Apple is at a fascinating crossroads. Its iPhone 8, out now worldwide, is easily the best smartphone the company has ever made. But it’s not the iPhone most people want to buy. That’s because in just about a month we’ll see the release of the iPhone X, a device that’s a clear and pointed step toward Apple’s future in mobile.
Following the iPhone event at the beginning of September, the discussion was almost entirely on Apple’s iPhone X. People I know—friends, family, colleagues—all asked, “What’s the deal with the iPhone X?” Barely anyone acknowledged the iPhone 8 even existed. Which is a shame, because there are plenty of reasons why it’s such a great device, even if it does recycle a design dating back to 2014.
If you own an iPhone 7, the iPhone 8 probably isn’t worth the upgrade. But for everyone else, Apple’s newest flagship features the perfect blend of hardware, software, and features. The design is immaculate, the camera incredible, and the screen a delight. It’s the device most Apple fans should buy—but just know that something better is already coming.
Disclaimer: We purchased the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus for the purposes of this review. We primarily used the iPhone 8 Plus over the course of five days.
I had written the iPhone 8’s design off before it was even announced, mainly because I had been an owner of an iPhone 6 and iPhone 7, and I wanted something different. But my tune changed the second I held the iPhone 8 in my hand. Apple has done a miraculous job of making a familiar design feel almost entirely new.
The biggest difference this year is the all-glass design, which makes the iPhone 8 feel more premium than its predecessors. Imagine if the iPhone 4 was combined with the iPhone 6—that’s the iPhone 8. It looks great in person, and it never feels like it’ll slip out of your hand like a slimy fish. I switched from my iPhone 7 to the iPhone 8 Plus for the purpose of this review, and I’m already sad to go back.
Which is not to say everything about the iPhone 8 design is hunky-dory. The rear glass panel is more difficult to replace, and therefore more expensive if you need it repaired. But ask yourself this: Is the all-glass design, which is inherently more fragile than aluminum, worth the trade-off if you get wireless charging?
Other design changes worth noting include a True Tone display, better speakers, an all-new 12-megapixel sensor, and an A11 Bionic chip, which Apple claims offers the market’s most powerful mobile experience. Having used the iPhone 8 Plus over the past several days, I can confirm that it’s incredibly fast, especially when using augmented reality apps. Battery life is also fantastic, easily lasting through a busy work day with juice to spare.
With the all-glass design comes the addition of wireless charging, a feature that’s been a long time coming when you consider Android devices adopted the feature years ago. But it’s here, and it’s a very welcome inclusion. Now, Apple users don’t have to be stuck with cords and wall warts. Just plop the iPhone 8 down on a compatible Qi wireless charging pad and you’ll get juiced up.
It’s a strange thing to see wireless charging make its debut in the iPhone—a feature that should henceforth be standard in all future iPhone releases, including the iPhone X. Apple fans will no doubt come to love the new feature, though it’s not quite as fast as charging the traditional way. Still, the convenience alone will surely spurn adoption by users.
The other big addition is the revamped image signal processor (ISP), which Apple says does real-time lighting estimation and can detect elements in a scene, including people. The device’s 12-megapixel sensor is larger, too, and introduces a new color filter, resulting in images that are slightly more vibrant than previous iterations.
With the iPhone 8 Plus, Portrait Mode is back, along with a brand new Portrait Lighting feature, which attempts to mimic the dramatic lighting effects you’d get in a professional setting. While the feature is far from perfect, it shows Apple’s intent to cement the iPhone as a complete camera replacement. Just look at a few of our examples up above and tell me you’re not impressed.
And that’s from a beta feature. The main camera experience is just as impressive. The iPhone 8 Plus features two 12-megapixel cameras—one wide angle with an f/1.8 aperture and a telephoto with an f/2.8 aperture. Both feature optical image stabilization for sharper, less shaky photos. There’s also a 7-megapixel selfie camera out front.
Also new is the ability to shoot 4K video up to 60fps and 1080 slo-mo up to 240fps. If you’ve never used Apple’s slo-mo feature before, get ready to use it for everything—and now in higher resolution. What’s especially cool is with iOS 11, the iPhone shoots in HEIF and HEVC formats, which Apple says offers two times compression and storage.
Other fun features include Loop, Bounce, and Long Exposure, which we detailed in a more in-depth post. Apple still doesn’t give users more granular control over how a picture is taken, such as adjusting white balance and shutter speed, but the added features greatly improve the experience without overcomplicating how photos are taken.
Here’s the thing about the iPhone 8: If you have an iPhone 6S or older, it’s a must-upgrade. But if you own an iPhone 7, the new features probably aren’t worth it. The convenience of wireless charging almost makes upgrading from last year’s model worthwhile, but you can live without it. The differences in speed, battery life, and camera quality are also negligible.
Which is why I said Apple is at a crossroads right now. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are both fantastically polished smartphones. But in a lot of ways they feel both stuck in the past and in the future; it’s an exciting, impressive blend of technology and ideas.
But don’t forget the iPhone X is coming in November. That device offers all the qualities of the iPhone 8 and puts it in a more attractive package, one with a 5.8-inch OLED screen and Face ID. The iPhone X is the direction every future iPhone is headed, so why be left behind with the iPhone 8?
When the iPhone X hits, we’ll have a better understanding of which device you should spend your hard earned money on. I suspect most people (i.e. the average consumer) will be perfectly content with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, while hardcore tech enthusiasts will flock to Apple stores for the iPhone X on November 3.
There are several arguments to make for the iPhone 8, which we’ve laid out in a few different cases. The big one is you get a home button with Touch ID, which has been more or less a part of the iPhone from the beginning. But the future—at least as Apple sees it—exists without a home button and chunky bezels.
So, which excites you more? The future or the past?