While most of the excitement and expectation for this year's new iPhones is for the flagship iPhone X, rather than the iPhone 8 and larger-scale iPhone 8 Plus, that's not to say that the smallest of the three models should be overlooked.
The new iPhone 8 brings with it a number of advances over the iPhone 7, but does it have what it takes to be your next smartphone - or should you just opt for the X?
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Design tweaks, not reinvention
- Glass front and back
- New gold colour option
- 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm; 148g
From the front, the iPhone looks to have changed very little since the iPhone 7. There is still the Home button, the FaceTime camera, and the same-size bezels. That's why we had expected this model to be called the iPhone 7S.
The iPhone 8 does bring some changes, though. The metal back has been replaced with glass - which delivers a look and feel that's more premium (and a lot more fingerprint-prone) - for a finish that's similar to the (now discontinued) Jet Black offering from 2016.
The iPhone 8 is available in three colours: an all-new Gold, plus the more familiar Silver, Space Gray finishes. Of the three, we love the new Gold option. It's not as brash as you might think, and more akin to a subtler "nude" colour that is popular in posh high heel shoes.
Moving to a glass design - although the frame and therefore sides are still metal - does mean the iPhone 8 is more prone to break or shatter, especially if you drop it. That's becoming par for the course now, though, with the likes of Huawei going major on glass in the Mate 10 Pro, or Samsung in the Note 8.
We've not done any drop tests with the new iPhone, but if you are accident prone, it's probably wise to invest in a case (iPhone 6 and 7 cases should still fit). The move to glass doesn't stop the phone being dust- and water-resistant, but does allow for wireless charging - if you purchase the relevant wireless charging pad, or have access to such sources, whether at a Starbucks or in your car.
Despite glass, the design is otherwise all familiar. It's not rocking the boat with a near bezel-free design like the iPhone X here. In that sense, the iPhone 8 is a straight upgrade - but a marginal one.
In an ever-increasing trend of bigger and bigger smartphones, it's also nice to know that the iPhone 8 is comfortable to use one-handed. It's a use-on-the-move phone, rather than a two-handed beast, which is very much part of its appeal. Few others make phones of such a size, with only, say, the marginally larger Google Pixel 2 taking a similar stance in the Android camp.
New screen technology
- 4.7-inch 1344 x 750 resolution LCD (326ppi)
- True Tone Display (real-time auto colour adjustment)
While the screen looks the same and delivers the same resolution as the iPhone 7, Apple has introduced a new technology already used on its iPad line, called True Tone Display.
True Tone Display works by automatically adjusting the screen colour based on the ambient light in the room to offer more accurate colours when you're using it. The tech simply makes things just look better without you really realising. But turn it off or go back to a device that doesn't have it and you'll wonder how you ever coped.
The True Tone Display also means you can benefit from high dynamic range (HDR) content from apps like Netflix, although we doubt you'll be watching anything for any serious length of time on a screen so small - Stranger Things have happened though (geddit?).
As before, the screen features Apple's 3D Touch technology that allows you to press down harder to access deeper contextual menus. We've found we use this for some things, but completely ignore it for others - it's down to personal preference.
A new processor and bigger storage
- A11 Bionic processor
- 64/256GB storage options
While some manufacturers make the smaller version of their new phone line-up different in power terms, that's not the case here. The iPhone 8 features the same A11 Bionic processor found in the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X (pronounced 10, if you were wondering).
That power allows you to do a number of things, including run augmented reality (AR) apps, which is something Apple is pushing big at the moment, as well as the usual array of apps and games that you are already enjoying, or have yet to discover.
However, the iPhone 8 probably doesn't need the power quite as much as the other two flagship smartphones in the range, as it doesn't feature two cameras, Face ID, or other image processor heavy options that push a processor to its limits.
On the storage front there are now just two options available: 64GB and 256GB. The storage sizes reflect what we do with our phones these days, but there are a number of features built in to iOS 11 that will try and offload as much as possible into the cloud if you're worried 64GB just won't be enough.
Whether that's optimising your music, photos, or apps, for most we think the 64GB option will be fine. If, however, you know you like everything stored locally, and want lots of apps, you'll need to go big or go home. And that will cost a pretty penny, because there's no microSD card expansion for the iPhone, as there has never been.
Battery, wireless charging and Quick Charge
- Supports Qi open standard wireless charging
- Works with charging mats from Belkin and others
- Quick charge charges your iPhone 8 really fast
One of the big new features of the iPhone this year is wireless charging. It's the key reason the phone has now got a glass back and means you can charge your iPhone by putting it on a wireless charging pad.
Wireless charging is nothing new - competitors have been offering it for a number of years, and continue to do so - but the expectation is that now Apple has got into the game, you'll see a lot more wireless charging stations in hotels, cafes, cars, and elsewhere.
You'll need to buy a wireless charging pad for it to work, but once you have, all you need to do is plonk your iPhone 8 on it and it will start charging. The catch is that the charge isn't as fast as we would like, plus the phone must remain on the mat to charge (obviously), but it does allow you to ditch the cable.
For those who do need a fast charge, the iPhone 8 also offers Quick Charge. Using a more powerful charger and a different cable (neither of which are included in the box) you can charge your battery incredibly quickly. If you have a new USB-C powered MacBook you can use that charger.
In our tests we achieved around 50 per cent charge in 30 minutes, giving us more than enough power to get back on the road again. If you have a USB-C MacBook, it's definitely worth investing in the USB-C to Lightning cable to make it work.
All of these now different ways to charge your phone works towards fixing one of the iPhone's perennial problems – its battery. While we've happily got a day's use out of the iPhone 8, the ability to top-up quickly and easily throughout the day has certainly made a noticeable difference. A wireless charging pad on the desk at work as meant no real need to worry in the evening about power, and if we have suddenly realised we were low before heading out the door then Quick Charge sorts things out.
Depending on how you use your phone will depend on how long the battery lasts, of course, so if you're a social media and messaging apps heavy user then expect to need a top up around 7pm. The smaller iPhone is no match for the iPhone 8 Plus.
Taking photos with the iPhone 8
- 12 megapixel camera
- No portrait mode
- 4k at 60fps
While the larger iPhone 8 Plus boasts a number of features focused towards photographers, the iPhone 8, to put it simply, does not. There is no dual camera, no Portrait mode, and no new Studio Lighting mode (although we care not about this mode anyway).
What you do get is a very capable 12-megapixel f/1.8 camera on the rear, and a 7-megapixel front-facing camera. You also get 4K 60fps shooting capabilities, slow-mo up to 240fps at 1080p, and Optical Image Stabiliation on the smaller iPhone for the first time.
If that sounds disappointing, it shouldn't. The iPhone 8 camera is still very good, producing fantastic results in the variety of environments that we've been testing it, whether that's for portraits or in low-light conditions.
New features with iOS 11
- Quick Start setup feature
- Better photo editing options
The iPhone 8 comes pre-loaded with iOS 11, and is upgradeable to iOS 11.3. The latest version of Apple's operating system features a number of new tricks up its sleeve without overly changing anything that you've become used to.
There are new photo editing features, a Do Not Disturb feature that automatically kicks in when you are driving so you aren't tempted to look at your phone, and a much improved Control Center that brings everything back to a single panel.
One of the biggest new features you'll appreciate out of the box is a "Quick Start" feature that helps you move across from your old iPhone. The system can also remember passwords in apps for you, which again has saved us loads of time when it came to setting up the new phone.
iOS 11.3 specifically adds a number of new tweaks including greater AR support, new Animoji including a dragon, lion, and skull, and a stronger focus on Privacy. There's also Business chat that will let companies talk to you directly, and in response to user backlash, a new Battery Health feature that is designed to provide you with more information about your device's battery and more, not that you'll need to worry about that for the time being with a brand new iPhone 8.
iPhone 8 vs iPhone 8 Plus
- More manageable size
- Not as good for smartphone photographers
As with the 7 vs the 7 Plus there are a number of similarities and differences between the new iPhone 8 models. The biggest difference for most won't be the size, that's a given, but the camera capabilities. The iPhone 8 Plus' photography skills are better, as is its battery life, which pushes a wider gap between these two phones.
That's not to say the iPhone 8 should be written off though. We still absolutely love the compact form factor, the ability to slip it into any pocket, and that it's still a very powerful phone that delivers on most, if not all fronts.
Against the iPhone X, the iPhone 8 makes sense, too, as it isn't trying to directly compete, rather complement the range available for those seeking a smaller phone.
Compared to the iPhone 7, the iPhone 8 brings minimal upgrades. But compared to the iPhone 6/6S, wow, you'll be very pleased with the jump forward - particularly if you're seeking a familiar and compact phone.
Apple isn't rocking the boat in the iPhone 8, but its feature improvements make notable improvements in all the right places. The glass back means wireless charging is possible. Buy the relevant charging cable and the addition of Quick Charge is great. The boost in power is also spot on for AR applications - which we're sure we'll start to see more of in the coming months - and smooth operation from iOS 11 and all your favourite apps.
However, the iPhone X is hard to ignore. It might share the same processor as the iPhone 8, but that's where the similarities end. So if you're not lured in by its facial recognition Face ID, its super high-res OLED panel with near bezel-free design, or the dual cameras, then the smaller iPhone 8 will save you cash and keep you content with its more familiar form.
Overall, iPhone 8 is small, compact, powerful, and will deliver the ideal phone experience for many - especially those who aren't fussed with all the latest and greatest features and the costs associated with them. Just because it has minimal upgrades doesn't mean it doesn't deliver maximum satisfaction.
The alternatives to consider
Apple iPhone X
It's pricier and larger, but the new screen ratio means it's still perfectly good for one-handed use. Plus, with its near bezel-free design, and heaps of new features - from facial recognition Face ID to an enhanced OLED screen - it's the future of the iPhone's progression. Ignore this and your iPhone 8 might feel like you're living in the past in just six months' time.
Read the full article: iPhone X preview
Google Pixel 2
Ok, so it's nothing to do with Apple, but if you're contemplating the Android route then Google's top-end small-scale handset is accomplished (ignore the larger Pixel 2 XL, as it has screen issues and is, obviously, larger).
Read the full article: Pixel 2 review
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