With the exception of the iPhone SE released earlier this spring, Apple generally releases its annual iPhone flagships each September. Here's a look at the array of iPhones that Apple is currently selling, and how they compare to one another.
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The current iPhone lineup consists of five models of three different sizes. The smallest is the pocket-sized iPhone SE, a phone that is reminiscent of the old iPhone 5s in size and build. The bigger iPhone 6S and 7 make up the middle size tier. The largest phones, the capacious 6S Plus and 7 Plus, fall squarely in the phablet category.
There's a fairly substantial weight difference in this lineup: The heftiest one, iPhone 6S Plus, is 52-percent heavier than the lightest model, the SE. This year's 7 series phones are both lighter than their 6S counterparts, despite having the same dimensions.
All iPhones have the distinctive aluminum unibody we've come to expect from Apple. The newest models are more streamlined, with less prominent antennae lines.
Metallics – silver, gold and rose gold – are available across the board. The 7 series nixes the "space gray" tone in favor of glossy and matte black options.
Display size follows the pattern of overall phone size. The SE is the smallest at a mere 4 inches, then the 6S and 7 screens are 20-percent larger at 5.5 inches. The 6S Plus and 7 Plus displays are 57-percent larger than the SE and 27-percent larger than the 6S/7.
For the highest iPhone resolution, you'll have to opt for one of the Plus models, but there are several other features that factor into the quality of the display, such as white balance, contrast ratio, color gamut and brightness. For the best display, we recommend the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. They have the most impressive color accuracy and range of the lineup.
Rumors circulate that Apple may have an AMOLED display in the works for next year's model, but that remains to be seen. The company is loyal to IPS technology in the current lineup, and is taking it to impressive lengths.
3D Touch (pressure-sensitive display)
All but the iPhone SE have 3D Touch, Apple's hardware-based shortcut feature. It launches shortcuts based on how hard you press the display.
Audiophiles take heart: Only the 7 and 7 Plus lack a headphone jack. All of the other phones in the lineup can fit your favorite headphones sans-adapter.
All iPhones have 12-megapixel rear cameras, but there is a meaningful difference in the front-facing camera resolution. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have a sharp 7-megapixel camera; the 6S and 6S Plus have a decent 5-megapixels; the iPhone SE can only offer a grainy 1.2-megapixel selfie experience.
In this fall's flagships, Apple followed an industry trend and made the rear-facing camera aperture larger. The larger aperture means more light can get to the imaging sensor, for better captures in different levels of light.
Optical image stabilization
OIS technology keeps your captures still even when your hands are shaky. It's fairly common in Android phones, but as far as iPhones go, it's only found in the 6S Plus and the series 7 phones.
Only the iPhone 7 Plus has a dual-lens camera with optical zoom and improved digital zoom. It lets you take sharper pictures, from farther away. The rest of the iPhones, like most smartphones, are restricted to digital zoom only (which is really just a type of image cropping).
The flash on iPhone 7 and 7 Plus has been updated from a dual LED to a quad LED. Our tests didn't show an overwhelming difference, but the newer flash does seem to improve tonal range and decrease unwanted contrast.
This year's major flagships are IP67 water resistant: Rated to withstand immersion in under one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. That's good news for those of us with a tendency to put their phones through the elements (or are just clumsy).
Solid-state home button
In the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the home button was changed from an actual mechanical button to a solid-state button that uses haptic feedback to mimic the physical sensation of pressing a button.
Because it was coupled with the loss of a headphone jack and seems to require quite a bit of engineering, we're wondering why. It may play a key role in achieving water resistance, or perhaps fitting in a bigger battery.
Battery size varies across the board, but it is not the only indicator of expected battery life. According to Apple, the iPhone 6S has the shortest lifespan: up to 11 hours of Wi-Fi use and 11 hours of video playback. Next, the SE and 6S Plus offer 13-14 hours of Wi-Fi use and 13-14 hours of video playback. The longest-lasting batteries are found in the 7 and 7 Plus. Apple says the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus offer "up to two hours longer" and "up to one hour longer" battery life than the 6S, respectively.
If you need fast or wireless charging capability, you'll need to look elsewhere. The Lightning port on iPhones offers single-speed charging only. Expect a full charge to take the better part of two hours.
Nowadays, being Apple Pay-equipped is part of being an iPhone.
Similarly, a fingerprint sensor is now a smartphone industry standard. iPhones are no exception – the TouchID sensor is built right into the home button.
The 6S and 6S Plus originally launched with lower tiers of built-in storage, but once the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were released, Apple retroactively upped last year's models too. If you want a glossy jet black 7 series, it's only available in the 128 and 256 GB sizes.
Unlike Android phones, which ship with one version of the operating system and may or may not receive updates, Apple forces its newest OS onto all iPhones. Since iOS 10 integrates 3D Touch more heavily than previous software, we're not too sure how the iPhone SE is faring without it.
This is the first time that every phone in Apple's collection has at least 2 GB of RAM. In the 7 Plus, RAM has been updated to 3 GB.
The 6S, 6S Plus and SE have capable A9 chips. The 7 and 7 Plus have the updated A10 chip, which is clocking in at an impressive 2.34 GHz in benchmark tests.
The oldest phones in the fleet are one year old.
Expect to pay a premium for the top-of-the-line, waterproof, dual-lens camera-equipped iPhone 7 Plus. The iPhone 7 and 6S are at the same $649 price point. If you want an iPhone without crippling your wallet, opt for the $549 iPhone 6S or the more affordable $399 SE. If one of these has caught your eye, read up on New Atlas' features on each phone:
We'll have more buyer's guides leading up to the holidays; stay tuned.View gallery - 27 images