Reviews

Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review

Apple iPhone 8 Plus Review

The iPhone 8 is an odd phone to review. Usually when we review a new iPhone from Apple, it is the absolute best that the company has to offer that year. But we know now that is not true with the iPhone 8, which lives in the shadow of the iPhone X that was announced at the same event. Although not yet available or publicly handled outside of Apple’s September event, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the iPhone X is the iPhone to buy this year and the best the company has to offer in 2017.

Where does that leave the iPhone 8 then? On one hand, Apple has kitted it with enough new features, including the same A11 Bionic chipset from the iPhone X, a new camera system, updated design with wireless charging support and a bunch of other stuff. On the other hand, it’s not an iPhone X, and by that I mean it’s using roughly the same design that debuted back in 2014 with the iPhone 6 and is now so long in the tooth it’s practically a cartoon rabbit.

So how does one review this phone, then? It’s hard to review it on its own without taking into consideration that the iPhone X exists, even if it’s not going to be available for a while. And it’s hard to even take the iPhone X into consideration, since I haven’t actually used it and even the people outside of Apple who did, only did so for a few minutes.

This is going to be tough.

Note: Everywhere in the review where I say just “iPhone 8”, I am referring to both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, unless specified.

 

Design

Let’s just start with the design at first. The iPhone 8 uses the same basic design that first debuted with the iPhone 6. It was slightly revamped last year, where Apple did a better job of hiding the antenna lines and incorporated the camera bump into the main metal structure. Also, there were three new colors, Black, Jet black and Product RED.

This year, the iPhone 8 retains the exact same front of the past three iPhone generations but has a new glass back. This is the first time Apple is doing an entirely glass back phone since the iPhone 4s went out of production. I assume the reason Apple switched to metal is because glass on phones back then wasn’t durable enough and we all know someone with a cracked iPhone 4 or 4s back.

Recent advancements have made glass a lot more durable, which has caused manufacturers like Samsung, LG and HTC to switch to glass on their recent phones. Apple goes as far as calling its glass the most durable on a smartphone, which is a typical Apple thing to do. I actually did end up dropping my phone once but it wasn’t really my fault (you’ll find out how later). Fortunately, the glass did not crack on either side. Still, I have noticed several hairline scratches all over the back over the weeks from use, so it’s not all that strong.

Unlike the US model, the Indian model does come with nasty regulatory markings on the back.

The iPhone 8 Plus I have is in the new Gold color that has an interesting looking cream colored back. Apple says it uses a “seven‑layer color process allows for precise hues, opacity, and rich depth of color”. This kinda made me think the back will have the shimmer of Samsung phones that reflects light differently depending upon how you look at it, except it doesn’t. It looks the same light brown color regardless of the lighting conditions or how you hold it. It doesn’t look bad but it’s not as special as Apple makes it sound.

I do like this new Gold color, though. Unlike the light champagne gold of the past, this new Gold is much deeper. It’s actually closer to true rose gold than the previous Rose Gold iPhones, which really were just pink.

Most of this color is actually just in the metal band that surrounds the phone. The back, as I mentioned before, is a different color, and the front is just white. I do appreciate Apple’s usual attention to detail, which means things like the ring around the Home button, the chamfer around the camera bump, the screws at the bottom as well as the border for the Lightning port match the color of the phone. The antenna lines, which are barely even noticeable anymore thanks to the glass back, are also color matched and the Apple logo at the back, placed under the glass, also gleams in gold.

One interesting thing I noticed is that the quad-LED flash at the back is actually under the glass and does not have a separate cutout for it. Usually manufacturers make a separate cutout for the flash so the light comes out cleanly instead of just refracting around within the back glass. This used to happen on the 4 and 4s, where turning the flash on would make the entire glass back light up like a Christmas tree, especially on the white model. On the 8, somehow, the glow is limited to the area around the flash and does not cause the entire back glass to glow.

Coming back to the colors, I also got to try out the Silver and Space Gray. The Silver is as it was back on the 4 and 4s, where the metal frame around the sides is silver (I’m never quite sure if they paint it or it’s just the raw aluminum that has been sandblasted) but the back is white, just like the front.

As for the Space Gray, it’s time someone has an intervention for Apple regarding what it chooses to call Space Gray. I have lost count of the different shades of gray Apple has so far chosen to brand Space Gray over the years; just pick one already and stick to it. As for the Space Gray iPhone 8, it’s somehow the least special color this year and even though I like black phones and would probably go with Space Gray if I had to choose one for myself, the truth is that both the Silver and the Gold — especially the Gold — look better this year.

What happened to the Product RED, then? I’m not sure. Maybe we will see one later like we did last time. If at all Apple does it, I hope they make the entire back red and not just the border with a white back.

Overall, I think the new glass back looks nice but more than just the aesthetics, I think the added grip is immensely useful. The previous metal back iPhones were exceptionally slippery, except for the Jet black model, which had some grip to it due to the glossy finish. The glass back iPhone 8 is even more gripper and I never have to worry about the phone slipping out of my hand. In fact, you should actually avoid using the Apple leather cases for this very reason, because they are insanely smooth and slippery and you are far more likely to drop the phone with the case on than without it.

Apple has also applied an oleophobic coating on the back. The Gold and Silver model show practically no prints but the Space Gray model does show them quite prominently. Still, it’s nowhere as bad as on Samsung’s glass backed phones that have no oleophobic coating and turn into an oil painting minutes after taking it out of the box.

But let’s not ignore the elephant in the room here. The new colors and materials are, in the end, just another attempt to spruce up a three year old design and it only really works on the back of the phone, the side that is facing away from you. The front looks about as outdated this year as it did last year and the year before that. In fact more so, due to the launch of all the thin bezel Android phones this year. While every other company is shipping slim bezel phones even down in the budget category, Apple still chose to launch one of its two new phones this year with football field-sized bezels on the top and bottom. It’s an especially bad look on the Gold and Silver model, that ship with a white front that does nothing to hide the enormous bezels and makes even the sizable 5.5-inch display on the 8 Plus look small in comparison.

The white bezels also make the phone bigger than it is, which is still quite big. I complained in my 7 Plus review last year just how ungainly it feels in hand compared to other 5.5-inch phones on the market. Apple has gone ahead and made the 8 Plus even thicker and heavier this year. The phone feels noticeably bulky in hand over what was already a heavy phone, and this is without any case. The only advantage to this is that I can now lift the phone comfortably off a desk due to the added thickness, as the 7 Plus was painfully thin and slippery.

Overall, this design is well past its sell-by date now and no amount of lipstick is going to fix this pig. It does not matter that Apple does have a bezel-less, all-display phone because they still chose to launch a new phone with the old design. A phone, which in their very own words, is also a flagship.

 

Display

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have the exact same displays as last year’s models. The only difference here is a software feature, called True Tone, that was first seen on the iPad Pro last year.

I talked about the display a lot last year so I won’t repeat all of that. As a primer, the iPhone 8 has a 4.7-inch, 1334 x 750 display while the 8 Plus has a 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 display. Both are “Retina HD” IPC LCD with DCI-P3 support and 3D Touch.

What I found interesting this year is that Apple has been boasting about its color accuracy, which I don’t remember it doing for previous iPhones. Indeed, the iPhones not just ship with excellent color calibration out of the box but also support sRGB and DCI-P3 color spaces with native color management built-into the OS. This ensures you see the most accurate colors every time.

This year, Apple has added True Tone. True Tone analyzes the ambient light and adjusts the color temperature of the display accordingly. The goal here is to make the display warmer or cooler depending upon your surroundings so that the display looks like you are looking at a sheet of paper, which would also look different in different lighting conditions.

For me, True Tone has been a bit of hit or miss. I know there are people who keep it on all the time and swear by it but I honestly don’t trust most people in matters regarding display. In most lighting conditions, True Tone makes the display too warm for my taste. I spend most of my time indoors and the display is almost constantly a pale yellow if I choose to leave True Tone on. For this reason, I decided to turn it off after trying it for a couple of days.

What blew me away, however, is how effective it was outdoors. If you ever used your phone in a room where there is a lot of sunlight coming in through the windows, you would know how horribly pink the screen looks. Enabling True Tone in this situation actually made the display cooler and suddenly it looked great. When I looked at every other screen it was suddenly too pink and ugly while the iPhone’s display looked perfect. Having experienced that, I decided not to write off the feature entirely but I still won’t use it full time. I think, like me, if you spend more time indoors and value color accuracy, it’s best to leave it off but only turn it on when you think the display is looking weird or could benefit from TT being turned on. Or if you don’t mind looking at a pale yellow display you can just leave it on full time. Just don’t forget to turn it off while doing image editing.

There is also the issue of HDR support on the iPhone 8, or the lack thereof. On the website, Apple claims the iPhone 8 models support Dolby Vision and HDR10 content. However, neither phone has an HDR display. Apple responded to Mashable regarding this anomaly, stating that “users of these two phones will see visual enhancements to dynamic range, contrast, and wide color gamut when playing Dolby Vision or HDR 10 content from their respective content providers, but it will not be at the full level of HDR visual fidelity as it’ll be on the iPhone X, which does have an HDR screen.”

While testing the device, I was able to access HDR content on the iTunes Store as well as on Netflix. The built-in HDR support on the device announces itself to these services, which then serve you HDR version. The problem is, because the display does not support HDR, the content does not look right. I may have even bought Apple’s explanation had I not personally seen what it looks like. Simply put, HDR content does not look right on the iPhone 8. Not only is it vastly inferior to how it looks on a proper HDR display, like the one on the Galaxy S8 or Note8, it is also inferior to simply watching SDR content on something like, say, the iPhone 7. The colors look washed out, the shadows were blacked out, and overall the image was objectively worse. How Apple has the gall to say users will get visual improvements is beyond me.

The problem is, you can’t switch off HDR support. iTunes will always serve you the HDR version, if available. Netflix will also serve the HDR version of the show if you have the 4-person plan. I doubt developers can even selectively choose not to show HDR content on these devices, meaning for all HDR content you are definitely seeing a worse quality image than everyone else.

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As for the resolution, no one is surprised to see the same resolution and pixel density as it was three years ago. In all honesty, the display still looks good but it could be better, which it is on the iPhone X. And part of recycling old design means you are also recycling old parts and in terms of pixel density, the iPhone 8 displays still lag behind even budget Android phones, even though the color accuracy is the best in the business.

 

A11 Bionic

With every new iPhone we get a new iteration of Apple’s Ax series of processors. This year it’s the A11 Bionic, which has three interesting things going for it.

First, Apple has moved to a six-core design that has two performance cores (25% faster) and four efficiency cores (70% faster). What’s more interesting is that with a new, second generation performance controller, the A11 Bionic is able to run all six cores at the same time unlike the A10 Fusion, which could only run either the two performance cores or two efficiency cores at any time. This means that while the A10 Fusion was effectively a dual-core processor, the A11 Fusion is a proper hexa-core processor.

The second interesting thing is that, for the first time, Apple is designing its own GPU. Normally, when companies put a processor in their phone, they have a choice of getting something off the shelf from a brand like Qualcomm or designing something of their own. A lot of brands like HTC, LG, Xiaomi, etc. get their processors from Qualcomm. Apple, on the other hand, designs its own processors.

But within these processors or SoC (System-on-Chip), there is a CPU and a GPU. While Apple has been designing the overall SoC since the A4, with the A6, Apple started designing its own CPU that was based on the ARMv7 architecture instead of just using off the shelf ARM CPU. However, the GPU was still sourced from PowerVR, which is owned by Imagination Technologies. Starting with the A11 Bionic, Apple is now no longer outsourcing its GPU and instead developing it in-house. It’s a three-core unit that is said to be 30% faster than the six-core PowerVR GT7600 Plus on the A10 Fusion. With this move, the entire processing pipeline is now designed by Apple, giving the company even better control over it.

The third thing is that, for the first time, the SoC has a dedicated neural network processor built-in — which Apple calls neural engine — for machine learning operations and enabling features like FaceID and Animoji on the iPhone X. And with Core ML (Apple’s machine learning platform) developers can harness this power for use in their applications.

Apple is also betting big on AR with iOS 11, and the A11 Bionic has also being designed with that in mind. On top of that it includes the M11 motion co-processor, and a new ISP for image processing. All of this is built on a 10nm TSMC FinFET process and is entirely 64-bit, meaning you can no longer run 32-bit apps.

As you can imagine with any new Apple processor, the A11 Bionic is fast. Like crazy, stupid fast. You may have already seen all the Geekbench scores that not only demolish all the other smartphones on the market (and likely even the ones coming out in 2018) but even some of Apple’s own MacBooks. But do you feel all that power when you use the phone? No, not really.

The thing with the performance is that I think Apple has hit a ceiling as to how much faster it can now make a phone feel in use. Coming from an iPhone 7 Plus, which I used for a year, the iPhone 8 Plus feels pretty much identical in every day use. The iPhone 7 Plus was already enormously powerful so there was no way the 8 Plus was going to feel faster.

Instead, all that extra power goes into new features such as Portrait Lighting, or 4K 60fps recording, or 1080p 240fps recording, or AR and machine learning tasks such as FaceID or Animoji on the iPhone X. These might seem trivial but they require enormous computational power and the only reason they feel trivial is because you have a jet engine humming underneath the hood.

The power also goes into making the phone future proof. The fact that my one year old iPhone 7 Plus felt identical to the new iPhone 8 Plus shows how much more power the 7 Plus has left. Apple now sells its phones for three years after they are launched so they need to be powerful enough to perform well three years later as well when it’s still going to be on sale. So you might not feel the iPhone 8 feels all that fast right now but three years later when all the Android phones bought at the same time are falling apart at the seams and your iPhone is still chugging along, you might appreciate it a bit more.

I also think it’s cool that the iPhone 8 has the same processor as the iPhone X. Apple could have cut some corners here, maybe put a modified A10X Fusion from the iPads or something, especially since the iPhone 8 has none of the hardware intensive features of the iPhone X like Face ID or Animoji or even a higher resolution display. But I am glad they chose to put in the exact same chip, which means it can do everything the iPhone X can, including all the cool new AR and machine learning stuff.

 

iOS 11

The iPhone 8 ships with iOS 11 out of the box. The only feature here that is exclusive to the iPhone 8 Plus is Portrait Lighting, which I will talk about more later. Apart from that, iOS 11 on the iPhone 8 is pretty much identical to what you will find on other compatible iPhones.

As a primer, iOS 11 does bring some new features, such as a redesigned Control Center that can be customized, “improved” Siri, a new Files app, and a bunch of smaller stuff. The list of changes is much smaller on the iPhone and it’s really the iPad that gets the bulk of the changes this year.

Personally, the only good feature I found in this update is the redesigned Control Center. While you still bring it up from the bottom on the iPhone 8, which means it’s just as likely to pop up while you are scrolling in an app and lose track of where your thumb is, it’s a lot more functional now. For one, there are a lot more options now available by default and you can 3D Touch them to show even more options. You can also go into the Settings and add even more things and also rearrange them. It’s the Control Center we always wanted and it’s finally here.

Unfortunately, the list of improvements really just stops there. The much touted improvements to Siri really don’t help much and in my experience Siri is just as daft as it has always been and I can never see myself using it seriously outside of maybe setting alarms. The Files app is a complete joke. Supposed to be some sort of file manager, the app is more or less entirely useless due to the limited files it lets you access and only serves as a hub for all your online cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive.

My other grouses with the OS remain. Apple’s animations and general fluff are reaching TouchWiz territory and it makes using the phone painful at times. No matter how fast the processor or the storage is inside, the animation speed and sheer number of them just bring everything down to a halt and it feels like watching Usain Bolt run a marathon through quicksand. There is this omnipresent heaviness to the UI now that didn’t used to be there before on past versions of iOS (and I’ve used them all) and makes it hard to tell the difference between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 because in reality both phones are being bottlenecked by the OS. Every time I switch over to a Google Pixel or especially a OnePlus 5 it feels like I was driving with the handbrake on all this time that was suddenly released. The fact that a four year old company can design a more fluid and lean UI over a hundred billion dollar behemoth is telling.

And you know what OnePlus is better at these days than Apple? Delivering a mostly bug-free software. The number of bugs in iOS 11 to this day is just appalling. This was one of the few times I was on the public beta and have been tracking the progress till the final release and I have to say, it’s embarrassing just how many of the bugs have made it to the final release and continue to stick around even after a couple of point updates. The fact that despite all the internal testing, third party developer testing and even public testing this giant company releases such terribly unfinished software on its flagship device is not just disappointing but infuriating.

 

Cameras

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus come with updated cameras on the back, even though it might not seem that way on paper. There are also improvements to video recording as well as the flash, and powering all this is a new image processor in the A11 Bionic.

The iPhone 7 last year already had an excellent camera and like many things on the iPhone 8, the new camera isn’t all that much better. In daylight images from both phones look quite similar but there are subtle changes. The iPhone 8 is more bullish on the dynamic range and images taken in challenging light do have better detail in the bright and the dark areas. However, as I noticed with the iPhone 7 last year, the dynamic range on the iPhone is really a work of the software and not entirely the work of the camera sensor. If you look closely while shooting you can see it dynamically balance the light and shadows. And this is entirely separate from the HDR mode, which works even more aggressively.

The end result, however, is that you get great looking images in daylight. The colors look stunning, the white balance is generally accurate and even the contrast is quite pleasing. While iPhones in the past went for a very natural look, the iPhone 8 doesn’t turn down the contrast as much for a flatter look and instead goes for a more visually pleasing image. I’m quite happy with the way Apple has tuned the camera and honestly there isn’t much I would complain about.

One of my complaints with the iPhone 7 camera was the low light performance, which was simply not that good, especially against rivals such as the Galaxy S7 and S8. Thankfully, the big improvement on the iPhone 8 is the vastly superior low light performance. All the images I took came out great, with low noise as well as good color and exposure. I found myself reaching for the Note8 less often with the iPhone 8 for low light images than past iPhones. I still think Samsung generally does a better job in lowlight but the results from the iPhone 8 are quite good.

Another improvement to low light photography is the slow sync flash. Normally, the camera uses an extremely short shutter speed while using the flash to compensate for the high intensity light coming in. Due to this, while the subject is brightly lit, the background is dark as the light coming in from that region is not enough for the short shutter speed. In slow sync flash photography, the camera keeps the shutter open for longer and during this briefly fires the flash. The result is that you capture the ambient lighting and your subject is also well lit. This results in a well balanced image and for once, I didn’t mind using the flash on the phone as the images didn’t look like there was a stage light on the subject. Slow sync is not a mode on the iPhone 8 and is instead permanently on every time you use the flash.

Speaking of things that are permanently on, the HDR on the iPhone 8 is by default always in Auto. You will notice there is no HDR button in the main camera app and that the phone automatically decides for you when to use HDR mode. If you must have manual control over HDR, you will have to dig deep into the Settings and toggle an option, which brings the familiar HDR option back. You can still set it in Auto but more importantly, you can now force it to on or off, which I personally find useful as Auto is not always reliable.

Now coming to the big addition to the camera this year, which is Portrait Lighting. Available only on the Plus model, the software lets you adjust the “lighting” on the subject once you’ve taken a picture using Portrait mode. You can also shoot directly in this mode and you also get a live preview for some of the presets. The various presets adjust the exposure, contrast and color on the images. Natural Light is the default mode, Studio Light increases the exposure on the subject, Contour Light increases the contrast making the facial features stand out more starkly, and then there are Stage Light and Stage Light Mono. In each of these, the camera completely darkens the background of the subject, giving the feeling of the subject being under a light on a dark stage. In Mono, the image is turned monochrome for a more striking look.

One of the few times it worked well.

The telephoto camera performance has been improved over the iPhone 7 Plus but it still remains problematic. The default camera still won’t switch to it in even slightly less than ideal conditions and would rather just do a digital zoom on the primary wide angle lens. I instead have to rely on third party apps like Halide that force the phone to use the telephoto lens in 2x mode. Secondly, it still does not have OIS so you have to be super stable while using it or get blurry images or shaky videos. The dual stabilized lenses on the Note8 are vastly superior in this regard.

The iPhone remains the only phone to capture images in wide color gamut (DCI-P3). Images look great on the phone’s screen or if you have a Mac with a DCI-P3 display. Unfortunately, all the images you see here are in sRGB as neither your OS+monitor+browser support P3 nor mine. This means the images lose some of its vibrancy and color information in these samples and don’t look as good as they should.

One of the features I tried with the iPhone 8 that I somehow have been sleeping on is Live Photo. I know it has been around since the 6s but for whatever reason I never bothered with it. On a recent trip I chose to keep it on and while for most things it was useless, I did appreciate the little video clips on some of them that added context for those particular shots. I also like how Apple plays a very small portion of it as you scroll through the image gallery to give a sense of motion to the images. Only problem is when you shoot photos in HDR, the video clip recorded is still in standard dynamic range so it’s kinda weird when that clip stops and suddenly the HDR image appears and looks vastly different.

In terms of video, I do appreciate Apple finally adding 4K60 support. It’s worth mentioning that it’s no small feat to record in 3840×2160 at 60 frames per second in a sufficiently high bitrate but with the kind of horsepower the iPhone 8 has under the hood it’s no surprise it can pull it off with ease. Even many dedicated photo and video cameras don’t have 4K60 recording. You’ll have to wait a year or more before Android phones catch up with this because it’s a computationally insane workload and most Android phone manufacturers are at the mercy of companies like Qualcomm to make fast enough chips that meet their needs while Apple is laughing all the way to the bank with its vertical integration.

Just in case you are wondering why you need 60fps, apart from having smoother motion when played back at 1x speed, you also get instant 2x slow motion when the video is played back at 0.5X speed. I think that’s a better use for it and slow motion is quite the rage these days if you watch the work of some of the popular cinematographers on the internet. Just record your 60fps video and then playback at half speed and you instantly add more drama and personality to the footage.

If you want even slower footage there is also 1080p at 240fps now. Again, this is beyond what the competition is doing so that’s quite impressive. As is usual for these high framerate videos, the image is soft but still usable and under the right conditions can look quite cool.

One of the additions in iOS 11 is also support for HEIF and HEVC image and video formats, respectively. These are the latest high efficiency formats by MPEG and drastically reduce image and video file sizes — almost as much as 50% in some cases — without affecting quality. This means the iPhone can now save twice as many images and videos in the same amount of space without sacrificing image quality. It also allows things like 4K60 capture because otherwise the file sizes would be enormous. By default the OS saves its camera images and videos in these new formats but you can disable it to go back to the older formats. However, if you do that, not only do you double your file sizes but you also lose 4K60 and 1080p240 options. Secondly, it’s unnecessary, as while sharing, the phone still shares compatible JPEG and H.264 files. Even when you are transferring over USB, the phone on the fly converts these files for you. You can disable this from the Settings so you get the original HEIF and HEVC files but be warned, very few devices actually support these. macOS added support for them in High Sierra (which is funny because High Sierra came after iPhone 8 launch meaning there was a time where even Apple’s own computers didn’t support files from Apple’s phones) and Microsoft added HEVC support in the latest Fall Creators Update on Windows 10. Some Android devices can also play HEVC. You can play HEVC files in older versions of macOS or Windows using a software like VLC but it is not hardware accelerated and will generally play like shit unless you have an ultra powerful CPU. And that’s just for HEVC; outside of iOS and macOS nothing I know of supports HEIF.

You can find all sample images and videos from the phone in high quality here.

Speakers

This is really a small change in the grand scheme of things but I really liked the improvements they have made. Last year I thought the speakers on the iPhone 7 were quite possibly the best sounding speakers I had heard on a smartphone. The iPhone 8 speakers definitely sound both louder and richer than before. The loudness difference isn’t big but I was impressed by just how much richer they sounded, especially since the richness of the sound was the thing I was most impressed by last year. After hearing the iPhone 8, the iPhone 7 just sounded tinny in comparison. The iPhone 8 sounds so much more full bodied, with voices in particular sounding great to the point where I don’t have to bother pairing with a Bluetooth speaker if I am listening to a podcast. Even music sounds better and there is actual bass in the sound, something you rarely get to hear in smartphone speakers.

Apple still does stereo speakers better than anyone else. It uses a combination of earpiece and bottom firing loudspeaker. These two speakers are not equal; while the earpiece fires straight at you, it does not have as much body to the sound and concentrates mostly on the higher frequencies. The bottom firing speaker is almost like a woofer in comparison, with way more emphasis on lows and mids but less on the highs. It is also louder than the earpiece, which compensates for the fact that it fires away from you. Add all this together and you can see how the two work together to produce a well-rounded sound. Now, it is possible that in some cases you will hear one speaker a bit louder over the other but by and large the sound is balanced across both sides of the device.

As before, the earpiece is the right channel and the bottom speaker is the left channel when you are holding the phone in portrait mode. I’m not sure why it is this way and not the other way around. When you tilt the device in landscape in anti-clockwise direction (the most common use-case) the speakers automatically switch channels and the earpiece now becomes left and vice-versa. If you rotate the phone in the other direction, well, there is no need to switch as the speakers are already firing correctly. The channel switching happens even if you don’t have orientation lock disabled and works system-wide. In contrast, I am yet to come across any Android phone that switches audio channels based on how you hold the phone.

 

Battery Life and Charging

As I have only the larger iPhone 8 Plus model, I can only comment on the battery life of this particular device. Funnily enough, the battery on the iPhone 8 Plus is smaller than that on the 7 Plus by a sizable 209mAh. Making the battery smaller is never a good thing regardless of the software optimizations but then again not once have I ever felt that the battery life was a priority for Apple while making any iPhone.

Still, software optimizations do work and once again Apple’s vertical integration pays off. Compared to my iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone 8 Plus lasted for an hour extra. That’s not unimpressive, considering the iPhone 7 Plus often gave me 7-8 hours of usage on a single charge. I can only imagine how much better the battery life would have been if the battery wasn’t shrunken down.

The charging bit is where it gets interesting. Not only does the iPhone 8 include improvements to standard wired charging but also adds wireless charging for the first time on any iPhone.

Starting with wired charging, the iPhone 8 now has official fast charging support. Now I know saying “fast charging” is like having “pizza” on the menu without specifying the exact type so let me explain. Apple is using a built-in feature of USB specification called USB-Power Delivery. This allows the device to provide a higher charge over compatible USB devices that is fully within the USB spec. For this to work, you need to have USB-C connectors on either end of the cable or at least a connector that can withstand the high voltage or current. Unlike proprietary technologies like Qualcomm Quick Charge and OnePlus DASH charge, which are “out of spec” and modify traditional USB power delivery standards to achieve higher power delivery (not recommended by USB Implementers Forum), USB-PD is fully compliant with all USB specifications, which shouldn’t be a surprise since it was developed by USB-IF.

Apple uses USB-PD to charge all its MacBooks that use USB-C connectors for charging. When the iPad Pro 12.9-inch was introduced two years ago, it too used USB-PD for faster charging and now the same tech has been implemented in the iPhone 8 and iPhone X as well. However, Apple does not make a specific USB-PD charger for iOS devices and instead recommends you use one of its USB-C chargers that it makes for its MacBooks. Of course, since you can’t plug in your existing iPhone cable in that, you also need to purchase a separate USB-C to Lightning cable to get fast charging on your iPad Pro or iPhone 8/X.

This is quite a departure from what we see on other smartphone manufacturers that support fast charging. Almost every Android phone on the market with fast charging comes with a fast charger and compatible cable inside the box. Apple, meanwhile, still ships the same old 5W charger, which is by far the slowest way to charge your iPhone with a cable. If you want fast charging, you will have to buy the fast charger separately. There is no other way of looking at it other than Apple nickel and diming its customers as usual.

The second best option is to get an iPad charger. Until now the best way to get fast charging on your iPhone was to use an iPad charger. These 12W chargers provide significantly more power than the supplied 5W chargers and don’t cost as much as the 29W USB-C chargers. Also, you can use your iPhone’s supplied USB-A to Lightning cable with them. Of course, you can always get a third party USB charger and as long as it doesn’t use a proprietary fast charging standard you will be good to go but iPhones tend to be more fussy about what charger you connect more than other phones so the iPad charger has always been the safest bet.

But the bigger addition this year is the support for wireless charging. You can debate the semantics of the word “wireless” all you want. As far as I am concerned, there is no cable between the phone and the charger so it is wireless. To everyone’s surprise, Apple actually decided to go with an industry standard Qi (pronounced chee), which to me just shows how we are used to Apple fucking with us all the time that when it doesn’t this one time everyone is genuinely surprised, including Apple fans (Apple Watch, for example, does not use Qi). Anyway, Qi is by far the most commonly used standard for wireless chargers and most of the ones sold on the market support it. If you ever came across one in a public space such as a Starbucks or McDonald’s then even that uses Qi.

Before I talk more about my experience with wireless charging, I would like to do a quick comparison between charging times using a wireless charger, the supplied 5W charger, an iPad’s 12W charger and the 29W USB-C charger. Since I did not have the 29W charger, I used the charging times from Danny Winget’s video, which you should definitely check out because he compares the iPhone 8 fast charging to other devices on the market. Anyway, here are the results.

I don’t have charts going all the way to 100% but you get the picture. The wireless option comes dead last but no one expected any different. What’s telling is just how much slower the 5W charger is compared to the other wired options. Also worth noting is just how little the gains are for going with the official fast charging solution, that is the 29W charger with its cable, as opposed to just buying an iPad charger. I think it’s obvious the iPad charger is the best way to go all things considered, even if it isn’t the fastest solution around. Of course, if you don’t mind spending more, the 29W charger would be the way to go. Apple has even higher wattage USB chargers available for its bigger MacBook Pros but from some of the testing I’ve seen, beyond 29W the decrease in charging time is negligible for the iPhone.

Coming back to wireless charging, there is no denying the convenience of just plopping the phone on the charger and not have to fiddle around with the cable. You can have a wireless charger on your desk and just keep the phone on it all day whenever you are not using it instead of waiting for it to drain and plugging in. This ensures your phone keeps charging while not in use instead of just sitting around on a desk.

However, the wireless charging world is not all rainbows and sunshine. First of all, finding a good wireless charger isn’t easy. Wireless chargers started gaining popularity back in 2012 when Nokia phones first added the feature but over the years it fell out of favor even with Android OEMs, causing wireless chargers to slowly disappear from the market. No doubt with Apple adding the feature there are going to be more of them back soon but as of now for anyone considering buying a wireless chargers the options are limited, especially in India.

Secondly, the design of the wireless charger matters a lot. If it’s a large mat then you don’t have to worry about placement but some have very narrow bodies that require precise alignment with the induction coil inside the back of the phone. To add insult to injury, the iPhone 8 glass back isn’t very grippy on hard plastic surfaces, which means the phone is very likely to slide around on the charger after you’ve kept it. You can keep your phone on the charger at night, hoping it would top up by morning, only to find it at 10% in the morning because it slid off at some point in the night. In my personal experience, the phone kept sliding around on my wireless charger as my desk has a very slight slope. At one point the phone had completely slipped off the charger, then slid off the desk and dropped hard on the floor. Like I said, wasn’t my fault.

For this reason I highly recommend everyone to get a vertical charger, which is infinitely superior to flat charging pads. First of all, there is no risk of sliding around here. Second, there is no wrong way of placing the phone on a vertical charger and you don’t have to worry about alignment. Third, because it’s vertical, you can interact with the phone better while it’s charging and can see information on the display better.

Lastly, wireless chargers are slow. This bit was obvious from the chart above but it’s worth mentioning again. Only Samsung so far has shown to have wireless fast charging but the rest of them are dead slow. You choose wireless charging for convenience, not speed. It’s not for when your battery is at 5% and you need to leave home in the next half an hour. For that, wired charging is still the best option. Best use case for wireless charging is the aforementioned desk use where you keep the phone on the charger instead of just on the desk so it gets topped up, even if slowly, instead of just slowly discharging while not in use. The other use is for overnight charging, where there is enough time for your phone to charge completely by morning. Considering both these things are something everyone does, I would highly recommend you give wireless charging a try, provided you manage to find a nice vertical charging pad.

As for the upcoming Apple AirPower, all I can say is that it will be expensive but if you have an Apple Watch Series 3 or are willing to get a wireless charging case for your AirPods then it makes sense to get that, especially since it shows the charging status of all the devices on the iPhone. From what I know, it uses a proprietary charging tech that is inside the new iPhones, Apple Watch Series 3 and AirPods case that makes this happen. I personally find the design kinda clumsy and I would still prefer a good vertical charger instead, even if that charges just one device at a time.

 

Verdict

Like I said at the beginning, it’s not easy to review the iPhone 8, especially not when the new iPhone X is just around the corner. It’s true that it’s the best iPhone you can buy right now and easily better than most phones on sale today. However, you are spending an awful lot of money on this phone, which clearly means money really isn’t a concern for you. If that’s the case, why not just buy the iPhone X?

There are some arguments to be made in favor of the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus over the X, such as the familiarity and convenience of Touch ID over Face ID, the higher screen density of the Plus model or the simple fact that it is available right now and will be over the coming months whereas the iPhone X is going to be in much shorter supply. Or maybe you just hate the notch or prefer having a standard 16:9 display. Still, none of these are particularly compelling; for all we know Face ID will be vastly superior to Touch ID and by next year we will all be questioning how we lived without it all these years, the extra height will maybe compensate for the reduced density of the display compared to the Plus model and hopefully the supply situation wouldn’t be as bad as we thought it would be. As for the notch, I personally don’t mind it much to be honest and I think the taller aspect ratio actually works out better in more cases than 16:9.

Then there are also arguments in favor of the iPhone X over the 8, such as the OLED display that also supports HDR, better camera system on both the back and the front and Animoji, if you’re into that sort of thing. But most importantly, because it looks like a modern smartphone, not something that’s from 2014.

Let me put it simply; if you have the money, buy the iPhone X. If you don’t want to spend that much, buy the iPhone 7. That’s all.

And with that, I end the most pointless review of 2017.


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