We Tested The iPhone 8 & 8 Plus — Here's Why They're Worth A Closer Look

Now that Apple has unveiled iPhone X, it's hard to think about investing in a phone that doesn't have all of the X's advanced features — an edge-to-edge display, advanced dual cameras, and selfies in portrait mode, to name a few. But given the hefty $1000 price tag, it's worth taking a closer look at the slightly more affordable phones Apple unveiled last week: iPhone 8 ($699) and 8 Plus ($799).

The iPhone 8 got its fair share of Twitter criticism, with some calling the phones a "lazy" upgrade and others saying they're near identical to their iPhone 7 and 7 Plus predecessors. Neither of these takes hit the mark, as there are plenty of new tools packed into the 8 and 8 Plus. However, the comments do raise an important question: If you have a recent iPhone model, is it worth upgrading to the 8 or 8 Plus? Or should you hold out and save up for the X?

We put Apple's latest, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, to the test to find out.

Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Looking Good

Looks aren't everything, but Apple's consistently sleek, simple designs have made its aesthetic stand out over the years. If you see a product, you can probably identify it as an Apple device, whether or not you see the Apple logo. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, both of which return to the front-and-back glass design last used on iPhone 4 and 4s are no different — they are beautiful phones to look at and hold.

The new silver and gold colors are slightly less metallic than they were on the aluminum-bodied iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, which I like, especially since it makes the shiny Apple logo and "iPhone" printed on the back of the phone stand out.

Both the 8 and 8 Plus are almost exactly the same sizes as the 7 and 7 Plus, and although they weigh slightly more than their predecessors, I couldn't tell the difference when holding one in each hand.

Apple has assured skeptics that the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus's glass is its most durable yet, thanks to a 50% deeper strengthening layer. However, I still kept cases on the phones to be extra safe.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Well Hello, Wireless Charging

Any Samsung user will be happy to remind you that their Galaxy phones have had wireless charging capabilities for years, but wireless is new to Apple and, for that reason, a nice change to the cable norm.

I used a Belkin wireless charger that Apple provided for review purposes, and while it isn't the most beautiful charger in the world, it is convenient. I liked being able to come home and simply place the iPhone on top of the white circular surface, no additional effort required. The charger works with most cases, so unless you put your iPhone in something bulkier than 3mm, you'll be able to keep the case on while powering up. (You can use any Qi-certified chargers with the phones, including ones from Mophie.)

As far as battery life goes, I didn't notice much of an improvement over my iPhone 7 Plus. At the end of a full day's use, I was left with 35% battery life which is what I usually have after a day of answering emails, watching Instagram Stories, and sending texts. Granted, I was using the 8 Plus's camera a bit more than I might on a normal basis for testing purposes, but I still would have preferred more juice at the end of the day.

It took me a little over an hour and a half to charge the battery 50%. That isn't ideal, but I'm hopeful that fast wireless charging, which Apple says will come through a free software update later this year, will speed things up.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Streaming Success

It's no infinity screen, so if you have expectations of an edge-to-edge display, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus don't cut it. If that's what you're looking for, you're better off waiting for X or going with the Galaxy Note8.

However, there is a subtle, but noticeable improvement in the retina HD screens on the 8 and 8 Plus compared to the 7 and 7 Plus. Apple's True Tone technology, something that is already available in the iPad Pro, is the key distinguishing factor here. True Tone is supposed to make words and images appear more natural and closer to what you might see on a printed page, by making adjustments based on the light you're looking at the phone in. When catching up on emails on the iPhone 8, my eyes didn't feel as tired as they do usually.

A wide color gamut and improved color accuracy also makes streaming on your phone much more enjoyable and cinematic. The opening sequences of Wonder Woman are far more vibrant on the 8 Plus than they are on the 7 Plus, where, by comparison, colors look slightly darker and more muted.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Shots Fired

If you're having trouble deciding between the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the key distinguishing factor is the camera: iPhone 8 has a single 12 megapixel rear camera and 7 megapixel FaceTime HD camera, whereas the 8 Plus has dual 12 megapixel rear cameras and a 7 megapixel FaceTime HD camera. (This lens configuration is the same for the iPhone 7 vs the 7 Plus.) With an additional lens on the 8 Plus you get more detailed shots, extra zoom capabilities, and access to Portrait Mode. Portrait Mode produces images that look like they could have been shot with a professional DSLR: The subject in front is in focus while the background is blurred, adding a sense of depth to the image. I focused my camera testing on the iPhone 8 Plus, since its camera is a more advanced version of iPhone 8.

Although the configuration of lenses on 8 Plus is the same as 7 Plus, Apple promised that a larger, faster sensor would produce images with more vibrant colors, less graininess, and, for portrait mode photos, a more natural blurred background. For the most part, I found all these things to be true, though I noticed the differences in some photos more than others.

The vibrancy of colors and impressive background is obvious in the portrait mode photos shown here. The photo on the left was shot with my iPhone 7 Plus, while the one on the right was shot with the 8 Plus. The flowers on the right stand out from their background and the sky is a more vivid blue.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
The same held true in this portrait mode photo shot in a more dimly lit space: The colorful flowers on the right (shot with the iPhone 8 Plus) pop and there's a greater sense of depth. If you focus on the shelves in the background you'll notice that the color appears slightly richer in the photo 8 Plus photo, too.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
I didn't notice as much of a difference in these landscape photos. The water in the iPhone 8 Plus image on the right has slightly more texture, and the sunset's colors are a bit richer — though not by much.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
The selfies I shot with both phones (iPhone 7 Plus on the left; iPhone 8 Plus on the right) also look very similar to the blind eye. The pigment of my shirt is slightly richer and my sunglasses a bit darker in the 8 Plus photo, though again, it's tough to tell the difference between the two.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
At a glance, the difference between these two nighttime photos might look negligible, but I was impressed with the improved low light shooting of the iPhone 8 Plus (the photo on the right). Look carefully: You can make out the chairs and drapery more clearly and the colors of the lights are a bit richer and less blown out than they are in the 7 Plus photo on the left.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
AR Ready

The new A11 chip in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus is supposed to create more realistic experiences when using some of the augmented reality apps created with Apple's ARkit technology. The augmented reality experiences I tried, including a star gazing app and strategic game, were impressive, and I could see myself using these on a regular basis.

Ikea's Place app is one of the standouts. After scanning the floor of my living room with the iPhone 8 Plus's camera, I was able to "place" 3D, true-to-scale pieces of furniture from Ikea's catalog in my space. It was as fun as it was practical. And while I don't need new furniture right now, I liked seeing my room made over in a different style. When I do need to buy, I'll happily skip shopping in the store for shopping from my phone.

Not all of the AR apps I tested were as immersive and realistic as Ikea's, and even that one had its faults: If the room is too dark, the app has trouble distinguishing where the floor and walls are — but it's a promising start.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
So, Should You Buy iPhone 8 Or 8 Plus?

There's no doubt about it, 8 and 8 Plus are beautiful phones that live up to Apple's high standards. If you're using a phone that's older than the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, it's definitely worth upgrading for the improved cameras and screen.

The decision becomes far more difficult if you're considering switching from 7 or 7 Plus or a more recently released Android phone. If you're due for an upgrade, or can get one at an inexpensive rate, go ahead and get the new phone — when you see the photos, you won't regret it.

However, as a 7 Plus owner myself, I'm more tempted to hold out for iPhone X (preorders begin October 27) and a look at whatever Google has up its sleeve with the new Pixel. After all, if you're going to spend a hard earned paycheck (or two) for the latest phone, you might as well wait until you know all your options.
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