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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to improve your iPhone or iPad battery life with iOS 11
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.
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
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.