When Apple unveiled the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X, it immediately had us wondering about the place that Apple’s larger phone would have in this new family.
Over the last couple of weeks however it has become clear that 8 Plus, and indeed the 8, are smartphones designed to ease their users into Apple’s new world of augmented reality, wireless charging and machine learning.
On the surface it doesn’t rock the boat, but underneath this is in every way Apple’s first statement about how it wants us to use our phones in the future.
The iPhone 8 Plus’ design is not what you would call revolutionary by any stretch. It is in many ways a hybrid of Apple’s old designs, taking the glass back from the iPhone 4 and blending it with the design language that was first introduced with the iPhone 6.
Ultimately in our opinion, it’s an improvement. The glass makes it easier to hold, and frankly it just looks better.
This is by far the best colour line-up from Apple with its new Gold colour being particularly attractive. The slightly rose-coloured glass back looks and feels more like the enamel you would find on an old piece of jewellery.
Where Apple sadly hasn’t made a change is in the size. While the iPhone X sees Apple finally ditch the bezels the 8 Plus retains exactly the same bezels and screen size as the original 6 Plus when it was launched in 2014. That means that this is still very much a two-handed device when typing.
It’s not too big, but when you compare the footprint of the 8 Plus to other phones of a similar size, you’ll almost always find there’s a bigger screen as well.
Some have pointed out that the 8 Plus is heavier too. This is true, but it’s honestly such a small increase that we didn’t notice it in day-to-day usage.
While the screen stays the same size, this is without a doubt the best LCD display Apple has ever put in a phone. We don’t say this lightly either, the difference is instantly notable, so much so that it’s one of the first things that people comment on when they’ve come over to sneak a look.
It’s a 5.5-inch Retina HD display that now comes with two of Apple’s new screen technologies: Wide colour gamut and True Tone.
Wide colour gamut improves the colour range of the display and while it first appeared on the iPhone 7, Apple have clearly made some improvements here because the colours just pop on the 8 Plus.
True Tone is a technology that Apple first introduced on the iPad. It analyses the light around you and adjusts the white balance of the display to match. This is not a minor feature. It will make a noticeable difference to the display and for us it did make the screen feel more natural looking. Luckily if it’s too much you can always turn it off.
Unlike the iPhone X, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus do not support HDR (High Dynamic Range) content. For most of us this won’t matter, but if you consume Netflix and iTunes films like it’s going out of fashion it’s something to consider.
The camera on the iPhone 7 Plus was easily one of the best smartphone cameras ever made and Apple has maintained this with the 8 Plus.
It’s still a dual-camera setup that consists of one 12MP wide-angle lens and one 12MP telephoto lens. Combined this lets you get a 2x optical zoom and enables Apple’s Portrait Mode.
Using the camera on the 8 Plus is one of the best examples of how Apple’s control over hardware and software can be its biggest strength. The app opens instantly from the lock screen, focuses and takes a clear, well-lit picture without any fuss.
Just like the 7 Plus, the 8 Plus performs extremely well in low-light and the new flash module helps drastically reduce that 90s wedding anniversary look that happens almost every time you try and use a phone flash.
Portrait Mode feels like it has been improved too. Getting that foreground/background blur just right feels a little easier, but you’re still going to want to spend some time setting up the perfect shot.
A new feature for Portrait Mode is something called Portrait Lighting. This uses the powerful new AI-based processor inside the 8 Plus to scan the environment around your subject, and then apply different professional lighting effects as though you were actually in a studio.
We can confirm it works, but to get it working as well as Apple’s own demo photos you need to put considerable time into getting the right shot. Pull your phone out, snap without even a moment setting up the shot and you’re going to be severely disappointed. To Apple’s credit, this feature is still in beta so it’s early days.
While the iPhone 8 Plus retains the stereo speakers (they’re now louder) and Touch ID fingerprint sensor from the iPhone 7 it also has two very important new additions.
The first of these is wireless charging. This uses something called the QI standard which simply means that Apple has joined the global standard rather than coming up with its own tech. This is very good news.
While Apple are far from the first to include wireless charging it does mean that their sheer size as a company will kickstart companies into adopting the technology into their products. We’ve already seen Ikea release furniture with wireless charging built-in.
The charging we’ve tried so far works fine. It’s important to point out that while it felt a little slow in our testing, Apple actually confirmed that it would be releasing an update that lets the iPhone charge much faster through wireless charging.
The second major feature is Apple’s A11 Bionic chip. Now stick with us on this, because it might get a little technical.
A11 Bionic is the company’s first chip with what they’re calling a ‘Neural Engine’ built-in. Put simply, this is Apple’s first chip to employ the same type of machine learning that we find in the world’s most advanced AI-based computers.
What’s the advantage in putting machine learning inside a smartphone? Well machine learning is just that, it vastly improves the contextual intelligence of the device. A perfect example is Portrait Lighting. The A11 is able to analyse a person’s face and then apply lighting in a natural and vastly complex way, and it does all of this in milliseconds without you even noticing.
It also gives the iPhone 8 Plus a great head start when it comes to using augmented reality apps. It can analyse a room’s dimensions instantly, intelligently placing objects within it and rendering them in enormous detail.
In day-to-day usage you’re not going to notice these differences, and in some ways that’s the problem. When a camera is just able to artificially light a subject in real-time, it’s almost impossible to get a sense of just how much computing power is needed to do that. Trust us, it’s a lot.
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Despite this increase in power Apple’s chip is able to intelligently use as little or as much power as it needs which means that over the past week the battery life has been absolutely excellent.
We can’t speak for the iPhone 8, but the 8 Plus has consistently made it through to the end of the day with plenty of battery life for the evening. That’s even with an Apple Watch connected, various wireless headphones and well over an hour’s worth of Netflix/iPlayer Radio streaming.
The iPhone 8 Plus is brilliant in many ways and frustrating in just one. This is the best camera we’ve seen on an iPhone so far and easily one of the best cameras we’ve ever used on a smartphone.
It also has an absolutely gorgeous display and lightning fast performance thanks to the new A11 Bionic chip.
Frustratingly it retains the same dimensions as the iPhone 6 Plus, first released back in 2014. It’s an iconic design but one that has its flaws, most notable being that it’s entering a world where bezels are increasingly feeling dated.
That being said, this size means that it has utterly superb battery life. It also feels incredibly sturdy and thanks to the new glass back, wireless charging is finally on an iPhone.
This then is in some ways the iPhone 7S Plus, an evolution of Apple’s tried-and-test design that packs in some utterly transformative new features.
Who should buy the iPhone 8 Plus?
If you’ve been holding off for a number of years then we have some good news, your patience has been rewarded. The iPhone 8 Plus has all the features that make up Apple’s vision for using a smartphone going forward. Wireless charging, augmented reality and an AI-powered camera are all here, and for the same price as last year’s smartphone.
Who shouldn’t buy the iPhone 8 Plus?
If you’re one of those people who wants the absolute pinnacle of what Apple can offer then wait. The iPhone X is expensive, but Apple’s products always have been, and what it’s offering is almost a bleeding-edge version of how Apple sees us using our phones in the future. The 8 Plus is a safe bet, the X feels like a leap into the unknown.
The iPhone 8 Plus is available now starting at £799/$799/€919.
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