The Good:Fantastic dual-lens camera shoots better than ever with improved portrait mode. Adds wireless charging. Lightning-fast speed. Starts at 64GB.
The Bad: Dated design. Most competing Android phones have even larger screens. Upcoming iPhone X could be a more compelling choice.
The Bottom Line:The iPhone 8 Plus is a superlative phone with a spectacular camera, but wait for the upcoming iPhone X before buying: it promises to fold all of the key features of the 8 Plus into a smaller, sexier package.
Apple’s fanciest iPhone isn’t here yet. But the innards of that fancy iPhone X ($999.99 at Apple)already exist — mostly, anyway — inside a phone you can get right now: the iPhone 8 Plus.
The iPhone X will arrive on Nov. 3, complete with the overdue, wild redesign we’ve been waiting on for years. It’s almost all screen, with Apple’s first ever OLED display and largest ever 5.8-inch size, crammed into a body that’s not too much larger than the 4.7-inch iPhones. The X boasts dual rear cameras, both with optical image stabilization, plus wireless charging, and tops it off with a blazing fast six-core A11 Bionic processor. And, controversially, the iPhone X includes a cutting-edge Face ID scanner that replaces the iconic Touch ID home button.
The iPhone X will cost a thousand dollars in the US, and we expect it to be in short supply. Indeed, if Apple could actually make enough of the X, the iPhone 8 Plus might not even exist at all. But the company needs a big-screen iPhone that you can actually buy, more or less at the same price as its predecessor.
2017 IPHONE PRICING (64GB, 256GB)
iPhone 8 & 8 Plus Price in China (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, longer battery life 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. I’ve been using it for nearly a week and so has CNET Senior Photographer James Martin. We’re both impressed.
But with the X on the horizon, the Plus is no longer “the best iPhone you can buy,” as it has been since Apple started its “regular and extra large” iPhone releases in 2014. And it’s no longer the only big-screen iPhone. In fact, except for the Touch ID home button, the X literally has everything the 8 Plus offers, and more.
Still, the 8 Plus is here now, and the X is weeks away. And 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 longer battery life.
Yes, the iPhone 8 Plus is still an excellent phone, and if you love the size and the home button, this is the best Plus-size iPhone to date. But I’d wait to see what the X can do, and how it feels. It may be well worth spending a bit more — just a few bucks a month, if you’re on an installment plan — to get the iPhone X.
Or maybe you’ll think its taller, narrower design is awkward compared to the Plus. Maybe you’ll just prefer the familiarity of Touch ID to the unknowns of Face ID. Nobody knows yet.
But you’ve waited this long. Why not wait a little longer?
Editors’ note: In-depth battery testing is still to come, as is durability testing and additional photo comparisons to other phones. Ratings are provisional until those tests are completed.
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, better battery life 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. Last year’s Google Pixel 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 upcoming 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 has been using 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.
As great as the 8 Plus camera is, here’s the rub: the X, on paper, is better. On the X, both rear cameras will have optical image stabilzation (OIS) — versus just the main one on the Plus — and the X’s telephoto lens will have a better f/2.4 aperture, versus this phone’s f/2.8. The X will get the Portrait Mode features on its front-facing TrueDepth camera, too. It’s yet another reminder that you should wait to see what the X has in store.
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. In our benchmarks, we saw a slight boost in the clock speed of the 8 Plus’ A11, and the 8 Plus has 3GB of RAM versus 2GB on the iPhone 8. We don’t know about the iPhone X’s performance yet, but Apple promises a similar speed.
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.
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.
But I haven’t been able to test ARKit apps on older models of iPhones for comparison yet. How much better are the new iPhones at AR than older iPhones? I can’t tell. And, considering that AR is a novelty to begin with, you might not either. AR alone is not a reason to upgrade from an iPhone 7. But the possibilities in a chip this fast are really great. The next iPad’s going to be insane.
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.
I can’t yet tell you if the iPhone X will be better. But you will get:
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.
WHY YOU SHOULD WAIT
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.
But what about the sportier-looking car called the iPhone X?
Is it worth the extra $200? Is the camera demonstrably better? Is Face ID all it’s cracked up to be? Will you miss Touch ID and the home button you’ve known for years?
Honestly, we can’t make that determination yet. I only held the iPhone X for a few minutes at Apple’s Sept. 12 launch event. Its size felt great, but I didn’t get to do much with it. And I didn’t get to test Face ID.
Between the iPhone X, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and the upcoming Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL — being unveiled Oct. 4 — there are plenty of top-end phones to consider. We still have more in-depth tests to run on the new iPhone’s battery life, camera comparisons and durability of that new glass body.
While the 8 Plus is great, I can’t tell you if it’s the best phone — or even the best iPhone — of 2017.
Even if you hate to wait, I suggest that you should wait. In a few more weeks, we’ll have a much more definitive answer.