What is the best smartphone? Does it even matter?
These are the questions I wanted to answer as I peeled back the plastic film on my new iPhone 7 — a device meant to replace my potentially explosive Galaxy Note7 after I'd spent years as a devoted Android user. I thought this would be straightforward, but Apple's world is odder than I expected. This review is a journey of betrayal, laser-enriched cat poop and smartphone butts.
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So, yeah: I went places I didn't expect to go with the iPhone 7 and found little in terms of easy answers. Let's dive in.
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First things first: This assessment was not written using a review unit provided by Apple. I bought this iPhone 7 using an upgrade available on my family's Verizon account (newly freed up after I returned my Note7), and I've been using it as my primary handset for about 16 days.
I wasn't an Apple virgin. My first smartphone was an iPhone 4. I got it in February 2011, and I treated it like an Apple-stamped Fabergé egg on the icy walk from the store to my apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Few people I knew had smartphones then, and I was convinced someone would snatch it. My gloveless hand covered the Apple logo to keep anyone from noticing.
Nearly six years later, that device is worth about 40 bucks on eBay and most Americans own a smartphone. In the time between then and now, I've used several different Android devices as my everyday phones and never looked back at iOS, even if my friends nagged me about how annoying my "green" bubbles were in iMessage.
My old Android homescreen cleverly inserted via screenshot onto the iPhone 7.
Image: Damon Beres/Mashable
It wasn't my plan to betray Google's mobile platform for iOS. I've always enjoyed Android — it's customizable and "open," encouraging competition between handset makers and app developers that leads to better products for consumers. If you're happy sacrificing camera quality for a workable, budget-friendly Android phone, there's a device for you. If you want to pour hundreds of dollars into a curved phone that'll run a Nintendo 64 emulator on a high-def screen, you can make that happen.
Meanwhile, I chafe at Apple's closed system and aggressive pricing models for the iPhone, which have always seemed to limit options for consumers in service of the tech giant's bottom line.
But there was a perfect storm in September. I bought a Note7 the week it released, loved it, and then came to fear it after reports circulated that it could, you know, combust while charging on my bedside table, immolating my fiancée and me at 3:07 a.m. Then Apple announced the iPhone 7. Fed up with Samsung's approach to the Note7 crisis — which is stillunfolding — I decided now was the time to try iOS again.
A strong first impression
There's one thing I can say for sure: The iPhone 7 is a beautiful piece of technology that, especially in its black variants, will make you feel as if you're using a device that was promised decades ago in a science-fiction zine.
Forgive me, but its butt looks fantastic
People have said these things about the iPhone for years, but the praise is earned this time around. The iPhone 7 is a thin, cohesive device that — especially without a headphone jack — looks and feels like a little miracle.
There's nothing I hate more than the dongle (the annoying plastic bit you need to hook into the iPhone 7 if you want to use traditional headphones), but an absent headphone jack brings a cool sense of symmetry to the device.
Forgive me, but its butt looks fantastic, especially compared to the gap-filled mess in my Samsung Galaxy Note 5, which I'd been using between returning my Note7 and the iPhone's delivery.