Review of The New iPhone 7 Plus

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A modest update, but one that does enough to still excite

It may not be the upgrade we were hoping for, but the iPhone 7 Plus is still an excellent phone with improved cameras, super slick performance and a handy waterproof, yet familiar design.

For

  • Heaps of power for slick performance
  • Excellent camera
  • Solid battery life

Against

  • Very expensive
  • Screen still only full HD
  • No headphone jack

Apple’s recent strategy of bringing out an iPhablet that includes all the best bits of the smaller new iPhone has been a strong one – but this year, the iPhone 7 Plus is a phone that’s markedly better than the smaller model.

That’s mostly achieved through two things: improved battery life and an innovative camera. The former is always going to be better, given the larger size, but by adding a dual-camera setup to the mix Apple has made a conscious effort to make the 7 Plus seem like a distinctly different choice.

There are also new color configurations, more space to throw in your media and apps, and changes to the internals – we lose the headphone jack, but gain a new kind of vibrating motor.

All this added fun comes at a cost though: the 7 Plus is the most expensive iPhone ever. So is it a price worth paying, or are you going to feel out of pocket?

As we said in our iPhone 7 review, there are many, many similarities between 2016’s iPhones and the 6S duo from last year – and while the iPhone 7 Plus may be the better of the two new iPhones, it hasn’t exactly moved on in leaps and bounds from the iPhone 6S Plus.

iPhone 7 Plus review

iPhone 7 Plus price and release date

  • Out now (but limited stock)
  • Launched on September 16 2016
  • Starts at $769 (£719, AU$1,229) for 32GB model

The iPhone 7 Plus went on sale on September 16… sort of. That was the official release date given by Apple during its iPhone launch event, but as release day dawned it transpired that the 7 Plus had been so popular during the pre-order period there wasn’t any stock left at Apple Stores.

At the time of writing, the Apple website says the typical wait for iPhone 7 Plus delivery is 2-3 weeks, so while you will be able to get hold of Apple’s new phablet before Christmas, you still can’t pop down to your local Apple boutique and walk out with one in your hand.

If you’re not in a rush then availability will improve over the next few months – and you may need that time to save up, given the hefty price tag.

The iPhone 7 Plus price starts at $749 (£719, AU$1,229) for the entry-level 32GB model. Apple has finally (and thankfully) done away with the 16GB storage option, so you’re getting double the storage over the entry-level iPhone 6 Plus and 6S Plus – but you’ll be paying $20 (£100, AU$40) more for the privilege.

That’s not all that much extra – although for those in the UK that price hike has been amplified by the vote to leave the EU and the subsequent fall in the value of the pound, hitting iPhone-loving Brits squarely in the pocket.

Apple has also ditched the 64GB model in favor of a new 256GB option at the top of the range, with 128GB dropping down to become the middle storage option.

The 128GB iPhone 7 Plus price is $869 (£819, AU$1,419), while power users will need to shell out a whopping $969 (£919, AU$1,569) if they want to get their hands on the 256GB version.

iPhone 7 Plus review

Duplicate design

  • Water resistance is genuinely useful
  • Lack of a headphone jack is initially frustrating
  • More of the same design, with the same look as predecessors

It’s easy to tell the iPhone 7 Plus apart from its predecessors, as it’s the only iPhone to sport two cameras on its rear.

Aside from the bulkier camera block, lack of a headphone port (more on that in a minute) and a couple of new colors though, Apple’s stuck with exactly the same design that’s served it well for its previous two iPhone iterations.

If you’ve owned, or are familiar with, the iPhone 6 Plus or 6S Plus then you’ll know exactly what the iPhone 7 Plus looks like.

The rounded corners, aluminum frame and minimalist styling means the iPhone 7 Plus retains its premium status, and with the introduction of new black and ‘jet black’ colors, fans have two new ways to show their dark side.

iPhone 7 Plus review

If you’re curious about the shiny jet black finish, check out our iPhone 7 review, but if you’re interested in the standard black color then stay right here.

We’re fans of this matte black finish, as it gives the iPhone 7 Plus an understated yet elegant look – basically the polar opposite to the gaudy rose gold that’s also an option here.

Moving on to the lack of a headphone jack, it’s a decision Apple has described as “courageous”, but while it’s a positive step forward for the mobile industry, the short-term effects are the ones that are making the most noise for now.

Apple does include an adapter in the iPhone 7 Plus box, allowing you to plug in your standard 3.5mm headphone connection – but it’s not a particularly appealing compromise. It also includes a set of lightning-connected EarPods, so you can avoid the adapter if you don’t mind Apple’s creations – but immediately there’s a problem.

iPhone 7 Plus review

If you’re someone who tends to find themselves charging their iPhone while also listening to music via a pair of wired headphones, that’s a no-go with the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s one or the other – unless you use an adaptor that’s rather unattractive, and which you’ll have to purchase separately.

The easy way around this is to invest in a set of wireless headphones – Apple’s own AirPods will be available later this year for $159 (£159, AU$229) – but any Bluetooth set will work with the handset if you want to spend less.

It’s far from a crisis at Apple, but the inconvenience is real – and it’s one we experienced during our review – although it’s one that can be easily overcome if you’re willing to compromise a little.

A new feature that’s much less controversial is the IP67 rating for the iPhone 7 Plus, meaning it’s both dust-proof and water-resistant.

iPhone 7 Plus review

It’ll be able to survive an accidental slip into the bath, or a quick email bashed out in the shower, with the official test showing it’s good for a half-hour dip at a depth of up to one meter in freshwater.

It’s worth noting that it’s not fully waterproof though, and frequent exposure to water may well spell trouble – but the iPhone is now more capable than ever of surviving life’s little accidents.

Measuring 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3mm, the 7 Plus is exactly the same size as the 6S Plus it’s replacing, although it has dropped slightly in weight, from 192g to 188g. For users looking to upgrade from the now two-year-old 6 Plus, the 7 Plus is slightly thicker, and still a little heavier than your current device.

iPhone 7 Plus review

You’re unlikely to notice the difference in the hand though, as it’ll still stretch your one-handed dexterity to the max, especially when it comes to hitting the back button in the top-left corner.

Apple’s ‘reachability’ feature, while sees the top of the screen jump down to halfway with a double-tap of the home key, is still in play here, which helps alleviate the sheer height of the handset dictated by the Cupertino firm’s now-iconic chunky bezels.

Bringing all this together, Apple has another well-styled iPhone on its hands, and while it hasn’t broken any new ground in terms of looks, this is the most robust and refined handset we’ve seen from the firm to date.

All-new home button

  • No longer a physical button – and feels strange
  • Force Touch tech leaves more room inside the phone

“Yeah it’s a button, so what?” a friend said to us when we asked them to push our button. Then we turned the iPhone 7 Plus off, and asked them to push it again. Cue confusion, amazement and a slight jaw drop.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that impress, and the new home button on the iPhone 7 Plus (and iPhone 7) is somewhat of a hidden party piece.

 

Is it more useful than a traditional button day to day? Not really. Has it taken iPhone functionality to a whole new level? Errrr, i don’t think so.

Is that an issue? Absolutely not.

Apple has integrated the Force Touch technology that we’ve already seen on the trackpad of the new MacBook into the iconic home button – which is no longer a physical button, but rather a touch-sensitive pad.

iPhone 7 Plus review

Our friends were fooled by it thanks to Apple’s Taptic Engine, which produces vibrations around the pad that mimic the action of pressing a button.

At first it felt a little odd, as we knew there wasn’t a physical button there, which meant we struggled to apply the required amount of pressure needed to perform the ‘home’ action.

It’s just those cheeky little vibrations

That’s because we were treating it like the home button on an Android device, which just requires a light tap to operate it. Do the same on the iPhone 7 Plus and you won’t get a response – you need to press your finger on the pad as you would on a button for it to trigger.

Approach the home key without knowing it’s not a regular button, though, and the transition to the force touch pad is relatively seamless.

The sensation is still a strange one though – it feels like you’re almost bending the glass on the front of the display, but you’re not. It’s just those cheeky little vibrations.

We got used to the new setup after just a few hours though, and it probably is just a hair quicker than the traditional button on previous iPhones.

Same display, only slightly different

  • Still 5.5 inches with full HD resolution
  • There are more colors, so things look even better

Take a quick glance at the iPhone 7 Plus spec sheet and you’d be forgiven for thinking nothing has changed in the screen department over the iPhone 6S Plus and 6 Plus.

The display is still 5.5 inches and has the same 1080 x 1920 resolution, which produces an all-too-familiar 401ppi pixel density.

With rivals including Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony equipping their flagship smartphones with QHD resolutions, it’s hard not to feel a little left behind when picking up the new iPhone 7 Plus – especially when you consider its lofty price tag.

iPhone 7 Plus review

That’s not to say the screen is bad. Text and images are still crisp and clear, and brightness is just as excellent as it has been on previous handsets – apparently it’s 25% brighter here, although it’s not particularly noticeable.

Apple has tinkered with the tech too, adding a cinema-standard wide color gamut into the mix for richer, more realistic visuals on screen, which helps when it comes to using the expansive screen as a viewfinder for the dual-camera lenses on the back of the 7 Plus.

Put the 7 Plus side-by-side with the 6S Plus, and if you look really closely you can see the colors are a little richer on the new iPhone – but there isn’t much in it.

  • Faster, more powerful chip offers super-slick performance
  • iOS 10 brings a number of new features which work best on the new iPhone

One of the big draws of iPhones for a lot of people is their ease of use, especially if you’re already invested in the iDevice ecosystem, and Apple has made the iPhone 7 Plus even more user-friendly with its new iOS 10 software, along with some hardware upgrades under the hood.

If you’re currently rocking a 6-series iPhone you can also benefit from the free iOS 10 upgrade, so the software update alone isn’t a reason to buy the iPhone 7 Plus; but it runs at its best on Apple’s newest phablet.

The 7 Plus boasts the firm’s A10 Fusion chip, which Apple claims delivers 40% more performance than the A9 processor in the iPhone 6S Plus, and double the speed of the A8 chip in the iPhone 6 Plus. It is, on paper at least, well equipped to deal with whatever you throw at it.

iPhone 7 Plus review

Performance

The iPhone 7 Plus is fast. Really fast. In a simple side by side comparison with the iPhone 6S Plus the 7 Plus was faster every time as we skipped between applications, fired-up multi-tasking and loaded games.

Apple’s taken another leap forward in the quality of its chip design, boosting the number of cores from two to four, and coupling this with a meaty 3GB of RAM. The iPhone 7 Plus manages to better even the iPhone 7, which comes with the same chip but only 2GB of RAM.

There was no sign of slowdown, even when we had multiple applications open, were streaming music from Spotify and playing some highly intensive games – the 7 Plus performance is just all-round impressive.

Games loaded without fuss, and gameplay is smooth and detailed on the 7 Plus, with the experience further enhanced by the new dual-speaker setup.

Apple has stuck a speaker at the top and bottom of the handset for stereo sound, and the resulting audio on the 7 Plus is much better than on its predecessors, with twice the volume of the iPhone 6S for room-filling sound.

Playback is equally as good for music, and the iPhone 7 Plus knows when you’re holding it in landscape or portrait orientation, and adjusts the output from the speakers to ensure your ears are treated like kings.

As we’ve mentioned, plugging in for headphone sound can be a little trickier if you don’t use the bundled Lightning EarPods, after Apple removed the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. A Lightning-to-3.5mm jack adapter is supplied in the box, but this will likely still irk, and can detract from the overall experience; it certainly had us fuming on more than one occasion.

Running the Geekbench 4 app on the 7 Plus saw it put in a slightly better performance than the iPhone 7, but as expected it comfortably outstripped the 6S Plus, coming in at around 20% faster, while it showed almost double the speed of the 6 Plus – emphatically backing up Apple’s claims of serious under-the-hood improvements.

If you upgrade from any previous-generation iPhone, you’ll notice the performance jump on the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s as simple as that.

iOS 10

As you’ve probably worked out by now, the iPhone 7 Plus is buttery smooth in operation, and iOS 10 glides along without a care in the world on the 5.5-inch display.

For those familiar with Apple’s operating system, iOS 10 is more of the same, with Apple adding extra details in more obscure places so as not to interrupt the flow of the interface.

The lock screen has gained 3D Touch notifications, enabling you to reply to important messages and accept calendar invites without having to unlock the handset, and a swipe from left to right takes you to a panel stuffed full of various widgets.

You can customize, to an extent, what appears here, and we found the calendar agenda view, news box, weather widget and battery status section all very useful – the latter is excellent for quickly checking on the power levels of your Apple Watch and AirPods (or Bluetooth headset).

iPhone 7 Plus review

You can also access this customizable panel from your home screen – again, swiping left to right will get you there – but we found it more useful on the lock screen.

The iPhone 7 Plus will also know when you want to use it, with the raise-to-wake feature switching on the screen when you pick the handset up or pull it out of a pocket.

Control Center – accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen – has been overhauled, and split into separate panels. The first offers up quick settings such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as a screen brightness slide, with music controls now shifted to their own dedicated panel that’s just a single sideways swipe away.

iPhone 7 Plus review

Apple has also added more features to the 3D Touch pop-up bubbles that appear when you hold down on an app icon. These bubbles can now pull through information from the applications they’re associated with, be it the latest sports scores or the progress you’re making towards your activity goals.

It makes the feature far more useful, and we found ourselves using 3D Touch much more on the 7 Plus thanks to the iOS 10 update – although given the snappy performance of the phone it doesn’t take long to fully load an app and then skip back out.

Everything else is pretty much the same, and while you’ll certainly feel at home on the iPhone 7 Plus if you’re upgrading from a previous iPhone, the on-screen experience may not feel quite as new and exciting as you’d hope.

  • Comfortably lasts a full day on a single charge
  • Still requires a nightly charge to see you through a second day

Apple promises battery improvements in the iPhone 7 Plus, claiming it will give you an additional hour of life over the iPhone 6S Plus.

That’s not as good as the extra two hours claimed for the iPhone 7 over the iPhone 6S, but the smaller handset wasn’t as good with its battery as the Plus to start with, so we can forgive the more modest improvement here; hell, it’s not always guaranteed that battery life will improve significantly from one generation to the next, so at least we’re off to a positive start.

While Apple never reveals the battery capacities of its phones, early users have been digging around feverishly, and it looks like the iPhone 7 Plus has a 2900mAh power pack.

That would be up from the 2750mAh offering in the 6S Plus, so perhaps the removal of the headphone port has freed up a bit of space inside – every cloud, eh?

iPhone 7 Plus review

It’s not just an increase in battery size which Apple reckons will see the 7 Plus last longer – it’s also the new A10 Fusion chip, which has two low-power and two high-power cores.

The lower-power cores handle basic tasks, such as web browsing and emails, while consuming less power, and the more powerful duo come into play when you fire-up a game or an HD movie.

Whether that has a marked effect on the battery isn’t that clear, but we can report that the battery life on the iPhone 7 Plus is very good.

It’ll happily last a full day on a single charge with relatively heavy usage, including over an hour of gaming, a couple of hours of Spotify streaming, and regular social media and email action, as well as a fair amount of camera time.

That’s in line with the Android flagship competition, with a full day’s use the benchmark for battery performance now.

iPhone 7 Plus review

With lighter usage we were able to get to bedtime with around 30% still left in the tank, and overnight drain saw only a 4% drop-off, meaning we could at least get to our desk the next morning before needing a charge.

During our review time with the iPhone 7 Plus we didn’t see any really noticeable gains in battery performance over its predecessor, but those looking to upgrade from the iPhone 6 Plus (or any older iPhone) will be pleased to know the new iPhone phablet is comfortably better in this department.

You will, more than likely, end up charging the iPhone 7 Plus every night, as it certainly won’t see out two days between plug-ins – and top-ups aren’t overly quick, with no sign of the fast-charging tech we’ve enjoyed in the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and OnePlus 3.

If you do find yourself running low, iOS 10 retains the low-power mode which Apple introduced with iOS 9, helping you get the most out of the last dregs of your charge. Drop below 20% and the 7 Plus will prompt you to switch on the power-saving mode – but you can manually control this from the settings menu too.

  • Excellent point-and-shoot dual cameras
  • Much improved low-light performance
  • Depth-of-field feature coming later this year

The iPhone 7 Plus camera is one of major new features on the handset, and it’s the only iPhone to boast two rear-facing snappers – the smaller iPhone 7 is still stuck on a single lens.

Take a look at the back of the 7 Plus and the large camera bulge is home to two 12MP cameras, one of which is a wide-angle lens while the other is a telephoto lens. In short, switching from wide-angle to telephoto gives you a 2x optical zoom, which means you don’t lose image quality while getting closer to your subject.

Optical zoom is something smartphones have always struggled with, and usually you just have a digital zoom at your disposal, which reduces the quality of your shots the closer in you get. You can still digital-zoom (up to 10x) on the 7 Plus if the 2x optical option isn’t enough – but it’s good to see Apple taking a positive step forward here.

Apple isn’t the first to slap two cameras on the back of a smartphone, with Huawei, LG, Honor and HTC just some of the rival manufacturers who’ve done something similar in the past – although the implementation has differed between handsets.

iPhone 7 Plus review

In true Apple fashion, the two cameras on the 7 Plus have the same simplicity as previous iPhone iterations, with a simple ‘1x’ or ‘2x’ button above the on-screen shutter button enabling you to jump between the two.

It’s not just a second lens that’s new on the iPhone 7 Plus either; there’s a whole new camera system too, with a larger f/1.8 aperture and six-element lens allowing the cameras to suck in 50% more light than their predecessors.

And it really does work. Low-light performance from the iPhone 7 Plus is much improved over the 6S Plus, and nears the levels we’ve seen from the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge – two of the best low-light cameraphones currently on the market.

Compare your shots with any taken on an iPhone 6 Plus or 6S Plus and you’ll also note the improved color reproduction, thanks to the 7 Plus sporting wider color capture for more vibrant shots.

They’re still not quite as punchy as the shots you get from a top Samsung phone, but the improvement over its predecessors is again noticeable, and it’s yet another feather in the cap of Apple’s all-new camera system.

iPhone 7 Plus review

The camera app itself is just as easy to use, with no overcomplicated settings: just point, and shoot. HDR is set to auto by default, and generally does a good job of brightening up darker areas of your shots – although it can overexpose already bright areas at times.

While rival manufacturers try and stuff a whole host of modes and features into their camera apps, Apple continues to shy away from things like Pro mode, giving you just six options: photo, square, pano, video, slo-mo and time-lapse.

For everyday users it makes the app far less daunting – but those who like tinkering with the likes of exposure, shutter speed and white balance might want to take a look at the current crop of Android flagships.

Live photos are present again here, which sees the iPhone 7 Plus capture a couple of seconds of video with each photo you snap, bringing them briefly to life – and these moving images are supported by the likes of Facebook and Instagram if you fancy sharing them with friends.

True potential of dual-cameras is yet to be fully realized

The true potential of the dual-cameras is yet to be fully realized though, as in their current state they’re still working independently of each other. That will change in the coming months though, as Apple will roll out a software update to unlock its depth-of-field feature.

This will see the two 12MP snappers work in unison to produce what Apple claims will be DSLR quality images.

The update will allow the dual cameras to produce a bokeh effect, creating an attractive background blur around your in-focus subject. Make sure you check back later this year once the feature is out for our updated review.

The iPhone 7 Plus is able to capture a high level of detail
iPhone 7 Plus review
iPhone 7 Plus review
It can struggle to pick out detail in the sky, with it sometimes looking overexposed.
iPhone 7 Plus review
The 7 Plus can recognize faces and ensure they’re all in focus
iPhone 7 Plus review
Get up close and the 7 Plus does a good job of capturing detail, but colors are sometimes still a little muted
iPhone 7 Plus review
Here the camera manages to perfectly capture the flickering candle while also picking out the frayed rope
iPhone 7 Plus review
Low-light performance is greatly improved, with the camera sucking in much more light
iPhone 7 Plus review
The chairs behind this candle were in almost total darkness, yet the 7 Plus picked them out
iPhone 7 Plus review
The 7 Plus even coped well with multicolored disco lights, which can be troublesome for some phone cameras
iPhone 7 Plus review
Low-light shots can seem a little washed-out at times, with the mixed lighting in this shot causing confusion

‘The iPhone 7 Plus: is it a phone worth the cost?’ is probably the question on your lips – and the answer is yes. In fact it’s excellent, but there are a few caveats.

People will be quick to point out that not a lot has changed over the iPhone 6S Plus, and they’d be right. Apart from the waterproof body, extra power under the hood, dual cameras and questionable removal of the headphone jack, the two handsets are rather similar, especially visually.

There’s not really any big innovation to speak of – although the Cupertino firm may point to the new camera engine and force touch home key – so the 7 Plus is another incremental upgrade, a bag of refinements making it two in a row from Apple since it introduced its first phablet in the iPhone 6 Plus.

While it may have not re-written the mobile landscape with the 7 Plus, Apple has taken the weaker parts of the 6S Plus and enhanced them on its new phone. The camera now feels supercharged over its predecessor, producing even better shots on a regular basis with minimum effort.

iPhone 7 Plus review

Battery life is improved, although not by much, and the waterproof design provides you with extra peace of mind that your expensive new smartphone will be able to survive a slip into the bath – whether that matters to you depends on how careless you are with your handset.

The price is high, especially if you’re considering shelling out for the 256GB model, but the entry level 32GB iPhone 7 Plus is cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – so it’s not as if Apple is going above and beyond all competitors.

The other potential sticking point is the lack of a headphone jack. The internet has been rife with opinion for and against the move Apple calls “courageous” – and it will be a matter of personal opinion as to which side of the fence you fall on. Bundled Lightning connected EarPods and a 3.5mm port adaptor soften the blow, but for some this will annoy.

iPhone 7 Plus review

Who’s it for?

The iPhone 7 Plus is certainly the better of the two new iPhones. It has a bigger battery, dual cameras and more RAM under the hood, providing excellent performance and if your decision is based on specs alone you won’t be disappointed with the iPhone 7 Plus.

The camera is a serious leap forward from previous iPhones, and with its easy-to-use interface it’s perfect for those wanting a dependable yet simple snapper in their pocket which can perform well in pretty much any scenario.

Add to that the water resistance body and you’ve finally feel like you have an iPhone which can survive the little mishaps life throws at you, which is good news for the more active.

The large screen, enhanced performance and new dual speakers also make the iPhone 7 Plus great for those who like to game or Netflix on the go without the hindrance of headphones.

While this may be the better phone on paper, the iPhone 7 is the one which will likely appeal to a wider demographic with its more manageable form factor and lower price tag.

iPhone 7 Plus review

Should I buy it?

Apple has given the iPhone 7 Plus enough new features for it to be seen as the next generation iPhone, but it’s a close run thing. If you currently have an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus you’ll be much better off waiting for the iPhone 7S/iPhone 8 in 2017.

For those nearing the end of their two year iPhone 6/6 Plus (or Android flagship) contracts though the iPhone 7 Plus is a much more enticing proposition, and you’ll appreciate the upgrades and performance boost much more.

There is a case to be made for saving yourself some money without losing loads of features and picking up the iPhone 6S Plus instead, but the upgrades on the iPhone 7 Plus – especially the dual camera – make it a much more impressive buy than the smaller iPhone 7, and when the upgrades come to the camera software a real worthwhile upgrade.

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