The Elephant In The Room: iPhone 8 Plus

This is the year that smartphones are going to cost you. The price of premium is a premium. And with that, comes the need for manufacturers to deliver devices which aren't going to leave consumers with buyer's remorse. Of course many things are left to preference and whether something is "worth it" to you, but at the core of any product must be the ability to deliver on a promise. In this case, Apple's promise is generally an improved experience over last year, and ease-of-use, things "just work." Did they deliver on those promises with the 8 Plus? I'd say emphatically, yes.

Let's get this out of the way right now! If you've been following me for any length of time, you know that I'm an Android phone user. Now, my daily workhorse that I conduct most business on is an iPad Pro 12.9" and my go-to editing rig is a 2016 Macbook Pro- fully spec'd- but I've always been more a fan of the freedom and file accessibility of Android. I respected Apple and what they were doing, and have recommended iPhones to a great many people but it just wasn't for me. With iOS11 and this iPhone, I think all of that is going to change for me.

Many of the items on the hardware side of the iPhone 8 Plus will be familiar to most iPhone users. The power button on the right side of the phone, which also doubles as your call reject button. The volume buttons on the left side with the ringer mute above them, still there. On the bottom of the phone you'll find the lightning port, microphone and stereo speakers. The front of the phone is where you'll find the nearly flawless Touch ID sensor, the 5.5" Retina HD display, a front facing 7MP "Facetime HD" camera, speaker and various sensors.

This year, the most striking difference in my opinion is the True Tone technology built into the display. I first appreciated the difference in screen quality when I reviewed the second generation iPad Pro 12.9". The difference in the Retina display on the first gen device, compared to the Retina with True Tone on the follow up was quite noticeable. I don't know how obvious it will be for a lot of folk, but 15 years of video editing has made me very sensitive to changes in monitor qualities. What I love about True Tone is that it gives everything a gloss magazine feel. When you're looking at your timeline on Facebook it really does have a quality to it which feels more pleasing to look at than on a display on competing devices which don't adjust for lighting conditions beyond brightness. Other displays feel like you're looking at a display, blue light, brightness and all. Looking at them all day can result in a bit of eye strain, but the warmth of the Retina HD with True Tone really is like the difference between an inexpensive pair of swap meet socks and a nice pair of merino wool or athletic socks with compression zones. The first are just fine, but wearing the latter, you definitely feel a difference and greater level of comfort throughout the day. It's one of those qualitative differences which isn't stark, but subtle, and actually does improve overall user experience. Matter of fact, it's most noticeable when you have it, then go back to using something which doesn't have it.

The other item that most users will really like is the upgraded camera and Portrait Mode. What's new with Portrait Mode is Portrait Lighting. I take a lot of photos of products that I'm reviewing as a way to keep my audience engaged in the tech goings on and though I've become pretty good at doing so, Portrait Mode Lighting takes that to another level. It really just makes taking great looking, engaging photos easier overall. iPhone is already known for the quality of its cameras but when you add in the software algorithms which can take your photos and make them look like studio and outdoor quality portraits, I'll forgive the marketers for the phrase "best iPhone yet." It's cliche but in this case it's meaningful. You should definitely spend some time playing with the five lighting options in Portrait Mode.

Also new is HDR in Portrait Mode and Slow-Sync Flash. Many users are already familiar with what HDR does, but few may know what Slow-Sync Flash allows for. What the latter does is allow the shutter to stay open longer and not only benefit from the light the flash provides, but benefit from the ambient light in your environment as well. This means that in dark settings, you're going to get shots with more detail in the subject and in the background. There is definitely a difference in the quality of photos taken with and without Slow-Sync Flash. With Portrait Lighting and that slow-sync flash, I think you'll definitely be inspired to take more photos.

Taking more photos means taking up more space on your phone and in iCloud. Or does it? The iPhone 8 Plus now supports two new media formats, one for photos and one for video. HEIF and HEVC. Without getting technical, what you need to know is that you get beautiful images with half the file sizes, so you're going to want to go into settings and turn those formats on. You can turn that setting on or off by going into Settings>Camera>Formats.

Another big change for most users is the glass bodies of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. The aluminum is gone and that comes with some pretty solid upgrades! iPhone users can now join the rest of premium smartphone users and enjoy wireless charging. Yes, glass bodies allowed Apple to include the ability to charge your phone wirelessly via Qi enabled wireless charging pads like the one Apple supplied me, a demo unit from Mophie. Now, the caveat to wireless charging is that the charging coils embedded in the phones are finicky when it comes to placement over the inductive charging surface. That means that if you don't place your phone in precisely the right position, you won't charge it. The way that Mophie designed their charging pad, I didn't have that problem at all. 99% of the time I dropped my phone on the charging pad, it contacted it properly and I was off to the races.

Speaking of races, the battery life of the iPhone 8 Plus has been Herculean and kept me in the rat race daily without fear of running out of juice. I have been getting 16 hours or more out of this phone on a regular basis and I've been hammering it hard. I've even done something I don't always do with other review phones and that's place every bit of my home control software on the device and let it run in the background. I don't usually do this because it isn't my daily use pattern. I have a tablet at home which most of my home control software resides on. The only things I load on phones are the apps which I'll want to control away from the home like my thermostat and security cam. Even with all of that running, I'm getting 16 hours. The caveat in the battery department is that though the phone is quick charge enabled and will charge to 50% in 30 minutes, you'll have to pay the Apple tax and buy their USB-C charging brick and USB-C to Lightning cable at a cost of $75 total for both. As much as these phones cost, I'd like to see fast charging cables be the standard charging equipment that comes in the box. With that said, I haven't found myself missing out on them being in the box, because of the solid battery life I get.

Last up on the list of things I'll talk about, that you get with the hardware is the new A11 Bionic chip. Without getting techie and into benchmark stats, this phone is fast. Real fast. I downloaded and tried some AR games and they are fast, stutter free and rendered beautifully. Apps launch and load without ever leaving you waiting and VR content is beautiful. That's what the A11 Bionic is all about though, the future of content. And though the future is now, there is still so much that is on the horizon where the world of AR/VR is concerned and Apple wanted to keep you ahead of the game. That means I can't go into too much detail because developers are still creating content that will put a serious load on the A11 chip but it appears that it should be able to handle hearty tasks with aplomb. It is already enabling the fluid use of Portrait Lighting Mode on the phone. Making it so that you can see in real-time the lighting effects and change them after you've taken the photo, seeing those changes in real time without the phone having to re-render the image.

For the second time (the first was when I reviewed the 6 Plus), I'm seriously considering switching to iPhone this year. Which is to say, I've pretty much made up my mind. I am going to switch and iPhone will be my daily driver. This isn't completely because of the iPhone 8 Plus, but True Tone and a few other features. Portrait Mode and Handoff, are what have pushed me over the edge. I've always been an iPad and MBP user but the improvements in iOS11, coupled with the hardware features of this year's iPhones have moved me in that direction for smartphone choice.

As much as I love T-Mobile's DIGITS, Handoff is really awesome and unlike DIGITS I don't have to run Handoff in a browser. So, my take on the iPhone 8 Plus for those who are going to ask the inevitable question, "Do I wait for the X?" If you love your Touch ID and don't want to mess with facial recognition. Don't wait. If you don't want to pay $1000 or more and want the iPhone 8, don't wait. If you don't want to be the one to play with first generation tech and would rather stick to what you know, what's tried and true, don't wait. The iPhone 8 Plus is a worthy purchase and definitely shouldn't leave you with any buyer's remorse not having waited for the X. And if it does, there's always resale. Apple phones hold their value well. Another Plus! (See what I did there?)

Disclosure: Apple provided me with demo units of the iPhone 8 Plus and Mophie Charging Pad for the purpose of this review.