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Apple iPhone 8 First Review: Can Apple’s Small Screener Still Cut It? (Updated) – Forbes

David Phelan

The new Apple iPhone 8 in silver finish – a perfect fit for smaller hands.

Updated with pricing for the full range of Apple iPhones, additional notes on design, display and wireless charging. 

Let’s get one thing out of the way, the iPhone 8 is not the iPhone X – even though that’s what we’d been calling the X for most of this year. No, this is the iPhone which, of the trio announced last week in Cupertino, is the smallest, lightest and most affordable. But has its time come and gone, now there are bigger and splashier iPhones available?

Honestly? It depends.

If you’re a photography buff looking for a standout camera to pop in your pocket, you’ll probably choose the iPhone 8 Plus with its dual cameras and spectacular Portrait Lighting option which mimics different lighting situations with considerable skill.

If only the best will do, you’ll wait for the iPhone X, arriving on November 3, with its facial recognition, dual cameras, knockout display and great screen-to-size ratio.

But for many people who don’t want their hands stretched by the 8 Plus or their pockets stretched by the price of the X, the iPhone 8 is a pretty keen option, and here’s why.

David Phelan

Apple iPhone 8 in its silver finish – the new glass back.

Design

The new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus styling is the elegant destination to which previous iPhones, from the 6 onwards, have been heading. Dominant Home button, smoothly pillowed display with rounded corners, edges and sides, antenna bands at the shoulder and ankle and so on.

All very familiar, which for many will be fine – the look of the iPhone 6 is still available in the iPhone 6s and iPhone 7. But this is not an ‘S’ year, so you may have hoped for greater change in terms of the front of the phone than has been delivered. Still, if you like that design but want something a little different, the refinements here may suit.

The antenna band, so conspicuous on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 7, is now in full stealth mode, peeping out on the edges of the phone towards top and bottom as usual but then completely hidden on the back of the phone. That’s because of the biggest design change in this iteration: the glass back. Glass lets RF signal through much more thoroughly than aluminium can, so the rest of the antenna band can shimmy along the inside of the glass happily.

For this reason alone, I’d say the iPhone 8 is the best iPhone design yet. Make no mistake, though, things will change on November 3.

And then there’s the glass back. The importance of smooth, perfect joins between materials is hard to overstate. HTC has long had the measure of this, for instance. It’s slickly done here, so you can roll the phone through your hand easily – though it’s even smoother on the iPhone 8 Plus, it turns out.

The back of the phone is invitingly tactile and less slippy than the aluminum of the iPhone 7 etc, which the clumsy among us will be glad of. The look of the glass back is also inviting, thanks to the three subtle colors Apple has chosen. Space gray and silver look fine, though there’s something a little sombre about the blue-gray tone of the silver model. But the gold is beautiful: an understated hint which seems to glow through the glass, a metallic shade fully realized in the Apple logo and the word iPhone further down the back.

It’s too early to say if the glass back will be fragile, though it likely won’t be as hard-wearing as the aluminum it replaces. Still, Apple says it’s the most durable glass ever in an iPhone, so we’ll see. This glass back adds weight, too – at 5.22oz (148g) it’s almost a third of an ounce (10g) heavier than the iPhone 7. Now, 10g isn’t much but you can feel the difference when they’re both in your hands.

Other elements are the same here, in slightly improved colors, as on the iPhone 7, such as the camera bump, the speaker grille and so on.

David Phelan

Apple iPhone 8 with its powerful 12MP camera.

Camera

While we’re on the camera, which is now one of the key considerations when buying a phone, there’s a new sensor on board here. A far cry from the 2-megapixel, flashless camera the first iPhone came with 10 years ago, when Steve Jobs decried tiny sensors as low-quality and tiny.

This is a new, bigger sensor than last time and is the first of the components which is the same across all three of this year’s iPhones –choosing the most affordable new iPhone doesn’t mean you’re settling for lower-quality components, even if you don’t have all the advanced features.

The 12-megapixel sensor here has an f/1.8 aperture which is great at pulling in light and the extra room makes for a better signal-to-noise ratio.

The latest iPhones also have something called slow sync flash – not a new technique in photography – which aims to get round the fact that a flash usually whitens, flattens and ruins a photo, but is hard to manage without in some circumstances.

The aim here is to use the quad-LED flash for a more uniform lighting across the image. This means you use a longer shutter opening and a slowed-down flash sync, that allows you to expose the scene but add proper light to your subject.

The new iPhone cameras also have something which Phil Schiller referred to at the Cupertino event as deeper pixels. No, I didn’t know either, but it seems it concerns how you ensure the light particles hit the pixels they’re meant to, without causing cross-talk to the next one. Deeper pixels usually mean better dynamic range, in short.

The front-facing FaceTime HD camera is a 7-megapixel model and works as brilliantly as ever – this is also the same camera as on the iPhone 8 Plus.

It’s true, the rear camera on the Plus is awesome thanks to the dual sensors. For me, the camera is such a big part of a smartphone, I’d plump for the Plus no matter how much it stretched my fingers, but that’s not to say this phone doesn’t have a decent camera. It does.

David Phelan

Apple iPhone 8 in silver.

Display

The bezel-free front of the iPhone X can’t be dismissed when considering the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, both of which have the same bezels as last year’s models. Once you’ve seen the X, other displays pale by comparison, and that includes on other iPhones. But there’s something about the integrity of the design of the iPhone, pretty much every iPhone, actually, that means it doesn’t look bad here.

At least, not yet. As more phones are released with no bezels, this look will get old. While there are other mid-range and above phones with lots of bezel, like the Sony Xperia XZ1 and Nokia 8, Apple won’t be troubled, but those brands have high-end phones likely to launch long before this time next year.

Meantime, the standout extra on this screen is the arrival of True Tone, that subtle but attractive technology previously seen on iPad Pro models which measures the color of ambient light and finesses the display to compensate. The idea is that everything looks as accurate, color-wise, as is possible. Beyond True Tone, though, this is the same screen from the iPhone 7, which is LED-backlit IPS LCD, rather than the OLED favoured by the iPhone X.

David Phelan

Apple iPhone 8 with its sleek, smooth, curved edges.

Performance

The A11 Bionic chip (a reference to the neural engine used for Face ID in the iPhone X, though here its use is largely for image processing) is a real performer and another example of how choosing the lowest-priced new model doesn’t mean a compromise – it’s the same processor as on the iPhone X. And it really goes. There’s no slowdown, whatever you throw at it, and it rises with aplomb to challenges like augmented reality, which in my limited exposure to the first apps, works perfectly.

The chip also includes a performance controller which, it’s claimed, is so efficient it can do more while using less energy than before. I haven’t been using the phone long enough to know for sure, and sometimes batteries take a little while to settle in, but initial results seem to offer good battery life, easily on a par with last year’s models. Still, some companies, most notably Sony, have been working towards improving battery life from release to release, not just maintaining it. Since battery anxiety is the quintessential twenty-first-century malady, perhaps we should have hoped for more. This is not, moreover, a phone you can leave off the charger overnight, though that goes for most handsets.

And now, of course, you can invest in a charging pad so overnight charging is just a matter of plonking it down – this is a big advantage in the dark when you can’t find the Lightning cable or charging cradle but you really don’t want to turn on the bedroom light to wake your sleeping partner and reveal just how late you got home. Or is that just me?

Apple’s inclusion of Qi-compatible induction charging is great, though it only works at a lower wattage (7.5W) than rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30 where 15W is usable. There’s no charging pad included, though that may come as a bundle from some carriers, perhaps.

But wireless charging is brilliant. It may not sound much but once you’re used to it, it’s hard to go back to the faff of plugging in and out every time. Plus, it means you can now charge and listen to music through wired headphones at the same time. Incidentally, there were rumors that Apple, who removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus this time last year but had the decency to include a headphone-jack-to-Lightning converter, wouldn’t be including one this time around. Well, it’s there in the box this time, too.

Was it worth losing the aluminum back to fit wireless charging in? Well, for me, I prefer the glass back, so wireless charging is a neat side benefit. It’s not quite as fast as regular charging, please note, thanks to that lower wattage.

If you’re after faster, then that’s also possible with the right equipment, though as Gordon Kelly pointed out, that’s not supplied either.

The iPhone 8 has less RAM than the Plus or the X, but one of the reasons Apple never reveals these figures is it works to make sure there’s enough for fast, strong performance. That’s the case here, not least because the smaller screen means it drives fewer pixels. In any event, it certainly ain’t slow.

This iPhone has had its storage upgraded, too from the 32GB that was entry-level last year. The 64GB capacity means Apple has caught up with the rest of the industry – almost every flagship this year has 64GB. The 256GB option, the same as on the iPhone 7, puts Apple out in front and is enough for anyone, surely?

CUPERTINO, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller speaks during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on the Apple Park campus on September 12, 2017 in Cupertino, California. Apple is holding their first special event at the new Apple Park campus where they are expected to unveil a new iPhone. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Should you buy the iPhone 8?

The iPhone 8 could be seen as Apple’s least exciting new release. It lacks the amazing dual cameras of the Plus, the remarkable screen of the X. But the display is the best Apple’s done on its smaller screen iPhone, it has good battery life, fast performance, and wireless charging. Most importantly, for many this is still the perfectly-sized handset.

In a way, I see it as the successor to the iPhone SE: noticeably cheaper than many other new releases, stuffed with many of the same high-performance components including its class-leading chip, improved wide-angle camera sensor, 7-megapixel FaceTime HD front-facing camera and the heavily upgraded storage options of 64GB and 256GB. All in a compact size that will have definite broad appeal.

Mind you, though it is significantly cheaper than the Plus and X, it’s $50 more than the iPhone 7 was when it first launched, to which it’s most akin. I’d say that the processor, camera, screen and storage on their own are worth more than that, but it’s worth noting.

The prices across the board are iPhone 8 from $699, iPhone 8 Plus from $799, iPhone X from $999. Last year’s iPhone 7 costs $549 with the Plus variant from $669. If you’re happy with the iPhone 6s you can snag one of those for $449 and up, 6s Plus from $549. There’s also still the iPhone SE which costs from $349. That’s eight iPhones to choose from, a record for Apple.

Despite the arrival of the Plus size models three years ago, the 4.7in display iPhone has continued to be the biggest seller – don’t be surprised if that remains the case: the iPhone 8 is a peppy, capable, gorgeous smartphone. It’s not the most powerful, nor does it boast the most advanced camera, but it could turn out to be the best small form factor phone on the market.

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Apple iPhone 8 First Review: Can Apple’s Small Screener Still Cut It? (Updated) – Forbes

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