Apple has updated the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus with two new models: the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, bringing in a series of changes that these models are a little more than just the predicted "S" upgrade that we've seen previously.
Revealed at the company's September event in Cupertino, the phones promise to deliver a number of upgrades, but in many ways sit in the shadow of the new iPhone X.
Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus preview: Design
- Glass front and back
- New gold colour added
- iPhone 8: 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm, 148g
- iPhone 8 Plus: 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm, 202g
Rather than keep the same chassis that proved popular with the iPhone 6 and 7, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus get a new-ish design. That design now features a glass front and back rather than the metal affair Apple has been using since the iPhone 5.
Those worried about a move to glass creates a more fragile phone shouldn't be. The glass is the most "durable glass ever in a smartphone" according to Apple, however we can't help worry that dropping the new phone could be a painful affair. Just ask anyone who owned an iPhone 4.
The new glass back allows for a new feel to the iPhone and the new phones come in three finishes: space grey, silver and gold. You won't be able to get the iPhone 8 in Jet Black or the iPhone Plus 8 in that matte black finish. The gold isn't as harsh as the gold metal iPads, it's rather more subtle and one likely to appeal to many.
More importantly, the change of materials opens the door for wireless charging, something we'll get to in a second, while still retaining the IP67 protection.
While the back has changed, the front remains largely unchanged compared the iPhone 7, or the iPhone 6, or well, iPhones back to the original model. Unlike the new flagship iPhone X, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus still feature the Touch ID home button and a standard FaceTime front-facing camera. They don't offer the Face ID face recognition technology that the new flagship does.
Overall the design is fresh, but has started to look dated compared to the iPhone X and flagship phones from other manufacturers like Samsung and LG. While efficient, simple, and inoffensive, we suspect this is the last outing for this design.
Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus preview: New screen and better speakers
- True Tone display arrives from iPad
- Better stereo speakers
- iPhone 8: 4.7-inch 1334 x 750 pixel LCD, 325ppi
- iPhone 8 Plus: 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel LCD, 401ppi
While the outside will garner mixed responses and possible criticism for not evolving beyond the iPhone 7 design (this is all in comparison to the new and exciting iPhone X), the story of the display hasn't changed much either, except for one important aspect.
The display, while staying the same in terms of resolution and quality compared to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, now gets the True Tone technology currently on the iPad. It's the first time this has come to the iPhone and it's certainly a technology that vastly improves the experience.
We love it on the iPad and its ability to enhance everything from photos to reading emails, and expect the invisible tech will work wonders here in just making everything look better.
Both phones also get better speakers. Redesigned, again to follow the same approach as the speakers on the iPad, the stereo speakers are up to 25 per cent louder according to Apple and deliver deeper bass. Sadly, the noisy demo area in the Steve Jobs theatre wasn't the best place to test this claim, but it means that ad hoc video watching and gaming will be all the better for that boosted sound.
Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus preview: Powerful innards
- New faster A11 Bionic processor
- Wireless charging
Inside the new iPhone models there will be a new A11 Bionic processor. The new processor from Apple features a six-core design with two performance cores that, the company claims, are 25 per cent faster than the A10 Fusion found in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. What that means in reality is that you get a fast phone that should be able to handle everything that you are going to throw at it.
We couldn't properly test the processor's capabilities at the event, but opening apps, playing with AR demoes and games all appeared smooth and easy. The gaming capability is no doubt thanks to a new gaming processor now included on board just to handle the gaming and AR side of things. It claims a 30 per cent boost in graphics performance than the previous generation in the iPhone 7 models.
Importantly, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have the same hardware as the iPhone X, meaning that if you can't stretch to that more expansive device you won't have to compromise on the power and experience.
The new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will come in 64GB and 256GB configurations.
Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus preview: Wireless charging and battery
- Supports Qi open standard
- Works with charging pads from Belkin and others
- Apple AirPower will come in 2018
The move to a glass back isn't just about making things look pretty, as we said. It's about enabling wireless charging too. Although slower than charging via a cable - which incidentally will also be much faster - the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus now support wireless charging.
The company has gone with the popular Qi standard used by other phone manufacturers like Samsung, as well as supported by plenty of accessory manufacturers. It's a good move and one that should propel wireless charging to the mainstream, something that's not really happened to date.
Expect to be able to dump down your phone on a range of chargers build into coffee tables at you your local Starbucks to special places in your car. The best thing for those buying the new iPhones (including the X) is that this wireless charging technology is everywhere already, so the uptake should be really fast.
There's another important change that's been made to the iPhone that didn't get any attention on the stage at the launch of these new phones, and that's fast charging. Android device have long be lording it over the iPhone for their ability to change the battery very quickly. Apple has included faster charging in the iPhone 8, saying you'll get 50 per cent charge in 30 minutes.
Even if wireless charging is a little slow, wired charging is going to be Lightning fast, pardon the pun. The battery life is said to be comparable to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, so you can expect it to last through an average day.
Apple iPhone 8 preview: Photography
- 12 megapixel camera, OIS
- 4K 60fps video
- Support for new HEVC file format
The iPhone has always been renowned for being a good camera and the iPhone 8 plans to continue that tradition. This is where the iPhone differs from the iPhone 8 Plus, so we'll deal with the bigger phone in a second.
The phone features a 12-megapixel sensor with f/1.8 lens, optical image stabilisation, but adds new colour filters for what seemingly feels like better looking pictures. You now also get a new dedicated ISP just for the camera buried in the phone and the results look great. It was bright in the demo area, but pictures we took and then viewed back on the phone's screen contained plenty of detail and good colour reproduction. Although more testing is needed in a variety of lighting situations, we suspect you won't be disappointed.
Sadly Apple has still kept the iPhone 8 to a single lens and so you won't get the depth effect features, portrait mode, or portrait lighting modes found on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.
You do get better video stabilisation, 4K video up to 60fps and 1080p slo-mo up to 240fps. With iOS 11 the iPhone 8 supports HEIF and HEVC for up to two times compression and storage for twice the photos and videos. Again we've been unable to properly test this in our time with the phone.
Apple iPhone 8 Plus preview: Photography
- 12-megapixel wide-angle and telephoto lenses
- New Portrait lighting mode
- Optical image stabilisation wide-angle camera
The iPhone 8 Plus differs from the iPhone 8 by having two cameras on the rear of the phone as was the case with the iPhone 7 Plus. While the sensors and the lenses stay the same - f/1.8 and f/2.8 sensors respectively the model also benefits from the new image signal processor inside.
As with the iPhone 7 Plus, only the wide-angle camera is stabilised, so this isn't going to offer the same performance as the iPhone X which offers dual OIS on the cameras.
The iPhone 8 Plus will have the new portrait lighting mode that works alongside the portrait mode that we've seen previously. Using the two cameras to gather depth information the phone's software is able to apply a number of real-time lighting effects to photos to try to replicate a studio environment. We had mixed results when we tested the feature, but it's still in beta, so we're expecting it to get better.
On the video front the new iPhone 8 will offer improved video features thanks to yet another element within the A11 Bionic processor. The phones will be able to shoot in 4K at 60fps, an improvement from the 4k 30fps found on the iPhone 7 Plus.
Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus preview: Augmented Reality
- iPhone 8 misses out on front facing TrueDepth camera
- Will be able to run ARkit based augmented reality apps
With a strong focus on AR, the company is keen to use the new phone to showcase the new ARkit apps that developers will be launching in the coming months.
Demoed on stage, apps and games will vary from being able to see where stars are in the night sky to battling against enemy forces on an empty coffee table. In one example in a game called The Machines, gamers will be able to use their spatial awareness to gain advantage in the game. The apps will also offer spatial volume changing and adapting depending on where you are in relation to the action.
The AR functionalities of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are restricted to the rear camera, rather than the front facing camera on the iPhone X, but the new A11 Bionic CPU will still help handle all the world tracking, scene recognition, while the GPU enables graphics to zip along at 60fps.
It's a shame the iPhone 8 models miss out on the front facing AR stuff, and we suspect you'll enjoy a much better AR experience on the bigger iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X handsets.
Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus preview: iOS 11
- New control centre
- New do not disturb driving feature
- New camera editing options
We've been using the iOS 11 in public beta form since it was first launched earlier in the summer. Some features which seemed only interesting to begin with have now become a core part of how we use our iPhone.
Things like the new photo editing features giving you greater editing controls over your pictures will appeal to many, while the new Do Not Disturb while driving feature that will automatically text people to say you are driving will no doubt become a life saver.
In all, it's yet another seemingly incremental update from Apple, but one that improves the iPhone making life easier and more productive.
As a successor to the iPhone 7 the iPhone 8 is a logical step-up delivering a much faster experience in a new shell that is somewhat improved. Wireless charging is nice, but as we've learnt with other handsets, it's not a must, especially for those who need to charge quickly.
That said, the iPhone 8 is not to be ignored. While it has been eclipsed by the new flagship iPhone X, there is no denying that this looks to be a cracking phone that will not only sell well, but please those who buy it.
This is Apple's everyman phone. The perfect phone for the masses, the people who don't need a state of the art smartphone that speaks of the future, but the people that just want their phone to deliver, work well, and get the job done.
For those people, those happy with their iPhone and looking to upgrade, they won't be disappointed.
iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus will be available in space grey, silver and an all-new gold finish in increased 64GB and 256GB capacity models starting at £699.