iPhone 8 Plus: The Verdict
The design is well and truly showing its age, but the iPhone 8 Plus is the most pragmatic device in the 2017 iPhone family. You'll get up to two days of battery, two great rear-facing cameras, lightning fast performance, and a stunning True Tone display; it's almost everything you could want from a new iPhone. We just wish it was a little smaller.
What we love
- Gorgeous True Tone display
- Meaningful camera upgrade, useful zoom lens
- Great performance
- Solid battery life
What could be improved
- Low screen-to-body ratio
- Hard to use one-handed
- No headphone jack
- No bundled fast charger
What's the iPhone 8 Plus?
The iPhone 8 Plus Is Apple's pragmatic iPhone. The design has aged and it doesn't have the same glitz and glam of iPhone X, but the iPhone 8 Plus has almost everything you could want from a phone in 2017. If the iPhone X is the shape of things to come, the iPhone 8 Plus is a culmination of the first ten years of iPhone. It's everything you've come to love about the iPhone with enough refinements to give it that new phone feeling.
The biggest physical change is the move to a glass back, and a very pretty one at that. While glass looks nice and enables wireless charging, the join between the aluminium frame and the glass panel is quite noticeable. It's not uncomfortable and it doesn't get in the way of using the phone, but it doesn't have the same seamless feel as the aluminium iPhone 7 Plus. Notably, the iPhone 8 Plus' glass back isn't as prone to fingerprints as phones like the Moto X4 or HTC U11. You'll notice fingerprints if you go looking for them, but the iPhone 8 Plus doesn't look filthy after day-to-day usage.
While the iPhone 8 Plus isn't too different compared to the last few models, there's plenty of meaningful changes under the hood. The display touts the iPad's True Tone technology, the camera is much better in challenging situations and has a couple of cool new tricks, there's wireless charging, and the processor offers as much as a 70% performance increase over last year's model. The iPhone 8 Plus isn't an overhaul, but a solid new iteration.
What's good about the iPhone 8 Plus?
The iPhone 8 Plus' primary camera feels like the device's "newest" feature; we were actually a little surprised to find how much of an improvement it offers over last year's model. The iPhone 8 Plus takes better photos across the board thanks to richer colours and increased sharpness, but these improvements are most noticeable when it comes to adverse lighting situations.
Lowlight photography is the biggest winner, with the iPhone 8 Plus capturing significantly brighter photos. This hasn't come at the expense of clarity or sharpness (brighter lowlight photography is often the result of a slower shutter speed, which means a photo takes longer to take, which in turn increases the chance of motion blur); lowlight photos are sharper, more detailed, and exhibit less camera noise and artifacts.
During the day, the iPhone 8 Plus is far better at handling harsh or direct sunlight. Photos are far less prone to blowout, and capture better contrast. For example, if you're shooting towards the sun, you'll get a rich blue sky rather than a washed out bluish white. In short, the iPhone 8 Plus is far more likely to get you a good photo, regardless of lighting conditions. It's easily one of the best smartphone cameras around right now, alongside HTC's U11.
Of course, iPhone 8 Plus' primary camera is only half of an equation; the iPhone 7 Plus' zoom lens makes a very welcome return this year. While the primary camera is the same as what you'll find in the iPhone 8 - the equivalent of a 28mm lens -, the second is comparable to a 56mm. By swapping between the two, you're effectively able to zoom in without losing image quality in the same way you would with digital (software) zoom. That being said, quality between the iPhone 8 Plus' two rear-facing cameras isn't identical. There's a noticeable difference in lowlight performance on the secondary lens thanks to a lower aperture and a lack of optical image stablisation.
While the iPhone 8 Plus' primary lens might be the winner in terms of quality, the zoom lens is incredible for those times you can't actually get close to your subject; sneaky doggo snaps, mosh pit pics, or showy street shots. It's not essential, but it sure is great to have.
Zoom is neat but, the iPhone 8 Plus' dual camera configuration can also be used for a couple of cool tricks. Apple's souped up portrait mode - a camera option that simulates DSLR-like bokeh - with a feature called "portrait lighting". On top of blurring the background behind your subject, you're able to rework the lighting in the shot; essentially, image fakery that allows you to recreate shadows and highlights you'd typically achieve with dedicate lights.
If you're shooting in reasonably well-lit environments (and as a the name suggest, a portrait), you can get stunning results. The "studio lighting" preset that strips out the background behind your subject is kind of crazy. The effects - especially studio lighting - can be inconsistent however; dimmer environments, wild hair, and complicated backgrounds can all adversely affect the final image. Portrait lighting is still in beta, so hopefully Apple is able to address some of these challenges in the future. Either way, it's a fun feature.
Other than a zoom lens, the main benefit of a bigger iPhone is better battery life; the iPhone 8 Plus should easily get you somewhere between a day-and-a-half to two full days on a single a charge. I typically found myself down to somewhere between 40% and 50% at the end of a day, which is a very comfortable buffer. Unlike the smaller iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus isn't a phone that's demanded a quick "just in case top up" throughout the day.
As you'd expect from a $1,200 phone, the iPhone 8 Plus has a lovely display. It's vibrant, works well in direct sunlight and, has wide viewing angles. While many phones the same size are now shipping with Quad HD displays, the iPhone 8 Plus is still using a 1080p panel. We didn't find this to impact sharpness or clarity in any meaningful way, however.
True Tone technology, first introduced with the iPad Pro, is the best thing about the iPhone 8 Plus' screen. The feature automatically adjusts the colour temperature of the iPhone's display to match the ambient lighting of your environment. This makes colours appear natural, and can make the screen easier on your eyes.
Day to day performance gains over last year's model are marginal at best - you'll save a second or two here and there - but these become far more impressive when it comes to more intensive applications. Even games like Hearthstone load and run noticeably faster, and there's almost certainly plenty of headroom for demanding tasks like the augmented reality applications enabled by iOS 11.
One of the iPhone's main drawcards is the tight relationship between hardware and software. Since Apple makes both the iPhone and its operating system, you get a more holistic experience than you do on most Android devices (with Google's Pixel family being one key exception).
The most practical benefit of this relationship is guaranteed software and security updates. Historically speaking, an iPhone model continues to get software updates for four or five years after it first goes on sale. Not only does this mean you're constantly getting Apple's latest software, it seems to positively affect iPhone resale value.
The iPhone 8 Plus touts the same water-resistance rating as the iPhone 7 Plus: IP67. This means it can safely be submerged as deep as one metre for up to half an hour. It's not quite as water-resistant as Samsung's 2017 flagship devices (which are all rated IP68 for an extra half metre), but still water-resistant enough to survive a tumble into the toilet or the shallow end of a pool. The feature is however more about peace of mind, rather than an invitation to use the phone underwater.
While the iPhone 8 Plus might be an ideal companion for streaming Stan in the tub, make sure your water isn't too sudsy; IP ratings technically only apply to fresh water. The iPhone 8 Plus should still survive encounters with salt water, chlorinated water, or even devil water, you'll just need to rinse it off with fresh water as soon as possible.
It's worth noting that Apple does not cover water damage under the iPhone 8 Plus' warranty. You also shouldn't charge the device when it's wet; make sure you give it a couple of hours to dry out entirely following any underwater adventures
Lastly, the iPhone 8 Plus now starts with 64GB of storage, rather than 32GB, which is a welcome change that puts Apple in sync with other high-end phones. I've found 64GB tends to be the sweet spot where I don't have to worry about running out of space on a phone, but you're able to opt for a 256GB model instead if it seems too tight (Apple's 2017 iPhones don't come in 128GB configurations).
What's not so good about the iPhone 8 Plus?
There's no way around this, but the iPhone 8 Plus is huge. Sure, it might be the same size as the iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone 6s Plus, and the iPhone 6 Plus, but for 2017, the iPhone 8 Plus feels unnecessarily big. Some of this can be chalked up to the 5.5-inch display, but the hefty amount of bezel surrounding the phone is the main culprit; especially on the left and right of the display.
This makes the iPhone 8 Plus feel much less elegant the smaller iPhone 8, and hinders one-handed usage. You can make do, but the iPhone 8 Plus feels unwieldly when compared to phones like the OnePlus 5 which has the same size display in a more manageable boy.
Even if Apple wanted to save the radical redesign for the iPhone X, it could have tidied up the iPhone 8 Plus just a little by trimming some bezel on all four sides.
If you're not fussed about size, the iPhone 8 Plus' lack of a headphone jack is the other potential concern. The Lightning port is the iPhone 8 Plus' only wired audio option so you'll need to go wireless, use your old headphones with a dongle, or plug in a pair of Lightning headphones.
You still get a Lightning-to-3.5m dongle in the box, as well as a pair of Lightning EarPods. Both options do however prevent you from charging your phone and listening to music at the same time, at least without the use of another dongle or a wireless charger.
If you do decided to use the iPhone 8 Plus' bundled Lightning headphones, you'll potentially run into the hassle of carrying around two pairs of headphones; one for your phone, and another for your computer. iPhones and iPads are the only devices with Lightning connectors, so the in-the-box earbuds are useless with pretty much every other device.
While the included dongle and Lightning headphones work well enough, Bluetooth is probably the best option. I've found a lot to love about Apple's admittedly pricey AirPods, but it's a shame that you don't get a basic pair of wireless buds in the box.
If you want to make use of the iPhone 8 Plus' newly added fast charging or wireless charging, you'll need to spring out extra on accessories. While not including a wireless charging pad in the box is somewhat understandable - no manufacturer does so at present - not bundling a fast charger is far less forgivable.
To charge your iPhone 8 Plus faster, you'll need to fork out for one of Apple's USB Type-C power adapters. A 29W model is the cheapest official option available, and it starts at $69. You'll also need a Lightning to USB Type-C cable, which start at $35 for one metre. That's an extra $104 for a speedier recharge. If you've got a USB Type-C MacBook or MacBook Pro, the include charger will work, but you'll still need a Lightning to USB Type-C cable.
Considering the iPhone 8 Plus' $1,229 starting price, the lack of a fast charger is a bit of a slight on Apple's behalf.
Wireless charging is a however a welcome addition. While the simplicity of plopping your phone on a charging pad is nice, it's probably not worth the forking out an extra $99 for the privilege. After all, you're only saving a second or two by not plugging in a cable.
Apple adopting wireless charging should however mean that we'll start seeing wireless chargers in more places like cafes, hotels, and airports. Since Qi - the wireless charging standard used by the iPhone 8 Plus - is platform agnostic, you'll be able to use public chargers without having to worry about if you have the right cable with you. Well technically, you won't have to worry about having a cable at all.