The iPhone 8 Plus—really the iPhone 7s Plus, when you think about it—may be the sweet spot in Apple’s new phone lineup. Its dual cameras will enable better augmented reality experiences than the iPhone 8, and its bigger screen offers a better spotlight for high-intensity applications powered by the new A11 processor. And, starting at $799, it’s significantly less expensive than the iPhone X.
From the front, you may have some trouble telling the iPhone 8 Plus apart from the 7 Plus. At 6.24 by 3.07 by 0.3 inches and 7.13 ounces, it’s the same size, but heavier. It has a similar 5.5-inch, 1,920-by-1,080 LCD, although it’s been enhanced with True Tone, which gives it better white balance in different kinds of lighting. The Touch ID home button sits below the screen, as usual. There’s a Lightning jack, but no headphone jack, and the phone is water-resistant.
Flip over the 8 Plus to see the difference from last year’s model. The phone now has a glass back, rather than smooth metal. It also supports wireless charging with all the popular Qi-compatible chargers.
The most impressive new feature is on the inside: the A11 Bionic processor. The all-new system-on-chip has six cores in a big-little design, with two high-performance cores and four efficiency cores, as well as a new GPU designed by Apple. An early Geekbench benchmark result for the iPhone X, cited by developer Steve Troughton-Smith, shows a single-core score of 4061 and a multi-core score of 9959, which nukes other smartphones (the Galaxy Note 8 gets 1870 and 6539) and is more in line with the new iPad Pro, which gets 3936 and 9300.
Apple went with the same dual-modem strategy with the iPhone 8 Plus as it did with the 7 Plus. There are two units: one that works on all four US networks, and one that lacks CDMA and works only on AT&T and T-Mobile. We’re pretty sure the first one uses a Qualcomm modem, while the second one uses Intel. Both max out, we’re told, at 600Mbps, falling short of the gigabit LTE we’ve seen on competing Samsung and LG phones. The phone lacks T-Mobile’s new Band 71 for rural coverage, which so far is only available in the LG V30.
Apple says the iPhone 8 Plus will have roughly the same battery life as the iPhone 7 Plus.
Made for AR?
Apple is going big on augmented reality in the next few years. That’s why we’re uncomfortable telling iPhone buyers to purchase a model that lacks dual cameras. While Apple’s ARKit can do augmented reality with a single camera, it’s clearly limited. Demos we’ve seen show ARKit only able to map horizontal surfaces like tables and floors, not walls or whole rooms.
The iPhone 8 Plus, like the 7 Plus, has two main cameras, which may provide a better AR experience in the future (though truly advanced AR may require a dot projector like in the iPhone X; we just don’t know). The 8 Plus has dual 12-megapixel cameras: a regular one, with f/1.8 aperture, and a 2x telephoto one, with f/2.8. The telephoto lens is not optically stabilized, unlike on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the iPhone X. For now, the dual cameras are mostly about 2x zoom photography and bokeh, for selective-focus portrait mode like on the iPhone 7 Plus.
There’s also a 7-megapixel front-facing camera with f/2.2 aperture.
The iPhone 8 Plus costs $799 for a 64GB version, or $949 for a 256GB model. The iPhone 8 costs $100 less; the iPhone X costs $200 more. This phone really looks like an incremental upgrade to the iPhone 7 Plus, with wireless charging and the new processor being the standout new features.
But here’s the thing. We don’t know what this new processor is really going to give us. There may be killer augmented reality applications down the pike that will require the A11 processor and dual cameras. Or Apple may be waiting for the iPhone XI (XII?) for those kinds of leaps forward. A purchase of the iPhone 8 Plus takes a little bit on faith, we think.
The iPhone 8 Plus goes on pre-order on September 15, with phones arriving on September 22. We’ll have a full review around then.