is Apple’s larger handset worth it?

In the not so distant past, Apple sweared by the small-phone mantra and it said that large phones were not ‘common sense’.

When other experimented with gigantic screen sizes, and the non-explosive Galaxy Notes were proving popular with Android users, Apple still stood by its famous ‘Thumb’ ad. The ad claimed that your thumb goes only a certain distance, which was not larger than the 4” screen on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s.

It was all ‘common sense’ right before… Apple did the complete opposite of what it preached a couple of years prior: it introduced two new and larger phones, a 4.7″ and a 5.5″ one.

These days, it is the 4″ iPhone that feels against ‘common sense’. It has its fans, but those are a very small percentage of the population. In fact, the 4.7″ iPhone 7 now feels pretty close to what the right size for a modern smartphone is. However, there are still people wanting a bigger screen. For those users, there’s the 5.5″ iPhone 7 Plus, which, however, feels a bit on the bulky side – and there is no one device in-between the two.

That sure makes choice between the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus hard. More so given that the larger iPhone has a few extra features including a brand new camera. We’ve been struggling with this choice in the past couple of months, and after living with both phones for a while, here are our guidelines to choosing the right iPhone for you.

Screen, size and comfort

iPhone 7 Plus size pros: faster to type on, better for media. Cons: heavy and uncomfortable if you carry it in your pocket

Some people have larger hands and some have smaller hands, and some people prefer larger displays over small displays.

What we’re trying to say with this truism is that if you prefer to use a smaller phone, the iPhone 7 Plus will be too big for you. However, even if you prefer larger phones, the 7 Plus might still be too big for you.

Many people have no big issue adjusting to a larger-sized phone, but keep in mind that the 7 Plus is still bigger than most other flagship 5.5” phones: it has huge bezels by modern standards, its non-curved back makes it less ergonomic than similar phones with a curved back, and while the phone is not too thick, with a case on top of it, it starts feeling like a tank.

You should also think about your lifestyle: if you walk a lot and are used to keeping your phone in your jeans’ pockets rather than a jacket or a bag, the iPhone 7 Plus definitely adds one more pain. It’s way too big and too heavy, and it just does not feel very comfortable to hold such a large phone in your pocket, while the smaller iPhone 7 is comfortable to carry and is pleasingly light-weight.

Of course, the larger screen brings a number of advantages: it’s much faster to type on the larger display, you can use the 7 Plus in landscape mode and be more productive, and yes, if you have to edit spreadsheets on a phone, you’d prefer doing it on the 7 Plus.

There is one other feature on the 7 Plus that might make even those who swear by smaller phones consider the bigger iPhone this year:

The Telephoto lens

It’s legit: portrait mode is awesome

For years, the iPhone has shipped with one main iSight camera: with its 28mm focal distance, it is considered a very universal shooter: it is not too wide to photograph people, yet it’s not too narrow so you can also capture good-looking landscapes.For the first time this year, the 7 Plus adds a secondary rear cam: it calls it a Telephoto camera because of its longer, 56mm focal distance. This lens is not something that you can practically use in lower light, so it’s use is definitely more limited, but when the light conditions are right, it captures excellent images. The true imaging revolution that it brings, however, is realized fully when you use this lens with the new ‘Portrait’ camera mode. It blurs the background to make the object you photograph ‘pop’ by standing out against the pleasantly blurred background.

The effect is unlike anything you have seen on a phone so far, and it’s indeed something very similar to the bokeh effect you get on a DSLR. Apple calls this ‘Portrait’ mode because the algorithm detects faces and is able to very accurately define their borders to blur only the background behind them, but leave people in perfectly sharp focus. However, it’s more than that: it works with other objects that are a bit further than macro distance yet not too far away. We’ve been testing it for a couple of weeks now and find it to work great most of the time: it does great job capturing memorable pictures of your close ones, of your pets, of natural beauty like flowers, and it just excels at making the thing you take a picture of stand out and get noticed. It’s a profound change. A small thing to note is that portrait mode shots come in files that are nearly half the size of the regular iPhone pictures.

Is it as good as what you get on a dedicated camera, though? No. These days, you can get a $500 DSLR like the Nikon D3300 with an 18-55mm lens that delivers dynamic range, color rendition, low-light performance, and versatility – as well as support for powerful external flashes for night and indoor photography – that the iPhone simply cannot match. You can even go cheap and get an old DSLR that is still as good as the D3300 for $250, and you’d still get image quality far above anything the iPhone is capable of. Of course, it’s nowhere near as portable or always-there as the iPhone.

Back to the topic of discussion, though: Portrait mode with the new Telephoto lens combined are a serious enough reason to get the 7 Plus over the iPhone 7. However, as much as we like it, it does not change the fact that the 7 Plus will still feel uncomfortably big for some in the everyday grind. We ultimately could not make peace with the large size and went back to the 7, but miss Portrait mode a hell lot.

Battery life and charging times

The other big advantage of the iPhone 7 Plus is its bigger battery: 2,900 mAh vs 1,960 mAh on the smaller iPhone. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, so here are some real life impressions: the 7 Plus will easily last you a full day of pretty much whatever you throw at it. If you don’t spend your day shooting and streaming 4K video, though, it will likely last you a day and a half, and with moderate use you will be able to get two days off of it.

The iPhone 7 will have enough battery to last you a full day with heavier use and it may go to a day and a half, but it simply does not last as long as the 7 Plus.

With both phones, you will want to charge every night to be absolutely certain that you have enough juice for a full day the next day, though.

Neither of the two supports quick charging in any form, which is a shame. If you forget to charge your phone at night and need to recharge during the day, you should know that it takes a long 2 hours and 21 minutes to fully charge the iPhone 7 and it takes an unbearable 3 hours and 17 minutes to fully replenish the battery on the 7 Plus.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus vs iPhone 7 battery life test results

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Conclusion and the price to pay

All in all, there are three main reasons to get the 7 Plus over the 7: the larger screen and the excellent Telephoto camera with Portrait mode are the two bigger reasons, and the slightly better battery life is the lesser yet still important third reason. These three reasons come at a price: $120 over the price of the regular iPhone 7, which already isn’t a cheap phone.

As much as the larger iPhone 7 Plus is more capable, though, it also is – quite literally – a heavy burden to carry. The phone is bigger than most other 5.5” phones, and heavier too.

If you really want a phone of reasonable size, chances are you won’t be happy with the big one. Yes, you won’t get a secondary camera, but you will get a device that is comfortable to carry around and use in the everyday grind. And you will save some cash along the way.

If you are considering the larger iPhone (meaning there’s a chance you’ll be able to live with its large dimensions): you should ask yourself if you tend to use the camera a lot, and if you regularly happen to photograph people with it. If the answer is yes, do yourself a favor and get the 7 Plus.

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