I recently bought the new iPhone 7 Plus (128GB, Matte Black) as an upgrade from my iPhone 6 and have been using it for about a week now. In this post I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts and impressions of it, especially in the context of upgrading from a previous iPhone. This is not intended to be a complete review or unboxing experience (there are already dozens of those on the internet, going into significantly further detail), but I’ll pick out a few notable features worth mentioning.
The first thing I noticed upon opening up the box was the sheer size of the display on the Plus as compared to my iPhone 6. 5.5 inches might only be 0.8 inches larger than the regular phone’s 4.7 inches, but this yields an area that is 36% larger. The effect is expansive, especially if you’ve been used to the smaller display for the last two years. While the larger area benefits all of your smartphone activities, reading long articles becomes a joy simply because of how much more text you can view at a time without scrolling.
Another benefit of the display on the Plus is the 1920x1080 resolution, a significant step up above the 1334x750 of the regular phone. The difference is noticeable - text and graphics are significantly sharper and clearer (compare the battery indicator symbol in particular). This is an area where the iPhone 7 significantly lags its Android competitors, which have standardised on 1920x1080 as a minimum and use 2560x1440 on high-end devices. The iPhone 7 Plus does alright with 1920x1080 though and I don’t see a significant need to push this further yet.
Finally, the trump card of the displays on the iPhone 7 devices is their colour reproduction and support for HDR colour - in particular, the DCI-P3 standard as used in professional video production. This allows both devices to show a wider range of colours as well as giving better contrast ratios for photo and video content. This is a feature that isn’t immediately obvious in the way that a high resolution screen is, but if for example you view an HDR photo (taken with the iPhone’s camera) on both the iPhone 7 and on a non-HDR device, you can easily see for yourself the deeper colour detail on the iPhone. The HDR scene is still nascent with little video content available and the only other compatible displays are high-end 4K TVs, but as time goes on you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of the display even more.
Headphone Jack (or lack of)
This particular topic has been debated endlessly across the internet, the fact that Apple “courageously” removed the headphone jack. My take is that I’m honestly not bothered by it. In my usage, when I use headphones I’m usually listening from my computer, and when I do use my phone for music it’s plugged into my car’s USB port anyway. You get a set of headphones with the Lightning connector as well as a dongle, which solves the primary issue of using your existing headphones with the phone. I’ve not taken either of those out of the box as I’ve simply not needed them yet, but they’re there if I need them.
As you’ll have seen, the iPhone 7 Plus comes with two cameras, a primary lens and a secondary zoom lens. The primary camera is a nice upgrade over the one in the iPhone 6. It’s a 12 megapixel sensor that can also record 4K video, it has optical image stabilisation for both photo and video, and though my iPhone 6 already had a great camera, general image quality is all around noticeably better, especially in low-light conditions. As mentioned above, it will shoot photos in real HDR for more lifelike colour reproduction. If you use third-party apps such as Adobe Lightroom, you can also shoot in RAW mode if you want to work directly with the raw camera sensor data.
Next to this is a secondary zoom lens camera, which gives you 2x optical zoom within the body of a smartphone. This is obviously useful for getting close-up shots without having to get closer to your subject, and more importantly without sacrificing image quality as with digital zoom (though another 5x of digital zoom is available which grants you 10x zoom). The one caveat is that it lacks optical image stabilisation, so you’ll want to stick to the primary camera if shake is going to be a problem. The secondary camera also allows for Apple’s Portrait Mode, which applies a depth-of-field effect to portrait photos. Although billed as being a beta feature, it worked surprisingly well in my testing, although you need plenty of light, preferably outdoor light for it to work best.
The front camera also gets a nice bump up to 7 megapixels along with other improvements. Selfies now look significantly better; you have a much sharper image with reduced smearing as compared to the front cameras on earlier models.
The iPhone 7 is now IP67 rated for dust and water resistance, so it should now be able to take a splash of water or a short dunk in a swimming pool without any ill effects. There are plenty of YouTube videos out there where people have tested it and it does appear to exceed its rated resistance, but I’m not going to test this out as I see it as a “save it from death” feature rather than something to actively demonstrate to your friends (I’m sure doing so would just be tempting fate). Still, I’m happy it’s there, but I’m going to treat it as though it’s my old phone.
It’s very fast. The A10 SoC is fast enough to pull quite close with Intel’s laptop processors from a couple of generations ago, and you never feel anything slows it down. Again, the likes of AnandTech cover the details of the processor and the internal architecture in far more detail, so I’ll leave the rest to them. If Apple keeps up this rate of performance improvement in their ARM architecture processors, we’re likely to see an ARM-powered MacBook appearing sooner rather than later.
This is easily my favourite feature on my iPhone 7 Plus. The headphone jack was sacrificed to make way for this linear actuator that provides haptic force feedback to the user. This component is responsible for simulating the ‘click’ you feel when pressing on the solid home button, and the effect is very realistic - it genuinely feels like the button is moving, even though you know it hasn’t budged a millimetre. The strength of this click is adjustable according to taste.
The Taptic Engine also provides haptic feedback throughout the iOS UI - drag down the notification drawer and you’ll feel a little bump when it hits the bottom. Roll the selector on a combo box and you’ll feel little clicks as though you’re rolling something physical. Have someone send you an iMessage with the fireworks effect and it’ll feel as if minature fireworks are popping in your hand.
The list goes on, and together with the 3D Touch feature carried over from the iPhone 6S it really makes the UI feel tangible and 3D. There is an API in iOS 10 to control this, so expect developers to add their own haptic effects to their apps in the coming months.
Battery life with my iPhone 6 had always been excellent and it would always get me through an entire day of use without issue unless I absolutely hammered it constantly. The iPhone 7 Plus has been stellar so far in my limited testing due to its larger size accommodating a larger battery, as well as being due to various efficiency improvements in the A10 SoC. My last run got me around 45 hours of standby time and 7 hours of active usage before it hit the 25% mark when I plugged it back in to recharge. This phone easily gets me through two days of usage before I actually have to plug it back in, which is pretty sweet.
Hopefully, these notes should be useful for you if you’re considering buying an iPhone 7 Plus (or even just the 7). It’s not some massive revolutionary upgrade that you should run out and buy Right Now, but instead it represents a collection of small but effective improvements in various places that add up to being a very nice phone indeed. The headphone jack controversy is massively overblown in my opinion - sure, I’d have preferred to have kept it, but all the positives, especially the Taptic Engine, do make up for this minor loss. If you want it, buy it!