With the iPhone 7 Plus ($769 for 32GB, sizes up to 256GB), there's now a reason to choose the bigger phone beyond mere heft. The device isn't just a bloated version of the iPhone 7; it sports dual cameras that are not available on its smaller counterpart. We took it for a spin at Apple's event in San Francisco.
The iPhone 7 line looks very much like the iPhone 6s, which looked very much like the iPhone 6. The 7 Plus is slightly slimmer than the 6s Plus, though. Like the 6s, the 7 Plus comes in rose gold, gold, silver, and black, but also "jet black," a super-glossy, mirror-like black finish that practically promises to attract scratches and fingerprints. (In the demo room, Apple demonstrators kept wiping off the jet black phones.) The screen is noticeably brighter than on the 6s Plus.
Held in the hand, the biggest initial difference is the home button. It's now "taptic," which is Apple's word for a touch button with haptic feedback. It takes a minute to get used to, but quickly feels right, and Apple says that various apps will now be able to vibrate the home button for different effects.
The phone is splash- and dunk-resistant, without making it obvious. It isn't waterproof—you aren't supposed to swim with it, for instance—but it should be more accident-proof. There are no special port covers or coatings.
The dual speakers aren't obvious. One of them is where the old speaker was, of course, on the bottom edge, while the other looks to be where the earpiece is. The hands-on room was very loud, but I could already tell that the speakers are much louder than the single speaker on an iPhone 6s Plus, although I couldn't tell how high-quality the sound is.
As for the headphone jack, well, it's gone. What you get now is a little tail-like white dongle to convert your headphones to Lightning—and no, you can't charge your phone and listen to Lightning headphones at the same time. It's clear that Apple is trying to push us toward wireless headphones, like its new AirPods (pictured above).
The other big, obvious change is the camera—specifically, the dual rear cameras. The front-facing camera has been bumped from 5 to 7 megapixels, and now there are dual 12-megapixel cameras on the back. Apple says the main camera is brighter at f/1.8, has a 50 percent brighter flash, and can create better photos with a more powerful image processor. Apple's iOS 10, meanwhile, supports RAW photography. The dual-lens zoom appears as a little 1x button in the camera app. Tap it, and it immediately switches to 2x—there's no phase in between, and the image is just as sharp. Hold it down and you can digitally zoom anywhere from 1x to 10x, although you'll lose image quality.
Under the hood, Apple has a new quad-core A10 Fusion processor. It uses a common strategy known as big-little to pair two slow, low-powered cores that don't use much battery life and two fast, high-powered cores that kick in when needed. That may help the 7 Plus's battery life, which Apple said would last an hour longer than the 6s Plus's did.
Most of these features aren't industry firsts, but they're firsts with iOS software, so this may be the time they take off. HTC (among others) has had dual cameras and front-facing speakers for years. Motorola just got rid of its headphone jack. Japanese firms have been making waterproof phones for a decade. None of those features seem to win sales, though. The top Android phone on the market, the Samsung Galaxy S7, doesn't have dual cameras, front-facing speakers, or a new headphone experience.
People who want iPhones don't want them because of the spec sheets. They want them because of iOS, third-party iOS apps, Apple's service and support network, and the community effects of Apple-only systems like iMessage.
The real question is whether it's worth upgrading from an older iPhone and whether it's worth picking the big model over the smaller one. We look forward to spending more time with the phones at launch and figuring that out. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus come out September 16.