You'll need to make your own mind up about this one, since it's a refined smartphone but a lacklustre upgrade. Had Apple included a fast charger and maybe some form of wireless charging pad, it would have matched the 8/10 awarded to last year’s iPhone 7 Plus.
If you expect your yearly smartphone upgrade to include a few significant advantages over last year’s model, the iPhone 8 may disappoint. If you’re not one to upgrade your device year-on-year, the iPhone 8 might be the best smartphone you can buy right now.
This year’s model marks one of the least exciting updates we’ve ever seen, but its base model is $50 more expensive than last year’s model. So what, if anything, can redeem the iPhone 8 enough to make you want to part with your cash?
Back to Glass
Just like the iPhone 6s and 7, the iPhone 8 isn’t that different in design to the model that preceded it. The only immediately noticeable change is the inclusion of a glass panel on the back, a change made to accomodate a conductive panel that adds a long overdue feature: wireless charging.
Whether you’re a fan of the iPhone 4-esque styling or not, early drop tests confirm that it’s as easy to break as any smartphone screen. Time will tell if it also scratches up badly, but considering most of us cover our devices with a case it’s unlikely to even be noticed let alone sustain significant damage.
In terms of physical dimensions it’s basically an iPhone 7, with the same camera and flash placement, identical capacitive Touch ID home button, and the same perforations and inputs around the edge of the device. At only 0.1mm taller, 0.2mm wider, and 0.2mm thicker, the biggest difference you’ll notice is in the weight.
The iPhone 8 is 10 grams (0.35 ounces) heavier than last year’s model, likely due to that glass and conductive panel. More significantly, the change does mean that the balance of the device has been slightly altered. The new model feels slightly more top-heavy in the hand compared to the iPhone 7, something that’s likely to be more significant on the Plus models.
Ultimately it’s still a pleasant design, but you’d be forgiven for being a bit bored of it by now. It’s serviceable without being drastically different, and if you really want a radically different iPhone to the last three models, you’ll have to opt for the iPhone X when it arrives in November.
So it’s a Fancy iPhone 7?
The comparisons with last year’s model don’t stop there, and the closer you look the more it feels like an iPhone 7s than a true generational leap. As expected, the biggest upgrade comes in the form of Apple’s system-on-chip which provides a few improvements beyond the usual speed boost.
The iPhone 8 is powered by the same A11 Bionic chip found in the upcoming iPhone X, despite being $300 cheaper for the base model. It’s still got 2GB of RAM (compared to 3GB for the Plus) which is likely less of a drawback than it seems when you factor in the single lens camera and smaller 4.7-inch display.
According to Apple the A11 offers some significant speed improvements: 25% CPU boost at full load, and 70% when idling; a 30% bump in GPU perfomance; and a whopping 70% improvement to multitasking. In testing, the device didn’t skip a beat while switching between Safari tabs, Facebook, and more demanding processes like iMovie.
It’s worth noting at this point that I haven’t noticed any significant problems with my year-old iPhone 7 Plus, either when running demanding apps or when switching between them. If you’re upgrading from the iPhone 6s or earlier, you’ll probably some performance boost though.
Wireless charging finally makes an appearance in an iPhone, but the feature could be missing altogether for all you know. The iPhone 8 is compatible with Qi wireless chargers, but there’s no charging pad included in the box and the company’s AirPower charging mat won’t be here till next year.
The iPhone 8 also adds fast charging, a feature many competing smartphones have had for a long time. This also suffers from a critical flaw: there’s no compatible fast charger in the box. Apple recommends its own USB-C to Lightning charger, and 29w USB adapter — an additional $75 worth of expenditure. Thanks, Apple.
If you’re willing to fork out for the additional hardware, the iPhone 8 can climb to a 50% charge from dead in 30 minutes. That’s not an insignificant improvement, and the investment might be worth it if you’re always out of battery and don’t want the added heft of a Plus-sized model.
While the iPhone 8’s display maintains the same resolution, pixel density, and contrast ratio of its predecessor, Apple saw sense to add its True Tone white balancing technology to the display this time round. First seen on the iPad Pro, the feature adjusts the whites on screen to better suit the ambient lighting of your surroundings.
It’s a subtle feature, but I really liked it on the iPad Pro and it’s most welcome here. You’ll also get compatibility with Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards, which streaming services like Netflix will take advantage of (though whether there will be a lot of content remains to be seen).
Optics-wise the iPhone 8 sports the same 12 megapixel f/1.8 rear camera and 7 megapixel f/2.2 front-facing camera as the iPhone 7. Thanks to the A11 Bionic, Apple has improved the image signal processor for faster low light autofocus, better noise reduction, and improved pixel processing.
This is more in-line with Google’s offerings on its recent mobile devices, where software takes a pivotal role in improving image processing to deliver better results. I’ve always been a bit disappointed with the somewhat noisy telephoto lens on my iPhone 7 Plus, so this is a most welcome improvement. The results speak for themselves, with the camera finding focus points and delivering cleaner images than last year’s hardware.
Perhaps the most significant improvement over last years model though is the inclusion of 4K videos at 60 frames per second. This is something even Sony’s $2000 mirrorless cameras don’t currently offer, and it enables smooth 50% speed videos at a massive resolution. Again, you can thank the A11 for that.
A Worthy Upgrade?
There’s also the usual flurry of small improvements we’ve come to expect from iterative hardware updates, and refinements to existing technologies that improve usability. You’ll get Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility for example, and the speakers are 25% louder. The base model also includes double the storage at 64GB, though the 128GB option is entirely absent this time round.
Touch ID is present again, marking the biggest difference between this and the iPhone X. While the upcoming model uses facial recognition, the iPhone 8 still relies on your fingerprint. It’s faster than ever, and for many it’s more than sufficient. We don’t yet know how well Face ID will work, how fast it will be, and whether it’s truly convenient.
And that’s before you reach for your tinfoil hat and explore the various privacy and security implications of a smartphone that maps your face. With Touch ID you can unlock your iPhone in your pocket and it’s ready to go before you’ve raised it to your face — in many ways it’s more convenient than the next big thing. Could the iPhone 8 be the last time we see the feature on an Apple smartphone?
A new fast setup feature allows you to use your old phone to automatically transfer credentials when you first fire it up, but most people will likely restore the phone fully using iTunes. For the feature to be really useful, it would need to be reliable enough to transfer your old phone’s contents in its entirety. Next year’s iPhone, perhaps?
Despite tweaks and hardware improvements, many things remain the same. Battery life hasn’t improved, though fast charging will likely sweeten the pill if you’re willing to buy the necessarily cables and adapters. The IP67 water and dust resistance remains the same, but it would have been nice to see a more rugged iPhone. The chassis is also made from the same tough 7000 series aluminium.
iOS 11 is also new, but your old phone is probably compatible. It doesn’t add too many hardware-specific functions outside of some smart portrait lighting effects for iPhone 8 Plus users.
Ignore the Score
You can ultimately evaluate the iPhone 8 without ever picking it up, assuming you already own a 6s or 7. It’s a refinement of what came before it, with unrealised potential in its wireless and fast charging abilities. The new A11 processor really gets the job done, but the A10 and A9 chips are also still capable in their own right.
From a reviewer’s standpoint, this creates a dilemma. Just because the iPhone 8 isn’t a significant leap over last year’s model, that doesn’t make it a bad device. It also doesn’t make it a bad buy.
But as a new device, and one that many expect will include significant changes to make their purchase worthwhile, there’s no denying that it falls short. This makes the number at the start of this review largely irrelevant, because your own situation and expectations will shape how you see this device.
Much of this is likely down to the iPhone X being Apple’s vision of the future, but that technology comes at a price.