Apple iPhone 7 vs. iPhone 6s: Should You Upgrade?

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Apple's newest smartphones, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus bring some significant upgrades over the 6s lineup. Both devices lose the headphone jack, but they gain waterproofing and dual speakers. Under the hood, the camera, processor, and battery life have all been improved. So, if you're the owner of a perfectly good iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, should you upgrade? Let's take a look at the major similarities and differences to help you decide.

Name Apple iPhone 7 Apple iPhone 6s (Unlocked) Apple iPhone 6s Plus Apple iPhone 7 Plus
 
Lowest Price %displayPrice% %displayPrice% %displayPrice% %displayPrice%
Editor Rating
Operating System as Tested iOS 10 iOS 9 iOS 9 iOS 10
CPU Apple A10 Apple A9 Apple A9 Apple A10
Dimensions 5.44 by 2.64 by 0.28 inches 5.44 by 2.64 by 0.28 inches 6.23 by 3.07 by 0.29 inches 6.23 by 3.07 by 0.29 inches
Weight 4.87 oz 5.04 oz 6.77 oz 6.63 oz
Screen Size 4.7 inches 4.7 inches 5.5 inches 5.5 inches
Screen Type Retina Retina Retina Retina
Screen Resolution 1,334 by 750 pixels 1,334 by 750 pixels 1,920 by 1,080 pixels 1,920 by 1,080 pixels
Screen Pixels Per Inch 326 326 401 ppi 401 ppi
Camera Resolution 12MP Rear, 7MP Front-Facing 12 MP Rear; 5 MP Front-Facing 12MP Rear; 5MP Front-Facing Dual 12MP Rear, 7MP Front-Facing
Wireless Specification 802.11n (2.4+5 GHz Dualband) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 802.11n (2.4+5 GHz Dualband)
Bluetooth Version 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.2
NFC Yes Yes Yes Yes
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Design
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus both conform to the design language of the 6s and 6s Plus—they're metal unibody phones, with a pane of glass on the front that curves to meet the sides. There are some small changes in overall look, though. The antenna lines are banished, allowing the back to appear as a seamless plane of metal without unsightly white lines cutting across the top and bottom. Jet black and black are new color options, both of which look attractive, albeit prone to fingerprints.

Apple iPhone 7

In terms of dimensions, the phones are identical. The iPhone 7 measures 5.44 by 2.64 by 0.28 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.87 ounces, making it a tiny bit lighter than the iPhone 6s (5.44 by 2.64 by 0.28 inches, 5.04 ounces). The iPhone 7 Plus measures 6.23 by 3.07 by 0.29 inches and weighs 6.63 ounces, again a minuscule amount lighter than the 6s Plus (6.23 by 3.07 by 0.29 inches, 6.77 ounces).

In other regards, the 7 and 7 Plus have the same layout of buttons, featuring a clicky power button on the right side, and volume buttons and a Ring/Silent switch on the left. The home button, combined with a fingerprint scanner, is still in its traditional location on the bottom lip, but it's not the physical button we know and love. Instead, you have a "taptic button," a button with haptic feedback that's force sensitive. It might take some time to get used to, but should be more reliable and allow apps to vibrate the home button for different effects, Apple says.

Features
Most ports on iPhone 7 remain the same. The Lightning connector is still at the bottom next to the bottom-firing speaker, but a second speaker now sits up top, which should make for audio that's twice as loud as the 6s and 6s Plus.

More controversially, the 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom left (pictured above on the 6s) has been removed. Why? Because Apple had "the courage to move on, do something better," the company suggested this week. But really, it's to make space for the aforementioned "taptic" engine. How significant a demerit this is will depend on your usage. If you're already using Bluetooth headphones, then this won't matter. But if you're really bothered by the fact that you can't charge an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus when using the included dongle or Lightning-connected Earpods, then you might want to hold onto your 6s and 6s Plus (or use Airpods).

But there is one big, new feature that might be helpful for the accident prone—IP67 waterproofing. That means the 7 and 7 Plus can be immersed in about three feet of water for 30 minutes, surviving rain, spills, and accidental drops into toilets.

Display and Processor
If you've envied your friends' Quad HD Android phone, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus won't change that. Screen resolution and pixel density remain the same, so you still have a 4.7-inch 1,334-by-750 Retina HD panel (326ppi) for the 7 and a 5.5-inch 1,920-by-1,080 Retina display (401ppi) on the 7 Plus. According to Apple, you may notice better color calibration, 25 percent higher brightness, and a wider color gamut, but we've always found the 6s and 6s Plus to have excellent color reproduction, viewing angles, and screen brightness, so we doubt it's going to be a huge improvement.

On the other hand, the difference in processing power is likely to be big. The 7 and 7 Plus run Apple's latest A10 Fusion processor, a beastly chipset that should be 50 percent faster than the A9 processor in the 6s and 6s Plus, especially when it comes to graphics performance. Apple claims the processor with the new GPU should be capable of "console-level gaming," though naturally, we'll have to test that out here in PC Labs. Regardless, it's clear that the 7 and 7 Plus should be significantly faster and more powerful than their predecessors.

Camera
The camera is where things get interesting and perhaps the hardest to quantify. On paper, the raw megapixel count hasn't really changed. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s have 12-megapixel sensors on the back, but where the real difference comes is with aperture, pixel size, and post-processing. The 7 has f/1.8 aperture compared with the 6s's f/2.2, giving it a bigger pixel size, optical image stabilization, and longer exposure. Most importantly, it has new image signal processor that uses machine learning to process pictures, and take the best shots with tone mapping, noise reduction, and a wide color gamut.

That means the iPhone 7 should take better, more reliable shots in all circumstances, but especially in low-light settings. It should also do a better job of reducing noise and getting rid of blur from shaking hands.

The iPhone 7 Plus has the same 12-megapixel sensor with all the associated features, but sports two sensors instead of one. The first is a wide-angle sensor with a f/1.8 aperture and the other is a telephoto lens (okay, not really) with a f/2.8 aperture. The addition of the second lens gives the 7 Plus the ability to have a 2x optical zoom and digital zoom up to 10x, without major loss of clarity. The second sensor also gives it the ability to capture shots with a shallow depth of field, using one lens to capture a blur, and another for facial recognition, hence some of the nice bokeh sample shots we saw during the presentation. All four phones are capable of 4K video recording at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps.

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus also have a 7-megapixel FaceTime camera, compared with the 5-megapixel one on the 6s and 6s Plus. It comes with features like auto image stabilization, face detection, and wide color capture, so shots are likely to be more clear. Video recording is at 1080p, compared with the 720p of the 6s and 6s Plus.

We'll be putting all four phones to the test in a camera shootout, but it seems likely the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus should offer a significantly improved experience to photographers.

Battery and Connectivity
Apple is always secretive about battery capacity, so we don't know how much juice the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have at this point, but we expect that both will be larger than the 6s and 6s Plus.

Apple estimates that the 7 should have two hours more battery life than the iPhone 6s, and the 7 Plus should be one hour longer than the 6s Plus. In our battery rundown tests, in which we set screen brightness to maximum and stream full-screen video over LTE, the 6s clocked four hours and 21 minutes, and the 6s Plus managed four hours and 11 minutes. So we can expect the 7 to last over six hours, and the 7 Plus to last over five hours. That's definitely a marked improvement.

All four phones support dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth. iOS 10 will roll out to all Apple devices starting Sept. 13.

Price and Conclusions
In other regards, iPhone 7 and 7s Plus will be available in jet black, black, silver, gold, and rose gold colors. For the 7, configurations are 32GB for $649, 128GB for $749, and 256GB for $849. The jet black and black iPhone 7 and 7 Plus only come in 128GB and 256GB flavors. The iPhone 7 Plus has the same color offering and configurations, but at a higher price. The base 32GB phone starts at $769, the 128GB at $869, and the 256GB at a princely $969.

The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are similarly available in silver, gold, space gray, and rose gold, but lack the new colors. The 16GB base size has been bumped up to 32GB, and 64GB dropped, leaving 128GB. The new prices for the iPhone 6s are 32GB for $549 and 128GB for $649. The iPhone 6s Plus is 32GB for $649 and 128GB for $749.

Overall, if you already have an iPhone 6s and 6s Plus and aren't much of a gamer or photographer, then it may be best to hold onto your old device. However, if you're not troubled by the removal of the audio jack, have a habit of dropping your phone into bodies of water, and want to take advantage of the new performance, battery, and camera improvements, iPhone 7 and 7 Plus will be worthwhile upgrades. Stay tuned for our full reviews.

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