iOS 7

8th Apr 2014 | 13:08

iOS 7

The iOS 7.1 update addresses many of our original concerns

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Like:

Looks great; Control Center is ace; Makes everyday use easier;

Dislike:

Odd design choices; Siri still frustrates; Maps!;

Introduction

Ratings in depth
iOS 7 review
iOS 7 review
iOS 7 review
iOS 7 review
iOS 7 review

iOS 7 has had something of a bumpy ride since its launch in September: the new interface appalled many, and despite several subsequent point releases iOS 7 still included significant bugs including frequent and irritating crashes in Safari.

Where previous iOS updates were largely a case of install-and-get-on-with-it, iOS 7 takes a bit more getting used to.

The good news is that iOS 7.1 has quashed most of the issues including the Safari show-stopper, and it's also addressed some of the more glaring issues with Apple's mobile OS.

Interface changes

Let's name the elephant in the room: Windows. In some instances iOS 7 reminds us of Windows Vista, especially in apps such as Maps and Videos where the background shows through the interface chrome, and in others it reminds us of Windows Phone in its use of white space and text.

There's a touch of WebOS in there too, especially in the new multitasking view.

The big questiiOS 7 reviewon isn't what it looks like, though. It's whether it works well, and I'd answer that with a qualified yes.

While iOS 7 is often a little bright for our tastes - using Safari on an iPad in a dark room after a long day is really quite unpleasant, and a lock screen with four swipeable areas hardly screams simplicity - the majority of the changes are for the better.

The things I liked about the original iOS 7 remain in iOS 7.1: the Control Center, which you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, provides instant access to Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, rotation lock and features including AirPlay, AirDrop, camera, calculator, clock and the LED light.

It sounds cluttered but isn't.

Yes, Android's had similar options for ages but you're not going to hear any iOS 7 user demanding Apple drop it because someone else did something similar first.

If you find it gets in the way of your favourite apps, you can limit Control Center to the home and lock screens only.

Apple has tweaked some of the interface in iOS 7.1. The phone dialler has been redesigned, the call options look simpler when someone calls you, the slide to unlock feature has been made more striking and obvious and the keyboard text is thicker.

iOS 7 review

It's no more accurate than before - maybe it's just me, but I find myself relying on autocorrect much more in iOS 7 than in iOS 6 - and it introduces what wags on Twitter called Schrodinger's Shift Key, which makes it impossible to work out whether you've pressed Shift or not.

Some of the changes are more subtle. Animations are smoother, the icons in the weather app are solid instead of outlines, and the Music app has been tweaked to make it less stark than before.

Text buttons now get (optional) button shapes too, making it clear what you can tap and what you can't. The overall feel is still very minimalist, but it's a little less stark than before.

iOS 7 review

The iOS 7 calendar remains an acquired taste - it's a little too stark for these eyes - but the lack of a combined month/list view has been addressed in iOS 7.1, with a toggle that turns the combined view on or off.

iOS 7 didn't just upset some users: it made them feel physically ill. Not everybody wants an operating system that zooms and pops all over the place, and the Reduce Motion option makes iOS 7.1 a considerably calmer experience.

You can reduce the transparency of the interface, darken colours and make iOS 7's white backgrounds a little less bright.

New gestures

Where upwards swipes bring up Control Center, downwards ones give you the new Notification area.

This is divided into three (swipeable) sections: Today, which summarises your calendar and tells you what the weather's doing; All, which records background app updates, push notifications and so on; and Missed, which as you might expect details any alerts you haven't acknowledged.

iOS 7 reviewI'm not finished with swiping yet: you can also use backwards swipes to move backwards in apps that support the gesture, so for example you can swipe backwards in Safari or in Settings.

Such swipes take you back to the starting point of the selected app, but they won't boot you out of the app if you swipe backwards one step too far.

With multitasking, double-tapping the Home button brings up the apps list as before, but this time it has WebOS-style thumbnails. You close an app by flicking it away and shouting "begone!", although the shout isn't compulsory.

App Folders are prettier and roomier, and Spotlight has changed too: you no longer swipe from left to right to invoke it; you pull the home screen down instead.

The home screen gets some goodies too. It and the lock screen can use dynamic or static wallpapers, and they can use panoramas too (although that feature didn't work for us). Wallpapers also benefit from a subtle parallax effect, so if you move the phone the wallpapers appear to move.

The rest of iOS 7 emphasises simplicity, so for example the stitched leather is gone from Calendar and Notes don't pretend that they've been written on yellow legal pads.

Sometimes it can be a little too stark - Calendar in particular feels like someone's thrown a whole lot of differently-sized Helveticas into a blizzard - but flattening and simplifying iOS does make it feel much more modern, consistent and efficient.

Contacts, messaging and internet

Contacts

Contacts might not sound like the most interesting bit of a mobile OS, but there is some genuinely useful new stuff here.

As before, Contacts in iOS 7.1 cram a lot of information into very little space, with icons for text/iMessage and calling next to the phone number and for FaceTime audio / FaceTime video. You can share contacts by message, email or Airdrop or block the contact altogether.

When you do that, all phone calls, messages (including texts) and FaceTime requests will be blocked. You can also store additional information such as anniversaries, Twitter names and useful information such as their partner's name or the name of their line manager.

Messaging and mail

The glassy green bubbles of iOS 6 are gone: iOS 7's messages are flat blue balloons (green for texts). The most recent message is the darkest, with earlier messages fading into the past.

Timestamps are hidden by default - swipe left to see them - and while contacts' names are shown in full in the message list, they're abbreviated to forenames only in conversation view.

iOS 7

Mail is better than in iOS 6 too. You can trash messages with a swipe, you can move messages to the junk mail folder and searching has been improved to cover all mailboxes at once. It's all very reminiscent of Mailbox, the nifty email app recently acquired by Dropbox.

Internet

The version of Safari in iOS 7.0.6 was a crashy nightmare for me, but it's perfectly stable in iOS 7.1.

The interface still divides opinion - the semi-transparent browser chrome means it takes on the colour scheme of the page you're visiting, which is often pretty horrible.

However it is fast, can sync bookmarks and tabs with your other devices and the Reading List and Shared Links features are handy for storing and discovering interesting things respectively.

Both iPhone and iPad versions of Safari have a single integrated address and search bar, and bookmarks are supplemented with the reading list and shared links from your Twitter feed if you have Twitter integration enabled.

iOS 7

Safari also gets iCloud Keychain in iOS 7.1, which stores passwords and card details across all of your devices.

Tab switching takes place in a 3D stack of cards, from which you can also toggle Private mode, and in a nice touch the address bar offers not just search suggestions but preloading of the first suggestion on the list (you can disable this in Settings > Safari > Smart Search Field).

Camera, media and Game Center

Camera

iOS 7's camera app looks quite different from its predecessors, and it's both simpler to use and more powerful.

There's a new Square mode for the obligatory Instagram-style shots of your dinner - and the obligatory retro filters are a tap away thanks to the icon at the bottom right of the screen - and you can move between camera modes by swiping the mode names just above the shutter button.

iOS 7

As before you can toggle HDR, the flash and switch between front and rear cameras with the icons at the top of the screen.

Square isn't the only new option. You can now shoot photos in burst mode by pressing and holding the volume-up button on your device, and if your hardware supports it - and for now that list begins and ends with the iPhone 5S - you can access the new Slo-Mo mode for slow motion video.

If you have an iPhone 5S there's also a new Auto mode for HDR which, as you might expect, uses HDR whenever it thinks that will deliver the best photos.

Photos has been overhauled too. The Photos section automatically organises your images by date and location, creating a collage of all your images.

iOS 7Tap on it and you'll be taken to that year, and if you tap on the little location detail above the collage you'll be taken to a map that stacks your photos on the places they were taken.

It's a nice touch, as is the new Collections feature: it groups images according to when and where they were taken, and it works very well.

For example, it knew the difference between photos we took at a gig in Glasgow's SECC venue and photos we took at the Glasgow Science Centre, which is only a few hundred yards away.

Photo Streams have been revamped too. You can now create or access shared photo streams, and you can both comment on and Like particular photos in those streams.

When you click Like a little yellow smiley face appears. You can also share images via Airdrop, which uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for local file transfer.

It's Apple's alternative to NFC and strongly suggests that as far as Apple's concerned, the acronym stands for No F***ing Chance.

Media

iOS 7

Months after iOS 7 launched, and with iOS 7.1 now in the bag, I'm still not sold on the redesigned Music app: it's a little too stark for my tastes, and the promised iTunes Radio streaming service still hasn't launched in the UK.

Maybe it's because I spend so much time using it, but iOS 7's music app feels the most different - and I'm not sure its red text on white is an improvement.

It covers the basics perfectly well, however, and the organisation of music by artist is better than before.

I miss Cover Flow too, which has been dumped in landscape mode in favour of a grid of album covers - faster, yes, but less fun, and if there isn't an image available you get horrible text rotated 45 degrees.

The bigger images in the Artists view are welcome, though, and if you have multiple records by the same artist they're grouped accordingly.

Like Music the Videos app gets the new flat interface, and the overlays are semi-transparent when they appear over a clip. There are also new sounds for ringtones and alerts.

Game Center

iOS 7Good news for anyone phobic about green felt: it's gone in iOS 7's Game Center, which eschews the casino tat of old for something brighter and bubblier.

The bubble app icon wasn't just a pretty design - it's been pushed throughout the service. Essentially, the Friends bubble shows your friends list, the points bubble records your achievements and as you might expect, the Games bubble takes you to your Game Center-compatible games.

Each game has a profile page, leaderboards (if appropriate) and any achievements you have yet to unlock.

If you're playing turn-based games the Turn bubble will let you know when it's your go, and the Challenges bubble lets you know of any gauntlets your friends have thrown down for you.

Maps, Siri and battery and performance

Maps

Apple's much-derided Maps haven't been catastrophic for us: all mapping systems have errors, and when it comes to driving directions Maps has performed perfectly well for us.

It's in points of interest that iOS 6 Maps fell down, and it's in points of interest that iOS 7 maps falls down too. The addition of turn-by-turn directions for pedestrians is great, but when those directions are to a business that shut down years ago it defeats the purpose somewhat.

iOS 7 maps

Search remains dumb as rocks too: when we searched for Future Publishing, for example, which is us in England, Maps took us to South Africa.

Get over that, though, and the interface is very nice. There's a new night mode to reduce glare (can we have that for iOS generally, please?), the satellite images have been improved, there's live traffic information in Standard and Hybrid views and the nightmarish 3D modelling errors appear to have been fixed.

iOS 7 review

iOS 7.1 also introduced CarPlay, which enables you to access your iOS maps, music and messages from compatible cars' dashboards.

That's good news if you're buying a new Ferrari or Mercedes, but not so good if you drive an old banger: CarPlay is something you'll only find in brand new vehicles, although some third-party firms are hopeful that they'll bring CarPlay to aftermarket car stereos.

iOS 7 review

CarPlay-compatible cars aren't on sale yet, so we haven't been able to test it to see whether it's as good as Apple promises.

Maps still lacks public transport information - recent acquisitions by Apple suggest it's coming, but not imminently - but as a driving tool it's a perfectly nice app. Is it as good as Google? No, but it's not as bad as it's been painted either.

Siri

Good news! Siri has new voices and a new way to listen! Bad news! It's still Siri!

I find Siri endlessly frustrating. When it works, it's fantastic: it tells me how long to cook a leg of lamb for, what time the gig's at, what US cups are in real measurements.

I use it to send texts and to schedule appointments, to schedule alarms and to find music. But it's a huffy beast, and it's as likely to ignore me or to spit out gibberish as it is to understand what I'm asking.

iOS 7

When it's in a good mood the iOS 7 Siri can do more than its predecessor. It can toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, enable Airplane Mode, return calls and post to Facebook.

There's a new way of invoking Siri too: hold the home button to talk and let go when you're finished.

Control Center has rendered some things unnecessary - it's quicker to swipe up and enter Airplane Mode than ask Siri to do it - but we found ourselves using Siri more and more for everyday features such as setting alarms and making notes.

It's worth pointing out that Siri isn't always entirely aware of where s/he is: when we asked when the next Rangers game is, something that in Scotland means Glasgow's Rangers, Siri told us about the Texas Rangers baseball team in America.

The lack of customisable voices for the UK is a shame too. We have some of the world's loveliest and/or most interesting accents, but we're stuck with the bloke from The Weakest Link. A soft Scots burr, Irish lilt or a thick Brummie accent is probably a bit much to expect, but Siri is a little too Daytime Game Show for our taste. At the very least we'd like the UK to get a female voice too.

The iOS 7.1 version sounds better. The male voice no longer makes you think you're a game show contestant, and there's a new female voice too - although sadly not the excellent Fiona that you'll find on OS X. That's one for our iOS 8 wish list.

Battery life and performance

iOS 7.1 feels more sprightly on my iPhone 5 and 4S, iPad mini and Air, but the main difference is that it's much less crashy than before: the Safari crashes and Siri delays we noticed in our original iOS 7.0 review are gone.

As with previous iOSes, all-day battery life is an impossible dream if you actually want to use your device, and for some people iOS 7.1 sucks batteries dry like Dracula in a blood bank.

That one appears to be a bug, which can be skirted by resetting the device. I've found battery life to be identical in iOS 7.1 and iOS 7.0.

Verdict

There's lots to like in iOS 7. It's fast, fluid and offers lots of improvements - not just the headline features we've discussed here but features such as the effortless Airdrop sharing, improved Find My Phone and the new Activation Lock.

iOS 7

It's nice to be able to hide Newsstand in a folder, too, although as ever you can't delete the stock Apple apps. That's particularly annoying on children's devices where space is usually at a premium and you really don't need Stocks.

We liked

The dramatic redesign hasn't delighted everybody, but I think it's better: while there are a few odd choices and it can be overly bright at times, there are fewer steps between you and what you want to do.

Control Center and the new Notifications are great, background app updates have removed what seemed like constant app maintenance, and when Siri's feeling co-operative it's a wonderful thing to have.

Many of our favourite features are relatively little ones: Photos' Collections knowing where I've been, Mail making it faster to file or trash messages, the ability to block messages from people I owe money to.

CarPlay looks interesting too, although so far it's still a demo.

We disliked

I sometimes feel like a poor relation to my American cousins: there's still no sign of iTunes Radio and the UK points of interest in Maps are absolutely hopeless, rendering it essentially useless for finding places in towns and cities.

I'm not a fan of the iOS keyboard - I've definitely noticed more errors and mis-hits compared to iOS 6 - and I also find Siri endlessly frustrating: it's great when it works, but it doesn't work all that often.

Verdict

When I reviewed iOS 7.0 I warned: "I'd recommend updating with a certain amount of caution: you will find bugs [and] you'll probably find a few apps don't work."

I was right, but if you're still waiting to jump from iOS 6 it's safe to do so now: iOS 7.1 squashes the bugs, developers have long since updated their apps and I've had plenty of time to get used to the interface - and most importantly, the motion sickness problems have been addressed.

The leap from iOS 6 to 7 is a big one, but it's a leap worth making: it genuinely does make your device feel brand new.

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