iPhone 8 Plus Review: Bigger is better, but not for much longer

iphone-8-plus.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    9.3 Spectacular
  • $949.00

Pros

  • Wireles charging
  • Much improved camera, portrait mode

Cons

  • Portrait Lighting, while in beta, needs some work
  • Nearly as expensive as the iPhone X

iPhone 8 review

More of the same, but better in just about every way

We've put the iPhone 8 to the test, and while it may look boring, it's anything but.

Read More

With the iPhone X already announced and available for preorder at the end of October, just where does the iPhone 8 Plus end up in the product lineup?

I think it's fair to say it's a device intended for business users who want a larger screen, more battery life, and the same tried-and-true performance Apple has built its reputation on. Camera tricks add to the allure of a phone that's far too big for its own good, especially in 2017.

CNET: Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: The best iPhone you can buy -- until Nov. 3

I've already reviewed the iPhone 8 and found it to a worthwhile upgrade for a segment of smartphone users. On paper, outside of the camera, size, and price the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are the same devices. Be sure to read my iPhone 8 review if I didn't touch on a feature or performance in the text below.

Design

As competitors released bigger screened devices that kept getting smaller, Apple's "Plus" model in the iPhone lineup stayed the same. With a chin above and below the screen and the 5.5-inch display, there's a fair amount of wasted space around the screen.

Apple has addressed the issue with the design of the iPhone X, but the iPhone 8 Plus still loudly claims the old design as its own. It's as unapologetic as it is bulky.

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In the same manner the iPhone 8 matches the design of its predecessors, so does the iPhone 8 Plus. Buttons, speakers, charging ports, and even the SIM card are all located in the same exact spot.

Most cases for the iPhone 7 Plus will work on the 8 Plus, which is good news for those who upgrade each year and don't want to wait for the iPhone X.

Battery life and performance

The iPhone 8 Plus uses the same A11 Bionic processor as the iPhone 8, with a total of six cores. Its battery is smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus, but thanks to A11 Bionic chip, the 8 Plus is more power efficient.

I was able to get through over 36 hours of use from a single charge. On days of traveling and heavy use, I still had enough power to get to the end of the day without needing to recharge.

Double the camera

iphone-8-plus.jpg
Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The iPhone 8 Plus has two rear-facing cameras; one telephoto, and one wide-angle. Both are 12-megapixel sensors, with the FaceTime camera on the front being 7-megapixels.

The new cameras feature the same ISP and sensor improvements as the iPhone 8, but where it diverges from its smaller sibling is Portrait Mode. As with the iPhone 7 line, the bigger model leverages the two rear-facing cameras to add depth to photos without the need for expensive hardware and large lenses required by dedicated cameras.

The iPhone 8 Plus continues to blur the lines by adding depth -- also known as bokeh -- to a photo with a new feature called Portrait Lighting.

See also: The X factor: Apple's weird relationship with product numbers and names

Currently in beta, Portrait Lighting alters lighting in a photo. There are a total of five different lighting options: natural, studio, control, stage, and stage light mono (black and white).

I've had success with the first three options, and have failed miserably at both of the studio light options. Stage Light removes the background, turning it to black, leaving the subject in the foreground with added shadows and adjusted highlights.

Apple showed off some amazing photos captured with Stage Light during the keynote, but for me, I've found most of the time the photos just look fake. For example, one photo tried to hide my ear as if it were in the background, leaving jagged lines in its place. It looked like a bad computer render of myself. Look at this photo of my dog, Emoji. He looks fancy, but also fake.

coffee-iphone-8-plus.jpg
Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

As for the three Portrait Lighting modes I've had success with, I've captured some pretty amazing photos. The above shot was taken with the iPhone 8 Plus in Portrait Mode with the Studio Light Portrait Lighting setting.

Just a few inches below the top of the cup, you can see the spoon and piece of chocolate are slightly out of focus, while the heart decoration is sharp and well lit. Frankly, it's stunning to have captured this on a smartphone.

Or this photo I posted on Facebook. I was waiting in line at Chipotle, lifted the phone up and asked my son to smile. I didn't spend time framing or ensuring the lighting was best for Portrait Mode as I've done with the iPhone 7 Plus. I took the picture, and it came out really well.

As I said in my iPhone 8 review, Apple's newest phones are the best smartphone cameras I have ever used. I used to rely on Samsung's devices to take my photos, especially when on a trip with my family; I now leave them behind. In fact, I recently spent three days in San Diego with only the iPhone 8 Plus. Those who know me can vouch for how rare something like that is.

Its own biggest competitor

Right now, Apple faces stiff competition from Samsung's smartphones. Samsung's Galaxy S8 Plus or Note 8 are both reasonable and valid to put up against Apple's iPhone 8 Plus.

Nevertheless, I think Apple's biggest competition, in particular for the bigger and more expensive iPhone 8 Plus, is the iPhone X. The iPhone X is only slightly more expensive, ships with a more robust camera setup, and is smaller in overall footprint.

It's hard to justify and encourage someone to wait for a device that's not even out yet. It's also a device we've only seen in very controlled environments. But it's hard not to bring it up when discussing the iPhone 8 lineup, knowing a better looking and just as capable device is on the horizon.

See also: iPhone X: Sorry Apple, but I just can't face using Face ID

In every sense, the iPhone 8 Plus is the best iPhone I have ever used. I appreciate the glass back, added wireless and fast charging, and the camera is terrific. Yet, I haven't ordered one because of the iPhone X.

Granted, the $999 price tag of the iPhone X isn't for everyone. The iPhone 8 Plus starts at $799 for 64GB of storage, with the 256GB model currently priced at $949. If you opted to order an 8 Plus right this minute, I wouldn't blame you at all -- especially if you're updating from an iPhone prior to last year's model, or for that matter an older Android smartphone.

For everyone else, though, the iPhone X will be available on November 3.

Specifications

General
SAR Value 1.19 W/kg (body) / 1.19 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Front-facing camera, voice recorder, stereo speakers, navigation, dual rear-facing camera, digital player
Body Color Gold
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor, digital compass, barometer
Additional Features Multitasking, FaceTime, AirPrint wireless printing, iCloud Photo Sharing, AirDrop function, MIMO technology, Wi-Fi Calling, iBeacon microlocation, CarPlay function, QuickType keyboard, Handoff, HomeKit, Apple TV support (2nd or later), Fast Charging, AirPlay 2 wireless streaming, Neural Engine
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Type SmartPhone
Integrated Components digital player, dual rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, navigation, stereo speakers, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
Operating System Family iOS
Operating System iOS 11
Payment Technology Apple Pay
Intelligent Assistant Siri
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty single-SIM
Input Device 3D Touch, capacitive
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Miscellaneous
Compliant Standards IEC 60529 IP67, HAC (Hearing Aid Compatible)
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Color Gold
Color Category gold
Body Material aerospace-grade 7000 Series aluminum, glass, oleophobic coating
Protection dustproof, splashproof, waterproof
Communications
Data Transmission DC-HSDPA, EDGE, FDD-LTE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE, LTE Advanced, TDD-LTE, VoLTE
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 5.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Display
Technology Retina HD display with IPS technology
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Pixel Density (ppi) 401
Contrast Ratio 1300:1
Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 14 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Protection fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Color Support color
Display Languages Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Catalan, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, UK English, US English, Ukrainian, Vietnamese
Features Display Zoom, Dolby Vision, Dual-domain pixels, HDR10, Reachability (screen shifting), True Tone display
Processor
Manufacturer Apple
64-bit Architecture Yes
Coprocessor M11 motion
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards M-JPEG, H.264, HEVC, MPEG-4 Part 2
Supported Digital Audio Standards Audible, MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless, AC-3, AAC-LC, LPCM, HE-AAC, Audible AAX, Audible AAX+, protected AAC, EAC3, HE-AAC v2
Environmental Parameters
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Humidity Range Operating 5 - 95% (non-condensing)
Battery
Run Time Details Talk: up to 1260 min
Active online usage: up to 13 hrs
Playback (wireless video): up to 14 hrs
Playback (wireless audio): up to 60 hrs
Technology Lithium ion
Wireless Charging Yes
Digital Camera
Special Effects Depth of field
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple iPhone
Model 8 Plus
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (3D Touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features AirDrop function, AirPlay 2 wireless streaming, AirPrint wireless printing, Apple TV support (2nd or later), CarPlay function, FaceTime, Fast Charging, Handoff, HomeKit, MIMO technology, Neural Engine, QuickType keyboard, Wi-Fi Calling, iBeacon microlocation, iCloud Photo Sharing, multitasking
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC-LC, AC-3, Apple Lossless, Audible, Audible AAX, EAC3, FLAC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, LPCM, MP3, protected AAC
Supported Digital Video Standards H.264, HEVC, M-JPEG, MPEG-4 Part 2
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 256 GB
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty, technical support
Service Included consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year, 90 days
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 7 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.2
Features Auto image stabilization, Exposure control, FaceTime HD camera
Second Rear Camera
Sensor Type BSI
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Dimensions & Weight
Width 3.07 in
Depth 0.30 in
Height 6.24 in
Weight 7.13 oz

Topics: Reviews, Apple, iOS, iPhone, Mobile OS, Mobility, Smartphones

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Where To Buy

Apple iPhone 8 Plus (256GB, Gold)

Part Number: CNETAPPLEiPHONE8PLUS256GBGLD
Price
$949.00

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