When Apple announced the current generation of iPhones this year, the entire event seemed to be a build up to the tenth anniversary iPhone — called the iPhone X (pronounced as iPhone Ten). The upgrades to the iPhone 7/7 Plus were announced in the form of the iPhone 8/8 Plus.
This time around, the iPhone 8/8 Plus somehow got a lot less screen time with the iPhone X taking centre-stage. This is the first time that Apple launched its latest iPhones within a week of the international launch in India (in the case of the iPhone 8/8 Plus). With the iPhone X, it was launched on the same day as the international launch. Clearly, India is a big focus area for the Cupertino giant. And Apple has partnered with a lot of local players such as banks, telecom service providers as well as electronics retailers to ensure the latest iPhones reach many more customers.
So let us see how the phone performs and who it is meant for, considering that the shadow of the iPhone X looms so large over the 8 Plus.
Build and Design: 7.5/10
This is one area that hasn't seen a drastic change. This has been the case for the last three generations at least. The iPhone 6 design is the template which has been refined with every succeeding generation and the iPhone 8 Plus follows the same design language. Place the iPhone 8 Plus beside the iPhone 7 Plus, with the display facing upwards, and you will be at a loss to tell the two phones apart. That's because nothing has changed here. You still get the 5.5-inch Full HD LCD display. The same thick bezels on the top and bottom and thin ones on the sides, with the round fingerprint Touch ID scanner in bottom centre. The phone comes in Gold, Silver and Space Gray colours.
Turn the phone around and that's when you will come to see the differences. The shiny glass back is different from the metal unibody design that we had seen last year with the iPhones. Apple decided to go with a glass back this time to ensure the wireless charging support. The glass back assists with inductive charging on the iPhone 8 Plus.
The phone measures around 7.5 mm thick and it weighs a bit on the heavier side at 202 grams. If you have been an iPhone 7 Plus user, you will immediately notice the increase in weight once you handle the 8 Plus.
The glass in front and back is quite sturdy and thanks to the metal frame, the iPhone 8 Plus boasts of great build quality. The phone did fall a couple of times on the edges during the test duration, and the glass was safe, although we noticed an abrasion at the point where it connected with the ground where it fell. Thanks to the glass back, the iPhone 8 Plus isn't as slippery as it's predecessor and you don't immediately need to encase it with a skin or a cover. The aluminum frame runs around the rounded edges, and thanks to the curvature on the edges, you get a good grip of the phone.
The SIM tray and the power/standby button is present on the right-hand side, whereas the profile switch and the volume rocker buttons are located on the left-hand side. Just like its predecessor, there is no headphone jack on the iPhone 8 Plus. The top edge is clean whereas the bottom edge has a lightning port in the centre for charging and data transfer, surrounded by the speaker grilles. Antenna cuts are seen on the top and the bottom of the side metal edges.
On the rear side, the glass is scratch resistant but it does tend to attract smudges, which are noticeable on the Space Gray colour as opposed to the gold or silver colours. The dual camera module tends to protrude out a bit more prominently than what was seen on the iPhone 7 Plus. The quad-LED flash unit present beside the camera module is placed behind the glass on the rear side. Just like its predecessor, the iPhone 8 Plus also comes with an IP67 certification for water and dust resistance.
All in all, it’s a familiar design with a good build quality. But in an age where its rivals such as Samsung and LG are experimenting with form factors and the displays, the iPhone 8 Plus design definitely looks dated. Of course, the iPhone X takes care of that aspect.
Features: 8.5 / 10
Apple releases limited phones in a year, so the specifications are top of the line for that generation. Of course, if you do apples to oranges comparison with flagship hardware seen on Android smartphones, there is a big gap. That’s because Apple has complete control over its hardware and how it will interface with its software. As similar as the iPhone 8 Plus looks on the outside, it is on the inside that one sees all the changes.
For starters, the iPhone 8 Plus comes with an Apple-made A11 Bionic chip which has six cores inside — two of them are high power cores (code-named Monsoon) and four of them are high-efficiency cores (code-named Mistral). Along with this, you have three cores for the graphics processing unit and an embedded M11 motion co-processor. The 64-bit processor comes with a second generation Apple Design Performance Controller which will allow all the six cores of the Bionic processor to be used independently. Also, the neural engine inside the A11 Bionic chip speeds up machine learning tasks.
The chipset is paired with 3 GB RAM and the model I got for testing has 256 GB storage. Like all Apple iPhones before it, there is no scope for expanding the storage. Apple iOS 11 is the operating system out of the box.
The iPhone 8 Plus comes with a 12 MP dual camera setup with one camera having an f/1.8 aperture for a 28 mm lens and another camera having f/2.8 aperture for 56 mm focal length. On the front you have the 7 MP Retina HD camera which comes with an f/2.2 lens and is capable of shooting 1080p videos at 30 fps. The rear camera is capable of shooting 4K video at 60 fps and slo-mo videos at 1080p with 240 fps. Cameras will be discussed deeply in the camera section below.
On the connectivity front, you have a single nano SIM slot, Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth v5.0, GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, NFC is present only for Apple Pay which is yet to come to India. There is no FM Radio.
The display has undergone some changes. While you still get the 5.5-inch Full HD LCD panel, you now get the TrueTone display. Currently seen on the iPad Pros, the True Tone display adjusts the white-balance of the display according to the ambient lighting. It is activated by default, and you have the option to disable it. The change seen from the display of the iPhone 7 Plus is really subtle.
True Tone display will be seen on the iPhone 8/8 Plus as well as the iPhone X, and it is safe to assume that this will be a default feature going forward on all iPhones. This is different from the Night Shift mode, which tends to cut out the blue light emanating from the phone display, closer to your bedtime.
Sunlight legibility of the phone is quite good and as you move from a dark indoors area to sunny outdoors, the transition of the brightness of the display is really smooth without you having to wait long for the display adjust to the surroundings. Text display is sharp. Watching videos on the display is a pleasure with a good contrast ratio. There is really nothing to complain with the display as such. And it continues to have the best LCD display on a smartphone around.
For more information on the display's HDR capabilities, head over to our iPhone 8 review.
OS and Software: 8.5 / 10
The Apple iPhone 8 Plus comes loaded with the iOS 11 operating system which has brought with it a boatload of new features. We have covered iOS 11 in detail in the past, so I will not be repeating the same thing, but would just focus on the interesting aspects.
Augmented Reality is certainly the main draw with this version of iOS and the App Store has a designated section for AR apps, some free and some paid. I used the Night Sky, Human Anatomy Atlas 2018 which were certainly impressive in terms of the value addition. The scope for educational apps, along with gaming apps with the ARKit support is immense.
The App Store has gone a complete revamp and looks a lot less congested. I liked the magazine-style appearance of the App Store which gives a lot more insights into new and interesting apps. Featured apps under the Today section goes much beyond just app screenshots and pithy descriptors. There is a ‘Game of the Day’ and ‘App of the Day’ for the app nerds out there.
In terms of design language also we see a change in the app icon design, fonts have become a lot more bold and thicker. It will take some time getting used to the new changes, if you are just moving from iOS 10 to iOS 11. Siri has been enhanced with features such as real-time translations, auto-suggestions and more.
There is finally a ‘File Manager’ on iOS 11, which is basically a second coming of the iCloud Drive app. This has been a feature that has been present on Android ecosystem for generations now. And in a typically Apple fashion, you do not get access to each and every folder as you do in Android. The app brings all the files together, for both locally stored files as well as files stored on cloud services. The listing of files includes files stored on iCloud as well as third-party cloud hosting services such as Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and others. Files stored locally on one device will be available on other Apple devices where the user has signed in with the same Apple ID. For a better organisation, the files can be tagged. The tags are colour coded and individual files can be tagged with multiple tags.
Overall, this is a good update as it makes a lot of value additions. There have been issues cropping up though and Apple has been promptly releasing new updates. The most prominent update was 11.0.2 which got rid of that annoying crackling sound effect in the earpiece speaker.
This is one area where the Apple iPhone 8 Plus truly shines. It simply blows all the Android flagship competition to smithereens. Over the years, we have noticed that Apple iPhones have been offering stellar single core Geekbench scores. But with the A11 Bionic chip which lets all six cores operate independently, the Geekbench scores are staggering. There is an almost 80 percent increase in the multi-core performance numbers as compared to the iPhone 7 Plus. The graphics processing numbers are equally impressive, and this shows in the 3D games that we played on the iPhone 8 Plus such as Real Racing 3, War Hammer 40,000, among others. There’s barely any frame drops that’s noticeable. And the iPhone 8 Plus manages the heat well, ensuring that it does not get unbearably hot or cause random shutdown of apps.
This generation of iPhones supports ARKit, which is Apple’s foray into making augmented reality more mainstream. The few AR apps that we tried out — Human Anatomy Atlas 2018, Night Sky, AR Dragon — were quite impressive. The responsiveness of the AR animations is quite good. It is safe to say that AR should become much more mainstream now that it is supported on the iPhones. Call quality is quite good and the earpiece speakers are crisp now. I say now, because in the initial week of testing, there was a crackling sound that was noticeable during calls. An iOS update (11.0.2) resolved that issue. Speakers otherwise are really impressive. You can easily enjoy a YouTube video or a movie on Netflix without earphones in your room. Of course, this is not possible in an office setup or in traffic. The bundled earpods are good, and nothing much has changed there. I still struggle to hear music or podcasts while travelling in the Mumbai locals, due to lack of isolation. But they don’t fall off while I’m on the run or in a rush.
One area that has been a hallmark of all Apple iPhones is the camera. With the iPhone 8 Plus, Apple has stuck with the dual 12 MP sensor with one sensor having a 28 mm lens with f/1.8 aperture and one 56 mm lens with an f/2.8 aperture. Apple says it has added an extra colour filter layer, but there are no technical details available regarding the same. Apple also claims that the pixel size is more with this generation’s iPhone camera, but there is no exact number on the pixel size.
Image quality of the photos shot in daylight is flawless. The colours appear natural, there isn’t any colour cast, focussing is quick as is the switching between wide and telephoto modes. The one thing that stood out for me was the wonderful dynamic range while shooting photos in the daylight. HDR is on by default, and it does a great job of ensuring the image is balanced. There were times when while shooting a scene, the sky looked blown out, but the final image had the blue colour of the sky and the fluffly cloud details. The dynamic range has certainly improved. It is heartening to see that there is no clipping of detail when the scene has heavy-contrast regions. Of course, if you try to shoot a portrait from a beach restaurant with the sunny beach in the background behind you, don’t expect your face to be well lit.
Selfies come out really well with great amount of detail. The skin texture, the detail with the hair is on point, but there were instances where I felt that the dynamic range on the selfies had scope for improvement. Low light performance is certainly better than that seen on the iPhone 7 Plus. Yes, noise is still visible, but it is luminance noise and it is certainly less than the iPhone 7 Plus. We did a comparison shoot-out with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and realised that while the Note 8 was able to offer less noisy photographs, the images had a neutral and true to life tones on the iPhone 8. But the Note 8 impresses with its bright aperture when shooting during night time. The same cannot be said of the front-facing camera of the iPhone 8 Plus when shooting in dark bars or restaurants, or even out on the streets. The screen flash does help to a certain extent. But when compared with the Android flagship, the front facing camera can leave a lot to be desired in low lit situations.
The Portrait mode has got some interesting additions in the form of lighting modes. Just like the previous generation, the Portrait mode requires patience. You have to get the subject at just the correct focussing distance to ensure the bokeh effect. It works stellarly during daytime, but in low light the output isn’t that impressive. I liked playing around the studio light and contour lights, but the other two modes — stage light and stage light mono is a lot of hits and misses. The feathering used to be off at most instances, which was enough to put me off it. Plus at times the algorithms give a very weird background-blurred output. This feature is still in beta mode and Apple should most likely be working on it to improve the output.
Nonetheless, it does add that much edge to your portrait photographs. And what’s more, it lends itself pretty darn well when taking portrait photographs of your pets. I managed to snag some portrait photos of dogs and cats which had a lot of my friends asking me if I had done some post processing to get that bokeh effect.
Video shooting supports 4K at 60fps and thanks to electronic image stabilisation in the video mode, you can manage to shoot some really high-quality video. The jitter is avoided thanks to EIS, but if you are shooting a video while walking, you will see that slight bit of wobble. It isn’t distracting as such but is noticeable. Thanks to the HEVC image format, the size of the 4K video isn’t that huge. Slo-mo can be shot in full HD mode at 240 fps which is impressive to say the least. Noise is noticeable in videos shot in low light.
Apple usually never discloses the battery capacity, but there are a lot of websites online which have done a break-down of the iPhone 8 Plus and the battery capacity is reportedly around 2691 mAh. While on regular usage, I could manage to use the iPhone 8 Plus even a few hours after a work day, on heavy usage I realised that I had to put the phone on charging after 8 hours of use. Each hour corresponds to around 10 percent of battery usage and that drop increases when you use camera features intensively. Standby time is good though. Apple iPhones support fast charging, but the charger bundled in the box is a regular (read slow) charger, which could take around 3 hours to completely charge the iPhone 8 Plus. It’s about time Apple bundled the fast charger in the box, as most other flagship phones. It just beats me that it isn't the case still in 2017.
The iPhone 8 Plus also supports wireless charging with the Qi charging standard. Wireless charging has been supported by Android handsets for a couple of generations now, but one should start seeing a lot more wireless chargers around, now that Apple has announced support for the Qi charging standard. Apple has proven time and again how it can make technology mainstream in the past, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see that with wireless charging as well. You will need to ensure that you keep the iPhone 8 Plus in the centre of the wireless charger, such that the coils on the wireless charger and the ones behind the rear side of the iPhone 8 Plus are in alignment.
Verdict and Price in India
The iPhone 8 Plus pricing starts from Rs 73,000 for the 64 GB variant and Rs 86,000 for the 256 GB variant. But online retailers are already offering discounts on the iPhone 8 Plus thanks to the festive offers. We tested the 256 GB variant of the iPhone 8 Plus. Come to think of it the iPhone X is going to start retailing at Rs 89,000. This generation, the iPhone 8 Plus is not competing with any Android phone, but it is competing with its own elder sibling — the iPhone X.
If you are an iPhone 7 / 7 Plus user, there is nothing exceptional you will gain by moving to the iPhone 8 / 8 Plus. For these users, iPhone X is the only phone to go for. But if you are on iPhone 6 Plus or even the 6s Plus, and feel that the iPhone X is way out of your budget or are not sure of investing in a first gen iPhone X, the iPhone 8 Plus offers the most logical upgrade path.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus improves on a lot of things from the iPhone 7 Plus. iPhone 8 Plus performance in every department is stellar and barring the minor niggles and some low light photography issues, there isn’t really anything that takes away from the 8 Plus. It’s just the looming launch of the iPhone X that has made everyone wait, and it has been seen in the lack of enthusiasm during the iPhone 8 / 8 Plus launch. So if you are completely sold on the iPhone X, it just makes sense to wait (yes, there are supply issues with the iPhone X). For everyone else, the iPhone 8 Plus is a competent device.
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