SAN FRANCISCO — Next Friday, you’ll be able to saunter into your nearest Apple Store and try out the new iPhone models, Apple Watch Series 2, and possibly the new wireless ear buds. (Assuming Apple finds a way to prevent them from being stolen and periodically removes accumulated ear wax.)
Until then, we took a test drive for you at a hands-on area after Apple’s big event.
Imagine, if you will, a pair of classic white Apple headphones. Now take scissors and chop of the wires. You have a pair of headphones that feels the same, but untethered and itching to get lost. At $159, that feels like a big risk to take.
The individual ear buds are incredibly light, weighing in at .14 ounces each. Luckily, they fit snugly, but ears are like snowflakes (they’re all unique), and sweaty ears during a workout are like melting snowflakes. The hard plastic buds likely won’t fit everyone’s ears as well, leading some people to lose them easier than others.
AirPods keep the same shape at their predecessor, the EarPod, which was released with much fanfare in 2012. At the time, Jony Ive (in a video voiceover, as always) said the shape was carefully designed to fit as wide a range of ears as possible. The final shape was developed by 3D scanning hundreds of ears and determining a common volume, Ive said at the time.
They do come with quite a few nifty features. Each has a built-in microphone for phone calls or using Siri. Sensors mean they know when you’re tapping to activate Siri or if they’re out of your ear. (The music stops if you take one out, which is rarely my desired effect.) The little recharging case hold the buds in with a magnet and will be a big help for serial headphone losers (guilty!).
Perplexingly, AirPods come with a Lightning to USB cable. You have to charge them from an outlet or device with a USB port, like your laptop. You cannot charge them from your iPhone.
These are the three most important changes to the iPhone (not including the controversial de-jacking).
1. You can drop either iPhone 7 in up to one meter of water, say, a kiddy pool, and forget to fish it out for up to 30 minutes. The phone isn’t fully waterproof, but this increased durability will save hundreds of thousands of iPhones a year from early watery graves.
2. The low-end iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus now come with 32GB of memory instead of 16GB, which has seemed ridiculously small for years.
3. The pair of cameras on the back of the iPhone 7 Plus may not look too different, but they have great potential for iPhone photographers. Right now you can just switch between the cameras to get better optical zoom. In the future, Apple will release an update that uses them together for shallow depth-of-field effects.
I tested the zoom on a man across the room. The 2x optical zoom showed his face clearly, and the 10x digital zoom did an impressive job of showing details like the carefully styled wave in his hair.
Apple Watch Series 2
It looks and feels just like the first Apple Watch, except it’s just under 1-mm thicker. The new hardware, along with the forthcoming operating system update, does address a lot of the issues with the first version. It has a faster chip that (appears) to eliminate a bit of lag. The screen is two times brighter, according to Apple. A quick glance at an old Apple Watch showed a difference, but nothing mind-blowing.
The most compelling reasons to upgrade from an older watch are GPS and waterproofing. GPS looks great for people who want to take their watch on adventures and leave the phone at home. In addition to recording your runs, there are apps that download useful maps, say for hikes.
The other reason is that you can go swimming. Apple Watch Series 2 is waterproof, not just water resistant. It can go up to 50 meters deep for ocean lovers, or just a few inches if you’re more of a hot tub type.
Apple did not provide water at the hands-on, so we look forward to testing the new devices in actual hot tubs.