A great phone, but without the innovation we’ve come to expect.
Since the 2007 launch of the original device, perhaps no other year has typified the phrase, “Another year, another iPhone” as much as 2016. Except for Apple’s controversial removal of the headphone jack, the iPhone 7 is almost exactly as expected. It’s an excellent phone, but this year sees only incremental improvements and no surprises to turn heads when you’re seen holding it.
In terms of features, there’s absolutely nothing on the iPhone 7 that’s new to the world of phones. Android phones have had dual-lens camera systems, waterproofing, and capacitive buttons and, yes, even gone without headphone jacks before the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. But when taken as a whole the iPhone 7 Plus I’ve spent the past week with is still one of the best smartphones you can buy right now based on including a strong combination of those features, plus excellent performance, display camera quality, and battery life.
Looking at the iPhone 7 Plus, it’s easy to be disappointed by its stale design. Apple has used effectively the same design language for the last three generations of iPhones, during which time some competitors have released some truly stunning designs. While the iPhone still has large bezels around the screen that add unnecessary size and weight, alternatives like the Galaxy S7 Edge and OnePlus 3 have made a large phone seem smaller by reducing that extra non-screen space.
Apple is still a leader when it comes to build quality and materials.
Physically, the only visual differences on the iPhone 7 Plus are its wider dual-lens camera, relocated antenna lines, new “Jet Black” color option, and a missing headphone jack. (I’ll get to that last one later.) Although the design is overly familiar and feels gigantic in the hand, I never get tired of holding an iPhone. Apple is still a leader when it comes to build quality and materials, and the iPhone 7 Plus is no exception. The entire phone feels like it’s milled out of a single piece of aluminum, and even the buttons exhibit a bank-vault-like quality.
When you look closer at the front of the iPhone 7 Plus, you’ll find an all-new Home button – except it’s not actually a button anymore. Apple replaced it with a capacitive touchpad that simulates button presses using the onboard Taptic Engine, which is basically a motor that provides tactile feedback for various presses and swipes. (If you’ve used Apple’s MacBook trackpad, you’ll know what it feels like.)
As I continued to use the new Home button I liked it more and more.
Initially, the new capacitive Home button feels weird, but as I continued to use it I liked it more and more. Getting rid of the physical button helped Apple waterproof the new iPhones and solved the issue of failing Home buttons – I’ve seen more than one friend’s iPhone rendered inoperable by the mechanical button giving out, so that’s a good move. However, a capacitive Home button means you’ll need to make skin-to-button contact if you want to trigger it, which may be an issue for people in colder climates that wear gloves all the time. I tried out the new Home button with a pair of gloves with capacitive fingertips and the Home button worked just fine, although it missed presses from time to time.
The iPhone 7 Plus gets Apple’s latest and greatest processor, the A10 Fusion. It’s a quad-core CPU with two low-power cores to help improve battery life by using less energy on tasks that don’t require much horsepower. There’s also a six-core GPU that Apple says is 50% faster than the one found in last year’s model, and 3GB of RAM, which is one more than the 6S Plus or even the iPhone 7.
What this all adds up to is a phone that’s extremely capable. I was blown away by how fast and smooth the iPhone 7 Plus was, especially when playing demanding games. CSR Racing 2 looks amazing and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories never once got the phone to chug.
The iPhone 7 Plus gets extremely hot after long gaming sessions.
The iPhone 7 Plus feels even faster than the OnePlus 3, which has the latest Snapdragon 820 processor, Adreno 530 GPU, and 6GB of RAM. For example, the OnePlus 3 stutters and drops frames playing CSR Racing 2 while the iPhone 7 Plus had absolutely no stuttering. Even the graphics in CSR2 look better on the iPhone 7 Plus. Apple’s tight integration of hardware and software continues to pay off for performance. One thing you should note is that the iPhone 7 Plus gets extremely hot to the touch after long gaming sessions. In fact, it became nearly unbearable to hold after playing Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for half an hour.
On a more day-to-day level, iOS feels fluid throughout and I never got the iPhone 7 Plus to break a sweat from multitasking. Apps I opened hours ago loaded instantly, and apps that needed to be refreshed did so extremely quickly.
A Good Camera, But Not The Best
Perhaps the most compelling reason to get the iPhone 7 Plus is for its dual-lens camera. There’s one 28mm f/1.8 lens and a 56mm f/2.8 lens for zoom and (eventually, according to Apple’s planned updates) depth sensing. The dual-lens system is good for up to 2x optical zoom, which isn’t much when compared to using an actual point-and-shoot camera, but it’s handy when you want to crop in slightly on a subject and superior to the previous phones’ digital zoom, which simply stretches out your photos. Like the iPhone 6s Plus, the iPhone 7 Plus has optical image stabilization, but only for its 28mm lens. The 56mm lens does without any stabilization, making capturing distant subjects a challenge.
Compared to the camera on the iPhone 6s Plus, the camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is only incrementally better at detail, color, and contrast, but there’s still a noticeable improvement, especially with low-light shots. Where the iPhone 6s Plus struggles with low light, the iPhone 7 Plus manages to capture more detail and less noise. It’s not-life changing, but mobile photographers will appreciate the bump in quality.
Although the camera in the iPhone 7 Plus is good, I find the cameras found on the Galaxy S7 line of phones to be slightly better. The Galaxy S7 produced sharper pictures and more vivid colors, though that may be a good or bad thing depending on your preference. Low-light photos taken on the Galaxy S7 are also slightly better than the 7 Plus, which isn’t that surprising as Samsung’s camera has a slightly larger f/1.7 aperture. Head over to our sister site, PCMag, for a full comparison of the iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy S7 cameras.
If you’re buying a phone for the camera, be aware that Apple decided to launch the iPhone 7 Plus without the depth-sensing bokeh portrait feature, which is a little surprising given how excited Apple was about it during the announcement. Thus we haven’t been able to test it yet.
The Death of the Headphone Jack
If you’re still using a variety of wired devices that’s a pain.
So you may have heard that Apple axed the 3.5mm headphone jack that’s been on every iPhone, and in fact, nearly every piece of consumer audio equipment made in the past 30 years. Audio is now handled through the Lightning port, which you can plug in wired Lightning-enabled headphones or use the included Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter. If you’re still using a variety of wired devices that’s a pain, especially if for whatever reason you’re caught without your adapter when you need to plug into an audio device away from home. Also, you won’t be able to charge and listen with headphones at the same time, since there’s only one Lightning port on the phone. That’s not something most people will do often, but it’s a limitation most phones don’t have.
That said, while I feel Apple’s decision to drop the headphone jack was premature, I personally wasn’t bothered much by it because I’ve already largely converted to wireless headphones for daily use. No, wireless headphones still don’t sound quite as good as a nice pair of wired ones, but they’re perfectly acceptable for listening to streaming music or less-than-ideal listening environments. And with Bluetooth 5.0 right around the corner, wireless headphones will hopefully sound exponentially better and will last a lot longer on a battery charge, too. So the iPhone 7 might just be a year or two ahead of its time in this move.
Great Display, But it’s Not OLED
The iPhone 7 Plus’ display retains the same 1080p resolution of the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus, but provides better brightness, contrast, and color. It’s a subtle change you likely won’t notice until you have the devices side by side, but an improvement nonetheless. Additionally, Apple took what it learned from the iPad Pro’s 9.7-inch screen by adding the newer DCI-P3 color gamut, which is 26% larger than the current sRGB standard. Put simply, the iPhone 7 Plus display is capable of accurately displaying HDR content.
Display analysis company DisplayMate said the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus’ screen “is by far the best performing mobile LCD display” they’ve ever tested. To my eyes, I absolutely agree with DisplayMate’s assessment: the screen shows accurate colors and gets extremely bright outdoors.
However, the iPhone 7 Plus display isn’t the best mobile phone display I’ve seen. That award goes to the Galaxy S7 line of phones, including the Galaxy Note 7. Samsung has consistently led the pack with its OLED displays, which offers better contrast and viewing angles and is more power-efficient than LCDs because it can light up only the pixels it needs instead of turning on the whole display.
The iPhone 7 Plus gets a tiny bump in battery capacity this year with 2,900 mAh up from the iPhone 6s Plus’s 2,750 mAh capacity. The bump in battery capacity combined with the power-sipping A10 Fusion processor results in truly stellar battery life for the iPhone 7 Plus. I managed to get two full days of light use out of a charge, and when using the phone heavily to stream YouTube, play games, and text, I still managed to get through a full day comfortably. All tests were performed with auto brightness turned on and with the brightness slider at 50%.
Published at Sat, 24 Sep 2016 03:41:00 +0000