iPhone 7 Plus review: How good is the new Portrait camera mode?

£719
Price when reviewed

How about the screen?

I’ve always personally preferred Apple’s screens to the OLED ones used on most Android phones, although that’s very much a personal preference. To my ageing eyes, even the best OLED and AMOLED screens look a little fuzzy, despite the blacker blacks and more vibrant colours.

The iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t move to AMOLED (hurrah!) and it retains the 1,920 x 1,080 resolution of previous models. It also has the same 3D Touch system that allows you to hard-press “into” the screen, a feature that’s made more of in every new release of iOS (and iOS 10 makes a lot of use of it).

However, what has changed is the brightness and colour gamut. Apple claims the screen is 25% brighter than the iPhone 6s Plus, and the colour gamut is wider. Side by side with an iPhone 6s Plus, the difference between the two devices is clear. Colours are just a little warmer, without being over-vibrant. Blacks are a little more black. Overall, it’s just a bit nicer than the previous model. It’s not a major change, but it’s a good one.

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It is disappointing, though, that Apple hasn’t made the iPhone 7 Plus with the same True Tone technology that’s used on the iPad Pro 9.7. That remains the gold standard of displays on Apple devices, and I had really hoped this year we’d get it on a phone. Perhaps manufacturing True Tone displays in the quantity required for iPhone still isn’t possible, but I’d expect the technology to come across to the phone next year.

Verdict

What to make of the iPhone 7 Plus? It’s undoubtedly the best phone Apple has ever made, and the camera puts clear water between the Plus and its smaller sibling that goes beyond just screen size.

I’ll reserve full judgement on the camera until the Bokeh feature is released, but Apple has taken a good camera and made it better in most circumstances. The addition of 2x optical zoom doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a big difference in day-to-day use. Low-light performance still has some issues that need ironing out, and given the new hardware I’d expect better, but it’s not in any way bad.

The screen is nicer, it’s faster, the new home button is clever, and the outcry over the removal of the headphone port strikes me as a storm in a teacup. Apple isn’t going to row back this decision, and in a year’s time everyone will have forgotten about it (and probably lost the little headphone jack dongle that is included with the iPhone).

I love this phone. But do I love it enough to upgrade from the year-old 6s Plus? Probably not. But most people don’t upgrade their phones every year, and if you’re coming from an iPhone 6 Plus or older, you’ll be very happy with the iPhone 7.

This is the best phone Apple can build. But is it flat out the best phone? Is this the phone that will attract users from Android, and retain users who already use iOS?

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That’s a much tougher question to answer. Other than the 2x optical zoom, there’s nothing really added that will make the owners of a recent flagship Android phone insanely jealous. If you’re already using iOS, then you’ll get a better experience overall with the iPhone 7 Plus than you would from switching to (say) a Galaxy S7 Edge or Note 7. iOS 10 is a major upgrade, and this is the best device to run it on.

In some ways the iPhone 7 Plus feels like an intermediate release, a phone that’s paving the way for something else. Apple often introduces new technologies that will ultimately be used in long-planned new features – for example, Touch ID was introduced along with the secure enclave on the processor well before the release of Apple Pay, which is what it was designed from the outset to support. Many of the new features in this phone feel like that: things we’re not yet getting the most use of, but which will be important in the future.

Almost everything about this phone has changed. It’s faster, the cameras are better, it’s water-resistant, there’s more memory, it has a dinky new home button. Yet still, despite loving it, I’m not left with the immediate need to run out and order one, as I usually do (don’t worry, Apple, I probably will anyway).

I think much of this is down to the design. If all of the improvements in the iPhone 7 Plus had come with a major redesign of the case, I suspect a lot more people would be calling this the best phone on the planet. But the design is definitely getting a little tired. It’s still an iconic design, but even iconic designs can become a little dated, and placed next to a Galaxy Edge, the iPhone looks little old.

The iPhone isn’t the only Apple product that feels like it has a slightly tired look. Apart from the MacBook, there’s little to differentiate Macs from models a few years old. The iPad 9.7 may now be “Pro” (and great), but it’s also essentially the same look as the three-year-old iPad Air.

Design isn’t simply about how something looks, but Apple’s failure to refresh how its products look is puzzling and for me worrying, especially in the iPhone. The iPhone is the most personal device Apple makes. How it looks is incredibly important for its customers, and failing to regularly update that look is baffling.

Overall, thought, Apple has packed an awful lot of great technology into a phone that cries out for a redesigned look. But it’s still a great phone, and if you’re a committed iPhone user you’ll want it.

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