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iPhone 8 Plus Review: Bigger is better, but not for much longer


With the iPhone X already announced and available for preorder at the end of October, just where does the iPhone 8 Plus end up in the product lineup?

I think it’s fair to say it’s a device intended for business users who want a larger screen, more battery life, and the same tried-and-true performance Apple has built its reputation on. Camera tricks add to the allure of a phone that’s far too big for its own good, especially in 2017.

CNET: Apple iPhone 8 Plus review: The best iPhone you can buy — until Nov. 3

I’ve already reviewed the iPhone 8 and found it to a worthwhile upgrade for a segment of smartphone users. On paper, outside of the camera, size, and price the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are the same devices. Be sure to read my iPhone 8 review if I didn’t touch on a feature or performance in the text below.

Design

As competitors released bigger screened devices that kept getting smaller, Apple’s “Plus” model in the iPhone lineup stayed the same. With a chin above and below the screen and the 5.5-inch display, there’s a fair amount of wasted space around the screen.

Apple has addressed the issue with the design of the iPhone X, but the iPhone 8 Plus still loudly claims the old design as its own. It’s as unapologetic as it is bulky.

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In the same manner the iPhone 8 matches the design of its predecessors, so does the iPhone 8 Plus. Buttons, speakers, charging ports, and even the SIM card are all located in the same exact spot.

Most cases for the iPhone 7 Plus will work on the 8 Plus, which is good news for those who upgrade each year and don’t want to wait for the iPhone X.

Battery life and performance

The iPhone 8 Plus uses the same A11 Bionic processor as the iPhone 8, with a total of six cores. Its battery is smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus, but thanks to A11 Bionic chip, the 8 Plus is more power efficient.

I was able to get through over 36 hours of use from a single charge. On days of traveling and heavy use, I still had enough power to get to the end of the day without needing to recharge.

Double the camera

iphone-8-plus.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The iPhone 8 Plus has two rear-facing cameras; one telephoto, and one wide-angle. Both are 12-megapixel sensors, with the FaceTime camera on the front being 7-megapixels.

The new cameras feature the same ISP and sensor improvements as the iPhone 8, but where it diverges from its smaller sibling is Portrait Mode. As with the iPhone 7 line, the bigger model leverages the two rear-facing cameras to add depth to photos without the need for expensive hardware and large lenses required by dedicated cameras.

The iPhone 8 Plus continues to blur the lines by adding depth — also known as bokeh — to a photo with a new feature called Portrait Lighting.

See also: The X factor: Apple’s weird relationship with product numbers and names

Currently in beta, Portrait Lighting alters lighting in a photo. There are a total of five different lighting options: natural, studio, control, stage, and stage light mono (black and white).

I’ve had success with the first three options, and have failed miserably at both of the studio light options. Stage Light removes the background, turning it to black, leaving the subject in the foreground with added shadows and adjusted highlights.

Apple showed off some amazing photos captured with Stage Light during the keynote, but for me, I’ve found most of the time the photos just look fake. For example, one photo tried to hide my ear as if it were in the background, leaving jagged lines in its place. It looked like a bad computer render of myself. Look at this photo of my dog, Emoji. He looks fancy, but also fake.

coffee-iphone-8-plus.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

As for the three Portrait Lighting modes I’ve had success with, I’ve captured some pretty amazing photos. The above shot was taken with the iPhone 8 Plus in Portrait Mode with the Studio Light Portrait Lighting setting.

Just a few inches below the top of the cup, you can see the spoon and piece of chocolate are slightly out of focus, while the heart decoration is sharp and well lit. Frankly, it’s stunning to have captured this on a smartphone.

Or this photo I posted on Facebook. I was waiting in line at Chipotle, lifted the phone up and asked my son to smile. I didn’t spend time framing or ensuring the lighting was best for Portrait Mode as I’ve done with the iPhone 7 Plus. I took the picture, and it came out really well.

As I said in my iPhone 8 review, Apple’s newest phones are the best smartphone cameras I have ever used. I used to rely on Samsung’s devices to take my photos, especially when on a trip with my family; I now leave them behind. In fact, I recently spent three days in San Diego with only the iPhone 8 Plus. Those who know me can vouch for how rare something like that is.

Its own biggest competitor

Right now, Apple faces stiff competition from Samsung’s smartphones. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Plus or Note 8 are both reasonable and valid to put up against Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus.

Nevertheless, I think Apple’s biggest competition, in particular for the bigger and more expensive iPhone 8 Plus, is the iPhone X. The iPhone X is only slightly more expensive, ships with a more robust camera setup, and is smaller in overall footprint.

It’s hard to justify and encourage someone to wait for a device that’s not even out yet. It’s also a device we’ve only seen in very controlled environments. But it’s hard not to bring it up when discussing the iPhone 8 lineup, knowing a better looking and just as capable device is on the horizon.

See also: iPhone X: Sorry Apple, but I just can’t face using Face ID

In every sense, the iPhone 8 Plus is the best iPhone I have ever used. I appreciate the glass back, added wireless and fast charging, and the camera is terrific. Yet, I haven’t ordered one because of the iPhone X.

Granted, the $999 price tag of the iPhone X isn’t for everyone. The iPhone 8 Plus starts at $799 for 64GB of storage, with the 256GB model currently priced at $949. If you opted to order an 8 Plus right this minute, I wouldn’t blame you at all — especially if you’re updating from an iPhone prior to last year’s model, or for that matter an older Android smartphone.

For everyone else, though, the iPhone X will be available on November 3.



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