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 And yes, this does make them look somewhat outdated compared to more radical designs like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Galaxy Note 7.
But changes have been made and some are significant while others are very controversial. First the big one: both models are missing a headphone jack:
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.
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:
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)
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).
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.
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 – 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
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:
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus – Apple A10 Fusion chipset: Quad Core CPU, 2GB of RAM
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.
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
There’s no denying Samsung has taken the photography crown from Apple in recent years, but the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus may steal it back:
iPhone 7 – Rear: 12 megapixel sensor, f/1.8 aperture, Focus Pixels, Optical Image Stabilisation, quad-LED (dual tone) flash, 4K video recording. Front: 7MP sensor, f/2.2 aperture, 1080p recording
iPhone 7 Plus – Rear: Dual 12MP sensors (f/1.8, 28mm & f/2.8, 56mm), Focus Pixels, OIS, 2x optical zoom, quad-LED (dual tone) flash, 4K video recording. Front: 7MP sensor, f/2.2 aperture, 1080p recording
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:
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:
iPhone 7 – 32GB ($649), 128GB ($749), 256GB ($849)
iPhone 7 Plus – 32GB ($749), 128GB ($849), 256GB ($949)
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.