The second weekend of September is nearly upon us, and tradition says we must now gather around the collective browser window to show our devotion to Apple's annual iPhone refresh. This time, we'll be saying goodbye to more than just $650: with the purchase of an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus, you're bidding farewell to the 3.5mm headphone jack and drawing on the courage to brace the future. Or buying into a near-term dongle nightmare — depends on how you look at it.
Read next: Our iPhone 7 and 7 Plus review
While it may seem like quite a few people are sitting this round out in protest of the audio port, there's still likely very high demand for a new premiere Apple product. So if you want the phone on launch day, you should be placing an order as soon as you can. Preorders for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus went live a few minutes past 3AM ET on Friday, September 9th, with shipments starting on September 16th. Both phones should be available on Apple's website and mobile store app — using the app is the easier route right now — as well as through the four major US carriers and retailers like Best Buy and Target. Those interested in the Apple Watch Series 2, which ships starting September 13th, can also place a preorder through Apple's store.
Even with its missing headphone jack, demand should be high for the iPhone 7
Putting aside the controversial standards change, the new phones are surprisingly fresh and come with their fair share of new perks and features. There's the dual-lens camera on the iPhone 7 Plus with superior zoom and a Potrait mode that generates a bokeh-inducing blur effect. Both phones are also now water resistant, and each contains a new Taptic Engine in place of a traditional home button. That component now simulates a button press with the same haptic vibrations you get with hard presses on the Apple Watch display and the new MacBook trackpad.
Of course, with each year, Apple upgrades its processor. The new A10 Fusion chip is said to be 40 percent faster than last year's processor, with 50 percent more graphics performance. Both phones also received a battery upgrade, with the iPhone 7 lasting two hours longer than its predecessor and the iPhone 7 Plus lasting one hour longer than the 6S Plus.
Apple's pricing scheme for buying the two devices from its website hasn't changed, but consumers now get more storage. (Plus, the company finally killed off its dreaded 16GB model.) So now the base model comes with 32GB for $649. The next highest storage tier is a 128GB, for $749, while the largest is an eye-popping 256GB for $849. For the iPhone 7 Plus, the 32GB model costs $769, while the 128GB model costs $869. The largest iPhone 7 Plus, with 256GB of storage, will run you $969. These are all contract-free prices.
You can also enroll in the iPhone Upgrade Program, which charges you a monthly fee for 24 months and comes with Apple Care+, which now nets you a broken screen repair for only $29, down from $99. The real perk with the loan option, however, is being able to trade in your iPhone after 12 payments and get the new one, starting the 24-month cycle anew. You can think of it like a two-year contract from Apple itself, and it's financed through a loan with Citizens One Bank. The program starts at $32.41 a month for the cheapest iPhone 7.
The upgrade program requires an in-store pickup
If you're already on the program and you're looking to get the new phone, you have to choose that option on the payment screen and schedule an in-store pickup, as Apple must inspect the phone before replacing it with a new one. Apple also offers a loan program without Apple Care and the annual trade-in, also financed through Citizens One, in the event you want to pay for an unlocked phone in monthly installments.
As is usually the case, Apple's website tends to get bogged down by the countless requests flowing in all at the same time. So it's always better to try and add a new iPhone to your shopping cart using the Apple Store mobile app. It's a reliable way to bypass the web store rush, and the app allows you to designate different purchase options, like the iPhone Upgrade Program or AT&T's Next installment plan.
On that note, there are some carrier deals to be aware of. T-Mobile announced yesterday it would give away the iPhone 7 32GB for free to any customer who traded in a iPhone 6 or a later model. It's not a complete no-strings-attached deal. T-Mobile will simply reimburse you $650 split up over the course of 24 months, effectively wiping out the cost of the iPhone 7 when bought with the company's Jump monthly installment plan. (If you want to own the phone outright before those 24 months are up, you'll need to pay T-Mobile the outstanding balance. So think of it like a contract under a different name.) You can also pay a little more upfront to get a model with more storage or to get the iPhone 7 Plus instead of the standard model.
Sprint has since responded with a deal of its own. Like T-Mobile's, Sprint's upgrade option lets you pay upfront and the company will reimburse you $650 over two years for trading in an iPhone 6 or later. Yet Sprint will also accept a Samsung Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge. Both AT&T and Verizon have trade-in deals for new phones, but no stand-out promotions for the iPhone 7.
You're probably thinking this myriad collection of purchase options is mind-numbing and perplexing. Don't worry, you're not alone. Phone contracts, installment plans, and upgrade eligibility requirements create a thorny mess for buyers, and making sense of it all can feel like doing your taxes. It's times like these that consumers are generally better off buying an unlocked phone outright, or through a company with solid customer service. In that sense, buying the new iPhone straight from Apple is the most pain-free route.
Update September 9th, 3:01AM ET: Clarified that Apple has opened its web store and mobile app for iPhone and Apple Watch preorders.