Apple products are polarising by nature. You want them or you hate them, and if you’re ambivalent, it’s usually because you don’t care too much about the technology you use.
Given the popularity/notoriety that Apple enjoys, every new device it launches is subject to a great deal more scrutiny than the average product. And this scrutiny comes from critics and fans alike.
Enter the iPhone 8, the newest and, on the surface, most boring phone in Apple’s lineup. The phone appears to have nothing going for it. It’s the smallest new iPhone around, comes with only one rear camera, a relatively small 4.7-inch display, a design that hasn’t changed in three years and seemingly nothing else. There’s no Face ID, no Portrait Mode and no Portrait Lighting. You get the new(ish) P3 display, improved camera, A11 Bionic chip and wireless charging of course, but the 8 Plus and X offer that and much more besides.
So who is the iPhone 8 for? If you care about photography, the 8 Plus offers two lenses and fancy depth modes, and the Pixel 2 offers a spectacular single-lens camera. If you care about design or just want to show off your latest iPhone, you want the iPhone X. If you’re in the Android camp, you’re spoilt for choice.
Looking at the iPhone 8 from a features and specs standpoint, it’s clearly not in the same league as the competition.
Again, who is the iPhone 8 for?
These were the thoughts swirling in my head when I first saw the phone, but after spending a few weeks with this phone, I realised something: I want the iPhone 8. Here’s why.
Build and Design: 7.5/10
Regarding design, there’s little to say. Put this phone in a case and you won’t be able to tell it apart from the last three generations of iPhone. The glass back and slightly redesigned camera bump is all that’s new here. You get the same fat bezels, the same home button, the same lightning port and the same speaker ports.
Externally, everything’s the same. Internally, almost everything’s changed, but we’ll discuss that later.
In terms of build quality, I have a complaint. The phone feels sturdy, but the finish has some rough edges, literally. The unibody metal design on previous phones meant that the device felt smooth, like a metallic pebble if you will. With the iPhone 8, you have two sheets of glass framed by an aluminium rim, and it’s at this rim that you can feel the transition. Rub your finger along the edge and you’ll feel some roughness from the plastic lipping that protects the glass.
I know that this is a silly thing to complain about, what’s a little bit of plastic lipping on an iPhone, right? Normally, you’d be right, but this is a Rs 77,000 phone I’m talking about. Let that sink in: Rs 77,000. This is one of the most expensive smartphones in the world today, and for that price, one would be forgiven for expecting nothing short of perfection. As far as build quality goes, this is the only complaint I have.
The phone has a glass back, and yes, it is indeed more fragile than metal. Braver souls than myself have conducted drop tests and the results aren’t very good. However, I prefer this glass back to the metal one. I hate using cases on my phones and the metal-backed ones were so slippery that I had no choice. The iPhone 8’s glass back makes the phone easier to grip, in my case anyway.
If you’re the type who uses a case, the glass back shouldn’t really bother you much. A case good enough to protect the screen will also protect the glass back.
Fingerprints will be an issue if you take the black iPhone. Apple was kind enough to give me a silver iPhone 8, and on this lighter shade, fingerprints are invisible. You can see them in the right light of course, but only if you’re looking for them. Now I haven’t seen the black iPhone 8 myself, but experience with the black Mi Mix 2 and darker Galaxy S8s has shown just how badly smudged a dark, glass-backed phone can get.
Understandably, the iPhone 8 is defined more by the features it lacks than by the features it has. The phone doesn’t have Face ID, it doesn’t have a high-density display, it doesn’t have an OLED display, it doesn’t truly support HDR, it doesn’t have a dual camera, it doesn’t support Portrait Mode and it doesn’t support Portrait Lighting. But I think this comparison is unfair. It’s like complaining that a Ferrari 430 isn’t a LaFerrari. They’re from the same stable, but each is a different class of vehicle for a different audience.
Looking at it objectively, the iPhone 8 comes with possibly the fastest mobile chip in the world today, a wide-gamut, colour-accurate display, an exceptional rear camera, support for 4K recording at 60 fps and FHD recording at 240 fps, support for fast-charging with 28 W chargers, support for wireless charging, stereo speakers, great battery life and of course, that unmatched Taptic engine.
If you’re complaining about lack of features on the iPhone 8, by all means, pick up some other phone. If not, rest assured that the iPhone 8 still offers class-leading hardware.
And yes, there is no headphone jack. To expect it to make a comeback is foolish, but I’m never going to forgive Apple for killing a universal, flexible standard with something expensive, proprietary and unnecessary. Worse still, Apple inspired the rest of the world to do the same.
Coming from an iPhone 6s Plus, the iPhone 8 feels like a major upgrade on all fronts (except design). From an iPhone 7, the upgrade will only matter if you care about camera quality and wireless charging.
The new iPhones also support the Dolby Vision HDR standard.
The iPhone 8’s display is spectacular. There are issues that arise from the small size of the display, but in terms of colour accuracy, I can’t think of any display that I like better. Colours on the display simply pop out of the screen, and not in that oversaturated, overly vibrant way that they do on AMOLED screens. They’re just naturally vibrant and, for lack of a better word, colourful.
Again, iPhone 7 users will note no difference as both generations of phones use displays that are virtually identical. The display on the iPhone 8 is the same 4.7-inch screen with a 1334x750 resolution and support for the DCI-P3 colour space.
As usual, iPhone 6s users will note a marked improvement in image quality.
Compared to the AMOLED screen on the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus (read the Galaxy S8 review here), the iPhone 8’s display is warmer while the S8 Plus’s display is markedly cool. The S8’s display does seem brighter and more vivid, however. When viewing photos, browsing the web and for general usage, I preferred the iPhone 8’s display because it just seemed more natural.
For video playback, the real test of image quality on these displays comes when viewing HDR content. Size is the biggest limiting factor for the iPhone 8 and for videos, that display is undoubtedly tiny. If you’re looking to buy an iPhone 8, you must have already made peace with the idea of that tiny display, though.
Both the iPhone 8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus use display panels that are not true HDR panels. They’re both wide gamut panels, i.e., they can display more colours than a standard display, but that still doesn’t mean that they can display as many colours as a true HDR display.
To put it another way, an average display will show you about 60-70 percent of the P3 colour space supported by Apple, and a little less than that shown by Samsung’s 2017 flagships. Samsung’s OLED panels have a massive advantage in terms of supported colour range primarily because of the deeper blacks.
According to DisplayMate, the S8’s display covers a wider colour range than the iPhone 7’s display. Given that, to my eye, there’s no discernible difference between the iPhone 7’s and iPhone 8’s display, I’m assuming that the two are very close in terms of quality.
Either way, the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8 comply with the Mobile HDR Premium specification, so the Dolby Vision HDR spec is supported on both. On the iPhone 8, you can view HDR content via the Videos/TV app (depending on region) and via Netflix. On the Galaxy S8 Plus, you can view HDR content via YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video (in select regions).
Since Netflix HDR was the common factor, I tested HDR playback via Netflix on the Mi Mix 2, iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. The Mi Mix 2 doesn’t support HDR and we used it as a baseline for a “normal” display.
As expected the iPhone 8 beat the Mi Mix 2 by a wide margin and the Galaxy S8 Plus beat the iPhone 8 by a significant margin. The S8 Plus could simply display more colours than the iPhone 8. This was particularly notable in shades of red and yellow, as can be seen in the opening desert scene of Star Trek: Discovery. On the iPhone 8, that desert scene is more brown and yellow. On the S8 Plus, the same scene is more orange and red. The S8 Plus’s display was also brighter.
Given that I don’t think anyone would want to buy an iPhone 8 for viewing movies, I don’t think the S8’s relatively more impressive HDR support counts for much. If you care about movies, you’re going to be looking at an iPad or iPhone 8 Plus anyway.
TrueTone, another major addition to the phone, certainly makes its presence felt. TrueTone essentially uses an RGB ambient light sensor to adjust the white balance of your display to suit the surrounding light. To take an analogy, paper does not look white under yellow light. TrueTone attempts to emulate that effect.
If you have an iPhone with a white front panel, you’ll note that the TrueTone-enabled display and the white front panel remain the same colour according to the lighting. It’s a subtle effect that you’ll take for granted while using, but miss when absent.
A minor issue I do have with this display is with regards to its pixel density. A resolution of 1334x750 on a 4.7-inch display gives a PPI of 325, which is impressive, but not as good as it could have been. The idea behind a “retina” display is that you don’t notice the pixels when viewing the device from a suitable viewing distance. So, an iPad with a 225 PPI still qualifies as having a retina display because you’d hold it at arms’ length. The same applies to iMacs and MacBooks.
With the smaller iPhone 8, I noticed that I tended to hold the display closer to my face than I would a larger phone like the Galaxy S8 or an iPhone 8 Plus. At these distances, one can see the pixels. It’s not very prominent, but is more like a toned-down screen-door effect you see with VR headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Speaking of VR, things only get worse. The screen is too small and the Pixel density too low.
I reiterate, this is a minor issue and could very well have resulted from my preference for larger displays. And as mentioned earlier, if you’re looking at the iPhone 8, you need to have made peace with the idea of a smaller display.
Personally, I prefer iOS 11 to any version of Android version released thus far. Android has great features: An Assistant that’s second to none, deeper integration of Google services and almost infinite flexibility. However, Android’s design and layout is, to put it simply, a mess. Searching for an app on iOS, for example, is faster than on Android, which doesn’t make sense coming from a company that is, for all intents and purposes, the king of search.
Apple also does a way better job of handling multimedia and storage than Android does. Samsung’s TouchWiz is even worse and completely kills any interest that I have in their phones.
Apple’s inflexible OS has its own sets of pros and cons and an Android vs iOS argument could go on forever. If you like iOS, you’ll see no reason to dump it. If you like Android, you’ll see no compelling reason to switch either.
The elephant in the room is the iPhone X. This tenth-anniversary phone represents a paradigm shift in iOS design and marks the biggest change to iOS since Apple dumped skeuomorphism with iOS 7. The iPhone X OLED screen, notch, edge-to-edge display and lack of a home button are incompatible with the traditional iOS design language. If the iPhone X represents the future of the iPhone, so does iOS 11 on the iPhone X. Until its release, however, we’ll still be using the same OS that we’ve grown so familiar with, barring a few minor adjustments of course.
On the iPhone 8, iOS 11 just works. The enormous amount of processing power on tap means that everything on the device feels fast and fluid. There are still some bugs that need to be ironed out, but overall, it’s a great OS on a great device.
When initially setting up the iPhone 8, I was pleasantly surprised to note that my old iPhone (a 6s Plus) detected the iPhone 8 and threw up an option to automatically set it up. Wi-Fi credentials, passwords and other such details were quickly transferred with no hassle. The same applies to sharing a hotspot between iOS devices as well.
After the initial setup, you can simply mirror the contents of your old iPhone onto your new one by restoring an iTunes or iCloud backup.
There are a bunch of new features, all of which we’ve covered in more detail in our iOS 11 feature. There’s nothing new that’s specific to the iPhone 8, and that’s fine.
The iPhone 8 will basically get you the full iOS 11 experience sans a few camera-specific and iPhone X-specific features.
Our age-old complaints with iOS still stands. Third-party integration with native services — including the Control Centre — is still non-existent and 3D Touch integration is still haphazard, Google services — the best way to access the internet — are still not well-integrated. And Siri, well, it’s still not smart enough.
The things we love about iOS, like the awesome apps, consistent and modern design language, system-wide search and more, still remain and perform better than ever.
The A11 Bionic chip that powers this phone is, without question, the most powerful CPU in a smartphone today. This 6-core chip knocks the socks off the nearest Android competition in every cross-platform CPU test we threw at it, and it does so while merely sipping power from the battery.
We’ve written a detailed piece on the design and the workings of the chip here, so be sure to check that out if you’re curious about the A11.
Everything on the device is fast and fluid. Apps open and close instantly, loading times in heavy games are almost non-existent. AR apps — augmented reality apps — were introduced in iOS 11 and the A11 Bionic chip was specifically tuned to handle the processing and data involved. Contrary to expectations, AR doesn’t require a multi-camera setup as Google Tango does. In fact, it works on any device that hosts an Apple A9 chip or better and works beautifully on the iPhone 8. On the 6s Plus, AR apps would get the phone hot enough to cook on. On the iPhone 8, the phone gets a bit warm. The same goes for games as well. Games load quickly and look amazing. I noted no frame-rate drops in heavy games. In cross-platform benchmarks like AnTuTu and GeekBench, the performance bump over Android’s best is very apparent. Interestingly, it’s in GPU-intensive benchmarks like 3DMark that we see the first, tiny little cracks in the A11 Bionic. According to the graphics benchmarks, it looks like the A11 is about 20-30 percent slower than the Snapdragon 835’s Adreno GPU. To be fair to Android devices, a comparison of this nature is unfair. An optimised Android experience, as on the Pixel phone, is just as smooth as an iOS experience on the A11, whether in general use, gaming, or any other application. I love the speakers on the iPhone 8. It’s a tiny phone but it’s stereo speakers — the earpiece speaker doubles as a regular speaker — pump out more volume than most smartphones and tablets I’ve tested, and this includes the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and the Galaxy Tab S3. For example, I love listening to podcasts while I’m performing random tasks around the house. I never needed headphones. The speakers were loud enough that I could start the podcast, place the phone in a corner of the room and continue pottering about. I would also like to add that the audio from those speakers was never shrill or tinny and never distorted. The speaker can get so loud, in fact, that in games like Real Racing 3, you can feel the phone’s body vibrate as you accelerate. Bluetooth speakers are louder and they will have more bass, but you may not need them as often with these new iPhones. Camera: 9/10 Apple’s cameras have always offered better colour accuracy than just about every other smartphone camera in the market, and this time it’s no different. On paper, you’re still getting the same megapixel count (12 MP) and lens (ƒ/1.8) as you did on last year’s iPhone 7. In reality, this new camera module is a vastly different beast, but as with all the “new” features on this year’s regular iPhones, most of these changes have taken place under the hood.
In terms of photography, the camera on the iPhone 8 has continued to improve at a measured pace. Compared to the 6s Plus, the 8’s camera captures images that are sharper and more detailed than before. Low light performance has improved tremendously, and colours are more prominent in such situations. As far as cameras are concerned, this is one of those “it just works” cameras. There are no fancy settings and dual-camera AI modes to fiddle with. You whip out your phone, take a picture and you’re done. Images are pleasing, perfectly exposed and usually, colour-accurate. Hell, even the HDR toggle is gone. It’s just on by default now. The camera app was always blazingly fast and I never missed a shot while using this phone. Even in difficult lighting, the camera would manage to focus and pull details from the darker areas of the scene. As has been the case for years, the camera still struggles with highlights, which get completely blown out (scenes with bright sunlight on a face, for example). It’s not like the Galaxy S8/Plus is better in this department, but I wish there was some fix by now.
Compared to the Galaxy S8 Plus, the iPhone 8 seems to capture better colours, especially in low light. While the images from the Galaxy S8 Plus look great, especially on the phone’s gorgeous OLED display, they can tend towards oversaturation. The S8 Plus does manage to capture more detail and texture, however, especially in low light.
Picking between the two phones based solely on image quality isn’t easy, but I don’t think that matters. If you really cared about image quality, you’d already have a Pixel 2.
Let me put it this way, the iPhone 8 has a great camera that captures great images in even the most difficult lighting conditions. It’s a vast improvement over the 6s and a minor improvement over the 7. Don’t fret over the camera and simply go about your day capturing amazing images. The camera will not hold you back.
It’s in the video department where you’ll note the most prominent changes. Apple claims to have bumped up the camera bandwidth by more than 80 percent. Why does that matter? Video is a data-intensive process.
The iPhone 8 can capture video at 4K 60 fps or 1080p 240 fps. These are numbers that you’d see on GoPros and the like. The fact that you can capture video data in real time at this rate, process it and store it speaks volumes of Apple’s hardware chops. To capture video at 4K 60 fps or 1080p 240 fps, the iPhone must write data to your internal storage at over 120,000 kbps. This is at the very limit of what a desktop-class hard disk can manage. Data is likely captured at a much higher bandwidth and then processed and compressed. The iPhone does all of this smoothly and with no noticeable lag.
Better yet, you can happily use gestures like pinch-to-zoom and swipe-to-pan while playing back your video. The current crop of Android flagships can’t do this.
That’s on the technical side of things.
Captured video looks great, especially in 4K, and focussing and tracking is on point. Colours are as accurate and natural as in images and the video looks sharp.
Image stabilisation (OIS) is exceptional. I’m yet to try the stabilisation features on the Pixel 2 XL, but I can say for sure that the iPhone 8’s image stabilisation abilities beat that of any other Android flagship in the market today.
While we’re on the subject, I’d also like to throw in a good word about the microphones. I shot a video of my dog running towards me. He was about 30 feet away when I started recording and I could clearly hear his claws clacking on the tarmac as he ran. The Galaxy S8 Plus’ mics were simply not as sensitive.
Editing videos is also a breeze, thanks to iMovie, and cropping and exporting videos is fast enough.
As one of my colleagues pointed out, however, there are some areas that Apple still needs to work on. 240 fps slo-mo is good, but these video files don’t play back correctly on a PC or a Mac. You need to manually export the video at the right frame-rate to fully appreciate the slow-motion effects. The same applies when sharing a video.
Another issue is that there’s no control over when you start and stop a slow-motion recording. The start and end of a slo-mo video is always recorded at a normal frame-rate and you can’t speed up and slow down the frame-rate at will. Finer, more intelligent control over these aspects would have been appreciated. Hopefully, a future update will fix these issues.
Regardless, you’re getting a brilliant camera.
The front camera is a bit of an improvement, but I’m not much for selfies so I can’t comment on how much exactly it has improved over the years. Images seem a bit brighter and I think I see more detail in selfies, but this 7 MP ƒ/2.2 unit is clearly not in the same league as the rear camera. It’s good for the occasional selfie and for video calling.
The 1,821 mAh battery in the iPhone 8 is larger than the 1,715 mAh unit on the iPhone 6s, but smaller than the 1,920 mAh unit on the iPhone 7. Coming from a year-old 6s Plus, I found the iPhone 8 to have far superior battery life.
My normal usage involves about 3-4 hours of music and web browsing, maybe an hour of video, an hour of gaming, dozens of calls, a couple of hundred messages and mails and the occasional photo. In this situation, my iPhone 6s Plus battery (2,700 mAh) generally runs out in nine hours. In the case of the iPhone 8, the battery can easily get me to the 12-hour mark.
Where Real Racing 3 would drain around 20-30 percent of my battery in half as many minutes, I rarely lose more than 5-10 percent in the same period on the iPhone 8. Given that the iPhone 8’s battery is so much smaller than that of the Plus, the device is clearly very efficient.
I am frustrated that Apple still refuses to include their more capable charger in the box. Every phone maker worth its salt bundles a fast charger with their phones, but Apple, despite selling the most expensive phones in the Indian market, continues to include the measly 5 W charger. Every iPhone since at least the past three years includes support for fast charging. Apple even sells a 12 W charger separately. The three new iPhones, the 8, 8 Plus and X, in fact, support even faster charging via Apple’s USB-C adapters (starting at $50 for the 29 W unit plus $15 for a USB-C to Lightning cable) as well. With the included charger, the iPhone 8 charges to 100 percent in about two hours. With the 12 W charger, you can charge the device in an hour or so. Better yet, a few minutes of charging will easily give you enough power to last a couple of hours.
As far as I can make out, even on a fast charger, the charging rate slows to what seems to be the regular rate after 80 percent.
Why Apple is still being so stingy with their chargers is beyond me.
Wireless charging support is included, but since I’ve never owned a phone with wireless charging and this iPhone is simply passing through, I’ve yet to buy one. Reports online suggest that wireless charging works as expected, but that it’s painfully slow and that device placement on the pad needs to be precise.
Despite these limitations, it’s nice that Apple finally woke up to the potential of wireless charging. Given that compatible charging pads are quite cheap these days, I might just pick one up to place near my workstation.
Verdict and Price in India
The iPhone 8 is just as impressive and just as disappointing as we’ve been expecting it to be. What frustrates me with the device is that even if Apple went with the same, three-year old design, it could have put in a lot more effort into the features and finish of the phone.
At the very least, I would have expected to see a higher resolution display and a worthwhile front-facing camera in lieu of better design. The lack of HDR and OLED is a bit frustrating.
Despite all of this, I think I just might pick up an iPhone 8 for myself, and many of you will as well. As I see it, the perfect phone simply doesn’t exist yet. Every device is a study in compromise. With the Pixel 2, you’re compromising on the display, design and a headphone jack. With the Galaxy S8, you’re compromising on biometrics and OS. With the iPhone, you’re compromising on design and a headphone jack.
I like the iPhone 8 because it’s an excellent iPhone. The iPhone is no longer a phone I will lust after. However, I like the iOS platform, am invested in the ecosystem and am more comfortable here than on Android. Android is great and Google is doing great things with the platform, but I’ve yet to see a feature or device compelling enough to tempt me to return.
The iPhone 8 is the most boring phone in Apple’s current lineup, but that doesn't mean that it's a bad phone. You're still getting a scrumptious helping of Apple goodness, just on a smaller plate.
If you do want one, do yourself a favour and pick one up from the US. The Indian prices of Rs 64,000 for the 64 GB model and Rs 77,000 for the 256 GB model are unjustifiably high. Oh, and go for the Silver option. In that colour, fingerprints on the rear are invisible and the white front truly complements that TrueTone tech.
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