Apple iPhone 7 Plus full review

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The iPhone 7 Plus was - thanks to a slew of upgrades and enhancements - already the best iPhone Apple has ever made, but now it's also very much the best-looking. In March 2017 Apple announced a new Product Red iPhone 7 Plus model that not only marks a partnership of more than 10 years with AIDS charity (RED), but that could help the company find a whole new customer set.

We’ve become accustomed to a new iPhone design every two years, but the iPhone 7 sticks with the same chassis as the 6 and 6S Plus, reviewed. And it’s the same for the iPhone 7 Plus whose looks, weight and dimensions are essentially identical to the 5.5in Apple phones from 2014 and 2015 - save for the new red option.

Given the rumours of radical updates coming in 2017, with an edge-to-edge screen featuring a built-in home button, TouchID and other sensors, it’s easy to be slightly disappointed with the more modest and evolutionary upgrades on offer this year.

However, rumours are rumours: they might turn out to be false. And as with the iPhone 7, the cumulative updates make the iPhone 7 Plus a very desirable phone. See also our iPhone 7 vs iPhone 7 Plus comparison.

iPhone 7 Plus review

iPhone 7 Plus review: Price

Storage has doubled this year, although it’s the base storage that most people will benefit from. It’s now 32GB, but the bad news is that it’s £100 more than last year’s cheapest model, which was £619. You can buy the iPhone 7 Plus for £719 from John Lewis (where you get a two-year warranty).

If 32GB is too small, you’ll have to go for the 128GB model that costs £819. We can see few people paying a further £100 for 256GB, although this luxurious capacity means you can use those new cameras to your heart’s content without worrying about running out of space.

Contract prices start from around £45 per month, but can approach £70 if you want a low upfront price and the 128GB version.

Remember, too, that if you want the fancy glossy Jet Black or Product Red version these are not available in 32GB, so prices start at £819.

(See also: iPhone 7 Plus price and specs.)

iPhone 7 Plus review:  Features and design

Unless you go for one of the exciting new product colours, you may mourn the fact that the 7 Plus still looks the same. But there’s no denying that this is a great-looking phone which is superbly built and feels great in the hand. If you’re used to smaller phones, the 7 Plus can feel giant, especially when you put it in a case. It’s not a one-handed phone.

iPhone 7 Plus review

You’ll also struggle to comfortably carry it in a trouser pocket. Where the iPhone 7 fits easily, you’ll find that the 7 Plus is better off in the inside pocket of a coat, or in a bag. The iPhone 7 is on top to show the scale:

iPhone 7 Plus review

We prefer the black models as the others have a white front that highlights the offset camera and light sensor.

Around the back, the 7 Plus loses some of its antenna lines for a cleaner look. On the black models the lines that remain are almost invisible. Again, our preference is the black model because it doesn’t show up fingerprints and is much more forgiving when it picks up minor scratches and scuffs. The Jet Black finish looks amazing, but is hard to keep that way.

Camera bump

Breaking up this cleaner-looking back is the larger camera bump which now packs in two lenses, one wide-angle and the other telephoto. This means there are two 12Mp sensors and, like the LG G5, you can flip between the two in the camera app almost instantly. Apple has also changed the selfie camera at the front from a 5Mp to a 7Mp sensor.

iPhone 7 Plus review

Home button

The home button is no longer a physical push button. It looks no different to before, but has no moving parts. Instead, you get haptic feedback from the new, larger Taptic Engine and it’s possible to set three different levels depending on whether you prefer a weaker or stronger feeling when the button ‘clicks’.

iPhone 7 Plus review

It works exactly the same way it always has, but bear in mind that in iOS 10 you now have to press the button to unlock the phone: there’s no more swiping.

Water resistance

One reason for the change is that it’s one less place for water to get in: the iPhone 7 Plus is now water-resistant so you can immerse it up to 1m for up to 30 minutes. It’s worth pointing out that this applies only to fresh water and that you shouldn’t really use it for underwater photos and video in the sea or a swimming pool full of chemicals.

It means that accidentally dropping your phone in the bath or spilling a glass of water over it shouldn’t harm it.

Headphone jack

The other major change is that there’s no headphone jack. Instead the bundled headphones come with a Lightning connector, but if you prefer to use your existing headphones, there’s a Lightning-to-minijack adaptor in the box as well.

iPhone 7 Plus review

These are cheap to replace if you lose them, but it’s a shame that they’re white: the adaptor sticks out like a sore thumb if you have a black phone and your headphones have a black wire and connector. Overall, it’s a minor inconvenience which becomes a real annoyance when you want to use wired headphones and charge the phone at the same time. You can buy another adaptor which gives you two Lightning ports, but this makes things even uglier and costs around £40.

Stereo speakers

As with the iPhone 7, the Plus also gets stereo speakers. One is in the usual place on the bottom edge and the other is in the earpiece. It means the iPhone finally has decent sound. It’s particularly good when watching videos, but it’s also a boon in some games that work in landscape mode (not all do of course).

iPhone 7 Plus review: Screen

Not a great deal has changed in the screen department. It’s still 5.5in diagonally, and still had a 1920x1080 resolution. It’s also still an IPS LCD panel, although Apple has increased colour gamut. The difference isn’t massive, but it does mean the 7 Plus has one of the best full HD screens on any phone.

It’s bright, too, at 625cd/m2, and anyone thinking that Apple should have upped the pixel count to 2560x1440 should know that few people can see the difference at normal viewing distances. 401ppi is plenty.

iPhone 7 Plus review: Performance

The iPhone 6S Plus was a fast phone, but the 7 Plus is even quicker thanks to the new A10 Fusion processor. This is Apple’s first quad-core chip in an iPhone and works on a similar principle to many Android phones in that it has two power-sipping cores which are used for basic jobs and two high-performance cores (which aren’t as battery friendly) for the more demanding stuff such as certain games and editing 4K video.

In general use, it’s hard to notice the extra speed because the 6S Plus never so much as stuttered during our year with it. However, benchmarks clearly show the significant improvement, and this will surely help in years to come as new versions of iOS become more demanding and apps really take advantage of the extra speed. Some games are already using the extra graphical power and, although the screen is small, it’s clear that you’re getting almost console-quality lighting effects and detail on the 7 Plus.

Here’s how the 7 Plus compares to the 6S Plus and Google’s new Pixel XL, reviewed.

Apple says the new chip is 40 percent faster, but it depends which benchmark you use. In Geekbench 4 (multicore) the 7 Plus is just shy of the 40 percent, but in the Jetstream browser test, it’s actually closer to 50 percent quicker. And as you can see, it's a lot quicker than the Pixel XL.

iPhone 7 Plus review: Battery

Can you have better performance and better battery life without making a thicker phone? Well, it turns out that you can, especially if there’s a bit of extra room where the headphone jack used to be.

The 7 Plus has a 2900mAh battery, up from 2750mAh in the 6S Plus (but down from 2915mAh in the iPhone 6 Plus – for those with longer memories). The iPhone’s own trusty calculator says this is 5.4 percent more capacity than the 6S Plus, so it’s not a great deal of difference.

And yet, in our testing the 7 Plus lasted for a mighty 10 hours and 8 minutes, showing that it’s relatively meaningless to compare phones and batteries simply on their stated capacity. We never had any complaints with our iPhone 6S Plus, but re-testing it now (a year old) it lasted just over seven hours in the same Geekbench 3 battery test. It’s an unfair comparison, of course, but it certainly feels like the 7 Plus has better battery life.

If you’re using it normally, you should easily get through a complete day and a morning of the next before thinking about charging it.

iPhone 7 Plus review: Cameras

The dual-cameras consist of one wide-angle 28mm equivalent lens (the same as on the iPhone 7) and one telephoto (56mm equivalent lens). When you switch to the latter it’s the same as a 2x optical zoon (28 x 2 = 56). There’s also digital zoom from 2x up to x10, but this is no different from cropping the image – you’re not getting any extra detail. What’s interesting is that you can drag the slider between 1x and 2x, imitating a real zoom lens and the result is a combination of optical and digital zoom.

iPhone 7 Plus review

The new cameras remain at 12Mp but have new sensors which now support the same wider colour gamut as the screen and new lenses with an f/1.8 aperture. There’s also optical image stabilisation for photos and videos. That’s not all: the True Tone flash now has four LEDs which produce 50 percent more light and have a larger reach.

At the front is a 7Mp FaceTime HD camera which includes wide colour capture and image stabilisation.

Apple’s custom image processor, the cameras and screen are all calibrated to work with each other, so you see the truest possible colours on screen.

Clearly, the telephoto lens is the really big news here: you’re not going to notice much difference when comparing photos from the wide-angle one with those from the 6S Plus.

That's not a criticism, though. Both phones take excellent photos, and you definitely notice the benefit of the new f/1.8 lens in low light. Sure, you still need your subject to stay still to avoid blur, but when it does, you can capture some remarkably sharp and detailed images, such as this.

iPhone 7 Plus review

The telephoto lens is also usable in low light, although it has a slower f/2.8 aperture. Where it excels is outdoors in good light, delivering sharp pictures. It's also very handy for macro photos, allowing you to get in even closer than you can with the wide-angle camera. And we thought that was good for close-up photography!

iPhone 7 Plus review

Here's a 100 percent crop of the original image:

iPhone 7 Plus review

Here's a close-up taken with the wide-angle lens:

iPhone 7 Plus review

And to show the difference between the two lenses, here's a landscape taken with the wide-angle, followed by the telephoto lens:

iPhone 7 Plus review

iPhone 7 Plus review

Video specs are the same as for the iPhone 6S Plus, which means you've got a choice of 1080p at 30 or 60fps, or 4K at 30fps. It's still a pain to switch modes because instead of having them in the camera app where they should be, they're in the settings app.

The good news is that you can flip between the cameras while recording video. And if you don't like the jarring change when you tap the zoom button, you can instead press it and drag smoothly to 2x (or beyond if you want to use digital zoom).

Video is great quality, as ever, and the optical stabilisation lends footage a more professional look. If you want better stabilisation, consider DJI's Osmo Mobile.

There's also improvement at the front, with the 7Mp camera offering a little more detail than its 5Mp predecessor. And like before, you have the option of a flash: the screen momentarily overdrives to give a 'True Tone' flash and light you up. It's best avoided if you can, though, just like any flash, but if light is limited, it does a good job of delivering relatively natural looking skin tones.

Read more: iPhone camera tips

iPhone 7 Plus review: Software

In this reviewer's opinion, iOS is still the best mobile OS, and the latest version makes it even better. As well as the app updates that owners of older iPhones also get, the 7 Plus has a couple of extras. One is all the haptic feedback you get when using different controls, such as time and date selectors and even swiping to delete emails.

iPhone 7 Plus review

You'll also get that with an iPhone 7, but exclusive to the 7 Plus is the new Portrait photo mode in iOS 10.1. This will be released shortly (it's currently in beta), and allow you to get DSLR-style blurred backgrounds when you take photos. It uses the two cameras to understand which objects are closer and which are farther away. It uses this information to create a 'depth' map which it uses to decide what to blur and what to keep in focus.

It's intended for photos of people, and won't take a picture unless your subject is far enough from the camera. The good thing is that you see the effect in real-time, so you'll know before you press the shutter button if it's going to look good or not.

We'll reserve judgement on the Portrait mode until it's out of beta, but the initial impressions are good.

For more, you can read our full iOS 10 review.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2017

Specs

Apple iPhone 7 Plus: Specs

  • A10 Fusion processor chip with 64bit architecture and M10 co-processor
  • 5.5-inch IPS LCD with 3D Touch, 1920 x 1080, 401ppi
  • 1300:1 contrast ratio (typical)
  • 2x 12Mp rear-facing cameras, ƒ/1.8, optical image stabilisation and 4K video recording
  • 7Mp front-facing with, ƒ/2.2, 1080p video recording and burst mode
  • 32GB/128GB/256GB storage
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS
  • 4G LTE (up to 450Mb/s)
  • Lightning connector
  • Touch ID fingerprint scanner
  • 77.9x158.2x7.3mm
  • 188g