Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review: Apple’s best handset yet

Alex Kidman 25 September 2017 NEWS

iPhone 8+

Quick Verdict
The iPhone 8 Plus might externally look like it's last year's technology, but beneath that familiar exterior lurks a true beast of a smartphone. It's feasible that the iPhone 8 Plus may go down as Apple's best phone of 2018, maybe even better than the iPhone X.

The Good

  • Astonishing battery life
  • Industry leading processor performance
  • Portrait lighting works very well

The Bad

  • Design is showing its age
  • No storage expansion
  • Low light camera performance could be better


 
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The iPhone 8 Plus is an exceptional handset, and it might even be better than the iPhone X.

When Apple announced its 2018 class of iPhones, the lion's share of attention went to the flagship Apple iPhone X. It's not hard to see why, what with its fresh full screen (if you ignore the notch) design, FaceID features and jaw-dropping asking price.

That left the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus in a difficult position because in a market that Apple itself hypes up to expect nothing but the best, taking the "lesser" handsets, especially at premium prices, might seem like a dumb move.

Nobody wants to look dumb, but as I've found testing the iPhone 8 Plus, dumb is the last thing you can call this particular handset.

iPhone8_Mute_450

Design

The design for the iPhone 8 Plus is instantly recognisable. Indeed, if you've followed iPhone in recent years, it's downright familiar, with the front-mounted TouchID home button that's likely to become a relic in the years to come still very much present. Apple produces the iPhone 8 Plus in silver, gold and space grey finishes, with the space grey having a black front bezel and the other two colours opting for a white front bezel.

I tested the gold version of the iPhone 8 Plus, and while that's not a colour that's personally to my taste, the choice is nice to have. While it's a subtle detail, the new iPhone 8/8 Plus design incorporates a metallic band wrapped around both sides of the phone handset that doubles as the phone's antenna.

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From the front, you'd be very hard pressed to notice the difference between the iPhone 8 Plus and last year's iPhone 7 Plus. It's only when you pick it up and notice the slight weight gain or flip it over to reveal the glass back that you pick up on the very small design changes.

The glass back gives the iPhone 8 Plus a nice gloss effect, although that's at the predictable cost of it being rather slippery. It's also makes it easier to enable the new wireless charging feature, although this is otherwise all but hidden from view.

In physical terms, the iPhone 8 Plus measures in at 158.4x78.1x7.5mm with a carrying weight of 202 grams. By way of comparison, last year's model is 158.2x77.9x7.3mm and 188 grams, which means that if you've got older cases with a little flex, they might fit an iPhone 8 Plus, but any kind of rigid or protective case is unlikely to work.

Apple's contention is that the glass on the back is "the most durable" found in a smartphone, but that's not a concrete promise that it will never break. A durable iPhone case would be a good idea.

While it's a familiar design, there's no doubt that iPhones are sold as fashion statements, and this is a statement that somewhat says "last year's clothes rack" rather than something that's on trend right now. How much that matters to you will depend on your particular reasons for buying an iPhone 8 Plus.

iPhone8_camera_738

Camera

Like the iPhone 7 Plus before it, the iPhone 8 Plus features a dual lens array at the rear with a 12MP f/1.8 wide angle and 12MP f/2.8 telephoto lens, accompanied by a front 7MP camera. Apple's contention is that the improvements in camera sensor size and the inclusion of new "Portrait Lighting" effects for the rear camera give it a leg up on older models as well as on the wider smartphone camera community.

That's a huge call in the very competitive premium smartphone space of 2017, and it's one that the iPhone 8 Plus only partially lives up to. On the plus side, if you care for such things, it's been rated as the best camera to undergo the DxOMark test, even against stiff Android competition. Apple's camera software pretty much remains the reference mode for every other smartphone manufacturer, and that means that it's easy to use even for novices to get some very appealing photos most of the time.

The headline feature for the iPhone 8 Plus, which is not found on the iPhone 8's single lens sensor, is the Portrait Lighting effect. This effect allows you to apply different lighting tones to a subject facing directly towards the camera. Apple is careful to note that (at the time of writing) this is a beta effort, and it somewhat shows.

When Portrait Mode lighting works, it can bring out some superb detail and bokeh, and when it doesn't, you'll be left with a regularly lit shot or something that's weirdly lit or cut, especially if you opt for the stage lighting effects. It may improve over time, but for now if you want the best results, you need your subject looking straight on and wearing a minimum of additional headwear to make sure the focus is correctly detected. As this is in beta at the time of testing, I'd hope it would improve.

iPhone8Plus_PortraitLightingTest2 iPhone8Plus_PortraitLightingTest1

The other area where the iPhone 8 isn't the strongest performer against its competition is in very low light situations. That's a scenario where just about every smartphone camera struggles for very obvious reasons. The iPhone 8 Plus is good in low light, but there are other options at its price point that can do a little better. For example, here's a low light shot taken with the iPhone 8 Plus at night:

iPhone8Plus_LowLightTest_738

And here's the same shot taken on a Samsung Galaxy Note 8:

Note8_comparative_LowLightTest_738

The iPhone 8 Plus has a good take on the plant, but the colours are crisper and there's better light pickup and a lot less noise in the Note 8 shot overall.

Still, overall, the iPhone 8 Plus delivers strong image results in a variety of situations. It's not quite the second coming of smartphone photography that Apple seems to pitch it as, but it's a solid performer in a class of very solid smartphone cameras of 2017. Here are some sample shots taken from the iPhone 8 Plus:

iPhone8Plus_sampleshot4_738 iPhone8Plus_sampleshot3_738 iPhone8Plus_sampleshot2_738 iPhone8Plus_sampleshot1_738

Performance

Apple was quite breathless in regards to the performance of the new A11 Bionic CPU used across the board in its 2017 iPhones at the launch of the devices. Typically, Apple has delivered performance that's been on par or slightly better than its Android contemporaries, even when it packs less RAM into its devices thanks to the heavy optimisation it can apply given its control over the iOS. It's an interesting move to offer it across the range, however, because it gives scope for all three phones to deliver similar performance. The real question then is how well the A11 Bionic actually performs.

At an anecdotal level, the iPhone 8 Plus is a fast and responsive smartphone, but it's at the benchmark level that this is made starkly clear. Here's how the iPhone 8 Plus compared against a range of smartphones using Geekbench 4's CPU test:

HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Apple iPhone 8 Plus411310221
Samsung Galaxy S8+20206690
Samsung Galaxy S819896628
Huawei P10 Plus18636544
Nokia 819326529
OnePlus 519766506
Samsung Galaxy Note 820246490
HTC U1119196362
Sony Xperia XZ Premium19086324
Apple iPhone 7 Plus33745649
Huawei 1019225633
Apple iPhone 734525599
LG G618104228
Apple iPhone SE24494171
Google Pixel XL16294051

I'm used to this year's mostly-Snapdragon-835-driven 2017 class of Android phones having broadly similar performance, and my expectations were that Apple would match or slightly exceed them. Instead, Apple's delivered performance that sets the new high-water mark and not by a small margin. To be fair, Apple is able to fine tune its iOS to get these kinds of results, but it definitely puts it in the kind of absolute lead position it hasn't quite had these past few years.

The same story plays out in the 3D space, where Apple's new in-house GPU impresses. Here's how it compares using 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test:

Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
Apple iPhone 8 Plus59205
HTC U1140239
Sony Xperia XZ Premium40086
OnePlus 539497
Apple iPhone 7 Plus37956
Apple iPhone 737717
Samsung Galaxy Note 832277
HTC U Ultra29968
Apple iPhone SE29276
Huawei P10 Plus28491
Google Pixel XL28458
Samsung Galaxy S828409
LG G628344
Samsung Galaxy S8+28120

Again, while benchmarks aren't the total picture when it comes to smartphone performance, and the intricacies of Apple's Metal API mean that there's an argument that you can only compare iPhones with iPhones, there's still a huge performance gulf between the iPhone 8 Plus and any other available handset right now.

It will be fascinating to see whether the iPhone X can manage a similar kind of leap given it has a larger and higher resolution display to push. For now, however, the iPhone 8 Plus sits on top of not only the iPhone performance ladder, but well ahead of its Android competition to boot.

The 5.5 inch 1080x1920 display in the iPhone 8 Plus is, by modern smartphone standards, a little ordinary on a specification level, but what Apple has done here is fine tune the actual colour display characteristics of the panel, including Apple's own "true tone" display first seen in the iPad Pro lines. This automatically adjusts the white balance relative to your conditions to give a more natural feel to images and a true white balance for stark page elements. It mostly works well, but it's a pretty subtle effect that you really have to drop side by side with an older iPhone to really appreciate at all, which means that while it's nice, it's also easy to miss.

Battery life

Battery life is usually where I can reliably talk about Apple's failings because with few exceptions, it's been the Achilles' heel of the iOS world. Put bluntly, most iPhones have had terrible battery life, and even Apple's own statements around the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus don't inspire confidence.

Apple claims that the iPhone 8 Plus should have similar battery life to the iPhone 7 Plus, and while that was a handset with acceptable battery life compared to the usual iPhone battery misery, acceptable is a long way from premium.

The further revelation that Apple had dropped the battery capacity of the iPhone 8 Plus down to just 2675mAh from the 2900mAh battery pack found in the iPhone 7 Plus, it seemed to suggest that we were once again headed to battery pity city.

Nobody wants to live in battery pity city, but lots of iPhone users already do.

However, to stretch that terrible metaphor to its limits, it seems that Apple swerved off the highway into town and sped its way along to... well, I'll let the comparative benchmark tell the story, using Geekbench 3's older battery test:

HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
Apple iPhone 8 Plus15:27:409276
Galaxy S8+14:55:308955
Nokia 812:22:107421
Sony Xperia XZ Premium12:06:407266
BlackBerry KEYone12:05:00DNF
Samsung Galaxy Note 812:00:507208
Motorola Moto Play Z 211:50:507107
Samsung Galaxy S811:47:507078
HTC U1111:42:407026
Apple iPhone 7 Plus11:11:206713
Huawei P10 Plus10:39:506218

Yep, that's an iPhone sitting with the best overall battery life of any handset I've ever tested, hands-down, including phones with significantly larger battery capacities.

Geekbench 3's battery test is a very linear one, with screen dimming enabled, so it is feasible to run the battery down faster than that in day-to-day use if you really must. Still, I easily lasted through the day without ever once having to reach for a charger, which is an absolute first in iPhone terms. Also, it appears that for the first time ever, Apple has radically under-hyped a key iPhone feature because the iPhone 8's battery life is considerably better than that of the iPhone 7 Plus.

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    Apple's made a lot of noise about the inclusion of Qi wireless charging in the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. It's fascinating to see Apple taking up a genuinely open standard, especially because this means that you don't have to use Apple-approved accessories. Any QI compatible charger should work just fine. Wireless Qi charging is a little slower than direct-wired charging, but it's a nice feature to finally have on the iPhone line.

    iPhone8_Side_738

    Verdict

    Apple doesn't appear to have experienced the huge rush of sales usually associated with the launch of a new iPhone, and it's not exactly hard to see why. Many Apple fans, or those waiting to upgrade from an older iPhone generation, will no doubt be waiting for the even more hyped iPhone X handset to hit the market in early November. For a phone you're likely to keep for a couple of years, that's a sensible option, but it might not be your best option overall when pricing is taken into consideration.

    The iPhone X is markedly more expensive than the iPhone 8 Plus, and while it's likely to have similar (or possibly slightly better) performance, Apple's own suggestions as to its battery life strongly hints that the iPhone 8 Plus might be the battery leader of this year's crop of iPhones. Unless FaceID and that mostly full (but for the notch) OLED display are on your must-have shopping list, the iPhone 8 Plus is highly recommended.

    If you're using last year's iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus, there's a fairly wide performance gulf, but 12 months is still a short stay with a single phone, and there's a strong argument to be had for holding your ground for next year's iPhones. Whether Apple will end up using "iPhone 9" remains to be seen, but there's definitely life in the 7 series for now.

    If, on the other hand, your day-to-day handset is an older generation iPhone and you're ready to upgrade, the differences will be immense, not only in performance but also battery life. Apple never sells itself cheap, and the iPhone 8 Plus commands a premium price (albeit a little lower than the iPhone X), but it's worth it for what is currently the best handset on the market.

    iPhone8_GlassBack_738

    iPhone 8 Plus: What the other reviewers say

    SiteCommentScore
    TechRadar"This is the phone you want if you can't afford the iPhone X"N/A
    Wired"if you want to be part of the future, save your money for now. Then go get an iPhone X and see what’s really coming next."N/A
    News.com.au"the ‘Jan Brady of iPhones’"4 out of 5
    Sydney Morning Herald"It's definitely not an afterthought to the iPhone X, but a true upgrade to the current iPhone line."N/A
    CNET"The iPhone 8 Plus is a superlative phone with a spectacular camera, but wait for the upcoming iPhone X before buying"8.8 out of 10
    Engadget"Great choices for people who aren’t ready to forgo the home button."91 out of 100
    TechCrunch"If you’re in the market for a new iPhone, I recommend the 8 Plus."N/A
    The Verge"If the iPhone X is Apple’s bold vision of the future, the iPhone 8 is Apple making sure everyone else at the party has a nice time too."8 out of 10

    Specifications

    Product Name
    Apple iPhone 8 Plus
    Display
    5.5in
    Resolution
    1920 x 1280 pixels
    ppi
    401ppi
    Software
    iOS 11
    Storage
    64/256GB
    RAM
    3GB
    Battery
    2675mAh
    Front camera
    7MP
    Rear camera
    Dual 12MP, wide f/1.8, telephoto f/2.8
    Processor
    Apple A11 Bionic
    Size
    158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5 mm
    Weight
    202g

    Pricing and availability

    The iPhone 8 Plus is available in Australia now in silver, space grey and gold finishes and with either 64GB or 256GB of non-expandable inbuilt storage. On an outright basis, it can be purchased directly from Apple or selected resellers for $1,229 (64GB) or $1,479 (256GB).

    The iPhone 8 Plus is also available from a range of telcos on contract terms. Here's what you'll pay for the iPhone 8 Plus from every Australian telco currently stocking it:

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