Every year Apple releases a new iPhone and every year its critics bemoan the fact that the new handset is only incrementally different from its predecessor.
This may explain why Apple’s Phil Schiller felt the need to break the new features of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus down into a numbered list. From the phone’s new design to a pressure-sensitive home button, telephoto cameras, improved battery life and new A10 chip, Apple wanted to make it clear these phones are not simple upgrades.
However, in our limited time with the handsets this is exactly what they feel like; the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus both seem like great handsets because their predecessors were great.
Read on for our hands-on review of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus; a full review to follow. You can also read all the news from the Apple event here.
iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
Like the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus before them, the latest iPhones are marginally different from one another. The screen sizes have remained the same as previous models, the size of both handsets is identical to their respective predecessors (138.3mm x 67.1mm x 7.1mm for the 7 and 6S, and 158.2mm x 77.9mm x 7.3mm for the 7 Plus and 6S Plus) both run the new A10 Fusion chip, and they share the same Retina HD screen.
These identical measurements mean the phones don’t feel drastically different in the hand and the lighter weight of the new handsets isn’t noticeable. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus weigh 138g and 188g respectively, down from 143g and 192g for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.
The glossy jet black model feels like a throwback to the iPhone 3GS and although it looks stunning, it is highly reflective and picked up fingerprints and smudges easily. This polished design also makes it feel slippery meaning a case is a must, which defeats the point of having the smooth design in the first place. This smooth aesthetic also highlights how much the camera on the rear protrudes more so than it did on previous models.
The matte black model, on the other hand, is a really attractive, sophisticated handset which is greatly enhanced by the black Apple logo. Despite being a relatively simple change, it makes the iPhone feel like it has come of age.
Aside from the new glossy and matte casings, the biggest design change – both aesthetically and physically – is the solid-state home button.
Apple doesn’t refer to it as a Force Touch home button, but that is in effect what the button has become. Rather than being a button you have to physically press, the new button responds to three different levels of pressure. This means you press harder with your finger on the button if you want to return to the homescreen or select an app, for example.
If you’re used to the physical button on previous iPhones, this pressure-sensitive button, which works alongside a so-called Taptic Engine inside the device, takes some getting used to.
During our hands-on, we accidentally activated the Reachability feature numerous times while attempting to get the button to recognise our force.
The button reminded us of the touch-sensitive home button on the OnePlus 3, but because it needs to register force it was less responsive than on the Android rival. This is a good thing as the OnePlus 3’s over-sensitive button was one of our main criticisms.
Photos can’t do the displays on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus justice. Both are incredibly bright, colours are vibrant and details are sharp and this made games, photos and videos come to life.
The PPI of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus is 326 and 401 respectively, the same as the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, but its brightness has been improved from 500 cd/m2 up to 625.
This truly is impressive, although we’d be interested to see how this affects the battery life of the devices.
Sadly we didn’t get the opportunity to test the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus cameras. Both have 12MP on the rear and 7MP on the front although the 7 Plus has a more advanced wide-angle and telephoto lens and twice the digital zoom, at 10x, as the iPhone 7.
Photos on the device did look amazing on the improved display and the depth-of-field feature expected later this year certainly provides serious competition to the likes of the Huawei P9.
Apple claims the battery on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus can last up to two hours more than on the iPhone 6S range. This boosts battery life up to 14 hours when using the phone on 3G, 10 days on standby and 14 hours on Wi-Fi for the iPhone – or 21 hours, 16 days and 15 hours for the iPhone 7 Plus.
When compared to the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus battery claims, the numbers don’t quite add up though. According to Apple’s official specifications page, the iPhone 6S lasts 10 hours on 3G, for example, suggesting Apple is under-selling the battery boost on the new phones.
We didn’t get the chance to put these claims to the test but will be able to in our full review later this month.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus will go on general sale on September 16, three days after iOS 10 is being rolled out to existing iPhone users.
iOS 10 is a vast improvement on iOS 9 in terms of both looks and functionality and this was the main difference we noticed when trying out the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
The software will, of course, work with previous hardware and processors but we were impressed with how fast apps opened and pages loaded with iOS 10 running on the iPhone 7. The fact we noticed the difference meant it was significant enough to include.
Learn more about the new features in iOS 10 here
Water and dust-resistance
Again, we weren’t given enough time with the devices to test just how resistant they are to dust and water, although Apple claims they are resistant with a rating of IP67.
Samsung’s water-resistant devices have a rating of IP68, as a comparison. IP stands for International Protection marking, the first digit represents a device’s resistance to dust and dirt while the second digit refers to resistance to water.
A 7 rating means a device can, in theory, be submerged in water up to 1 metre for 30 minutes. An 8 rating pushes this depth to 1.5m.
Apple stresses that the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are “splash, water and dust resistant and were tested under controlled laboratory conditions with a rating of IP67 under IEC standard,” but it advises against submerging the devices entirely. Instead, it is suggested that this rating will protect the devices from the rain or sweat, for example.
Apple also adds that these features are not permanent conditions and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear, as is the case with Samsung and other water-resistant phones.
There is little reason to immediately upgrade from an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus to the iPhone 7 range, unless you are a budding photographer. Both handsets appear to be great devices because the predecessors, on which they are modelled on, are great.
However, if you’re running out of storage, want to take better photos or currently have older models of the iPhone then the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are more than worthy of an upgrade. We recommend getting the iPhone 7 Plus with advanced camera features in matte black and with 128GB to truly get the most out of the new hardware.
Learn more about the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus here.