The iPhone X admittedly stole the show at Apple’s big fall event, but it’s going to be difficult to get your hands on one; Apple isn’t likely to make a huge amount of them and the rumors say that shipping delays could bleed into early 2018. Also, it’s going to feel like something very different from your current iPhone. If you’re looking to buy a new iPhone sooner than later, the iPhone 8 Plus ($799+) is your safest bet. It’s an upgraded iPhone that feels familiar. No need to learn how to cope without a home button.
The Good: Upgraded with the A11 Bionic chip, the iPhone 8 Plus makes the apps you use every day feel smoother and faster. The camera is noticeably better than last year’s already great iPhone 7 Plus. The display’s True Tone technology makes text easier to read in and out of doors. And HDR support means it’s an even better Netflix-binging machine.
Who It’s For: People who want the best iPhone that also still feels like an iPhone. (The lack of a home button and the new swipe gestures on the iPhone X will take some getting used to.) Everything about the iPhone 8 Plus is as good or better than the iPhone 7 Plus.
Watch Out For: The iPhone 8 Plus isn’t a revolutionary upgrade over last year’s iPhone 7 Plus. It looks and feels largely the same. The A11 Bionic chip is optimized for AR apps, and there aren’t many great ones (yet). If you already have an iPhone 7 Plus, the 8 Plus’s new features probably won’t justify the upgrade. Also, because there’s no wireless charger included with your purchase, you probably won’t utilize the phone’s wireless charging capabilities unless you go out of your way to do so.
Alternatives: You can get older iPhones for less. The iPhone 7 Plus ($669) and the smaller iPhone 7 ($549) are still great phones. There’s the iPhone 6S ($449) and iPhone 6S Plus ($549), too. If you’re willing to pay more, and likely wait longer, the iPhone X ($999) will soon overtake the iPhone 8 Plus as the best smartphone by Apple.
The Verdict: The fact that the new iPhones don’t boast some revolutionary new design might actually play in their favor. Why? Because you won’t have to relearn how to use an iPhone. The iPhone X doesn’t have a home button or Touch ID, so navigating between apps requires you to learn a whole new set of swipe gestures. This isn’t the case with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus; both of them look and work very similarly to their predecessors.
Hands On: If you compare specs between the two generations of iPhones, you probably won’t be impressed. The iPhone 7 Plus and the 8 Plus both have the same dual 12MP rear camera systems with one optical image stabilizer, a 7MP front camera and a 1,920 x 1,080 display. They also share the same dimensions, meaning you can use your old case on the new phone. But there are plenty of differences that justify the price bump from the 7 Plus ($669+) to the 8 Plus ($799+).
Along with the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus is the first iPhone since 2011’s 4S to be glass rather than aluminum. The extra glass means it’s grippier, slightly heavier and, yes, more likely to crack if dropped. The big advantage of the glass is it lets the iPhone 8 Plus wirelessly charge via Qi — the first iPhones to adopt this tech. Samsung devices have been able to wirelessly charge for years, so this addition isn’t super innovative. And while the ability to charge your iPhone at every Starbucks is nice, I still found myself charging the 8 Plus the old-fashioned way; I have so many Lightning cords lingering around my apartment and office, it’s automatic. And, as mentioned, Apple doesn’t include a wireless charging pad with your purchase; the one I used, from Belkin, costs $60.
The camera is the big differentiator. Despite similar specs, the rear-facing camera on the iPhone 8 Plus is noticeably better than the iPhone 7 Plus’s.
Apple claims that the A11 Bionic chip in the 8 and 8 Plus is a massive upgrade on last year’s A10 Fusion chip: 70 percent faster multitasking, 30 percent faster graphics and 25 percent faster CPU performance. After using the iPhone 8 Plus for several weeks, I believe it. The new processor enables the 8 Plus to be efficient, so it can squeeze the same battery life out of a slightly smaller battery, and it helps run power-intensive augmented-reality apps like Ikea Place, which lets you virtually place furniture in your house to see how it looks, and Sky Guide AR, which shows you where the constellations and planets are when you hold your phone up to the sky.
The camera is the big differentiator. Despite similar specs, the rear-facing camera on the 8 Plus is noticeably better than the 7 Plus’s. It has an improved sensor that allows the camera to take sharper, better photos in low-light. Portrait Mode on the iPhone 8 Plus is also slightly better thanks to the addition of Portrait Lighting modes; basically, the camera uses AI to recognize your face, then recreate a studio lighting effect. It’s neat, but I found that a few of these, specifically the Stage Light and Stage Light Mono modes, often made the subjects of my photos look like caricatures. Apple says that the Portrait Lighting modes will get better with future software updates.
Both the 8 and 8 Plus can shoot 4K video at up to 60 fps and slow motion at 240 fps in 1080p, while the 7 and 7 Plus were only capable of capturing 4K at up to 30 fps and slow motion at 240 fps in 720p. So if you’re into video, the new generation of iPhones are a reasonable improvement.
There are a few other upgrades worth mentioning. Like the iPad Pro, the 8 and 8 Plus boast True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the screen’s color tones according to your environment so that text is easier to read. Both these smartphones are also the first iPhones to support both Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards. If you watch shows on your phone via services like Netflix, iTunes or Amazon Video, all of which support HDR content, then you’ll be happy about this. (The new speakers are a nice touch, too.)
The iPhone 8 Plus is an excellent smartphone, plain and simple. The similarities between it and the iPhone 7 Plus might mean you don’t have to upgrade; last year’s iPhones are still great. If you have an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus, however, this upgrade will seem huge, and if the improvements to the cameras and displays are calling out to you, you’ll probably want them regardless.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The iPhone 8 Plus shares a powerful foundation with the iPhone 8, but a few features give it a distinct advantage over its little brother. Its 12-megapixel dual camera is one of the best we’ve used, and its bigger battery means it’ll stick around longer on a charge than the iPhone 8.” — Chris Velazco, Engadget
• “Far from being boring, iPhone 8 is the quintessence of 10 years of iPhone design. It is iconic, delivers everything we have grown to expect from the brand, and is a traditional and time-tested counterpoint to the new-fangled iPhone X.” — Jonny Evans, Computerworld
• “The 8 Plus is exactly what you’d expect: a better 7 Plus. Basically, the 7S Plus. Despite all the under-the-hood improvements on paper, this is more like driving a familiar car with a new engine. Nothing is stopping you from buying the 8 Plus right now. And if you do that, you’re getting an excellent iPhone. One of the best ever.” — Scott Stein, CNET
Display: 5.5-inch Retina HD (1920 x 1080 resolution)
Processing Chip: A11 Bionic
Front-Facing Camera: 7MP (f/2.2)
Rear-Facing Camera: 12MP wide (f/1.8) and 12MP telephoto (f/2.8)
Water Resistance: IP67
Noteworthy Features: True Tone display, wireless charging, HDR support, 4K video at up to 60 fps, slow motion at 240 fps in HD