Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus Review
They're still great phones even if they do lack the 'X' factor
What are the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus?Well, the truth is you probably know the answer to that question unless you’ve been living under a stone for the last week or two. They are two of the three iPhones Apple announced on 12 September and are the direct successors to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
They are not, however, the new flagship iPhone, called iPhone X (pronounced 10, it’s a Roman numeral) which boasts an OLED display. That goes on sale in November and is a different kettle of fish altogether. But while these phones are living under the shadow of their more gifted X-rated sibling, these are still phones to be reckoned with and to be honest most of the iPhones sold this year will likely be these two. They’re not as pricey as the X and they’re available right now.
DesignFrom the front, these phones look very like last year’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The same Home button with fingerprint sensor beneath the display, the same camera and earpiece speaker above. The same big bezels at either end, even though the latest flagships are doing their best to minimise frames round the display.
The truth is, they don’t look bad because of this – the iPhone 7 Plus looked good last week so something similar still looks good today. But as the next 12 months roll round, it’s likely that smaller, thinner bezels will become the norm and at that point, these phones could begin to look old-fashioned.
The big design change is the back of the phone. It’s now made of glass instead of aluminium – because the iPhone wasn’t easy enough to smash already, right? Apple says it’s the most durable glass ever on an iPhone so we’ll see. The glass feels great, smooth and appealing but not as slippy as last year’s phones. It also adds a small amount of extra weight to these handsets, though it makes them feel more solid rather than overweight.
The colours are different for these new iPhones. There are only three to choose from, unlike the six – including PRODUCT(RED) – iPhone 7 options. The new colours are gold, silver and black. Gold looks fantastic: a warm, cheerful colour that’s somewhere between the gold and rose gold from last year. Silver is very demure, tending a little towards blue. Space grey is... well black.
The colours are most evident on the aluminium edging of the phone and in the case of silver and gold they only seep lightly through the glass back on the phones, popping up on the colour-matched iPhone logo.
The reason for the design change is mostly so the phones are capable of wireless charging, which we’ll come to later. The styling is unmistakably Apple but the glass back is different enough to make this look like the next stage in the evolution of iPhone design. And it’s pretty successful, I’d say.
The glass back is attractive and the new phones come in silver, gold and 'space grey'
DisplayOn both phones here, the Retina HD display is the same size and resolution as the corresponding handset from 2016. The 4.7in display has a 326ppi resolution, the larger Plus size is 5.5in and has a resolution of 401ppi. Both look good but the higher resolution of the Plus looks especially attractive.
What’s new this time is the addition of True Tone. That’s the subtly transformative tech which uses four-channel ambient light sensors to measure light colours and has previously only been seen on the iPad Pro. It then adjusts the colour output so that everything looks exactly as it’s meant to, compensating precisely whether you’re outside in bright sunshine or a dimly lit room. I’ve tried it in different situations and the effect ranges from subtle to garish. In every case, though, turning True Tone off revealed that it looks more natural with it turned on again. True Tone is quiet, but revelatory, and is a welcome addition to the iPhone screen. The iPhone adds wide colour gamut for more vivid and realistic hues, too.
Whatever the technology, these screens are deeply attractive. They really gleam.
CameraThe camera is now such a big part of every smartphone purchase, it’s a foregone conclusion that it needs to get better every time, yes? Well, Apple has promised new, bigger sensors in both phones. As before, there’s a dual camera set-up on the Plus and a single camera on the smaller model. Since other smaller cameraphones manage twin lenses it’s a shame they’re not here but that would have meant a bigger redesign than Apple would have wanted, perhaps.
The sensor on the 8 is a 12-megapixel one with an f/1.8 aperture and what Apple calls deeper pixels. It seems this is to provide a bigger area for the photons to hit and greater pixel depth means better dynamic range.
The latest iPhones also have slow sync flash, a technique to get round the fact that a flash usually whitens, flattens and ruins a photo. The quad-LED flash helps to give a more uniform lighting across the image. This means you use a longer shutter opening and a slowed-down flash sync, that allows you to expose the scene but add proper light to your subject.
The iPhone 8 camera is great, and would look even better if there wasn’t a dual-lens snapper to compare it to. But there is. The iPhone 8 Plus camera is amazing, a real step forward in image quality, with one lens that’s the same as the iPhone 8 and one that’s a telephoto lens which effectively gives a 2x optical zoom as the camera snaps between the two.
This camera set-up is especially good because of Portrait Lighting, which is only in beta but already looks promising. Last year on the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple introduced Portrait mode which used both sensors at the same time so it could carefully cut the background out around your subject and artfully blur it for a nice depth of field effect.
Portrait Lighting takes this effect further by analysing the light that falls on the subject’s face and adjusts the effect. So Studio Light brightens the face as though you’re sitting for the photographer. Contour Light accentuates highlights and lowlights. And Stage Light and Stage Light Mono place your subject on a black background as though they were performing on stage, perhaps. One is in black-and-white, obviously.
Getting to grips with the effects here is perhaps the high point of the entire phone. Best of all, though you see the effects in real time as you frame your shot, you can change your mind afterwards if you prefer.
The front-facing FaceTime HD camera is the same on both 8 models. It is a 7-megapixel model and works as brilliantly as ever, if you really must take selfies.
In day-to-day use, these are excellent cameras with new features appearing in iOS 11 such as Live Photos with effects like Loop and Bounce or Long Exposure elements to create artistically blurred effects. It’s not that Apple always has the best lenses, though these are excellent, but they have astonishingly good image processing which makes photos look good or, sometimes, amazing.
The cameras have always been good but it's the image processing where Apple excel
AudioThe iPhone 8 Plus came with the promise of improved speakers – actual stereo sound coming from the regular speaker on the base of the phone and also from the top of the phone, from the earpiece. It’s worth noting that the bottom speaker grille, though it might look as though it’s one speaker each side of the Lightning socket but that’s just the design – it’s always been a mono speaker there.
Listening to music played on the iPhone 7 Plus and then on the 8 Plus, the difference was very noticeable. The new phone is louder, for sure, but it’s also much clearer, cleaner and actually feels like there’s stereo separation. Let’s be clear, the distance between top and bottom is so small it’s hard to hear the channels distinctly, but it means video playback has a decent punch to it, in sonic terms. One useful little feature is that when you’re playing audio on the phone, the system is clever enough that if you put it on the charging pad it mutes the beep the phone would normally make.
Of course, audio through headphones is going to sound better and you can always use a Bluetooth speaker for a better sound experience, but this is certainly the best speaker audio I’ve heard from an iPhone.
PerformanceThat flagship X handset that’s on its way has a brand new processor called A11 Bionic. Although these phones are cheaper, they have the same chip, so it’s no surprise that both of these phones are real performers. They almost never dawdle, whatever they’re doing.
There’s more RAM in the 8 Plus, but it doesn’t matter because there are fewer pixels to control on the 8. These are phones which zoom along, even when handling graphic-heavy games, for example. They can even handle Augmented Reality, where the phone’s display overlays its view of the real world with digital information. This is on other iPhones with iOS 11 but that A11 Bionic means it looks at its best here. Expect a gold rush of AR apps in the coming months.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus use the same A11 Bionic processor as the upcoming iPhone X
BatteryThe chip also includes a performance controller which is claimed to be super-efficient, so much so that it can do more on less energy. That should be enough for the battery to have life on a par with last year’s models – that’s what I’ve seen so far, at least.
And now you can charge that battery wirelessly, with any charging pad on the QI (pronounced Chee) standard. It may not sound much, but wireless charging is brilliant. Placing the phone on a pad is easy – not that plugging it in was difficult but if you need to unplug every time you picked the phone up to check a message, change a music track or whatever you can quickly see the benefit of just placing it on a pad instead. The convenience of this method of charging is quickly addictive and highly welcome. Apple’s far from first with this but it’s perfectly executed. Expect wireless charging to become much more widespread, and quickly.
Wireless, though, is not as fast to charge as the Lightning cable but it has another benefit: if you plug your headphones into the Lightning cable (there’s no headphone jack, remember) then you can now charge your phone while you listen. Previously, you needed an adaptor to achieve that.
If you want to charge faster, you can do that, too. If you have a more powerful charger which has USB-C at one end, like a MacBook Pro charger, say, and a USB-C to Lightning cable, you can really charge quickly.
Wireless recharging is so convenient you'll be wondering how you survived without it
- Fast processor
- Great cameras
- Superb image processing
- Wireless charging
- Excellent operating system
- Countless apps
- Design might become dated
- They're not the iPhone X
Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus ReviewThe real problem here is that both these phones have a large iPhone X-shaped shadow falling on them, promising the future as loudly as the first iPhone did ten years ago. But to be honest, that’s their worst failing.
These are both excellent phones, with the same purpose as last year – if your hand can fit it, the Plus is an amazing phone with I would say the best camera available. Though that may change when the X arrives. For now, the Portrait Lighting function is highly enjoyable and will become an essential photo tool as it beds in.
If your hands aren’t quite big enough to suit the Plus, the iPhone 8 is a great phone and may become the best smaller phone on the market in the year ahead. It’s only in comparison to the 8 Plus that it suffers. The top-of-the-range processor is a bonus and really shows in the phones’ performance.
The arrival of wireless charging is to be greatly welcomed and even changes our approach to how to keep our phones juiced – five minutes here, then another burst and another is easily arranged in a way that it just wasn’t with the slightly less convenient corded Lightning connection.
If you want a radically different phone design, you’ll need to wait, and save, for the iPhone X. But the design here, though only a tweaking of the antenna band and the replacement of aluminium back with glass is highly effective. If the X wasn’t on its way I’d say these were two of the best phone designs I’d ever seen. The bezels may be wide but their size isn't an issue, although the trend towards slimmer bezels may result in the design appearing dated.
Overall the Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus remain excellent smartphones that offer plenty of great features for their asking price and certainly come recommended.
Call and Signal Quality8
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts8
App support and functionality8
Value for Money7
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