Yes, you'll miss the headphone jack. But the iPhone 7 Plus camera is worth it

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Apple has done it again with the iPhone 7 Plus, a phone that’s as powerful as it is controversial. In benchmarks, it’s more powerful than any Android flagship phone; in camera tests it wows with 2× optical zoom and sharp photos; and it’s finally water resistant. There’s just one little problem: it doesn’t have a headphone jack.

We took the iPhone 7 Plus out for the weekend to see just how good it is and whether not having a headphone jack is a deal breaker.

Rumors that Apple was going to axe the 3.5mm headphone jack rocked the internet and inspired a flurry of rage, tears, and fears among the Apple faithful. Now that we know it’s true, people are learning to live with it, or they’re seriously considering leaving Apple behind for good. (At least, until every Android maker starts axing the jack, too. But I digress.)

Related: If the iPhone’s headphone jack dies, Apple wins and you lose

Let’s get this over with: The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus no longer feature a 3.5mm headphone jack. That means you’ll have to rely on a Lightning converter for your current headphones, or upgrade to a pair of Bluetooth earbuds. To make up for the missing headphone jack, Apple is including a pair of Lightning-connected (wired) EarPods in the box and a Lightning converter — a short cable, horribly known as a dongle — for your 3.5mm headphone plug. The big downside: You cannot charge your phone and listen to music at the same time.

So just how bad is life without a headphone jack? It depends. If you, like many iPhone users I know, only use the earbuds Apple always includes in the box with your iPhone, you probably won’t care. Apple gives you a pair of earbuds just like last year’s, but they connect to your phone’s Lightning port instead of a headphone jack. The only time you’ll care is when you want to charge your phone and listen to music simultaneously — because now you can’t do that without a gross-looking dongle. Also, if you already use wireless headphones (all 11 of you), you won’t even notice the headphone jack is gone.

If you have a beloved pair of wired headphones, however, prepare to be seriously pissed off and thoroughly put out by the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Sure, you can use the included 3.5mm to Lightning adapter, but dongles aren’t exactly high-class. It’s small, so you could easily lose it, and the wire connection between the 3.5mm port and the Lightning connector feels flimsy. Much like the included iPhone charging cords, which always break after a year or two, we suspect this adapter may not have the longest life. We shall see.

It certainly is nice that Apple included the adapter; it’s just a shame that it’s so flimsy. But on the bright side, the dongle didn’t impact the sound quality in any obvious way.

The wired earbuds that come with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus sound reasonably good for included headphones, but they’re not discernably better than the typical 3.5mm earbuds that have shipped with iPhones past. Of our two sets of EarPods, one stopped working properly after a day, forcing us to repeatedly plug them in and jiggle them to try and get them to work – like a very old set of earbuds. They broke for us on day two, which makes us very concerned about the Lightning port as an alternative to the audio jack.

The lack of a headphone jack also prompted Apple to improve wireless audio — the result is the W1 wireless chip. It’s implemented in another new Apple product, the AirPods, which are completely wireless and get 5 hours of battery life. They aren’t included in the box, and you can read more about the $160 wireless earbuds here. We tried a pair on and they are exactly like EarPods, just without the cord and somewhat sillier looking. You can also use any normal wireless headphones with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus; check out our favorites here.

Although there aren’t many lightning connected headphones out yet, we expect many more will come in the following months. We’ve already reviewed a pair from Audeze, which sound great.

The other bright spot on the audio front is that the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have stereo speakers — both at the top and bottom of the devices for “increased dynamic range.” The speakers do sound better and louder on the iPhone 7 Plus, though they aren’t as powerful as the front-facing speakers on the ZTE Axon 7 or the older HTC One phones.

The iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t look all that different from last year’s iPhone 6S Plus — you’ll have to wait for next year’s iPhone 7S/8 for major changes, and rumors are already plentiful.

Although the aluminum uni-body design is nearly identical to last year’s iPhone, that’s not to say it isn’t beautiful. The metal is soft and smooth, and the Apple logo shines out of the center back of the phone. The antenna lines now curve around the corners instead of slashing across the back of the phone, resulting in a cleaner, more minimalistic appearance. The dual-camera module sticks out on the back, making it look quite similar to LG’s G5.

Apple introduced two new color options this year: Black and Jet Black. Jet Black features a “pristine, mirror-like surface” and a high-gloss, which is sadly prone to scratches. It also picks up fingerprints like nobody’s business. The Jet Black model is as fingerprint-prone as any glass-backed Galaxy S7, and that’s a real shame. It looks so pretty until you touch it; then it’s covered in oily smears. Personally, I hate fingerprint-covered phones and I much prefer the matte Black finish. Apple still offers silver, gold, and rose gold for traditionalists who don’t want the new black models.

Unfortunately, the iPhone 7 Plus is still gigantic. When you compare it to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which has the same 5.5-inch screen, it looks positively monstrous in size. The bezels at the top and bottom of the phone are overlarge, and slimming them down would make the phone far more manageable. The iPhone 7 Plus’ footprint could be much smaller, which would appeal to more users and be more comfortable to hold.

It’s not that the iPhone 7 Plus is uncomfortably large – it’s about the same size as a Nexus 6P or the LG V20 – but it’s definitely a device you want to hold with two hands after a while. That said, I have small hands, and the iPhone 7 Plus is still the one I’d choose between the two 7s.

The biggest cosmetic difference (besides the removal of the headphone jack) is that both the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are (finally!) water- and dust-resistant with an IP67 rating. That means you’ll be able to take either of them under up to 1 meter of water for about 30 minutes. The water resistance level isn’t as high on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus as it is on the Galaxy S7 and most other water-resistant phones, all of which support IP68 water and dust resistance. The difference is that you can submerge the Galaxy S7 in 5 meters of water versus 1 meter with the iPhone 7. But unless you literally swim with your phone, it’s really not a huge deal. Still, it’s a shame that Apple’s water resistance rating is lower.

We dunked both iPhones in a beer stein full of water to see if they’d pass the test, and they did with flying colors. Both were fully operational after several submersion tests. We even played music on the iPhone 7 Plus while it was underwater in the glass, and it pumped out sound like normal. If anything, the speakers sounded better with the amplification of the glass and water.

Related: How to order the new iPhone 7 or Apple Watch Series 2 — and avoid the lines

Apple placed a “Taptic Engine” inside the phone where the headphone jack used to be, a chip that provides haptic feedback when you press the Home button. This is key, because now the button isn’t something you can press — it’s a flat, solid surface. Push on it to unlock your phone, and double-tap it to trigger Apple Pay when the screen is off or multi-tasking mode when the screen is on. When you press against it, it provides the same physical feedback you feel when you use 3D Touch on an app icon: a small vibration, and that’s it. Some people will miss the physical button, but it doesn’t bother us at all. In fact, we actually like not having to physically press a button. It simplifies things.

The iPhone 7 Plus is an evolutionary step upward for Apple. No revolutionary changes here! But that’s not really a bad thing. The iPhone 7 Plus is nonetheless the most powerful and technically impressive iPhone yet.

Although it sports the same 5.5-inch screen with a resolution of 1,920 × 1,080 pixels, the screen is 25 percent brighter than the panel in the 6S Plus and it offers a wider color gamut. It’s not as high-resolution as most Android phones, many of which sport 2,560 × 1,440 pixel resolutions, but the iPhone 7 Plus has one of the sharpest, brightest, and most natural-looking screens you’ll find anywhere. The 1080p resolution doesn’t drain the battery as much, either.

Apple’s new A10 Fusion chip powers the iPhone 7 Plus. It’s a 64-bit, quad-core processor that’s 40 percent faster than the A9 in the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. Apple says it’s 120 times faster than the original iPhone. Although that’s hard to prove, we did notice that iOS 10 runs smoother on the iPhone 7 and Plus than it does on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. Will you notice, though? That’s hard to say. It is subtle.

Of the four cores, two are for high-performance actions and the remaining two focused on boosting efficiency. Apple has designed a performance controller to determine which actions make use of which cores. For example, checking your email will most likely be powered by the high-efficiency cores, which are better for saving battery life.

The processor also improves the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus’s graphics — it’s 50 percent faster than the A9.

It’s hard to compare iPhones to Android phones when it comes to processing power because the iPhone doesn’t use the Qualcomm Snapdragon chips that most Android phones use. However, here are some benchmark results in Geekbench 4:

Overall, we’re impressed with the iPhone’s performance. It’s winning the benchmark battle, and real-world performance is solid, too. Apple’s iOS 10 runs like a dream on the new phone and deeply incorporates 3D Touch into the interface. The new features include interactive notifications, new widgets, fun tricks in iMessage, and much more. You can read all our thoughts on iOS 10 here.

The dual-camera technology on the iPhone 7 Plus is its killer feature. Those two 12-megapixel sensors are the reason why you should buy this phone.

There are two lenses: a 12-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilization, a 28mm wide-angle lens, and an f/1.8 aperture; and a 12-megapixel sensor with a 56mm-telephoto lens and an f/2.8 aperture. The sensors are 60 percent faster than before and 30 percent more energy efficient, according to Apple. However, what’s cool about these cameras is what they can do. The telephoto lens offers the best optical and digital zoom we have ever seen on a smartphone.

The iPhone 7 Plus can capture detail without losing any noticeable quality with 2× optical zoom. When you take a picture, a 1× icon pops up on screen. Tap it to bring the zoom up to 2× or drag this slider from 1× to 10× and zoom into spectacularly detailed images for a better crop. The camera uses a 2× optical zoom, but it switches to digital zoom when you move past it and on to 10×. The physical 2× zoom looks great and produces sharp closeups that far surpass what you’d get on the standard iPhone 7 or iPhone 6S.

Once you get to the digital zoom, however, things start to get less crisp. Digital zoom is good up to 5×; after that it starts to get blurry, smudgy, and pixelated. Digital zoom also has a harder time in low light, so stick to 2× if the lighting isn’t so hot.

We used the new zoom feature over and over again during our weekend with the iPhone 7 Plus, and the results were very impressive. I stumbled upon a street art performance with dancers on stage, tapped to zoom in 2×, and captured a stunning photo. Without the iPhone 7 Plus’s optical zoom, I would never have been able to take that photo.

Related: Apple announces three new pairs of Beats headphones, all using its W1 chip

This is the kind of feature that you will use almost every day, not a gimmick like so many other camera features. How many times have you been to a concert and wished you could get a closeup of the singer onstage? How many times have you been at your kid’s soccer game and wanted to snap a shot from the other end of the field? It happens every day.

Fewer and fewer people carry digital cameras with 5× optical zooms everywhere they go; we need a smartphone camera that can do the job. The iPhone 7 Plus is the first (other than perhaps the Lumia 1020) that achieves true zoom. The dual-camera setup in the iPhone 7 Plus, with its amazing optical zoom, is truly a killer feature.

Additionally, Apple’s engineers are working on software to enhance the bokeh effect in images taken with the iPhone 7 Plus. It adds a blur to the backdrop of images to offer a depth effect on par with DSLR cameras. You can turn this feature on or off, and you can also see a live preview of it before you take a shot. This feature will arrive later this year via a software update, Apple says. Even now, you can see slight selective blurring in the background when you focus on a close-up subject.

Apple is not the first to introduce the bokeh effect – HTC did it ages ago, and many others have done it since. Regardless, we look forward to checking it out on the iPhone 7 Plus.

Other camera improvements include a new image signal processor that offers twice the throughput of Apple’s previous processor, a better flash with four LEDs that offer 50 percent more light, and a new flicker sensor that adds artificial light, for brighter images in low-light scenarios. The iPhone 7 Plus took solid pictures in low light and at night, but the Galaxy S7 produced slightly sharper pictures with more balanced exposure. It’s a tough call between the two cameras, but the Galaxy wins in low light. In the daytime, the two are tied and the iPhone 7 Plus wins with the zoom feature.

Related: 10 best iPhone 7 Plus cases to protect your Apple phone

Professional photographers will be happy to know that the iPhone 7 finally supports the RAW image format in Apple’s Lightroom app, allowing for more control when editing photographs. Apple doesn’t support it natively, though.

Finally, the selfie camera on the iPhone 7 Plus has jumped to 7 megapixels, and also features wide color captures and automatic image stabilization. Selfies certainly do look sharper, and that’s a good thing. Selfies are quickly taking over social media, so it’s essential to have a strong front camera. Apple’s 7-megapixel shooter is even more high resolution than the one on the Samsung Galaxy S7 and many other Android competitors.

Battery life on iPhones has never been the best, but the Plus line always gets better battery life than the smaller iPhone. The iPhone 7 Plus is no exception. It lasts through a solid day’s use without a hitch, and if you’re not a power user, it could easily last you a day and a half. The battery in the iPhone 7 Plus is longer lasting than that in last year’s iPhone, and the difference is noticeable. Apple says it’s about an extra hour of battery life, and so far, that’s what we’ve seen in our testing.

Related: Own an iPhone 7? Try these 15 iMessage apps, sticker packs, games for iOS 10

The iPhone 6S Plus has seen a drop in battery life with iOS 10 on our units, but the iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t seem to have the issue. The modest increase in battery size is a good thing; we just wish it were greater! We really wouldn’t mind if the phone was thicker if it meant a larger battery inside.

Sadly, there is still no wireless or quick charging on the iPhone 7 Plus. In terms of cutting-edge battery tech, Apple’s latest iPhone falls well behind Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. Both wireless and quick charging are undoubtedly useful and cool, but they’re not deal-breakers for most people.

Apple offers a one-year limited warranty that covers flaws in manufacturing and offers 90 days of complementary support.

However, Apple’s warranty says that the coverage doesn’t apply to “batteries or protective coatings that are designed to diminish over time,” unless it’s a manufacturing defect (ie. Samsung’s exploding Note 7 batteries). It also doesn’t cover cosmetic or liquid damage. You can read the full terms here:

You can also pay $100 extra for AppleCare+, which extends your coverage to two years and covers up to two incidents of accidental damage. You’ll pay $30 for screen damage or $100 for any other damage. Apple Care+ also puts you on the fast track to customer service support 24/7 via chat or phone through getsupport.apple.com.

Luckily, if something should go wrong with your iPhone 7 Plus, Apple has the best customer service in the industry. If you live near an Apple Store, you can schedule an appointment with the Genius bar and have your device looked at. The technician will let you know what’s wrong and walk you through potential solutions. Apple will often repair your device on the same day you bring it into the store, which isn’t something you can say about any other smartphone maker.

If you don’t live near an Apple Store, you can start a live chat with an Apple rep online. Apple’s customer service is exceptional – there’s really no competition in this space.

When it comes to software updates, Apple also has the best reputation of any smartphone maker in the world. As soon as a new version of iOS is available, iPhone users worldwide can download it. That means Apple can patch security holes immediately and protect its users from threats and hacks. It also means that every iPhone user has access to new features right away.

Related: http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/what-is-android-fragmentation-and-can-google-ever-fix-it/

No Android phone can do this except for a Nexus device (these are made by Google). As such, millions of Android phones remain vulnerable to serious hacks like Stagefright and Heartbleed. Although Android manufacturers are getting better at timely updates, it’s still a real issue.

Apple offers the iPhone 7 Plus in the following colors: gold, rose gold, silver, black, and jet black. Storage starts at 32GB, which is a huge upgrade over the 16GB it used to offer in the base model. It’s an important step forward for the company, but we do wish it were 64GB like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (though that has been recalled) and other Android phones. Apple is trying to upsell you to the 128GB or 256GB model, and that’s not cool. This is already an expensive phone, so it should come with a solid amount of storage, especially since there’s no MicroSD card slot for expansion.

Related: Android is losing its battle with fragmentation, and you’re paying the price

It’s also odd that there’s no unlocked option this year, so you’ll have to select your carrier when you check out. GSM carrier iPhone 7 Plus models like the AT&T and T-Mobile units won’t work on CDMA networks like Verizon’s and Sprint’s, which is consumer hostile — and frankly stupid. What if you want to change carriers and keep a phone that you bought at the Apple Store? It’s the kind of crap other phone makers pull all the time and an odd move for Apple. We recommend you buy a Sprint or Verizon unit, even if you don’t use them as carriers.

The iPhone 7 Plus starts at $770, which is a minor price jump from the iPhone 6S Plus’s initial price of $750, but you do get double the storage. If you’re not sold on the Plus, there’s always the standard iPhone 7, but we really recommend the Plus over the smaller model for the camera features, better battery life, and sharper screen.

Who should upgrade? Anyone with an iPhone 6 or older should consider the iPhone 7 Plus. Those with an iPhone 6S should wait for the iPhone 7S/8, which is rumored to offer some pretty big changes. Most people don’t need to upgrade every year anymore. Smartphones are plateauing, so new features take some time to develop.

The Galaxy S7 Edge is the same price as the iPhone 7 Plus, but you sometimes get a Gear VR or MicroSD card with your purchase. It is one of the top alternatives for those who aren’t sold on Apple or the iPhone 7 Plus.

The HTC 10 is another fantastic option and costs a bit less at $700. It’s a smaller phone, and the camera isn’t as good as the one in the iPhone 7 Plus, but at least it’s more likely to get timely or vital software updates than the Galaxy. The LG V20 is another option, and it even has dual cameras like the iPhone 7 Plus, though they perform different functions like wide-angle, rather than zoom. It’s not officially out yet and we don’t know the price tag, but LG typically produces solid phones that get relatively timely updates (usually at least a single update over two years). We have yet to review it, but our initial impressions are positive.

If you’re not bound to any brand, you might want to take a peek at the Axon 7 or OnePlus 3, both of which offer Galaxy S7-level specs for $400. The downsides are questionable customer service and the chance that software updates may be slower than you’d like.

If you’re considering an Android phone instead of the iPhone 7 Plus, your best bet may be to wait for Google’s new Pixel phones, which are expected to take over the Nexus line and offer top specs for a good price.

It’s a hard call as to which is best, because it’s a very personal choice. Need to save money? Grab a flagship killer Android instead. Want a high-powered phone, timely software updates, great customer service, and the promise of privacy and security — and don’t mind the $770 price tag? Get an iPhone 7 Plus.

Finally, if you’re considering a standard iPhone 7, we encourage you to try out the bigger size. The standard 7 has nowhere near as good a camera, and its battery life is still worse than the larger size.

Although the iPhone 7 Plus isn’t a huge upgrade over the iPhone 6S Plus, Apple took a few radical steps – some good, some bad. The dual-camera tech and its optical zoom are excellent, for example. It’s a bold move for Apple, and although it’s not the first company to bust out dual cameras, Apple has really refined the tech and made it useful, gimmicky bokeh effects aside. iOS 10 is the best version of the operating system yet, and it runs best on an iPhone 7 Plus. Adding water resistance is a smart move too; Samsung and many others were here first, but it’s still a great feature. The larger battery is another strong selling point for the iPhone 7 Plus.

True, these are small upgrades, but they’re also smart ones — and Samsung made almost the exact same upgrades from the Galaxy S6 to the Galaxy S7. And Samsung, a company known for living on the bleeding edge of tech, was praised for making smart upgrades that meant something, while Apple is getting criticism for being cautious. It’s an interesting double standard.

There’s no denying that Apple’s boldest and only innovative move with the iPhone 7 Plus – the removal of the headphone jack – is also the riskiest and most hostile to consumers. Those $200-$900 headphones you bought? They’re useless unless they’re wireless or you use Apple’s adapter. That wireless future may be coming, but it isn’t here yet. But I’d wager that Apple’s gambit is a move toward the future. Sure, you could argue that the company is using its influence to force people to a new standard and tie users even more closely to its ecosystem, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Whether this pisses you off will depend on your headphone habits more than anything else.

If you’re not bothered by the lack of the jack, then the iPhone 7 Plus is the way to go. It’s the most powerful, durable, and capable phone Apple has ever made.

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