There are various types of customers in the smartphone world, and the most popular being those who just want it to work, and those who also want to have that cool phone that everyone is talking about. This is mainly iPhone territory, and another popular trait of that territory is that people want the latest and greatest.
For the last two years, choosing an iPhone was a matter of choosing a size and a storage option. The differences between the Plus and the regular iPhone were so minimal that it didn’t really feel like if you were getting a “Plus” experience if you chose that variant. For some, optical image stabilization was enough, but for a guy who loves taking photos while running, the fact that the regular iPhone was good enough to somehow still produce a stable shot would be enough of a reason to stay away. It wasn’t until this year with the announcement of the iPhone 7 Plus that I felt that you finally received more than just a larger iPhone with this new Plus variant. The phone can actually do things that the smaller variant can’t do even with software tweaks, and it was enough of a reason for me to choose to review the larger variant this year.
Has this jump been worth it? Read our full review to learn more.
Specs & Hardware
As is customary Apple is late to some of the games that began with competitors. Things like water resistance, a dual camera, or stereo speakers aren’t new things, but we do know that Apple is famous for taking its time in refining new technology, so let’s use refinement as the basis for this review
Hardware wise, the iPhone 7 Plus is as refined as it is mixed. This continues to be one of the most solid and pleasant phones to hold thanks to its aluminum construction and 2.5D glass. There are two new color options, Black and Jet Black, and if you chose any of them, the finish is an interesting blend of baddass and elegant that looks great up close and from a distance. In many ways, this is Apple refining a familiar design to a new level, even if on the conservative side.
Other refinements come at the hand of IP67 water and dust resistance to survive under 1 meter of water for 30 minutes, something Apple took for ever to catch up with. I’m not even going to try to bore you with many of the specs included with the iPhone 7 Plus, because even Apple makes us dig for them. Cupertino doesn’t try to sell specs with its iOS products, but for what matters you have the new Apple A10 Fusion processor that’s finally quad-core, with two cores doing the heavy lifting and two others for regular tasks. We have 3 gigabytes of RAM, options for 32, 128 or 256GB of storage, and a 2900 mAh battery.
There’s a new Force Touch home button that takes advantage of a new taptic engine. The idea is to simulate that you’re pressing a button by providing vibrating feedback when you do, and the taps are so strong that you can even hear the sound of a button being pressed. Now, it does take some getting used to if you come from an older iPhone. What I will say is that it’s far more convenient than the standard capacitive keys from competing devices because those react to any sort of touch, while this one requires an actual press. The reason you know the button is capacitive is because it doesn’t work if you press it holding a cloth in between. The good thing is that if you’re planning to keep this iPhone for the long run, this is one less moving part to worry about as well, so I really praise this new approach.
There are also a few new added tricks that truly immerse you in using this phone, mainly because they’re focused on refining content consumption. The wider color gamut of the Retina HD display provides punchier color and deeper blacks than before, and these are probably some of the best stereo speakers we’ve tested on a smartphone. The experience extends to ample volume for phone call through the ear piece, and even more through the speakers.
Things get mixed when you notice that essentials like making the rest of the buttons reachable is still a Plus issue, the camera hump makes this phone wobble more than any of its predecessors on a table, and yes, even with the Plus-styled thickness, there’s no headphone jack. Your color of choice also determines other issues. Any color that isn’t black is prone to antenna lines, and then the black variants are either prone to fingerprints or easily susceptible to scratches. I’m personally more inclined to this matte black variant, but each of you will have to pick your poison.
Apple considers it self to be more of a software company, and that’s clearly evident in the way iOS 10 is designed more around making you forget about the hardware. Sure it looks a lot like previous version of iOS, but about the only thing that’s similar is looks, everything else has been revamped.
We go into more detail over what has changed with iOS 10 in our recent videos.
The ones I’ve enjoyed most are actually the little things, like 3D Touch now including widgets that save me the need to dig within the app. Or other subtle improvements like raise to wake to keep up with my notifications, and then using 3D Touch to respond to them from wherever I am, again, avoiding the need to launch the app. The keyboard is now smarter through Siri’s machined learning, and since it now supports prediction of two languages without needing to switch around, my need for clunky third party keyboards is gone.
Speaking of Siri, I like how you can now summon a Lyft with it, or tell it to send a Whatsapp to someone, though third-party app support is still a bit limited. This is still a work in progress that will require support from more developers over time. One product that integrates seamlessly with Siri, and has become my favorite feature is HomeKit. I recently received some fancy new IOT products from iDevices, and now all I have to say is Good Morning to Siri for the lights to turn on, or Good night to turn them off. The new control center has also been enhanced to include a HomeKit area, in addition to adding more room to the rest of the controls.
Apple Maps is still not a service I recommend, but this update makes it really useful for walking directions by actively telling you to turn right or left as opposed to Google Maps making you guess where north or south is. And then there are the updates to iMessage to place it on par with other social media services, and the same can be said about other apps like Apple Music and News now being more competitive.
Now let’s be honest, if you went Plus this year, a major reason had to do with the new cameras, and yes, plural was intentional. Apple finally took the plunge to newer specifications like a 12 megapixel sensor with f1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization, but if one camera isn’t enough for you, there’s a separate 12 megapixel telephoto lens at f2.8 aperture, which is mainly there to serve 2X optical zoom, and 10X digital.
As always our Real Camera Review from Juan is more detailed as to why these two new cameras matter.
As an average consumer I’m just happy to see that I can once again trust an iPhone with my photos thanks to deep color saturation and contrast provided by these cameras. Whether its during the day or at night, this is truly a great smartphone camera to rely on. The new zoom features are convenient, though I won’t really lie to you that I’ve found many occasions where I care to use it.
I also love the smooth stabilization on video, and how easily the camera transitions from one lens to another for zoom. Oh, and if you see jitter while filming or taking a photo, no worries, that won’t make it to the final product.
My only complaint is with the new 7 megapixel selfie camera, with a very dated field of view at a time when wide angle selfie cameras are the standard.
I’ve been testing the iPhone 7 Plus in two different variants for nearly two weeks in New York City. My experiment with the 32 gigabyte version truly crashed and burned. I mean seriously, if you’re gonna buy a phone this big, it wold be pointless to not do so for the experience of consuming content, and 32 gigabytes is just not enough. The average HD movie from the iTunes store is around 4 gigabytes, and if you’re into recording 4K video, that’s another storage hog. Yes, this is more than the 16 gigabyte starting point of last year, but just as we didn’t recommend it then, we can say the same now if you’re going Plus.
In everything else data speeds were great over T-Mobile, and the experience of using this iPhone is as expected, with great fluidity in the user interface, and stutter-free performance when playing graphics intensive games.
This is also still the king of battery life for content consumption, going way over a day of heavy use, and about the only thing I don’t like is that it can take a few hours to charge.
Now I have to say, Apple should’ve at least left the headphone jack on the phablet as a Plus feature. There is more than enough space here, and the whole topic of fumbling around with adapters leads to a very cumbersome experience. Sure, Bluetooth is an option, but inline controls for the average Bluetooth solution is not friendly for phone calls.
Pricing & Availability
The tough part about going Plus is the price tag. This phone starts at a crazy $750 for the 32GB variant, and this is before taxes. If you want to step it up to other storage options like 128GB, that’s an extra $100, and add another Benjamin if you want 256GB. Once you add the price of your smartphone case, Apple Care+ if you use it, and any other minor accessory, you’re looking at around $1000. Yes, way too much money for a smartphone.
To conclude, I guess the last question left on the table is if it’s really worth it to get the iPhone 7 Plus. This is one expensive piece of hardware, and as useful as some of the features like the zoom lens in the camera can be, the early compromise of basics like a headphone jack is enough to cause controversy.
All this being said, you can’t deny that this is a great smartphone, and probably the most pleasant experience that I’ve had with an iPhone in a while, and notice I say iPhone. If you value a great experience for consuming content, insane battery life, a robust ecosystem, great customer service, and one of the best cameras in the industry, then I do recommend getting the iPhone 7 Plus. It truly is the best iPhone you can buy, and I know that actually means something for many people around the world that are already invested in the Apple ecosystem.
And hey, if you can’t or just don’t want to pay so much money, don’t worry. This is 2016, and the market is flooded with similar alternatives that can fit your needs. The iPhone 7 Plus is a great smartphone, but it’s not the only great smartphone in the world right now.