Iíve been using my iPhone 7 Plus for a few weeks now and since I donít have time for a full review, I thought Iíd share some observations and compare it with my 6s Plus.
First off, Apple finally ditching the 16GB base model. These days, you can do so much with a Smartphone, itís irresponsible to sell such an expensive phone with such a skimpy storage configuration. Itís like selling a minivan that only has 1 seat in it.
Models start with 32GB which is a useful start. The other configurations have 128 and 256GB of storage, up from the 6s Plusí 64 and 128GB respectively, at the the same price points, which in a way, makes them a better deal - if you could call a $1000+ phone a good deal.
While the 6s Plus is a well put together phone with pretty much no gaps, I was always a little leary of using it in the rain. So, to me the biggest improvement with the 7 Plus is the water resistance. While I donít plan on going swimming with it, the resistance adds some piece of mind.
I guess you could use it in the shower to play music but keep in mind that the screen tends to go crazy when it gets wet. From the phoneís perspective, water droplets on the screen make it think there are a bunch of fingers touching it all at once.
The other day my toddler was playing with my phone and got food all over it. The beauty of a water resistant phone is that you can just wash it when it gets dirty.
As with anything that is water resistant but not ruggedized, all bets are off if you drop it and it gets damaged so be careful!
While the 7 Plus looks a lot like the 6 Plus and 6s Plus there are some differences with the body that make it incompatible with some of their cases and screen protectors.
The camera bulge is now quite a bit larger and located lower on the back. In front, the earpiece opening has been widened and the front-facing camera is in a slightly different spot.
The headphone jack is now gone from the bottom and now there are more holes over the microphone on the bottom.
You get 2 new finishes; Apple has replaced the space grey model with a matte black one ďBlackĒ and a shiny black one ďJet BlackĒ. I wonít dwell on the fact that most black jet planes are actually matte (SR71, B2, etc) while shiny black finishes are usually called piano black.
Apparently, the jet black is causing a lot of excitement but to me itís nothing new; my old iPhone 3G and 3Gs had shiny, err jet black backs.
Apparently, the shiny black back is prone to scratches - not unlike my old 3G and 3Gs. I actually picked up a Jet Black and stuck it in a case. After 2 months in my pocket, I see some minor scratches on the back. I also dropped it on some gravel (I was biking) and thereís a very tiny ding on the camera bump that looks like dust. Iíd say so far itís held up better than I was expecting. Mind you I also covered my entire 7 Plus in with Crystal Tech Nano liquid screen protector so that may have helped to keep the scratches away.
Turn it up to 11:
Iíve thought that the iPhone has fallen behind some of its Android competitors in the speaker department so I was really looking forward to the 7 Plus.
The 7 Plus boasts a more powerful speaker setup where you can now use both the bottom speaker and the earpiece at the same time when listening to music. This makes it a sort of stereo setup though the bottom speaker is responsible more for the bass while the front firing one is more for treble. When I use the term bass, I use it very loosely as no phone really has that much bass.
Since the earpiece functions as a tweeter of sorts, it allows for much clearer and powerful highs. Itís the same setup as the HTC 10. In theory, this is a good setup, higher frequencies are much more directional so having them firing out the front instead of the bottom is a good idea.
However, when it comes to lower frequencies, the 7 has the same amount of bass as the 6s Plus. I mean the 6s Plus isnít terrible in this regard but like I said, compared to the Nexus 6P itís not close.
The big problem is that since the bass is unchanged and the treble now has a huge boost is that the 7 Plus can sound a tad tinny at times. To be fair, most of the time it sounds fine but occasionally it feels like the treble is a bit too boosted/over emphasized.
A Blast from the Past:
The home button which has been found on every iPhone since the original is now replaced with a fixed one that doesnít press in. Instead it now relies on haptics - a fancy way of saying it uses a motor to to simulate a button press by vibrating. So when you ďpressĒ the button, the phone vibrates in a way so that it feels like itís going in. It takes some getting used to in that the button feels slightly less responsive but after using it a few times youíd swear the button is actually going in.
Since weíre talking about haptics, Iím going to sequay and mention my nearly 10 year old Motorola ROKR E6. Instead of physical buttons, the keypad is capacitive and relies on haptics to simulate presses. It worked amazingly well.
I wouldnít be surprised if future iPhones contained more haptic motors (Apple calls them taptic engines), maybe one in each corner so that the phone feels like itís being pressed in whenever you use the force touch feature.
One Camera? Make it Double:
As is becoming more common, the 7 Plus comes with 2 rear-facing cameras instead of just one. The first camera is like the one you find on previous iPhones. Itís a widish, approx 30mm lens with phase detection autofocus and optical image stabilization. Iím not sure if the sensor is different but the lens aperture has been widened to f/1.8, up from f/2.2. The net result is that low light performance should be slightly better.
However, the real story is the other camera. In general, there are 3 different kinds of dual-camera setups. A few years ago during the 3D fad, some phones had identical cameras which were used to capture 3D images.
Later, the dual camera phones used the second one to map the distance of points in a scene. It would then pass this info onto software so that it could selectively blur out the background to simulate the effect youíd get on a camera with a much, much larger sensor.
The latest setup is to now have 2 different focal lengths. The setup on the LG G5 has a super wide 16ish mm lens along with a regular wide angle 28mm lens. While the super-wide angle makes for some very interesting photos, I find that most of the time itís not that useful because the extremely wide angle isnít always appropriate.
The iPhone 7 Plus uses the 2 cameras in a hybrid setup of the last 2 I mentioned. You get a regular 30ish mm lens and a second one thatís around 60mm.
The idea is that if you frame your subject properly, using the second lens turns your photo into a portrait.
The reach also makes it useful if you want to get in a little closer without having to actually walk closer or resort to using the digital zoom which degrades image quality.
"Zoom" lens with Faux-keh
The 60mm ďzoomĒ camera can also use the regular camera to blur out the background. They call it ďBokehĒ on regular large sensor cameras. I call the 7 Plusí Bokeh, ďFaux-kehĒ.
Unlike other phones with Faux-keh (ZTE Axon Pro, HTC One M8), the 7 Plus tries to show the background blur in real time. However, in order for it to do this you need to be a certain distance from your subject so that itís able to calculate the blur. The ZTE Axon Pro calculates the blur after the fact, so thereís quite a delay before youíre able to see it. Still, the Axon Pro allows you to select how blurry the background is - the 7 Plus doesnít have this option.
The Faux-keh works well and I actually find myself using a lot more than I thought I would. I hope Apple is able to add Faux-keh to videos sometime in the future.
As for image quality, if you read Appleís iPhone 7 page, youíll notice that they only claim that the camera is faster. Indeed, teardowns indicate that the 7 Plus camera is still sporting 1.22um sized pixels. Samsung has 1.4um sized pixels on the GS7/Note 7 cameras while the Nexus 6P and HTC 10 are 1.55um.
Letís do some math. Each pixel on the iPhone 7ís sensor is 1.22 x 1.22um so it has a surface area of 1.48 um2. The pixels on a GS7 are 1.96um2 while the HTC 10 is 2.40um2.
I never thought Iíd say this phrase; but size matters - at least when it comes to pixel size on a camera sensor. All else being equal, the iPhone is at a huge disadvantage here. Its pixels have almost 40% less light gathering area of the HTC 10ís sensor. I blame the super thin body for them being stuck with such a relatively puny sensor.
Anyways, thereís more to image quality than the sensor size, you also have lens, stabilization and image processing thrown into the mix. With all that in mind. I donít think the iPhone 7 Plusí regular camera is all that different than the 6s Plus. I donít have any formal testing to quantify how good either is but I took some test shots and both are pretty close to each other. Iíve had some shots where the 6s Plus looks better but in general the 7 Plus is better. So, itís not a huge step forward and at best is a mild improvement.
As for the ďzoomĒ lens, it sports a f/2.8 lens vs f/1.8 on the regular camera. The larger the f-stop number, the smaller the opening in the lens which means less light hits the sensor.
To make things worse, your shots are more susceptible to camera shake the closer a lens gets you to a subject. This is why people who go on safari and take pictures of animals from far away with a super long lens have to use a tripod with their camera. Sometimes companies add image stabilization to counter this but I donít think the 7 Plus has IS on the ďzoomĒ lens.
To compensate for the shake, the 7 Plus has to use faster shutter speeds which means even less light hits the sensor.
These 2 factors mean the Ďzoomí camera is clearly worse in low light. Thereís less detail because the 7 Plus has to compensate for the lack of light by boosting the sensitivity of the sensor which causes more noise. They then have to remove the noise which also removes detail.
Exasperating this situation is the fact that the ďzoomĒ lens is used to get closer to your subject. This sort of amplifies any noise or flaws caused by the lower image quality.
Still, it does fine when thereís enough light. I find myself using it a lot more than I thought it would as having the zoom gives me some added versatility, because I usually avoid using the digital zoom due to the degradation it causes to image quality. With a dedicated zoom lens there is far less degradation.
The fact that it lacks optical image stabilization also means that video taken with the zoom lens is going to be significantly shakier. If you plan on shooting a lot of video with it, I recommend you get a nice chunky case to give you more to hold onto, stay still or just stick to the regular stabilized lens.
The front facing camera gets a much needed bump to 7 megapixels. Image quality is a bit better and the angle is a little wider than I remember the 6s Plus being.
The battery size has been bumped up to 2900mAh, up from 2615mAh and the battery life has increased correspondingly. Battery life is good - unless youíre a hardcore Pokemon Go Player in which case youíll still have to hang onto your portable battery pack.
Fast, Faster, Fasterist:
You get Appleís latest A10 Fusion SoC, Apple claims it has up to 40% more graphics performance and 50% faster CPU.
Indeed while the 7 Plus feels faster than the 6s Plus, neither phones feels slow.
To me, the bigger difference is that you now get 3GB of RAM on the Plus model (2GB on the regular ď7Ē) which means smooth multitasking because fewer apps will restart when you switch between them.
The screen has 2 key improvements; a wider color gamut but the real difference thatís noticeable is that itís much brighter at maximum.
The extra screen brightness isnít going to be that useful indoors but outdoors it should be a blessing when youíre looking at the screen in direct sunlight. As great as AMOLED screens are, outdoor viewing is an area where LCD displays are still far ahead.
As for the increased colour gamut, while Iím sure thereís a difference - aside from whites being slightly different on the 7 Plusí photos itís not all that different..
The most talked about new feature is actually more of itís lack of one - yes, Iím talking about the headphone jack. Keeping out such a basic feature is sure to polarize users. Personally I donít really care as I own a couple of pairs of Bluetooth headphones which Iím happy with. In fact, I was never crazy about using wired headphones as I found they usually got in the way. Theyíd usually fly off my head when I accidentally got the wires caught in something or worse yet - my phone would go flying.
Still, keeping out such a simple and useful feature seems unnecessary if you ask me. Apple says they removed it so that they could add the 7ís haptics in. Is trading a headphone jack for haptics a good deal? I dunno...
Anyways, if you want to use wired headphones Apple includes a lightning connector to 3.5mm headphone jack in the box. Itís not an ideal solution as the lightning connector isnít round so the adapter is going to take a beating as it inevitably gets twisted around.
As a Phone:
I didnít do any head-to-head comparisons but I get the feeling that my 7 Plus connects to LTE far less than my 6s Plus did. Itís really quite annoying and aside from the high price tag is probably the worst thing about it.
Itís like it has a new type of LTE; LTE-C as in Lucky to Ever Connect.
Overall, the 7 Plus is a worthwhile upgrade solely because it ships with more useful storage configurations. The processor performance is top-notch and while the camera image quality isnít a huge a step forward and now lags behind some Android counterparts the versatility of the zoom camera makes up for it - mostly.
The screen lacks the pop of an AMOLED display but itís probably the best on the market if youíre outdoors. The more powerful speaker is aÖ Plus.
As for the lack of headphone jack, it doesnít bother me too much but as the saying goes; Your Mileage May Vary.
Really, aside from the high price, the only thing about the 7 Plus that really annoys me is the wonky LTE reception. I use it on Rogers which usually has usable LTE signal outdoors and yet there are times when Iím stuck on HSPA+ or even 3G.
- More powerful speaker
- Brighter screen
- Increased battery life
- Second camera is useful
- More useful base memory configuration
- Still very expensive
- No headphone jack
- Wonky LTE reception