iOS 8 review: Great features, but wait before you take the leap

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As Apple aptly states, the iOS 8 is, in fact, the biggest release since the launch of the App Store. So much has been stuffed into the update, that you'd be left unearthing new features for the next few weeks after completing the download.

 

While there are many useful additions, there are also some that we think are unnecessary, and other useful changes that are just plain difficult to use. While we’ll be explaining these in detail in separate articles, this review focuses on how the new OS will affect most users, and not just power users. Needless to say, as with any new OS release a lot of the features will only be properly exposed when apps start making use of them.

 

Here's our review of Apple’s latest version of the OS to find out what it’s like to use and whether it’s worth making the upgrade.

 

Important functions become more accessible

In addition to a complete revamping of the interface, iOS 7 brought useful changes in terms of making commonly-used functions more accessible when it was released last year. Users no longer had to dig too deep inside menus to turn the Bluetooth on or reduce the screen’s brightness. The Control Center brought together connectivity toggles, playback controls and screen brightness into one place with a swipe, while the Notification Center showed you the latest notifications from apps, emails, calendar updates and phone contacts by swiping down from the top of the screen.

 

iOS 8 notifications

Reply to text messages directly from the notification screen

 

In the latest update, Apple has made better use of the Notification Center by introducing widgets. While widgets have always existed on Android, iOS devices have just been introduced to this new concept. Better late than never, we say. You can choose from a range of widgets from the App Store including calculators, language translation widgets, Dropbox and some games, which appear on the Notification Center. You can also move their positions within the Notification Center.

 

iOS 8 widgets

Disk space and data-use widget

 

The Control Center looks exactly the same except for a slight change in the colour scheme, while the Notification Center has got rid of the Missed section that had little use as it would show notifications that also appear under All. More could have been done to improve the Control Center, for example you still have to browse to the Settings to switch data connections.

 

For making faster phone calls, you can now see phone contacts in your Favorites list and people whom you’ve recently called by double-pressing the Home button. You can also reply to messages directly from the notification screen, though it only works for text messages sent via the carrier or through iMessage; third-party messaging apps such as WhatsApp are not supported.

 

MessagingiOS 8 predictive text

 

Messaging has got some much needed attention in iOS 8. You can now send voice clips other than photos and text. However, voice clips can only be sent through iMessages i.e to a fellow Apple user and not to non-Apple devices. Luckily, that's not the best gift to Messages. The saving grace is perhaps the introduction of predictive text, which does a great job at helping you complete the words you are about to type. You can also disable the suggestions while you are using the keyboard. If you’re unhappy with the keyboard, you can switch to third party keyboards apps, though we found the iOS 8 keyboard pretty efficient, so it’s unlikely you’ll need a new one. If you do, here are some great third-party keyboard apps to try out.

 

Apps

The new OS adds apps built into the OS, most of which should be familiar to Apple users. Now you have iBooks, Health, Tips and Podcasts that come along with the update. While Tips and Health make sense, we don’t see how making Podcasts and iBooks system apps in the OS brings any real value. The new apps hog precious storage space, which is already limited in Apple devices.

 

iOS 8 camera

New fine-tuning options in the camera

 

The camera has been given fine-tuning settings to adjust the exposure, brightness, contrast, shadows etc. You can search for photos within albums and a fun new Time-lapse mode. Although gimmicky, it's easy to use and does a good job at creating time-lapse videos. The front-facing camera now has a burst mode for quickly taking a series of self-shots and a timer so that you can focus on giving the right expressions than composing the picture. Panoramas are no longer restricted to iPhones, as the update allows iPads to take panorama shots, too.

 

iOS 8: New Messages, Control center, Search in Photos

Voice messages, Control Center, Search in Photos

 

Features not in India

A big drawback worth mentioning is that iOS 8 does not give you the option to turn off 3G and go back to 2G. iOS 8 only lets you turn on LTE while 3G is the default base network. We assume the phone defaults to 2G when it does not receive a 3G signal. What this means if you've subscribed to a 3G plan, you'll be browsing at 3G speeds all the time when you turn on cellular data. This could be a massive deal-breaker for Indians who are travelling and don't want to incur roaming 3G charges. We understand that LTE is the speed to aspire to, but in India, where even 3G coverage is not that great, this options makes little sense.

 

The cellular data settings from iOS 7 on the left, and from iOS 8 next to it.

The cellular data settings from iOS 7 on the left, and from iOS 8 next to it.

 

Spotlight (the Search bar that shows up when you swipe the homescreen from the top) displays suggestions from Wikipedia entries, nearby places etc, though nearby movies are available only in the US. Also words in Indian languages are not supported. Verbal dictation also does not support Indian languages.

 

Similarly, turn-by-turn navigation, Siri integration in sports, Facebook and Twitter are also not available in India. iTunes Radio, Apple's music streaming service, has failed to make its way to India in yet another iOS update.

 

Verdict

On the surface, iOS 8 looks like a moderate upgrade from last year's iOS 7, because there's virtually no change in the user interface. It's only when you start spending time using it that you unearth an expansive set of features including some rich ones such as Handoff, which lets you pick up from where you've left on different iOS devices, widgets that are accessible from the Notification center, and a range of Accessibility features including voice dictation. The latter need refinements as they are currently not very straightforward to use. The Tips app is a handy tool to help you get started with the new operating system, while Quick Type does improve your typing speed and accuracy. Overall it feels slicker to use and, though not in a big way, it does enhance the way you use your iPhone or iPad.

 

The massive update does come with drawbacks, though. While the OS is mostly very smooth, some apps show a noticeable lag when we tested the OS on an iPhone 5c. For instance, the screen would freeze for a few seconds if a notification popped-up when working on a different app. Reasons for this could range from limited iOS 8-optimised apps to actual bugs in the OS. Also, the camera feels slower now.

 

Should you upgrade? iOS 8 has lots to offer and iPhone 5s and iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display owners can upgrade immediately. Older device owners,however, should wait for at least a month or so before switching to the new OS as there are plenty of rumours taking rounds of iOS 8 slowing down older devices. We noticed some lag when we tried the new OS on the 5c, too. Certain apps that use HealthKit are reportedly buggy, while some have not been updated to run on iOS 8 yet. Minor updates and bug fixes will improve iOS 8 experience on older devices in future updates, just as Apple did for the iPhone 4 with iOS 7. Though not immediately, you'll be able to enjoy a better iOS 8 experience once the glitches have been ironed out.

 

The Good: Better keyboard, widgets, improved Notification center helps you to take quick actions, voice dictation

The Bad: Can't toggle between 3G and 2G, some apps don't work well, may slow down older devices, unnecessary built-in apps consume storage space,


Published Date: Sep 20, 2014 01:38 pm | Updated Date: Sep 20, 2014 01:38 pm