It's not big leap forward from the iPhone 7 Plus, but the 8 Plus is a very fine handset.
Apple’s breakthrough smartphone, the iPhone X, is still weeks away at least – and it will be priced the other side of $1,500. And while the iPhone 8 is more affordable, its 4.7in screen is starting to look pretty small by today’s standards. That makes the iPhone 8 Plus the most compelling handset in Apple’s new range for many users.
While the Plus lacks the beautiful bezel-less design and facial recognition of the iPhone X, it’s $350 cheaper. It also has some extras that you don’t get with the standard iPhone 8 – most notably the larger 5.5in Full HD screen which, among other things, will better showcase the augmented reality (AR) features in Apple’s new handsets. The rear camera setup also is better, featuring dual 12-megapixel units.
On the other hand, the iPhone 8 Plus is a rather incremental upgrade from the 7 Plus, featuring much the same display and cameras, for example. The new model does, however, offer double the storage of 7 Plus, a major processor upgrade and several other tweaks, while the addition of wireless charging is significant.
But are these advances worth the upgrade? Let’s take a closer look.
The iPhone 8 Plus’s design is remarkably similar to 2016’s 7 Plus. The buttons, camera lenses and flash, and nano-SIM card tray are in exactly the same places. The iPhone 8 Plus has the same Touch ID home button below the same 5.5in display. It’s still dust- and water-resistant to IP67 and Apple is sticking to its guns by not bringing back the 3.5mm headphone jack, more’s the pity.
There are some noticeable differences, though. The smooth, cold metal casing of the 7 Plus has been replaced with glass. If you’ve ever smashed an iPhone, this may fill you with dread but Apple assures us the glass has been strengthened with steel and is multi-layered to make it more robust. We’ll believe that when we proof, so we would advise getting a case.
The reason for this key design change is to accommodate Apple’s wireless charging coils and it feels truly lovely. The glass casing also means the ugly antenna strips no longer need to run along the rear of the handset and are now more discreetly visible along the phone’s 7.55mm edge.
The glass and coils do add weight to the handset (from 188g to 202g) and this is noticeable from the first hold, but the extra weight and glass casing, which warms in your hand and curves slightly at the edges, add a modicum of luxury and comfort, making the phone feel expensive.
The glass and extra weight, ironically, also make the phone feel less fragile and slippery in the hand, but we’d avoid putting it on any smooth surface if it’s not in a case since it’s prone to sliding off unnoticed.
Apple waxed lyrical about the iPhone 8 Plus’s “impressive” display, and with the iPhone 8 Plus, Apple has brought True Tone technology previously seen on the iPad to its iPhone range.
True Tone uses the phone’s sensors to adjust the onscreen white balance and match the “colour temperature” of any ambient light. This makes images look more natural and helps your brain and eyes adapt more easily, to avoid eyestrain. It’s a nice touch, and we’d recommend you leave this feature on, but the display itself provides very few other noticeable changes – something that is backed up by the numbers we saw in our tests.
With all automatic adaptations disabled, the iPhone 8 Plus’ IPS display scored near-identical marks to the iPhone 7 Plus. Peak brightness reaches 553cd/m2 with a full white screen in a browser window, with a contrast ratio of 1,365:1. By comparison, the iPhone 7 Plus achieved 520cd/m2 and 1,350:1. The screens on both handsets are highly colour accurate, too.
Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus offers among the most advanced camera technology available, although there’s little to separate it from the 7 Plus. The front-facing camera is the same as last year’s: a 7-megapixel f/2.2 unit without a dedicated flash that takes detailed selfies.
On the rear, the iPhone 8 Plus comes with two 12-megapixel rear-facing shooters: one 28mm, the other a 2x telephoto 56mm lens, with apertures of f/1.8 and f/2.8 respectively, just like last year – although it is the fastest we’ve ever used. And with the telephoto camera now optically stabilised, it performs slightly better in low light.
The iPhone 8 Plus’ camera pair takes reliable photos in a range of lighting conditions, but then so did the 7 Plus’. Comparison shots, taken by Google’s Pixel XL, show the latter slightly outperforming the former, a gap that may widen further when unveils its next-generation Pixel cameras at the start of October.
Video quality on the iPhone 8 Plus is also good. You can capture in 4K at up to 60fps and the stabilisation is superb, although again, this brings it in line with smooth video capture on the Pixel.
On the iPhone 8 Plus, software improvements elevate photos slightly. HDR is always on, and Apple’s added new light options to its Portrait mode to add extra professional-looking effects to photos.
DSLR fans will likely look down their nose at this technology, but for the average consumer (read Instagram user) it works well.
Next: performance, battery life and verdict
Performance and battery life
Apple’s phones are usually pretty quick, but this year it has outdone itself. In fact, the hexa-core A11 Bionic chip in the iPhone 8 Plus is so good it leaves not only its predecessor but also every single Android flagship, including the Samsung Galaxy S8, in a trail of dust.
It’s the fastest phone we’ve ever benchmarked, as the graphs above and below show.
Battery life on the iPhone 8 Plus is decent but not awe-inspiring. This may be explained by the fact that, although the chip is supposedly more efficient, Apple has actually reduced the size of the battery in the 8 Plus versus the 7 Plus – to 2,675mAh from 2,900mAh. The iPhone 8 Plus does now support ‘fast charging’, promising 50% charge in 30 minutes if you use a 12W iPad Pro charger.
In our video-rundown battery test, in which we run all handsets in Flight mode with screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, the iPhone 8 Plus lasted 13 hours 54 minutes, not bad but way behind the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus (and the S8).
Running Qi-enabled wireless charging technology means you can place the iPhone 8 Plus on any compatible charger, should you start running low.
The wireless charging option also means you can now listen to music and charge at the same time, something Apple made impossible when it removed the headphone jack. Yet wireless charging has removed the option of being able to use your phone while it’s charging so Apple has given with one hand and taken away with the other.
Should you upgrade?
The Apple iPhone 8 Plus is a very fine smartphone. Its battery life is good, the cameras are impressive and wireless charging is a nice touch even if it does come years behind its Android rivals. But it’s not the best you can buy.
Its blinding speed is a moot point seeing as most users won’t notice such a leap and the improvements included with iOS 11 are available across other modern iPhones and iPads. That said, the new software has been designed to work most effectively with the new hardware.
So we’d be lying if we said the iPhone 8 Plus was a must-have upgrade for iPhone 7 Plus users – particularly given its pricing: $1,229 for the 64GB version or $1,479 with 256GB of storage. In fact, with the iPhone 7 Plus still available and discounted to $1,049, that could be an enticing upgrade for those with older, smaller iPhones.
The same can be said for the regular iPhone 8. Based on our early impressions, we can’t say it’s must-have upgrade for iPhone 7 users – and with the iPhone 7 now selling from just $849, it’s a good-value option for those with older Apple handsets.
The main issue, and it’s the same one that has raised its head over the past few years, is that you have to switch to Android to get a better phone. If you’re willing to do so, the obvious options are the 5.8in Samsung Galaxy S8 (at $1,199) or 6.2in Galaxy S8+ ($1,349). If you want dual rear cameras, the Galaxy Note 8 offers that, along with a 6.3in screen squeezed into a body that’s only slightly bigger than the iPhone 8 Plus, although it comes at a premium – $1,499.
The iPhone 8 Plus isn’t particularly cheap on contract, although it’s not the most expensive either. At the time of writing, Virgin was offering the cheapest 2GB, two-year plan at $75 per month. A Galaxy Note 8 on the same plan costs $80 per month, while the Galaxy S8 costs $69 per month.
If you’re already locked into Apple’s ecosystem, though, and you’re moving up from an iPhone 6s or earlier, the iPhone 8 Plus is the model that makes the most sense in Apple’s new range. It’s the best smartphone Apple has ever made, at least until we see the iPhone X, and packs in more features than the regular iPhone 8.
This review is based on an article that originally appeared at alphr.com.