Fact: things are better when they come in pairs.
The cops would have a hard time arresting anyone with a single handcuff. Good luck knitting that ugly Christmas sweater with only one needle. And as if a solitary KitKat finger could ever last your entire coffee break.
The particular pair we’re interested in, though? The two cameras pointing out the back of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus.
What used to just be a plus-sized version of the vanilla iPhone has now fully stolen the spotlight from its smaller brother, thanks to some clever camera tech. Combine it with all the other tweaks and upgrades Apple has made for 2016, and you’re going to find yourself needing bigger pockets – because this is now the best iPhone out there.
Apple’s approach for the iPhone 7 Plus? One sensor for close-up snaps, and another for zooming in on the action. It’s a genius idea that has a genuine effect on the shots you take. This ain’t no gimmick.
So how does it work? Well, hop into the camera app and you’ll find a new 1x icon at the bottom of the screen. Tap it and you’ll switch from the f/1.8 wide angle sensor to the f/2.8 telephoto, for 2x optical zoom. You can tap and hold, then drag up or down to digitally zoom in up to 10x. Optical image stabilisation goes a long way to keeping your shots steady, even when you’re zoomed in, so you’ll be able to snap unsuspecting wildlife without spooking them, or get closer to the action at a gig without having to brave the moshpit.
Bear in mind though that the optical zoom only works up to 2x, and that even Apple’s legendary image processing can’t rescue the detail that gets lost once you start dialling up the digital zoom. As you’d expect, results at 10x look a bit too fuzzy to print, especially when you’re in the middle of a crowd of EDM ravers, but it’s still handy to use as a set of mobile binoculars.
Zoom also works when filming video, but only at 2x optical and 6x digital magnifications. That’s fine though, because whereas the pinch-to-zoom feature on last year’s iPhones could leave your footage looking shakier than something out of the Blair Witch Project, you’ll now have two hands to steady the phone. That, combined with OIS, really smoothes out video recording.
It helps that iOS 10 lets you swipe the lockscreen to the left to jump straight into the camera app now, too. The sizable Plus was prone to toppling over with the swipe up gesture, but you can now keep a firm grip on it when you’re getting ready to snap that perfect selfie.
Unfortunately, the camera app’s Portrait mode, which Apple reckons puts its phones on par with DSLR cameras (yeah right, Apple. We’ll be the judge of that), isn’t yet available.
It could be a killer feature if it works, creating convincing depth of field effects and beautiful bokeh, but we’re staying sceptical for now. Other phones have tried, and failed, to do something similar.
Overall picture quality is staggering at times, with the wide f/1.8 aperture really helping the 12MP wide-angle sensor capture loads of light with every tap of the shutter button. There’s an impressive amount of detail, even compared to the higher resolution Android competition, and the fact that you can now shoot in RAW gives you more control over the editing process.
Low light can’t spoil the fun either. The iPhone 6s Plus could be a bit like Donald Trump searching for common sense, struggling to get a fix on something right in front of it, but focusing is a lot faster now. Noise still creeps in a little, but night photos look better than ever. The TrueTone flash has also been boosted with two extra LEDs, so you’ll be able to light up even the darkest scenes.
It’s easily one of the best smartphone cameras around right now, and one which gives the Samsung Galaxy S7 a real run for its money.
SEE THE LIGHT
The reason all your photos look so damn good on that 5.5in display is that they’re both shot and shown in a wide colour gamut. That doesn’t just mean more colours, but also more lifelike ones – so you get greater vibrancy, without deviating from how a scene actually looked when you pressed the shutter button.
It’s also the brightest iPhone screen yet, with a 25% boost to peak brightness which means you can now read the screen in direct sunlight. Yep, there’s finally no need to run for shade whenever a WhatsApp message comes through.
It hasn’t had a resolution bump, in line with Apple’s feelings on Retina displays, but that’s not a major problem. Images and text still look sharp enough, even stretched over 5.5in, so while it falls behind the QHD Android competition on paper, you won’t notice the difference in the real world unless you really look for it.
Samsung’s screen tech still has the upper hand when it comes to Netflix-binges thanks to the deep blacks and incredible contrast you only really get with OLED panels, but this is at least the best iPhone screen yet. And we’ll just have to wait for the iPhone 8 Plus for OLED, eh?
Meanwhile, Apple’s 3D Touch pressure-sensitive screen tech is now that little bit more useful thanks to iOS 10. Most of the major apps now feature pop-up menus which allow you to jump straight into the bit you want – the kind of change that you won’t fully appreciate until you use it regularly.
JACK IT IN
The Plus has excellent sound to back up the stellar screen, with stereo speakers finally finding their way into an iPhone for the first time (or second if you count the fact that they’re also included on the smaller iPhone 7). They can pump out impressively loud audio, and don’t sound half-bad either – no need to grab your back-up ’buds when you want to watch a YouTube video.
Sound has taken a hit in another area, though: the headphone port. It’s gone, ditched in favour of Apple’s Lightning port. That means lugging around a clunky 3.5mm adapter if you want to use your existing set of cans, or cutting the cord altogether with Bluetooth.
Is it an annoying move? Abso-tootly. Is it the only phone to lose it? Nope, Android phones such as the Moto Z have ditched it too. Is it the end of the world? Nah, not really.
The ugly adapter is almost definitely going to get lost, and the number of people using Apple EarPods are probably going to skyrocket given that there’s a Lightning-equipped pair in the box, but the grumbling will stop eventually. Besides, Bluetooth headphones are really good these days.
BACK IN BLACK
There’s barely any difference at all, with the biggest being that the Home button isn’t actually a button now. It’s still got fingerprint-sensing TouchID smarts that work just as swiftly as those on last year’s phone, but it now sits flush to the phone.
To make up for it no longer being a proper pressable button, it’s been kitted out with Apple’s Taptic engine, a feature which first showed up in the new Macbook trackpad and Apple Watch. Here it uses haptic feedback to mimic the feel of an actual click – and it mostly works. It’ll definitely take some getting used to – mainly due to it feeling as if you’re clicking in the whole bottom of the phone, rather than just the button. But you can tweak it to make it more or less ‘clicky’, and we suspect that after a few weeks with it you’ll barely remember a time when it felt any different.
Flip the iPhone 7 Plus over, of course, and you’ll instantly spot the twin camera sensors, along with the stealthy antenna lines that have been bumped closer to the top and bottom.
Compared to the ultra-glossy Jet Black iPhone 7, the matte black 7 Plus does a great job of hiding fingerprints. You won’t be constantly wiping it down, making it the perfect colour to pick if you’re the low maintenance type. Old favourites Silver, Gold and Rose Gold all make a return too.
The biggest of all changes to the iPhone 7 Plus’ build, though, is one you won’t actually be able to spot: it’s waterproof. Yes, you can now, finally, give the iPhone a bit of a dunking. Like its little brother, the iPhone 7 Plus is IP67 water-resistant, which means it can be submerged in up to 1m of water for up to 30 minutes.
You’re unlikely to do that with it – what would be the point? – but more realistically you’ll be able to soundtrack your shower with a Spotify singalong. And even more realistically, an accidental trip down the U-bend won’t mean a trip back to the Apple Store.
It might be big and bulky compared to the svelte iPhone 7, but there’s no way you can call the iPhone 7 Plus slow or sluggish. The four-core A10 Fusion chip inside makes sure things always feel instantly responsive, whether handling apps, multitasking, adding camera effects or even enjoying a spot of Pokemon-catching.
It’s no slouch when it comes to games, either, keeping even demanding titles such as Riptide GP2 and Asphalt 8 ticking along at a healthy frame-rate. Indeed, the holy trinity of screen real estate, stereo speakers and haptic feedback makes this one of the best phones for gaming out there.
Most importantly of all, that huge amount of power doesn’t come at the expense of battery life. More than halfway through the day we still had a very reassuring 51% left – despite the phone having been in constant use since we woke up.
This is a handset that will carry you from day to night without you needed to plug it in, and when you do eventually hit that worrying 20% there’s the option of turning on Low Power Mode – which should tide you through post-work drinks. And anyway, you shouldn’t be using your phone so much in social situations. It’s rude.
Storage is a bit more of a mixed bag. On the one hand, ditching the entry-level 16GB model was absolutely the right move – it was a nightmare having to delete apps or wipe off music every time an iOS update arrived.
A more spacious 256GB model will appease media hoarders, too, as long as they’ve got the cash to cover it, but dropping the 64GB option in favour of 128GB means there’s no middle ground sweet spot any more. It would have been great to have had four choices here, but instead you either make do with 32GB or spend significantly more to jump up to 128GB.
Regardless of capacity, you’ll be looking at the business end of a R15,500 bill to take one home – the Apple premium is real, people.
The camera has always been one of the iPhone’s greatest weapons against the encroaching army of rapidly improving Android handsets, and the substantial upgrade Apple has squeezed into the iPhone 7 Plus makes it a no-brainer for mobile photographers.
Waterproofing is a welcome touch, bringing it on par with Sony and Samsung phones, and it’s a performance powerhouse when it comes to apps and games. Add in a better battery and you’ve got a clear winner over the vanilla iPhone 7.
Sure, it loses out on paper in a head-to-head with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, which has a stylus and a better display for less cash , but if you’re firmly entrenched in camp iOS, it’s time to go big or go home. The iPhone 7’s camera might be improved, but the iPhone 7 Plus’ snapper offers a lot more to play with. So unless you’re totally against big screens, this is the iPhone you should buy.