Phone cameras are getting really damn good.
Samsung's Galaxy S7, the Google Pixel, and the iPhone 7 all take photos that sometimes border on astonishing. In that sense, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus aren't as distinctive as phones anymore. They're excellently made, superfast, and this time they're water-resistant, too. They're great phones, but we already knew that about the iPhone.
When Apple first made the larger Plus phones back in 2014, the appeal was always about screen size, battery life, and to a small extent, the camera. Really, all the larger 5.5-inch model had that the standard 4.7-incher didn't was optical image stabilization (OIS). This year, the iPhone 7 finally gets OIS -- great for smoothing out shaky-handed pics and videos.
That's just one of the many similarities between the 7 and 7 Plus. Really, they're two variants on the same phone:
- Both are water-resistant.
- Both have the same fast A10 Fusion processor.
- Both have optical image stabilization on the rear camera for better low-light photos.
- Both lack headphone jacks.
Top phone cameras compared
The iPhone 7 Plus has a few distinct advantages:
- Two rear cameras -- one wide angle, one telephoto -- that can zoom in at 2x or even further digitally. And it can create depth-of-field blur effects, or "bokeh" type effects, with portrait photos in a unique camera mode.
- Better battery life, but not by a huge amount.
- Larger 5.5-inch 1080p display.
- 3GB of RAM, instead of 2GB
- It's heavier and bigger.
- And, of course, it costs more.
All things iOS 10
After several months trying both phones, I prefer the 7 Plus. But I spend my life on my phone and run around shooting photos and videos for work-related posts. For me, it's an essential tool, and I justify the extra camera quality.
For a lot of others, the Plus will seem unnecessary. Pick the phone that you can afford, and go with battery packs for charge-ups. But I still feel like I miss that headphone jack, even though I honestly don't find many instances anymore where I need it.
Put another way: Everything we like -- and dislike -- about the smaller iPhone 7 applies to the 7 Plus model, too. (Read the iPhone 7 review here.) Just know that you're paying a premium of $120, £120 or AU$190 when you step up to the 7 Plus at each storage capacity. (Yes, the price has crept up a bit from last year.)
But if you like shooting photos with your phone, it's totally worth it.
It's big, though
Samsung and other manufacturers are doing a far better job folding identical 5.5-inch or larger displays into bodies that feel smaller and better in your hand, like the S7 Edge's. But now with cameras that can truly differentiate it from its smaller sibling, the 7 Plus finally has an easy justification for that jumbo size. It's finally the step-up experience the larger phone needed.
But keep in mind that next year's iPhone may solve the size problem, and fold more screen into a smaller body. You might want to consider holding out and seeing what happens in 2017 with that new design.
How the dual cameras up the ante
I'm not a pro photographer, but I'm trying to get better. James Martin, a senior photographer at CNET, is. He shot with the 7 Plus in the Bay Area, while I took it around and used it for everyday life in New York and New Jersey.
The dual cameras don't actually zoom, like a point-and-shoot camera with a protruding lens. Instead, the phone switches between the wide-angle camera and the telephoto, from 1 to 2x. From there, the camera app can digitally zoom up to 10x versus 5x on the iPhone 7. For video, it's 6x.
Digital zoom works better than it used to, but zooming in too far still results in blurry, digitized pics. It can't work miracles. But adding the 2x optical helps frame photos: I found many landscape shots transformed.
I went to the New York Jets' season opener and sat in the cheap seats. And being able to zoom in closer to the game action with less loss of detail was a great change -- all without a big, heavy camera around my neck.
Note, too, that the camera equals the low-light performance of its smaller sibling, which is an improvement over the 6S/6S Plus models. But also note that the Google Pixel's low light capabilities are even better. To compare Pixel vs iPhone 7 Plus, check out this in-depth comparison.