Apple's iPhone 7 Plus: How it shapes up
Tech Tools: Apple’s latest smartphones get the once-over
A close-up view of the dual cameras on the rear of the iPhone 7 Plus. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Product name: iPhone 7 Plus
Where to buy: apple.com
Apple has got into a pattern of tick-tock updates. One year, it’s a redesign of the handset, the next it’s an incremental update. This year, however, the iPhone 7 knocked it out of kilter a little.
Sure, the iPhone 7 has killed off the 16GB version and done away with the headphone jack, but is there anything that really marks the new handset as different from its predecessors?
On the outside, there’s little to distinguish the iPhone 7 Plus from its predecessor, unless you opt for one of the new colours – black or jet black, which is a fingerprint prone glossy finish. The antenna bands have been moved and made more subtle, and the entire case has been smoothed out – again, a subtle difference. The 7 Plus stands out a little more because the camera on the back is more prominent, but that’s about it.
Perhaps the most notable change from the iPhone is the one you can’t see but that people have been asking for for some time: it is now water resistant. The iPhone 7 Plus comes with an IP67 rating, which means it is dust resistant and can be submerged in up to 1m of water for up to 30 minutes. You are unlikely to start going swimming with your iPhone, or taking it into the shower with you. But it means that if the iPhone accidentally ends up in a sink full of water, or more likely the toilet, it will survive to tell the tale.
On the whole the physical changes to the iPhone 7 Plus are minimal. On the inside, it’s a different story. The chip is an A10 Fusion, Apple’s most powerful yet. It has four cores: two high performance, and two high efficiency. If you’ve got an iPhone 6, it runs about 40 per cent faster according to Apple’s estimates; it’s about 20 per cent faster than the 6s. The graphics performance has also got a bump, which means if you plan on using your phone for mobile gaming, you’ll be less likely to see the stuttering and frame rate problems you might have experienced on more demanding games.
Looking at a Formula One racing game, the graphics are impressive. The action is smooth and with the haptic feedback as you hit rumble strips and other cars, it’s not difficult to see why people consider it a decent games machine in its own right.
The star of the iPhone 7 Plus is the camera, more specifically the rear-facing dual camera. One is a wide-angle lens with an f1.8 aperture that will allow more light into your shots, the other a 56mm lens that gets you closer to the action. The digital zoom is still there – slide your finger on the screen and you can “zoom” up to 10 times – but that is no better than cropping the unzoomed photograph afterwards with software.
There’s a 2x button on the screen that you can tap to switch to the 56mm camera.
Another feature that will be added to the iPhone 7 Plus soon is depth of field, which is perfect for portraits. That will come with a software update later on this year, so it’s not a feature that we could test too much beyond a brief demonstration.
Optical image stabilisation has been a feature of the bigger iPhone since the 6 Plus made its debut, and the iPhone 7 is no exception. The current batch of phones extends it to the iPhone 7 though, making the playing a field a little more level.
The front-facing camera has been bumped up to 7 megapixels from 5 megapixels previously. That gives you better resolution for all those selfies, should you need it. There’s still a little softness around the edges, but on the whole the images we captured were crisp and clean.
Much has been made about the changes to the iPhone’s audio set up. It now includes stereo speakers but not where you’d think. There’s a twin speaker grill either side of the Lightning port, but there’s still only one speaker in there. The second is in the ear piece, and the difference in the sound level is noticeable, particularly when you are using it in portrait mode. It’s louder and crisper. It’s still a cameraphone speaker – let’s not get too carried away here – but the sound is good enough to watch a video. When it comes to bass though there’s not a huge improvement here, so if that is what you crave from your smartphone audio, invest in a good speaker set.
And of course, there is the removal of the headphone jack. On one hand, you can see the Apple designers’ reason for wanting to ditch it. It takes up space that can be better used elsewhere, and digital – for some – can work better than analogue. It means that audio technology can go into the headphones rather than into the phone, and in theory, we should end up with better sound as a result.
But on the other hand it also means you can’t charge your phone and listen to music on headphones unless you go for Bluetooth. And Bluetooth headphones aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
So now you are faced with either buying a pair of headphones that will only work with your iPhone thanks to the Lightning connector, investing in wireless headphones, or using the frankly ugly adapter for your old headphones that has been included in the box to get you over the jack hump. And the latter option means you still can’t charge your phone while listening to music. The adapter itself is just begging to be lost – I almost lost it three times in the space of two days – and you won’t always have it to hand when you need it.
The headphone jack isn’t the only thing to go. Apple has also got rid of the physical home button, in favour of a touch-sensitive button that gives haptic feedback. It can be customised to your preference too, so you can opt vary the feedback. Set to the default, you barely notice that it isn’t a physical button. Think something like the evolution from the click wheel on the iPod to the touch wheel, and it’s along the right lines. Combine that with the changes brought in iOS10 and even if you’re on an iPhone 6s, you’ll have a bit of a learning curve. The lock screen, for example, requires you to swipe right for the camera instead of swiping up from the bottom, and you have to press the home button to trigger the Touch ID fingerprint reader or the passcode entry.
On the whole, the removal of the click home button isn’t that big a deal though.
There is talk that this is preceding the eventual removal of the home button altogether, leaving the iPhone with an edge to edge display. That remains to be seen though.
The final thing is battery life. That bigger, brighter screen will require a bit more power and the iPhone 7 Plus delivers. In a few days of testing, the 7 Plus battery lasted a full day of heavy use – although that may deteriorate over time. For now, it’s impressive.
The camera is the stand out here. The dual camera system means you can get closer to the action without having to reply on digital zoom, which is never worth the effort.
The not so good
No audio jack. Yes, we can use Bluetooth headphones, but there are some times when the audio jack is needed. And it will always be the time you don’t have that adapter to hand that you desperately need it.
The display is about 25 per cent brighter than on its predecessor, and the iPhone 7 Plus makes the most of the extra screen space.
The camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is certainly a good upgrade, particularly for those who find smartphone cameras sub-par. For those who made the leap to the iPhone 6s Plus, the iPhone 7 Plus is not an essential buy. But that won’t stop you wanting it anyway.