iPhone 8 review: More of the same, but better in just about every way

iphone-8-3.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    9.0 Outstanding
  • $849.00

Pros

  • Wireless charging
  • Impressive camera
  • Smooth performance

Cons

  • Same old design, with a small tweaks

iPhone 8 Plus Review

Bigger is better, but not for much longer

Boasts some fancy new camera tricks that make it attractive... for now.

Read More

Apple's newest iPhone is here, available now. The iPhone 8 is a respectable improvement over last year's model but is overshadowed by the iPhone X, available later. It's difficult to look at a device that, from the outside, looks similar to iPhones of the past, with a futuristic looking iPhone X already unveiled.

Instead of looking into the future, let's take a look at one of the iPhones Apple is shipping right now - the iPhone 8.

CNET: Phone 8 review: The status quo upgrade

If you're looking for a review of the iPhone 8 Plus, you can find it here. There's a lot of overlap between the two devices, with this review focusing on those areas, and the 8 Plus review focusing on features specific to that device.

Design

iphone-8-2.jpg
Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

From the front, the iPhone 8 looks identical to the iPhone 7, and for that matter largely the same to the iPhone 6 and 6S before it. That means the same 4.7-inch display, with a physical home button on the bottom, and an earpiece along with sensor cutout along the top. The right side is the wake/unlock button, with the left side housing the volume up/down buttons as well as the mute switch.

It's not until you flip the phone over until and see the glass back that you truly realize the iPhone 8 isn't an older model. The iPhone 8 is so similar to the iPhone 7, in fact, that most iPhone 7 cases will work on the iPhone 8.

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By using a glass back, Apple not only slightly changed the look of a design that's quickly growing tired, but it enabled the company to add wireless charging (more on that in a bit).

I find the glass back to be smooth, and somewhat slippery. And if there are two things I never want to put together on a phone, it's bound to be glass and slippery. A glass back is bound to break when dropped, and it's expensive to replace. That said, I'm never one to use cases for more than a day or two, and I don't plan on doing so with the iPhone 8.

Performance

As is typically the case with each new iPhone, Apple also introduced a new A-series processor. The A11 Bionic boasts six cores, four are dedicated to common tasks such as checking email and browsing the web. The remaining two cores are designed to maximize performance, in particular during graphics intensive processes such as gaming and augmented reality.

The four efficiency cores of the A11 Bionic provide the same computing power as Apple's A8 chip, but at one-third of the required power.

Reviewing devices and quantifying performance gains is always a delicate balance of expressing daily use and perceived speed boosts. I mentioned in my initial hands-on with the new iPhones felt faster, and that I planned on going back to the iPhone 7 Plus to verify.

I've done just that, and the difference is even more pronounced. The iPhone 8 is much, much faster than the previous generation iPhone and it's not even close.

Also: Everything you need to know about charging your iPhone 8 | iPhone 8 Plus costs $295.44 to make | As expected, the iPhone 8 breaks if you drop it (but it's better than the Samsung Note 8) | iPhone 8, iPhone X vs Android flagships: Speed tests say it's not even close

My one gripe about overall performance is more focused on iOS 11 than it is on the iPhone 8 itself. I have experienced issues with the device soft restarting itself after interacting with notifications from the lock screen, as well as random instances of screen rotation not properly working.

I'm currently running iOS 11.0.1 on the iPhone 8, and plan on installing the public beta of iOS 11.1 after this review is live for further testing.

I experienced the same issues on my iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8, so I know it's not specific to one device.

Augmented Reality

Speaking of performance, with the release of iOS 11 Apple has added augmented reality capabilities to millions of devices around the world. The iPhone 8 lineup is the first set of Apple devices built with this feature in mind.

I used and tested several AR apps during my time with the iPhone 8, and found it as fascinating and impressive as it is boring.

Don't get me wrong, the ability to accurately measure a room or object using my phone's camera is something I once scoffed at being possible. But the current state of augmented apps and games in the App Store is an abundance of single-use scenarios.

Take the IKEA app that lets you place different furniture and household items in a living space to get an idea of how it would look. It's neat, but once you have the furniture, you're not likely to go back into the app and shop for another couch. That'd be far too expensive.

Star and planet mapping app Sky Guide is, thus far, the only app I can see myself and others coming back to time and time again. The app has always mapped out the sky above, including constellations, planets, and stars. With the release of iOS 11, however, Sky Guide now precisely overlays the exact location of each item using AR. It's fascinating and educational.

I think my complaints about the current state of AR on iOS boils down to using a smartphone as the screen. Holding up a phone and looking at alien robots battling for supremacy on my kitchen table while walking in circles, pinching and zooming on a small screen to move objects limited and cumbersome.

Now, if Apple were to build a pair of augmented reality glasses I could control with my voice and use gestures to manipulate objects in front of me as it overlaid objects, well, I think that would be intriguing.

I'm not trying to take away from what Apple has done with iOS 11 and bringing augmented reality to users who would not otherwise seek it out will only help push AR apps and use cases into the mainstream. I just think there's a lot more work to be done before it goes beyond single use cases.

Battery life and wireless charging

Battery life of the iPhone 8 matches my experience with the iPhone 7 before it. With the iPhone 8, powering through an entire day of use isn't unreasonable. On days of particularly heavy use, the need to charge for a few minutes isn't unusual.

The real news with the iPhone 8 lineup in relation to the battery is the addition of wireless and fast charging. There are two wireless charging standards, Qi and PMA. Apple adopted the former standard for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. Meaning, any current Qi wireless charging pad should work with the new iPhones.

To be clear, it's not a completely wireless solution. The pad still needs to have power running to it, so there's a cord involved. However, to charge an iPhone, you only need to place it on the charging pad and it will begin charging.

iphone-8-plus-wireless-charging.jpg

An iPhone 8 Plus charging in RAVPower's Fast Wireless Charging Pad.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Apple included Belkin's BoostUp charging pad with my review units, and I also used RAVPower's Fast Wireless Charging Pad during my time with the devices. Both pads have a status light to let you know when a phone is placed on it to indicate it's charging, and are capable of providing up to 7.5W of charging power. Currently, however, Apple has limited the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus to 5W wireless charging.

A future software update, potentially iOS 11.1, will enable faster wireless charging of 7.5W.

In other words, right now both iPhones charge at the same rate as the Lightning connector and wall adapter that's included with the phones.

Wireless charging is one of these features I've always enjoyed using with Android devices for the simple fact that it's seamless. Place your phone down and it charges. You don't have to think about it.

For example, on my desk is a wireless charging pad. It's where I place my phone - regardless of type - when I'm working. I no longer think about where the phone goes, and a side effect of something I naturally do is that it charges any compatible phone. And now the iPhone is added to the list of devices that will stay charged.

Alongside the new iPhones Apple announced its own charging pad. The AirPower Mat won't begin shipping until early 2018, but it adds support for charging three devices at once - something current Qi pads lack. Apple will begin selling a new wireless charging compatible case for AirPods, and the Apple Watch Series 3 is compatible with Qi charging to use with the AirPower Mat.

Another power-related feature Apple has added to the iPhone 8 is fast charging. With fast charging, the iPhone 8 can see as much as 50-percent of a charge in just 30 minutes. Keep in mind that's with a battery that's nearly drained, and when using Apple's 29W wall adapter and a USB-C to Lightning cable. Neither of which are included with the iPhone.

Frustrating, no doubt. I happened to have a 29W wall adapter and the proper cable due to the iPad Pro lineup having fast charging, and I got tired of waiting several hours for my iPad to go from empty to full. Apple's estimates are accurate, with the average battery gain in 30 minutes being in line with the 50-percent estimate.

The cost to get a similar setup is a minimum of $75, depending on the length of the USB-C cable you buy. It's a shame Apple doesn't include the proper hardware in the box with each iPhone, as it's surely something users will benefit from and appreciate.

For now, at least, fast charging is an optional feature you're going to have to pay extra to use.

Camera

iphone-8-4.jpg
Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With most people's main camera being the smartphone he or she always has nearby, it makes sense for Apple to continue to emphasize the updates it makes each year in this area. For this year, the iPhone 8 stays with a single 12-megapixel sensor. The FaceTime, or front-facing camera, is 7-megapixels. Don't let the numbers fool you, this isn't the same camera Apple used in the iPhone 7.

There's now a larger, faster sensor, with optical image stabilization for clearer pictures. Apple has also added a new flash and slow sync setup to better illuminate and capture objects in low light environments. There's also a new image signal processor built into Apple's A11 Bionic processor and Apple's own video encoder.

All of these terms, processors, and encoders combine to create the two best smartphone camera setups I've personally used. Prior to using the iPhone 8 (and 8 Plus), my go to smartphone camera was the latest Samsung Galaxy device. Starting with the Galaxy S7, I felt the quality, color reproduction, and sharpness captured by Samsung's smartphones was superior to that of the iPhone lineup.

With the iPhone 8, I've experienced consistent photo quality beyond what I can capture with Samsung's smartphone lineup. The amount of time to focus, the contrast, sharpness, and color replication have all been improved across the board.

The iPhone 8 Plus has a better camera than the iPhone 8 thanks it its dual camera setup and added software tricks, but it's only slightly. Anyone using an iPhone 8 to capture precious photos of kids growing up won't be disappointed with the results.

Boring for some, new to others

iphone-8-3.jpg
Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Take a faster processor, a slightly updated design, an improved camera, and some new charging tricks and it all adds up to the iPhone 8. But is it enough to persuade iPhone loyalists to stick with Apple? Or what about those Android users who are tempted by Apple's ecosystem and ease of use?

I'm not so sure. With the exception of wireless charging, Apple has used a similar recipe for the past four iPhone releases. A slight change here, improvement here, and bam a new iPhone.

Apple's approach has worked, but as I mentioned earlier, it's growing tired.

With the iPhone X, Apple has finally broken that mold and I think it's going to attract plenty of converts and loyalists alike.

But what if you're one of those who doesn't care for the iPhone X's design, or want something that costs $999 or more? The iPhone 8 is a worthwhile upgrade if you're coming from anything older than the iPhone 7. Those who have the iPhone 7, I'd suggest either getting the iPhone X or waiting for next year's crop of devices.

The iPhone 8 starts at $699 for 64GB of storage, with a 256GB model upping the cost to $849.

Specifications

Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Type SmartPhone
Integrated Components digital player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, stereo speakers, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
Operating System Family iOS
Operating System iOS 11
Payment Technology Apple Pay
Intelligent Assistant Siri
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty single-SIM
Input Device 3D Touch, capacitive
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor, digital compass, barometer
Additional Features Multitasking, FaceTime, AirPrint wireless printing, iCloud Photo Sharing, AirDrop function, MIMO technology, Wi-Fi Calling, iBeacon microlocation, CarPlay function, QuickType keyboard, Handoff, HomeKit, Apple TV support (2nd or later), Fast Charging, AirPlay 2 wireless streaming, M11 motion coprocessor, Neural Engine
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
General
SAR Value 1.17 W/kg (body) / 1.19 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, voice recorder, stereo speakers, navigation, digital player
Body Color Silver
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Included Accessories Power adapter, Lightning to 3.5 mm jack adapter, Apple EarPods with Lightning Connector, Lightning to USB cable
Color Silver
Color Category silver
Body Material aerospace-grade 7000 Series aluminum, glass, oleophobic coating
Protection dustproof, splashproof, waterproof
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Display
Technology Retina HD display with IPS technology
Display Resolution 1334 x 750 pixels
Pixel Density (ppi) 326
Contrast Ratio 1400:1
Diagonal Size 4.7 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 11.9 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 4.7 in
Protection fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Color Support color
Display Languages Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Catalan, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Chinese (simplified), Thai, Turkish, UK English, US English, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Chinese (traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English
Features Display Zoom, Dolby Vision, Dual-domain pixels, HDR10, Reachability (screen shifting)
Processor
Manufacturer Apple
64-bit Architecture Yes
Coprocessor M11 motion
Communications
Data Transmission DC-HSDPA, EDGE, VoLTE, FDD-LTE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE, LTE Advanced, TDD-LTE
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 5.0, IEEE 802.11ac, NFC
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards M-JPEG, H.264, HEVC, MPEG-4 Part 2
Supported Digital Audio Standards Audible, MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless, AC-3, AAC-LC, LPCM, HE-AAC, Audible AAX, Audible AAX+, protected AAC, EAC3, HE-AAC v2
Environmental Parameters
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Humidity Range Operating 5 - 95% (non-condensing)
Battery
Run Time Details Talk: up to 840 min
Active online usage: up to 12 hrs
Playback (wireless video): up to 13 hrs
Playback (wireless audio): up to 40 hrs
Wireless Charging Yes
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple iPhone
Model 8
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (3D Touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer, digital compass, proximity sensor, three-axis gyro sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features AirDrop function, AirPlay 2 wireless streaming, MIMO technology, Neural Engine, QuickType keyboard, Wi-Fi Calling, iBeacon microlocation, iCloud Photo Sharing, multitasking, AirPrint wireless printing, Apple TV support (2nd or later), CarPlay function, FaceTime, Fast Charging, Handoff, HomeKit, M11 motion coprocessor
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC-LC, AC-3, LPCM, MP3, protected AAC, Apple Lossless, Audible, Audible AAX, EAC3, FLAC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2
Supported Digital Video Standards H.264, HEVC, M-JPEG, MPEG-4 Part 2
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 256 GB
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty, technical support
Service Included consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year, 90 days
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 7 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.2
Features Auto image stabilization, Exposure control, FaceTime HD camera
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Dimensions & Weight
Width 2.65 in
Depth 0.29 in
Height 5.45 in
Weight 5.22 oz

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Where To Buy

Apple iPhone 8 (256GB, Silver)

Part Number: CNETiPHONE8256GBSIL
Price
$849.00

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