Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: Fast but far from inspirational
Update: Apple recently refreshed the iPhone 8 range with a limited number of iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition handsets.
You can buy the handsets in 64GB and 256GB versions directly from Apple for £699. You can additionally get an iPhone 8 (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition with 16GB of data for the price of 4GB on Vodafone’s Red Extra 16GB plan. Get more information about iPhone 8 deals here.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were both sold in (PRODUCT)RED versions around six months after their September 2016 release. There was no mention of a (PRODUCT)RED version of the iPhone X in the latest release.
We’ve spent the past week with the red iPhone 8 Plus and we can categorically say that photos of the handset don’t do the new colour option justice. The glass back, thanks to the wireless charging feature, gives the colour a fantastic sheen. In fact, we love the new hue so much, we’re swapping our gold model for it. That said, like its predecessors, the glass picks up fingerprints easily and having a darker colour behind the glass makes this even more noticeable.
Original review continues below
There’s a concerning trend for new flagship phones to pull further away from the prices of their predecessors. By create a gaping void with handsets in the mid-range, manufacturers are attempting to establish the latest models as luxury items without offering huge leaps forward in technology.
Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus is no exception.
The cheapest iPhone 8 Plus is £799, up from the £719 launch price of the iPhone 7 Plus and, for that, you get double the basic storage than you did last year: 64GB. The 256GB iPhone 8 Plus reaches the dizzying heights of £949.
There have been advancements, of course. Wireless charging is significant, as are the design changes made to make wireless charging possible but are these advancements proportional to this leap in price?
Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: Design
As mentioned, the iPhone 8 Plus is remarkably similar to 2016’s 7 Plus; so similar, you’ll struggle to tell the difference between the two.
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 5.5-in 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.[gallery:1]
There are some noticeable differences, though. The smooth, cold metal casing of the 7 Plus has been replaced with glass. If, like me, 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. I’ll believe it when I see it, so 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 (202g up from 188g) 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, which of course it is. The glass and extra weight, ironically, also make the phone feel less fragile and slippery in the hand, but I’d avoid putting it on any smooth surface if it’s not in a case since it’s prone to sliding off unnoticed.
I was sent the Apple 8 Plus in the new gold colour (RIP rose gold). It’s closer to a pinky-beige though, and my choice would be the more traditional, albeit slightly boring, black or silver.[gallery:7]
iPhone 8 Plus review: Display
Apple waxed lyrical about the iPhone 8 Plus’ “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 little 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.[gallery:12]
iPhone 8 Plus review: 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 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 but this isn’t as impressive as OnePlus’ Dash charge, which we’ve seen charge to 75% capacity in 39 minutes.
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 13hrs 54mins, not bad but way behind the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and OnePlus 5.
Running Qi-enabled wireless charging technology means you can place the iPhone 8 Plus on any compatible charger, should you start running low. These types of chargers are found in larger McDonalds and Starbucks stores and are even embedded into some Ikea furniture – its Selje nightstands and Varv lights, for example.
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.[gallery:6]
Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: Cameras
Very little separates the cameras in flagship phones these days, and it won’t until the technology moves on, but Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus offers features at the most advanced end of this scale. In fact, it was the fastest I’ve ever used.
But there isn’t a huge deal more to shout about. 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. This telephoto camera is now optically stabilised, so it performs slightly better in low light.[gallery:19][gallery:18][gallery:20]
The iPhone 8 Plus’ camera pair takes reliable photos in a range of lighting conditions, but then so did the iPhone 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.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: Verdict
The Apple iPhone 8 Plus is a decent phone. Its battery life is good, the cameras are (still) 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 consumers won’t notice such a leap and the improvements brought on with iOS 11 are largely available across almost all iPhones and iPads. That said, the new software has been designed to work most effectively with the new hardware.
So I’d be lying if I said the iPhone 8 Plus had enough to offer anyone looking to upgrade from the 7 Plus. Especially given its £800 price tag, and that the 7 Plus has dropped to (an albeit still pricey) £669 since the iPhone 8 launch. It is worth the investment if you’re looking to jump from the 7, and is definitely worth the leap from iPhone 6 and 6s ranges.[gallery:4]
The main issue, and it’s the same one that raises its head every year, is that you have to switch to Android to get a better phone. If you’re willing to do so, the obvious competitor to the 8 Plus is the Galaxy Note 8. It comes with dual-cameras and a larger 6.3in AMOLED screen squeezed into a body that’s only slightly bigger than the iPhone 8 Plus, but comes at a small premium, costing around £820.
If you don’t want a dual camera, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus squeezes a larger 6.2-in AMOLED screen into a narrower, taller body and costs around £630, while the 5.7in Galaxy S8 is even less at below £550. Alternatively, there’s the OnePlus 5, which packs everything you need in a 5.5in phone aside from dust- and water-resistance, but only costs £450.
If you’re already locked into Apple’s ecosystem, though, and you’re moving up from an iPhone 6 or 6s, the iPhone 8 Plus is the model that makes the most sense in Apple’s new range. It is one of the best phones Apple has ever made, packs in more features than the regular iPhone 8 and costs £200 less than the upcoming Apple iPhone X.