Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Apple iPhone XS full review

Apple's all-screen X-series phones (such as the mega-desirable iPhone XS) get all the attention, but plenty of people would like to keep their Home buttons, thank you very much. The iPhone 8 Plus might look a little outdated but as the final evolution of the company's classic handset design it still has much to offer - and at a far more affordable price than the XS.

In this article we compare the iPhone XS and the iPhone 8 Plus, contrasting their design, feature sets, specs and value for money to help you decide which is right for you. If you'd like an overview of the iPhone range as a whole, read our iPhone buying guide and Best iPhone deals articles.

Price & Availability

Both phones are available now. The XS is from Apple's latest generation, having launched in September 2018, whereas the 8 Plus was released in September 2017.

The iPhone 8 Plus isn't exactly cheap and cheerful, starting at £699/$699 for the 64GB edition; but the XS is a true premium option, adding £300/$300 at each storage tier. For the really well-heeled, Apple offers a cool half-terabyte option with the XS, which costs a punishing £1,349/$1,349.

Design & Build

Put the two phones side by side and the differences are stark.

The 8 Plus has a Home button below the screen in the traditional iPhone design, whereas the XS has ditched this button entirely: this means you get almost the whole front of the device as screen. The XS consequently has a slightly larger screen despite coming in a smaller chassis.

  • iPhone XS: 5.8in screen; 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm; 177g
  • iPhone 8 Plus: 5.5in screen; 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm; 202g

Put like this it seems straightforward: the X-series design is better, with a more immersive display (it's also sharper, as we'll discuss in the specs section) and a more portable chassis. And we'd agree with that, albeit with the caveat that the loss of the Home button means you'll need to relearn a lot of actions; in our experience it doesn't take long to get used to the new setup, but some buyers will prefer the comfort of familiarity.

We cover the new gestures and button usages (you still get the volume and side buttons, which have to take on some new functions) in How to use the iPhone XS.

A related issue is that the Home button contained the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, so the iPhone XS instead uses Face ID facial recognition to unlock the device, validate App Store purchases and so on. Face ID is tremendously impressive but, again, it's something new to get used to. Read Face ID vs Touch ID for more on this.

iPhone XS in pictures

iPhone XS vs iPhone 8 Plus: Design

iPhone XS vs iPhone 8 Plus: Design

iPhone XS vs iPhone 8 Plus: Design

iPhone 8 Plus in pictures

iPhone XS vs iPhone 8 Plus: Design

iPhone XS vs iPhone 8 Plus: Design

iPhone XS vs iPhone 8 Plus: Design

Specs & Features

The XS is a generation newer than the 8 Plus, and it will come as no surprise that it has a markedly better spec sheet. Let's work through the highlights:

Speed

The XS has an A12 Bionic processor and 4GB of RAM; the 8 Plus has an A11 Bionic and 3GB of RAM. Apple claims you'll get a 15% speed boost from the chip upgrade alone, but bear in mind that this is mostly theoretical at this point; there simply aren't any apps on the store that are demanding enough to give the A11 any problems. Give it a year or two and you'll start noticing a difference in the performance of these two devices.

Like numbers? The 8 Plus scored 10,190 in the multicore section of the Geekbench 4 speed test and the XS managed 11,082 - that's a little under 9% higher.

Screen

As well as being bigger, the XS's display is higher-resolution: you get a pixel density of 458 pixels per inch (ppi), compared to 401ppi on the 8 Plus. Mind you, 401ppi is still high, so it's debatable how noticeable the difference will be.

What you will notice is the difference in the quality of onscreen blacks. The XS has an OLED screen, whereas the 8 Plus gets the same LCD screen tech iPhones have featured since time immemorial. OLEDs are more power-efficient, thinner and better at displaying vibrant colours, deep blacks and bright whites. Read more in OLED vs LCD.

Cameras

The XS and 8 Plus both have twin rear-facing cameras (rated at 12Mp), enabling them to offer an attractive background-blurring bokeh effect when you activate Portrait Mode. They both get Portrait Lighting, too, and both have 7Mp front-facing cameras.

There are differences, though. The XS's Portrait Mode is a little more sophisticated, offering the ability to edit the depth of the effect in real time or afterwards, and you can access Portrait Mode from the XS's front-facing camera as well - handy for creating attractive selfies. Note that this is purely software-based, since there's still only one lens at the front, so it isn't quite as convincing as the effect both phones achieve with the twin lenses at the rear.

The XS's telephoto lens has an f/2.4 aperture, compared to the 8 Plus's f/2.8, and it features OIS on both rear-facing lenses rather than just one as on the 8 Plus. The XS captures stereo sound when recording video. And, perhaps most importantly, it can use the Neural Engine in the A12 processor for a feature Apple calls Smart HDR - where the camera uses AI to assess varying lightning conditions across a shot and tweak settings to account for each. We've seen the XS capture some fantastic shots in difficult conditions, although your mileage may vary.

Water resistance

Both phones are well set up to survive a reasonably brief liquid immersion, but again the XS is ahead here. It's rated as IP68 (generally speaking the maximum rating given to commercial products), which Apple interprets as "water-resistant to a depth of 2m for up to 30 minutes”. The 8 Plus gets a rating of IP67, which is the same only to just 1m.

Battery life

At last we get to an area where the 8 Plus is ahead. Apple claims a battery life of up to 20 hours of talk time for the XS, and up to 12 hours of internet use; for the 8 Plus those numbers are 21 and 13 hours respectively.

Miscellaneous differences

Two last items worth mentioning.

The XS supports eSIMs as well as featuring a nano-SIM slot; the 8 Plus supports nano-SIM only. And the XS supports gigabit LTE; the 8 Plus does not.

iPhone XS full specs

  • A12 Bionic processor chip with Neural Engine
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB/256GB/512GB storage
  • 5.8in (2436 x 1125, 19.5:9, 458ppi) 'Super Retina HD' OLED screen, 625cd/m2, True Tone, 3D Touch
  • Dual (f/1.8 wide-angle and f/2.4 telephoto) 12Mp rear-facing camera, True Tone flash, 2x optical zoom, dual OIS, 4K video at up to 60fps, slo-mo at 1080p at up to 240fps, Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting
  • 7Mp front-facing camera, f/2.2, Retina Flash, 1080p video at up to 60fps, Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji/Memoji
  • 2,658 mAh battery; up to 12 hours internet use (claimed); fast charge up to 50% charge in 30 minutes (claimed)
  • Stereo speakers
  • IP68 water- and dust-resistant
  • Face ID
  • Gigabit LTE, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC
  • 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm
  • 177g

iPhone 8 Plus full specs

  • A11 Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture, Neural Engine, Embedded M11 motion coprocessor (Geekbench 4 reports the A11 Bionic as running at 2.07GHz)
  • 3GB RAM
  • 64GB or 256GB
  • 5.5in (diagonal) widescreen Retina HD LCD Multi-Touch display with IPS technology; 1920x1080 resolution at 401ppi; 1300:1 contrast ratio; 625 cd/m2 max brightness; True Tone; 3D Touch
  • Dual-lens rear-facing camera: 12Mp wide-angle (f/1.8 aperture) and telephoto (f/2.8) cameras; optical zoom; digital zoom up to 10x; optical image stabilisation; Quad-LED True Tone flash with slow sync; 4K video recording at 24fps, 30fps or 60fps; slo‑mo video 1080p at 120fps or 240fps; Portrait mode; Portrait Lighting (beta); panorama (up to 63Mp)
  • 7Mp front-facing camera; 1080p HD video recording; Retina Flash; f/2.2 aperture
  • Stereo speaker
  • Rated IP67 water- and dust-resistant under IEC standard 60529
  • Claimed battery life: up to 13 hours of internet use. Fast-charge capable: up to 50 percent charge in 30 minutes.
  • 802.11ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO; Bluetooth 5.0; NFC; Touch ID; barometer; accelerometer
  • 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm
  • 202g

Software & Apps

Both phones run Apple's very own iOS operating system, which deserves its reputation for safety and user-friendliness. Buy now and they will come with the latest version of iOS 12, which includes Screen Time, a suite of features to help you monitor and control your device usage.

Both will be able to update to iOS 13 for free when it comes out in autumn 2019, and (unless Apple behaves very unexpectedly) both will get iOS 14 the year after too. But when the axe falls and ongoing software support is ended, it will for obvious reasons fall on the 8 Plus around a year earlier than the XS.

Unless you jailbreak your device you'll only be able to buy and install apps from the official App Store. In an ideal world we'd love to have access to an open market for iOS apps, but practically speaking this isn't much of a restriction (there are literally millions of apps on the official store, including umpteen free options) and it does make it harder to accidentally download malware.

Verdict

The XS is a better phone - make no mistake about that. But is it better by a big enough margin to justify the £300/$300 premium you're paying on top of the 8 Plus's (already fairly high) price tag? That depends on what you need from your handset.

The biggest difference is the screen, which is bigger on the XS (despite the device being smaller than the 8 Plus), sharper, and better at rendering blacks in particular. But the rear-facing camera is also noticeably better, and you get Portrait Mode on the front camera (and Animoji). The device itself is more future-proofed thanks to its newer processor chip and extra RAM.

On the down side the XS is (as previously mentioned) a lot more expensive, and will also require a little muscle-memory recalibration because the Home button has been removed. Oh, and battery life might be a shade lower than on the 8 Plus, but we've not had any issues with that in day-to-day use.

We're head over heels in love with the XS, but it's hard to justify the price, and for those who need to keep an eye on the budget the 8 Plus is probably the more sensible choice.

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