Buying an iPhone has never been an economical affair and while the imminent iPhone X is going to push that limit even further.Ever heard of the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? I bet we all have and yet it might be the most difficult part of accepting the iPhone 8 Plus as a “new” phone.
Should it have been dubbed the 7S Plus instead? Should it not have existed at all in the first place? Smartphones are becoming an extension of our very identity so I’m going to try to answer maybe one of these pertinent questions.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus: Familiar face but baby got back!
There’s no getting around the fact that the 8 and 8 Plus look identical to last year’s phones, which in turn looked similar to the previous year’s models and multiply that by two and you get the drift. The basic industrial design of the iPhone hasn’t changed since the iPhone 6 came out in 2014. That’s almost 54 years in human time! Yet, Apple’s been getting away relatively unharmed by the world’s media and iOS users alike for the simple fact that “it just works”.
Like has become the norm at Cupertino, Apple will keep polishing a good device to the bones unless the next revolutionary technology and the market are ripe and ready. It’s obvious in the iPhone X but the 8 Plus is a big step up from the 7 Plus in ways that are more discrete. The biggest and only giveaway is the back of the phone, which is entirely plastered with glass. Apple won’t reveal it, but for all good reason, the world’s most durable glass has to be the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 and it is surely a piece of art. The seamless design now feels even more homogenous, thanks to a classy aluminium frame that is also available in a new hue of gold that has become the poster boy for their new campaign too. In terms of hand feel and grip, it is a definite improvement over its predecessor which seemed to want to jump out of your hand every time you ignored it for more than three seconds.
Besides the dual lens camera set-up at the back, the 8 and the 8 Plus look identical and the only real technical difference apart from that is the screen resolution. The 1080p TrueTone display on the 8 Plus looks gorgeous and doesn’t make me want for more resolution. With support for Wide Colour (P3), these new iPhones are now also Dolby Vision and HDR compatible, a lesser known fact that for all good reason, got more closely attached to the iPhone X.
TrueTone is great for outdoors or brightly lit conditions, where its interference is minimal and works more on the contrast and brightness. Move indoors or a dimly lit environment and it starts to mimic Night Shift mode, a yellow mess while you’re still awake and need to edit your next Instagram post. I kept switching it off more often than on but it doesn’t take away from the inherent goodness of the screen itself.
Colours look more natural than any AMOLED-equipped flagship and stay truer to the source when it comes to the primary palette. Ozark on Netflix is a beautifully shot series and it becomes an even more involving experience on a screen this good, with HDR. The darker parts of the scenes are superbly resolved in detail, without adding bloom to the lighter areas.
The 3D Touch seems better calibrated too on the 8 Plus and requires less firm of the press to trigger secondary options. This is especially evident and likeable with iOS 11’s new Control Centre that groups controls together for a quicker way to every hour tasks.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus: Picture almost perfect
I’ve more or less shot every picture in the last twelve months on the iPhone 7 Plus so I’m well versed with its performance and the idiosyncrasies of Portrait mode. While the megapixel count and aperture still remain the same as last year, there are improvements under the hood with a larger sensor and an improved image signal processor (ISP).
Right away with the iPhone 8 Plus, the performance boost is visible in low-light pictures which can be attributed to the larger sensor. Dimly lit shots now have more dynamic range and resolution, even when you zoom into the image. It won’t even take a trained eye to notice the difference so the improvement is real and even during daytime outdoor shots, the colours and detail get a boost.
Portrait mode is hugely improved too, and it now can handle difficult subjects like the human hair or finer elements of flora and fauna with more maturity. Instead of just truncating the information like earlier, the bokeh is maintained without eating into the subject’s peripheral abstractions.
It’s also faster at focusing on the subject whether you’re in normal or Portrait mode, thereby offering sharper images overall. The interface remains a doodle to use and now even more fun thanks to the iOS 11 tricks like Loop, Bounce and Long Exposure that add a layer of customisation to Live Photos. So you can now add a Boomerang-like effect without ever leaving the app and start getting the likes instantly.
The Long Exposure is a fun tool to play around with when you want to capture city lights or flowing water and freeze it for a surreal effect. The effectiveness of this depends on many factors, ambient light being paramount. You can also select a Key photo from the Live Photo clip and use it as the one you want to keep for eternity.
Where it starts stumbling is in the (rightly so) Beta version of Portrait Lighting. A new option that is available only on iOS11 with the 8 Plus, these modes aim to add more drama to Portrait shots by analysing the light information and modify the tonality and mood. Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage Light and Stage Light Mono are the options available and things are kept under the believability umbrella as long as you use Studio or Contour modes.
It adds subtle differences to the edges of the face which can help define the subject even more than just a blurry background. But switch to Stage Light and Stage Light Mono and you’ll find yourself dealing with comical results if the background isn’t black enough. The AI still can’t find its way around the natural contours of the face and the results are far from perfect.
Apple has acted wisely by putting a Beta tag on this feature but even that feels optimistic at this stage and for its latent potential, I do wish the updates start coming soon. Otherwise, the snapper here is still one of the best modules on any smartphone and I can’t wait to get it in the ring with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, its closest competitor.
On its own, it’s beautifully rendered colours and incredible detail in well-lit conditions make it virtually a replacement for a DSLR on all but the most demanding or critical of situations. Of course, practically speaking, so put down those knives already.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus: Ultra wondrous video
In video mode, now there’s even more smoothness to be gained from the 4K @60fps and while this will literally eat through your storage space, it’s almost hypnotic to watch footage captured at this resolution.
So natural and fluid are the movements that you tend to forget that it’s a video taken by a pocketable device and Apple has done it for slow-motion too, bumping up the resolution to 1080p. You spitting on your sister can become a lifelong memory. Or not.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus: Sound sense
Sonically, the engineers have worked a miracle. Most of us never even consider this an issue because until now, the sound coming out of the tiny speaker on a smartphone has been insignificant. But here, you can actually enjoy a demanding music track without going for the Volume down button.
It’s not just significantly louder, but it player deeper and with more definition and control. Alt-J’s 3WW is a testing track with complex bass notes was enjoyable and I never thought I’d say that about a smartphone!
Apple iPhone 8 Plus: Hardcores
Open the bonnet and you’ll find enough processing power to run a remote ISS operation. The new A11 Bionic is the same processor as on the upcoming iPhone X too, making this the greatest silicon Apple has ever made for a smartphone. Six cores, of which four are efficiency oriented and two are for performance and if need be, all six are called upon by the CPU simultaneously in a seamless fashion that reminds us why Apple never reveals battery specs.
Power seems to be managed really well and after a full day of use, I still had more than 20% battery life. Speaking of which, the new glass back has given it wireless charging capabilities and the Belkin Qi charger that was used to charge the iPhone 8 Plus, took about three hours to do so from nought.
The new phones are also Fast Charge compatible, should you be willing to shell out more on a specific charger and cable combo. Performance wise, iOS11 runs like butter in a hot pan and every app that you open, feels nimble on its feet. Games, video, camera, scrolling through endless videos…nothing fazes it and is sure to top our benchmark tests when we update the review.
Sure, it does get a bit warm around the back but nothing we haven’t come to expect from a flagship device running on full throttle. It never gets so hot that you need to keep it down for a few minutes and certainly didn’t stall or hang due to overheating.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus: Verdict
I would’ve liked the shift to USB-C with the new generation iPhones though and it's surprising they bailed out on this one. Their own MacBooks can’t charge the iPhone without a dongle and for a company that prides itself in complete control and percolation of technologies, this seems kinda odd.
Still, as a flagship device, the iPhone 8 Plus is a fantastic device that never lets you feel shortchanged. It feels expensive and it feels capable. That’s is ultimately what the consumer pays for. Touch ID is and may become a deal maker for a lot of people who are sceptical about the first generation facial recognition on the iPhone X and that will help the iPhone 8 sail through another year without getting a major plastic surgery.
It may live under the shadow of the iPhone X during the holiday season but for now, it remains the king of the hill. And for all good reason, may continue being the more practical iPhone for many even after the X comes along.