An innovative camera, great battery life, and a bigger screen make the iPhone 7 Plus the pragmatic buy for those looking a new iPhone. However, Apple's re-use of the 2014 iPhone 6 Plus design does make the iPhone 7 Plus feel a little dated, especially when compared to phones like the Google Pixel XL and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which both have the same-size screen in smaller bodies.
Outright Cost: From $1049
What Is It?
The iPhone 7 Plus is one of Apple's new flagship smartphones, succeeding last year's iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.
Once again, Apple launched two new handsets, the iPhone 7, and the iPhone 7 Plus. The 4.7-inch iPhone is the smaller of the two, while the iPhone 7 Plus is quite a bit larger thanks to its sizeable 5.5-inch display.
This review focuses solely on the iPhone 7 Plus. We've got a separate review of the smaller iPhone 7, which you can read here.
While Apple's move to a new number typically heralds a redesign, the iPhone 7 Plus is cut from the same mould introduced with the iPhone 6 Plus. There are a few differences - cleaner antenna lines, a more seamless camera bump, and of course, the controversial lack of a headphone - but the iPhone 7 Plus doesn't exactly look new. At the very least, the dual rear-camera setup will ensure onlookers know you're touting Apple's latest and greatest, whereas the smaller iPhone models are much harder to tell apart.
The iPhone 7 Plus might not look new, but it feels new. The dual camera is brilliant, the screen is brighter, expanded haptic feedback is oddly satisfying, and the phone is water-resistant. These are the kind of quality of life improvements that make a new number feel warranted.
Apple's decision to axe the iPhone 7 Plus' headphone jack is easily one of the most notable - well, notorious - changes that we've seen this year, but I'll get into the nitty gritty a little later. While the iPhone 7 Plus doesn't have a headphone jack, you've still got options: you can use Bluetooth headphones, your old headphones with a dongle, Lightning connector headphones (there's a pair in the box), or the iPhone 7 Plus' new stereo speakers.
The speakers aren't exactly amazing, but they're an improvement. At the very least, you don't have to reach for headphones (and a dongle) whenever you want to watch a video.
One of the iPhone 7 Plus's other big changes is a new home button; it looks the same, but feels completely different. This is because the home button isn't actually a button anymore. It's a capacitive area similar to the Force Touch trackpads found in newest Apple's MacBook laptops. Rather than physically clicking, it simulates the feeling of a click through haptics (tiny vibrations inside the phone). If your iPhone 7 Plus is off, the home button is a flat surface with no movement.
If you're coming from an older iPhone, this will be a bit weird at first. The "click" is convincing, but it's a much shallower feel. If you're not holding the phone, the haptic feedback is further subdued, but there's still some physical sensation. You do have some control over the intensity of this: Apple offers three different feedback settings of varying intensity. Personally, I prefer strongest setting, but the other two options still do the trick.
Along with the iPhone 7, the iPhone 7 Plus is Apple's first water-resistance smartphone. The iPhone 7 Plus is rated IP67, meaning it can safely be submerged as deep as one metre for up to half an hour. That's not quite as resistant as Samsung's 2016 flagship smartphones, but still water-resistant enough to survive a tumble into the toilet or the shallow end of a swimming pool. The feature is more about peace of mind, rather than an invitation to try and use the iPhone 7 Plus underwater. IP67 does however mean the phone is fine to use in the bath, for example.
Just make sure the water isn't too sudsy, because technically speaking, IP ratings only apply to fresh water. The iPhone 7 Plus should still survive encounters with salt water, chlorinated water, or even beer, you'll just want to rinse it off with freshwater as soon as possible.
It's worth noting that while the iPhone 7 Plus is water-resistant, Apple does not cover water damage under the phone's warranty. You also shouldn't charge the device when it's wet; it needs a couple of hours to dry out entirely following any aquatic adventures.
While the iPhone 7 Plus doesn't offer much new in terms of design, you've got the choice of two new color options: matte black, and jet black. Matte black replaces space grey, and to be honest, is very similar, just a touch darker.
Jet black, on the other hand, is a whole new kind of finish. It's still aluminium, but it's super glossy to the point where it can masquerade for glass. As a result, the jet black iPhone 7 Plus almost looks like a uniform black slab (the antenna bands are the only details that give it away, and even then, you have to be looking for them). Unsurprisingly, this turns the device into an even bigger fingerprint magnet.
One more disclaimer: due to the high gloss finish, any micro abrasions or scratches the phone picks up will be much more visible. Apple says that the jet black model is just as durable as any other iPhone, but the reflective surface means that wear and tear is much more noticeable. If scratches bother you, you'll want to spend a bit extra and grab a case, or alternatively, just opt for one of the four other colors.
Optical image stabilisation might not be Plus exclusive anymore, but larger iPhone owners still have a nifty camera feature to call their own; and it's a big one: the iPhone 7 Plus' dual lens rear-facing camera could very well be the future of smartphone photography.
While most smartphone cameras simply have one camera on the back, the iPhone 7 Plus has two. These can be used as two individual cameras to simulate optical zoom, or in tandem to get DSLR-like bokeh in your photos.
The zoom functionality is easily the more useful of the two new features, and feels like a meaningful step forward for smartphone photography. The first camera is the same as what you'll find in 4.7-inch iPhone 7 - the equivalent of a 28mm lens -, while the second is comparable to a 56mm. By swapping between the two, you're effectively able to zoom in without losing any image quality, as is the case with digital (or software) zoom. Tapping a button above the shutter swaps toggles between the two rear cameras.
Zoom isn't essential for day-to-day photography; sometimes I even forgot the feature was there, which is a testament to how versatile the iPhone's standard camera is. That being said, the zoom lens is incredible for those times when you can't actually get closer to your subject. For example, at a concert, or at the zoo. As someone who can regularly be found in the mosh pit of metal gigs, I managed to snap some fantastic photos that I simply wouldn't have gotten on any other phone thanks to the zoom lens. You probably won't use it every day, but the zoom lens is a very welcome addition to the smartphone photography toolkit.
Portrait mode - the new camera option that simulates DSLR-like bokeh (the soft out of focus areas behind a subject) - is nifty, but can be a little inconsistent. If you're shooting in a well-lit environment, you can get fantastic results. The software processing can mistake loose strands of hair for being part of the background, but for the most part, the resulting photos are convincing.
However, when you're shooting in a dimmer environment, the iPhone 7 Plus starts to struggle, even in conditions where the camera would normally excel. Photos lose detail, and pick up lots of noise. Admittedly the feature still is in beta, so hopefully Apple is able to address this with a future software update.
Of course, the iPhone 7 Plus camera is great, even when disregarding the new functionality. The primary camera's wider aperture of f/1.8 is boon for lowlight photography. This allows the iPhone 7 Plus to capture more light without dramatically lowering shutter speed or pumping ISO. As a result, you'll get sharper photos at night, without too much "noise". Samsung's S7 phones are able to capture brighter lowlight photos out of the box, but this often comes at the expense of shutter speed. The Samsung phones give you a brighter photo prone to motion blur, whereas the iPhone 7 Plus gives you a slightly darker but sharper image. In general, the iPhone 7 Plus takes more natural looking photos when compared to Samsung's sometimes over-saturated cameras.
In terms of performance, there's really not too much to say: the iPhone 7 Plus is one zippy device. I never experience a single instance of slowdown. Unless you're opening a more demanding app that actually needs to load (such as a game or creative tool), you'll be jumping between applications in the blink of an eye.
While smaller iPhones can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to battery life, the iPhone 7 Plus is up there with the very best; depending on how heavy your usage is, you might even be able to get through two days on a single charge. With my workload, I typically found the iPhone 7 Plus with about 45% left at the end a day. Not quite enough to make it through an entire second day, but a very comfortable buffer nonetheless.
As always, the iPhone 7 Plus has a lovely display. It works well outdoors (even in direct sunlight), has wide viewing angles, and offers vibrant colors. While a 1080p 5.5-inch display doesn't have quite as high a pixel density as the Quad HD displays found in other flagship devices, it doesn't make much of a difference in terms of sharpness and clarity.
The iPhone 7 Plus screen also doubles down on 3D Touch, a display technology Apple introduced with the iPhone 6s family. For those not familiar with it, 3D Touch is the clunky name Apple uses for its pressure sensitive displays. 3D Touch means the iPhone knows how hard you're pressing on it. The screen and software are capable of distinguishing between three pressure levels: a light tap, a medium push, and a hard press.
iOS 10 - the latest version of the iPhone operating system - has made 3D Touch a lot more useful. 3D Touching app icons still reveals shortcuts (a la right click on a PC or Mac), but it can also be used to display widgets. For example, you can 3D Touch the Calendar app to see your next appointment without having to open the app. Many will still find it easier to just open the app, but it's still a nifty feature that can speed up the overall iPhone user experience.
One of the big reasons for buying an iPhone is the tight relationship between hardware and software. Since Apple makes both the iPhone and its operating system, you get a more holistic experience than you do on most Android devices. The most practical benefit of this is guaranteed software and security updates. Historically speaking, iPhones have continued to receive updates for between four and five years after they first went on sale. Not only does this mean you're constantly getting Apple's latest and greatest software, it seems to positively affect iPhone resale value.
A new feature I've found myself enjoying is physical feedback within the iPhone's software. Performing certain tasks - like opening the control centre, using a scroll menu, or toggling an on / off switch - all result in a small vibration. This adds a bit of physicality to the software, and makes the iPhone display feel like more than just a sheet of glass. It doesn't quite transcend the realm of software, but the haptic feedback does help blur the line.
It's not at all necessary, but it's a neat little feature that I've found oddly satisfying.
Lastly, the iPhone 7 Plus now starts with 32GB of storage, rather than the paltry 16GB found in last year's model. It's a very welcome change, and a much more practical starting point. The iPhone 7 Plus is also available in 128GB and 256GB configurations, with the 64GB model getting the axe. 32GB might still be tight, depending on how many apps you own, how much music you want to physically store on your phone, and how often you're snapping photos, but you won't burn through it anywhere near as quickly as with 16GB.
What's Not So Good?
The iPhone 7 Plus is just a little too big. The 5.5-inch display is one culprit, but the iPhone 7 Plus feels even bigger thanks to the healthy amount of bezel surrounding the device. This means the iPhone 7 Plus feel a little less elegant the smaller iPhone 7, and makes one-handed usage a little trickier than say, with the Google Pixel XL or Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which both have the same screen-size in smaller bodies.
Given a new number typically heralds an iPhone redesign, it feels like Apple missed an opportunity to slim down iPhone 7 Plus. I don't expect Apple to change how the iPhone looks every two years - after all, there's only so much you can do with a smartphone - but at the same time, I would have liked to see Apple cut down on the amount of bezel.
If you can handle a big smartphone, the iPhone 7 Plus' lack of a headphone jack will potentially be your biggest concern, at least in the short term. Many of us have been using 3.5mm headphones with smartphones since the first iPhone, and while Bluetooth is becoming an increasingly popular option, I wouldn’t call wireless headphones "mainstream" yet.
To Apple's credit, it's trying to make the transition period easier. You get a less-than-ideal Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle in the box, as well as a pair of headphones that connect to the iPhone 7 Plus' Lightning connector. However, either option prevents you from charging the phone and listening to music at the same time (at least, without the use of -another- dongle).
If you decide to use the Lightning headphones Apple includes in the box, you'll potentially face the hassle of carrying around two pairs of headphones; one set for your iPhone 7 Plus, and another set for your computer. After all, no PC or Mac has a Lightning connector.
While both the dongle and Lightning headphones work, Bluetooth is the ideal option. It's just a shame that Apple didn't throw a basic pair of wireless headphones into the box. Especially when you consider that the iPhone 7 Plus is one of the most expensive outright smartphone purchases you can make. The iPhone 7 Plus starts at $1,049 if you're after a 32GB model, $1,179 for 128GB, and tops out at $1,309 for 256GB.
Even if you're looking at a contract, picking an iPhone 7 Plus will add a healthy chunk on top of your monthly phone bill. While I wouldn't call the iPhone 7 Plus unreasonably expensive, it certainly is a big investment. Doubly so if you want the 256GB model.
Who's It For?
In some ways, the iPhone 7 Plus is the more pragmatic buy when looking at 2016 iPhones; you get a bigger screen, a better battery, and a fancier camera. The trade-off? A higher price-tag and a less alluring device. If you want the latest and greatest Apple has to offer, the iPhone 7 Plus is for you, but the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 will get you most of the way there, but in a more convenient form-factor.
If you're an Apple fan on an iPhone 5s or older, now is probably a good time for an upgrade. If you're still using an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, the question of whether to move to an iPhone 7 Plus is a bit trickier. The iPhone 6 is still a great phone, and next year's iPhone is tipped to be a bit more exciting (as it will be celebrating the iPhone's 10th anniversary). At the same time, the iPhone 7 Plus offers 3GB of RAM, whereas the iPhone 6 only has 1GB.
3GB of RAM allows the iPhone 7 Plus to maintain suspended states of multiple apps simultaneously. This means that if you're in Safari reading WhistleOut, you can jump over to Twitter, then catch up on Instagram, play a few rounds of Hearthstone, and then return to Safari without waiting for anything to reload. Even if you're only using the basic apps that come with your iPhone, 3GB of RAM significantly speeds up the iPhone experience.
If you’re an Android user, the iPhone 7 Plus probably isn't quite as alluring as the Pixel XL or Galaxy S7 Edge, but there are still a few reasons to consider swapping. The iPhone 7 Plus could be a good buy if you're upset about Android's lack of regular software updates (although the Pixel family also addresses this problem), want to finally have a blue bubble around your text messages, or own other Apple devices. If you're thinking about making the switch from Android to iPhone, you will have to repurchase any paid apps. Subscription services such as Spotify or Netflix will keep working across phones though.
What Else Can I Buy?
iPhone 6s Plus
If you prefer your iPhone with a headphone jack, you should be looking at iPhone 6s Plus. Last year's iPhones are still tier-one devices with fast performance and great cameras. You'll miss out on new features like water-resistance and the dual-lens camera, but you'll get to keep on using your old 3.5mm headphones for a little bit longer. History suggests the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus will continue to see software updates for another four or so years, so the devices still have some life left in them.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
If you're happy to look at the other side of the fence, the S7 Edge is one of the very best devices Android has to offer. You get a 5.5-inch display in a smaller form-factor than the iPhone 7 Plus, top-tier camera, IP68 water-resistance, expandable storage, and a hefty battery life.
Assuming you're happy enough with Android, there's two potential deal breakers. The S7 Edge uses "dual curve" display, where the left and right sides both taper off. While this creates the illusion of an edge-to-edge display and makes the S7 Edge easier to use one handed, it might not be to everyone's liking. The curved display doesn't change day-to-day usage, though. Secondly, the S7 Edge is a fingerprint magnet. Whether you get black, silver, gold, or pink gold, the back is going to get grimey fast.
Google Pixel XL
Google's Pixel smartphones are ostensibly the iPhones of the Android world. Tight hardware-software integration gives you the best of Android on hardware actually designed by the same company who makes the operating system. While a gorgeous display, great camera, and speedy performance are all wins, the Pixel XL further differentiates itself from the unwashed Android masses with the fact it will actually receive software updates directly from Google. And on time.
Huawei's P9 is a cheaper alternative to the likes of the latest Apple and Samsung flagship, but is still premium enough to be a considering a flagship in its own right. The P9 beat the iPhone to a dual camera setup, and while it's not quite as polished as Apple's implementation, it still takes stunning photos. The biggest caveat is a heavily customized version of Android - that's almost designed to make the P9 software look more like an iPhone - but this might not be a problem if you're swapping. The familiarity could help ease the change.