The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have landed and there are some big differences between them. The iPhone 7 is expected to comfortably outsell its bigger brother, but should you upgrade when it looks so similar to the iPhone 6S – especially as last year’s model has just received a price cut and surprising storage boost?
Let’s break it down…
Design & Size – Good And Bad News
There’s no avoiding the most obvious external design change between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6S: the removal of the headphone jack.
Yes, Apple has done the unthinkable (though predictable), citing “courage” to advance standards and advising users switch to wireless headphones if they want to be able to listen to music and charge the iPhone 7 at the same time.
Understandably the move will polarize users, especially with no wireless or quick charging to make scenario this less painful. Apple will include a 3.5mm to Lightning adapter in the iPhone 7 box, but for some this risky change will prove to be a deal breaker.
The other potential deal breaker is Apple has done almost nothing to change the external design of the iPhone now for three generations and physically the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6S (and iPhone 6) are almost identical:
- 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 6S – 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 in) and 143 g (5.04 oz)
Where the iPhone 7 has improved, however, is its durability as it retains the same tough Series 7000 aluminium as the iPhone 6S but also adds IP67 dust and water resistance which allows the phone to survive being fully submerged in water for up to 30 minutes. Yes, it’s a catch-up feature to rivals but a good one.
Another subtle change is the home button is now a fixed touch sensitive surface with haptic feedback. This should reduce button failures (a fairly common problem) and app developers will get access to allow custom haptic feedback patterns. Meanwhile Apple has also removed the antenna bands from the back of the iPhone 7 which gives it a cleaner look and integrated a speaker into the earpiece so users get loud external audio for the first time.
And in a final flourish, Apple has expanded the array of colour options for the iPhone 7 and it comes in Rose Gold, Gold, Silver, Black and (for just 128GB and 256GB options) Jet Black, though the Space Gray option has been ditched.
Displays – Minor Changes
Despite changing the smartphone industry with its Retina Display on the iPhone 4 in 2010, Apple has since been surpassed by rivals producing 1080p, 2K and even 4K OLED displays. But yet again Apple has stuck to its guns:
- iPhone 7 – 4.7-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD, 1334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi), 65.6% screen-to-body ratio
- iPhone 6 – 4.7-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD, 1334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi), 65.6% screen-to-body ratio
LED and 750p is undoubtedly getting long in the tooth, but Apple has boosted peak brightness on the iPhone 7 by 25%, introduced support for a wider (P3) colour gamut and better color management. All of which sees Apple declare the iPhone 7 to have a “cinema standard” display, but no this won’t match up to the OLEDs on Samsung’s Galaxy S7, S7 Edge and Note 7.
Meanwhile 3D Touch support is still there, even if its implementation in iOS 10 remains hit and miss as users are forced to guess which interface elements are enabled and which are not.
Performance – The Fastest Gets Faster
Even now some benchmarks claim the 2015 iPhone 6S is faster than Android’s 2016 flagships, but that hasn’t stopped Apple giving the iPhone 7 another significant speed boost:
- iPhone 7 – Apple A10 Fusion chipset: Quad Core CPU, Six Core GPU, 2GB of RAM
- iPhone 6S – Apple A9 chipset, CPU: Dual-core 1.84 GHz Twister; GPU: PowerVR GT7600, 2GB of RAM
Apple has yet to detail the iPhone 7’s exact CPU and GPU models and clock speeds, but it claims the range’s first ever quad core processor delivers 40% and 50% performance gains respectively over the iPhone 6S.
The iPhone 6S is still blisteringly quick, so this may not be a huge selling point though it does promise a great deal of future proofing. Some power users will decry the lack of a RAM upgrade, but it just doesn’t seem like iOS needs more right now.
More subtly, the iPhone 7 also provides a 50% boost to 4G speeds with a 300Mbit modem switched out for a 450Mbit unit (how often you get to test this in real life remains to be seen). Apple made no claims of improving Touch ID this year but again, it’s not necessary.
Cameras – The Samsung Fightback Begins
For the last two years Samsung has been the smartphone photography king, but the new iPhone 7 makes some very welcome changes after the iPhone 6S plateaued from the iPhone 6:
- 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 6S – Rear: 12 megapixel sensor, f2.2 aperture, Focus Pixels, Software Image Stabilisation, dual-LED flash, 4K video recording. Front: 5MP Front Camera, f2.2 aperture, 720p video recording
The numbers to look for here are the significantly larger f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilisation and a four LED flash with cool and warm tones, all of which should improve the iPhone’s biggest photographic weakness: low light photography.
In addition to this Apple has fitted the iPhone 7 with an all new 6-element lens, upgraded image signal processor and added support for wide colour capture which will boost colour accuracy. Meanwhile the front facing camera gets a bump to 7MP and, while still stuck at f/2.2, it delivers greater detail and 1080p video.
Of course the star of the show, however, is the iPhone 7 Plus and its dual rear cameras which provide 2x optical zoom and a much wider depth of field. But it remains extremely bulky for a 5.5-inch phone.
Read More – iPhone 7 Vs iPhone 7 Plus: What’s The Difference?
Battery Life And Charging – Better But Still Disappointing
Do you know what removing the headphone jack was meant to do in many users’ eyes? Create space for a much larger battery.
But it turns out most of that space was used to fit the haptics engine for the new touch sensitive Home button (not a trade off I expect many users support) – as such there’s only a moderate improvement in stamina from the iPhone 6S to the iPhone 7:
Arguably even more frustrating, however, is Apple’s ongoing refusal to equip its iPhones with either fast charging or wireless charging. Given both have been common features on Android rivals for years and there is now just a Lightning port on the iPhone 7, their ongoing omission is deeply disappointing.
Storage And Price – Upgrades, But For All
Where Apple does catch up with rivals this year though, is storage.
The iPhone 7 finally ditches the loathed 16GB entry level tier and doubles storage across the range from 16/64/128GB to 32/128/256GB. This makes the iPhone 7 far better value for money, but making the upgrade decision harder is Apple has retroactively upgraded iPhone 6S storage as well:
- iPhone 7 – 32GB ($649), 128GB ($749), 256GB ($849)
- iPhone 6S – 32GB ($549), 128GB ($649)
This causes a conundrum. For example, is a 128GB iPhone 6S preferable to the same outlay for a 32GB iPhone 7? Personally I’d side with the newer model, but I can see some users being tempted to do the opposite – and the iPhone 7 Plus costs even more.
The iPhone 7 is a bigger upgrade than cynics will claim. The added durability, water resistance, upgraded camera, performance gains, brighter display and bigger storage options are all welcome and – in some cases – overdue.
But the iPhone 7 also isn’t as big an upgrade as we are used to for an iPhone ‘number change’ year. The virtually identical design (fairly or unfairly) seems dated compared to rivals like the Galaxy S7 Edge and Note 7, while the lack of fast and wireless charging is inexcusable in 2016 and the removal of the headphone jack has the potential to backfire (it is less about “courage” than generating cash from licensing fees).
By now it is common knowledge that a radical upgrade will come in 2017 with the ‘all glass’ Edge iPhone to celebrate the range’s 10th anniversary. The iPhone 7 is predominantly a step forward, but it is unlikely to be remembered as a classic Apple release…