Which is the best flagship phone? Is Apple’s new smartphone worth the upgrade from the iPhone 6s? We compare the heavyweight contenders.
UPDATED: There’s no doubt that Apple and Samsung are the dominant forces in the smartphone market, so with the release of the new iPhones, it’s logical to compare them against Samsung’s flagships.
There’s a lot at stake, because as it happens, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is our favourite Android smartphone.
So how do the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus compare to Samsung’s top-shelf phones? Or, if you have an iPhone 6s, are you better off skipping this upgrade?
In this feature, we’ll help you with your upgrade path with our head-to-head comparisons: Apple iPhone 7 vs Samsung Galaxy S7 and Apple iPhone 7 vs Apple iPhone 6s. Unfortunately, the Galaxy Note 7’s recall means that this Android phablet is no longer an option, although our Apple iPhone 7 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7 comparison might be instructive for those considering the large-screen Apple phone.
|Apple and Samsung flagship phones at a glance|
|iPhone 7||iPhone 7 Plus||Galaxy S7||iPhone 6s|
|Current outright price||From $1,079 (32GB)||From $1,269 (32GB)||$1,150||From $929 (32GB)|
|Cheapest 1GB plan (per month)||$66 Virgin, $68 Optus||$73 Virgin, $75 Optus||$55 (Virgin)||$62 (Optus)|
|Display size and type||4.7in LED-backlit IPS LCD||5.5in LED-backlit IPS LCD||5.1in Super AMOLED||4.7in LED-backlit IPS LCD|
|Display pixel density||326 ppi||401 ppi||577 ppi||326 ppi|
|Processor||Quad-core A10 Fusion||Quad-core A10 Fusion||Eight-core Exynos 8890 Octa||Dual-core A9|
|Built-in storage||32, 128 or 256GB||32, 128 or 256GB||32GB||16, 32 or 128GB|
|Rear camera||12MP, f/1.8||12MP, dual
|12MP, f/1.7||12MP, f/2.2|
|Front camera||7MP, ƒ/2.2||7MP, ƒ/2.2||5MP, f/1.7||5MP, f/2.2|
|Water and dust resistance||IP67||IP67||IP68||No|
* The iPhone 7 Plus’ rear camera has wide-angle (ƒ/1.8) and telephoto (ƒ/2.8, 2x optical zoom) lenses.
Which is the best flagship phone? iPhone 7 vs Galaxy S7
As we found in our iPhone 7 review, Apple’s new flagship phone is faster than its predecessor, it has a better camera and screen, more storage, and it’s water-resistant. But how does it compare to our favourite Android phone, Samsung’s Galaxy S7?
Let's look each of the key criteria in depth.
The iPhone 7 doesn't look that different from the iPhone 6s, and that's really not a bad thing. This time around Apple has removed those unsightly antennae lines at the rear of the device, and introduced two new finishes. There's now Jet Black, a super-high gloss finish that looks amazing, and also regular Black, which is essentially a matt black coat. There are other changes to the iPhone 7 elsewhere too; the Home button now has Force Touch, and the phone is now water resistant too – just like the S7. Finally, and more controversially, Apple has also removed the 3.5mm headphone jack but added stereo speakers.
In the same way, the Samsung Galaxy S7 looks a lot like the Samsung Galaxy S6 before it. Featuring a large screen that seems to take up the entire front of the phone, and a smooth glass back, the Samsung oozes style and sophistication – and comes in a range of colours, too. There's Black, Gold, White, Silver and of course Rose Gold – and all work well with the glossy finish that covers the handset.
Verdict: The Galaxy S7 is a good looking device but for some reason it doesn't have the same ‘object of desire’ feel as the iPhone 7 phone – at least, the Jet Black model.
The biggest addition to the iPhone 7 is IP67-standard water resistance. That’s the level below the Galaxy S7’s IP68-standard water resistance, though in practice that difference is unlikely to be an issue, unless perhaps you drop it into a pool. (According to the specification, both types of phones can be submerged for up to half an hour, but the IP68 phones can be submerged in water up to 1.5 metres, compared to 1 metre for IP67 devices.)
Of course, the headline changes to the iPhone 7 are the removal of two features: the headphone jack and the physical home button. We can declare the latter a success, with Apple's haptic feedback technology feeling uncannily like a real button.
The lack of headphone is a lot more controversial, however, and we dealt with the pros and cons of that in more depth in our iPhone 7 review.
Verdict: Both phones are packed with features, and no matter which phone you choose, you’re unlike to be disappointed with what you get. However, with slightly better water resistance and, well, a headphone jack, the Galaxy S7 edges ahead here.
The iPhone 7 might not get the super dual-lens camera found on the iPhone 7 Plus, but it still gets a worthwhile upgrade. The iPhone 7 uses a 12MP camera with an f/1.8 aperture that lets 50% more light in, meaning that the new handset is better at taking photos in low-light than ever before. Apple has also added optical image stabilisation to the smaller iPhone 7 too, so your photos are less likely to be blurry at longer exposures. When you want to use the flash, the iPhone 7 uses a quad-led fusion flash, which is brighter and can makes subjects look more natural in photographs. For selfies and video calls there's a 7MP FaceTime HD camera at the front of the phone.
The Samsung Galaxy S7 is one of the best Android phones you can buy, and that means it comes with an extremely impressive camera. Like the iPhone 7, the Galaxy S7 camera is a 12MP affair, but also uses an f/1.7 aperture and 1.4µm pixels to capture as much light as possible. The result? Extremely good photos in low-level lighting. Alongside that performance, the Samsung's Dual Pixel sensor technology make focusing faster, too. On the front, the Galaxy S7 uses a 5MP camera.
Verdict: The iPhone 7's camera is way better than before, but the Galaxy S7 is still more than a match for Apple's latest handset. The f/1.7 aperture is still slightly better than the iPhone 7s, and when you consider the larger sensor it uses, the Galaxy S7 still has the best snapper around.
The iPhone 7 uses a 4.7in LED-backlit IPS LCD screen, capable of displaying 16 million colours in total. Like the iPhone 6s before it, the screen uses 3D Touch, keeping the resolution of 750 x 1334 pixels with a pixel density of 326ppi. However, this time round, the iPhone 7 screen is 25% brighter and has a wider colour gamut than before. The result? The iPhone 7 screen looks more colourful and vibrant.
The Galaxy S7 uses a 5.1in Super AMOLED touchscreen, and it's one of the best displays you can get in any smartphone right now. Super AMOLED technology is able make blacks blacker and other colours more vibrant, and when you combine that with the S7's 1440 x 2560-pixel (577ppi) screen, the end result is simply amazing.
Verdict: The Samsung Galaxy S7 may not have 3D Touch, but everything else about its screen is superior to the iPhone 7's. Despite a much needed upgrade, the iPhone 7's LCD screen still can't match the vibrancy of the Galaxy S7's, and when you consider the S7's significantly higher pixel density, it's clear one screen is much better than the other.
The new iPhone 7 uses a quad-core A10 Fusion processor, comprising of two high performance cores and two efficiency cores. Apple says the iPhone 7 will decide which tasks should be assigned to which core, and that means you'll get a better blend of performance and battery life. Apple says the A10 Fusion chip is 40% faster than the A9, and based on our testing, we wouldn’t argue with that.
The Galaxy S7 is powered by a Samsung-designed eight-core Exynos 8890 Octa processor, with four cores running at 2.3GHz and four at 1.6GHz when all-out power isn’t required. With that processor and 4GB of RAM, it’s hardly surprising that the Galaxy S7 has been the fastest smartphone around – until the iPhone 7 arrived.
Verdict: The Galaxy S7 is fast, but our tests confirm the iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion is the fastest smartphone processor ever made.
The iPhone 7 comes in 64GB, 128GB and 256GB variations this time, whereas the Samsung Galaxy S7 comes in just 32GB. But unlike the iPhone 7, the Samsung Galaxy S7 comes with a microSD slot, and that means its memory can be boosted all the way up to 256GB if needed.
Verdict: The iPhone 7 gives you a range of options when it comes to storage, and on first glance the S7’s paltry 32GB storage looks like a huge oversight. However, Samsung's decision to throw in a MicroSD slot can offer extremely good value if you know where to look – 128GB microSD cards and be picked up for around $50.
Apple claims the iPhone 7’s lasts up to two hours longer than the iPhone 6s. Our battery life test confirmed that improvement, as the new phone lasted 13 hours 2 minutes.
However, that’s still a long way short of the Samsung Galaxy S7, which lasted 17 hours 48 minutes in our test, thanks to its big 3000mAh battery and, we’d surmise, its improved AMOLED display and efficient octa-core processor.
Verdict: The iPhone 7 improves the chances of the phone lasting a full day without a charge, but the Galaxy S7 wins this one easily – by at least half a day, depending on how you use your phone.
So the iPhone 7 is faster, comes more built-in storage and looks a bit better (in our view) than Samsung’s flagship. On the other hand, the Galaxy S7 has a better screen and camera, the edge in features, expandable storage and much longer battery life.
So overall, that’s a win to Galaxy S7. But really, there’s little between the two phones overall – both are fast, water resistant and packed with features, and take great photos. Choosing the best phone partly comes down to the ecosystem you use, and the type of operating system you prefer. If you’re upgrading from a previous iPhone and own other Apple gear, the iPhone 7 will most likely fit best into your life. If you're more of an Android user, then it probably makes more sense to pick up a Galaxy S7.
The caveat here is the headphone jack. If you really must have one and you’re iPhone user, then you’ll either have to jump ship or skip this upgrade and see what happens with future iPhones and headphones.
Is it worth the upgrade? iPhone 7 vs iPhone 6s
It’s a given that the iPhone 7 is best iPhone ever made. The question, if you've already got an iPhone 6s, is it really worth the upgrade?
Here we take you through all the new features in the iPhone 7 and compare them with the 6s, so you can decide for yourself.
From the outside at least, the iPhone 7 looks a lot like the iPhone 6s before it, but if you look closer, you'll notice a few minor changes. This time round, Apple has removed the antennae lines from the rear of the iPhone, and eagle-eyed users will also notice the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack – but we'll get to that later. There are two new finishes for the iPhone 7 (a glossy Jet Black and matt Black) and the iPhone 6s' Space Grey finish has gone. And one more thing, if you're after a Jet Black iPhone 7, you'll need to get it in 128GB or 256GB – Apple isn't planning on releasing a 32GB version of the new finish.
The iPhone 7 might use a 12MP camera – just like the iPhone 6s – but Apple has introduced one or two changes that make it a better snapper overall. There’s now optical image stabilisation (OIS), where previously this had restricted to the Plus version. There’s also a beefed-up image signal processor (ISP) to provide better noise reduction and speedier high-dynamic-range (HDR) processing. A brighter f/1.8 aperture, which lets 50% more light onto the sensor, six-element lens and quad-LED flash top things off nicely.
In our low-light tests, images were typically captured at lower ISO sensitivity and lower shutter speeds, resulting in cleaner, brighter, more colourful images than the iPhone 6s – not perfect in some instances, but generally better.
Is it enough to warrant an upgrade? That’s a moot point but improvement to the FaceTime HD camera – which has jumped from 5MP to 7MP – might be enough to swing it.
Although some will see it as a step backwards, Apple has removed the 3.5mm headphone socket from the iPhone 7. Whatever the reason behind the omission, Apple is at least shipping ever iPhone with a Lightning to 3.5mm adaptor, but you won't be able to charge and listen at the same time without purchasing a special adapter or wireless headphones. That is a pain. On the plus side, the iPhone 7 now has stereo speakers, which sound better than the iPhone 6s’ mono speaker, with a little more volume, body and presence.
Apple has also removed the physical home button from the iPhone 7, replacing it with a Force Touch button capable of. It’s fair to say this change is more successful than the removal of the headphone jack, because it works beautifully. It’s one less mechanical potential point of failure and it feels uncannily like a real button when you push down on it, thanks to Apple’s haptic feedback technology.
Several sources noted the iPhone 6s was more water-resistant than previous models, but the iPhone 7 makes it official with IP67 certification. That means it’s rated to last half an hour in up to metre of water, though it’s probably best to avoid testing this as Apple still doesn't cover water damage in the iPhone 7's warranty.
Performance and battery life
One of the biggest upgrades is inside the phone. The iPhone 7 packs Apple’s new A10 Fusion processor, which has four cores, with two high-performance units handling the computing intensive tasks and the other two taking care of lighter loads to provide better battery life.
And the processor lives up to its hype. Our tests show the iPhone 7 outperforms its forebear by a very significant margin, and it lasted 13 hours 2 minutes in our video rundown battery test – two hours longer the iPhone 6.
In the face of it, not much has changed with the display: The iPhone 7 still has a 4.7in Retina screen with a resolution of 750 x 1334 pixels. However, Apple has given the screen a significantly wider colour gamut and it’s around 25% brighter than the iPhone 6s screen – and as a result, the new display is more colourful, more vibrant and more immediately engaging.
It’s good news for those who are struggling with an entry-level iPhone 6s – Apple has ditched the 16GB model. The 64GB handset has gone too, but overall Apple is offering a far better range of storage options: 32GB, 128GB and 256GB. There’s still no microSD slot for expanding storage, however.
The iPhone 7 might look a lot like the iPhone 6s, but in truth it offers a collection of small changes and refinements over the previous handset. In isolation, each of those changes is pretty unremarkable, but combined they make a smartphone that's a solid step up from the iPhone 6s. If you've got an iPhone 6s – and particularly if you got a 16GB model -- features like the iPhone 7's water-resistance, faster speeds, better battery life and more storage will have a noticeable effect on your day to day routine – and if you've got an iPhone 6 then the difference could be night and day.
Which phablet is for you? iPhone 7 Plus vs Note 7
UPDATE: The Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s recall means that it's no longer an option for those looking for a large-screen phone. However, this comparison might be instructive to see how the iPhone 7 Plus would have compared against what would have been the premium large-screen Android smartphone. Those looking for an alternative to the iPhone 7 Plus could consider the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which doesn't appear to suffer from the Note 7's overheating problems.
The iPhone 7 Plus is something Apple dismissed as a concept just four years ago. Remember the iPhone 5 advert that said that 4in phones were perfectly evolved for the human thumb?
That “common sense” has now been abandoned for three generations in a row with the iPhone 7 Plus being the third phablet Apple has released. And as we pointed out in our iPhone 7 Plus review, it’s faster than its predecessor, has a better screen and more storage, and it's water-resistant. The new dual-lens camera is very good and the 2x optical zoom works brilliantly.
Samsung, of course, have been doing this for years and in our Galaxy Note 7 review, we named the phablet the new undisputed king of smartphones due to its waterproofing, iris recognition, improved stylus and performance.
The Note 7 is, of course, coming back from a product recall due to a serious battery overheating problem. But that appears to be over, with replacements available for those who bought the phone and the Note 7 expected to go back on sale in early October.
So is it worth waiting for? Or should you go for the iPhone 7 Plus?
By now, all top-of-the-range phones look pretty damned sleek, and it should come as no surprise that both the iPhone 7 Plus and the Galaxy Note 7 are both quite the lookers. The iPhone 7 Plus doesn't look too dramatically different from the iPhone 6S Plus – although the Jet Black colour is new – while the Note 7 works on the super design work from the Galaxy S series.
Both wear their phablet dimensions as a badge of honour. The iPhone 7 Plus has a slightly smaller screen at 5.5in to the Note 7's 5.7in. Despite this, the Note 7 is the smaller handset overall: it's 153.5 x 73.9mm to the iPhone 7 Plus’ 158.2 x 77.9mm. It’s lighter too, with the Note 7 tipping the scales at 169g to the iPhone 7 Plus’ 188g. The iPhone 7 Plus is thinner though – it's just 7.3mm thick, managing to shave off a little bit of its girth as it ditched the headphone jack (the Note 7 is hardly fat at 7.9mm).
Verdict: The iPhone 7 Plus’s styling has plenty of fans and rightly so, but Note 7 wins by a nose due to its clever design that squeezes a larger screen into the smaller body.
The iPhone 7 Plus has a 5.5in IPS display with a resolution of 1,080 x 1,920 pixels, resulting in a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch. That’s plenty of pixels, but not as many as the Galaxy Note 7, which packs a resolution of 1,440 x 2,560 pixels into its display, resulting a pixel density of 518ppi.
The iPhone 7 Plus is 25% brighter than the iPhone 6S Plus, and the colour gamut is wider. As a result, colours are a little bit warmer than the older model, without being over-vibrant – improving an already very good display.
However, the Note 7 is brighter again, managing an impressive 872cm/m2 in our tests. It also has a larger 5.7in screen, with a higher 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution. Even more impressive is the Super AMOLED screen’s colour accuracy and perfect contrast – and it uses the same flexible technology as the Galaxy S7 Edge to offer curved edges and always-on edge display.
Verdict: While the iPhone 7 Plus has a great display, the Galaxy Note 7’s screen is bigger, has significantly higher pixel density and is, quite simply, stunning.
Apple has finally killed off the 16GB entry level for iPhones, which is great news because it was hugely stingy, but also kind of irrelevant here as the Note 7 starts with 64GB storage – and it also keeps the microSD card expansion slot, something which Apple refuses to budge on.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 also comes with the S Pen – Samsung's clever stylus which allows you to doodle on the screen and which has been improved since the previous version. The iPhone 7 Plus doesn't, but the two are both water resistant, although as we explained the in the iPhone 7 vs Galaxy S7 face-off, the Samsung handset has a superior IP68 rating.
And, of course, the Note 7 comes with a headphone jack which the iPhone 7 Plus infamously doesn't. Not to be outdone on the inconvenience stakes, the Note 7 is the first Samsung phone to ditch the micro USB port. There are all kinds of advantages to USB Type C, but in the short run, you're probably going to struggle to find spare cables around. On the plus side, it does have wireless charging which, again, the iPhone 7 Plus lacks. And while both offer a fingerprint scanner, the Note 7 goes further by adding an iris scanner for even more convenient access.
Verdict: Again, both phones are packed with features, but with its stylus, iris scanner, slightly better water resistance, expandable storage and a headphone jack, the Galaxy S7 is the clear winner.
The Note 7 offers the same excellent 12MP camera as the Galaxy S7, so against any other phone it would be a winner. However, the iPhone 7 Plus sets a new standard with a dual-lens camera that offers a 27mm lens alongside a 57mm lens with 2x optical zoom.
The iPhone 7 Plus’s camera wasn’t perfect in our low-light testing, but overall it’s better than its predecessor’s camera – and after using the 2X optical zoom for a while, we began to wonder how we could live without it.
Verdict: The Note 7 takes consistently good photos in a range of conditions, but the very handy 2x optical zoom sees the Apple phone win here.
The Galaxy Note 7 uses the same eight-core Exynos 8890 processor as the Galaxy S7, backed by 4GB RAM, while the iPhone 7 Plus has 2GB of RAM and Apple’s incredible new A10 Fusion chip.
That means the comparative performance is pretty much the same as for the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 – the Samsung phone is fast, but the iPhone 7 Plus is quicker again.
Verdict: Did we mention the A10 Fusion is the fastest smartphone processor ever? In fact, some tests suggest the iPhone 7 Plus is even faster than the current iPad Pro.
Apple isn’t making outrageous claims about the iPhone 7 Plus’s battery life, saying it will last up to one hour longer than the iPhone 6 Plus and the iPhone 7 (using the internet on Wi-Fi).
Samsung, meanwhile, powers the Galaxy Note 7 with a huge 3,500mAh battery which, combined with the efficient Exynos 8890 processor and improved AMOLED display, enabled the Samsung phablet to last a whopping 21 hours 57 minutes in our battery test.
Verdict: When it comes to battery life, the Galaxy Note 7 comfortably beats not only the iPhone 7 Plus but also every other smartphone that we’ve tested.
With the Note 7's previous overheating problem and the iPhone 7 Plus's lack of headphone jack, both of these phones have their controversies. But if you can look past those issues, these are among the very best phablets available.
The iPhone 7 Plus offers better performance and a standard-setting dual-lens camera with 2x optical zoom, but the Galaxy Note 7 has a superior screen, much better battery life and a number of extra features, including its useful stylus.
So it’s a narrow win to the Note 7 due to its battery life and features, but ultimately which you choose will probably come down to which ecosystem and operating system you prefer.
Of course, Android users who don't want to wait for the Note 7 might want to consider the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – which has the same processor, camera and many other features as the Note 7 but with a slightly smaller (5.5in) screen and no stylus.