Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: iPhone X power in a friendly, familiar (and cheaper) package
The iPhone 8 Plus, launched in September 2017, is the second-best phone you can get from Apple. It offers most of the features in the top-of-the-line iPhone X, but in familiar hardware. Two months after the 8 Plus' release, the X would mark the first major design upgrade from Apple in years, but change -- and a high price tag -- was hard to swallow for some.
Since its release, the 8 Plus has held onto its spot as the iPhone with the most features for your money. But with rumors swirling around three potential new iPhones, including an affordable option, it will likely be dethroned this September.
Check out CNET's best smartphones for more information on competitive products.
The original review of the iPhone 8 Plus -- published on December 22, 2017 and which mostly remains unchanged -- follows.
The 8 Plus isn't "the best iPhone you can buy," as the larger Plus phones have been since Apple started its "regular and extra large" iPhone releases in 2014. And it's no longer the only big-screen iPhone. The iPhone X is a step above the 8 Plus in a lot of ways, with some extra camera features, a great size-to-body ratio, a vivid OLED display, and a surprisingly functional Face ID camera that replaces the home button. Of course, it's also more expensive.
But, don't sleep on the 8 Plus. The 8 Plus feels a lot bigger than the compact X, and its design has barely changed from previous iPhone Plus models. But its powerful performance, still-excellent cameras, and roomy, standard-shaped screen -- which maximizes all existing iPhone apps and includes a few iPad-like features not available on the X -- makes it the old-school, "get it done" veteran of Apple's iPhone lineup.
2017 iPhone pricing (64GB, 256GB)
|iPhone 8 Plus
This big, capable phone includes all of the features of the smaller iPhone 8 -- including wireless charging, the True Tone screen and that same superfast A11 Bionic processor you'll find in the X. But, like last year's iPhone 7 Plus , you get a larger 5.5-inch screen, water resistance and -- most critically -- an excellent dual rear camera with 2x optical zoom, upgraded for 2017 with an all-new image sensor. That camera, already great a year ago, has gotten even more refined and fantastic-looking. In the weeks since the 8 Plus release, it's impressed both CNET Senior Photographer James Martin and me. And while the camera on the iPhone X is a bit better, the difference is more one of inches than miles, as Lexy Savvides and Vanessa Hand Orellana found in their deep-dive comparison.
While the upgrades for existing 7 Plus owners are minimal (beyond wireless charging), the 8 Plus is worth the premium over the 8 to get the dual cameras, larger display, and a battery life that still beats out the iPhone X. It feels like a large workhorse next to the iPhone X, a traditional phone... but a powerful one. And, perhaps, one that some will prefer over the X.
Now that I've lived with both phones for weeks, I prefer the more hand-friendly iPhone X. But I think the 8 Plus is still a fantastic package, and a great chance to get onboard with Apple's newest processors without making the full move (financially and ergonomically) to Apple's new iPhone designs.
Editors' note, Dec. 22: This review has been updated to add a battery rating, and a discussion of how battery life compares across 2017 iPhones. A November 16 update added extensive comparisons of the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X, as well as photo comparisons to the Pixel 2.
Design: Once again (mostly) the same
To reiterate: The iPhone 8 Plus has all of the same basic features as the new iPhone 8, except for its larger size, slightly better battery life (in our everyday real-life use) and better cameras. If you want a deeper dive into those main new details of the 2017 iPhones, check out our iPhone 8 review.
As far as the Plus design goes, it's deja vu all over again. The iPhone 8 Plus looks identical to the 7 Plus, but it does feel different, thanks to a move to a glossy glass back. Apple's construction process this time uses stronger aluminum body accents, steel reinforcement inside and metal highlights around the camera lens. There are only three colors this time: white with silver highlights, glossy black and space gray, and a blush pink-like gold that feels rose-goldish.
Camera: Stellar shots, even better video
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is a great camera. The new Pixel 2 is a great camera. Apple used to have an untouchable lead in camera quality, but now many phones take excellent photos. And that's why Apple has once again raised the bar on its camera.
The 8 Plus includes a new sensor and image signal processor to go with its new A11 Bionic chip, promising richer colors, better low-light shots and faster autofocus. My photos generally turned out great. Low-light gains aren't as dramatic as I expected compared to the already excellent iPhone 7 Plus, but the photos I've been taking have generally looked phenomenal.
Portrait Mode, which debuted last year, now supports flash photography and HDR (on the 7 Plus, too, with iOS 11 ). The 8 Plus and the X add a new photo technique called Portrait Lighting, a beta feature that adds simulated 3D lighting to faces and even strips out backgrounds to create a studio-shot effect. My mileage varied: Sometimes the effect was stunning, but other times it looked very fake and weirdly clipped. I wouldn't upgrade my phone for it, but it can be fun to toy with. It will undoubtedly get better.
At sunset around my home, comparison shots between the 7 Plus and 8 Plus weren't that easy to tell apart until it was nearly dark. The new slow-syncing flash that promises richer flash photos didn't have a huge impact for me so far, but I need to keep trying it out. But see for yourself: the camera takes damn good photos, and colors do seem enhanced. That can also mean more details. HDR was improved when shooting sun-drenched clouds.
As I mentioned, James Martin used the Plus, too, and as a professional photographer is maybe even more impressed than I am. Instead of new lenses or a really different hardware camera, the software and processing inside are making the photos better. He was impressed by the low noise in low-light photos, the color rendering and the texture representation.
As opposed to traditional camera companies -- the Nikons, Canons and Fujis of the world -- he sees Apple's advances in applying the iPhone's powerful CPU to the photo process to be the most stunning concepts at play. "Apple is doing things in computational photography that the traditional companies have neglected," he says.
Video looks fantastic, and the switch to new photo and video formats enables 4K video recording at 60 frames per second, or slow-motion in 1080p and 240 frames per second. Slow motion looks particularly stunning. That said, while the 8 Plus excelled in low-light video capture, CNET's Lexy Savvides found that the single lens of the Pixel 2 nudged past it on certain tasks when she compared them head to head.
As great as the 8 Plus camera is, the iPhone X is a bit better. On the X, both rear cameras have optical image stabilzation (OIS) -- versus just the main one on the Plus -- and the X's telephoto lens has a better f/2.4 aperture, versus this phone's f/2.8. It means slightly clearer, better photos in low light, and improved low-light Portrait Mode photos, too. The X also has Portrait Mode features on its front-facing TrueDepth camera, too. That makes the X the best iPhone camera package right now, but the 8 Plus offers most of the best features (minus the selfie portrait effects).
What can the A11 Bionic chip do? (Hint: AR)
Apple's new A11 chips (and new motion processors, graphics, camera sensors and image signal processing) are similar across the 8, 8 Plus and X, according to Apple. Our benchmarks bore that out, with nearly identical performance across all three phones. However, the X and the 8 Plus each have 3GB of RAM versus 2GB on the iPhone 8.
The six-core processor has two fast cores plus four low-power cores, and multitasking tests show a big leap over last year. The test results in Geekbench 4 crushed all other phones, notably even Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835. It's a major, major speed upgrade: Expect double the multitasking speed of the A10 in the 8 models.
iPhone 2017 benchmarks
|iPhone 8 Plus
|Geekbench 4 single-core
|Geekbench 4 multi-core
|3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
(Each number above is an average of three runs on iOS 11.1)
Apple's plan for the chip is to use it for onboard machine learning like iOS does with photo libraries, and for third-party apps to use. Also, augmented reality: iOS 11 has AR apps now, although you don't need a new iPhone to use them (they're supported back to iPhone 6S ). The ARKit tech does some astonishing things, floating virtual objects into the real world like Google's Tango AR tech also did a year ago.
iPhone 8 Plus vs. iPhone 8 vs. iPhone X
The iPhone 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X are only available in 64GB and 256GB storage tiers. For an extra $100, £100 or AU$150 per storage tier versus the iPhone 8, the 8 Plus gets you the same proposition as the 7 Plus a year ago: a larger screen, better dual cameras, better battery. Read my guide on deciding which iPhone to pick.
The iPhone X, for a step up in price, will get you:
- A higher-resolution 5.8-inch OLED display -- larger, albeit taller and narrower than the Plus models
- Better front-facing camera with depth sensing and animoji support
- A better rear telephoto camera
- A smaller chassis
- Face ID, but no home button
- Otherwise, the iPhone X offers everything the 8 Plus does
Again, with the 8 Plus, you get most -- but not all -- of innards of the iPhone X without the new design, screen and external features.
Battery life: 8, 8 Plus or X?
You probably already know the drill with new iPhones and battery life: for the most part, year after year, they don't tend to make massive gains. In fact, the 2017 iPhones (8 Plus, 8) actually have smaller batteries than their 2016 counterparts (7 Plus, 7), albeit the exact same battery life expectations (per Apple) because of the newer models' more efficient chips.
Indeed, Apple never claimed marathon battery life for the iPhone X, either. Its published battery specifications are equal to that of the iPhone 8 on Internet use (12 hours) and wireless video playback (13 hours), while the 8 Plus is rated for an hour more on each task. Meanwhile, the X and 8 Plus rank considerably higher than the 8 on talk time and wireless audio playback (21 and 60 hours on the larger iPhones versus 14 and 40 on the iPhone 8, respectively).
In our video playback test, which loops a video while in airplane mode, the iPhone X actually fared the worst. The iPhone 8 Plus is a bit better on battery life from the 8, but it's really a subtle bump up. In all cases, the iPhones fared notably lower than other top-tier Android phones on similar tests.
Note that tests by Tom's Guide and the Wall Street Journal found the X battery landed squarely in between the 8 and and the Plus. We're continuing to test battery life on these iPhones as part of a longer analysis of wireless charging, and will update our scores if we see notable changes.
iPhone battery life (video playback test)
|iPhone 8 Plus
In real life, we're not continuously offline watching a nonstop video. Anecdotal everyday use tells a bit of a different story. I found the iPhone X battery to be fine for a solid day's use, and at least as good as the iPhone 8. But, I also found I needed to charge it up by midday to be safe. The same is true to some extent even with the 8 and 8 Plus. I still don't feel like iPhones can last me more than a day, or even just a full day without a bit of a charging top-off. Bottom line: I'd love for future iPhones to fare better.
Read our full take on the battery life of the 2017 iPhones for more information.
A great, safe choice
Seriously, some people don't want their go-to devices to change and feel different. And I mean it sincerely: if you're that person, then the iPhone 8 Plus is the best choice. It's every bit the performance beast of the iPhone X, and in some ways (like battery) it comes out on top. Every app in Apple's App Store works perfectly on the 8 Plus screen, which isn't the case yet with iPhone X. And there's no new interface to learn.
That being said, the iPhone X is the best iPhone... if you can afford it, and you like the feel of something new. Maybe you don't. Maybe you want a screen for reading and watching videos that feels as big as possible. Maybe you think of your phone as a mini tablet.
If that's you, the 8 Plus will probably make you happiest. It's the less exciting pick, but a fine safety pick for a workhorse phone. Just get ready for an iPhone future where more models end up looking like X.