The iPhone 8 Plus is the best smartphone that Apple has ever made
–and one that you should probably not buy.
It's a definite step up from the relatively minor update of last year's iPhone 7 Plus, thanks in particular to the addition of wireless charging and a superb camera update. But the launch in November of Apple's iPhone X means it's likely to be a mere footnote in history.
To recap, Apple broke with tradition this year and unveiled not two but three new iPhones – the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, already on sale in the UAE, and the iPhone X, which hits stores in November.
While the 8 and 8 Plus have plenty in common with what’s come before, the iPhone X is a big leap forward for Apple, with a stunning new design, all-new screen technology, and the ability to unlock the phone just by looking at it.
Not surprisingly, the iPhone X has attracted by far the most interest; smaller queues at the Apple Store in The Dubai Mall this weekend at the launch of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus suggest that plenty of people are content to wait until November to get their hands on the iPhone X instead.
It would be a pity, however, if the iPhone 8 Plus was ignored completely. For those who need a new iPhone now (or who are unwilling to splash out over Dh4,000 on an iPhone X), it's a brilliant phone that won't let you down.
Design-wise there is little to differentiate the iPhone 8 Plus from last year's iPhone 7 Plus. The main change is the new glass back, put in for wirelesscharging purposes, that's more than likely to be covered up in a case. It's still a premium design, but one that's definitely showing its age.
The first really noticeable difference comes with the display. It's still the same 5.5-inch IPS screen, but this time with True Tone technology, first seen on the iPad Pro, which adjusts the display's colour palette according to ambient light conditions. There's a noticeable difference in the way images are displayed, giving them a much more natural look. It might not be up there with the Oled displays of high-end Samsungs (or the iPhone X's Super Retina HD display), but it gets close.
The new rear camera is where the iPhone 8 Plus really comes into its own. It’s still built around two 12MP lenses, but this time comes with a larger and faster sensor and far smarter software, with HDR mode now the default. What does that mean? Better pictures across all light conditions, putting Apple back at the top table alongside the Galaxy S8 and the Google Pixel in terms of cameras.
Also noteworthy is the camera's upgraded portrait mode, especially a new feature called Portrait Lighting, which uses depth mapping to creatively light subjects with subtler lighting tones, even letting you strip out backgrounds for studio-style shots. The feature, still in beta mode, is a work in progress, with genuinely impressive results combined with pictures that just look odd.
The other new standout feature of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus is wireless charging. Both devices support the widely used Qi wireless charging standard, also used by Samsung, which allows you to power up your device by just putting it on a charging mat. It's a nice feature, although hardly innovative, with wireless charging having been around for more than five years on other smartphones.
Apple didn't lend us a charging pad to test the feature out with, but online reaction so far has been mixed. Yes, you don't have to plug in a cable, but the charging speeds offered by most wireless pads (which will cost around Dh249) are pretty slow.
Apple is also been keen to big up its new A11 Bionic chip, which offers a performance boost across the phone's operations. It's most noticeable when used in conjunction with Apple's ARKit for augmented reality (AR) apps, even though such apps are useable on older iPhones running iOS11.
AR – as used on games like Pokemon Go – is a work in progress for Apple (and everyone else for that matter), with only a few apps available right now. Some of these show promise; Sky Guide's new AR functionality lets you map out constellations over a live view, while ZG Revenant turns any flat space into a gaming environment. But the jury is still out about whether AR is more than a passing fad.
All of the above are good reasons to buy the iPhone 8 Plus. It's a truly great phone. At the end of the day though, it's still the iPhone X that raises the pulse that little bit higher.
Whereas the iPhone 8 Plus design is showing its age, the iPhone X is a bold step forward. While the addition of True Tone technology is a big step up for the iPhone 8 Plus, it's nothing compared to the extraordinary Retina HD display of the iPhone X.
While the camera of the iPhone 8 Plus is best in class, it is also present and correct
in the iPhone X, which also lets you turn yourself, if you feel the need, into an animated emoji.
The iPhone 8 Plus has two advantages over the iPhone X. First up, it's available today, meaning you don't have to wait until November to get your hands on it.
Second, it retails from Dh3,249, compared with the eye-watering starting price of Dh4,099 for the iPhone X.
If you need a new iPhone now, or you want to save a little money, the iPhone 8 Plus is wholeheartedly recommended. If you've got a bit more money to spend and can wait a couple of months, the iPhone X is the better option.