I needed a new phone for a few reasons. First, I have been bouncing between a couple of phones over the last year. Specifically, the Apple iPhone 5s and Apple iPhone 6. Second, I wanted a phone with more storage as 16GB (the iPhone 6) doesn’t come close to cutting it from a storage perspective and 32GB (the iPhone 5s) is usable but doesn’t give you much runway for the future. Finally, I wanted a bigger screen as that would be much easier on the eyes as using a 4″ screen when you have 40+ year old eyes which also are affected by Keratoconus isn’t workable. But a 4.7″ screen at the very least is workable. After much deliberation and even enlisting the help of my followers on Twitter, I got an Apple iPhone 7 Plus unlocked from the Apple store. Specifically the matte black 128GB model. I went for 128GB because that would give me the room for whatever I needed to install or store on the phone for the next couple of years that I own the phone. But you’re likely asking “why did you go for the Plus model?” The answer is a bit more complicated.
The first reason is the screen. Now Apple was late to the game when it came to a big screen “phablet” style phone. But at least in the iPhone 7 Plus, that delay seems to have been worth it. The 5.5″ screen does 1080p and colors are sharp and vibrant. Plus text is easier to read and I really appreciate that the entire user interface rotates when I rotate the phone from portrait to landscape. That helps to make this the “device to rule them all” that those in the market for a “phablet” are looking for.
The second reason is battery life. This thing lasts and lasts and lasts. For example, I can easily make it through a full day with plenty of charge to spare. As in something north of 65% of a charge. That’s something that I was never able to do with any other iPhone that I’ve owned. On top of that, when I use apps like Runtastic Pro to measure my efforts while cross country skiing, the battery hit after a two hour workout still leaves me with a 70% charge. Of course the fact that this is a bigger phone allowed Apple to shove a bigger battery into it, which of course helps with that. But you have to imagine that there are some power saving tweaks that work into getting results like this as well.
Now over to the size of the phone. One of the main reasons why I have resisted getting a phone with a screen over 5″ is that I always thought it would be difficult to hold and use. Having used the iPhone 7 Plus for a week, I can say that I was mostly wrong. It is easy to hold and use for the most part. And the fact that Apple has a gesture called Reachability that slides the entire user interface downwards so that you can get to the top part of the screen one handed helps greatly. It also fits into loose fitting pants fine, but is snug in shirt pockets. I also had issues popping it into my cross country ski jacket which has pockets at the back that now just hold the phone without becoming uncomfortable. I should also mention that the phone is lighter than I anticipated which is welcome as I try to travel light whenever possible.
I can’t review this phone without touching on the one thing that caused the Internet to explode when it was announced. The removal of the headphone jack which apparently required courage on the part of Apple to do. Apple claims to have done this to facilitate IP67 water and dust resistance (in the case of water it means submersion in up to 1 metre of water for 30 minutes as opposed to being waterproof). And Apple would rather that you use wireless headsets like the AirPods or BeatsX which leverages their new W1 chipset which makes using headsets that support this chipset painless, or a set of Bluetooth headsets
to extract more cash from your bank account. To be fair, Apple did include a Lightning to 3.5 mm adapter in the box which of course won’t help you if you want to listen to music and charge the phone at the same time without resorting to using a dongle like this one. This is likely to create two camps. One will go the wireless route and not complain. I however am in the other camp who won’t do that because I often take flights that last 14+ hours where I often listen to music while charging the phone. Most wireless headsets won’t last that long. Thus on my next flight I suspect I will be living the dongle life. Plus I will not replace my great sounding RHA’s that I own simply because Apple thinks I should.
Other things that changed include the lack of a physical home button that does Touch ID. Instead, you get a “button” with haptic feedback. Meaning a fake button click is generated to fool you into thinking that you pressed a real button. This is the expansion of the 3D Touch features that were introduced with the iPhone 6s series which I am using for the first time and I growing to like. You can customize the feel of it and once you get used to it, you don’t really notice it. But it is kind of weird for the first day or so. You also get dual speakers on this iPhone as well. They are loud, but there’s very little if any stereo separation. Likely because they are too close together which is understandable. They’re decent, but the lack a bit on the low end. Thus audiophiles will want to invest in quality external speakers and use the built in ones in a pinch.
Performance from the iPhone 7 Plus is pretty impressive. It has the new A10 Fusion core processor which has four cores. But it doesn’t use all four of them at once. Two of the cores are powerful and used for things like 3D gaming, multitasking and the like. The other two are low powered and are used for less demanding tasks. But it all comes together very nicely to make the iPhone 7 Plus the fastest iOS device I’ve ever used. Particularly with games. The fact that the iPhone 7 Plus also comes with 3GB of RAM which is 1GB more than the iPhone 7 comes with likely helps with that.
The biggest change is the camera. Both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus utilize the same rear facing 12-megapixel camera and front facing 7 megapixel camera. They can take 1080P and 4K video and Apple has jacked up the brightness on the flash too. Finally, both models include optical image stabilization (OIS). But things get more interesting with the iPhone 7 Plus as it has a second telephoto lens that serves two purposes:
- 2x optical zoom function as opposed to doing “math” to simulate zooming in which can negatively affect the quality of the picture.
- It allows for “Portrait Mode.” By capturing photos with both lenses simultaneously and analyzing data from the resulting images, the iPhone 7 Plus can create a blurred background effect similar to what you get when shooting portraits with a DSLR camera.
So, how well does this all work? To find out, I first went to Pearson Airport in Toronto to shoot some stills and video. First let’s look at some stills. Click to enlarge:
Now here’s a video shot in 4k resolution. One thing to note is that you can take stills at the same time you are shooting video. Set it to full screen and 4K to view:
Back to the stills. Here’s two more stills to demonstrate portrait mode. First one with portrait mode. Click to enlarge:
And the same picture without portrait mode. Click to enlarge:
The difference between the two is easy to spot if you look at the legs of the woman in the top center of the photo.
In the end, the iPhone 7 Plus is clearly the iPhone Apple wants in your hands and that goes beyond the fact that Apple makes more money on each one that they sell. It’s also because the iPhone 7 Plus is pretty much better than the iPhone 7 in every way possible. Camera, speed, screen, it’s all top shelf stuff. If you have to choose between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, go for the latter unless you find it too big for you in terms of size or price seeing as my particular iPhone 7 Plus is $1179 CDN. Trust me, you will not regret it. At least not until the next iPhone comes out.