Each new iPhone is special and significant to me because (like many people) it’s the phone that I rely on and use day after day, year after year. So I was incredibly excited to review the new iPhone 7 Plus (especially in the hard to get Jet Black) and now that I’ve been living with it for awhile I haven’t been disappointed.
I’m going to switch things up for this review and stick the conclusion right here instead of at the end. The iPhone 7 Plus isn’t revolutionary (that’s for sure). But it’s a delightfully solid and reliable workhorse of a phone that I’m most definitely going to enjoy using throughout the next year (until the iPhone 8 — or iPhone 10 as it just might be called if the rumors are true — comes out). In the end the iPhone 7 Plus turns out to be a nice mix of the familiar with just enough new flair to hold out for one more year for a complete redesign.
Let’s talk about that Jet Black first. First off, it was hard to get ahold of (even though I preordered, which was kind of a disaster through T-Mobile). But now that I’ve got it in my hands I love the way it looks — it’s even cooler in person than it is in videos. But…
There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind before ordering your Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus. It scratches really easily. I’m really, really disappointed by just how easy it is to scratch. I used my Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus for about a week without a case when I first got it and it got some of those “micro scratches” Apple warned about around the edges despite my efforts to keep it pristine. It would have been impossible to treat it any nicer than I did and I believe the scratches it got came from simply putting it in (and taking it out of) my pocket.
So no matter what you might be thinking, I’m going to go ahead and guarantee that you won’t be able to keep your Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus in perfect shape without a case.
Personally I’m going to be using the $19 Totallee Scarf because it’s super-thin and will protect against those scratches without adding any real bulk and also because it adds some much needed grip. Without a case the Jet Black finish is really slippery.
Also, the Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus is a major fingerprint magnet. In fact, that’s an understatement.
One cool thing about the new Jet Black iPhone, though, is that the antenna lines basically disappear. You have to look pretty hard to try to notice them and, while it doesn’t affect the phone usage in any way, it’s cool that they’re so stealthy here (the antenna lines are very noticeable on the non-Jet Black iPhones).
While the iPhone 7 Plus has a very familiar design, one area that looks different is the camera bump which is now bigger thanks to the new dual lens system. Let me just say that I love the camera and what it can do but I hate the camera bump: it really is annoying typing on the iPhone while it’s wobbling on a flat surface.
The new 2x optical zoom is incredible. I don’t use that word lightly, either, but it actually feels like a much bigger upgrade than I thought it would now that I’ve had a chance to use it. One of the biggest problems with smartphone cameras from any manufacturer has been the lack of a real, non-digital zoom and this is a great step in the right direction.
While I love using the new optical zoom button for picture taking, I really get a kick out of using it to shoot video as zooming in and out on a subject really adds some variety and makes for more visually interesting shots.
The digital zoom (up to 10x) is easier to operate now, and that’s a good thing, I guess, for those emergency situations where you just can’t get close enough to your subject, but on the whole I never like to use the digital zoom.
It’s safe to say that if you loved taking pictures and video on your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus you’re going to love it even more on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Without a doubt you can take some stunning photos with the iPhone 7 Plus. Every time the iPhone gets a camera upgrade I’m blown away by what I can do with it.
One thing I haven’t tested yet, and won’t until later, is the new portrait mode which looks amazing. Unfortunately it’s still in beta, though, and I swore I’d never upgrade to a beta version of iOS again on my main phone (which is now this phone) since it was a total disaster the last time I did it. I’m sure you’ll easily find plenty of tests and opinions on portrait mode elsewhere.
The new iPhones have a new home button that isn’t really a button at all — when you “press” it you’ll get some haptic feedback, instead, which I honestly love. The sensation is hard to describe, but I could press it all day long and never get bored. Apple likely did this to make the new iPhone more water resistant (more on that shortly), but I would have loved this kind of a home button anyways. It just feels — and works — great.
But there are a couple of situations where the new home button could be frustrating, like if you’re wearing a bandaid or a glove. For better or worse the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus needs your actual skin to make contact with the home button in order to register a press. That actually annoyed me a bit already as I cut my thumb and stuck a bandage on it… things got awkward.
The fingerprint scanner is fast — still too fast for many people’s liking, I’ll assume. I’m more used to it now (and actually feel like my 9.7″ iPad Pro’s fingerprint scanner is too slow by comparison.
A10 Fusion Chip
The new A10 Fusion Chip embedded in the iPhone 7 Plus has two real benefits: speed and battery life.
My iPhone 7 Plus definitely feels speedier than my iPhone 6s. I get no system lag and multitasking, gaming, streaming and other activities all happen lightning fast. So no complaints in the performance department.
And I’m pretty happy with the battery life on the iPhone 7 Plus. I can get through a normal day of heavy usage with about 26% power remaining. That’s a big deal for me: with the iPhone 6s I got in the habit of turning on Low Power mode as soon as I woke up in the morning just to get through the day. Still, even with the better battery performance I’ll definitely be bringing extra power with me when I travel — 26% is not enough to watch a movie on a plane or game a layover away.
Notoriously, the newest iPhones are “missing” a headphone jack (though there is a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack dongle/converter that I’ll never take out of the box). Frankly no part of me misses the headphone jack and I can’t believe people made such a big deal about this. I prefer to use wireless headphones or wireless earbuds over wired headphones of any sort (including Lightning headphones).
This new iPhone also has “stereo” speakers, kinda. The earpiece on the top of the phone has been modified to act in concert with the other, normal, speaker on the bottom of the phone thus creating a stereo speaker experience. This turns out to be another thing I don’t really care about, honestly; it hasn’t made an impact on my everyday usage and enjoyment in any noticeable way.
The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are not waterproof, just splash and water resistant. It’s about time, frankly, as this should be table stakes for a flagship phone these days. I’m glad this feature has officially arrived on the iPhone but at the same time it isn’t Earth-shattering or life-changing, to me.
I’ve never dropped my iPhone in water: not in a lake or ocean and not in a toilet. If I ever do I won’t worry too much. Now I can take pictures in the rain or snow without worrying that… oh wait, I never did that. Meh.
Sometimes it’s hard for tech reviewers to give good buying advice for a product like the iPhone when a new version comes out every year. The iPhone 7 Plus feels pretty incremental to me, even though it’s not an s model. That combined with the fact that I’m 99% sure that next year’s iPhone will be a complete overhaul inside and out (for once) means that I can’t automatically recommend the iPhone 7 Plus as a must-buy.
If you have an iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus (or an even older iPhone) the improvements (aside from the Jet Black finish) will probably feel pretty minor (cool, but minor). Still, if you do decide to buy it I think you’ll love it.
If you’re considering buying an Android phone like the Pixel XL I’d say to keep in mind that the iPhone basically smokes the competition in the performance department thanks to Apple’s “whole widget” integrated hardware and software strategy. But like always, whatever ecosystem you find yourself immersed (namely Google’s or Apple’s) will play a big role in your ultimate decision. I love my Apple Watch, for instance, and that only works with the iPhone, so that’s something to keep in mind.
If money is no object for you then Jet Black might as well mean Just Buy — there’s nothing that would stop me from recommending it to you (a few quirks not withstanding).