Apple iPhone 7 full review

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Launching a phone that looks exactly like the last two is perhaps not the best way to get buyers excited, but Apple has made a few significant upgrades to the iPhone 7 which should appeal. But is it enough? Let's find out.

If you're unsure of the differences between the latest two models, see our iPhone 7 vs iPhone 7 Plus comparison, and you can see how the iPhone 7 stacks up against the competition in our best phones chart. Not sure whether to upgrade? Also see iPhone 7 vs iPhone 6S.

iPhone 7 review: Price

The iPhone 7 starts at £599, which is the base 32GB model, then there's a big jump to 128GB (£699) and the capacious 256GB version goes up another £100, making £799 - all from Apple's online shop. These are higher than the iPhone 6S prices were, but don't forget that storage is doubled in each model.

It's great that the 16GB base model has finally been ditched, and 32GB is a very usable amount for most people. But don't forget that it's not easy to add to this. Unlike most Android phones, the iPhone offers no microSD card slot.

Clearly this is a flagship phone, so no-one should be shocked by the prices and few people will buy it outright anyway. Apple offers its upgrade program which lets you get a new phone every year, but even the 32GB model costs £33.45 per month and that doesn't include a SIM plan. Plus, it's basically a rental agreement: you hand back the phone when you get your upgrade in a year's time.

Buy it on contract and you'll pay over £40 per month, usually with a small upfront fee. Again, that's the base 32GB model.

iPhone 7 review: Design

iPhone 7 review

With the iPhone 6 and 6S before it, little is left to say about the iPhone 7's design. Its rounded edges feel great - the glass screen curves to meet the aluminium body perfectly - and it's thin yet solid in the hand.

If you really know your iPhones, you'll also notice the lack of antenna lines running across the back. They haven't gone completely - they now just run around the top and bottom edges and on our silver test phone, they're hardly noticeable at all.

Dimensions and weight are the same, or as near as makes no difference. Most iPhone 6/6s cases will fit the iPhone 7. The camera bump is different (it's now part of the chassis itself) and there are now four LEDs crammed into the circle next to the lens.

The news this year is that there's no headphone jack. Well, not in the traditional sense. Now you plug your EarPods into the Lightning port instead, or you can use the Lightning-to-3.5mm minijack if you prefer to use normal headphones.

iPhone 7 review

Is it a problem? Not really, until you want to use headphones and charge the phone at the same time. You can either buy another adaptor which costs £35 and gives you two Lightning ports. 

There are three new colours to choose, both of which replace Space Grey. Black (shown below) is the most similar - it's just black instead of grey.

Jet Black is more eye-catching - the aluminium chassis is polished until it's perfectly glossy and doesn't even feel like metal any more. It's the high-maintenance choice, though. Touch it and the finish is immediately marred by your fingerprints; move it across a table and it will inevitably pick up tiny scratches.

iPhone 7 review

On 21 March, Apple announced a third new colour: the (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition, the proceeds of which go towards the global fight against HIV and AIDS.

Bear in mind that there's no 32GB Jet Black or PRODUCT(RED) models, so £699 is the cheapest option here.

iPhone 7 (Product)RED Special Edition

Home button

One other subtle design change is the solid home button. It doesn't move, but is instead more like a touchpad, recognising a tap or a touch. To make it feel like you're pressing it, there's new haptic feedback - the strength of which you can customise - and it's amazingly convincing. In fact, the bigger 'Taptic Engine' is put to good use with haptics throughout iOS 10.

iPhone 7 review

When you swipe to delete an email you feel the slightest 'click' and when you roll the number dials to set a time or date, it really feels like you're manipulating a click wheel.

The new home button makes one less place for water to ingress, but it does present a drawback: it doesn't work if you're wearing gloves or if you push it with a fingernail. Minor issues, granted.

Waterproofing

The iPhone 7 is rated to IP67, which means you can take it 1m underwater for 30 minutes. That's a first for an Apple product, and it isn't simply for the accident-prone. While it will undoubtedly survive being dropped in the bath (which gives you peace of mind around water), it opens up new uses such as underwater photos and video. No need to buy a GoPro, then.

It's interesting that, while you could say that the iPhone 7 is late to the pool party, Sony's latest Xperia range isn't water-resistant. That really is a step backwards.

Screen

Given the flagship pricing, you might think the 1334x750-pixel screen is a disappointment. Far from it. Yes, it is the same resolution Apple has always used for the 4.7in iPhone and yes, you can buy phones with 2560x1440 resolutions for less, but this all misses the point: 326 pixels per inch is plenty. It was plenty when the iPhone 4 came out, and it's plenty today.

It would make more sense to criticise the technology, since IPS LCD is - in many people's opinion - inferior to AMOLED. But the iPhone 7's screen has a bigger colour gamut than the 6S, and it's also brighter. Side by side the differences are easy to see, and this is certainly one of the best IPS screens you'll find on a phone.

iPhone 7 review

Speakers

We’d previously thought that the space freed up by taking away the headphone jack would be used for a second speaker, but Apple has done a better job than that. The earpiece speaker is now a proper loudspeaker and means the iPhone 7 has left and right speakers when held in landscape mode. This is ideal for watching videos and playing games in this orientation. Apps such as Magic Piano also benefit from the new setup.

It’s louder than previous iPhones, too, although it’s still not a substitute for a decent Bluetooth speaker.

iPhone 7 review: Performance

Another improvement is the A10 Fusion processor. The iPhone 7 is the first Apple phone to get a quad-core CPU. Like many Android phones, it uses two low-power cores when you're doing undemanding tasks such as creating a new calendar appointment, but when you load up a graphically intensive game, it switches to a pair of much more powerful cores to give you the best performance.

iPhone 7 review

In general use, the iPhone 7 feels no faster than the 6S. But both are exceptionally slick devices, so it's hardly a criticism. Plus, a faster processor means the iPhone 7 will be able to handle future iOS releases better than its predecessors and developers can use the full power to make games look even better.

We have to resort to benchmarks to see if Apple's '40 percent faster' claims are true. It depends on which benchmark you use, of course, but overall, yes, the iPhone 7 is around 40 percent quicker.

When it comes to games, the 7 is also fantastically quick. It manages to max out the GFXBench Manhattan test at 60fps, just as it does with the older T-Rex test. As a comparison, Huawei's P9 manages just 19fps in Manhattan.

Battery life is meant to be better than the 6S, but in our testing we simply haven’t seen it. Having perhaps been spoiled by the excellent battery life of the 6S Plus, moving to the iPhone 7 is a bit of a shock. In line with our colleagues over at Macworld, we’ve not yet been able to make it through 24 hours without needing the charger.

If you use your phone, as we do, constantly throughout the day, you’ll be lucky to make it to 10pm without the battery percentage dropping into low single digits. A small power bank is an essential accessory if you’re out and about all day.

iPhone 7 review: Cameras

One of the iPhone 7’s biggest upgrades is its cameras. Although it might sound like marketing hype, the main camera has been completely upgraded. The sensor is new, as is the lens. It may have the same resolution as the 6S – 12Mp – but this is valuable and noticeable improvement.

iPhone 7 review

How so? Well, the sensor supports a wider colour gamut (as does the screen) and the lens has an aperture of f/1.8. That lets in 50 percent more light than the f/2.2 lens on the 6S.

Plus, this is the first time Apple has put optical stabilisation in the smaller iPhone, which markedly improves sharpness in low light photos.

Add to this the new image processor and you can expect very, very, good-looking photos from the iPhone 7. In fact, it’s one of the best cameras we’ve ever seen on a smartphone and it’s up there with the Galaxy S7 (and Note 7).

Sharpness is very good across the lens, and colours are – as we’ve come to expect from Apple – accurately rendered. Focus is fast thanks to those ‘focus pixels’ (otherwise known as phase detection pixels) and the camera app defaults to auto HDR so will take several photos and combine them if there’s high contrast in the scene.

We found in our testing that the camera almost always got white balance spot on, and exposures were also generally very good. Even in low light, there’s very little noise, while in bright light, aretefacts are much reduced compared to the 6S. Here are a few samples (resized down to 2Mp but otherwise untouched):

iPhone 7 review - Camera samples

iPhone 7 review - Camera samples

iPhone 7 review - Camera samples

Here's our usual comparison photo of St. Pancras. This is the original photo straight from the camera at the full 12Mp resolution:

iPhone 7 review - Samples

Lastly, here's a full resolution photo taken at night:

iPhone 7 review - low light

Even the True Tone flash has been improved. There are now four LEDs, and it’s said to be 50 percent brighter. It works well and means skin tones looks natural in low light photos, but there’s still the same ‘spotlight’ effect which means your subject is well lit in the centre, but the edges are dark.

Video, similarly, is excellent. The stabilisation gives footage that cinematic feel that was previously only available on Plus models, and can be shot in 1080p60 or 4K (at 30fps).

The biggest annoyance is that, as in older versions of iOS, you still can’t change the video resolution in the app itself. Nor can you easily switch between 1080p at 120fps and 720p at 240fps for the slo-mo mode.

Only the former setting is a pain, because you might prefer to shoot at 60fps during the day, and then switch to 30fps at night when 60fps becomes too fast and the image is way too dark.

Moving to the selfie camera, this has also been upgraded from 5Mp to 7Mp. In combination with the new image processor, photos now have more detail and fewer artefacts.

iPhone 7 review: Software

iOS 10 is the latest version of Apple’s iPhone (and iPad) operating system, and is by far the best yet. Messages has had a massive upgrade, and there are genuinely useful new features such as Memories in Photos which aggregates photos and videos from an event or a period of time and automatically makes a short, shareable video.

iPhone 7 review

Siri will be more useful as app developers integrate the digital assistant into their apps, and the new interactive widgets on the lock screen – well, a swipe away from the lock screen – are brilliant.

You can read our full iOS 10 review for a lot more detail, but it’s worth mentioning a couple of the unwelcome changes. The first is that Control Centre now has multiple screens. In itself this isn't a problem and means there's relatively quick access to HomeKit device controls. However, the music / playback controls are no longer on the first screen, so it now takes longer to get to them and pause or skip tracks. Another one, which is easy to get used to, is the fact that you no longer swipe to unlock. In iOS 10 you have to press the home button. To be fair, you could do this in iOS 9 on a device with Touch ID, but now it’s the only way.

To avoid blasting past all your notifications when pressing the home button, you can simply pick up the iPhone 7 to make the screen come on. This ‘Raise to wake’ feature isn’t exclusive to the new phone, but it’s certainly welcome.

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Specs

Apple iPhone 7: Specs

  • iOS 10 4.7in 1334x720 IPS touchscreen, 326ppi 2.33GHz Apple A10 Fusion quad-core processor 2GB RAM 32/128GB/256GB storage 12Mp main camera, quad-LED flash, support for 4K video at 30fps 7Mp front camera 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi with MIMO Bluetooth 4.2 4G LTE Cat 6 Nano-SIM A-GPS with GLONASS NFC 1960mAh non-removable battery 67.1x138.3x7.1mm 138g