Pros: A forward-thinking device that offers a number of improvements. The iPhone 7 Plus’ dual-lens system is the next step in smartphone photography, and FaceTime improvements on both iPhones are notable. Battery life has improved. We still suggest using a case, but dust and water resistance should offer greater peace of mind. Stereo speakers make iPhone listening — and speakerphone use — better than ever. A10 Fusion chip is plenty fast and efficient. Bright, new displays offer more accurate color.
Cons: The lack of a headphone jack has been overstated, but it’s still an annoyance for the time being. Without the dual-lens system, the iPhone 7 lags behind its larger brother in photography. The form factor for both iPhones is pretty much the same as two years ago, but you’ll likely still need a new case due to the camera bump changes. The feel of the new Home button may annoy some users, especially at first.
Apple’s new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus follow the company’s typical naming schedule — a new numbered iPhone is followed the year after by an “s” iteration, and the 7 is indeed the next step. But it’s possible to argue that this year feels a little different. This is the third straight year Apple has maintained the same basic form factor in its smartphone — iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus actually feature the same exact measurements as the 6s and 6s Plus. Now of course, Apple has made plenty of changes to the new devices, a few of which are immediately visible. There are new features, too, and we’ll get to all of them. But at the outset, it’s possible that prospective iPhone 7 and 7 Plus buyers might not be quite as wowed as they usually are during a “new,” non-S model year of iPhone. Especially when considering what’s supposed to be coming next year.
Apple has introduced two new colors this time around — black and jet black. The latter has proven quite popular since its announcement, selling out quickly in the preorder window, but its back has also been shown to scratch quite easily. It wasn’t too long ago that space gray was considered the hot new Apple color, but it’s been dropped from the iPhone 7/Plus lineup, as silver, gold, and rose gold round out the color selections.
Also notably — and finally — Apple has made the 32GB model the entry-level iPhone 7/Plus. We’ve been calling for such a step up for years, as larger apps, photos, and videos make a 16GB modern iPhone only reasonable for the most basic users. The midlevel iPhone is now 128GB, with the top-level model an extremely sizable 256GB iPhone. While the 4.7”-screened iPhone 7 stays at the same pricing levels — $649, $749, and $849 — the iPhone 7 Plus moves up to a $120 premium instead of $100 extra. The 5.5”-screened iPhone is now $769/$869/$969.
In the following pages, we’ll determine if the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are worthy of a new number, or if they’re more like “s2” models. We’ll examine the new features and put the phones through their paces — and yes, we’ll get into the dearly departed headphone jack. We hope to help consumers figure out if it’s worth it to upgrade this year, or if you’re better off waiting for next year’s iPhone, which early reports claim will have an all-new design, with a “virtual” Home button behind a display that covers the entire front of the phone.
The ‘New’ Design
While the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus share the same dimensions as the 6s and 6s Plus, one glance will convince you that they’re not the same phones, and the deeper you go, it’ll prove even more obvious. The new iPhones are slightly lighter than their predecessors, and the rear antenna lines have been pushed to the edges of the phone, which looks a bit nicer. Despite the size similarities, you likely won’t be able to use most old 6/6s/Plus cases due to the larger camera cutouts on the rear of the phone. Yes, the rear camera bumps are even more prominent now, especially on the dual-camera iPhone 7 Plus. And the headphone jack’s replacement — at least externally — is simply a faux speaker grille.
One of the biggest physical changes to the iPhone might escape notice at first — it’s the Home button. The Home button is no longer mechanical, rather, it’s a capacitive button which requires skin contact, or proper capacitive gloves, to work. This means you won’t even be able to press a button with gloves to see your notifications, which has already given some users concerns about what awaits in winter; however, with iOS 10’s Raise-to-Wake feature, this shouldn’t be a major problem. You can still use the sleep/wake button to see your notifications, as well.
The bigger issue for some will simply be the feel of the new button. It’ll take some getting used to for longtime iPhone users, as that deep required press is gone. In fact, you can set up one of three available different feedback settings to simulate the “click” of your choice. Over time, you probably won’t miss the old Home button, but we let a number of people try it — some really liked it, and others…did not like the new button at all.
The new displays on iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus retain the same pixel resolution and contrast ratio as their predecessors, but the screens now have a higher level of maximum brightness and feature a new wide color display. In comparison to the previous models, the new displays are indeed a bit brighter. Close photo comparisons reveal that colors are slightly deeper and richer — the effect is more obvious in some photos than others, based on the colors involved, lighting, etc. The new displays alone won’t convince anyone to upgrade, but it’s a nice minor improvement.
Another major change, virtually unseen, is the new water resistance in the 7 and 7 Plus. Apple claims the new iPhones are splash, water, and dust-resistant. The phones offer IP67 protection, which means they offer complete dust protection and short-term, shallow water immersion protection — generally speaking, the iPhones should be protected in less than one meter of water, for less than 30 minutes. So while the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus aren’t designed to go deep-sea diving, they should be fine for a quick dip in the tub, the sink…or the toilet. We didn’t push the limits of the phones’ water resistance, but independent test results have been promising so far. It’s also worth noting that Apple offers no standard warranty for liquid damage.
As the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were revealed, we thought the new cameras would likely be the most enticing reasons to upgrade for most users. In previous years, the Plus got a slightly better camera. But this time around, the iPhone 7 Plus has a dual-lens camera, while the iPhone 7 keeps a single-lens camera. That dual-lens camera gives the iPhone 7 Plus a 2x optical zoom, and a 10x digital zoom, as opposed to the iPhone 7’s 5x zoom. That’s not all, though. Both cameras get a larger f/1.8 aperture wide-angle six-element lens and wide color capture, a new quad-LED True Tone Flash. The iPhone 7 also finally picks up optical image stabilization, which wasn’t seen on the previous 4.7” models.
We went out and took a number of similar shots on the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 6s Plus. On many types of pictures — standard posed shots, short-to-medium range shots — you likely won’t see much of a difference when doing a side by side comparison, especially in good conditions. (You will note more of a contrast when looking at the pictures directly on the phone, however, due to the improved color on the displays in the iPhone 7/7 Plus.) The new iPhones, though, are more effective in low light. Below are pictures taken indoors with natural light in the evening — the picture from the iPhone 7 Plus is first, followed by a picture from the iPhone 6s Plus, demonstrating the improved color.
The iPhone 7 does a pretty good job keeping up with the 7 Plus in many situations, but the lens combination allows the Plus to do a better job with portraits. The larger iPhone also excels when it comes to zooming in, as you’d expect. Seen below, an iPhone 7 picture, then digital zoom while standing in the same position.
Compare that to the 7 Plus’ standard picture, and then a picture using the 2x optical zoom. It offers a clearer picture and more accurate colors than the iPhone 7’s digital zoom.
Here’s another series of pictures from the iPhone 7 Plus. First, a standard picture, then the 2x optical zoom, and lastly, the 10x digital zoom. The last picture certainly isn’t top-notch quality, but it’s nice to have the option of a 10x zoom.
Another feature, exclusive to the iPhone 7 Plus, is coming later this fall. It will allow users the ability to adjust the out-of-focus areas in a picture — known as bokeh. But for now, it’s not available, and thus, can’t factor into our review. FaceTime, however, gets a bump in both new iPhones, from 5MP up to 7MP. So selfies and FaceTime will show an improvement, and the FaceTime camera offers 1080p HD video recording now, as well as auto image stabilization. Here’s a lazy dog in greater detail using the iPhone 7 FaceTime camera (above), when compared to the 6s FaceTime camera (lower).
The Audio (or lack thereof)
Obviously, Apple’s removal of the headphone jack has been the most divisive issue surrounding the launch of the new iPhones. While Apple SVP Phil Schiller said the decision to remove the analog audio jack took “courage,” not everyone would agree, with many offering another word: why? As in, why remove the headphone jack? The reasons to keep it are many, but the reasons to get rid of it — the future being wireless, and Lightning being a better audio connector — appear to be lost on a large portion of the possible consumer base.
There’s actually no doubt that Apple is ahead of the curve here. The future IS wireless, and Bluetooth (or any other wireless protocols that may come along) will only improve over time. So it can be argued that Apple is the right company to push the market in this direction. But does that make it the right decision? We’d guess that most users who use headphones for iPhone listening only use one type of headphone. Those people can simply attach the included Lightning to 3.5mm adapter to that set of headphones and leave it there. So that shouldn’t be much of a problem. For the listeners who use multiple headphones, it will be more of an issue, but the adapter is only $9 sold separately. That’s cheap enough to buy an extra adapter — or replace one — without too much concern.
But yes, it’s still kind of annoying for frequent headphone users. Charging while listening will require another accessory, and that will cause some issues, especially for those who like to listen to iPhone music, like Apple Music, while driving. Those drivers who don’t have CarPlay may keep an extra audio cable in their car for car listening, and they’ll probably feel like they need an extra adapter for that. So, we’re somewhere in the middle on the headphone jack issue. It’s probably not nearly as a big a deal as many are making it out to be, and yes, we can’t envision the analog jack lasting forever…but we also wouldn’t discount anyone who sees the missing headphone jack as a downside in 2016. For what it’s worth, the included Lightning EarPods and adapter both worked fine in our testing.
A surefire positive are the new stereo speakers on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, as the bottom speaker is used in conjunction with a front-firing top speaker. We often cupped our hand around the bottom speaker on past iPhones to amplify the volume, and these speakers should cut down on any need to do that. It’s also noteworthy when it comes to speakerphone use, as callers come in louder than ever before. But don’t be fooled by the left speaker grille that’s replaced the headphone jack on the outside of the iPhone — it’s a faux speaker grille for aesthetics only.
Apple claims the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus offer the “longest battery life ever in an iPhone.” The batteries are indeed larger than they were in the previous year’s iPhones, though the 7 Plus’ new battery is about the same size as that found in the original 6 Plus. Any other battery gains would come from iOS 10 and the new A10 Fusion chip found in the new iPhones. We put the new phones through Wi-Fi browsing and video playback tests, at 50 percent brightness and volume.
In our Wi-Fi browsing tests, the iPhone 7 gave us a very strong performance of 11 hours and 41 minutes, far better than the 6s ever did. The iPhone 7 Plus gave us 12 hours and 16 minutes, which is extremely strong, though not too much better than the 7. While both phones did well, they also fell far short of Apple’s estimates, which are 14 hours for the iPhone 7 and 15 hours for the iPhone 7 Plus, respectively.
Our video playback results were similar, with the iPhone 7 delivering nearly 11 hours (2 hours short of Apple’s estimate), and the iPhone 7 Plus running for nearly 12 hours (again, about 2 hours short of Apple’s 14-hour estimate). Oddly, the iPhone 7 Plus couldn’t compete with the iPhone 6s Plus in this category, though as always, other factors may be at play which affect the results.
Also weirdly, the iPhone 7 Plus took nearly 4 hours to fully recharge from a depleted battery, as the 6s Plus recharged in about 3 hours. There were rumors that this year’s phones would contain some kind of fast charging capability, but it’s not the case. The iPhone 7 recharged in 2 hours and 20 minutes, which is right on par with last year’s 6s. Keep in mind that the A10 Fusion chip may make more of a difference in real world use than it does in our tests, based on how it’s designed.
Taptic Engine, A10 + Other Notes
Internally, there’s a bit more going on within these new iPhones besides better battery life. The new Taptic Engine allows the 3D Touch feature to provide more feedback this time around — press an app on the screen and you’ll feel a legitimate buzz, rather than the light feedback on the 6s and 6s Plus. Does this really matter? Some would argue that it gives a user a “closer” or “deeper” connection with their iPhone. Others could care less.
The A10 Fusion chip is designed to use faster processing when needed, and less power when you’re doing tasks that aren’t as demanding. Not only is this made to deliver better battery life, but of course, it’s built to make the new iPhones both faster and more efficient. As benchmarks show, both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus offer great performance (oddly, the iPhone 7 gave us slightly better benchmark results). In real world use, though, we’ve entered the land of diminishing returns. While these iPhones are very fast, the 6s and 6s Plus were quite speedy, too. Power users may notice a difference, though — and anyone upgrading from an older iPhone certainly will.
We played some games on the new iPhones, including the game Apple demoed during the iPhone 7 introduction, Nexon’s Oz: Broken Kingdom. The game ran smoothly on both iPhones, while our 6s Plus did have a bit of slowdown comparatively at times. Perhaps this is where the performance of the A10 Fusion really shows up — gamers take note. Also notable: the iPhone 7 has 2GB of RAM, while the iPhone 7 Plus gets 3GB.
There have been a few reports about the new iPhones giving off a slight hissing sound when “under heavy load.” Our iPhone 7 Plus didn’t require any sort of “heavy load” — we opened an app and heard the slight buzz, or hiss, emanating from the back of the phone. We didn’t notice it at all during normal testing, however — we could only hear the noise when we put our ear right next to the back of the iPhone while opening an app in a quiet area. Which is, clearly, not a normal thing to do. Our iPhone 7 made no such noises. Though this apparent defect may never be noticeable to most users, Apple may determine that it’s indicative of a larger problem. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, especially in this first run of units, and we’ll keep our eye on it. The company appears to be offering replacement units to users with hissing iPhones, indicating the problem may not be widespread. Another possible issue we encountered was the rear of the iPhone 7 Plus becoming somewhat hot to the touch during extended use of the phone’s speakers when listening to music. However, we weren’t able to replicate this more than once.
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are forward-thinking devices, if not quite as futuristic-looking as one might desire. One can certainly envision more smartphone companies ditching the headphone jack in coming years (some Android devices have already done so), and there’s no doubt Apple will continue to place its own focus on Lightning and wireless — its upcoming wireless AirPods got plenty of coverage during the company’s most recent keynote. But for now, in 2016, some users may feel those growing pains.
That being said, both iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus introduce a number of nice improvements. Taken in separate pieces, those improvements may feel minor. But they certainly add up. We think that iPhone 6/6 Plus users should have no hesitation in upgrading to these new phones. But if you’ve got an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus? The question is a bit trickier to answer. If you’re truly going to miss the headphone jack, we don’t blame you for hesitating, but don’t start thinking that it’s going to be coming back. You’ll have to weigh whether or not you’re ready to move ahead. The other upgrades in the 7 and 7 Plus may not be enough for you in the end, especially if you’re not deeply into iPhone photography. We wouldn’t blame you for waiting for next year’s iPhone, which is said to feature a bold, new design.
During the past two years, we’ve given both iPhone models the same grade. We know many users prefer the smaller form factor of the 4.7” iPhones, which was enough to balance out the minor benefits of the 5.5” iPhones. But considering the iPhone 7 Plus’ larger leap forward in camera technology this year, we’re giving separate scores. You may still prefer the smaller form factor of the iPhone 7, but you’re also making even more of a sacrifice in photo ability than you have in the past, while still lingering behind in battery life. We will note, though, that the lower price of the iPhone 7 will justify the purchase for some. We give the iPhone 7 a strong general recommendation, and the iPhone 7 Plus earns a higher recommendation.
iPhone 7 Plus
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