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Apple iPhone 8 Plus review:iPhone X power in a friendly, familiar (and cheaper) package

Portrait Mode feels a lot more refined.

Scott Stein/CNET

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).

iPhone 8 Plus
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Floating a realistic human heart in front of me with Insight Heart. ARKit blends graphics into real-world environments using camera and motion sensors.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Benchmark iPhone X iPhone 8 Plus iPhone 8
Geekbench 4 single-core 4,232 4,259 4,196
Geekbench 4 multi-core 10,329 10,394 10,325
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited 63,446 63,229 61,998

(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 ($528 at Amazon)). 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.

That said, AR alone is not a reason to upgrade from an iPhone 7 ($739 at Walmart). But the possibilities in a chip this fast are really great. The next iPad is going to be insane.

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Keep in mind, the X will be as small as the smaller iPhone 8 with a larger display.

Aaron Robinson/CNET

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 13.5 hours
iPhone 8 Plus 13.75 hours
iPhone X 11.45 hours

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. 

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The iPhone X is arriving in November. Would you wait? Are you OK without a home button?

James Martin/CNET

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.

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