Step and the new Two Factor which is said to be even more secure and which brings some useful improvements such as enabling your Apple Watch to unlock your computer as you approach. I was encouraged to change from Two Step to Two Factor because I wanted the Watch to unlock my iMac screen. In doing so I lost all my app-specific passwords and had to generate afresh for BusyCal, Fantastical, Airmail and several other applications.
All this is the price we pay for security. There is a whiff of nannyism about it, I admit, but I still maintain that in the interests of overall security of the Apple eco-system it is necessary to be rigid in attitude. If things are made easy for you, they are even easier for the bad guys.
Passwords are also a perennial problem. Thanks to the gods for 1Password or I would have been lost. Many apps contain authorisations to access information, perhaps in another app. As an instance in my RSS feed viewer, Reader. Within this app I have to authorise both Feedwrangler (the feed aggregator) and Instapaper (the collecting application for items of interest). All this takes up minutes, as do the many calls on Dropbox for data file synchronisation. Frankly, it is all tedious and I spent the best part of this morning working on getting the iPhone 7 working seamlessly. In the old days, with a more laisez faire attitude, things were simpler.
Many people with a straightforward iPhone set up could well be immune from these frustrations; but for power users the arrival of a new iPhone means setting aside a goodly number of hours.
If you own an Apple Watch there is another level of complication. The Watch must be reset, which in itself takes quite a time. Then there is pairing with the new phone and installation from backup. I didn't time these operations but they accounted for a good 30 minutes, accompanied by the demands of the dreaded Two Factor authorisation.
All this is something I don't want to go through again, at least not for another year. Readers may remember I ordered two iPhone 7 Plus models, the black one (newly installed) and the apparently more desirable jet black which is still at least two weeks ago. I had toyed with the idea of returning the black phone within Apple's 14-day period of grace and adopting the jet black phone. Such notions have now fled my consciousness and I shall be cancelling the order for the jet black 7 Plus. In any case, I'd never see the jet black back because the phone is always inside a protective case.
To tie up the ends, I went to the Apple Store this afternoon and bought Apple Care for the new phone. I haven't always thought this necessary (it costs £119 in newly devalued Brexit pounds) but I learned my lesson four years ago when I dropped my iPhone 5 and broke the screen. I couldn't find a cheap replacement and ended up paying Apple £175 for a "refurbished" phone which, in reality, was new. Still, it's a tough penalty just for a cracked screen.
So how does the iPhone 7 Plus perform? I appears to be a tad faster, but I can't quantify this after just a few hours of use. I like the solid trackpad-style virtual home button although I find the rather jarring haptic feedback to be rather artificial. I'll get used to it. In use, the new home button takes some practice, particularly within apps but, again, practice makes perfect.
I chose the 128GB memory, the middle option, on the basis that the same amount of RAM on my previous iPhone 6 was still more than adequate two years later. After loading 622 music tracks (from Apple Music), 1,900 photographs and 162 applications I am left with 80GB of storage out of the 128GB total. I am currently pruning apps but I think the storage should be more than adequate for the next year or so. When the iPhone 8 appears it might be time to swap to 256GB. Naturally, everyone must make their own decision. Photographs, in particular, take up a lot of space and if you want to synchronise your entire Photos database (which I don’t recommend) you could be better off with more storage.
After 24 hours I am quietly pleased with the iPhone 7 Plus in terms of usability. It is certainly a beautiful device, although no more beautiful than its predecessor. But the battery issue is a major problem and I do hope that it is something Apple can tackle sooner rather than later. If I sound a tad disillusioned, it is early days yet. Every new phone has a few teething problems and I feel sure the current dire battery life is one such that will be sorted soon.
I have to remind myself that there were three reasons I upgraded to the 7 Plus. First, my 6 Plus was two years old, so about time. Second, I wanted the faster processor and longer battery life (ahem….). Third, I wanted to try the new dual-camera photography. Will it live up to all that has been promised? Will it take over from a pocket camera, further depressing the sales of “real” cameras? That is something I will be assessing over the next few weeks and months and I will let you see the results.