Apple iPhone 7 Plus review: including Portrait Mode

Are Android phones better than the iPhone 7 Plus?

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Apple iPhone 7 Plus
  • Apple iPhone 7 Plus
  • Apple iPhone 7 Plus
  • Apple iPhone 7 Plus
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Fast
  • Decent camera with great video
  • Good screen
  • Compatible with Apple ecosystem

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Portrait Mode is a mess
  • No headphone jack
  • Price hike for Australians
  • Siri feels old
  • No VR strategy

Bottom Line

A lightly-flawed flagship. Taptic feedback isn't as useful as a headphone jack, the camera's Portrait Mode is a mess and there are some low light issues. But it's fast and well-appointed and if Apple's ecosystem is important to you, value is less of an issue.

Would you buy this?

So Apple finally deigned to provide us with an iPhone 7 Plus review unit. The phone itself (plus the first reviews) came out several weeks ago so the interest in what we have to say will have waned somewhat by now. In fact, who’s even going to bother reading this? Let’s see?

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There. you don’t see that every day in the media, do you? What you will have seen plenty of are “reviews” from “reviewers” that basically cream themselves over the latest iPhones and its quasi-magical camera while simultaneously telling us that they’ve not actually reviewed a camera or a phone before or used anything other than an iPhone ever. Obviously there are some good reviews out there too, but this makes us wonder why we’re bothering here. Most of our traffic comes from Google. This is going to appear on page 10 of a Google search if we're lucky. We're literally wasting our time writing this. Thanks Apple.

At least the highly-anticipated Portrait Mode feature came out yesterday so we can test that out.

We’ve reviewed many phones over the past couple of months including several major releases that have appeared since the iPhone 7 launched. Unfortunately for Apple, some of those phones have somewhat changed the market and our expectations of what a phone should be. In the case of Google’s Pixel XL, the new Google Assistant makes Siri look as dumb as an intelligent vacuum cleaner.

So we’re not going to repeat ourselves after our also-late-thanks-to-Apple iPhone 7 review. However, if you are reading this far, “Welcome and thanks!” And don’t worry, we’ll still tell you everything you need to know about this phone albeit in a less-total-waste-of-our-time sort of way.

[Related: Google Daydream VR full, in-depth review]

The iPhone 7 Plus in a nutshell

The iPhone 7 Plus is the same as the iPhone 7 except for four different areas: screen, camera, value and battery life. In every other way it’s the same as the iPhone 7, so maybe read that review first. Here are the differences…

Key specs

5.5in, 1,080 x 1920, 401ppi LCD display; 32/128/256,3GB RAM; Apple A10 Fusion chipset with quad-core CPU and Hexa-core GPU, dual 12-megapixel camera plus 7-megapixel front camera, Fingerprint reader, NFC (Apple Pay only), 2,900mAh battery, iOS10.1, IP67 dust and water resistant, NanoSIM, 158 x 78 x 7mm, 188g. Full specs here.

Handling, Design, Features etc

See review of iPhone 7 for most details here. However, a quick additional note on the screen. As before, the 1080p LCD screen is very good (if not as punchy as the high-resolution, AMOLED screens found on the Samsung Galaxy S7s or Google Pixel XL) but we found it particularly good when dealing with VR. Usually, there’s a pronounced “screen door effect”, but it’s minimised with the 7 Plus whose large screen suits VR well and whose 401-pixels-per-inch resolution makes it a joy to use.

Read more: We compared the speakers of a Pixel XL and an iPhone 7

iPhone 7 Plus camera review with Portrait Mode

As we went to press the latest 10.1 iOS update appeared and brought with it the long-awaited Portrait mode. Unusually for Apple, they've launched with this still in Beta and, frankly, it’s quite a mess. Having been wowed by the performance of Huawei’s dual-camera P9 camera phone, which was created in partnership with legendary photographic company, Leica, we had very high hopes for what Apple would achieve.

The dual cameras allow for better depth perception which helps with a forced 'bokeh' effect - where the subject is in focus and the background (and foreground) are blurred out. The difference can be subtle but it makes picture more arresting. In reality, it failed very often and the processing lag between capturing images meant we missed many shots.
The dual cameras allow for better depth perception which helps with a forced 'bokeh' effect - where the subject is in focus and the background (and foreground) are blurred out. The difference can be subtle but it makes picture more arresting. In reality, it failed very often and the processing lag between capturing images meant we missed many shots.

Unfortunately, where the P9 takes pictures quickly and easily and offers some amazing focusing effects which can easily be adjusted later on, the iPhone 7 Plus is a laggy, slow-to-focus mess which only works sporadically or if you spend serious time setting up a single shot. Wanting to fire of a salvo of shots at a small child or wild animal? Good luck. If the camera does focus that’s a bonus, if it takes the picture when you press the button, you’ll be lucky, if you don’t get warned about being more than 2.5m from your subject, that would be nice and if the photo taken actually made use of the effect when it said it would, then great. Unfortunately, most of these issues appear most of the time if you take more than one shot. Compared to the P9, it’s a joke.

In good lighting food shots can look sharp and detailed. Apple makes a point of keeping colours neutral and realistic though. You need to add a filter to make them pop.
In good lighting food shots can look sharp and detailed. Apple makes a point of keeping colours neutral and realistic though. You need to add a filter to make them pop.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, unlike the P9 which uses the second camera to improve focusing and colour depth (the second sensor captures black-and-white information only) Apple’s is primarily there to add an optical 2x telephoto (zoom) feature. Just tapping the 1x icon on screen zooms into 2x zoom which, unlike other cameras, uses the superior optics rather than just digital zoom. We’re not sure that this feature has been sorely-missed from the market but now it’s here and it generally works well. But it’s not earth shattering.

Read more: ​Google Pixel XL full, in-depth smartphone review: Phones just got smarter
Normal zoom. 2x Optical zoom. 10x Digital zoom. The iPhone 7 Plus is certainly one of the best telephoto camera phones on the market. But how big is the demand for this feature?
Normal zoom. 2x Optical zoom. 10x Digital zoom. The iPhone 7 Plus is certainly one of the best telephoto camera phones on the market. But how big is the demand for this feature?

Exterior shots are usually well exposed and sharp although accurate focusing isn’t the quickest we’ve seen when subjects are in motion. Highlights could blow out a bit much on bright days but really, the rcamera here is very good indeed.

When a scene is less well-lit we had more issues. Grain can become prominent very quickly and a few too many pictures were out of focus for our liking. When light really dropped down the sharpening effects were very harsh and made people look a bit cartoon like.

Even in moderate low light, grain appears very quickly and the sharpening from image processing makes everything look soft (even when they are in sharp focus).
Even in moderate low light, grain appears very quickly and the sharpening from image processing makes everything look soft (even when they are in sharp focus).

All in all though, this is still a great camera phone and the issues are usually surmountable if you take a bit more time to shoot instead of firing off a barrage of quick shots in the hope that one comes out sharp.

Video is recorded at a 2160p resolution (4K). Frankly, this is probably the best video camera we’ve tested. The Sony Xperia XZ with its five-axis Optical Image Stabilisation is very good, but the smoothness and instant focusing on offer here, even when walking around, is exceptional. The recorded audio is crisp too. There was some flickering as we moved from light to dark but nothing too distracting (and we see this everywhere else – but worse – anyway). Moving into dark areas saw impressive levels of detail captured at the expense of more grain but this transition was handled very well. Bright areas could blow out a bit more than the Pixel XL we tested, but ultimately, this has fewer issues than most other phones.

Read more: ​MyFitnessPal review: The best calorie calculator app

Next: Battery, Other features and Conclusion

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