Apple iPhone 7 Plus Review: Playing It Safe, But Still A Respectable Flagship

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The Apple iPhone line-up needs no introduction. It’s one of the most popular phone that everyone has been looking forward to every year, and still is one of Apple’s best selling product. It’s not a wonder, as the iPhone started the concept of smartphones today back in 2007 with a large touch screen at that time at 3.5-inches. Today, as consumer’s demand changes, its not enough, which is why Apple introduced a Plus model of their most important product line-up with a 5.5-inch display, while increasing the screen size of the standard model to 4.7-inches. In this review, we’ll be taking a look at the iPhone 7 Plus, and we’ll see if it still deserves the glamour it once had and the hefty price tag.

In Malaysia, the standard iPhone 7 starts at a rather expensive RM3199 for the entry level 32GB storage model, and tops at RM4199 for 256GB storage model, while iPhone 7 Plus goes for RM3699 for 32GB storage model and it goes all the way to RM4799 for 256GB storage model.

Unboxing

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The packaging of the iPhone line-up has been similar throughout the years and the iPhone 7 Plus is no exception. It’s still a plain looking white box with the image of the back of the phone in front, iPhone brandings on the sides and some specifications on the back. The only model getting a slightly different packaging is the Jet Black colour models, where those will come with black boxes. The layout of the box is slightly different as well, with the usual documentations on the top before the phone, and the usual accessories at the bottom. Apart from the lightning-to-USB cable and USB power adapter, it also comes with their famous EarPods earphones with lightning connector, as well as a lightning-to-3.5mm adapter. Since this phone does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, the latter 2 accessories are essential to output audio from the phone to external devices via the lightning port.

Design

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As new generation of iPhone arrives, you’d think Apple put a lot of effort to redesign their product to keep up with the times. This time however, that’s not the case. The design of the iPhone 7 Plus is the same as its previous generation, the iPhone 6. There’s really nothing much changed, and from the front at least, it’s almost identical. The choice of material is premium, with glass front and metal back. While everyone else in the market which costs more than half of this phone also uses the same materials, this feels properly premium and really stand out among the rest of the smartphones. Even though it can be a little bit heavy due to its size, at 188 grams, it gives the phone a solid feel.

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With that said, not only we’re sort of disappointed with the lack of new design, even though the design of the iPhone 7 Plus or even the iPhone 6 Plus will age very well, it starts to get a little boring and we won’t be happy to spend so much money on a device that looks like one of their previous generations that it replaces.

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The front is dominated by a 5.5-inch display on the Plus model, while the regular models will get a smaller 4.7-inch. The bezels on the sides are minimal, combining that with the curved edges of all 4 sides of the glass, it’s easy to operate, especially the back gesture that iOS ecosystem adopts. The display and the glass is also pressure-sensitive, and it will react differently with different pressure of input. The top of the display houses a 7-megapixel front-facing camera and an earpiece, which also acts as one of the speakers for the stereo speaker system. The only difference on the front panel is the button at the bottom. Apple has got rid of the usual physical “home” button what we’ve seen since the first generation, and in its place, it’s a touchpad with a “haptic engine” that Apple calls it where it will stimulate a physical button click when pressure is applied. While Apple has tried hard to make it feel like a physical home button and there’s 3 settings for vibration intensity, it’ll never feel as real or as good as a physical button press. It still has fingerprint reader built in, which is extremely fast and accurate compared to the previous generations.

The left side houses the usual volume rocker and a silent switch, which is very useful, and that’s why its been there since the first generation. The top is free from any ports or buttons, and the right is where the power button stays. It sits a bit too high up than what we’d like. The bottom houses a single nanoSIM tray. As with all iPhones, there are no external storage expansion.

The lightning connector lives at the bottom, and like USB-C ports, it can do a lot more than just charging up the device and data transfer. It’s also now responsible for audio output as well, hence the lack of an earphone jack. The elimination of earphone jack is one of the most frustrating thing ever, as now you only can rely on wireless earphones or earphones with a lightning connector. Even though it comes with lightning-to-earphone jack for use with standard earphones with normal connectors, its small, easy to lose and its rather annoying. This also means that you can’t listen using external devices while charging your device. There’s nothing else living in the spot there the headphone jack used to live either. The bottom now has a stereo speaker like look, even though the stereo speaker system works with the main speaker and the one at the earpiece.

The rear panel is where most of the cosmetic changes are. The antenna lines no-longer run across the back panel which gives it a clean, yet boring look. The dual 12-megapixel camera lives at the usual spot, along with a microphone and a quad-LED flash. The usual Apple and iPhone branding lives at the back as well.

Both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are offered in 5 colours, with Jet Black being the new colour for this generation. Both models also receives a new matte black colour replacing the usual space grey on previous generations, and the usual silver, gold and rose gold colour are carried over.

Specs and Performance

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While numbers on papers are vital to determine the performance ability of a device, Apple will keep telling you about how iOS handles everything differently and how it does not need high end specifications.

The new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus receives Apple’s new A10 Fusion processor. It’s a 64-bit chip, runs off 4 cores and clocked at 2.23GHz. Like some of the octa-core processors we’ve seen out there, half of its cores are performance cors, while the rest are lower-powered. It’s pretty similar to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 found in the OnePlus 3 and Moto Z, except that its Apple’s own designed chip. It also pairs with Apple’s own M10 motion coprocessor chip. As for memory, the iPhone 7 comes with 2GB while the 7 Plus model bumps it up to 3GB.

Apple’s iPhone line-up is well known for its performance, which is why in our real world test, the phone reacts quickly to inputs and it performs great. This is where the iPhone 7 Plus really shines. The hardware and software really paired well together to provide a fantastic user experience.

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Using our usual Geekbench 4 benchmark app, the iPhone 7 Plus scored 328 for single-core and 5590 for multi-core. While single-core score is probably the top of the class, multi-core score is still lacking behind some of the octa-core kings, namely the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. Still it performs way better than other processors.

As usual, the iPhone 7 Plus is offered in 3 storage sizes, but this time, it starts off at 32GB, move on to 128GB and tops off at 256GB. Other connectivity options include dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, 4G LTE and Bluetooth 4.2. It does have NFC, but the only use of that is for Apple’s own payment service.

Display

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The iPhone 7 Plus comes with a larger 5.5-inch display. Like before, Apple calls it “Retina Display” with only a Full HD resolution (1080 X 1920). Still, the screen density is rather high at 401 pixels-per-inch, even though its still lower than some of the cheaper devices out there, like its deadly rival – the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge or Google Pixel XL, where both have a quad-HD display. There’s no increase in sharpness compared to previous generation, but still it’s a relatively sharp display with hardly any noticeable pixels.

The display is powered by an IPS panel. Though there’s nothing too special about it from previous generations, it’s a new panel, with wider colour gamut and Apple promises up to 25% brighter. All those technologies also aid in wide viewing angle.

Like its predecessor, the iPhone 6S Plus, it also includes 3D Touch technology. The idea is to have a different way of input. The display works more than just a touch. Apply some pressure on it and it will react differently. Even though it’s a rather convenient way of operating the phone, and iOS 10 software aids in improving actions on Force Touch, there’s really nothing much you would use daily.

Camera performance

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On the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple totally revamped the camera setup. Instead of 1, the Plus model now gets 2 cameras. Both are 12-megapixel, and the main one, which is an updated version of the previous 6S Plus model, features a 28mm lens with aperture of f/1.8. It’s faster, more efficient, allows 50% more light input and features Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). The secondary sensor has a 56mm lens with aperture of f/2.8, and it’s a telephoto lens, mainly just for portrait shots in good lighting. It also helps with the “2x optical zoom” only under sufficient lighting conditions.

The results? Photos from the main camera is noticeably brighter with the help of the secondary camera. Other than that, there’s nothing too much differ between that and the iPhone 6 Plus. Sharpness is the same and colours are similarly vivid. Apple likes to boast about how images taken with this phone is “DSLR quality” which has been highly praised thanks to good photo processing algorithms. The Optical Image Stabilization works well to prevent blurs caused by shaky hands. The secondary lens also has very limited amount of use, and it works its best under sufficient lighting.

The iPhone 7 Plus records 4K videos, and Apple provides wide variety of other different resolutions to choose from. It starts with 4K videos (3840 X 2160) videos at 30 frames-per-second, then moved down to Full HD recordings (1920 X 1080), which can be done at either 30 or 60 frames-per-second. It will also record slow-motion videos at 120 frames-per-second. Lastly its HD (1280 X 720), where for normal videos it will only record in 30 frames-per-second or slow-motion videos at 240 frames-per-second.

The frame-rate is pretty steady, videos are still sharp at 4K and full HD quality. The telephoto lens works here as well along with the main camera, even recording at 4K quality. You can even use optical zoom function while recording videos. Even at 1080p, the video is sharp and smooth, especially recorded with 60 frames-per-second. The Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) works hard with the digital image stabilization to ensure smooth video and eliminates any shakiness.

There are other modes as well, including a Portrait mode. It allows you to take “professional” photos with a blur background. It utilizes both the normal and telephoto lens to distinguish between near object and foreground, which then applies a bokeh effect to the background for your object to have a more dramatic look. With all the algorithms involved and how both cameras work simultaneously, it really does produce a great quality image. It requires you to be at a distant from your object, but the closer you get, the more dramatic blur it will apply. This feature is not available at launch, but the latest iOS update enables it. Other features include HDR mode, Quad-LED flash, Live Photos mode which works with 3D Touch and getting 8-megapixel stills while recording 4K videos.

The front facing camera is a simple 7-megapixel setup, with 32mm lens and aperture of f/2.2. Although it does not pair with lots of features, it’s a relatively good setup for a good selfie. Image is clear and sharp, although the exposure trends to jump around too much when changing between different lightings. Burst mode is enabled for this camera too, along with Retina flash, which analyses the surrounding lightings and flashes the appropriate colour using the screen.

As with all iOS devices, the camera app is relatively simple and you don’t need a degree in technical engineering to operate it. Swiping left and right will bring you to different modes, while there’s a few switches to toggle simple settings, such as Live Photos, HDR and Flash. Other more complex settings had to be done via the Settings app. Sadly however, there’s no manual mode where it will have more settings to toggle. It’s a no brainer, just tap the area you want to focus and tap the big white round button to take a photo.

To view photos and videos taken on the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, click here.

Software

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The Apple iPhone 7 Plus is preloaded with Apple’s own iOS mobile operating system, which is now in its 10th version for 2016. Like all pervious versions, the layout is familiar from previous iOS versions, except for the elimination of slide to unlock feature. The operating system performs great with minimal lag, even switching from app to app. This is the thing with iOS operating system – its simple, easy to use, fast and stable. There’s no crazy customizations like you get with its rivals, but it’s a no-brainer to operate. It’s not hard at all to figure out why with such mid-range specs, the phone is able to perform so well. Apple themselves managed their own operating system, and can be assured that they will continue to update this device until the day where it can’t take anymore.

Battery life

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The battery life is also a strong point of the iPhone 7 Plus, which is also why people tend to pick this up over the standard iPhone 7. It’s 3000mAh battery will last you for a long time, where Apple also likes to brags about how the software and hardware works together efficiently to provide a battery life. As my daily driver, with medium-to-heavy use, it’s still able to return over 30% battery at the end of the day. iOS will automatically suspend or put any applications running in the background on hold when the phone is not in use.

Conclusion

Despite its dated looks and familiar design, the iPhone 7 Plus is no doubt one of the top phones we’ve tested this year. This is equally as good as other new flagship smartphones out there. But still, its not as equally new as the previous new iPhones when they were launched. Like previous iPhones, we’ve higher expectations for a brand new model for this year, where none of which were delivered by Apple. We’re still expecting more changes happening to the iPhone, when a new model drops in a year or two.

Recap:
5.5-inch Retina HD display, 1080p resolution, 401 ppi
Apple A10 Processor with M10 motion co-processor
3GB RAM, 32GB/128GB/256GB internal storage
Dual 13-megapixel rear facing camera, 4K videos @ 30 fps
Front facing 7-megapixel camera
3000mAh non-removable battery
Fingerprint reader

Pros:
Solid and expensive build quality
Camera is really good
iOS ecosystem is simple, fast and easy to use
Sharp display with vivid colours
Stereo speakers

Cons:
Stereo speakers aiming at 2 different directions
Lack of 3.5mm headphone jack
Using old, familiar and dated design
Expensive price tag due to brand recognition
Relatively fragile