iPhone 7 Plus in 2021: Are Old Phones Still Good?

Aging smartphones remain useful, but they’re not perfect

Key Takeaways

  • The iPhone 7 Plus is more than capable of handling day-to-day use in 2021.
  • Older phones can fall short in heavy use and battery longevity is a concern.
  • Holding onto a phone is less expensive, but not a great value.
iPhone 7 Plus laying on a wooden surface

Matthew S. Smith / Lifewire

The iPhone 7 Plus is still my everyday phone. Despite giant bezels, a quaint TouchID button, and a humble 5.5-inch LCD screen, I’ve held on to squeeze maximum value from the phone’s $999 price. And I’m not alone. 

A survey recently published by BlinkAI found more than one in three American smartphone buyers plan to keep a device for more than three years, and only 10% plan to upgrade yearly. This is a long-term trend: the company’s 2015 survey found most buyers were on a two-year replacement cycle.

Modern phones are powerful enough to make a long-term commitment practical, but my experience shows there are diminishing returns to keeping a phone beyond three years.

Day-to-Day Use? 2016 Often Feels Like 2021

There’s a lot to like about the iPhone 7 Plus in 2021. 

The phone’s bezels look massive compared to today’s edge-to-edge OLED screens, but I’m unconvinced newer phone displays offer much practical advantage. The extra screen space is often covered by fingers or thumbs and, in the case of video content, is wasted by letterboxing. 

While the iPhone 7 Plus is roughly the same size as an iPhone 12 Pro Max, it’s 20% lighter. It’s surprising that phones have put on weight in recent years. This isn’t just true of big phones—the iPhone 12 is about 18% heavier than the iPhone 7.

"The iPhone 7 Plus is usually fast enough, but the aging A10 Fusion processor can reach its limits in the most demanding applications."

The iPhone 7 Plus also doesn’t support 5G, but most of my area lacks 5G coverage, so it’s irrelevant. There’s no support for Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, or wireless charging. I have no complaints about Wi-Fi or Bluetooth performance, however, and wireless charging is more luxury than necessity.

Apple settled a lawsuit over iPhone performance issues in 2020, but that doesn’t reflect my experience. The iPhone 7 Plus can hitch or stutter when opening Search or loading a game, but those are the exception. Nearly everything I do day-to-day, from scrolling through web pages to editing documents, is smooth. I was worried keeping a phone for this long would leave me with a slow, frustrating device, but the iPhone 7 Plus often feels as fast as a modern iPhone.

The Dark Side Of Older Phones

The iPhone 7 Plus is usually fast enough, but the aging A10 Fusion processor can reach its limits in the most demanding applications. Outlanders, a cute city-building game on Apple Arcade, brings the iPhone 7 Plus to its knees. Genshin Impact, an extremely popular cross-platform game, is borderline unplayable thanks to the pop-in of objects and enemies. 

I’ve noticed lackluster performance in photo editing apps, too, where the phone can hitch and stutter while loading images or filters. More recent phones fly through these apps without a moment of hesitation. 

There’s little difference between my iPhone 7 Plus and newer phones when snapping shots in good light. In poor lighting, though, my phone is hopeless. Photos look dark and flat, even in a modestly lit room. 

iPhone 7 Plus photo sample of a flower

Matthew S. Smith / Lifewire

But the biggest issue? Battery lifespan. The iOS battery health report says my phone’s battery holds 83% of its original maximum charge. That’s worse than it sounds. The battery can give out in under two hours of gaming. Even modestly demanding apps, like a fitness app that uses GPS, can chew through 30%-40% of the battery in an hour.

Cost vs. Benefit

I paid $999 for the 256GB model of the iPhone 7 Plus, which, if it makes it to five years, works out to $200 a year. Not bad, right?

However, it’s unfair to compare holding a phone for multiple years to the price of a brand new phone. Instead, it’s best to consider how much it costs to keep a phone for each year. Apple and Samsung offer trade-in programs that set a baseline for an older phone’s value.

Model Age New Retail Price Trade-in Value Cost Per Year 
iPhone 11 Pro Max 1 Year $1149.00 $515.00 $634.00
iPhone XS Max 2 Years  $1249.00 $340.00  $454.50 
iPhone X  3 Years  $1149.00 $220.00  $309.67 
iPhone 7 Plus  4 Years  $999.00  $130.00  $217.25 
iPhone 6 Plus  5 Years  $949.00  $55.00  $178.80 

This comparison includes the 256GB model of each phone, except for the iPhone 6 Plus, which had a maximum of 128GB storage.

As you can see, the story changes with resale value considered. Buying a phone every year is expensive, but the benefit of keeping an older phone diminishes as the years go by. 

"The math leads me to a firm conclusion: holding a phone for five years doesn’t make a lot of sense if you can afford an upgrade."

Skipping a yearly upgrade for a two-year cycle saves nearly $200 each year, and extending that to a three-year cycle saves you another $150. But holding a phone longer than three years saves less than $100 a year.

The math is even less favorable if you resell the phone on Swappa or eBay. On average, the iPhone 11 Pro Max 256GB currently sells for $779 on Swappa. That slashes the true cost of a yearly upgrade to $371!

Android fans aren’t out of luck. A Samsung Galaxy S20 5G sells for an average of $516 on Swappa, putting the true cost of a yearly upgrade just south of $500. I understand why an Android enthusiast might be happy to spend $500 a year for a cutting-edge phone.

Old Phones Are Good, but Don’t Feel Timid About Upgrades

The math leads me to a firm conclusion: holding a phone for five years doesn’t make sense if you can afford an upgrade. It’s less expensive, yes, but not a good value. 

If I purchased on a three-year cycle, instead of holding out for five, I’d own the iPhone XS Max. It would give me FaceID, a larger OLED display, and much better performance, all without the battery issues I currently face. 

Is that worth $150 more each year? I certainly think so.

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