Apple’s new iPhone 7 (single rear camera) and iPhone 7 Plus (dual rear cameras) are likely to be two of the biggest selling smartphones of 2016 and 2017. Image credit: Apple
It’s that time of year again: new iPhones. But the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are not like any previous Apple iPhone ‘number change’. Instead, from the outside, they look virtually identical to both the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus and iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. So are they a huge let down or not?
In short: yes and no. On the downside, the leaks proved almost 100% accurate so there were no surprises on the night. But the flip side is Apple has changed a lot internally and provided a major camera overhaul to both models.
So let’s break down the key differences to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus…
Design & Size – More Durable, More Controversial
First the elephant in the room: yes, it’s disappointing that Apple has made virtually no changes to the external design of its iPhones for the third year in a row. And yes, this does make them look somewhat outdated compared to more radical designs like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Galaxy Note 7.
iPhone 7 – 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 in) and 138 g (4.87 oz)
iPhone 7 Plus – 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm (6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 in) and 188 g (6.63 oz)
iPhone 7 – 4.7-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD, 1334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi), 65.6% screen-to-body ratio
iPhone 7 Plus – 5.5-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD, 1920 x 1080 pixels (401 ppi), 67.7% screen-to-body ratio
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus – Apple A10 Fusion chipset: Quad Core CPU, 2GB of RAM
iPhone 7 Plus – 32GB ($749), 128GB ($849), 256GB ($949)
iPhone 7 using an Lighting to 3.5mm headphone jack adaptor, which comes bundled in the box. Image credit: Apple.
Yes Apple has done the unthinkable (though what I predicted two years ago) and fitted both the new iPhones with just a single Lightning port. Adaptors are bundled in the box, but users will now not be able to charge their iPhones and listen to music with wired headphones at the same time. This decision to going to divide a lot of users.
While the practicality of this decision is questionable, elsewhere the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are the most durable iPhones Apple has ever made. They add IP67 dust and water resistance (good for full submersion in up to 1 metre of water for 30 minutes) for the first time while still retaining the rigid Series 7000 Aluminium introduced last year with the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus.
Both the iPhone 7 (pictured) and iPhone 7 Plus are now IP67 water resistant. Image credit: Apple
Also aiding durability is the replacement of the physical home button on both models with a touch sensitive surface which provides haptic feedback to mimic the feeling of a click. App developers can also harness the haptic feedback for custom vibrations, which could prove interesting.
Apple has also tidied up the antenna bands, removing them from the back of the phone so they only now appear at the top and bottom edges. Meanwhile the eagled eyed among you will have spotted a small physical change:
The answer? While the dimensions are identical to the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are both fractionally lighter at 5g (0.17 oz) and 4g (0.14 oz) respectively. Then again they are still notably heavier than 2014’s iPhone 6 (129g) and iPhone 6 Plus (172g).
Both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus now have dual speakers. Image credit: Apple
Lastly both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus gain dual speakers for the first time. Interestingly this is not from what seems like dual speakers at the bottom of the new iPhones (one side is the mic for phone calls), but through upgrading the speaker earpiece so it is loud enough to be an external speaker in its own right. Better external audio is a long awaited iPhone catchup.
As for finishes, you’ll get a wider array of options this year with Rose Gold, Gold, Silver, Black and (for just 128GB and 256GB options) Jet Black but wave goodbye to Space Grey.
iPhone 7 Plus in all its colour options. Image credit: Apple
Displays – Upgraded But Still Showing Their Age
This year there’s not much to see here. The much marketed 3D Touch is carried over from the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, but wasn’t name dropped once during the entire keynote (perhaps reflecting its stagnation in recent times).
Meanwhile on paper the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus look identical with OLED panels missing yet again and native resolutions moored far behind their flagship 2K (2560 x 1440) Android counterparts:
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus displays have been upgraded but are still lagging behind rivals. Image credit: Apple
That said, Apple is loudly proclaiming improvements to the quality of both displays highlighting a 25% brighter “cinema standard” Retina HD display. There is also a wider (P3) colour gamut and improved colour management, though Apple stopped short of labelling them ‘True Tone’ displays like that on the iPad Pro.
Performance – Major Speed Upgrades
According to some metrics, the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus are still the fastest smartphones on the market one year on, but Apple has not stood still:
The A10 Fusion chipset makes the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus Apple’s fastest ever iPhones. Image credit: Apple
Yes the big news is these are the first iPhones to be equipped with quad core processors. Apple claims they will deliver 40% faster CPU performance and up to 50% faster graphics performance than the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus.
Some will bemoan that the iPhone 7 Plus hasn’t got the 3GB of RAM many had predicted, but new iPhones will still deliver performance that even 2017 Android flagships may struggle to live with.
Performance upgrades in the last two years are significant. Image credit: Apple
In addition to this Apple has upgraded the 4G modem to support speeds of up to 450Mbit. Though it made no claims to have improved the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, though it doesn’t really need to be any faster.
Cameras – The Big Differentiator And Main Selling Points
The iPhone 7 has a single camera, 6-element lens. Image credit: Apple
We’ll get to the iPhone 7 Plus, but first the iPhone 7 as it has made some significant improvements with a much larger f/1.8 aperture to let in more light (better for low light snaps in particular), a new 6-element lens and the long awaited addition of OIS. There’s also wide colour capture for more colour accurate photos and a new Apple-designed image signal processor which does the hardwork optimising images after they are captured.
But it is the iPhone 7 Plus which will capture all the headlines as it is the first iPhone to use a dual camera setup. One camera is identical the wide-angle lens in the iPhone 7, but the second is a telephoto lens enabling 2x optical zoom and far greater depth of field (something Apple pointed out is particularly good for portrait shots).
iPhone 7 Plus dual cameras have different functions. Image credit: Apple
In addition to this both phones get an upgraded four-LED True Tone flash which is 50 percent brighter, but uses warm and cool lights to produce more natural results. Both phones also have an upgraded 7MP front camera with 1080p video recording, though disappointingly this camera has a slower f/2.2 aperture (the same as last year’s models) so it waits to be seen how it performs in low light.
Apple sample shot showing the additional depth of field attainable in portrait shots using the iPhone 7 Plus. Image credit: Apple
Can the new iPhones topple Samsung’s Galaxy range? It’s going to be very close.
Battery Life And Charging – Minimal Improvements
Apple failed to disclose the exact capacities of the batteries in either of its new iPhones, but it did say iPhone 7 owners could expect up to two additional hours of usage compared to the iPhone 6S while iPhone 7 Plus owners will get one additional hour compared to the iPhone 6S Plus. The full breakdown is as follows:
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus battery life has improved slightly. Image credit: Apple
Any improvement is welcome, but this isn’t close to the major gains made by Samsung this year and I’d have expected a much bigger increase given the loss of the headphone jack and the internal space it frees up.
Meanwhile Apple still hasn’t implemented fast charging or wireless charging. The omission of both is getting pretty ridiculous at this stage with fast charging having been around for years on rival phones (and resulting is 50% faster charge times) while the latter should really have launched this year so users could still charge the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus while also listening to music.
Storage And Price – The 16GB Curse Is Lifted
Far better news comes with storage and value for money, however, as Apple has at long long last ditched its useless 16GB of base level storage. In fact the company has double storage capacities at every tier so 16GB, 64GB and 128GB have been replaced with 32GB, 128GB and 256GB.
Consequently while prices are unchanged from last year this look better value for money:
Needless to say that hardcore iPhone fans will grab the 256GB model, but I suspect many buyers of the previous 128GB flagship may now be happy to save $100 and opt for the same storage as a mid tier option.
As a package, the iPhone 7 (pictured) and iPhone 7 Plus are better value for money thanks to their upgraded storage. Image credit: Apple
Such is the significance of these upgraded storage options, they may well be enough to persuade buyers unconvinced by omissions such as the headphone jack, fast charging and ageing design to stick with Apple for another generation.
2016 will not go down as a standout year in the history of the iPhone and the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus feel more like ‘iPhone 6S 2.0’ and ‘iPhone 6S Plus 2.0’ upgrades. The removal of the headphone jack is also going to polarise users and may lead to some defections to rival brands.
And yet Apple has still done a lot of good work with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus behind the surface. They are more durable than ever before, much faster and have generous storage options. They also have the potential to steal back the coveted camera crown from Samsung, particularly the dual camera iPhone 7 Plus.
As such Apple has done the opposite of what its detractors claim: it has eschewed style in favour of substance and, while I wouldn’t expect sales records, it should be enough to keep Apple ticking along nicely for another year.
And it is next year where the interest already lies because it is increasingly clear Apple has saved the big fireworks for aradical ‘all glass’ Edge iPhone to celebrate the line’s 10th anniversary in 2017…