Monday 24 October 2016

Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets

Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30

iPhone 71
iPhone 71
Apple AirPods

Our Technology Editor reviews the iPhone 7 and Apple AirPods.

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iPhone 7 Plus sets photo standard

iPhone 7

Plus Price: from €919 (32GB)

Rating: 5 Stars

I've been using the iPhone 7 Plus for over a week now. Initially, I worried that its near-identical design to the iPhone 6S Plus (and iPhone 6 Plus) might make it feel a little same-old, same-old. And the removal of the headphone jack caused momentary pause. But the improvements under the hood, together with a magnificent new dual-camera system, make it a worthy upgrade candidate.

The new 'haptic' home button feels a little odd for the first while. Whether it's nostalgia or muscle-memory, there is something satisfying about pressing down on an actual button. But it's actually fine, and if Apple is correct in saying it makes the overall phone "more durable", that's definitely a good thing.

It certainly helps make the phone more water-resistant. The iPhone 7 has no problems with splashes of water or beer.

I also don't miss the headphone jack one bit, mainly because I mostly wear wireless headphones anyway. But for those who might miss it, Apple has included a 3.5mm adaptor in the box that fits the end of your earphone jack and goes into the Lightning port. And there is still a pair of (Lightning) EarPod earphones included with the new iPhone 7 anyway.

But the main feature here is the camera. This is unquestionably the biggest reason to upgrade to this phone. It's actually two cameras (with two sensors, according to Apple) on one device. There's a wide-angle 28mm lens and a telephoto 56mm lens. This allows the phone to 'zoom' from one angle (or view) to the other without compromising much quality in the photo. Of critical importance to this whole process is the iPhone 7 Plus's optical stabilisation (also now available on the smaller iPhone 7). When used with video, even a zoomed-in, apparently shaky filming process results in a nice, smooth video.

You have to see this to believe it: it's a huge advance. The amount of light that the camera lets in is much improved, too, with an f1.8 aperture

The iPhone 7 Plus's battery life is around two hours better than previous iPhone Plus models. Apple credits this largely to the reduced energy consumption of the phone's powerful, efficient new A10 processor. It also has more storage (starting at 32GB up to 256GB). Finally, iOS 10, with all its new widgets, messaging animations and quick actions, looks great on the iPhone 7.

AirPods keep me in tunes and in touch

Apple AirPods  

Price: €179  

Rating: 4 Stars

While Apple's biggest launch in the last fortnight was the iPhone 7, ­another new product it unveiled has garnered almost equal ­attention. But will its new wireless AirPods ­earphones stay in your ears, and how do they compare in audio quality with normal wired earphones?

After over a week's testing, I quite like them. They're more ergonomically practical than the large wireless cans I normally wear (although they don't have the same noise-cancelling properties). In the medium term, they could also become a digital assistant. Tapping the back of either AirPod automatically kicks off your (still pocketed) phone's Siri voice command system. That means that you now have the potential for searching, calling or messaging without ever touching your handset. Each AirPod has a microphone as well as an in-ear speaker. As a basic level, that means that you can use them as hands-free accessories for phone calls.

I have no complaints whatsoever with the audio quality. One occasional drawback to Bluetooth-connected wireless headphones is that they don't quite match wired models for technical audio prowess. But this used to be a bigger problem than it is now: current Bluetooth transfer technology has advanced a lot in recent years.

The AirPods reached a decent - but not overpowering - maximum volume level, while the bits of the songs I know best bounced through just fine.

Probably the biggest question most people ask with regard to the AirPods is whether they'll fall out and get lost. All I'll say is that I walked around with them for several days, almost non-stop, and didn't come close to one slipping out.

I did, however, feel the need to bring the small recharging case with me. The way the AirPods' power work is that the carrier case automatically recharges them when you put them into it. (That case, in turn, can be recharged with any ordinary iPhone or iPad Lightning cable.) The battery life on the AirPods is between four and five hours on a full charge, which is comparable to other wireless headsets. However, 15 minutes in the carrier case gives you around 2 hours 40 minutes of additional battery life in the AirPods. This means you shouldn't get stuck for more than a few minutes on, say, a transatlantic flight.

Speaking of the recharging case, this is one of the highlights of the AirPods from a design perspective. The moment you open the case, the AirPods look to connect with your iPhone: a message on your screen prompts you to connect and you're all hooked up. There's no messy manual three-second pressing down of a button or waiting for the correct sequence of beeps - it just works out of the box. (By the way, the AirPods don't just work with the iPhone 7, or even just with Apple devices: they work with almost any Bluetooth audio source.)

As is to be expected, these aren't cheap. But they're pretty good.

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