iPhone 8 Plus review: Apple's most compelling new phone

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iPhone 8 Plus review: Apple's most compelling new phone
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It's not big leap forward from the iPhone 7 Plus, but the 8 Plus is a very fine handset.

Apple’s breakthrough smartphone, the iPhone X, is still weeks away at least – and it will be priced the other side of $1,500. And while the iPhone 8 is more affordable, its 4.7in screen is starting to look pretty small by today’s standards. That makes the iPhone 8 Plus the most compelling handset in Apple’s new range for many users.

While the Plus lacks the beautiful bezel-less design and facial recognition of the iPhone X, it’s $350 cheaper. It also has some extras that you don’t get with the standard iPhone 8 – most notably the larger 5.5in Full HD screen which, among other things, will better showcase the augmented reality (AR) features in Apple’s new handsets. The rear camera setup also is better, featuring dual 12-megapixel units.

On the other hand, the iPhone 8 Plus is a rather incremental upgrade from the 7 Plus, featuring much the same display and cameras, for example. The new model does, however, offer double the storage of 7 Plus, a major processor upgrade and several other tweaks, while the addition of wireless charging is significant.

But are these advances worth the upgrade? Let’s take a closer look.

Design

The iPhone 8 Plus’s design is remarkably similar to 2016’s 7 Plus. The buttons, camera lenses and flash, and nano-SIM card tray are in exactly the same places. The iPhone 8 Plus has the same Touch ID home button below the same 5.5in display. It’s still dust- and water-resistant to IP67 and Apple is sticking to its guns by not bringing back the 3.5mm headphone jack, more’s the pity.

There are some noticeable differences, though. The smooth, cold metal casing of the 7 Plus has been replaced with glass. If you’ve ever smashed an iPhone, this may fill you with dread but Apple assures us the glass has been strengthened with steel and is multi-layered to make it more robust. We’ll believe that when we proof, so we would advise getting a case.

The reason for this key design change is to accommodate Apple’s wireless charging coils and it feels truly lovely. The glass casing also means the ugly antenna strips no longer need to run along the rear of the handset and are now more discreetly visible along the phone’s 7.55mm edge.

The glass and coils do add weight to the handset (from 188g to 202g) and this is noticeable from the first hold, but the extra weight and glass casing, which warms in your hand and curves slightly at the edges, add a modicum of luxury and comfort, making the phone feel expensive.

The glass and extra weight, ironically, also make the phone feel less fragile and slippery in the hand, but we’d avoid putting it on any smooth surface if it’s not in a case since it’s prone to sliding off unnoticed.

Display

Apple waxed lyrical about the iPhone 8 Plus’s “impressive” display, and with the iPhone 8 Plus, Apple has brought True Tone technology previously seen on the iPad to its iPhone range.

True Tone uses the phone’s sensors to adjust the onscreen white balance and match the “colour temperature” of any ambient light. This makes images look more natural and helps your brain and eyes adapt more easily, to avoid eyestrain. It’s a nice touch, and we’d recommend you leave this feature on, but the display itself provides very few other noticeable changes – something that is backed up by the numbers we saw in our tests.

With all automatic adaptations disabled, the iPhone 8 Plus’ IPS display scored near-identical marks to the iPhone 7 Plus. Peak brightness reaches 553cd/m2 with a full white screen in a browser window, with a contrast ratio of 1,365:1. By comparison, the iPhone 7 Plus achieved 520cd/m2 and 1,350:1. The screens on both handsets are highly colour accurate, too.

Cameras

Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus offers among the most advanced camera technology available, although there’s little to separate it from the 7 Plus. The front-facing camera is the same as last year’s: a 7-megapixel f/2.2 unit without a dedicated flash that takes detailed selfies.

On the rear, the iPhone 8 Plus comes with two 12-megapixel rear-facing shooters: one 28mm, the other a 2x telephoto 56mm lens, with apertures of f/1.8 and f/2.8 respectively, just like last year – although it is the fastest we’ve ever used. And with the telephoto camera now optically stabilised, it performs slightly better in low light.

The iPhone 8 Plus’ camera pair takes reliable photos in a range of lighting conditions, but then so did the 7 Plus’. Comparison shots, taken by Google’s Pixel XL, show the latter slightly outperforming the former, a gap that may widen further when unveils its next-generation Pixel cameras at the start of October.

Video quality on the iPhone 8 Plus is also good. You can capture in 4K at up to 60fps and the stabilisation is superb, although again, this brings it in line with smooth video capture on the Pixel.

On the iPhone 8 Plus, software improvements elevate photos slightly. HDR is always on, and Apple’s added new light options to its Portrait mode to add extra professional-looking effects to photos.

DSLR fans will likely look down their nose at this technology, but for the average consumer (read Instagram user) it works well.

Next: performance, battery life and verdict

Apple iPhone 8 Plus
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