iPhone 8 Plus design and display
From the front, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are practically indistinguishable from their predecessors. Virtually everyone we showed our review units to opened with “Oh, it looks just like the [iPhone] 7” before we asked them to turn them around and look at the all-glass backs. That’s right, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are all-glass on the front and the back, a throwback to the design last seen in the iPhone 4S. Apple says it has used “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone”, a claim that millions will no doubt put to the test in everyday life in the days to come.During the couple of weeks that we’ve spent with these phones, we – accidentally, we promise – managed to drop them once each. First, the iPhone 8, face down, from a coffee table, and then the iPhone 8 Plus from a height of about four feet. While the iPhone 8 escaped unhurt, its bigger sibling landed on tiles on one of its corners and had a little abrasion to show for it afterwards – a stark reminder as to why most people choose to cover their precious phones in cases. While on the subject, though the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are marginally bigger than their predecessors, we had no problem fitting our Apple leather cases from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus onto them. Most existing third-party cases designed for the older iPhone models should fit just fine as well.At 148 grams, the iPhone 8 is the heaviest non-Plus iPhone to date, while the iPhone 8 Plus crosses the 200g mark. The extra weight would be noticeable if you used an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus without a case, but if you are someone who changes your case quite often, you are probably used to the overall weight fluctuating slightly and are unlikely to notice these differences. Still, it’s interesting to see a company obsessed with ‘thin and light’ move in the opposite direction with two of its marquee products.If showing the world you have the latest and greatest iPhone (we told you to forget about the iPhone X, remember?) is important to you, hiding your iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus in a non-transparent case would not be the best idea. As we said earlier, the front is virtually identical to that of the previous generation iPhone models, so the only visible difference is in the back. From five (not counting the Product Red) colour options in the previous generation – Rose Gold, Gold, Silver, Black, and Jet Black – we are down to three – Gold, Silver, and Space Grey.
The Gold finish on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus looks like an amalgamation of the Rose Gold and Gold colours seen previously. Silver is essentially white, and Space Grey is black. The latter is the only option that’s black on the front, while the other two have white bezels, like in previous years. Colours are largely a personal choice, though we have to say we will miss the Jet Black finish, despite its well-documented tendency to get scuffed up.The nearly-all-glass body means that all iPhone models offer excellent grip, and are unlikely to slip out of your hands. In the two weeks that we spent with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, we didn’t see any scratches or scuff marks resulting from being put into and taken out of pockets, or being stored with other objects in our bag.In the box you get Lightning EarPods, a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, a USB Type-A to Lightning cable, and a 5W charger (more on this later), apart from the phone itself, and some literature. There’s no Type-C to Lightning cable, which means you cannot directly connect Apple’s flagship phone to its flagship laptops without buying additional cables or dongles from Apple or third parties.There’s no change in the size of the displays on the iPhone 8 or the iPhone 8 Plus compared to their predecessors, and, indeed, the screens have the same resolution, brightness, and contrast ratios as well. OLED and HDR support are reserved for the iPhone X, so the only improvement here is the addition of True Tone functionality.
While the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus might not look very different from the outside, there are big changes on the inside. All three new iPhone models – okay, we promise no reminders that the iPhone X exists after this – are powered by Apple’s brand new A11 Bionic chip. In our review of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus we noted how Apple has established itself as a leader in the mobile SoC space, and how both phones were streets ahead of the competition in terms of raw performance at the time of their release. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus continue this tradition, and in some ways kick things up a notch higher.The Apple A10 Fusion inside the previous-generation iPhone models was a quad-core chip with two high-performance cores and two energy-efficient ones, but only one pair could be active at a time. The A11 Bionic, on the other hand, has six cores – four efficient cores that are up to 70 percent faster than ones on the A10, and two performance cores that are up to 25 percent faster – making it Apple’s first hexa-core chip. More importantly, the A11 is capable of running all six at the same time.This means the Apple A11 Bionic absolutely smokes the opposition, especially when it comes to multi-threaded tasks that can scale to multiple cores. In the Geekbench multi-core test, for example, the iPhone 8 Plus scored more than 55 percent higher than the OnePlus 5, the phone that had scored the highest before now, and around 75 percent higher than the iPhone 7 Plus. In fact, its Geekbench multi-core score of 10,386 is higher than that of many laptops out there.
iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus battery life and wireless charging
The glass back of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus is not just a design element, it enables an important feature: wireless charging. Apple has adopted the Qi industry standard of wireless charging, which means that though the new iPhone models don’t ship with a wireless charger, you can pick up one of the many third-party Qi-compatible ones out there. The likes of Samsung have supported this standard for a while, so we finally live in a world where the same charger can top up both your iPhone 8 and Galaxy Note 8.If you are new to the world of wireless charging, you need to remember a couple of points: first, it’s not really ‘wireless’. Most wireless charging mechanisms involve a plate of some sort where you can just place your phone and have it begin charging without plugging in any wires, but the plate itself needs to be connected to an outlet via a wire or an adapter. Second, though there have been improvements in the technology recently, wireless charging is still painfully slow.
iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus cameras
Camera performance is an area where smartphones have made arguably the biggest improvements in the decade since the original iPhone was launched. From tiny, grainy images in which we could barely recognise ourselves to ones that can be printed on a billboard, and movies that see a theatrical release, the phone camera has come a long way in a relatively short period of time.For most of this journey, Apple has enjoyed the status of having the best camera phone out there, and the company has taken a lot of pride in calling the iPhone the most popular camera in the world. But as we’ve noted in our recent iPhone reviews, this hasn’t necessarily been true for the last couple of generations. Samsung, HTC, and Google (with the HTC-made Pixel) have caught up with – and in some scenarios even surpassed – the iPhone’s camera performance, which means the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus will need to really up their game to regain the crown. With tight control of hardware as well as software, Apple seems to have done just that.While the camera specifications remain the same in terms of megapixel counts and aperture sizes, Apple says the 12-megapixel primary camera has a larger and faster sensor, a new colour filter, and deeper pixels. As noted earlier, the A11 Bionic chip includes a brand new Apple-designed image signal processor, which, among other things, aims to provide faster autofocus in low light and better HDR photos.
All this is backed by enhancements at the OS level. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus support the new High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) and High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) container for storing photos and videos respectively, which, Apple says, reduce the amount of space taken by your media by up to 50 percent. This, obviously, means you can save more photos and videos on your device and in the cloud. HEVC also enables new capabilities like shooting 4K video at 60fps and 1080p at 240fps.If you set up an iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus as a new device, they will save media in the new formats by default. Technically, HEIF is a new file format, and your images are no longer stored as JPGs on the phone. But for the most part, you don’t need to worry about this. When you share photos and videos using others using apps like Facebook, they will automatically be converted to JPG or H.264 respectively, so everyone can see them. If you want, you can have your phone use JPG/ H.264 by default by going to Settings > Camera > Formats and choosing Most Compatible, though you will miss out on the space savings and the ability to shoot 4K/60fps and 1080p/240fps. If you restore your iPhone from an iOS 10 backup, it might have the Most Compatible option selected by default, which means you will not see the additional video shooting modes. You can safely switch to High Efficiency without any problems if you so desire (we recommend that you do).
With all that work put in, how do the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus fare in terms of camera performance in the real world? In daylight, we noticed that the new iPhone models capture the most accurate colours and more details than the likes of the Galaxy Note 8 and HTC U11. In macro shots, again the phones had the best-in-class colour reproduction, but the amount of detail captured was just a fraction less than the HTC U11.
Low-light performance is greatly improved compared to that of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, and with good reason. This is one area in which Apple had fallen considerably behind its competitors. While the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus still don’t quite capture as much detail as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and HTC U11 in low-light conditions, their sensors still manage to do a lot better than before. At times, noise is visible when you zoom in, but most people will be perfectly happy with the results.Overall, we believe the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are now at par with the likes of the HTC U11 and Galaxy Note 8, but not significantly better than either in any one aspect of still photography other than capturing the most accurate colours (which obviously matters a lot). The camera performance of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus is identical, though the latter obviously has the ability to use up to 2x optical zoom thanks to the additional telephoto lens.The headline camera feature of the iPhone 7 Plus was its Portrait Mode, which was enabled in a software update that shipped after the phone’s launch. The iPhone 8 Plus retains and greatly improves on this feature, and some of the portraits that we shot with it were just stunning. DSLR-like is a marketing phrase often used by companies to sell their phones, but in this case, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration.