One of my favorite smartphone developments of 2016 is that the leading phonemakers in the world, after experimenting with tacky and garish colors for a few years, have realized that, for gadgets, going all-black is still the best. Even though I was never a fan of Samsung’s mobile aesthetics and I think the iPhone 6 Plus’ top and bottom bezels were hideously large, I still felt a sense of awe when I first unboxed the Galaxy Note 7 and iPhone 7 Plus — because both devices felt and looked so sleek and sexy. Women always say black has a slimming effect, and it’s definitely true here.
Sure, the 7 Plus’ bezels (top and bottom, left and right) are still laughably big compared to other 2016 flagships, but the black hides it well at first glance. There’s a hefty (in a good way), solid feel to the device that feels really great in the hand. The power and volume buttons do not wiggle one bit, and the redesigned capacitive home buttons feels wonderful.
The iPhone 7 plus comes with the latest version of iOS, and along with it are some much-needed improvements, such as smarter ways of handling notifications on the lockscreen. Now, the new iPhone’s display lights up when you pick it up from a table, or pull from a pocket, so you can glimpse at missed calls or Facebook messages without pressing a button. Swipe right on the lockscreen and you get to a page of widgets — news, reminders, calendar, whatever. Swipe left, and you go to the camera, which launches really, really fast (probably the fastest launching camera of any phone).
Force Touch returns on the iPhone 7, allowing for shortcuts such as directly going into a specific Whatsapp chat (left); iOS 10’s new widgets page, which can be accessed by swiping left on lockscreen or homescreen.
Since Apple develops its own software and hardware to work together (instead of Android, which is developed by Google and then placed inside hardware made by others), the iPhone has always run buttery smooth, and this newest one is no exception. Even though the iPhone 7 Plus’ specs mostly come up inferior to, say, the Galaxy Note 7′s specs on paper, the iPhone 7 Plus is a better performer when it comes to speed. In fact, according to Geekbench numbers, the iPhone 7 Plus’ new A10 chip more than double the iPhone 6S’ numbers and even Apple’s own computers. This is a fast phone, as fast as the OnePlus 3 (the fastest Android performer out there).
But as someone who uses many phones a year, there are just too many things with the iPhone 7 Plus I find hard to accept. As mentioned before, the bezels up top and bottom are ridiculously huge. Literally every 2016 Android flagship phone has a display of equal or larger size, but comes in a smaller body. And unlike the Note 7, which was clearly designed to be a “big” phone, the iPhone 7 Plus still feels like a “blown up” version of the iPhone 7. Little things, like the placement of the iOS’ back buttons (upper left hand corner) and power button (on the right side of the phone, pretty far up), are out of reach when holding the phone with a normal grip.
Yeah, iOS has a “one-handed” mode (dubbed “reachability) that can be accessed by double tapping the home button, but it’s a clumsy work-around. Some apps also let you back up by swiping from the left edges of the screen, but not all apps support that. Why not just, you know, move the back buttons to the lower left hand corner and put the power button lower?
The thing is, Apple knows this. They know the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus’ designs are a bit outdated, but they left it as is because they’re saving the really cool design changes for next year’s 10th anniversary iPhone. This isn’t some wild rumor, it’s all but confirmed, considering people within Apple told the New York Times. Apple gave the 7 a safe, recycled design, so they can really “wow” people next year, just to time it with some arbitrary anniversary.
This isn’t to say the iPhone 7 Plus has no redeeming qualities. It’s water-proof, the phone has stereo speakers now (which makes the sound better than, say the LG G5, but certainly not the Nexus 6P, older HTC One or even Huawei P9 Plus). Yeah, the headphone jack is gone, but since this horse has already been beaten to death (whether this is a dealbreaker or not, you have already decided), I’m not gonna talk about it here.