Early Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus reviews describe incredible new changes under the hood

Apple is still trying to get away with a 4-year old design that feels dated, but the internal tweaks and upgrades appear to justify an upgrade.

September, a special month for Apple fans. It’s that month every year when Apple announces the next evolution in smartphone technology. The month is also significant to Android fans, for this is the time for them to gloat over all the features Apple copied from Android.

Early Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus reviews describe incredible new changes under the hood

iPhone 8 Plus. Apple

Either way, this is an important time for all fans, and obviously, most critical to these life-changing discussions are the new devices at the heart of it all. These new devices, this time around, are rather controversial. The first is a completely redesigned iPhone, the iPhone X, that is to define the iPhone of the next generation.

Sadly, this will be in such limited supply, and so highly priced, that those looking to upgrade will have no choice but to go after Apple’s other new products this year, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

The latter two devices are controversial because on the surface, they’re basically the same as previous three iterations of iPhone in terms of design language. The phones do introduce some remarkable new upgrades, but they’re not the glorious new iPhone X, and that might be their biggest shortcomings. Or is it?

Given that Apple is a US-based company, US media is always lucky enough to get its hands on the new iPhones before the rest of the world. As such, their reviews are out before most of the rest of the world. While we wait for Apple’s latest to drop by our office (*conspiratorial whisper* they’re coming soon*end whisper*), we’ll have to make do with what the privileged few think of the devices.

First impressions: More of the same, but better

As Wired puts it, “there’s nothing terribly surprising” about the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. They say that the phones are nicer to hold and much better to look at than the last ones, though they’re also quick to point out that the glass back scratches more easily than expected.

Image: Apple.

Image: Apple.

Engadget thinks that the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are for people who like their iPhones “just the way they are”. Engadget also add that while “they [the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus] may look conventional, they’re a big step forward. Their review does note, however, that the combination of slightly higher weight and larger dimensions makes the iPhone 8 Plus a bit more unwieldy than it could be, especially when compared to what Samsung has done with its Galaxy S8 and Note 8 line.

The Wall Street Journal describes the phones as a “modest upgrade”, going so far as to note that the glass back actually looks cheaper than the “contiguous finish” on the Jet Black iPhone 7.

In its own review, The Verge describes the new design as the best iteration of the iPhone design that we first saw on the iPhone 6 in 2014. It’s not new or revolutionary, just the ultimate refinement of that design yet.

Display: More of the same, but better, again

This is 3 generations of iPhones, and Apple has been using the same design for 4 generations now. Can you tell them apart?

This is 3 generations of iPhones, and Apple has been using the same design for 4 generations now. Can you tell them apart?

The iPhone 8’s display hasn’t changed much since the iPhone 7. All the AMOLED-HDR goodness is only reserved for the iPhone X. The only upgrade to the display this time around is the introduction of TrueTone technology, but we already saw this on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Those who’ve tried TrueTone on the iPhone 8 are very happy with the feature, but, again, note that it’s not a compelling, revolutionary feature.

Camera: More of the same, or is it?

The company has improved the camera sensors on both the devices.

The company has improved the camera sensors on both the devices.

On paper, this again appears to be another feature that’s remained unchanged or slightly tweaked, at the most.

The reviews we’ve seen so far are in agreement that colours seem punchier than they were on the same, but that they’re still more natural than those from Samsung. Engadget notes that daylight shots on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus showed more detail than the Note 8, but that the Note 8’s colours were brighter, if less natural. They also add that the Note 8 sneaks ahead in low light performance.

The Verge notes that the images show less smoothing and better colour. TechCrunch, which did a deep dive on just the camera, explains how the camera is different.

For a start, Apple’s redesigned the camera hardware. The camera bandwidth has been increased by 83 percent, which means that a lot more data can now be processed. This is also why HDR is now an always-on feature, as on the Pixel, and why shutter lag is notably lower. The phone simply starts recording and processing multiple images even before you press the shutter button.

Noise reduction is another area that sees a major change. Where noise reduction was previously a function of software, it’s now a function of the hardware. TechCrunch reports that Apple is now using a hardware-level “multi-band noise reduction algorithm” that improves quality.

The bottom line is just this: The camera is faster than ever before and images are cleaner and punchier.

Portrait Lighting: The next big thing, next year, maybe

Portrait Lighting on the new iPhones

Portrait Lighting on the new iPhones

An extension of the camera is the new Portrait Lighting feature. Essentially, the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X use the dual rear camera setup and TrueDepth sensor (in the case of the iPhone X) to capture depth information and add 3D lighting effects to portraits. In theory, these effects can mimic the lighting in studio setups.

In practice, there appears to be a very good reason why the feature is still in beta: It just doesn’t work that well right now. Various reviewers have noted that when the mode works, its good, but The Verge points out that much of the time, it almost seems like a simple filter has been applied to images. The output can also be a bit wonky at times.

Last year’s marquee feature, Portrait Mode, appears to be doing really well, with both Wired and The Verge noting that it’s vastly improved. This time next, year, Portrait Lighting should also be doing as well.

Wireless charging: It’s finally here

The Verge says that wireless charging has been around since early Windows Mobile days, and we’re inclined to agree with them. We’ve also seen it pop up on and off on various Android devices.

Wireless charging is the iPhone's newest feature

Wireless charging is the iPhone's newest feature

The problem with wireless charging is that it’s not very good. It’s slow, requires a bit of care to use and you can’t use it while charging your device. It’s a feature that will only work if it is ubiquitous, otherwise, it’s just an indulgence.

Android — and other smartphone makers — haven’t had the muscle or the presence to push the standard on everyone. For better or worse, Apple has that presence. The Verge’s Nilay Patel put it best when he said, “Android has had these features for years, but when Apple gets a new feature, more people start to use it and the world around you starts changing.” For example, Starbucks has now announced plans to now integrate Qi wireless charging pads in its coffee shops.

So what’s wireless charging on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus like? For one thing, the phone has to be placed very deliberately on the charging pad. You can’t just toss it on there and expect it to charge. Wired and Engadget both demonstrated how the iPhones have to be placed in the exact centre of the pad for charging to work. They also note that charging is glacial, taking the devices 30 minutes or more to register a 10-15 percent increase in charge.

Battery life: Smaller battery, same battery life

We were a little worried when news broke that the new iPhones have smaller batteries than their predecessors. Thankfully, improvements in manufacturing processes means that Apple’s new 10 nm chip is also more efficient, consuming less power.

All the reviews so far seem to be in agreement that the battery life hasn’t taken a hit. In fact, some, like Engadget, note that battery life has improved, albeit by the merest fraction.

Power? Powerrrr!

Apple's AR Kit on an iPhone 8

Apple's AR Kit on an iPhone 8

The all new A11 Bionic chip is said to be 20-30 percent faster than the A10 Fusion chip it replaces. The A10 was already incredibly fast, but the A11 takes things to the next level. Certain benchmarks indicate that the chip is, in fact, beating Intel’s 7th generation mobile processors in laptops.

Wired describes the performance as “This thing runs more like a laptop than a smartphone. It’s absurdly fast.” Engadget says that the “processor is a powerhouse, delivering effortless power”. The Wall Street Journal and The Verge note that the massive performance bump is unnecessary for most people. The A10 was already good enough. However, the new chip does enable AR experiences and such a powerful chip is good future-proofing.

Conclusion: More of the same, but better, much better

And there you have it, a summary of what the early reviews say about the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Apple is still trying to get away with a 4-year old design that feels dated, but the internal hardware and software tweaks appear to be so massive and subtly transformative, that it’ll be yet again be many months before rivals even catch up.

Oh, and we’ll now see wireless charging stations pop up everywhere, or so they say.

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