Do you own an iPhone 6? Then Apple AAPL -1.59% needs you.
iPhone 6 owners are specifically who Apple is counting on to buy thepolarising iPhone 7. Why? Because most iPhone 6S owners are still tied to 18 month contracts and the iPhone 6 sold in record numbers. So are the differences between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6 big enough to deserve your hard earned cash or are there too many compromises? Let’s take a look…
Note: if you do decide to upgrade, my detailed iPhone 7 vs iPhone 7 Plus review will help you choose between the new models.
Design & Size – Similar, But Only On The Outside
Two of the biggest controversies about the iPhone 7 come from its design. The first is, for the third year in a row, it looks almost identical. This can be seen in the specifications:
- iPhone 7 – 138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 in) and 138 g (4.87 oz)
- iPhone 6 – 138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 in) and 129 g (4.55 oz)
The good news is iPhone 7 design improvements are more than skin deep. It is stronger than the iPhone 6 (which is prone to bending) thanks to its use of Series 7000 aluminium, it is water resistant and able to survive for 30 minutes fully submersed, and the home button is now fixed (disguised through clever use of haptic feedback) which removes a notorious point of failure.
There’s another hidden gem as well: the iPhone 7 has a boosted earpiece speaker allowing loud external stereo sound for the first time.
But the second controversy is harder to justify: Apple confirmed my 2014 exclusive story by removing the ubiquitous 3.5mm headphone jack, iPhone 7 owners have to use the Lightning port for both charging and wired Lightning headphones.
Fans of wireless headphones won’t mind this, but owners of premium wired headphones will need to carry around a 3.5mm to Lightning adapter which may prove a deal breaker. This compromise was compounded by Apple retaining the 3.5mm headphone jack on its new MacBook Pro laptops and not fitting a Lightning port.
Displays – An Old Dog Learns New Tricks
Much like the exterior, a quick glance at the display specifications of the iPhone 7 won’t do much to have iPhone 6 owners reaching for their wallets:
- iPhone 6 – 4.7-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD, 1334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi), 65.6% screen-to-body ratio
- iPhone 7 – 4.7-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD, 1334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi), 65.6% screen-to-body ratio. 3D Touch
But once again, there’s more here than meets the eye. For starters Apple has boosted peak brightness on the iPhone 7 by 25% compared to the iPhone 6S (which was already brighter than the iPhone 6) and added support for a wide (P3) colour gamut so colours are extremely accurate. You won’t get OLED levels of blackness, but this is the best LCD has ever looked.
The iPhone 7 also delivers 3D Touch like the iPhone 6S. The ability of 3D Touch to sense different levels of pressure enabled ‘peek and pop’ shortcuts (notably on icons and to preview emails and links) is clever but hasn’t really taken off so far. So owners love it, but an equal number forget it is even there.
Performance – Major Speed Upgrades
Perhaps the best reason to upgrade to the iPhone 7 from the iPhone 6, however, is speed:
- iPhone 6 – Apple A8: Dual Core CPU, Quad core GPU, 1GB RAM
- iPhone 7 – Apple A10 Fusion: Quad Core CPU, Six Core GPU, 2GB RAM
Simply put, the iPhone 7 is currently the fastest smartphone in the world. It’s a benchmark beast and its real world performance annihilates the competition with only Google’s superb Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones proving worthy competition.
How does this stack up to the iPhone 6? Let’s phrase it this way: the iPhone 6S CPU and GPU are 70% and 90% faster respectively than the iPhone 6, and the iPhone 7 delivers a further 40% CPU and 50% GPU boost over the iPhone 6S. In addition to this the iPhone 7’s extra gig of RAM helps to keep apps longer in memory, so there’s less reloading when you multitask.
All in all the iPhone 7 is a rocket fast phone.
The iPhone 7 also comes with the second generation of Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor (seen too in the iPhone 6S). Touch ID on the iPhone 6 was never sluggish, but the iPhone 7 sensor is lightning quick and extremely accurate. Touch ID and Google’s Nexus Imprint are clear class leaders right now.
Finally, the iPhone 7 makes a big leap in the speed of its modem. It is now capable of hitting 450Mbit compared to 150Mbit of the iPhone 6 (it tops out at 300Mbit on the iPhone 6S). How often you’ll experience a 4G network fast enough to take advantage of this is another question entirely.
Cameras – A Solid But Not Outstanding Upgrade
Here’s the thing with the iPhone 6: it still takes extremely good photos and video. In fact, for many, it is perfectly good enough. So is the iPhone 7 worth the upgrade for its optics? It wouldn’t be my primary reason in all honesty.
On paper the specs look good:
- iPhone 6 – Rear: 8 megapixel sensor, f2.4 aperture, Focus Pixels, EIS, dual-LED flash, 4K video recording. Front: 1.2MP Front Camera, f2.4 aperture, 720p video recording
- iPhone 7 – Rear: 12 megapixel wide angle sensor, f/1.8 aperture, Focus Pixels, Optical Image Stabilisation, quad-LED (dual tone) flash, 4K video recording. Front: 7MP sensor, f/2.2 aperture, 1080p recording
But in reality I’ve found the iPhone 7 camera to be underwhelming. It is slightly crisper and more colour accurate in sunny conditions, and low light shooting has improved thanks to the faster aperture, but it isn’t a revolutionary leap forward considering the two generation gap.
Instead the biggest leap comes from the 7MP front facing camera. This isn’t class leading, but the iPhone 6 has a famously terrible 1.2MP front shooter and that was a disgrace. That aside, at the time of its release the iPhone 6 had an all conquering smartphone camera, but now Apple has fallen behind Samsung and Google (notably at its first attempt).
So yes the iPhone 7 has a very good camera and you will enjoy it in isolation, but it won’t transform your photography coming from the iPhone 6.
Battery Life And Charging – Stagnation Continues
While the iPhone Plus range continues to win deserved plaudits for its exceptional battery life, the iPhone 7 has made next to no progress in the last two years.
For starters the battery capacity has changed little (iPhone 6 – 1810mAh, iPhone 7 – 1960mAh) and you’ll still struggle to get a full day out of it with anything except light use. But the additional own goal is Apple’s ongoing refusal to offer owners fast charging out the box.
Little known fact: like the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 owners can get faster charging by using an iPad charger but this route still falls a long way short of the super quick charge times offered by Android rivals. This is particularly apparent during short bursts of ‘top up’ charging where rivals are delivering 5-7 hours of usage from just 15 minutes of charge. iPhones can’t get close to this and Apple really needs to address this (and arguably support wireless charging) in 2017.
Storage And Price – A Big Step Forward
Where the iPhone 7 does get exciting again though, is Apple’s decision to double storage capacity across the range:
- iPhone 7 – 32GB ($649), 128GB ($749), 256GB ($849)
The good news for US buyers is this comes at little extra cost compared to the original retail price of the smaller capacity iPhone 6 (though price rises are significantly higher elsewhere in the world) and that could be a deal maker for many.
Of course the joker in the pack here is the iPhone 6S. Apple also doubled its base and middle tier capacities (but scrapped the top model) and is now selling it for $100 less. Consequently a 128GB iPhone 6S can be purchased for the same price as the 32GB iPhone 7 and you’ll get to keep the headphone jack to boot.
For some this will present a surprisingly strong option.
Even Apple’s biggest fans will admit the iPhone 7 is not what they envisaged from Apple two years on from the record breaking iPhone 6. The design, display (notably resolution), camera and battery life/charging have stagnated and the headphone jack has been culled which makes life frustrating for anyone not prepared to go wireless.
But look closer and the iPhone 7 has also improved in every way: the chassis is much stronger and water resistant, the display is brighter and more colour accurate, the camera is better and the battery life – actually no, the battery life is still not good enough.
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