Pros: Solid updates to both of Apple’s standard iPhone models offer the same horsepower as Apple’s upcoming iPhone X in a proven and familiar form factor. New all-glass design brings back some of the “museum-quality” elegance of the iPhone 4 era. Virtually identical dimensions mean that almost all previous cases should continue to fit. A11 processor unlocks new camera improvements and experiences such as augmented reality. True Tone display improves on-screen color reproduction. Despite the same specs, both models feature noticeable camera improvements. iPhone 8 Plus gains a new Portrait Lighting mode for even better portrait photos. Fast-charging provides a 50 percent charge in 30 minutes. Wireless Qi charging makes recharging more convenient, especially when using a case.
Cons: Modest improvements over the iPhone 7 make this year’s update feel less significant, particularly in comparison to the looming iPhone X. The iPhone 8 continues to lag behind its larger sibling for photography. Package still only includes the same 5W power adapter as before, so you’ll need to supply your own adapter for faster charging. Wireless charging also doesn’t offer any additional performance over the included 5W power adapter.
Apple’s iPhone product cycle has almost become predictable over the past several years. Since the release of the iPhone 3GS in 2009 as a follow-up to the 2008 iPhone 3G, Apple has followed a trend of releasing major physical updates to its iPhone models in even-numbered years, with “S” models in odd-numbered years that maintain the same design but pack in new features.
So needless to say, after eight years of this trend, it was reasonable to expect that we’d see Apple’s two new standard iPhone models given the “iPhone 7s” designation, even despite rumours that a higher-end premium iPhone was also on the horizon. In fact, many third-party manufacturers also banked that this product naming scheme would continue, as evidenced by the number of early cases we’ve received labelled for the “iPhone 7s” and “iPhone 7s Plus.”
This year, however Apple chose to buck the trend, going up a whole numeric increment with its two new “standard” iPhone models. While we suspect that this has more to do with marketing and product positioning — we can certainly understand why Apple wouldn’t want to announce a pair of “iPhone 7s” models alongside the flashy new iPhone X — there’s room for debate as to whether the actual advancements offered by the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are worthy of a whole new model number, or if these two new models are really just another incremental bump from last year’s iPhone 7 series.
Design and Colors
Realistically, Apple’s iPhone design has changed very little in recent years since the original debut of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in 2014 — in fact we raised the question last year whether the iPhone 7 models were worthy of a new number or were more like “s2” models, particularly in contrast to the significant redesigns we saw with the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5.
However, while the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus retain the same form factor as their predecessors — they’ve grown less than half a millimeter in each dimension — they actually make a subtle but significant change with their return to the glass-backed design of the iPhone 4 — a model that we still feel was the most elegantly-designed iPhone that Apple ever produced. Although Apple’s switch to the glass backing on the iPhone 8 is surely more pragmatic than aesthetic — it’s necessary to support the new wireless charging features — it definitely makes the iPhone 8 models feel more “premium” than prior models. With the possible exception of last year’s jet black iPhone 7, this is the first iPhone model we’ve seen in a while that we actively dislike putting into a case.
Thanks to the new E-LABEL Act, the rear of the iPhone also loses the fine print — the somewhat unsightly FCC and other industry certification markings that have pervaded every prior iPhone model, adding an extra small gleam of elegance to the design.
Apple has also reduced the color choices on the iPhone 8 models, returning to the standard three options of the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 era; space gray returns to the lineup after being dropped last year in favor of matte black and jet black, and the rose gold color that was introduced with the iPhone 6s in 2015 is gone entirely.
Although the iPhone 8 is back to the standard colors of space gray, silver, and gold, the new glass design makes each of these colors significantly different from prior models, particularly in light of the seven-layer color process that Apple used. The space gray iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus is close enough to last year’s jet black iPhone 7 that we feel Apple would have been justified in calling it “black” and the silver is far more similar to an off-white version of the white iPhone 4. The switch from aluminum to glass on the back gives the iPhone 8 models a museum-quality design. Although only time will tell how well the glass holds up to scratches and scuffs, we do suspect it will fare better than the high-gloss aluminum used in last year’s jet black iPhone 7.
Storage Capacities and Pricing
The iPhone 8 also hearkens back to the iPhone 4 era in another small way; for the first time since the 2010 iPhone 4, Apple is offering a current iPhone model in only two capacities — 64 GB and 256 GB — rather than three. For six years, Apple sold an almost-too-small 16 GB entry-level version of the iPhone before finally bumping the lowest capacity model to 32 GB last year with the introduction of the iPhone 7, which doubled all of the capacities previously available in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s models.
Perhaps surprisingly, this year Apple has doubled the capacity of the entry-level model again, with the iPhone 8 base model coming in a 64 GB version, although Apple has also added a $50 price increase to match, placing the price of the 64 GB iPhone 8 squarely in between last year’s 32 GB and 128 GB iPhone 7 models. The mid-tier option has also been eliminated entirely from the lineup, with the 256 GB iPhone 8 selling for the same price as last year’s 256 GB iPhone 7.
The iPhone 8 Plus, however, actually gets a $20 price decrease from last year’s iPhone 7 Plus, going back to the $100 price difference that we saw with standard and plus models with the iPhone 6/6s. This puts the 64 GB iPhone 8 Plus at only $30 more than last year’s 32 GB iPhone 7 Plus, and actually drops the price of the 256 GB iPhone 8 Plus by $20 from last year’s comparable model.
Display and Performance
Despite Apple’s marketing, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus actually feature the same base display specs as the prior iPhone 7 models — 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch LCD IPS displays with the same resolution, pixel densities, and contrast ratios as before. Of course, it’s still a great screen, and a big leap over the pre-iPhone 7 models, but users upgrading from an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus aren’t going to notice any difference in screen quality, viewing angles, or wide color gamut.
That said, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus do pack in one relatively nice enhancement, finally bringing the True Tone display technology first seen on the 9.7” iPad Pro to the smaller screen. As on the iPad Pro, the True Tone display uses a four-channel ambient light sensor to analyze the color of nearby light to adjust the screen’s white balance, resulting in better color representation. This is especially helpful when looking at images, but can also help to reduce eyestrain even when reading. As a rule, the screen’s color generally leans to the warmer color temperatures when True Tone is enabled, but again will very subtly adjust depending on where you are. As with the iPad Pro, the feature can be toggled on and off in either the iOS Settings app or by a button found by pressing-and-holding on the brightness slider in the new iOS 11 Control Center. True Tone is something we really liked on the iPad Pro so we’re happy to see it finally on the iPhone as well.
As usual, the new iPhone models sport a new generation of Apple-designed processor, this time in the form of the hexa-core A11 “Bionic” chip with Apple’s new “Neural Engine” which now packs in four low-energy efficiency “Mistral” cores — doubling the two cores from last year’s A10 Fusion — alongside two “Monsoon” high-performance cores. Apple claims the new chip provides a 70 percent performance boost over the iPhone 7 when running on the lower-energy efficiency cores and a 25 percent boost on the high-performance cores. A three-core GPU also delivers a graphics performance increase of 30 percent over the A10 Fusion. The A11 also differs in its ability to use all six cores simultaneously when necessary, rather than having to switch back and forth between the high and low-performance cores. The end result is a processor that actually provides desktop-class performance in a mobile device.
While the Geekbench test results certainly bear this out, showing a single-core score of 4265 on the iPhone 8 versus 3526 on last year’s iPhone 7, the reality is that this isn’t a performance increase that most users are going to “feel” during typical iPhone use — the iPhone 8 isn’t more responsive or noticeably faster at switching or loading apps, or even starting up, and even for most of the current slate of iOS games available, the iPhone 8 doesn’t seem significantly faster.
To be fair, however, we don’t think the main point of the A11 Bionic performance improvements are just to make the iPhone 8 “faster” but rather to provide the performance necessary to handle a whole new era of applications like the augmented reality solutions that iOS 11 enables, along with under-the-hood machine learning technologies that power solutions like Memories in the Photos app, advanced Siri features, and new image processing for the Camera app. These aren’t things that the typical user will notice as performance increases, but in short the significance of the A11 Bionic chip is that it allows the iPhone 8 to do more advanced things, not merely that you can do the same things faster.
The cameras in both the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus also have mostly the same specs on paper as the prior models — they’re still 12 MP with the same apertures, six-element lenses, and optical image stabilization features. However, an analysis by Tech Insights revealed that Apple is using entirely new Sony-designed sensors behind the cameras, most notably offering a greater pixel pitch that should provide better low-light performance. Apple also claims to be using a new image signal processor of its own design that improve color capture and HDR photos and speed up autofocus.
In practical application, both iPhone 8 models appear to provide more accurate color representation in photos and generally handle themselves better in low-light conditions, producing photos with less grain, especially when using the slower 2x lens on the iPhone 8 Plus. Lens and sensor improvements also appear to provide a bit more clarity in photos taken with the iPhone 8 models, although this isn’t something that’s really only apparent with close analysis — it’s not something we think most casual photographers are going to notice or care about.
Apple also claims that the Portrait Mode in the iPhone 8 Plus has been slightly enhanced, courtesy of the more powerful machine learning in iOS 11 and the new A11 processor, providing more natural background blurring, although we didn’t find any significant differences from the iPhone 7 Plus in our testing in that area. On the other hand, the improved low light sensor performance is a real boon to Portrait Mode, allowing it to be used in many more situations than before, and as an added bonus, the iPhone 8 Plus also gains the ability to use the flash in Portrait Mode. The result is that you’ll see the “more light needed” prompt far less often when shooting in Portrait Mode.
The landmark camera feature in the iPhone 8 Plus, however, is Apple’s new Portrait Lighting, powered by the new A11 processor. Although it’s still slapped with a “beta” designation for now — much like last year’s introduction of Portrait Mode — the new feature works quite well, allowing studio lighting effects to be intelligently applied to portrait photos using facial detection and depth features.
Four special Portrait Lightning modes are available — Studio Light, Countour Light, Stage Light, and Stage Light Mono. Studio Light enhances the lighting on the subject’s face, and we suspect it’s the mode that many iPhone 8 Plus photographers will want to use most often, as it’s the most natural lighting for most portraits. Countour Lighting, on the other hand, emphasizes shadows and highlights, while the two Stage Light modes remove the background entirely rather than just blurring it, giving the feel of the subject being presented against a deep, black background.
Both iPhone 8 models also add a new slow sync flash mode to improve low-light photography. A feature commonly found on DSLR and some point-and-shoot cameras, the slow sync flash allows you to capture subjects in lower lighting conditions with the background properly exposed, such as a person standing against a landscape at night.
The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus also take video recording capabilities up another notch, making it possible to capture 4K video at 60 fps and slo-mo videos at 1080p up to 240 fps.
Battery and Charging
Although the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus come with slightly lower-capacity batteries than their predecessors — 1,821 and 2,691 mAh, respectively, versus 1,960 mAh and 2,900 mAh on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus — Apple promises that both models provide the same battery life, and our testing generally bore this out, producing the same 12+ hour results in our testing as last year. As usual, it’s a safe assumption that the A11 chip and other power management improvements have allowed Apple to lower its power requirements.
However, the real difference this year isn’t in the batteries, but in the charging improvements that Apple has brought to the iPhone 8 models. Arguably a long time coming, both the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus now provide support for wireless charging and fast wired charging when using an appropriate power adapter.
When connected to an appropriate fast-charge capable adapter, Apple promises that both iPhone 8 models can regain a 50 percent charge in 30 minutes, which was borne out by our testing with Apple’s 29W USB-C power adapter and USB-C to Lightning cable. Further, both models get to approximately 80 percent after an hour of fast charging, but afterwards drop to a normal charging speed, taking almost an hour more to reach a full 100 percent. Our testing with fast-charge compatible battery packs also produced similar results. This represents about a 60 percent increase over charging times using a 2.4A charger.
Despite this, however, Apple continues to include only a 1A charger in the box. While this is more than adequate for users who only charge their iPhones overnight, those who want to take advantage of faster charging speeds will need to supply their own chargers.
In terms of wireless charging, Apple notes the new iPhone 8 models are both Qi compatible, although in our experience your mileage may vary. Two generic Qi chargers we had on hand failed to consistently charge either of our iPhone 8 units, so we opted to wait until we could get our hands on the Apple-recommended Belkin Boost-Up Wireless Charging Pad ($60), to ensure that we could conduct proper testing.
The good news is that the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus work very nicely when paired with a proper Qi charging pad. Charging is about as simple as you’d expect — just lay the iPhone face up on top of the charging pad. The bad news is that at this point wireless charging performs about as well as the included 5W USB power adapter — in other words, much more slowly than most users would hope for. Belkin’s charger actually puts out 7.5W of power, but at this point the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are limited to only drawing 5W; Apple has indicated that this should improve in a future iOS update, although it will likely still remain slower than even standard USB charging — certainly the 7.5W put out by Belkin’s charger still comes in at only around 60 percent of the power output of Apple’s 12W charger. For the time being it would seem that wireless charging is more about convenience than performance, and users will have to choose whether to invest in a wireless charger for easy charging or a 12W or 29W power adapter for faster charging.
More good news, however, is that for those wondering about cases, not only is there no need to remove your iPhone from your case to charge it, but even in spite of Belkin’s claims that Boost-Up “can charge through most lightweight cases” (emphasis ours), we actually couldn’t find a case in our very extensive collection that Boost-Up wouldn’t charge through — including UAG’s Monarch, the waterproof Catalyst Case, Twelve South’s Journal and BookBook, X-Doria’s Defense Lux Wood, Speck’s Presidio Ultra, and OtterBox’s Pursuit, just to name a few. None of the cases appeared to impact charging performance in any way either.
It’s also worth noting that many of the cases we tried were older cases designed for prior iPhone models, so there doesn’t appear to be a requirement for manufacturers to make specific allowances for wireless charging in their case designs. Of course it seems likely that cases with a substantial amount of metal might interfere with charging, although those are so uncommon these days that we couldn’t even find any on hand for testing. While there doesn’t appear to be any problem charging through wallet cases, we’d recommend removing your credit cards before charging to prevent the magnetic charging from demagnetizing them.
The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are one of the most interesting iPhone updates Apple has released in the past few years. From a purely aesthetic point of view, we’d say the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are certainly the most attractive iPhone models that Apple has put forth since the original iPhone 4; there’s just something about the glass design that adds a dimension of class and elegance to the experience.
From a technology point of view, even though the iPhone 8 models are living under the looming shadow of the iPhone X, both are still very solid entries in their own right, packing in the same A11 Bionic processor and performance as Apple’s upcoming flagship iPhone. While the iPhone 8 models don’t offer flashy features like Face ID, an OLED screen, or Animoji, they still offer the same substance under the hood, moving the needle ahead for interesting new augmented reality and machine learning technologies.
That said, if you’re already an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus user, there’s not going to be much here to entice you to upgrade to either of the iPhone 8 models. We’ve been toting an iPhone 8 Plus for almost two weeks now, and to be honest half the time we’ve forgotten that it’s even a new iPhone — especially when using it in a case — since it otherwise feels and performs so closely to the iPhone 7 Plus that we’ve been using for the past year. The camera improvements are nice but not groundbreaking, and Portrait Lighting, wireless charging, and fast charging are all things that are nice to have, but not something that most users will find justifies an upgrade. In short, despite the whole new number, the distance between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 feels like quite possibly the smallest gap we’ve ever seen between two iPhone models.
Of course, we’ve never felt that Apple’s iPhone releases are targeted primarily at those on an annual upgrade cycle. Notwithstanding the company’s iPhone Upgrade Program, we suspect most iPhone users are still on two-year cycles due to carrier contracts and subsidies. Taken through that lens, the iPhone 8 is a very worthwhile upgrade for somebody coming from a two-year-old iPhone 6s, and this is even more true of the iPhone 8 Plus with its dual-camera system, which continues to differentiate the 5.5-inch iPhone from its little brother in more than just size, and as with last year is enough of an improvement to justify a slightly higher recommendation for the larger model.
With the upcoming iPhone X getting so much attention as the hottest thing going right now, it’s easy to miss the fact that the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus actually provide the same performance. The iPhone 8 models are the steady, reliable workhorses of the lineup and are very worthwhile choices for those who aren’t particularly interested in embracing the bleeding edge of technology — especially in light of the considerable price premium involved.
iPhone 8 Plus
Company and Price
Model: iPhone 8 / iPhone 8 Plus
Price: $699 – $949