Is the larger iPhone 7 really a meaningful upgrade from the iPhone 6s Plus? Read on.

The most striking thing about the iPhone 7s Plus— the 5.5-inch Plus is the larger of the two new phones— is just how similar it is physically to the iPhone 6 Plus introduced in 2014. Ditto on the iPhone 6s Plus, introduced last year. In fact, I’m guessing the non-geek, average consumer couldn’t tell the difference between all three— even after using them.

I’ve owned all three and recently switched to the 7 Plus. Here are my impressions.

Camera: It’s Apple’s best yet. I’ve compared photos from my iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone 7 Plus and the latter produces better photos in low-light. I take most of my photos in low-light or ambient room light and the iPhone 7 Plus camera renders more accurate colors and detail. But I have to look hard. The difference isn’t going to jump out at you. And, again, the average consumer (non-photography buff) probably wouldn’t notice.  

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I’m trying not to carp. Enthusiasts who obsess about image quality will definitely notice. And it's important to note that camera quality doesn’t improve in big leaps. It’s incremental. So, hats off to Apple for continuing to make its iPhone cameras good enough that most consumers can ditch their stand-alone DSLRs. (I ditched my pricey DSLR when I got the iPhone 5s.)

There is one thing that everyone will notice, however, novices and experts alike: the “telephoto” capability that is only available on the iPhone 7 Plus. The telephoto technology uses two lenses (versus one on the smaller iPhone 7).  In short, up to 2X, you get higher-quality zoom. I definitely noticed this right away. The novice will too.

No headphone jack: The sole Lightning connector on the iPhone 7 is a game changer. This didn’t hit me until, out of habit, I sat down and unthinkingly tried to plug my old headphones into the iPhone 7 Plus. At that moment, I also realized that I had probably a half a dozen headphones with old-style 3.5mm jacks that I couldn’t use with iPhone 7 Plus without an adapter. And, tangentially, I noticed that using the Lighting headphones with the Lightning port on my iPad Pro doesn’t work for me because it blocks easy access to the home button. That doesn’t bode well for future iPads unless Apple changes the position of the Lightning connector.

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That said, it’s progress. Everyone hates it when technology changes. But after the initial temper tantrum, most people soon forget what all the fuss was about. That will apply to the headphone jack-less iPhone 7 too.

Solid-state home button: I welcome the switch to a solid-state home button from the mechanical one on all previous iPhones. And I expect all Apple iOS devices to adopt solid-state buttons. It provides better feedback, is more responsive, and just plain easier to use.

Battery life: While I haven’t done exact down-to-the-minute comparisons, generally, after weeks of use, I haven’t noticed a difference – good or bad – between the iPhone 7 Plus and my previous iPhone 6s Plus. And I don’t think the average buyer will be either disappointed by or ecstatic over the iPhone 7 Plus’ battery life. It generally lasts all day unless I’m traveling and using it constantly all day. In the latter case, it needs recharging before the day is out.

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Performance: I do notice subtle speed improvements. Though the iPhone 7 packs a new Apple A10 processor, I believe a good chunk of the speed boost comes from the 3GB of RAM in the 7 Plus – that’s 1GB more than the 2GB of the smaller iPhone 7. As anyone who has done a DIY upgrade of a PC knows, if you add RAM, everything gets snappier. That applies to mobile devices too.

Water resistance: I have not tested the improved water resistance and will only do so if I’m forced to. Apple doesn't cover water damage under the standard warranty. So, I’m not going to push my luck. But tech sites have done lots of testing so I’ll refer you to in-depth testing. And some tests, by the way, showed that damage did occur.

To wrap up, is the iPhone 7 a major improvement over the iPhone 6s? No. And it's not light years ahead of the iPhone 6 either. That said, if you obsess about photo quality, need better water resistance, and insist on having the fastest iPhone, it's worth the upgrade.