One of the best things about getting an iPhone is simplicity of choice.
Every year Apple releases two phones, the iPhone and the iPhone Plus, and picking between them is as simple as answering, “small screen or big screen, one camera or two?”
That changes this year with Apple, all in the same breath announcing both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, and the flashier, more superior iPhone X.
Apple says the iPhone X represents the future. It’s got a borderless display, one of the best cameras in the biz, and an innovative new facial recognition system that does more than just unlock your phone.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are more iterative updates with minor cosmetic changes and as per usual, a bump in specs.
But to stop there would be an injustice.
Even with the shiny new iPhone X on the horizon, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are amazing smartphones. In 2017, they may not look the part, but they are definitely some of the best you can buy today. Oh, and they won’t cost you US$ 1,000.
Back to Back Glass
The tale of the iPhone 8 is one that’s forged in glass. The back of the iPhone 8 is soft to the touch, not as slippery as metal, and unlike most other all-glass phones available today, surprisingly not as much a fingerprint magnet.
Apple says it’s made from the toughest kind of glass around, but even if that were so, glass is still prone to shattering if dropped, so it is in your best interest to case up from the get go.
Of course, if you do that, you cover up its new, more elegant finish, and there’d be no telling your new phone apart from last year’s model.
Wireless charging, finally!
Because its back is made of glass instead of aluminum, electric energy can now pass through, allowing the iPhone 8 to be the first iPhone to support wireless charging, meaning you can plop it onto a Qi-standard wireless charging mat to power up — no need for cables.
Some are quick to point out that Apple isn’t the first with this technology; Android phones have had it for many years, but with potentially millions of iPhones supporting it, it’s only a matter of time till wireless charging becomes ubiquitous.
If you’re considering the iPhone 8 purely for its wireless charging abilities, take pause. A wireless charger will set you back by at least US$ 59, and there are currently only a handful of establishments that offer wireless charging on tabletops. That might change soon, and only then will it truly be worth it, unless you’ve already outfitted your home with the essentials.
There’s an almost hyperbolic bit of marketing that goes into the naming of the iPhone 8’s new processor called the A11 Bionic, but in the case of this new system-on-a-chip (SoC) and the things it can do, it’s probably justified. Third-party lab tests reveal this new chip is as fast as a laptop computer.
On the surface, real-world benefits include a snappier interface, apps that load faster, better battery life, a smarter camera that takes more colorful photos and performs better in low light, video with higher frame rates, and the 3D face mapping needed by its new Portrait Lighting feature.
Then there are the not so obvious stuff. The Bionic chip’s built-in neural engine is part of Apple’s efforts to keep artificial intelligence processing on your device where it’s safer versus on the cloud (look up Apple’s “differential privacy”). Apple is also setting the stage for a richer AR-app ecosystem by creating high-powered devices that can support new immersive augmented reality applications.
Best Camera Ever
If there’s one compelling reason to upgrade to the iPhone 8, it would be for its camera. For years the iPhone trailed behind Samsung phones in terms of camera performance and image quality. Then the iPhone 7 Plus came along with a camera that could keep up.
This year though, the iPhone 8 has the potential to blow competition out of the water. In fact, in a recent report by DxOMark, an often referred to guide for measuring smartphone camera performance, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus outscored not only last year’s iPhones, but the previous co-champs Google’s Pixel and U11 from HTC.
While on paper specs look pretty much the same — a 12-megapixel camera with an f/1.8 lens and optical image stabilization, and a second f/2.8 telephoto lens on the iPhone 8 Plus — improvements come courtesy of the a larger image sensor, and the A11 Bionic chip which gives the iPhone camera the ability to understand subjects and shooting conditions so it can process images better.
Colors pop more on the iPhone 8 and high dynamic range (HDR) mode is always on.
As a side note, the iPhone has long been praised for color-accurate photos against the more punchy colors on Samsung Galaxy smartphones. Not sure how critics will respond to this, but I argue that most users will appreciate the more vibrant photos anyway.
In low light, the improvements are light night and day.
And in some cases, as good if not better than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
The Note 8 does that background blur effect better than the iPhone 8 Plus.
And it brings out more colors at night.
But sometimes, it struggles to pick the proper exposure when there are bright objects in an otherwise dark scene.
Only on the iPhone 8 Plus, because of its dual-camera system. Apple introduces a new feature called Portrait Lighting. Still in beta, the camera lets you take portraits like they were taken in a studio. When it works, the photos are pretty impressive, but it’s still very hit or miss depending on how busy the background is and how much light is available. Shoot over plain backgrounds during the day for best results.
Augmented Reality for Everyone
Augmented reality is not new and is not a feature exclusive to the iPhone 8. The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and ASUS ZenFone AR are Android phones designed for AR.
But since Apple’s developer conference in June, Apple has pushed to make it easier and cheaper for developers to create augmented reality apps for iOS.
Recently with the rollout of iOS 11, Apple gave older iPhones and iPads the ability to run AR apps. On the iPhone 8, the experience is supposed to be better and faster.
While the current offerings are limited, I enjoyed redesigning my apartment with the IKEA Place app, filling my space with AR versions of actual IKEA furniture. The AR game The Machines was also a treat, a gaming experience unlike any we’ve tried.
Brushing the Basics
Everything else is pretty standard yet impressive.
The same Retina display, now with True Tone technology that adjusts color temperature to lighting conditions; forward- and downward-facing stereo speakers, one of the best placements on a phone today; and water and dust resistance.
Unlike the upcoming iPhone X, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus still have the iconic circular Touch ID fingerprint sensor and may perhaps be the last iPhones to have it. It still no longer has a headphone jack.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus also support fast charging but you’ll need an optional adapter and cable for an extra US$ 70.
Are the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus your GadgetMatch?
Apple says the iPhone X is the future, and that future is mere months away.
But that does not and should not take away from the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus being some of the best phones we’ve reviewed this year. Most likely the best and last in this generation, both phones deserve the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.
Sure, they may look dated sans that flashy borderless display all its other rivals have on offer, but they are a great, solid choice. Existing iPhone users should upgrade if they’re due for one. It’s justified for the iPhone 6s and older.
Get the iPhone 8 for its smaller form factor and only if you could care less about those new portrait features. But do consider the iPhone 8 Plus. It’s not for everyone, but this size can grow on you — it did me.
Thinking about the iPhone X? Don’t forget the iPhone 8 Plus is US$ 200 cheaper, retains the home button which may or may not be faster and more reliable than Face ID, and if you like big phones, the X won’t be this big. The iPhone 8 Plus is going to be just as snappy and will have almost the same cameras.
Wait for the iPhone X if money isn’t an issue and if you want the most advanced iPhone around. It’s true depth camera system sounds revolutionary and we can’t wait to see what it can do.
If you’re penny pinching and have been holding off on an upgrade, the iPhone 7 Plus at almost US$ 350 cheaper than the iPhone X is still a phone we can wholeheartedly recommend. Maybe even more so now.
And finally, if you’re an Android user looking to switch. I’d pass on the iPhone 8 but consider the iPhone X — it’s the closest feature-for-feature to what the best Android phones today have to offer.