Few new technology launches capture international headlines in quite the same way as a new iPhone. New handheld products from Apple are able to electrify both traditional and new media in a way that other manufacturers must envy – and it’s a trick that Apple seems able to repeat with every new release.
If you’re not that familiar with Apple terminology, we should clarify the difference between the 8 and the 8 Plus before anything else. The Plus is the big daddy of the pair, measuring 158.4mm by 78.1mm, with a thickness of 7.5mm. By contrast, the ‘ordinary’ 8 has dimensions of 138.4mm by 67.3mm, with a thickness of 7.3mm. In ‘old money’, that means a screen size of 4.7in for the 8 and 5.5in for the 8 Plus. Both come with 64GB and 256GB of memory, but the Plus pulls out in front with a better display quality (401ppi rather than 326ppi), greater battery life, and a snazzier 12Mp dual lens rear camera. The standard 8 makes do with just a single lens. Gold, silver and Space Grey are the three available colours.
We’re specifically testing the iPhone 8 Plus 256GB here – but much will also apply to its smaller sibling too. Immediately out of the box, what is noticeable about the new phone is its slightly increased weight over its predecessor. This is thanks to the adoption of a glass front and back, in place of the previous aluminium. That makes them seven per cent heavier than the 7s. Why the change? Well, aside from looking somewhat sexier, it’s to allow wireless Qi charging, in addition to the traditional method of plugging a lead in. Apple claims the glass is robust custom glass with a 50 percent deeper strengthening layer, but we’d be wary – we’ve all seen iPhones with cracked screens as a result of being dropped, and however tough you try and make a device, glass is never going to be as resilient as metal. While it might prevent incidents of the infamous aluminium bending that could particularly affect Plus iPhones, a sensible user will want to fit a protective case as soon as possible – which in turn adds more weight, takes away the slimline looks and means you won’t be able to show off what colour you’ve chosen. Will we see complaints of easily shattered iPhone 8s in the current months?
The ‘Home’ button, just as on the iPhone 7, is also less a button and more a sensor that ‘simulates’ being pressed with an electronic click. The user can specify one of three haptic feedback strength options for this. As with the upgrade from iPhone 6 to 7, the fingerprint sensor seems to respond even faster.
If you’re replacing a previous iPhone and it’s running iOS 11, you’ll be able to make use of Quick Start. By placing your new iPhone next to the old one, and with a scan of an on-screen image, settings from the old phone will be automatically transferred to the new one. If you backup your phone to iCloud, all apps and data will be automatically downloaded.
Once properly up-and-running, what’s immediately apparent is the speed of the new 8. Apple hasn’t revealed full details of its new A11 chipset, but its claim is that the 64-bit, six-core processors mean the phones are 25 per cent quicker than the 7. It’s a believable enough assertion, for the 8 Plus does seem to operate far more quickly in navigating screens and accessing apps and folders. If you’re a previous user, you will appreciate the performance enhancements. With 3GB of RAM, the Plus has a slight advantage over the 2GB standard model.
The graphics and colours are beautiful on the LED (not yet OLED) screen, thanks to the introduction of TrueTone technology, as seen on iPad Pros. This adapts to the surrounding environment to ensure colours are accurate under all viewing conditions. Hues are rich and vivid, and pictures very detailed, whether you’re viewing static or moving images. Oh, and as an aside, the external stereo speakers are loud too. You won’t struggle to hear videos and music without headphones – although to connect these, you’ll need to use the Lightning connector as a conventional audio jack is now firmly a thing of the iPhone’s past. That still doesn’t impress us. [The new Google Pixel 2 had also given up the headphone jack. Apple is leading an inevitable trend as this legacy port simply takes too much space compared to the increasingly miniaturised electronics — Ed].
It’s the camera that will be the big draw for many potential owners, and it’s also where many people will notice big steps forward. If you’re interested using your phone for serious photography beyond social media snapshots, then it’s the Plus you’ll want to go for. It does offer considerably more versatility and practicality, thanks to its dual lenses on the rear. One’s an f1.8 wide angle, the other an f2.8 telephoto, meaning an optical 2x zoom and a digital 10x zoom. The front lens, for selfies and video calling, is less impressive at 7Mp but still adept enough. Rear modes include ordinary Photo, Square and Panorama plus the very impressive Portrait which creates a bokeh effect behind the main subject. Those are for static shots. For videos, there’s Time-Lapse, Slo-Mo and standard Video.
The sensor has been upgraded for the 8, which seems have brought about much better colour reproduction and a better low light ability. Skin tones in particular seem much realistic than we’ve experienced on any previous iPhone. Zooming in – either on the phone screen or with photos transferred to a bigger computer monitor – there’s an obvious increase in sharpness. Photos just seem clearer and punchier across the board, with a generally more competent exposure.Taking pictures also seems quicker process, with less lag between pressing the ‘shutter’ and a shot being taken – no doubt a benefit of the improved processor and 3GB of RAM on the Plus.
[Portrait Mode, a beta function on the iPhone 7, is no longer in beta on the iPhone 8. We have seen noticeable improvement in term of speed, accuracy and tolerance to subject distant and lighting conditions compared to the iPhone 7. –Ed] One new feature in Portrait mode – only found on the Plus – is a range of lighting effects: natural, studio, contour, stage and stage light mono. You’ll probably want to experiment with the different effects, and to be honest, we found that the basic natural lighting generally excels under most conditions. However, with the lighting option still apparently in Beta development and relies heavily on machine learning, Apple may well tweak it and add enhancements as more people beta testing the function.
As it stands at the moment, the iPhone 8 Plus’ camera is extremely good, and although on paper it doesn’t seem like a big jump over what its 7 predecessor offered, in practice, sharpness and clarity have all got better, and there’s the likelihood of even more to come with subsequent iOS upgrades. [The iPhone 8 Plus uses the same lenses as the iPhone 7 Plus, however the new image sensor (with larger and deeper pixel) and a new improved Image Signal Processor are the keys to the camera enhancement. We have seen enhanced depth of field, colour accuracy as well as general speed of everything compared with the iPhone 7 Plus camera. The HDR option is no longer an option, but permanently on. Apple believe their HDR is no so refined and natural, there is no reason to switch it off. This will no doubt annoy some power users, but Apple is known for its philosophy of simplifying things and deciding what’s best for its users. –Ed]
So, if you’re an iPhone 7 or other smartphone user, should you upgrade? Well, in general, the 8 and 8 Plus are extremely competent devices that do their jobs extremely slickly and quickly, and offer a quality of photography that elevates them beyond many compact cameras. With the improved Portrait Mode, the results can come close to DSLR standards of professionalism, especially if you’re happy to further edit and post-process. Find a good deal and the 8 – especially in Plus form – is definitely worth the step upwards.