Apple traditionally follows a ‘tick tock’ update cycle with its iPhones: a major, full-number update with a visible physical redesign (iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6) followed by a minor, S-branded update that looks roughly or exactly the same as its predecessor (iPhone 4s, iPhone 5c/5s, iPhone 6s). So after the relatively unexciting update last year we were expecting and hoping for a fundamentally different design.
In fact, the iPhone 7 Plus is largely the same in overall design to the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus before it: the dimensions are almost identical to the 6s Plus. And the camera still sticks out at the back, which is mildly irritating.
Try placing the iPhone 7 Plus face-up on a table and it won’t lie down flat: the back lens will prop it up very slightly. It’s particularly galling given that the iPhone SE, released back in spring 2016, has a design in which the camera is completely flush. Still, most of us will keep the iPhone cased (with one of the best iPhone 7 Plus cases), which removes the issue entirely. And even if this design has been around for a while now, it remains very smart and attractive.
There are a couple of differences from the previous generation. The iPhone 6s’s visible antenna bands have been removed, which produces a cleaner, more minimalist design. And more significantly, the headphone port is also gone, which has a similar aesthetic effect but is altogether more controversial.
The matte red finish is absolutely stunning as it shimmers in the light, and is easily one of the best looking iPhones ever released. Trust us when we say that even though it looks great in pictures, it looks phenomenal in real life and could be our favourite colour option ever.
As with everything Apple, it’s all about the small touches: the mirror-finish silver logo on the rear of the red smartphone matches the rim of the Lightning port and Touch ID ring on the front of the smartphone.
Piper Jaffrey analyst Gene Munster suggested ahead of the launch that the iPhone 7 handsets wouldn’t have a Home button, and that the Touch ID sensor would be built into the screen itself. That hasn’t happened. But Apple has substantially redesigned the Home button.
Apple has kept the Home button but modified it, changing the button from a moving to a non-moving part, equipping it instead with the haptic technology from the MacBook’s Force Touch trackpad. In other words, it ‘buzzes’ when you apply pressure to simulate a downward press, while in actual fact not moving at all. (For more on the haptic Force Touch trackpad, read 13 ways to use Force Touch on the MacBook.)
This felt odd at first, and on the whole isn’t as effective a deception as the MacBook’s Force Touch click. This feels different to the old Home button and there’s no getting away from that fact. But you get used to it very quickly. It’s different, but good in its own way. (Also, we recommend using the most subtle number-one setting for the Home button’s haptic feedback, which seems the most natural to us. Read: How to customise the iPhone 7 Home button.)
As predicted ahead of the launch, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are officially more waterproof than any previous iPhones – although Apple is studiously using the phrase ‘water-resistant’ instead.
The iPhone 7 handsets are rated IP67 for solid and liquid intrusion protection.
The iPhone 7 Plus has a very similar screen to the iPhone 6s Plus: it’s the same 5.5-inch phablet form factor that’s been a popular choice for the 6 Plus and 6s Plus, with the same resolution (1920 x 1080) and pixel density (401 pixels per inch): the highest of any Apple product. And while rival manufacturers have gone considerably higher still – Samsung’s Galaxy S8 has an astonishing 570ppi – it’s debatable whether the human eye is capable of getting much from densities above 400ppi. At this point it’s about spec boasting more than appreciable differences in the user experience.
We find it a shade too large for our tastes (like the 6s Plus, it stretches the seams of our slim-fit trouser pockets…), but Apple has at least addressed potential problems using such a big-screen device one-handed with a feature called Reachability, which compresses the screen downwards when you double-tap the Home button. (That’s not a new feature, mind: it was announced along with the iPhone 6 Plus.) Interface touches like that are key to Apple’s appeal.