iPhone 8 Plus

Apple’s making it harder and harder to review the iPhone every year. Once again, the new iPhones are iterative.

The iPhone 8 Plus looks like the iPhone 7 Plus, which looks like the 6S Plus, which looks like the 6 Plus. The only thing that marks out the newer model visually is the addition of the glass back and the two-tone effect it creates… if it wasn’t for that, it would be impossible to tell this and the 7 Plus apart.

That said, maybe this is more of a statement about the state of the industry. Apple has never changed things for the sake of it, and the 8 Plus feels like Apple saying there’s nothing truly fundamental out there to move to.

Except… we also have the iPhone X, which does move the dial dramatically, plug in reams of new technology and alter the way we think about the iPhone. 

So one can only surmise that this is the ‘default’ iPhone, the one that the people not willing to spend exorbitant sums of money on a handset will look to. 

Despite not being in the X’s price bracket, however, the iPhone 8 Plus is still one of the most expensive flagship phones on the market – so it needs to have something a little different to command interest over the previous models.

There are some strong upgrades: the camera has been enhanced, the internal workings are now among the most powerful in the industry, and little tweaks throughout smooth off rough edges in a way that makes us feel Sir Jony Ive climbed inside his computer and lathed them off himself. 

Add to that a better battery and screen, and the iPhone 8 Plus is the better iPhone compared to the smaller 8.

But today’s smartphone user is getting more discerning, and holding onto their handsets for longer than ever before… so the new phablet from Apple needs to deliver.

iPhone 8 Plus price and release date

It’s probably no surprise to you, but the iPhone 8 Plus price is high – if you’re going for the 64GB model it’s $799 / £799 / AU$1,229, while the 256GB option comes in at $949 / £949 / AU$1,479. 

There really needs to be a middle ground option for those who want to stick a few high-power apps on there, record a fair amount of video and download reams of music – that’s where a 128GB model would have fitted in nicely.

The average user might struggle to fill the 64GB variant with photos, apps and music, and it’s good to see that Apple is starting to get back ahead of how much storage most people need. 

However, given that the iPhone 8 Plus can record in 4K at 60fps, and three minutes of that comes in at  2.16GB, if you’re going to do much filming at that quality you’ll fill the 64GB variant fairly easily.

The iPhone 8 Plus release date was September 22 – so if you’re looking to get your hands on one, you can do so now.

Glistening gold back offers new powers

The main thing you’ll notice about the iPhone 8 Plus from an aesthetic point of view is the outer coloring. The new gold version is the main event, with a gold aluminium rim and a gold/white glass back mixing together.

It’s a striking combination, and compared to the 7 Plus is really rather visually different, creating a more luxurious effect. The silver and space gray colors don’t quite have the same visual punch, but in the hand those phones still feel different with the glass back.

The reason for the glass back isn’t primarily aesthetic, though. Apple has finally jumped on the wireless charging bandwagon, just when it looked like it might be losing steam. Samsung has been the main promoter of the technology for the last couple of years, and now that Apple’s on board wireless charging is very likely to become mainstream.

There’s no denying it’s convenient, as popping your iPhone down on a charging pad is so much simpler than connecting and disconnecting a cable. But it’s hardly revolutionary – the tech has been baked into phones for years.

It would, perhaps, be more impactful here if there was a wireless charging pad in the box, but you’ll need to spend $59.95 / £54.95 / AU$99.95 to buy one from Mophie or Belkin right now, with Apple’s own AirPower pad coming later this year.

The speed of charging is impressive though, as it’s not too far off that of a wired connection. We can still remember the trickle charge you used to get with wireless, so you can see why Apple waited until the experience was good enough to put it in its handsets.

New Portrait Lighting mode

The headline feature of the 12MP dual sensor on the rear camera is the enhanced bokeh mode – dubbed Portrait Lighting.

The abilities here are pretty astounding, and show how powerful the new A11 Bionic is inside – being able to algorithmically work out the contours of the face and change the lighting dynamically is impressive.

This can be done either while the picture is being taken or after, via the gallery – although while it’s a powerful tool, it’s not one that really impressed anyone we showed it to.

And that’s kind of indicative of the iPhone 8 Plus as a whole – while the overall experience is smoothed and enhanced, the headline features aren’t really there. Portrait Lighting is, well, fine – and we almost feel guilty for not evangelizing about it more, given how much intelligence has gone into creating it.

But taking a Portrait mode picture takes some setting up as it is – so achieving the level of quality where Portrait Lighting makes a big difference to the outcome is rare.

However, the new Portrait mode is one of the places where the iPhone 8 Plus is a significant upgrade over its predecessor – it’s brighter, faster to recognize the object you’re trying to snap, and it’s also got that Portrait Lighting feature, which isn’t coming to the older model.

The Portrait Lighting modes change things slightly, but nothing mega – and the Studio and Studio Mono modes look a little too cut-out, despite the edge detection being really accurate.

If you spend some time setting up a subject to take the perfect photo, you can get some decent results – but modern smartphone cameras need to take a brilliant quick snap, and we can see this feature being shunted off to the ‘rarely used’ section of your phone.

A11 Bionic engine

It’s hard not to like the names Apple is appending to its chips these days. Following A10 Fusion, A11 Bionic doesn’t really make a lot of sense in terms of what it actually does, but it’s evocative.

Anyway – that’s that dealt with. The new chipset inside has six cores, with four efficient ones doing the basic stuff and the other two doing the heavy lifting, whether that’s photo-editing, intensive multi-tasking or providing real-time camera effects.

Those previously mentioned Portrait Lighting effects need some real power, and that’s where the A11 chip comes in. Any app that uses high levels of photo manipulation worked pretty flawlessly in our tests, with no lag when working with multiple image layers.

It’s hard to convey the usefulness of all this power for the average user, one who might not use such features regularly – but it’ll keep your iPhone singing more sweetly for the next two or three years compared to the previous generations.

Everything feels fast under the finger – although that seems like a redundant thing to say given that most iPhones feel that way when taken out of the box. The real test comes when you start loading it up with apps and content.

This is one of the most powerful phones out there

Generally, even when loaded up the iPhone was zippy as anything, with nothing flickering under the finger. However, we had a few moments where the interface juddered and bounced a bit – it still moved swiftly, but the frame rate slowed so it looked jagged.

It righted itself quickly, but it was surprising to note for an iPhone – it’s not something we’re used to.

What’s more surprising is that the iPhone 8 Plus didn’t perform any better in testing than the iPhone 7 Plus – we opened and closed apps on the two phones simultaneously, and the response times were identical – and was similar in performance to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

In fact, when saving a large video to Files, the iPhone 7 Plus was actually faster at completing the task, despite being older and having more storage taken up. The A11 Bionic chip is certainly powerful, but we’ve not seen anything that shows off the raw power in terms of regular interaction – it’s only evident in extra features like the Portrait Lighting.

In terms of out-and-out power though, this is the most powerful phone we’ve ever benchmarked. The Geekbench results are off the chart, powering past 10,000 for the multi-core score and easily beating anything from the Android world.

Will you notice the power of the iPhone in day-to-day use? Nope. iPhones have been rapid enough for years – but people are starting to expect even more and more from their device, whether that’s adding filters to photos, exporting content to friends, or playing the most powerful games around, and you’ll be glad of the bionic chip in a year’s time.

Apple doesn’t make a song and dance about the raw power in its devices, but it does build its reputation on phones just working as they should, and the iPhone 8 Plus will carry on working as it should longer than any phone Apple’s selling right now.

True Tone screen and better speakers

It would be wrong to look at the iPhone 8 Plus’ screen, see a 5.5-inch Full HD display, and assume nothing has changed.

In terms of size and resolution, that’s true, but it’s missing a big point: the upgrades to the color reproduction and temperature.

These are things you won’t really notice day to day, but move to another model of phone and you’ll probably lament their loss. 

While it’s not the sharpest screen on the market, the fact that the display feels so close to the glass really gives it some pop, and the colors are strong and vivid without being overpowering.

True Tone, technology taken from the iPad Pro, is definitely understated – you won’t notice it much, but it’ll change the color temperature of the screen to match the ambient lighting better.

The speakers offer greater sound and volume

It’s a symbol of the luxury you’re getting when buying an iPhone; yes, it changes the color and a warmer iPhone screen in lamplight is nice, but it’s not a reason to buy – it’s just an enhancement to the whole experience.

It’s a shame that the iPhone X exists, as that’s got a more impressive screen than that on the iPhone 8 Plus, with more vivid colors and a deeper contrast ratio – but the way the iPhone 8 Plus offers more natural color reproduction is going to appeal to many.

Only the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus or Note 8 could rival it for sheer technical ability and performance, but for day to day use it’s brilliantly clear, bright and fun to look at.

The new True Tone can be turned on and off using 3D Touch

In direct sunlight it’s clear, watching videos is possible in nearly every situation, and the size is just about right – the large bezels around the display are the only downside compared to the bezel-less phones of the Galaxy S8 pair, the Essential phone… and the iPhone X.

Mobile HDR is also supported on the iPhone 8 Plus, where it’s not on the iPhone 7 Plus – the reason for the italics there is that it’s not a Mobile HDR screen, but it can play back HDR content.

It’s a shame, because Mobile HDR really does make a massive difference to shows, especially in the darker scenes. It’s going to be available on the iPhone X, and that’s going to be another possible reason to pay for the upgrade.

Mobile HDR would have been a nice addition

The dual speakers on the iPhone 8 Plus are also upgraded over the previous model – we’ve tested them on a decibel meter, and they are indeed louder.

Apple is claiming the new phone is 25% louder, and in our blind testing alongside the iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 the new version was clearly the loudest phone.

While the upgrade year on year isn’t hugely marked the quality of the speaker output is rich enough though, and the sound fills a wider space than the mono sound on the bottom of the Galaxy Note 8 – it’s another refinement on the new iPhone.

New AR effects

Augmented reality is nice, but not specific to the iPhone 8 Plus

Augmented reality (AR) is a curious thing for Apple – there’s a big move towards the tech, but it’s hard to see why at this point, if you look at the apps and games available.

For instance, we played The Machines, a tower defense-style game where you have to strategically deploy forces to win battles, and in AR you’ll need to move around the playing surface to play the game.

It’s… fine. It reminds us a lot of when the first gyroscope games on the iPhone 4 appeared. It was cool that you could move the phone around and play first-person-shooter games, but it wasn’t easier or more immersive than what was out there already.

The same with AR – it’s cool to be able to move around the playing space, but it’s quickly tiring. We can imagine playing in multiplayer it would be cool, with a large table playing space and someone else with a similar iPhone doing the same, but by yourself, it would just be easier to use the screen.

Also, the experience was the same on the iPhone 7 Plus as it was on the iPhone 8 Plus, so clearly the more powerful innards aren’t that necessary to enable this capability.

For Apple AR is clearly in its infancy. You wouldn’t buy an iPhone at the moment for its capabilities in this area, but it is something Apple wants to push to get developers thinking about what can be done.

Being able to move around the action is cool, but not relaxing

Because imagine the same game of The Machines played with a pair of glasses instead, you and a chum moving around the table and playing the game in real time – that’s the future Apple is reportedly envisioning.

If that’s the case, AR now makes perfect sense – and you can expect more titles to appear this year that show off the technology’s capabilities in niche ways.

The iPhone 8 Plus’ camera is an evolution rather than a revolution, but Apple didn’t need to reinvent anything here, as it was already one of the best phone cameras on the market. It’s incredibly capable on the new iPhone.

The thing that defines Apple’s cameras is how easy they are to use – with every release of a new iOS they gain new, if not necessarily spectacular, features to improve the power of the camera, and the sensor gets imbued with some new capabilities.

In this case, it’s not the two 12MP cameras that have made the biggest step up, but the processor inside – Apple’s rammed its own image signal processor (ISP) into the A11 Bionic chipset, and that leads to greater texture reproduction as more detail is captured.

The results are certainly evident – take a picture of clothing or a rough, stony floor and you’ll retain so much more of the depth in those textures. Most snaps look a touch sharper, and there’s definitely more background defocusing going on, even when you're not using the aforementioned Portrait mode.

It’s actually quite hard to activate Portrait mode intuitively – you have to swipe to the mode in the camera interface, and then wait for the camera to pick up the subject – which sometimes requires you to move the phone around.

The results can be awesome, but sometimes they can look a little average. However, there’s no doubting that the camera tech is excellent at working out the subject, and more often than not we had snaps we wanted to share.

The overall performance of the camera is a cut above previous iPhone snappers, with the sharpness in mixed conditions impressive – you can make out plenty of detail in both the brighter and darker sections of the photo.

The camera interface hasn’t changed much

But what’s most impressive with the new iPhone 8 Plus – combined with the new iOS 11 software – are the editing capabilities, and what you can do with your photos post-capture.

The first is the new Loop, Bounce and Long Exposure options that come with iOS 11 and make real use of Live Photos. It’s fun to play with the effects, and the phone will analyze an image and suggest which option you should use to get the best effect.

Long Exposure doesn’t really add a huge amount to most Live Photos, but static images with a very singular, bright piece of motion would work well. Bounce and Loop work nicely, and you can even set the resulting image as a Watch face with a single tap.

The editing effects are powerful too – yes, they’re mostly filters, but Apple has popped some excellent choices in there, and the color/brightness tweaks you can make are the perfect mix of simple and effective – the balance Apple strives to seek.

One of the things we didn’t quite understand is the Slow Sync feature, which captures pictures of objects in low light with high brightness. The flash doesn’t seem to react any differently than normal in these moments, and the difference wasn’t particularly clear.

Low light performance in general is mixed, as the HDR capabilities aren’t as evident here. Perhaps we’re expecting too much from the iPhone, but when taking pictures of a candle in the darkness we had to work hard to get the flame clear by manually adjusting the exposure.

Overall, we noticed that the iPhone 8 Plus tends to overexpose every photo a little, with the picture captured looking brighter than the subject or scene in real life. There’s very little processing going on, so the detail is reproduced incredibly faithfully at times.

The shutter speed and autofocus is incredibly fast

The autofocus, in particular, is very strong. Almost too much so –  we wanted to take a snap of a fast-moving car in front of a static fence, but the iPhone 8 Plus was too rapid because the AF kicked in so quickly – and with no capability to decrease the shutter speed in the main camera app, the choices were limited. 

It’s no bad thing though, and in general having this level of sharpness is excellent.

The new video modes are another example of Apple just bringing effects that actually make a difference to the camera phone party. The 4K 60 frames per second (fps) filming is really smooth and clear, and a nice way to future-proof your videos.

However, it munches up storage, as mentioned above, so you’ll need to constantly sluice the files off if you want to leave space on your phjone. The Full HD slow motion capabilities are also great – that means super-clear footage of the things you want to capture in exquisite detail.

It’s not quite at the Super Slo-Mo level of the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, but then again the iPhone 8 Plus' camera performs much better in low light and in rendering detail… plus you can fully choose where the slow mo works.

To summarise: you’ll get some amazing photos with the iPhone 8 Plus. Maybe not every single time – we did get some poorer efforts on occasion – but on the whole you’ll look at the results and be wowed by the performance.

Camera samples

The battery life on the iPhone 8 Plus has been pleasing – the day-to-day tasks, those that don’t require intense effort on the part of the phone – don’t eat away the battery anywhere near as much.

If we were just playing graphically easy games, using WhatsApp or browsing social networks we were easily able to make it to the end to the day without a problem.

A day of taking photos, moving around a lot (which triggers the motion sensor) and playing (non-intensive) games saw us with over 20% of battery life still left at 8pm. Add in a wireless charging pad for regular top-ups and you’ll rarely have a battery emergency.

That said, between 8pm and midnight the battery level slipped rather rapidly – you’ll want to switch to Low Power Mode at this point, and it’s still irritating that you can’t set this as the default.

Battery life is average – just about good enough

It’s also frustrating that while the iPhone 8 Plus supports fast charging – 50% in half an hour from dead – you’ll need to buy a dedicated cable and charger in order to take advantage of it, which sucks. 

Most rivals offer fast charging right out of the box, and it’s a shame that Apple hasn’t joined the revolution.

The speed of wireless charging is impressive though. It’s not linear, in that your phone will start charging rapidly but can then slow a little, but the general speed isn’t too far off that of a wired connection, which is what you’d hope for if you’re going to be picking up and putting down your phone regularly.

In our standard battery run-down test, where we loop a Full HD video for 90 minutes at full brightness, the performance was about average. We expected the iPhone 8 Plus to perform better to be honest… it dropped 23%, which is  similar to many other flagship phones.

It’s hard to see why it didn’t do better – with a more efficient processor, it’s actually a slightly worse score than on the 6S Plus. It just shows that Apple hasn’t really improved the battery performance much.. And that’s with the largest battery of any Plus model thus far. 

If you’re a regular user of an iPhone, especially one who's not used a Plus model before, you’ll be happy with the amount of battery on offer, and the ability of the iPhone 8 Plus to hold onto power when it’s not doing much.

However, its battery life is a long way from being the best on the market, with many Android handsets able to last much longer.

Most iPhone users you’ll speak to will agree that iOS 11 is a welcome and well thought-out upgrade. The visual changes are relatively minor, but they all really enhance the usability of the phone.

As shown by our earlier tests, you'll want one of the new iPhones for optimal performance when using the iOS 11 interface – unsurprisingly – but whichever handset you're using, the little tweaks are the most useful.

The new Control Center is really easy to use

3D Touch is the biggest winner with the new changes, thanks to there being, well, just more that you can do with it.

Many more third-party apps have begun to offer extensions, with options activated by pressing harder either on the app icon itself or within the app. It’s not an intuitive motion to push in harder initially, so if you want to get the the real benefits you have to constantly remind yourself of this feature's existence. 

But in the all-new Control Center – the pane you drag up from the bottom of the screen – a longer press on any of the widgets offers genuinely useful extras, from the torch having more levels of brightness to the music app becoming fully functional.There are bugs in the system though, and these hang around clearly unoptimized third-party apps. We experienced a number of unresponsive titles, or found keyboards being either too low, or covering the text box you’re trying to type into.

Annotations to screengrabs really need a stylus

This isn’t alien for a new release of iOS – often when a new version of Apple’s mobile software is released we’ll see issues appearing with some apps – but with iOS 11 having spent so long in beta made this was a little unexpected.

The addition of Files adds something that iPhones have been lacking for years: a peek behind the curtain to access the files hidden inside apps.

Except it really isn’t that. You can’t open the app and see your photos and videos – you have to save them to the Files app before you can view information on them or copy them to the cloud. 

Files is OK, but not as comprehensive as we’d like

We get that Apple is trying to control the experience so people don’t get confused rooting through their file system, and sharing from within apps is more straightforward, but having to wait 30 seconds to save something to Files irks.

It’s something the top Android phones let you do easily – excellent when you want to download something from the internet and access it easily for email.

The new screen grab feature is nice: capture one and it’ll show as a small preview in the bottom of the screen, from where a tap will open it for annotation. 

The new lock screen is improved with easier-to-view information

However, a finger is too fat to properly scribble or annotate on them; a smaller Pencil would be perfect here, but let’s face it – that’s too much like Samsung’s S Pen.

The iOS 11 upgrade – although universal to all recent iPhones – shines brightest on the iPhone 8 Plus, and offers a genuine reason to go for the bigger option, for the speed of operation on the heavier tasks if nothing else.

The iPhone 8 Plus is a great phone – there’s no doubt about that. It’s a better phone that anything Apple has produced before, and it’s, well, just done in a very Apple way.

That’s not fawning over the brand, it’s a nod to the effort that Apple puts into making sure its phones just work, and in a way that adds in flourishes that impress. 

Whether that’s a subtle haptic double buzz when pressing the shutter on the camera, or being able to ‘feel’ the numbers clicking when selecting the time on the alarm, it’s those little delights that… delight.

The glass back on the new iPhone Plus is probably the most noticeable change, to enable wireless charging – it’s a different look, and if the drops we inadvertently subjected the phone to are anything to go by, it’s pretty robust.

The wireless charging is a handy addition, but it’s not earth-shattering… you’ll enjoy it if you’ve got a pad, but it’s not as rapid as connecting a lead.

The camera enhancements are subtle, but impressive, as is the speed boost the A11 Bionic chip offers – you won’t notice much out of the box, but the little extras it brings do offer something different.

The Portrait Lighting mode is a nice upgrade from Apple, especially in decent light, and a genuine highlight over the iPhone 7 Plus.

Battery life has sadly not taken the leap forward we’re desperate to see from Apple – if you’ve always lived within the iPhone ecosystem you’ll be pleased with the battery performance on offer, but there’s still the feeling that more could be done here.

In short, the iPhone 8 Plus is a great phone. Based on the spec list, it’s too expensive, but it’s filled with the little touches Apple is known for that smooth the smartphone experience to such a degree that you’ll feel glad you paid more.

The thing is, the presence of the iPhone X renders the 8 Plus unexciting. It's an old design with the same features as before, just a bit more refined again. The iPhone X is exciting, the 8 Plus just more of the same.

Who’s it for?

The iPhone 8 Plus is a phone for the Apple fan who wants the longest battery life possible, and the most screen to look at, without having to pay the premium the iPhone X costs.

That said, if you’re going to pay this much, you should think hard about spending a little more to get the headline new iPhone… the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are using the rapidly-tiring shape that Apple has been offering for years, where the X is a whole new experience.

Also, if you’re a video fiend, you should only buy the iPhone 8 Plus if you’re happy to fork out for the 256GB model, otherwise you’ll run out of space within a few months if you don’t siphon off your movies.

Should I buy it?

This is a tough one… because, right now, we’re not sure there’s a huge upgrade here over the iPhone 7 Plus. The power doesn’t seem that much better in the iPhone 8 Plus over last year’s model, which is odd given the disparity in benchmarks.

The camera is just a touch improved (although noticeably so in some scenarios) and the screen tech a subtle boost. 

In short, you should really only go for the iPhone 8 Plus if you especially want wireless charging and you intend to keep the handset for a number of years… if that’s the case, future-proofing yourself as much as possible is a smart move.

Not convinced the iPhone 8 Plus is for you? Check out these alternatives we've cooked up for you – they're close enough to what's on offer here but offer some nicely different features…

iPhone 7 Plus

The iPhone 7 Plus offers a lot of similar features to the 8 Plus – only the Portrait Lighting, True Tone display and wireless charging are missing as features.

You might miss the extra power on offer in a couple of years' time if you get this phone on contract, but the difference between the two right now is minimal, and the 7 Plus a little cheaper.

iPhone 8

The iPhone 8 is the smaller option of this handset, and it's cheaper too – however, it has fewer bytes of RAM, a lower-res screen and a smaller battery. It's the one to choose if the Plus is just too chunky, otherwise go for the bigger model as it's the better performer.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

Maybe you've been thinking of leaving the Apple camp? If so, jump to our best phone on the market, with the S8 Plus bringing a lower cost, amazing screen and great camera.

Be warned though: Android is a different world to the slick experience of iOS, and you might struggle initially with the change.

Gareth Beavis
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