The iPhone 8 sits in a rather uncomfortable place - it’s pretty much the middle option of the current iPhone range. Not the smallest or lightest (the iPhone SE wins that), it doesn’t have the best screen nor the best camera (its bigger brother the iPhone 8 Plus bests it at both) so you wonder just who it’s for.
Design and hardware specifications
On paper, the iPhone 8 is a step up from the iPhone 7 in every way except when it comes to the screen resolution, battery and weight.
You could say the iPhone 8 addresses most of the shortcomings the iPhone 7 had when compared to its Android competition. There’s wireless charging, a ridiculously powerful processor, an improved wireless antenna and an updated camera.
What might annoy you is what it’s missing for a phone in its price range. Considering that even midrange Android phones are starting to come equipped with a dual lens camera while only the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X have them in the newest iPhone range, it feels as though Apple’s being stingy with the iPhone 8.
The new Retina HD display is pretty, and tere’s no complaining about it now supporting TrueTone, a tech that adjusts the display to better match ambient lighting. It feels like nitpicking to state the 1334x750 resolution hasn’t changed, but comparing the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7’s displays side-by-side, you’d need to maybe squint a little to really see the difference. It’s just harder to appreciate on a 4.7in screen - Unless of course you’ve been using crappy phones with cheap displays all this while.
It's also a shame that the Galaxy S8 in comparison is a svelter, more polished looking device with that curved glass display that is impressive to look at even if its dimensions are rather awkward - The iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 both sit better in the hand, compared to Samsung's original flagship.
There’s one aspect where the iPhone 8 does better - it’s a way prettier iPhone. The glass back gives a glossy effect that mimics polished marble and if you had to choose between the three colours (gold, silver and space grey), silver might be the best bet. Don't think a silver iPhone; this is more moonstone than pearl, in a good way. The polished glass is, to my surprise, not as slippery as I thought it would be and Apple says the glass is the most durable ever on a smartphone. Still, it's glass so a case would still be a good idea though it feels a shame to cover the gorgeous glass back.
I wish they would fix one thing though: though it remains splash and dust-resistant, you can't use it if your fingers are damp or wet. Having Touch ID not work until you wipe your thumbprint dry is either genius or annoying on purpose. Which one is it, Apple? Will we ever know?
Do I miss the headphone jack? Not at all. Since embracing the wonders of Bluetooth headphones, cables now seem super-confining. But I do still keep the Lightning to headphone connector attached to one of my spare headphones, just in case. It's an easy dongle to lose so keep it safe.
What the iPhone 8 has going for it is that it has the new A11 Bionic processor that powers its bigger brother and the iPhone X. Granted the iPhone 8 has a little less RAM (a rumoured 2GB to the iPhone 8 Plus' 3GB) but thanks to Apple’s tighter integration of hardware and software, it’s unlikely to be an issue for iPhone 8 users.
I had experienced connectivity problems with the iPhone 7, with its antenna not performing as well as the 7 Plus but the iPhone 8’s new antenna is far better with WiFi reception as well as LTE. Unlike the iPhone 7’s slightly sluggish detection of mobile data networks, the iPhone 8 needs less time to connect to the Internet.
One thing that still remains depressingly the same is the battery life. It has the same battery rating as the iPhone 7, and in practice it lasted around the 10-12 hour mark. But as the phone is brand new, there wasn't time for more in-depth battery testing so my initial impressions might be revised later.
My personal concern was with the new processor and the glass back, would overheating be an issue? Fortunately so far opening multiple apps, playing various 3D games including shooters and the odd racing game, did not seem to generate excess heat.
Sound is markedly louder on the iPhone 8 too. For a smallish phone, it certainly is loud. A distinct improvement over last year's iPhone 7, which already had a pretty decent stereo speaker.
Oh that camera
There was limited time to really put the iPhone 7's camera to the test (that will be remedied later) but it's still an upgrade from last year's. The new camera sports a 12MP sensor with a wide-angle aperture of f/1.8. It also includes optical image stabilisation to help out those folks with shaky hands.
Also improved is the rear flash. The Quad-LED True Tone flash offers a slightly more diffused light, so you get less of that panicked deer in headlights look. It's only on the back, though so you'll see a marked difference between the front and rear flash photos. Not that flash photos are awful on the front camera, not at all.
Apple's decided to go with a 7MP front camera with Full HD video recording, a Retina Flash and a decent f/2.2 aperture. Apple's even managed to fit in body and face detection, auto HDR as well as burst mode and exposure control. It's interesting the company's not followed the route many of its competitors have in stuffing as much as 20MP into the front sensor.
As far as industry standards are concerned, Apple's skintones are still the most realistic by far and personally, I appreciate a selfie camera that doesn't include a 'beauty mode'. There's no odd yellowing or sudden skintone lightening that seems to be too much the norm among East Asian smartphone front cameras.
The software experience
The review units came shipped with iOS 11 and while there's been the tiniest of learning curves, I think iOS 11 does improve the experience on the iPhone 8. It feels more like a new phone and less of 'just an updated iPhone 7' that some might think this is.
While it was easy enough to get used to the interface, there was the odd bug or two: Apps that needed you to restart the phone to work for instance. That's something to be expected with now operating systems but for the most part, Apple seems to have worked out most of the kinks but I found that there were still apps in my library that haven't been updated to work with iOS 11. So if you're particularly reliant or sentimentally attached to a legacy app, take that into consideration before you move to iOS 11.
A great bit is that restoring your iPhone from a backup feels a lot smoother than on iOS 10, so if you're moving over from previous generation phones the setup is fairly hassle-free. I had my phone setup from a previous backup in about half an hour - Of course this will also depend on just how fast your WiFi connection is.
The new Command Center also takes up a lot more space on the iPhone 8, thanks to its smaller screen so that might take a little getting used to.