FEATURE REVIEW – iPhone 7 Plus

After the initial out of the box experience, here are my thoughts on the iPhone 7 Plus

Introduction
I’m going to try to make this quick, as I’m currently working on a number of longer articles for Soft32 that I really want to get done in September as opposed to October; but to be honest, this one really can’t wait. If I don’t get it posted, its value and relevance will really fall; and I just can’t have that…

I’ve been an iPhone user on and off since 2008. I originally bought an iPhone 3G (or what could now be called the iPhone 2). It was the second iPhone that Apple released; and back in the day it you had a choice of two (2) colors – white or black. I was at a local AT&T store and while I wanted black, I had to take white, as all of the black phones were sold out. It’s also the last time that I actually stood in a line to buy a phone.

Things have changed a great deal in the last eight years.

I’m running with an iPhone 7 Plus this time around. I’ve had it for about a week; and I’ve developed a few opinions about it. Let’s take a quick sec and run over them… Shall we..??

Size, Finish and Form Factor
Damn, this phone is big.

I remember back in the day – and we’re talking 2004 to 2006 time frame – having a device with a screen larger than four (4) inches (measured diagonally) was a dream to view content with; but was considered a major issue because it completely interfered with one hand operation. The iPhone 7 is 4.7″ diagonally and the 7 Plus is 5.5 inches diagonally.

I found the following picture of all of the iPhones that Apple has ever released. It clearly shows the change in size over the past nine (9) years.

iphone-history

The iPhone 7 can still be used one handed, but requires a larger hand to really make this work without risking some serious and possibly painful, stretching. The iPhone 7 Plus simply can’t be used with one hand. At 5.5″ diagonally, the form factor (often) requires two hands to hold the device, let alone, use it.

I’ve got a serious case of arthritis in my hands, and to be honest, I don’t even think about trying to use the 7 Plus with one hand. For me – and I would think most of the Plus user base – it just isn’t possible.

If there was one thing that hit me when I got into my 7 Plus, it was the size of the device. My wife has the iPhone 6s Plus, and has been using that for a year; and of course I’ve occasionally used it; but it’s a different story when your daily driver is as large as the Plus size devices.

I know I will get used to it, but this is going to take me some time. I need to stop stretching my hands across the device to the upper left corner, trying to reach things. It’s just not going to happen…

With the device’s increased size, I’ve noticed that its rounded edges are a problem. The device is so smooth that it really feels like it wants to fall out of my hands when I’m holding it. If there was one thing that I would change about this device, it would be squaring off the rounded edges, making it a bit similar to the design of the iPhone SE and the iPhone 4/4s/5/5s. It would just make it a lot easier to grip and hold on to.

At the end of the day, the screen size is a huge reason to upgrade, but it makes the device a lot bigger (duh…) and it requires a bit of getting used to, especially for someone with arthritis issues, like me.

I purchased the matte black iPhone 7 Plus. My wife got the jet black iPhone 7 Plus. Both colors are VERY black. This is not charcoal, or a dark space gray. This is black.

My wife’s jet black 7 Plus arrived on 2015-09-27. The best way to describe it is as having a black, glossy, glass finish all the way around. The back looks as though it is covered with the same glass as the front is. It looks beautiful.

The Full 360
Here are some comparison photos of the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6s Plus and the Matte Black, iPhone 7 Plus.

dsc_1317 dsc_1318
From left to right, the front of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the backs of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus
dsc_1319 dsc_1320
From left to right, the bottom of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the left side of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus
dsc_1321 dsc_1324
From left to right, the tops of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the right side of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus

Home Button
This is a huge change in iPhone 7; and aside from the loss of the headphone jack (see below…), is perhaps the biggest, most controversial change in iPhone 7. 7 Plus.

The Home Button is no longer a physical button. The TouchID sensor is hidden under a haptic enabled, Force Touch/ 3D Touch, round, recessed section of the screen. User adjustable, haptic feedback simulates a click or press when you press on it with your fingertip.

The “button” works via capacitive touch. There is no physical, depressive hardware or button mechanism that depresses when you push the button. Like the trackpad on a MacBook or MacBook Pro equipped with a compatible trackpad, the new home button simulates a press when you “push” it.

I’ve noticed that while this is similar to the experience and feeling on the MacBook or MacBook Pro that’s equipped with a Force Touch trackpad, its simply does NOT work the same way. The trackpad “click” feels like you’ve actually clicked a trackpad. The feeling you get from the Home Button on the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus does NOT feel like you’ve pushed the Home Button on an iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus or earlier, and it never will.

While you WILL get used to this change over time, it’s the miniaturization of the haptic engine and the other components in the “button” that make this implementation of this technology different. It works on the trackpads because everything is a bit bigger, there’s more surface area to work with and the vibration from the haptic engine can be applied to a larger area and has a better chance to dissipate a bit to help simulate a depressed click, all without any physical, moving parts.

Because it has no moving parts, AND requires a capacitive connection, you can’t get a press out of the button with a finger nail. You have to have a physical, flesh to button connection. This coupled with the new click feel, is going to require some getting used to.

As a quick aside, iOS 10 also implements a, “press home to unlock,” process. This was done in large part due to complaints that Apple received from users of the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus who indicated that the performance of the touch sensor on those phones was too good, unlocking the device before they had a chance to read all of the notifications on the lock screen. You can “disable” this somewhat by changing the Home Button behavior in Accessibility Settings.

You’re going to be pressing the Home Button a lot more, so you can either get used to it all, or change the settings to better match the way you work. Your call…

Headphone Jack
First things first… Apple did NOT simply cover up the headphone jack on the iPhone 7/ 7Plus with the new, left side speaker grill. They removed the jack and all the associated hardware from the device completely. Please note that drilling a hole in your iPhone 7/ 7 Plus looking to “activate” the “hidden” jack under the speaker grill is only going to destroy your new iPhone. There is no hidden jack.

Plainly put – drilling a hole in your phone is just a mark of stupidity. Don’t do it. Period. The headphone jack has been removed from the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus, not hidden.

That nasty bit out of the way, the big question is, “how has this affected me?”

The answer is, “not much at all.”

I love music. It’s a key part of my life and a large part of who I am. I’ve got songs – originals and covers – running through my head all day, every day. Literally.

The main place I listen to any audio content is my car; and I’ve been listening to it via lightning connector/ USB cable connected to my car radio for about five (5) years. The only time I’ve ever really used any of the ear buds I’ve received with any of my iPhones – or any smartphone, for that matter – is when I’ve needed to make a phone call while having both hands free (and I wasn’t in my car). I very rarely listen to music at the office, as someone is likely to say something to me, and I’m not going to hear them if I’m plugged in. At home, I play audio through desktop speakers set at the appropriate volume level.

Now, that isn’t to say that I will NEVER use a set of headphones at office. However, when I do, I’ve got that covered. iPhone 7 and 7 Plus both come with a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter (a $9 accessory). If I want to listen to music at work, I’ll put that adapter on the wired end of the Beats Wireless On-Ear Headphones I bought on Amazon.com.

Yes, they can also work wirelessly; but I never use the wireless connection any longer. I’ve had too many problems. The wired connection is much more reliable. So, again, I’ll just put the adapter on the AUX cord that came with the headset and leave it there.

While lots of folks hate change; this one isn’t bothering me much. At the end of the day, we’re going to do the same thing that we did when headphone jacks moved from 1/4 inch to 3.5mm… we’re going to get an adapter, attach it to our favorite headset, and we’re going to get over the fact that the jack we’re used to is gone.

Camera
There are a great deal of camera improvements in the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus. The table below compares the camera in the last two iterations of Apple’s flagship phone.

Feature

iPhone 7

iPhone 6s

Sensor Size 12MP 12MP
Aperture WA: f1.8, T: f2.8 f2.2
Zoom Optical: 2x, Dig: 10x Digital Only: 5x
OIS Both Plus Only
Lens 6 Element 5 Element
Lens Cover Sapphire Crystal Sapphire Crystal

I’m a decent amateur photographer, and quite honestly, the above features are the ones that I’m really interested in and concerned about when it comes to the camera. These are the core camera features that anyone really interested in the camera will really care about. The faster rating (f1.8 vs f2.2) on the iPhone 7’s rear camera means that it should take better pictures in low light situations. The camera should also be better at capturing sports or other fast action shots.

To be honest, these are all still photo feature related. While the ability to take video is also nice, I don’t do it much. Thankfully for me, though, the video camera feature set between the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus hasn’t changed. It’s the same as last year’s model.

Since I’m coming from an iPhone 6 to the iPhone 7, I haven’t really had a chance to take or play with Live Photos. To be blunt and honest, I’m not impressed. Live Photos are three to six second movies that your phone takes. The photo appears as a still until you either press and hold or apply Force Touch to your screen.

Live Photos is turned on by default and are taken in Photo (default) mode. I’ve found them to be some of the worst photos AND videos I’ve ever taken. The still shots in them are mediocre at best and the videos are often blurry. When most stills are in the 175kb to 512kb size range and Live Photos are about 2MB in size, they are really nothing more than a waste of space, I’ve found. Unless you’re in a really well lit, naturally lighted area, I’d stay away from them.

Other photos I’ve taken with the iPhone 7 Plus look really good. Take a look at the table below. I’ve got two photos of the same subject taken with both devices and their Info sheets, below. Both photos are of our new puppy, Maggie, a havanese puppy, about 16 weeks old.

img_0102 img_0102-info
img_5820 img_5820-info

There’s nothing special done to either of these photos. I haven’t applied any filters or retouched them in any way. You can see the photo taken with the iPhone 7 Plus has much more detail and is a much clearer, more focused, sharper picture. That’s what a faster lens with a longer focal length and 4 additional mega pixels will get you. The quality and improvement is unquestionable.

When you look at these two sample photos, it’s clear which is the better one – the one taken with the iPhone 7 Plus. It also clearly illustrates why the camera on a smartphone is perhaps the single biggest reason why people upgrade their phones every 12 to 24 months. Their phone is the camera they carry with them everywhere they go.

When you make quality jumps like f1.8 from f2.2 and 6.6mm from 4.5mm, upgrading your smartphone to get a better camera is easy to understand. While I’d quite honestly rather have my DSLR with me to take pictures, this point and shoot camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is really a good substitute in a much more convenient form factor.

NOTE: I’m going to say just this about the pending Portrait mode and the Gaussian blur effect it performs – the blur needs to be more pronounced than some of the sample photos I’ve seen taken by those individuals running the update on an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. Currently, the effect doesn’t feel strong enough to me. You can see some sample pictures published on c|net, here.

I am NOT currently running the iOS 10.1 beta that has this update, though I have access to the software. I wanted to be able to review my iPhone 7 Plus without the possible issues that may come from early betas of this first major update to iOS 10.

Battery Life
The iPhone 7/ 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus are effectively the same size. Each corresponding model in each device series has the same dimensions as the other. However, the inner workings are a bit different and are laid out differently. As I understand it, the batteries in the 7/ 7 Plus is slightly bigger than the batteries in the 6s/ 6s Plus.

Battery specs for the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s Plus are below. You’ll notice that the battery ratings for the 6s Plus are slightly better than the 7 Plus. While the battery is slightly bigger, the lower battery life ratings can be accounted for in the updated A10 processor, extra 1GB of RAM (the 7 Plus has a total of 3GB of RAM where the 6s Plus has 2GB of RAM) and the higher resolution display.

Feature

iPhone 7 Plus

iPhone 6s Plus

Improvement 1 hour Longer

N/A

Talk Time – 3G Up to 21 hours on 3G Up to 24 hours on 3G
Standby Up to 16 days Up to 16 days
Internet Use Up to 13 hours on 3G
Up to 13 hours on LTE
Up to 15 hours on Wi-Fi
Up to 12 hours on 3G
Up to 12 hours on LTE
Up to 12 hours on WiFi
Wireless Video Playback Up to 14 hours Up to 14 hours
Wireless Audio Playback Up to 60 hours Up to 80 hours

During the day, I take and make a moderate amount of phone calls. I have some moderate app use. I play a couple hours of games; and I’ve always got at least one smartwatch connected to it – either the Olio Model One or the Apple Watch Series 0. With the iPhone 6, I found that my device’s charge would drop to between 15 to 20% power by the end of the day. I’ve found that with the iPhone 7 Plus, I can make it through the day with well over 55% charge left. That’s about 1/3 more battery life. I find that it also charges back up fairly quickly. I’m usually back up to 95-100% by the time I’m back home from work (a 45 to 60 minute ride).

Conclusion
I have some work to do getting used to the increased device size of the iPhone 7 Plus. I know I’ll get there; but right now, knowing that I have to finish adjusting and have to learn to feel comfortable using two hands to run the device instead of just one will take some time.

The jury is still out for me on the Home Button. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I’d like to “like” how the device functions since I’m technically stuck with this until at least next year.

I’ve moved on from the loss of the headphone jack. You should too. It’s not that big a deal… really. As long as I have the 3.5mm to Lightning adapter on my Beats headphones audio cord, I’m fine. If not, then I have to go across the street from the office to the Apple Store to get a new one.

The camera is really great, but I need to spend some more time taking pictures with it. It’s a huge improvement over the iPhone 6 that I’ve been using and its enhancements warrant some serious work.

Battery life on the 7 Plus is decent. While its somewhat less than the 6s Plus, its enhanced components can explain that away, and honestly, it’s a lot better knowing that I’ve got extra battery power to get me through the day when I really need it.

The iPhone 7 Plus would have been a good upgrade for me regardless of the metrics or reasons and results of my first week of use. The device has a larger screen, bigger battery, a better camera and an extra 1GB of RAM (for a total of 3GB) than my iPhone 6, so this was a slam dunk based on those older device specs. Everything else I got was just gravy…

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