iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are decent upgrades, but shadow of iPhone X looms

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus now come in three different colours - space grey, silver and gold.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus now come in three different colours - space grey, silver and gold. PHOTO: APPLE
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus both feature a glass back.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus both feature a glass back.PHOTO: APPLE
The iphone 8 and 8 Plus are both dust and water resistant.
The iphone 8 and 8 Plus are both dust and water resistant. PHOTO: APPLE

It is September again - that time of the year when Apple releases new iPhones. Only this time, the 10th-anniversary iPhone X will be launched only in November. But the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will be available this coming Friday (Sept 22).

DESIGN

Apple decided to do away with the "S" suffix for this new generation of iPhones. Instead of being named iPhone 7s and 7s Plus, they are called iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

This undoubtedly will draw comparisons with Samsung's flagship S8 and Note8 models. But the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are no longer the flagship models. They are the second top models of the iPhone series just behind the iPhone X, but above the iPhone 7, 6s and SE models that are still selling.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus look almost similar to the previous three generations of iPhones. However, both now feature a glass back.

Instead of the five colours previously, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus now come in three - silver, space grey and gold. We reviewed the silver iPhone 8 and the gold iPhone 8 Plus.

The new gold model has a nice pinkish shade to it. So for those who prefer pink, the gold version is the one to get.

Regardless of colour, both the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus have a great premium feel with the glass back.

This glass back is supposed to be made from the most durable glass ever used for a smartphone and has an oleophobic coating that lets you easily wipe off smudges and fingerprints, according to Apple.

I am not sure about its durability, but I do find it does not smudge as much as other glass-back smartphones I have handled before.

  • TECH SPECS

    APPLE IPHONE 8

    PRICE: $1,148 (64GB), $1,388 (256GB); available on Sept 22

    PROCESSOR: A11 Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture with embedded M11 motion co-processor and neural engine

    SCREEN: 4.7-inch Retina HD display with 3D Touch; 1,334 x 750 pixels

    CAMERAS: 12-megapixel rear camera f/1.8, 7-megapixel front camera f/2.2

    WEIGHT: 148g

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

    TECH SPECS

    IPHONE 8 PLUS

    PRICE: $$1,308 (64GB), $1,548 (256GB); available on Sept 22

    PROCESSOR: A11 Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture with embedded M11 motion co-processor and neural engine

    SCREEN: 5.5-inch Retina HD display with 3D Touch; 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CAMERAS: 12-megapixel rear dual cameras (wide-angle f/1.8; telephoto f/2.8), 7-megapixel front camera f/2.2

    WEIGHT: 202g

    RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

With the glass back though, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are actually 0.2mm thicker than their respective predecessors.

The iPhone 8 is 10g heavier than iPhone 7, and the iPhone 8 Plus 14g heavier than its predecessor. I found that Apple's iPhone 7 and 7 Plus cases will still work with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

Unless you are in Europe, all those unsightly CE rear markings found on previous iPhones are gone with the iPhone 8s. Instead, it is one smooth piece of glass with only the Apple logo and iPhone wording.

Also, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus only have storage capacities of either 64GB or 256GB, doing away with the 32GB and 128GB options of previous iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Like their predecessors, both iPhones are rated at IP67, which means they are dust resistant and water resistant (they can be immersed in depths of up to 1m for 30min).

The glass back comes with an embedded charging system that supports wireless charging. More specifically, the new iPhones now support the Qi wireless charging standard. Better late than never, I guess.

Thus, wireless chargers such as the Belkin Boost Up Wireless Charging Pad and Samsung Wireless Charging Stand can be used with the iPhone 8 models.

It took 2hr 21min to charge the iPhone 8 Plus from 50 per cent to full using the Belkin Boost Up Wireless Charging Pad. Guess the new iPhone 8 models do not support fast wireless charging.

SPEED

While their exteriors might look similar, the innards of both the new iPhone 8 models are vastly improved from their iPhone 7 predecessors.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are both armed with the new A11 Bionic chip that features a six-core processor design. This new chip consists of two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores, that are 25 per cent and 70 per cent faster respectively than two high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores of the A10 Fusion chip found in iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

In the GeekBench 4 benchmark tests we conducted, the iPhone 8 scored 4,194 (single-core) and 10,122 (multi-core) points, while the iPhone 8 Plus scored 4,226 (single-core) and 10,383 (multi-core) points. This represents an increase in performance ranging from 25 per cent to 95 per cent, compared to their predecessors respectively.

At the same time, it blew the competition away, as the Samsung Galaxy Note8 scored only 6,564 (multi-core) points. Even a Dell XPS 13 9360's Intel i7-7660U processor scored only 9,259 (multi-core) points, so you are getting better than laptop performance on these iPhone models.

The performance improvement means graphics-intensive games, such as Implosion, Warhammer 40K: Freeblade and Infinity Blade 3, play without any lag whatsoever. The graphics texture and the fluidity in these games are as smooth as silk.

AUGMENTED REALITY

Both iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are designed with augmented reality (AR) in mind.

I tried a few AR games, such as The Machines (beta), Warhammer 40K: Freeblade and Thomas & Friends Minis.

Although still in beta, The Machines looks the most promising. You control mechs and other units in an attempt to destroy the enemy's base. You have to move your whole body (and the phone) in order to aim the reticle to attack the enemies and structures. You also need to move the phone forward into the virtual battleground to zoom in to see your units in action.

Another interesting AR app is the Sky Guide. You just hold the phone to the sky to find the constellations, planets and satellites. It was interesting to know that what I thought was a star was actually the planet Venus.

DISPLAY

Apple did not increase the size or resolution of both iPhone 8 models' displays.

However, their displays have been upgraded with the True Tone technology found in the Apple iPad Pros.

This technology uses a four-channel ambient light sensor to adjust the white balance onscreen to match the colour temperature of the ambient light around you. Thus, it is much less straining to your eyes.

You can clearly see the difference when you turn on and off the True Tone option in settings. The screen looks colder (more blue) when the True Tone option is switched off compared to when it is turned on.

CAMERA

Although the image sensor stays at 12 megapixels like its predecessors, both iPhones use an all-new faster image sensor. It is supposed to use a new colour filter and has deeper pixels for more vivid colours, wider dynamic range and less image noise.

Furthermore, the quad-LED True Tone flash at the rear of both iPhone models now come with 40 per cent more uniform lighting and supports Slow Sync flash.

Slow Sync flash combines a slow shutter speed with a short burst of strobe. This is particularly useful in low light conditions when you want a bright subject in the foreground against a properly exposed background.

Present in the iPhone 8 Plus only is a dual-camera system, I found (according to the photos' exif data) that one 12-megapixel camera uses a wide-angle 29mm focal length and the other 12-megapixel camera uses a telephoto 63mm focal length, compared to iPhone 7 Plus' 28mm and 56mm focal lengths respectively. So, you do get slightly more zoom now with the telephoto lens.

I photographed with the flash turned-on in low lighting condition with both the iPhone 8 Plus and my iPhone 7 Plus. The photo taken using iPhone 8 Plus shows much uniform lighting with well-exposed background and has my colleague nicely-lit with natural skin tones. But the photo taken with iPhone 7 Plus has my colleague's face harshly lit with the background underexposed.

Whether in bright sunlight or dim lighting conditions, photos taken using iPhone 8 and 8 Plus exhibit sharper details than those taken with the iPhone 7 Plus. But in dim lighting conditions, iPhone 8's and 8 Plus' photos tend to be a tad warmer.

For iPhone 8 Plus, there are new Lighting options in Portrait mode. Still in beta, it gives you five options of lighting that simulate studio strobes - Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light and Stage Light Mono. You can change the options in post-processing as well.

For Natural Light, your subject's face are in sharp focus against a blurred background which is similar to the original Portrait mode. The Studio Light gives your subject's face a brighter and pleasing look, while the Contour Light provides dramatic shadows that can look a tad fake.

The Stage Light is supposed to have your subject's face lit against a dark background. Stage Light Mono achieves a similar effect but in monochrome.

But these two Stage Light modes need some serious tweaking. Very often, you can clearly see edges of the face that reveal the background or the "dark paint" seeping into the face of the subject. They just look unnatural. Hopefully, Apple can correct its Stage Light algorithm.

BATTERY LIFE

As usual, I looped a 720p video at full brightness, full volume, and with Wi-Fi on, to stress-test the new iPhones' battery.

The iPhone 8 lasted 6hr 40min, while the iPhone 8 Plus lasted 40 minutes longer. Both figures are around 50 minutes less than what I got respectively from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

But battery life differs depending on usage. Under normal use, which includes regularly checking Facebook and Instagram updates, as well as WhatsApp and Telegram messages, both phones can last through a full working day.

However, if you are playing Pokemon Go constantly, and are battling gyms or fighting Suicune in raids, battery life will take a significant hit - I found that battery life dropped to 50 per cent in three hours with the iPhone 8 Plus.

Verdict: The Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus represent incremental upgrades from its predecessors. But the significantly faster processor and the better camera are great reasons to upgrade, especially if you are still holding on to the iPhone 6s. However, both iPhone 8 models will have the shadow of iPhone X looming over them. So should you get the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus, or wait for the X? It depends on if you still prefer a home button and want to save several hundred bucks. If so, you should go for iPhone 8 or 8 Plus. But if you, like me, want something really new, you might want to wait for the iPhone X.