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Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review: A better choice than the X?

4.5

The Good

  • Powerhouse
  • Sleek new design
  • Wireless charging
  • Smart integrated software

The Bad

  • No HDR display
  • Still pricey

While the iPhone X is a true evolution of Apple’s smartphone, the iPhone 8 Plus is a more straightforward 2017 update of last year’s 7 Plus. Still, with its upgraded camera tech, shiny glass jacket and wireless charging abilities, the already great Plus-sized mobile just got even better.

This is the first year that the Plus model of iPhone finds itself lurking in the shadows of another Apple handset, rather than stealing all of the spotlight for itself.

At September’s massive iPhone 8 launch event in the shiny new Steve Jobs Theatre, the Cupertino tech giant launched a third mobile: the iPhone X. This tenth anniversary celebratory device is the major update that many fans were clamouring for, delivering a gorgeous HDR-ready screen that practically fills the front, similar to Samsung’s brilliant Galaxy S8; although several other tweaks such as the introduction of Face ID are just as intriguing.

Sporting a similar form factor but the more familiar iPhone design of yesteryear is the iPhone 8 Plus. This is now a piggy-in-the-middle handset, offering a size bump and smarter camera tech over the standard iPhone 8, while lacking the Super Retina Display and seriously slimline bezels of that special edition device.

Of course, the iPhone 8 Plus is still quite a pricey smartphone, even though it’s no longer the most premium Apple offering. You’ll need to pay £800 SIM-free (£950 for the 256GB model), or from roughly £40 per month on contract, if you want this 5.5-inch handset with dual-lens camera and wireless charging support as your new blower.

So is the 8 Plus a worthy upgrade for existing Apple customers? We’ve been using it as our full-time smartphone for a week, so here’s our in-depth review. For everything else you need to know, head on over to our full iPhone 8 and 8 Plus hub.

Apple iPhone 8 vs iPhone 8 Plus vs iPhone X, what’s the difference?

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Best deals on the iPhone 8 Plus

Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review: Design

Check it out from the front and you’ll struggle to tell the iPhone 8 Plus apart from last year’s Apple handset. The screen is surrounded by a black border and glossy white bezels, and unlike the X model, you still get a TouchID sensor squeezed in beneath that display. Those corners are still pleasingly rounded, with tinted metal surfacing separating the front edge from the back. Button layout is identical also, while the bottom edge is still home to the Lightning port and symmetrical speaker grille.

However, flip the iPhone over and things have really changed. Gone is that traditional aluminium backing, replaced instead with a coloured plate of glass. That’s the same kind of finish favoured by Samsung and several other phone manufacturers, and it certainly helps to freshen up this handset’s looks. Thankfully the iPhone 8 Plus’ glossy surface effectively masks greasy prints too, something that can really ruin the aesthetics of rival blowers.

Just as reassuring is the hardiness of that glass. After all, what good is a snazzy, sexy new design if you have to wrap it up in a bulky case to keep it intact? A bit of rough handling hasn’t left a lasting impression on our review sample, although we still get a little jittery when using the 8 Plus without protection. After all, the 256GB model costs the best part of a grand.

You certainly don’t need to be nervous when checking your Facebook in the bath or messaging your bestie in a rainstorm, though. Like last year’s models, the iPhone 8 Plus is once again fully water resistant.

Of course, this handset should only be considered if you don’t mind a device that easily fills even quite baggy pockets. It’s about the same size as Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and other mighty mobiles, so one-handed use is rather tricky; even with a bit of help from iOS 11 on board. At a shade over 200g, the Plus certainly isn’t light either.

What works?

The glass redesign is a welcome breath of fresh air, even if the 8 Plus lacks the ‘wow’ factor of the special edition model. That new glass finish masks fingerprints and dust magnificently and seems pretty hardy too, with added water resistance.

What doesn’t?

One handed use can be quite tricky, as usual, despite a couple of helpful features inside of iOS 11. And as durable as the glass back appears, we’re still scared not to wrap up the phone in a case.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review: Screen and media

One thing that hasn’t really changed compared with last year’s model is the iPhone 8 Plus’ 5.5-inch Retina display. Once again this is a Full HD panel which maxes out at 625 nits, meaning crisp images and retina-flaming brightness levels.

As you’d expect from a premium Apple device, that screen is absolutely stunning to look at. Accurate colour reproduction means you get a different experience here compared with the OLED panels on Samsung’s rival sets, although vivid hues certainly still pop. We’d struggle to say that one effect is better than the other; it’s all down to personal preference, as ever.

One of the only real differences with the 8 Plus panel is the support for Apple's True Tone tech, which basically alters the colour warmth depending on environmental conditions. It's very similar to Night Shift, except that it adapts in real time to how well lit your surroundings are. It kind of works too, although the difference is very subtle.

Of course, we’ve been spoiled rotten with a slew of fantastic media machines this year, with the likes of the Galaxy S8 Plus, Sony Xperia XZ Premium and LG G6 serving up incredible visuals; weary travellers can now enjoy a better viewing experience on their mobiles than from their home TVs. And while the iPhone 8 Plus can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the competition for impressive imaging, you don’t get an HDR-ready panel as you do on those other devices.

Since the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are now offering HDR content for smartphones to stream, that’s a real shame. Take note that the iPhone 8 Plus will still play HDR shows and movies from these services, so it technically ‘supports’ the format, although you won’t get the same visual feast. If you want a future-proof media monster, you’ll need to splash out at least a grand for the mighty iPhone X instead, which does come packing an HDR screen.

Once again you don’t get a headphone jack, nor is there a Lightning port adapter bundled in the box. Of course, we had no trouble using Bluetooth ‘phones with the 8 Plus, while the built-in speakers are undeniably powerful. You’ll have to knock down the volume when listening to thrash metal to avoid distortion, while dance music lacks any kind of bassy punch as you’d expect from a smartphone speaker. However, it certainly does the job when listening to podcasts or watching videos in a noisy environment.

If you’d rather download and carry around your media instead of streaming it, to trim down those contract costs, then you’ll be glad to hear that the base iPhone 8 Plus packs in 64GB of storage. Thanks to iOS 11’s new HEIF file format for photos, this space fills a lot less quickly than before too. You can choose to upgrade to 256GB of space for an extra £150, although there’s no microSD support as usual, so forget about future expansion.

What works?

The iPhone 8 Plus’ spacious screen serves up crisp, accurate visuals, with a super-powerful maximum brightness. Audio quality is strong and the lack of expandable storage is becoming less of an issue, thanks to the generous built-in space and more efficient photo storage.

What doesn’t?

At this price point we’d expect to see an HDR-ready display, while the 8 Plus merely ‘supports’ this video content.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review: Features and OS

Moving onto the software side and iOS 11, which is the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system designed specifically for iPhones and iPads.

Although it was Apple’s tablet that received the most love with this iOS 11 update, we’re warming more and more to the software experience on the smaller screen. Of course, how much you actually get out of the Cupertino company’s own apps depends on how deep you’ve dug into the Apple ecosystem. For instance, AirPlay 2 allows you to set up a pretty neat multi-room speaker system, with Siri-powered voice control, as long as you have compatible speakers. Health does a great job of tracking your vitals, although only when paired with an Apple Watch. And you can quickly and easily share photos and other fun stuff with the rest of the family, if you’ve all got a bit of iCloud on the go.

Still, even without, we’ve found that iOS 11 makes the iPhone 8 Plus quite satisfying to use. To cite one example, Apple has added a shortcut for squashing the keyboard up, for easier one-handed use; that’s on top of the usual TouchID wizardry to shrink your desktops towards the bottom of the display. Definitely an essential feature for Plus users.

Quite a lot of Apple’s own apps have also received a spit shine, including Photos and Maps - although some of the new bits, such as indoor mapping of malls, are really for US-based users only.

Check out our complete guide to IOS 11 and our in-depth iPhone tips and tricks guide for all you need to know about the software side.

What works?

Apple’s iOS is stuffed with great features and smart enough to allow seamless control over your home appliances, accessories and the rest.

What doesn’t?

You really need to embed yourself in Apple’s ecosystem to get the most from iOS, which certainly isn’t cheap.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review: Performance and battery life

These here iPhones have never been lacking when it comes to performance and the 8 Plus is certainly no slouch. Apple’s new A11 ‘Bionic’ chipset is a sizeable step up from last year’s A10 and can handle anything you throw at it, with considerable ease.

The latest games look fantastic thanks to the Metal 2 support, while AR experiences are now also available with iOS 11. So far that AR functionality is limited to the likes of furniture and fashion planning via the likes of IKEA’s app, plus some simple gaming experiences. However, we’re expecting this area to really expand in the near future.

Battery life is pretty much on par with the iPhone 7 Plus and most other big-screen rivals. You can happily make it through a full day on a single charge, even with plenty of music streaming, camera use and messaging on the go. If you’re reasonably restrained you’ll make it into a second day as well, as the battery drain when the display is switched off is pretty low.

Of course, the big whoop about the iPhone 8 Plus is its support for wireless charging, something that’s been a long time coming. Apple has embraced the Qi charging standard, which means you’ll be able to power up your trusty device on the move from the likes of Starbucks and McDonalds. Lots of services are introducing these pads in their stores, so there’ll be no excuse for running out of juice during the day.

Of course, what we’re really holding out for is the funky AirPower mat of Apple’s own design. This will allow you to charge your iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods all at once, meaning you don’t need loads of different cables trailing across your bedside table. Lovely stuff.

What works?

Solid performance and respectable battery life are all par for the course. Plus, the support for wireless charging means added convenience.

What doesn’t?

Very little.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review: Cameras

Jutting out of the back end of the iPhone 8 Plus you’ll spy a similar dual-lens camera setup to last year’s handset. Once again you have a 12-megapixel wide-angle snapper, backed up by a secondary 12-megapixel telephoto lens, which gives you a close-up 2x optical zoom view of your subject.

While the specs remain very similar to the 7 Plus, Apple has made some clear changes in the past 12 months. Photo capture has improved, with cleaner results for moving subjects as well as tweaked night time performance. Meanwhile video recording can be boosted to 4K resolution footage at 60 frames-per-second. Your home movies have never looked so natural.

Check out our in-depth iPhone 8 Plus camera review, complete with side-by-side comparisons with the 7 Plus so you can see the improvements and changes.

What works?

This is undoubtedly one of the best smartphone cameras money can buy, producing impressive results in almost any conditions. Video capture is also fantastic, especially on the top settings.

What doesn’t?

To be honest, not much.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review: Verdict

A lot of people might be holding out for the iPhone X before considering an upgrade, which is only going to hurt early sales of the 8 Plus model. However, a lack of HDR support aside, this is still a solid premium handset that impresses in pretty much every area.

Sure, 7 Plus owners have no real reason to upgrade; the support for wireless charging, updated design and tweaked camera tech are all great, yet far from a good reason to spunk up hundreds of pounds for this device. If you’re still rocking an older iPhone however, or tempted to swing over to Apple’s vine, then the 8 Plus is bound to satisfy.

Interested in buying the iPhone 8 Plus? O2 is offering it and its smaller sibling, the iPhone 8, right now on contract in the UK. Find out more about O2's iPhone 8 plans here and iPhone 8 Plus plans here.

Key Specs

  • 5.5-inches
  • 1920x1080
  • 202g
  • iOS 11
  • 12MP + 12MP telephoto
  • 7MP
  • Apple A11 Bionic
  • 3GB
  • 64/256GB
  • Yes
  • TouchID, Apple Pay, wireless charging

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