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The iPhone I want versus the iPhone I need

I've been using the iPhone 7 for the past week. I've also been using the iPhone 7 Plus. It's complicated.

During that time, what has become increasingly obvious is that one embodies my ideal form of a phone, and the other largely impresses for its function. Sure, the argument can be reduced to sports car versus truck, but in this case it's not as simple.

To be specific, both are fantastic phones, and truly significant updates over their respective 6s counterparts (though it's worth noting that most people upgrading to the 7 will be coming from the iPhone 6 or earlier, which is an even more sizeable upgrade). But after using a Jet Black iPhone 7 for a few days, and then switching to a matte Black iPhone 7 Plus, it's clear that if one intends to make their smartphone a primary computer (as I have in many parts of my life — I'm typing this on my iPhone right now), there are some necessary tradeoffs.

Such is the prevailing opinion of the public, too, judging from early sales statistics from Slice that claim the Plus models are outselling the standard iPhone this year for the first time. That could merely be an acknowledgment of a wider trend towards larger phones, but it also speaks to what I've experienced since the IPhone 6 Plus debuted in 2014: what is desirable is not always what's practical.

Ultimately, the iPhone 7, like any phone, is a tool.

The Jet Black iPhone 7 is probably the most interesting and beautiful product Apple has ever made. Its higher-cost manufacturing process alone justified skipping the base 32GB storage model. But in the days since receiving it, I managed to deplete its battery by 3pm each afternoon, and despite heeding Apple's advice to embrace a case, I scratched the heck out of the phone's polished edges. By contrast, the iPhone 7 Plus has been tremendous in assuaging any anxiety about regression: It has easily lasted a whole day of use, and the matte Black coloring has been more resistant to scratching than any model I've previously used. There is a gentle seduction to the matte finish, an appreciation of its inevitable longevity opposed to the Jet Black's immediately arresting charm.

Ultimately, the iPhone 7, like any phone, is a tool. It's going to be smudged and scratched and dropped, probably mishandled and, after a few months, considered just another thing in your life. An important thing, an essential thing — perhaps the most essential — but it is designed to work, and be put to work. But that's just it: the compromise between design and function, or function as a tenet of a product's core design, is what makes the Jet Black iPhone 7 so intriguing. This is a product Apple knew would scratch, for which they encouraged people — prior to it even going on sale! — to buy a case, and yet naked it is the least slippery iPhone since the 3GS. John Gruber at Daring Fireball, in his piece Design as Branding, sums it up well:

With a highly successful product and brand, new versions need to strike a balance between familiarity, the foundations of the brand, and hot newness.

A fairly loud part of me knows that the Jet Black iPhone 7 confers no true benefits over the other four colors, and that its size allows me to use it with one hand, an activity I often enjoy to my detriment. I also know that it scratches, and that with those scratches the "hot newsness" of the Jet Black polish diminishes. Couple that with the irony of knowing that the phone is at its most usable when naked, removed from a case, and I am left asking myself whether by investing in it I'm setting myself up for disappointment.

On the iPhone 7, I've yet to experience the extra two hours of battery promised by Apple — or at least, it hasn't made a difference to my intra-day charging routine. Apple dug deep and decided to remove the headphone jack, knowing full well it would piss off a lot of its more loyal users, mainly so it could squeeze extra uptime from the components. But, knowing how I use my phone, the extra hour from the iPhone 7 Plus is a more valuable proposition in the long-term. When I look at the Jet Black iPhone 7, I see a product optimized to be held and marvelled, one that, through use and wear, becomes more the tool that I need.

There is a gentle seduction to the matte finish, an appreciation of its inevitable longevity opposed to the Jet Black's immediately arresting charm.

Which is why I am hedging, turning towards the practical and more familiar matte Black iPhone 7 Plus. For me, it's the keyboard. The size of the Plus keyboard is perfectly suited to long(er) form writing, working with QuickType to correct predictable mistakes. It's the comfort in knowing I can wake up in the morning, leave the house sans battery pack, and likely return in the evening to a quarter tank of gas.

It's the appreciation that, after a year or three, I have derived the most utility from what is ultimately the most important daily tool in my life. For that I'm willing to forgo the bittersweet and fleeting pleasure of owning Apple's most beautiful product.

Daniel Bader is a Senior Editor at iMore, offering his Canadian analysis on Apple and its awesome products. In addition to writing and producing, Daniel regularly appears on Canadian networks CBC and CTV as a technology analyst.

35 Comments
  • Very interesting viewpoint, and great article. You're right, the strong appeal of having something unique and nice versus something you will use, along with it looking nice and how you use it is so hard. As a chronic switcher, I have struggled with this a lot. Because of this it's hard to think of using something for a very long time. Very hard. In the context of iPhones, that Jet Black is striking and if I wanted a 7, I would lean that way too because of how it looks. I would probably have the same struggle myself (not with size though, but with color).
  • How about Iphone 7 plus jet black? Would resolve your artificial discussion of non existent problems.
  • It's a vaild thing, especially considering that they are not inexpensive in the least. I don't see how this is a non problem when it comes to a device that you will have with you all of the time. The iPhone 7+ in Jet Black would resolve it temporarily, because then you have concerns about the scratches and how easily it is able to do that.
  • As soon as my iPhone 7 jet black came I threw on a clear silicon case. I knew I could still admire the beauty from afar, somewhat, but desire to keep it as nice as possible for resale value time. As often as I want, I can strip it down to admire its nakedness, but just like any pretty girl, I must keep her clothed in order to take her out in public. Sent from the iMore App
  • I love that analogy.
  • Oh, do be quiet.
  • If he can already see scratches on his Jet Black 7....it would seem one of the problems he clearly mentioned in the article isn't quite so "non-existent"...
  • That was an interesting read, and I appreciate that you typed the whole thing on your iPhone. (I assume, on the 7 Plus, possibly in landscape mode?) But to critique the writing a little, I found some punctuation lacking; which caused me to pause and auto-correct in my mind. I wonder if typing on a computer would alleviate, or if that's just how you write. I did wonder your opinion on what you want in an iPhone, versus what you need. From what I can tell, you wanted Jet Black but needed the battery to last the full day. Was I missing something?
  • I understood it as the "improved" battery life on 7 and the look of the Jet Black color are both appealing, but neither is working out for him, in actuality. The battery isn't enough for a day and the Jet Black is too scratch prone.
  • Correct… I'm coming from the iPhone SE which I got some really good daily mileage from since I received it in March. It faithfully carried me through the entire day most days. I still always kept it plugged into the car charger whenever I drive because I use the Waze app. I may not have navigation on; however I like having it running so I could see if there are police around or any other road hazards. If it's plugged in I have the comfort of knowing it's getting some juice to top it off before I arrive at my next stop. Sent from the iMore App
  • Eh apple just needs to slim down the bezels and then the plus would be much more user friendly it terms of not being so unwieldy. I love the matte compared to jet black. I was never a huge fan of the glossy finish and especially with how easily it scratches and collects fingerprints. I am just glad they went darker and got rid of the "space gray"
  • I am thinking that is the next major redesign (which we are all still assuming is next year, right?). I am thinking of going plus next year for the first time, too.
  • The iPhone 7 is the phone one deserves, but not the phone one needs right now.
  • If we're going by pure "need", then the SE is more than enough for anyone. Sent from the iMore App
  • My sons and I definitely "need" bigger than the SE. We all switched from Android late last year and coming from Note 5's, OnePlus's, LG G3's, 4's and 5's...even a LG V10, there is no way an SE would fit any of our "needs". We've only used the Plus models of iPhones with no plans on switching to anything smaller anytime soon.
  • Battery life on my 7 has been noticeably better than my 6S - though my habits don't have me charging my 6S by mid-day either.
  • I am one of those people who no longer has a computer or iPad.
    At this point, I don't intend to purchase one either.
    Part of the reason is cost, I need to spend my money elsewhere.
    With that said, I have been solely using my 6, and it works for my needs.
    When my upgrade comes up, I will be going with the 7 plus in matte black.
    The bigger screen will be beneficial for my usage.
    Thank you for the great article. Sent from the iMore App
  • Nice to see you doing well Lord. LOL. I am in almost the same boat as you. I am using a 6. There is no "need" the 6 cannot fullfill. I am up in March 17 on my 24 month finance. I am on the fence about whether to jump to Android or stick with Apple, I have used both. But if I stick with Apple, I will upgrade to a 7 Plus in matte black.
  • I can't seem to type well on the iPhone keyboard at all. Lots of spelling mistakes. Is this something that just improves with time, or am I better off finding a different keyboard to use? I love the force-touch to easily move the cursor, so now I'm really torn. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm far more accurate on the SwiftKey keyboard than the stock iOS one. I hadrly make ayn mistooks.. Sent from the iMore App
  • The problem with touch-screen keyboards is just that, they're touchscreen. With a physical keyboard you can feel the keys and the keypresses so you quickly gain muscle memory and eventually can type without looking very fast without making mistakes. This is impossible with a touchscreen keyboard, you can roughly guess where you need to place your finger next but without any physical feel you can easily hit the wrong key and if you're not looking you can't feel anything. I don't know why phones with physical keyboards died out, I loved them, I know the iPhone never had one but I'd love a good case with a slide out one or something like that, I think there are ones for the iPhone 6 but I've never had a proper look
  • Still trying to put together the point of this article. Seems like a cosmetic review of disappointment lol. These phones sadly will always require a case. Otherwise the wear and tear will occur much quicker than it should.
  • This is why the 5 remains my favourite iPhone design. I had one naked (the phone, not me) for two years and it only ever exhibited a few scuffs. The 6S I have now has small scratches all over it, so have had to encase it in plastic. Sent from the iMore App
  • Great article. For the first time I went with the larger plus. I've always hated the look of the plus as it just looks and feels huge compared to the 7 (or 6 and 6s before it). I ended up getting the 7 plus as I wanted the camera and I was hoping the extra battery power would be a cherry on the top. I've had it only a couple days and I have to admit I absolutely hate it. I want so bad to go back to the 7. I can't fully reach the side to swipe to go back (which has been one of my favorite shortcuts in iOS for years now). I told myself I need to give it a good week, but as of now there are far too many trade offs. The 7 is the perfect size. I just wish Apple would have included the new double camera. Has anyone else had an issue like mine? Did you change your mind and now prefer the plus over the regular? Any advice? Thanks all.
  • I went with the 7 for that exact reason. The bezels on the plus just make it too large for the screen size. The 7 has been getting great battery (much better than my 6s) and really liking the improved camera and finally OIS. Maybe next year if apple trims the huge bezels and makes the plus easier to hold then I will go that route. But I am happy with the size of the 7.
  • With you 100% on that one. Side by side the 7 and the Galaxy S7 are similar sizes, but the latter's screen is much bigger and usable thanks to the iPhones gargantuan bezels. I'm also cheesed off at Apple so once again scrimping on the smaller phone's camera optics (last year it was the 6S not having OIS for no apparent reason, this year it's the lack of dual lenses on the 7).
  • That's a minute I can't get back. I got a jb 7 Plus. No case. Who cares if it gets scratched? That said, I'd get a jet white if offered.
  • Wow what an absolutely great piece of writing. I'm impatiently waiting for my AT&T IP7 plus Black to arrive in a few weeks. I got it mainly for the camera. But your article makes my choice that more gratifying. Great article once again. Sent from the iMore App
  • Well said.. Posted via the Note 5 or iPhone 6s Plus
  • I have a 6s Plus and if I had gotten one of the new iPhones, it would be a 7 Plus in jet black, it's such a sexy colour and makes the 7 Plus really stand out. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm disappointed by what I've heard about the 7's battery life. I use a 6S and it's battery is usually depleted by 2pm after an overnight charge. I was hoping that the much touted new A10 and extra space from the egregious removal of the headphone jack would have improved upon this. It would appear that it has not. Sent from the iMore App
  • I am getting the plus. Coming from the iPhone 6s. Why am I switching this early. The battery life of the 6s has been terrible. I am getting the plus because of extra battery. And also the extra camera.
  • I think this whole "Jet Black" thing is just a stalking horse for 2017. Some rumors have them switching to ceramic backs next year, which are by their nature "glossy," so why not float an iPhone in glossy black and an Apple Watch in ceramic, to gauge customer reception. If the "gloss" takes off (as it has) and the ceramic holds up on the wrist (strength-wise) they have essentially field tested the new design without risking disclosure. PS - Timmy & Jony - DITCH THE BEZELS next year - please!
  • I have the money put away for the 7plus but after thinking about it, my 6Plus still does everything I need. My battery life is fine and the camera still works well. When I think it won't, I'll use my DSLR. I have been thinking I might go with the 6sPlus just because of the additional support for radio frequencies that T-Mobile now uses. Apple added that in the 6s line so that would be my only reason for upgrading. I've used the 7Plus and there just isn't anything there that I need over what I already have.
  • Yeah, I think it's worth a shot with the 6s+.
    I don't know where you are in the US, but after having a 5s and an iPhone SE, the difference is like night and day on T-Mobile, all because of Band 12.