For 2017 there's a trio of new iPhones: the small-scale iPhone 8, the larger iPhone 8 Plus, and the forthcoming iPhone X (that's "iPhone 10", if you're saying it properly).
The biggest and widest of the three, the iPhone 8 Plus, is far more handset than the predicted "iPhone 7S" upgrade we and many others had expected. Indeed, it's every bit as powerful as the iPhone X, but in a familiar design format that's now finished with glass both front and rear.
With the iPhone X waiting in the wings, however, does the iPhone 8 Plus offer enough to be worth the upgrade right now, or should you wait that little bit longer for the most feature-packed iPhone of them all?
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Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: Design
- Glass front and back
- New gold colour option
- 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm; 202g
There's a glass front and back - rather than the metal affair Apple has been using since the iPhone 5 - which features 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 an IP67 dust- and water-resistant design.
The new iPhones also come in three finishes: Space Grey, Silver and Gold. You won't be able to 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 the Rose Gold colour. The glass back takes on a subtler "nude" colour that reminds us of a pair of fancy shoes.
Unlike the iPhone X - which does 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 the iPhone 7 Plus or, well, iPhones all the way back to the original model. That means the home button sits price of place, as does a standard FaceTime front-facing camera.
While the design is clean, it's started to look dated - especially compared to the iPhone X and flagship phones from other manufacturers like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG V30. We suspect this is Apple's last outing for this wide-body design.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: New screen and better speakers
- True Tone display arrives from iPad
- 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution LCD (401ppi)
- Better stereo speakers
So the design hasn't evolved a huge amount - which is particularly notable in comparison to the more exciting iPhone X - 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 the latest iPad. 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 of the competition, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
The iPhone 8 Plus also get better speakers. 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 to go along with the improved on-screen visuals. These speakers don't feel as powerful as the iPad's, but are certainly an improvement, delivering a more rounded sound.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: Powerful innards
- New A11 Bionic processor
- Same core/graphics power as iPhone X
- 64/256GB storage options
Inside the iPhone 8 Plus is the new 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. In simple real-world terms that means the 8 Plus is a fast phone that can handle everything you throw at it.
In our time with the phone we've been more than impressed. Opening apps, playing with AR demos and an array of games has all run smoothly and loaded quickly. 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.
Importantly, the iPhone 8 Plus has the same hardware as the iPhone X, meaning performance of the two devices is solely down to feature differences. The core experience is one and the same.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: Wireless charging and battery
- Supports Qi open standard wireless charging
- Works with charging pads from Belkin and others
- Apple AirPower will come in 2018
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 bed-side addition to the series - and about time too.
The iPhone 8 Plus uses the popular Qi standard, as used by other phone manufacturers like Samsung, and which is supported by plenty of accessory manufacturers. It's a good move and one that should propel wireless charging to the mainstream, which is something that's not quite happened to date. Expect to be able to pop your phone down onto a range of chargers built into coffee tables at your local Starbucks, or special accessory/in-built areas in your car.
We tested the iPhone 8 Plus's wireless charging capabilities with the new Belkin wireless charging pad. Simply plug the pad into the wall, pop the iPhone 8 Plus onto it and away you go. Wireless charging is certainly easy, although you can't pick up the phone and charge it at the same time - it has to be within proximity of the pad. So for calls when the phone is charging, we've simply used the speakerphone.
When not wireless charging you can fast charge with a direct wall connection. 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 but the USB-C to Lightning cable, anyway, as it's not included in the box. With that and the more powerful charger, like the one that ships with the MacBook or MacBook Pro, wow does it make 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.
Given that the iPhone 8 Plus has a very good all-day battery life anyway, this pretty much negates the need to charge overnight day in, day out. We've experienced no issues with the battery life, apart from the new Portrait Lighting mode in the camera eating at battery more than we would like - but it's not enough to be a concern.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: 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 has always been renowned for being a good camera and the iPhone 8 Plus continues that tradition.
The Plus differs from the smaller iPhone 8 by having two cameras on its rear - just like the iPhone 7 Plus. 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 the Portrait Mode that we've seen previously. 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. Sure, it's still in beta and Apple is still tweaking it, but 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.
Or just stick with Natural, because the straight-from-camera results from the iPhone 8 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 offers improved features, thanks to the A11 Bionic processor. The phone can capture 4K resolution at 60fps, which is an improvement from the 4K 30fps found on the iPhone 7 Plus. Those keen to see the results on a bigger screen can do so on the new Apple TV 4K.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: iOS 11 software
- New Control Center
- Do Not Disturb while driving
- New camera editing options
We've been using the iOS 11 software in public beta form since it was first launched earlier in the summer - and have continued to do so on the iPhone 8 Plus. Some features which seemed only interesting to begin with have now become a core part of how we use our iPhone.
Things like the new photo editing features give greater controls over your pictures and will appeal to many. Especially the ability to choose which photo you pick from a Live Photo (which is like a two second video taken when firing the shutter) and better editing techniques.
The new Do Not Disturb while driving feature automatically texts people to say you are driving, which could be a life-saver for some. Hands off that phone when at the wheel, folks.
Other parts of iOS 11 we've been enjoying include Siri's new voice, the Quick Start feature to help you quickly move from an old iPhone to a new one, and the software's ability to remember passwords for apps as well as websites. Likewise, the new Control Center is much easier to use, especially as it's on a single screen.
In all, iOS 11 is yet another seemingly incremental update from Apple, but one that improves the iPhone and makes life easier.
iPhone 8 Plus vs iPhone X: Which one to choose?
On paper the iPhone 8 Plus seems almost too easy to write-off as the poor man's iPhone X.
But the iPhone 8 is a very different proposition. The screen size, while it reads as almost identical to the X, is the more traditional and wider format, not an elongated aspect ratio. It also comes with the now familiar home button and proven Touch ID, which the X lacks.
However, if you've always gone for the Plus-size iPhone because you feel it is the true flagship, then that's about to change. The iPhone X, while it has the same processor as the 8 Plus, is the more powerful device on account of its features. With a more dominant OLED screen and elongated aspect ratio it fits better in the hand, plus Face ID facial recognition and enhanced cameras add yet more strings to its bow.
You shouldn't write-off the iPhone 8 Plus as it's still a great phone - it's just unlikely to be the greatest phone in Apple's ecosystem. We'll have an iPhone X review on the site around November, to see how it fares.
As a successor to the iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone 8 Plus is a logical step-up that delivers a faster experience in a new and somewhat improved shell. Wireless charging, improved cameras and the True Tone screen for HDR Netflix content are all positive new features.
None of which, however, are necessarily drop-everything-and-upgrade features. Despite its 8 Plus name, ultimately this iPhone could be seen as a "7S Plus". And with the impending iPhone X on the horizon, we're half surprised that wasn't the applied naming convention.
And that's the rub: we can't mention the 8 Plus without mentioning the lure of the iPhone X. Many people seem unaware the 8 Plus exists, often referring to "the new iPhone" from Apple's keynote. That's the true next-level device, which changes this year's iPhone proposition.
Overall, the iPhone 8 Plus is Apple's everyman phone. It's the perfect big phone for the masses; for the people who don't need a future-facing face-reading smartphone; for those who want that large scale familiarity and known strengths that will get the job done. For those people, the iPhone 8 delivers in droves.
Alternatives to consider
Apple iPhone X
Ok, so it's not our yet, so we don't have a final verdict. But the pricier, more feature-packed iPhone X is the top-of-the-tree Apple smartphone proposition. With a near edge-to-edge OLED display, Face ID facial recognition, and a better fit in the palm, it's a hard proposition to ignore.
Read the full article: Apple iPhone X preview