Apple iPhone is now in its ninth year with the iPhone 7 / 7 Plus. With just a year to go for the big 10th anniversary, Apple seems to be saving some goodies for the next year. I will get to that in a bit. Launched in India on 7 October with prices starting from Rs 60,000 and going all the way to Rs 92,000, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have arrived in India quite soon after their international launch. With Diwali just around the corner, and its arch-rival Samsung pulling out its flagship Note 7 after the unfortunate battery burning issues, the field is wide open for Apple iPhone 7 / 7 Plus to make a killing.
Or is it? Let us find out
Build and Design: 8/10
The iPhone 7 Plus does not come with a drastically new design. You can look at it more of adding finesse to the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6s Plus designs. The similar design is now in its third generation. Is Apple holding out till next year, to release a brand new design language? Not that it is bad in the current state, but it dosen't make it stand out from its predecessors. Not to mention, the designs from its Android arch-rivals has certainly seen changes over the years.
The first thing that you will notice when you handle the phone, is that the visible antenna lines have been nicely camouflaged. While it is still visible to an extent on the Rose Gold, Silver and Gold variants of the phone; on the Matte Black and Jet Black versions, you have to really look for it.
The rounded edges, power / standby, volume rocker buttons and the ringer notch are all in the same spot as the iPhone 6s Plus. So is the home button. But there’s a catch. The circular button isn’t a push button anymore but is supported by the Taptic Engine's feedback mechanism. The Taptic Engine which supports the 3D touch mechanism for the display, also controls the touch response on the button. You can set the levels of feedback for the button, and honestly after a while you forget that the button isn’t there. It is one cool implementation. And it is such fine design details that make Apple products what they are.
The edges are 7.3mm thick and it weighs around 188 grams. While the thickness is the same as its predecessor, it is around 4 grams lighter. In terms of overall feel of the phone and sturdiness, there isn’t much different from the iPhone 6s Plus. And the complaint we had with the 6s Plus remains. The iPhone 7 Plus offers a terrible body to screen ratio as compared to some of its Android flagships such as the Galaxy S7 edge or the newly launched Google Pixel XL, which offers 5.5-inch display in a more compact body.
The rear side has a bump in the top left hand corner which houses two 12MP camera sensors. Snapping on cover on the iPhone brings the camera bump with the plane of the iPhone back.
There is one important addition though. It is IP67 certified which makes it water and dust resistant.
Metal back is still as slippery as its predecessors. Apple has some really cool leather covers with metallic button areas if you have buttery hands. They sell separately, of course. Snapping them on further reduces ease of one-handed use. And no, you cannot use the last generation covers on this phone for obvious reasons. I got the matte black variant to review, and it looks quite wonderful, as compared to the other three colours. The Jet Black variant is still the more premium variant, and I would not be surprised if we see more Jet black or piano black phone colours over the coming months.
Thanks to a limited product portfolio in its smartphone segment, Apple really ensures that the internals get a good amount of upgrade in the coming generations. To that extent, the iPhone 7 Plus comes with the Apple A10 Fusion chipset which has a quad-core processor clocked at 2.23GHz. This is paired with 3GB RAM. It comes with a 5.5-inch Full HD resolution display.
There are three storage variants - 32GB, 128GB and 256GB of which we have the 256GB variant for review. There is no expandable storage.
It runs on iOS 10. A single nano SIM card slot is present on the right hand side, just below the power/standby button. It supports dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Wi-fi hotspot, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS with A-GPS and GLONASS, NFC only for Apply Pay which is not available in India. And also, no FM radio.
The big changes on the features front is the dropping of the 3.5mm audio jack. You will need a lightning port connector on your earphones. Apple bundles a pair. Other option is using a Bluetooth headset to enjoy your music. Apple has also bundled in a lightning port to 3.5 mm audio jack adapter for those who still want to rely on their personal audio gear. This is one move that drew a lot of flak as a lot of us still prefer using personal earphones / headphones which still have a 3.5mm jack. But give it some time and you will see a lot more lightning port earphone accessories, going by Apple’s history of spawning off accessories market segments. The iPhone 7 Plus comes with stereo speakers finally, with one being at the base and the other on the earpiece speaker.
On the camera front, you get two 12MP sensors on the back and there is a 7MP front-facing FaceTime HD camera. Apple has implemented the dual rear cameras in a way that you get to use true 2x optical zoom.
The iPhone 7 Plus sports a 5.5inch FullHD display which gives a pixel density of 401PPI. The panel is an LED backlit IPS LCD panel. However with the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple claims to be using a wide gamut display (cinema standard). When placed side by side with the iPhone 6s/6s Plus, I noticed that the iPhone 7 Plus had a slight warm tinge to it. The iPhone 7 Plus is definitely a notch brighter than the 6s Plus. The Night Shift mode lets you select the time when you want to display to control the blue light, and it also lets you select the shade of yellow that you are comfortable with. This added granularity is a nice touch.
Colour reproduction is spot on and it is still a class-leading display among smartphones. Colours aren't unnecessarily vivid. Legibility in sunlight is not an issue, as its auto-brightness mode works quite well. The display, as has been the case with previous generations, is quite glossy. It was while shooting in bright sunlight where at times all I could see on the display was my reflection, specially when shooting from chest height. Not so much at the eye level.
The black levels on the display are quite good and watching movies or playing games is a lot of fun. Games such as Vain Glory, Real Racing 3, Nova 3 look gorgeous on this calibrated display.
Apple iPhone 7 Plus comes with the latest iOS 10 operating system. The one running on the review unit was 10.0.3 on which majority of the testing was done, before switching to the 10.1 beta to access the Portrait mode in the Camera app. The iOS 10 is refined and operationally quite smooth on most occasions. There were a few instances of apps not registering action on first tap.
iOS 10 dosen’t look very different from its predecessor, but packs in a lot of new features. For starters, you can now uninstall the native Apple apps if you don’t need them. I figured I would do without Stocks, Home and a couple of other apps which I deleted. Technically it just hides the icon and deletes all the app data from your phone. You can reinstall the app by searching for it in the App store.
The 3D touch still offers the Peek and Pop features, with support added to a lot more apps than we had seen when the 6s Plus launched.
Messages has got a complete revamp with the app letting you add in GIF animations; finger gestures - creating animations such as heart break, beating heart and more; send photos from the camera while in the app; share music and so on. While these additions are playing catch up to the likes of apps such as Telegram, it makes little sense to use Messages if your family or friend circle isn’t on Apple devices.
Control Centre has been modified, with the music control shifted to a new tab. Also the four icons at the base - torch, timer, calculator and camera support 3D gestures, letting you access more functions without leaving the Control Centre screen. iOS 10 also lets you do a lot from the lock screen itself. You can swipe left to open the camera or swipe right to access widgets or swipe from the top to bottom to see notifications. There’s also the ‘Raise to Wake up’ feature which wakes up the display when you just lift your iPhone to your face if its lying in the sleep mode on your desk.
Music app has got some design changes. Instead of My Music, you now get a Library tab which lets you enlist a variety of options from Playlists, Artists, Album, Songs and so on. You can download songs if you are a subscriber, optimise storage by setting a limit on auto downloads, auto-generated playlists in the 'For You' section and more.
The Photos app has got some additions in the form of Memories, where in iOS makes albums based on your photos shot at a particular location. In short, this is Apple Photos playing catch up to Google Photos, which has much more interesting features.
Siri was the star feature of the iPhones when it was first announced back in 2011. Since then Google has been getting better with its AI-backed virtual assistant game - first Google Now and this year the Google Assistant. Between the two, we noticed that the Assistant was able to understand accents better and let you have contextual conversations, whereas with Siri you still have to pay attention to your diction.
Even asking Siri simple questions such as "what was the iPhone 7 Plus pricing for India" or "when was Siri released?" the responses weren't very forth coming. Also between the two I also realised that most of the times you have to ask Siri questions in a particular way, and you cannot ask follow up questions and get satisfactory responses as you do with Assistant. Apple says Siri is a self-learning system, so maybe it needs more usage. But after using it for a week, it isn't significantly better than Google Assistant. One thing I would grant Siri is the way it presents card information - is much more richer and informative than Google.
Call quality is top notch with audible earpiece speaker even in high traffic situations. The iPhone 7 Plus supports Cat 9 LTE, voice over LTE, Wi-fi calling. I did not find any connectivity issues with a Jio SIM card on it, and was able to make successful VoLTE calls.
With the latest Apple A10 Fusion chipset paired with 3GB of RAM (the highest seen on an Apple iPhone) you get a wicked fast device. The A10 Fusion chipset houses a quad-core processor, with two high power cores clocked at 2.23GHz and two low power saving ones. There’s a six-core GPU as well. The single core performance score of 3445 observed on GeekBench 4 was the highest we have seen on any smartphone we have tested so far. Even the multi-core score is only second to Huawei P9. The AnTuTu benchmark gives 186093 - again the highest score.
In terms of raw numbers, the iPhone 7 Plus comes out tops. In real life usage though, the phone runs lag free and things such as app switching, finger print scanning work fast. The phone does get warm when you are on a particularly photography heavy day, but never crossing 36-38 degree mark on the Fluke IR thermometer.
Gaming on the phone is smooth. No frame drops were observed on high end games such Vain Glory, Nova 3, Real Racing 3 and so on. Watching movies with the stereo speakers is quite a fine experience. The speakers are quite loud, but in certain applications such as YouTube, we observed that using the headphones was a battery option.
One of the highlight feature of the iPhone 7 Plus is the presence of the dual rear camera setup. Sure, this isn’t the first time we are seeing a dual camera on a smartphone. Huawei and LG have done this before. But just like all things Apple, the implementation is different. There are two 12MP sensors, one is standard camera which has an equivalent focal length of 28mm (with an f/1.8 aperture) and the other sensor has a telephoto lens having a 56mm focal length (with an f/2.8 aperture). The standard 28mm lens comes with OIS, whereas the telephoto lens does not. This implementation lets the iPhone 7 Plus offer true 2x optical zoom. The Camera app lets you easily switch regular wide angle shot and the 2x optical zoom shot. This ensures that there is no loss in detail when taking 2x zoom photos.
While it may seem like they are two different cameras, they do tend to work together everytime you fire off the shutter. You can use these two lenses when shooting videos as well, but switching to the 2x zoom, will remove the OIS feature. The two lenses work quite well in the Portrait mode which is currently available on the iOS 10.1 beta. Also another thing to note is that the telephoto lens can only be used in well lit situations, and if the light isn’t enough, the iPhone 7 Plus will use the regular lens with 2x digital zoom. Apple’s image processor takes this decision on the fly.
The iPhone 7 Plus has a 7MP front facing FaceTime HD camera and quad LED flash unit on the rear side. Features carried forward from the iPhone 6s Plus include the live photos, phase detect autofocus. The Camera app is also similar to the one seen in the last generation.
Coming to the image quality, the iPhone 7 Plus just like its predecessors, delivers. Colours come out natural and at times it may look a bit too dull when compared with images coming out of say a Samsung Galaxy S7 edge or even the latest Google Pixel XL. Apple iPhone 7 Plus gives a neutral output, with good amount of detail, great dynamic range. Optical zoom works quite well in bright outdoors. You also get the option of using 10x digital zoom for still images and 6x digital zoom for video. Use this only in emergency situations as there is a lot of artifacts you will get in the final images. When forcing the HDR mode, we also noticed some artifacts around the edges if the subject moved too much, as is seen in the fur of the labrador in the image below, around the right paw.
Panoramas come out really good, and there is good exposure control. You can also get HDR Panorama shots with the new camera app. There were instances when shooting panoramas in bright sunlight, where I noticed mild change in the sky exposure. But the image stitching is relatively better than that seen on Android phones. The 2x optical zoom also offers Panorama mode.
Focussing is relatively quick. But time to first shot is still slow as compared to the quicker ways in which you can turn on cameras in some Android phones. Double tapping the home button to launch the camera is really a no brainer which Apple should implement.
Low light image quality is good, but in a side by side comparison with the Google Pixel XL, I noticed that the Pixel XL clearly took the lead there. I’m not saying iPhone 7 Plus is a bad camera in low light - far from it. But the noise control, detail retention, dynamic range seen on the Galaxy S7 and Pixel XL is notches above the iPhone 7 Plus.
The Portrait mode was one area which Apple spoke about a lot during the launch. During the time of testing it was only available on the beta, though it is now available to everyone. Once you turn on the Portrait mode, you will get instructions below the rounded square frame, whether you need to move closer or farther. Once you get the lock, the focussing frame becomes yellow and you fire the shutter. Images clicked in the portrait mode turned out good, it works specially well when you are in a well lit area and there is respectable distance between the subject and the background. The blurring of the background is nicely done and isn't as aggressive as what we have seen with other dual camera phones. The good thing is that you can see the shallow depth of field while you are composing the shot. But the problem is that it will take some practise to get the shot faster. Your subject will have to really be patient till you get everything right. This may be cool when shooting friends and family, but if you are on the street and want to get that quick portrait with a defocussed background, then that can prove difficult.
On the video front, the iPhone 7 Plus can shoot up to 4K resolution videos. The OIS on the phone ensures that there is minimal camera shake, although you do see a slight jello effect when walking and shooting. The camera region does get warm when shooting videos. But not enough to cause it to shut down, as I have observed with Sony flagship smartphones.
Battery Life: 8/10
Coming with a 2900mAh non-removable battery, the iPhone 7 Plus has seen a bump in this department as compared to the previous generation. In a word, the battery life is excellent. There wasn’t a day in the two weeks that I was using the phone, when I found the battery to be draining out before my work day. In fact, with a 100 percent charge at 8AM, and after a day of regular usage, I would still have around 20 percent charge remaining till around 10PM. Heavy usage including playing games, streaming video, calling, messaging via multiple apps, using the camera extensively did drain out the battery by around 9PM. The battery usage numbers show some really good numbers with a 16 hour plus usage time and standby time of over 40 hours. It also offers the Low Power mode, which further extends the battery.
Charging seems to take forever though. It easily takes over 3 hours to go from sub-10 percent to 100 percent charge. In an age of rapid charging technologies available on all Android flagships, where you can go from 0 to 100 in just over an hour's time, Apple’s charging technology seems dated. The good thing is that the iPhone 7 Plus can hold the charge for that much longer vis-a-vis an Android phone. But it’s about time Apple get some sort of quick charging onboard. Is it holding that out for the 10th anniversary edition?
Verdict and Price in India
All things considered, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus is a great device. It excels in departments such as battery life, performance, display among other things. The iOS 10 also brings a lot of new features to the table. The implementation of the dual rear camera is quite intelligent. Also portrait mode will be quite loved by those who love that kind of photography - it will just require patience though. While the camera image quality is good, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus still leaves scope for improvement in the low light photography department as we observed in out Pixel XL vs iPhone 7 Plus shootout.
If you are on the iPhone 6/6 Plus and are looking for an upgrade, the iPhone 7/7 Plus could be considered. For the 6s / 6s Plus users, there is little to no reason for upgrade. You would rather wait out this iteration for the 10th year iPhone edition.
While the iPhone 7 Plus is good, it looks like Apple is leaving the better things for its 10th year edition. Things such as similar design, no quick charging support, similar camera app (which still makes you dig into the General settings to make tweaks in resolution and the like) among other areas have been carried forward from previous two generations. There's a high possibility that some of these issues would hopefully be addressed in the next gen iPhone.
Prices start from Rs 72,000 for 32GB, Rs 82,000 for 128GB and Rs 92,000 for the 256GB variant of the iPhone 7 Plus. The prices are high, and yes you can get a lot more in that amount. But if you want to invest in an iPhone, this is what you have to pay. A lot of telcos are offering the iPhone 7/7 Plus with various data packs as compared to Android competition. Thankfully, the pricing is in line with what it was last year. If 5.5-inch is too large a size for you, then opt for the iPhone 7 which still retains most of the internal features seen on the iPhone 7 Plus.
If you are still not convinced about the iPhone 7 Plus, or are short on budget, the Android flagships that you can consider include the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge which is still a powerful device. I have been testing the Google Pixel XL for some days now, and it has already shown its capability in the low light department as compared to the iPhone 7 Plus. So that could also be a possible contender.