(Pocket-lint) - The iPhone 8 series is every bit as powerful as the iPhone X, but it sticks with the familiar Apple iPhone design with a home button. The iPhone 8 series also saw glass introduced on the rear for wireless charging.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are likely the last iPhones we'll see with the Home button and Touch ID used rather than Face ID.
And, because these newer handsets are now around, it means the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are now available at some great prices and they still have near-flagship specs.
iPhone 8 Plus design
- Glass front and back
- New gold colour option
- 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm; 202g
The iPhone 8 series has a modified chassis from the one that proved popular with the iPhone 6 and 7 but the devices look broadly similar. There's now glass front and back - rather than the metal affair Apple has been using since the iPhone 5 - plus curved edges both front and back, separated by a metal frame. Running a finger from front to back feels near-seamless, as the phone carries Apple's usual high level of craftsmanship.
The gloss of the glass delivers much more of a sparkle and sheen than we've seen on the recent metal iPhones of late, too.
With glass comes the risk of it getting smashed when dropped - just ask anyone who owned an iPhone 4.
Even if Apple calls it "the most durable glass ever in a smartphone", the internet has already seen many examples of just how shattered the phone can get if you lob it onto concrete. So buy a case to avoid the pain. And, er, don't lob it onto concrete.
The change of materials opens the door for wireless charging, which is a big new feature, while retaining the same IP67 dust and water-resistance.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus come in three finishes: Space Grey, Silver and Gold. You can't get the iPhone 8 in the Jet Black or Matte Black finish that was available to iPhone 7 customers.
The Gold finish isn't as visually harsh as the gold metal iPad, with the metal elements of the iPhone 8 more akin to Rose Gold now. The glass back takes on a subtler 'nude' colour that reminds us of a pair of fancy shoes.
Unlike the iPhone X, XR, XS and 11 - which do away with the Touch ID home button for the sake of Face ID facial recognition - the iPhone 8 Plus's front remains largely unchanged compared to the iPhone 7 Plus or, well, iPhones all the way back to the original model. That means the home button sits pride of place, as does a standard FaceTime front-facing camera.
While the design is clean, it's looking a little dated - especially compared to later iPhones and flagship phones from other manufacturers that have edge-to-edge displays.
New screen and better speakers
- True Tone display from iPad
- 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution LCD (401ppi)
- Better stereo speakers
So the design hasn't evolved a huge amount and neither has the display. Except for one important aspect: it's now True Tone.
True Tone means the same colour-rich and HDR-capable technology as found in iPads. Yep, the iPhone 8 can present high dynamic range content from Netflix, as one example.
That means a greater colour palette and brighter whites for a more immersive viewing experience - although the iPhone 8 is not as bright as some other phones on the market.
The iPhone 8 Plus also got better speakers over its predessors. Redesigned to follow the same approach as the speakers on the iPad, these stereo speakers are a little louder and bassier. Not by a huge amount, but it's a bonus.
- A11 Bionic processor
- Same core/graphics power as iPhone X
- 64/256GB storage options
Inside the iPhone 8 Plus is the A11 Bionic processor. This features a six-core design - two of which are performance cores - that make the phone speedier (by a purported 25 per cent) compared to the A10 Fusion chip found in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
Indeed, the iPhone 8 Plus has the same hardware as the iPhone X, meaning the performance of the two devices is one and the same.
Of course, it isn't up to the same level as the A12 Bionic chip found in the iPhone XR and XS series, or the A13 Bionic from the iPhone 11 but you'll find the difference is negligible.
In simple real-world terms that means the 8 Plus is a fast phone that can handle everything you throw at it.
We've been using this phone for nearly two years now alongside the iPhone X and XS Max. And we've been more than impressed. Opening apps, playing with AR demos and an array of games has all run smoothly and loaded quickly and consistently for the entire time we've used it.
Such gaming capability is no doubt thanks to a new gaming processor, implemented to handle the gaming and augmented reality (AR and ARKit) side of things. It claims a 30 per cent boost in graphics performance than the previous generation in the iPhone 7 models.
Wireless charging and battery
- Supports Qi open standard wireless charging
- Fast charging supported, but you'll need another cable and a USB-C charger
The move to a glass back isn't just about making things look pretty (or watching the phone slide off a seemingly flat-armed sofa). It's about enabling wireless charging too. Although slower than charging via a cable - which incidentally is also much faster for this generation - the ease of slinging the iPhone 8 onto a charging pad is a great addition to the series - and about time too.
The iPhone 8 Plus uses the popular Qi standard, as used by other phone manufacturers and which is supported by plenty of accessory manufacturers.
When not wireless charging you can fast charge. Android devices have long been lauding it over the iPhone for their ability to change the battery very quickly, and now Apple has caught up - well, if you buy the USB-C to Lightning cable, anyway, as it's not included in the box.
With that and a more powerful charger, like the one that ships with the MacBook or MacBook Pro, it makes a huge difference.
We were able to go from 16 per cent to 70 per cent with just 30 minutes at the plug. The remaining 30 per cent does take longer, but fast charging certainly gets the phone up and running quickly.
The iPhone 8 Plus has a very good all-day battery life. With light to moderate use you easily get halfway into a second day before needing to recharge. Heavy users can comfortably get through a workday.
Cameras and new photography modes
- Dual 12-megapixel wide-angle and telephoto lenses
- New Portrait Lighting mode
- Optical image stabilisation (wide-angle camera only)
The iPhone 8 Plus differs from the smaller iPhone 8 by having two cameras on its rear. While the sensors and the lenses stay the same - f/1.8 and f/2.8 sensors respectively - the new model benefits from a new image signal processor inside.
As with the iPhone 7 Plus, only the wide-angle camera is image stabilised, so this isn't going to offer the same performance as the iPhone X - which offers dual optical stabilisation for both the cameras.
Nonetheless, the results are great right across the board, especially when selecting the right option from the new Portrait Lighting mode, which works alongside Portrait Mode we first saw in the iPhone 7 Plus.
Using the two cameras to gather depth information, the iPhone 8 Plus's software is able to apply a number of real-time lighting effects to photos to try to replicate a studio environment.
The results from Portrait Lighting, depending on which mode you go for, are either laughable or stunning. It's really that divided. Natural Light is without any effects on; Studio Light lightens the picture as if you had studio lights with you; Contour Light adds dramatic shadows with highlights and lowlights; while Stage Light and Stage Light Mono blacks out the background as if you were on a stage.
Of the five, our favourite is Studio Light. It adds a lovely brightness to the picture without adjusting the overall exposure and contrast, and the results really lift the picture - especially faces even on a bright and sunny day. Some of the pictures we've taken are almost DSLR-like in quality. It's that good.
For us, Contour Light merely looks like it adds dirt to faces, like the subject had been in the jungle for a week. And we find Stage Light and Stage Light Mono almost laughable - a really strange effect, like a cut-out subject on a dark background. We've been unable to apply Stage Light successfully on any of the pictures we've taken in Portrait mode without it looking, well, awful.
Thankfully, Portrait Lighting can be edited and changed after the fact, allowing you to always opt for the Natural Lighting if the others are too severe.
Alternatively, just stick with Natural, because the straight-from-camera results really aren't to be overlooked - sometimes you simply don't need all the extras. It's a great camera proposition.
On the video front the iPhone 8 Plus can capture 4K resolution at 60fps, which is an improvement from the 4K 30fps found on the iPhone 7 Plus.
- iOS 12 installed as standard
- Will be upgradeable to iOS 13
Although the phone launched on iOS 11, it's now been upgraded to iOS 12 and soon you'll be able to upgrade it to the new iOS 13 software.
The improvements in iOS 12 include more 3D Touch capabilities, support for stickers and filters in camera, a trackpad on the keyboard, easier access to login codes from texts, fast actions, more flexible Animojis, more Do Not Disturb controls, Siri tweaks such as locating other devices and a new user interface for Voice Memos.
Although higher-end iPhones are now available, the iPhone 8 Plus remains a desirable large-screen device especially if you want to retain the Home button.
It delivers a faster experience in an improved shell over previous Touch ID iPhones. There's also wireless charging, improved cameras and the True Tone screen. All positive features.
But we can't mention the 8 Plus without mentioning the lure of the iPhone XR or 11 series. The iPhone 8 series is available for far better prices though, and performance-wise is still up there. So if you're not fussed about Face ID yet still want a big display, the Plus remains an excellent choice.
This review was first published in September 2017 and has been completely updated to reflect market context and software updates.
Alternatives to consider
Samsung Galaxy S9 and S10
The Samsung Galaxy S has been the key comparison with the iPhone for many years and the S10 is no different - although do also check out the Galaxy S9 for a more direct price comparison with the iPhone 8 Plus. The Galaxy series has all the top-end features you'd expect - wireless charging, a great camera, amazing display and a waterproof design.
Apple iPhone XS Max
In a way, the XS Max is the successor to the iPhone 8 Plus. It has a similar footprint yet scales up the display to 6.5-inches. What is large is the price which really does take things to the extreme. At the time of writing it's the best iPhone there is.