Hands on: iPhone 8 Plus review

The bigger phone for the discerning Apple fan

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

This is the phone you want if you can't afford the iPhone X. It's got the larger battery, same powerful innards and strong camera. If you don't mind the poorer screen, it's a good option.

For

  • Great camera
  • Large bright screen

Against

  • Bezel-heavy compared to X
  • Screen isn't in same league as OLED.

If you're curious what's in the box, then we've opened it up and shared the contents with you, in our iPhone 8 Plus unboxing video above!

If the iPhone 8 is feeling left out, spare a thought for the iPhone 8 Plus. It's the hidden child overshadowed by its sibling, but it's very much worth looking at.

It's got all the phablet power you'd want from an iPhone, plus powerful innards, while the camera – complete with Portrait Lighting – is a strong reason to buy this phone with extended battery life.

It's currently on pre-order in many places around the world ahead of its launch later this week - it looks likely to the phone to buy if you want a decent iPhone but can't stomach the thought of paying out for an iPhone X.

Update: We've had the iPhone 8 Plus in our hands for a few days and we're nearly ready to present you with our final findings. However, we've updated this review with some newer thoughts just to keep you going...

iPhone 8 Plus release date and price

The iPhone 8 Plus is going to be the far more palatable choice for those looking to spend a 'normal' amount on a larger-screened device. 

Apple has confirmed that the iPhone 8 Plus price will start at $799 ( (£799, AU$1,229) for the 64GB version, while the 256GB variant will cost $949 (£949, AU$1,479).

That's not a huge amount more than the iPhone 7 Plus, a handset that does a similar amount and packs a very familiar-looking chassis - however, it is still a saving for something that's similar in value.

In terms of the iPhone 8 Plus release date, you can buy it now - it hit shop shelves around the world on September 22, and it looks like stocks are pretty good. Possibly as people are more interested in the iPhone X, or at least waiting to see if that reviews well...

Is bigger better?

In our opinion the iPhone 8 Plus is a far better choice than the iPhone 8, with the larger body offering more screen real estate, as well improving the battery life by dint of, well, just making more space to cram one in.

The design is similar to previous iPhones, with the rolling back curving into the hand, allowing it to feel as premium as the cost suggests. 

Make no mistake – although it's cheaper than the iPhone X, the 8 Plus is still a pricey unit and not too far away in price... given it's a larger unit in the hand with a smaller screen, have a think which one is for you.

It has the same power under the hood in the shape of the much-improved A11 Bionic chipset, as well as the same 12MP camera bolted on the back. 

This has two sensors, just like the iPhone 7 Plus from last year, and a telephoto lens that's capable of zooming in closer to the action without any loss of image quality.

However, that camera is what makes the difference, because it can use the Portrait Lighting mode, as seen in the iPhone X, which is a really neat feature.

The way it can work out who the subject of the photo is, and can dynamically light the image in so many ways, is really nice to look at.

The ability to lighten and darken things subtly, or create a stark background, is unlike anything we've seen on a phone.

When we tried it out, the 'cutting out' in the stage light mode, where it darkens out the background, was a little stark – but zooming in, it was really impressive to see how it detected the subject's hair so easily.

In our early tests, it's not a 'wow' feature though. It's cool, but setting up a Portrait Lit photo isn't speedy, and while the results do change, they're not massively different as you swipe through the modes. 

The camera quality is an upgrade and is rarely failing to impress in our review - it does have a tendency to over-expose a touch, but the image quality and detail is exquisite in bright light.

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The design has shifted slightly and we now have a glass back, which allows for wireless charging (as is the case across all the new iPhone models). It feels a little less robust than metal, but you'll be able to juice up your phone more conveniently.

We've already had one drop though, about half a meter onto a hard floor, and it survived pretty well.

The glass back means there's not as much of a curve as before, with a slight join between the glass and the metal frame. However, there's a very familiar amount of iPhone DNA in here. This is a phone that most iPhablet fans will recognize instantly, and most people we've shown it to keep saying 'it just looks like the other iPhones'.

When you compare the two models, the glass does look more luxurious, and it feels nice in the hand, but it's still a struggle to get your finger the whole way across – the iPhone X is so much more usable, and has way more screen.

Reachability - accessed by double tapping the home button - is useful

iPhone 8 Plus screen

Sadly, the screen on the iPhone 8 Plus is very similar to the one on the iPhone 7 Plus. Well, we say 'sadly', but the screen from last year (a Full HD 5.5-inch display) was clear and crisp, and didn't rob the battery of power just to pack in the pixels.

It's only sad because it makes deciding whether to upgrade that little bit more difficult. 

The 7 Plus is an attractive option alongside the 8 Plus, given that they look very similar, and if we'd seen some big changes here it would have been an easier decision for potential upgraders to go for the better display.

There are some upgrades though – the new display now has the Retina HD option, which is a touch brighter... although in day to day use it's hard to see the results of this, as the previous iteration was just fine. That said, the colors and brightness are attractive - like all iPhones, the display is more than good enough to look at.

There's also the True Tone display technology, previously seen on the iPad Pro, and that's a tough one to review. You'll never notice it's there - the only time we saw things changing was when on a train going in and out of tunnels - but it's the sort of thing you'd miss when switching to another phone.

Video playback looked fine. We doubt you'd have any issue with the capabilities of movie playback or internet browsing, and the True Tone capability will make the iPhone 8 Plus look nicer in different scenarios.

In shaded daylight, it's perfectly visible, and even in direct light still visible - although it lacks the punch of the iPhone X's OLED display.

The speakers are louder and punchier, with the added base a real boon - we were already happy to use the iPhone without a Bluetooth speaker when cooking.

In our previous use of the iPhone 7 Plus with dual speakers, we were already happy with the output... so the upgrade is going to be well welcomed.

Augmented reality is cool

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We don't think that augmented reality (AR) really has a place just yet in the smartphone as a critical feature, but what we saw on the iPhone 8 Plus was decent.

There were myriad games that made use of the table in front of us as a plane to work on (although the first demo, The Machines, took a while to work out what it was looking at) and they all had a good AR title to show off.

There was an educational option to look at, which allowed you to see the human heart in expanded view – it was really interesting and a novel way of teaching, using the phone screen as a portal.

There's something freaky about looking up at a massive body and being able to zoom in on the heart, but the expanded view about how it worked and what it did exactly felt very next-generation.

Early verdict

If you're a fan of the phablet, love Apple but can't afford the iPhone X, it seems that all the things you'd need are right here in the iPhone 8 Plus.

However, the 7 Plus is an attractive option at a cheaper price too. If you're not desperate for the improved speed inside then you'd probably get on well enough with last year's model - although there's a lot more speed on offer here.

It's impossible to shake the feeling that the iPhone 8 Plus is the option for the iPhone 6S Plus upgrader who doesn't want the expensive iPhone X, which is unfair. 

This is the best iPhone on the market when you factor in cost to performance - it's larger with a crisper screen, longer-lasting battery and has all the iPhone bits that you'd want - the X is going to be too expensive for what it offers, so if you're after a 'basic' new iPhone, this looks to be it.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.