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Apple’s plus-sized iPhone used to be the belle of the ball. Packing a larger battery, improved camera hardware and a dual-camera setup (as of the iPhone 7 Plus), it clearly had plenty of advantages over the smaller device.
But the iPhone 8 Plus is in a weird predicament, as Apple positions it as the Johnnie Walker Black of the smartphone world. Sure, it’s got the Johnnie Walker name on it, but it’s not the iPhone X’s Johnnie Walker Blue, is it?
Nevertheless, the iPhone 8 Plus looks like a respectable if unspectacular upgrade on paper over the iPhone 7 Plus. Let’s start with that glass body.
Yes, a return to glass
Don’t like using covers on your phone? Then you’ll be disappointed with the decision to go glass here. It’s really a double-edged sword, with the glass being more fragile on paper, but also allowing for wireless charging. Still, if you’re part of the majority who plan to cover the phone up anyway, you shouldn’t fret.
Other than the new back, this looks nigh-on identical to last year’s Plus model — a pity for shallow folks wanting everyone to know about their new phone. And those bezels look even more prominent when compared to Samsung, LG and Xiaomi models, nevermind the iPhone X.
Still, the large borders aren’t a deal-breaker by any chance, if anything, the phone’s width is more noticeable after months of using the Galaxy S8 (review). And the fingerprint scanner is in a great location — here’s looking at you, Samsung (next to the camera) and Apple (no fingerprint scanner in the iPhone X).
Wireless charging is probably the most exciting hardware addition in my book. Sure, Nokia and Samsung led with the feature before, with the latter pushing hard to make it popular, but it’s the use of the Qi standard that has me excited. This means that your Samsung wireless charging pad works just fine on the new iPhone. It’s a small thing to be excited about, but Apple sets the bar low when it comes to sharing standards.
Much like the Galaxy S8, wireless charging via the Samsung pad can take place without removing the phone’s case. And charging times, while not as fast as fast charging, are still pretty nippy.
As for other design elements, you’ve got the speaker grille and Lightning port at the bottom, volume rocker/mute switch on the left and power key and SIM tray on the right. There’s also a microSD card slot next- nah, I’m kidding.
What’s a back button?
The last time I reviewed an iPhone, I quickly adapted to the lack of a back button, owing to it being a smaller device. But getting used to home button-only navigation wasn’t as seamless as before. Developers (and Apple) insist on slapping “back” keys at the top left of the screen — this wouldn’t be much of an issue if you didn’t require a 5.5-inch reach across the screen’s extremities. Just move the back key to the bottom left instead.
It’s the sort of problem Apple has been forced to tackle on the iPhone X, which lacks a home button, resorting to BlackBerry 10-style swipes instead.
In any event, iOS is certainly a well-rounded platform at this point, although there are still legacy niggles that should’ve been fixed (back key location aside). Why do I need to dive into settings and then camera to toggle HDR? Why can’t I long-press the Bluetooth and WiFi toggles in Control Centre to bring up the relevant setting? Why is the platform still gimped when it comes to flexibility of multitasking (e.g. Google Photos)?
It’s clear that huge steps have been made by the pioneering platform in terms of bringing usability on par with Android. But what Google’s platform lacks in updates and a tighter ecosystem, Apple’s platform still lacks in terms of flexibility. You choose which compromise you’re willing to make.
Nevertheless, with third-party keyboard support and mobile data tracking, it’s clear that Apple is cherry-picking some Android features to make iOS a little more flexible and/or practical. Now, about duplicating the Android notification system…
In terms of speed, it gets the job done well, but I would’ve liked the option to disable animations, as fast and smooth as they are anyway. Yes yes, I know… some claim this to be the best thing about iOS.
All in all, iOS is familiar ground for iPhone die-hards, while the transition from Android to iOS will be a little easier owing to the aforementioned Android garnishings.
Portrait mode gets another feature
Last year saw Apple introduce portrait mode on its iPhone 7 Plus, designed to bring portrait shots into sharp relief (heh). Offering a slick depth of field effect to shots of people and some objects, portrait mode was a pleasant, if not game-changing addition.
Expecting Apple to pull a Huawei and introduce adjustable depth of field effects and refocusing? You’ll be disappointed. It’s still just portrait mode. But what we do have is a new Portrait Lighting mode and, while in beta, the results vary from great to extremely rough (see above image and our article).
Portrait Lighting uses machine learning to deliver studio-style lighting effects in portrait mode, such as contoured lighting and a stage-light style effect. The verdict? Contoured lighting works very well, but the stage-light effect can be awful. Occasionally the latter is decent, only clipping slight edges and blacking out teeny bits in a shot. But more often than not, stage lighting blacks out critical parts of the subject.
TL;DR: Portrait Mode itself is still as solid as ever, but Portrait Lighting needs a lot more work. Also, those expecting adjustable parameters here will be disappointed.
The camera experience in general
Iphone 8 Plus Camera
Iphone 8 Plus Front
Iphone 8 Plus Bottom
Iphone 8 Plus Sample
Have a random flower shot. in the morning. White colours aren't blown out and edges (where in focus) are well defined.
Iphone 8 Plus Sample
The platter is noticeably fuzzy here, compared to the rest of the scene. But colours are well-realised and noise is kept low in other areas.
Iphone 8 Plus Sample
The iPhone 8 Plus sucked up light here. Pity the band members are all noisy as heck.
Iphone 8 Plus Sample
The lead singer is pretty crisp in this shot. The amount of light captured also compares favourably to rival smartphones.
Iphone 8 Plus Sample
Memeburn's Andy Walker posed for this Portrait Lighting shot. The hair is a tad blurry where it overlaps the building, but a pleasant image overall.
Iphone 8 Plus Sample
Have a stage light shot that wasn't as badly butchered as the previous attempt.
Portrait-related features aside, the iPhone 8 Plus is definitely one of the year’s best snappers (right-click and open to view full resolution images), going toe to toe with the Galaxy flagships.
Daytime snaps have a healthy level of detail and exhibit great dynamic range, confidently striking a balance between detail in the dark and preventing blown highlights. Of course, any flagship worth its salt in 2017 is going to excel at this level during the day. So what about night-time shots?
Fortunately, the iPhone 8 Plus main camera keeps noise to pleasant levels and manages to suck in plenty of light. It’ll go up against the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 and do an excellent job anyway.
The telephoto camera has also received a wider aperture and, while the noise is still very noticeable in mixed/low light compared to the main camera, it’s definitely useable in low-light (when the phone isn’t relying on zoom from the main camera instead). Nevertheless, daytime is still the best scenario by far for the telephoto camera, allowing it to flex its zooming muscles.
So if you wanted the iPhone 7 Plus telephoto camera to be a little more flexible, you’ve got the goods here. But if you don’t care for the telephoto camera, it’s still got two lovely surprises in the form of full HD slow-mo and 4K/60fps.
The iPhone 8 Plus delivers flagship-quality photos, but it’s in the video department that we see Apple’s technical prowess
The former marks the first time we get 240fps slow-mo at 1080p on a smartphone, lending a sharper level of detail to slow-mo proceedings. And it’s about time too, after three years or so of slow-mo at 720p. The XZ Premium is still king in terms of slow-mo speed, but the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are a little more flexible when it comes to lighting conditions.
4K/60fps is probably the bigger deal for geeks, as you’d previously have to choose between smooth 60fps at 1080p or detailed 4K at 30fps. Now you can have both, but bear in mind that 4K/60fps uses the HEVC codec, which isn’t supported by many apps and services. Even with this lightweight format, your 4K/60fps clip will still weigh in at around 800MB for a minute of video.
You’ll also want a 4K monitor or TV to get the most out of shooting at 4K/60fps. In any event, vloggers and avid videographers alike will want to keep this phone (along with LG’s V30) on their wishlist for the unprecedented video support.
As an aside, we also like the “preserve settings” option in the camera settings, allowing you to (you guessed it) keep the camera settings you’ve previously used. Now, about bringing manual camera controls…
The Plus model usually stands out for having better battery life than the 4.7-inch model — a bigger phone usually equals a bigger battery after all.
And the iPhone 8 Plus continues this tradition, offering enough juice for a day of heavy use. Sparse usage (i.e. occasionally checking for emails/social media but mostly keeping it on standby) will see you able to stretch it to two days. But don’t expect a full two days of everyday usage (music, emails, browsing, WhatsApp).
In other words, if the iPhone 7 Plus battery life disappointed, the difference here isn’t massive. But you shouldn’t be struggling for a day of usage.
Playing second fiddle to the iPhone X
Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus probably isn’t going to be the phone to convert you to the iOS camp if you’re an Android enthusiast. This is made more apparent by the iPhone X, packing an OLED screen, a new design and a better telephoto camera — a more exciting purchase on paper for Android fans and general consumers.
That’s not to say the 8 Plus is a bad phone, it’s just clear that Apple was playing it safe with this model. And at least you’ve got the reliable and convenient fingerprint scanner here instead of Face ID.
Verdict: Wireless charging and pioneering video quality options aside, it’s a case of quiet refinement for the 8 Plus, bringing a camera experience that’s a little better and improved battery life.
But much like the Galaxy S8 is to the Galaxy S7, those with an iPhone 7 Plus can give this a skip for now. Got an older iPhone? Then you’ll relish this upgrade, but the iPhone X is here too.
Score: 8.5 out of 10