Apple iPhone 7 Review: A powerful phone with poor battery life

Alex Kidman 2 November 2016

iPhone7_4_450

Apple’s iPhone 7 is sleek and attractive and powerful, except in the critical area of battery life.

Apple loves to hype up its iPhone lines as the ultimate premium phones. In the premium space it’s under increasing pressure from devices manufactured by Samsung, such as the Galaxy S7 Edge, or Google with its Pixel/Pixel XL phones.

There’s little doubting that Australians love iPhones as a category, however, with each year’s release typically selling out of stock at retail and telco levels for months at a time after launch. We’ve already run the large and largely impressive iPhone 7 Plus through its paces, but it’s the more regular sized iPhone 7 that’s likely to catch most people’s attention due to the lower asking price and slightly more hand-friendly design.

Apple iPhone 7: Specifications

AppleiPhone 7
Screen size4.7in
Storage32/128/256GB
Weight168g
ProcessorApple A10 Fusion
Rear camera12MP
Front camera7MP
Battery1960mAh
Resolution1334x750
Display density326ppi
RRP$1079/$1229/$1379

iPhone7_450

Upsides: Why you’d want the Apple iPhone 7

  • New colours: Apple sells the iPhone as much as a fashion accessory as a phone, and this year’s inclusion of Black and Jet Black iPhone models really helps them to stand out. As with the iPhone 7 Plus, the Black variants have proven to be much more popular than the Gold, Silver or Rose Gold variants, so if you’re keen you might face a wait to score one.
  • Water resistant at last: Apple’s finally joining the water resistance crowd with the iPhone 7, which carries an IP67 rating for dust and water ingress. It is worth noting that the warranty Apple supplies doesn’t actually cover the iPhone for water ingress into the body of the phone, but at least in our testing for basic accidental drops into a sink or clean water bath it should be fine.
  • Taptic touch button: The home button on the iPhone 7 isn’t a button at all, but instead a small vibrating motor that sits behind where the home button circle sits. This gives you the sensation of a tap, but also opens up other possibilities for force feedback events in other apps across the device.
  • Powerful processor: The iPhone 7 shares the same A10 Fusion processor as the iPhone 7 Plus, and predictably it offers a significant boost in performance terms over its predecessor. Apple has the distinct advantage of being able to heavily optimise its operating systems to take advantage of the new hardware in new iOS devices, and in anecdotal use this certainly appears true. The iPhone 7 is fast and responsive across multiple applications in use, taking advantage of the effective "dual dual core" approach that the Fusion processor offers. Two lower power cores cover basic apps while two higher performance cores kick in for more demanding tasks.
    This is borne out in the iPhone 7’s benchmark scores, where it performs in the top tier of 2016 premium smartphones. Here’s how it compares using Geekbench 4’s CPU test:

    HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus33745649
    Apple iPhone 734525599
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge13595333
    Samsung Galaxy S713784718
    Apple iPhone SE24494171
    Apple iPhone 6s24654052
    Google Pixel XL16294051
    Motorola Moto Z14773853
    Sony Xperia XZ16363604
    Google Nexus 6P12933594
    Motorola Moto X Force13523581
    Motorola Moto Z Play7992648
    Sony Xperia X11222626
    LG X Power5541482
    Motorola Moto G Play5221334

    That exceptional performance carries across in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test, marking the iPhone 7 out as a great phone for those with a love of mobile gaming:

    Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus37956
    Apple iPhone 737717
    LG G529597
    Apple iPhone SE29276
    Samsung Galaxy S728903
    Samsung Note728646
    Google Pixel XL28458
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge28402
    Apple iPhone 6s28171
    HTC 1027392
    Sony Xperia XZ26279
    Sony Xperia X Performance26125
    Motorola Moto Z25629
    Google Nexus 6P24703
  • Good camera: The baseline iPhone models have always played second fiddle to the Plus variants for as long as there have been Plus variant phones, and that’s still true this year. If you want the dual camera and depth-of-field portrait effect, you’ll need to look at Apple’s larger smartphone, but that doesn’t mean that the iPhone 7’s own camera is a slouch. It nabs optical image stabilisation from the larger iPhone family, alongside a 13MP front sensor that operates very well in most shooting locations. Apple’s camera app remains fast to launch and quick to focus, so for most practical situations it will deliver very good images.
  • Bye bye 16GB: No, you still can’t easily add microSD storage to an iPhone, and that’s definitely a pain point, but at least this year’s iPhone models no longer come in a pathetically small 16GB minimum storage configuration. 32GB is the new baseline, all the way up to 256GB if you’re in need of maximum storage.

iPhone7_2_450

Downsides: Why you might not want the iPhone 7

  • Battery life is still lacking: iPhone owners are all too familiar with that sinking feeling that comes about often in the afternoon as their phones shift from a healthy green power bar to a more alarming red one. We noted with the iPhone 7 Plus that it appeared Apple had beaten this particular demon down, but the iPhone 7’s battery performance left us wanting a lot more from what’s meant to be a premium phone. Yes, it’s "better" than last year’s iPhone 6s, but falling short of that phone would have involved some kind of permanent tether to the wall. Not a hard target to beat, and while the iPhone 7 did beat it, for the premium price that the iPhone 7 commands it should be able to compete with the best-in-class Android options. Put simply, it doesn’t, either in anecdotal testing or more formal battery benchmarks. Here’s how the iPhone 7 compares using Geekbench 3’s older battery test:
    HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge11:55:007150
    Huawei Mate 811:14:406659
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus11:11:206713
    Samsung Galaxy Note711:02:206623
    Sony Xperia X10:40:406406
    Samsung Galaxy S710:01:206013
    Samsung Galaxy Note 59:18:005580
    Google Pixel XL9:14:205543
    Huawei P98:26:304948
    Sony Xperia XZ8:24:205042
    Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+8:24:105041
    Apple iPhone 77:50:104701
    Apple iPhone 6S Plus7:48:104681
    LG G57:36:104561
    iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case7:21:104407
    HTC 106:54:304145
    Apple iPhone SE4:27:102671
    Apple iPhone 6s3:52:102321
  • No headphone jack: The most contentious part of the iPhone’s redesign in this era has been Apple’s "courageous" decision to omit the headphone jack. Apple’s delayed the release of its Airpod solution to the headphone jack problem, and Bluetooth headphones have their own issues anyway, not the least of which is the fact that you probably already have a decent pair of headphones with a standard jack on them. Apple does supply a single Lightning-to-3.5mm adaptor in the box, but any iPhone 7 owner should probably plan on buying a few more of them to avoid not having to do without headphones at all.
  • Price might make the iPhone 7 Plus a better bet: Apple sells itself as a premium brand, so predictably the pricing on the iPhone 7 outright is rather high, starting at $1079 for the 32GB variant. That’s fine if you can match the asking price, but the reality here is that if you’re a fan of iOS and can stump up that much cash, it would make a lot of sense to stump up just a little more, or swap storage sizes to get the iPhone 7 Plus instead. It’s as powerful as the iPhone 7 but gives you a better camera and markedly better battery life as well.

iPhone7_3_450

Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?

The iPhone 7 continues a relatively steady design path for the iPhone family, and that’s an approach that’s likely to appeal to its hardcore existing crowd for the most part. If you don’t like having a larger phone in your pocket or purse but want something stylish and powerful it’s an exceptionally good choice, but be sure to invest in a spare charger or external battery to go with it.

Your choices within the iOS sphere include the slightly cheaper iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus as well as the much smaller iPhone SE, or branching upwards to the more expensive iPhone 7 Plus handset. If you’re happy to switch operating system camps, consider the Huawei P9, the Samsung Galaxy S7 or Google’s Pixel phones as potential iPhone 7 competitors.

iPhone7and7Plus_450

Where can I get it?

Apple sells the iPhone outright through its retail and online stores with pricing at $1079/$1229/$1379 for 32GB, 128GB and 256GB capacities. It’s available in Silver, Rose Gold, Gold and Black in all storage capacities, and in Jet Black in 128GB and 256GB capacities only.

The iPhone 7 is also available on contract from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile.

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