“The new iPhone 8 Plus may not look too different, but it does pack in quite a bit. Our review”

The Apple iPhone 8 Plus is many things, but some things it is not. Your decision to buy this phone will lie somewhere in the middle of that above statement, and we’re going to detail out every bit about the phone. Every year, the hype surrounding the iPhone models is palpable, and over the last few years, Apple has not delivered on all counts. This year, the rumours started with claims of a radical design change and even a screen-embedded fingerprint scanner. Well, Apple’s done announcing the new iPhone 8 Plus (first impressions), putting all rumours to rest. There are definitely some changes and some improvements, all of which go into making the iPhone 8 Plus a lucrative device for many, but just who exactly should be getting the new iPhone, what are its strengths and where exactly does it let you down? Let us walk you through every aspect of the iPhone 8 Plus down below.

Design

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Design is one area where Apple has made the most noticeable changes. Apple switched out the full aluminium build of the iPhone 7 / 7 Plus in favour of a glass-metal hybrid. Apple claims that the bonded glass used on the iPhone 8 Plus is the strongest glass ever used on a smartphone, but honestly, we didn’t have the heart to test those claims. Five minutes after unboxing the phone, it promptly went into a designated case, because better safe than sorry. The colours have changed as well, with the rose gold shade being shown the door, and a new gold colour being welcomed in. It has a more coffee/copper tone going for it and frankly, it’s the best use of gold we’ve seen in a smartphone, to date. The front of the phone is still hosting a white bezel, unless you get the black variant of the phone. In terms of ergonomics, the dimensions of the iPhone 8 Plus remain the same, with a 5.5-inch 1080p display. The weight has increased by a few grams though, and you do feel the heft when you first hold the phone, but you get used to it. Quiet frankly, the design of the new iPhone 8 Plus, with its new build materials and new colour tones is really nice. Is it a drastic change from what we’ve seen of the iPhone since the iPhone 6? No. If you’re looking for a radical design change, the iPhone X is the closest you get to fulfilling that desire in the Apple ecosystem, but you’re going to have to shell out serious bucks for that.

 

Display

The smartphone industry has been moving towards higher resolution displays over the last few years, but not Apple. The iPhone 8 Plus sticks to the 1,920 x 1,080 display iPhone users are accustomed to, complete with bezels and all. While Apple may not have moved to high resolution displays, but they were the first to move to a wide gamut colour for their panels. There’s still no HDR compliance on the iPhone 8 Plus, so if that’s a feature you have been wanting, then the iPhone X may be a better option for you. In terms of using the display, we were pleasantly surprised to find just how low the reflectance on the display is. Even while using the phone under the brightest mid-day sun, we faced no issues with the legibility of content. What was even more surprising is that despite having the brightness turned all the way up, neither the colour saturation nor the contrast are effected, which means, content looks great regardless of the brightness of the display.

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Apple did introduce something new with the iPhone 8 and that is the TrueTone display. It basically works as an active white balance correction system for the display, to ensure that regardless of the nature of the ambient light, the colour reproduction of the display is always mathematically accurate. The feature first made its appearance on the iPad Pro, but with the iPhone, it becomes more mainstream. The feature takes a little getting used to since we are so accustomed to having various kinds of colour casts appear on the display, that a colour correct panel looks weird. We eventually ended up turning the feature off, but in terms of usability, it works beautifully, but takes some getting used to.

Camera

The iPhone 8 Plus comes with twin 12 megapixel cameras on the back, one with a 26mm wide angle lens and the other with a 52mm telephoto lens. The aperture on the lenses is f/1.8 and f/2.6 respectively, which may not seem like the fastest in the market, but there’s a lot more going on here than just pure numbers. Do note that of the two lenses, only the wide angle lens has optical image stabilisation. Additionally, if you’re using the telephoto lens with what Apple’s algorithm considers not enough light, then the camera switches over to the wide angle lens, but with a telephoto perspective.

With the primary camera, you get a number of very satisfying results. First off, the photos are really gorgeous, provided they are shot properly. Optically, both the lenses on the iPhone 8 Plus are incredibly sharp consistently across the frame. Thanks to optically superior lenses, the iPhone 8 Plus is able to transfer the light unaltered onto the sensor, leaving the rest of the image quality duties to the silicon and the software. We have seen how the iPhone has transformed the way people approach photography over the last few year and the iPhone 8 Plus continues the tradition of stellar photos for the most part, although there is a flaw or two worth discussing.

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For starters, the camera has a tendency to meter for highlights which sometimes results in deep shadows. While trying to photograph a back-lit leaf, there was quiet a bit of struggle to get the focus right, and even when we did manage that, the leaf itself came out a little too dark. The same shot on the Samsung Galaxy Note8 came out looking slightly better. Even with the HDR mode turned on, the Note 8 just slightly edges the iPhone 8 Plus in certain scenarios.

While the iPhone 8 Plus still retains the title of one of the most reliable photography tools, the iPhone 8 Plus also shoots some gorgeous video. With 4K getting a bump in spec and frame rate, the real show-stopper is the 240 fps slow-motion video at 1080p. Slow motion video is tricky because higher the frame rate, the more light you need in order to be able to get usable footage. Sony has incorporated 960fps into the Xperia XZs (review) and the XZ Premium (review), but the drawback with both those cameras has been their need for massive amounts of light, limiting their use. The Apple iPhone 8 Plus easily circumvents that issue with a 240 fps cap, and the bump in resolution really will find favour with content creators. 

One problem we have with the iPhone 8 Plus’s camera is actually not with the camera itself, but with the default app. While the colours and contrast on both photos and film look amazing, the detail in images gets a little fuzzy. You can tell that the compression on the photos is causing a little loss of detail, so you’d think that shooting RAW would solve the problem, and you would be right to think so. Unfortunately, to really be able to utilise the full potential of the camera sensor, you would have to resort to a third-party app as the stock camera app does not support shooting RAW, which seems to make no sense. It is still annoying to have to use two different camera apps to be able to get the most out of the iPhone 8 Plus’s otherwise excellent camera offerings.

Lastly, lets talk about the Portait Mode and Portrait Lighting. Portrait mode has definitely come a long way, with bokeh looking more natural, but it is still limited in use in terms of distance, framing and the fact that low light photos just don’t look appealing. But if you’ve got the light working for you and don’t mind a limited frame, then you’re going to really enjoy taking photos in portrait mode. We know we did. While portrait mode has improved, portrait lighting is what’s new. Portrait Lighting, as it stands today, still needs significant work to improve the way light is mapped across the face. The Studio Lighting mode almost always created spots on the face of our subject which were over exposed while the Mono Stage Lighting mode can often look tacky with its improper fade to black effect. Many times, the photos just end up looking tacky, and reminds us of Portrait Mode when it had launched originally last year, with imperfect results. Portrait Lighting is a good step forward for Apple, distinguishing its camera from the usual obsession with beauty modes, and we can be assured that over time, Apple will keep improving the feature, just like they did with the Portrait Mode. 

 

 

Software & Performance

Good performance isn’t just about having excellent hardware, but also about creating software that can efficiently leverage all that computing power. To this end, Apple presents iOS 11, the OS that the iPhone 8 Plus ships with by default. Right off the bat, iOS 11 feels noticeably faster and responsive when compared to iOS10. There are a number of noticeable and handy changes to iOS that make using the iPhone8 Plus a treat. For starters, Control Center has received a redesign, making it more functional and allowing you quick access to more controls than previously seen, by making it customisable. You can also now customise screenshots and annotate them like on many Android devices, but it’s a handy feature to have. Apple already made it convenient to reduce space usage by deleting stock apps, but now, Apple has introduced the use of High-Efficiency Video Codec for both photo and video recording, which reduces the space used by the two by up to 50 percent, without any loss in quality. The great thing about iOS 11 is that despite a number of changes, the OS is extremely familiar. The shortcuts all remain the same as previous versions of iOS and it is extremely easy to navigate. Unfortunately, it is still missing an option to close all apps in the multi-tasking screen, but that’s alright.

Apple’s latest iPhone comes powered by an all new A11 Bionic chip and 3GB RAM. Stories of the new chipset beating every other Android flagship smartphone are true, as we’ve seen  our review unit push out benchmark numbers higher than the Samsung Galaxy Note8. Enough has been spoken about the performance of the the iPhone over the years the product has existed, and just like the previous years, this year, we have nothing different to write.

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The Apple iPhone 8 Plus once again sets a benchmark with regards to the kind of reliability you can expect from your smartphone. Over the last few weeks that the iPhone 8 Plus has been under review, there hasn’t been a single instance of apps failing or the phone slowing down. At any point in time, there were close to 20 apps open in the background, but there was no noticeable drop in performance with regards to gaming, video playback (Amazon Prime and 1080p videos) or even typing. There’s no point in waxing poetic about the iPhone 8 Plus’s performance, as it is stellar and you absolutely get what your money is worth.

Battery

The 2960mAh battery on the iPhone 8 Plus might seem small when we see that most Android flagships sport 3,000+ mAh worth of lithium, but Apple isn’t known for following industry standards when it comes to numbers. In our use of the phone, we easily got a day and a half worth of use from the device, which included a minimum two hours of GPS use and three hours of Bluetooth audio streaming. There was the occasional gaming that lasted no longer than 45 minutes a day and about four hours’ worth of phone calls. Add camera use to that and you start to see just how much Apple has managed to squeeze out of the iPhone 8 Plus’ battery. What’s impressive about the new iPhone 8 Plus and its battery chops is that it is wireless charging compatible, though we could not test that out due to lack of compatible charging mats. For the first time ever, the iPhone also supports fast charging. Unfortunately, fast charging requires a different power block and a new cable, neither of which are bundled in the box. Instead, what you get is a standard wall charger that you’d get with an earlier generation iPhone and the same standard Lighting cable. It is frustrating to not get fast charging out of the box, and that you’d have to pay a whole lot extra money just to get to use a feature that’s already built into your phone. If you decide to just stick to what’s in the box, do know that it takes about 105 minutes to charge the iPhone 8 Plus from zero to 100.

Verdict

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To those who already own an iPhone 7 Plus (review), the design is the only real thing that’s different. Sure there’s the wireless charging and the fast charging, but both of those will mean even more money spent for you. The iPhone 7 Plus isn’t a bad phone by any metric and there’s not a whole lot of incentive here to upgrade. If you’re on any other generation of the iPhone, this is definitely a good smartphone to upgrade to. If you’re on the Android system and considering moving to iOS, the iPhone 8 Plus is the all-access pass to Apple’s ecosystem. Don’t go for an older generation device in order to save money. If you’re an Android lover, the iPhone 8 Plus may not draw you in, with its lack of bezel-less display and the Quad HD resolution. There’s also the consideration of battery life which seems to be more or less similar across flagships, but many Android phones give you a fast charger in the box. Standout features of the iPhone 8 Plus are its camera, which we’d consider second best as of writing this review, excellent, reliable performance and an ecosystem that works seamlessly together.

Editor’s Rating: 4 / 5 

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Great camera
  • Glass design and new colours are nice
  • Supports fast and wireless charging

Cons

  • No fast charger in the box
  • Plenty of bezels on the front
  • Portrait Lighting mode needs work

 

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Swapnil loves writing about technology but hates bios. Gadgets do grab his attention from time to time, but it's the science that goes into making machines that really fascinates him. He brings to the table a keen insight into human-machine interaction thanks to his formal education being in psychology and is constantly exploring the impact of this new digital lifestyle is having on society and individuals. Besides writing on the digital world, Swapnil also spends a lot of time behind the camera as an avid photographer, with a special love for shooting time-lapse videos and landscapes. Before diving deep into the world of technology journalism, he used to moonlight as a concert photographer.