Between its blistering processor and the longest battery life we’ve seen from this generation of smartphones, the iPhone 7 Plus is a joy to use.
If you need a new iPhone, you needn’t look further; there may not be anything revolutionary in the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, but that doesn’t make it any less fantastic.
Apple’s latest phablet takes the familiar iPhone formula and tweaks it once again. It’s not going to wow you with a new design or massive innovations, but the iPhone 7 Plus is a great phone. It offers everything the iPhone 7 does – speedy performance, water resistance, loud speakers, great cameras – but adds some clever features that in many are more important than flashy specs.
On the other hand, the 7 Plus costs a small fortune. The weakened pound means this is the most expensive iPhone we’ve ever seen released in the UK. If you’re dead set on an iPhone, though, this is the one I’d recommend, not least because the iPhone 7 Plus’s battery life is excellent.
At a glance, the iPhone 7 Plus looks like an iPhone 6s Plus. It has the exact same 5.5-inch, 1080p display; the same wide bezels; and the same rounded edges. Visually, there are only three modifications you’re likely to notice: a newly available finish, rearranged antenna lines and the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The shape and feel of the iPhone 7 Plus is very much like that of the two versions before it. It’s big – properly big – especially when you add a case to it.
Yes, it has an expansive screen, but it’s the iPhone 7 Plus’s height that makes it a handful.
If you haven’t used a phablet before, it’s worth testing out first. I found it takes about a week to get accustomed to a larger phone, but I wouldn’t go back. There’s just so much more you can do with a screen this size, but some will struggle to use it easily.
Of course, the change most people are likely to notice has little to do with aesthetics and a lot to do with usability. Apple has done away with the 7 Plus’ headphone jack, opting instead to include earphones that connect through the charging port and an adapter that works with your current pair of 3.5mm headphones. Dropping the jack freed up space in the phone that, after some rearranging, went toward its improved cameras and larger battery.
The tradeoff may not have been worth it. Yes, analog headphones jacks are a dated technology, but they’re also cheap and ubiquitous. You can buy earbuds that will work on your smartphone just about anywhere. Now you’re forced to either make use of an additional dongle, buy new headphones that can connect via the Lightning port or go wireless – fun, but expensive and charged separately. No longer can you listen to music while charging your phone up. And since Apple still hasn’t integrating rapid charging into its batteries, it can take a while to refuel.
Apple’s approach for the iPhone 7 Plus? One sensor for close-up snaps, and another for zooming in on the action. It’s a genius idea that has a genuine effect on the shots you take. This ain’t no gimmick.
So how does it work? Well, hop into the camera app and you’ll find a new 1x icon at the bottom of the screen. Tap it and you’ll switch from the f/1.8 wide angle sensor to the f/2.8 telephoto, for 2x optical zoom. You can tap and hold, then drag up or down to digitally zoom in up to 10x. Optical image stabilisation goes a long way to keeping your shots steady, even when you’re zoomed in, so you’ll be able to pap unsuspecting wildlife without spooking them, or get closer to the action at a gig without having to brave the moshpit.
Bear in mind though that the optical zoom only works up to 2x, and that even Apple’s legendary image processing can’t rescue the detail that gets lost once you start dialling up the digital zoom. As you’d expect, results at 10x look a bit too fuzzy to print, especially when you’re in the middle of a crowd of EDM ravers, but it’s still handy to use as a set of mobile binoculars.
On specs alone, Apple’s cameras aren’t remotely groundbreaking, but with the processor working furiously behind the scenes, the 7 Plus can deliver clearer, crisper photos with a wider color gamut than almost any other phone on the market. Especially on the device’s large screen, they look brilliant.
If the heart of a smartphone is its processor, then the iPhone 7 Plus has a beastly pump. Apple’s custom-designed A10 Fusion chip is faster than its predecessors in every way, and it shows in day-to-day use. There’s no part of the iOS 10 interface that isn’t fluid and snappy, nor a task that seems to take too long to complete. Yet the real benefit of the new processor isn’t its power so much as its lack of power draw.
Of course, when it needs to pump out the pixels, the Fusion chip can more than manage. We run every smartphone we review through an onslaught of synthetic and real-world benchmarks, and the results here were staggering; the A10 Fusion set the new high bar for performance, managing an average score of 36,711 in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test and an average of 5,507 in Geekbench 4. That’s really, really fast.
There’s good news and bad news on the storage front. Apple still hasn’t bothered to build an expandable storage slot into the iPhone 7 Plus, so you can’t use a microSD card to beef up its capacity like you can with most Android phones. On the other hand, Apple has increased the size of its built-in storage tiers. The cheapest 7 Plus comes with 32GB of onboard storage. The next level jumps all the way to 128GB, or you can spring for an impressive 256GB. That last size is larger than any other onboard storage option we’ve seen from top smartphones, though it’s priced at a premium.
The iPhone 7 Plus benefits from its bigger screen, as that means Apple can pack a larger cell into the chassis. Whereas the iPhone 6s Plus had a 2750 mAh battery, the 7 Plus has a full 2900 mAh cell – one of the benefits of removing the headphone jack.
Combined with the A10 Fusion chip’s optimizations, which hand off easy tasks to less power-intensive cores, this increase in battery size makes for fantastic longevity. The 7 Plus reached 10 hours 38 minutes in our web browsing battery test. That’s almost two hours longer than Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S7 and well over two hours longer than Apple’s own 6s Plus.
If you’re about to buy a brand-new flagship phone, then the iPhone 7 plus is such a polarizing device, more so than any iPhone that preceded it. Yes, there will always be Mac cultists who have to have the latest iPhone. There will always be Android purists who shun everything Apple. But in the middle are the rest of us, those smartphone buyers who want the best user experience we can afford. The iPhone 7 plus is, by and large, that top-tier experience, which is why we’ve elevated it in our smartphone rankings and recommend it for most people. There’s no better camera or faster processor in the world right now, and its much-extended battery life is an absolute lifesaver.