It’s not very often that two new iPhone models are upstaged at their own launch, but that’s exactly what happened at Apple’s September event this year. The iPhone X was the star of the show, the cool new kid everyone wanted to hang out with, while the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus were relegated to the role of the designated driver – boring, reliable, the one you know will be there once you are done partying with your new friends.
That was certainly the case at the hands-on area post the launch event at the Steve Jobs Theatre, where everyone stood in line just to spend some time with the iPhone X, while most iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus units waited for an audience. But as quickly as it came, the cool new thing was gone, not to be seen again until November. Having seen the one with the X-factor, it seems not everyone is excited at that prospect of getting reunited with their ‘boring’ old friends.
If there’s one thing that being in your 30s teaches you, it’s that ‘boring’ has a lot going for it. You learn to value familiarity over the latest trend and appreciate the reliability that comes with the tried and tested. Have doubts about Face ID on the iPhone X? Touch ID on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus works great as always. Can’t get your head around the ‘notch’? No such thing on the ‘standard’ models. It’s this familiarity and reliability that these two models hope to appeal to, though Apple wouldn’t want the ‘boring’ tag anywhere near the duo, even if we frequently use the word as a compliment.
Let’s forget about the iPhone X for a bit and see how the other two new iPhone models fare in a world where their sibling doesn’t exist. Are they compelling enough upgrades in their own right? Let’s find out.
iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus design and display
From the front, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are practically indistinguishable from their predecessors. Virtually everyone we showed our review units to opened with “Oh, it looks just like the [iPhone] 7” before we asked them to turn them around and look at the all-glass backs. That’s right, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are all-glass on the front and the back, a throwback to the design last seen in the iPhone 4S. Apple says it has used “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone”, a claim that millions will no doubt put to the test in everyday life in the days to come.
During the couple of weeks that we’ve spent with these phones, we – accidentally, we promise – managed to drop them once each. First, the iPhone 8, face down, from a coffee table, and then the iPhone 8 Plus from a height of about four feet. While the iPhone 8 escaped unhurt, its bigger sibling landed on tiles on one of its corners and had a little abrasion to show for it afterwards – a stark reminder as to why most people choose to cover their precious phones in cases. While on the subject, though the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are marginally bigger than their predecessors, we had no problem fitting our Apple leather cases from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus onto them. Most existing third-party cases designed for the older iPhone models should fit just fine as well.
At 148 grams, the iPhone 8 is the heaviest non-Plus iPhone to date, while the iPhone 8 Plus crosses the 200g mark. The extra weight would be noticeable if you used an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus without a case, but if you are someone who changes your case quite often, you are probably used to the overall weight fluctuating slightly and are unlikely to notice these differences. Still, it’s interesting to see a company obsessed with ‘thin and light’ move in the opposite direction with two of its marquee products.
If showing the world you have the latest and greatest iPhone (we told you to forget about the iPhone X, remember?) is important to you, hiding your iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus in a non-transparent case would not be the best idea. As we said earlier, the front is virtually identical to that of the previous generation iPhone models, so the only visible difference is in the back. From five (not counting the Product Red) colour options in the previous generation – Rose Gold, Gold, Silver, Black, and Jet Black – we are down to three – Gold, Silver, and Space Grey.
The Gold finish on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus looks like an amalgamation of the Rose Gold and Gold colours seen previously. Silver is essentially white, and Space Grey is black. The latter is the only option that’s black on the front, while the other two have white bezels, like in previous years. Colours are largely a personal choice, though we have to say we will miss the Jet Black finish, despite its well-documented tendency to get scuffed up.
The nearly-all-glass body means that all iPhone models offer excellent grip, and are unlikely to slip out of your hands. In the two weeks that we spent with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, we didn’t see any scratches or scuff marks resulting from being put into and taken out of pockets, or being stored with other objects in our bag.
In the box you get Lightning EarPods, a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, a USB Type-A to Lightning cable, and a 5W charger (more on this later), apart from the phone itself, and some literature. There’s no Type-C to Lightning cable, which means you cannot directly connect Apple’s flagship phone to its flagship laptops without buying additional cables or dongles from Apple or third parties.
There’s no change in the size of the displays on the iPhone 8 or the iPhone 8 Plus compared to their predecessors, and, indeed, the screens have the same resolution, brightness, and contrast ratios as well. OLED and HDR support are reserved for the iPhone X, so the only improvement here is the addition of True Tone functionality.
According to Apple, True Tone technology “uses an advanced four‑channel ambient light sensor to subtly adjust the white balance onscreen to match the colour temperature of the light around you.” If that sounds like a load of jargon, we are here to help. In simple terms, like recent iPad Pro models, additional sensors present in the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus can detect the quality of light around you, and the phone can tweak the display’s white balance to match. This is designed to reduce eye strain and make objects on screen look “as natural as on a printed page”.
In terms of real-world experience, perhaps the most significant word in the previous paragraph is “subtly”. The presence of True Tone – a setting that is turned on by default, but can be switched off if you really care about colour accuracy – is unlikely to be noticed by most users. The effect is nowhere as dramatic as turning on Night Shift, which alters the tone of the display and cuts blue light emission to reduce eye strain in a very visible way, and was introduced in iOS 9.3. Most users probably even won’t notice (which, as Apple will tell you, is a good thing) True Tone’s impact until they see their phone side by side with one that doesn’t have the setting enabled.
You will no longer find the Auto-Brightness option under Display settings. Turned on by default, this option is instead available under Display Accommodations in Accessibility settings, a hint by Apple that most users shouldn’t bother toggling it on an everyday basis. iOS 11 even warns you that turning auto brightness off may have an impact on battery life.