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iPhone 8 Plus review

September 28, 2017 - Uncategorized - , , , , , , ,

DESIGN
The iPhone 8 is fundamentally the fourth generation of the iPhone 6 — Apple told us it thinks of the 8 as an “all-new design,” but that’s also what Apple said about the iPhone 6S and 7. It must take a lot of effort to keep reinventing the same basic design without actually changing it. The major difference you’ll notice is the glass back, but other than that nothing has changed — the 8 and 8 Plus will fit right into 7 and 7 Plus cases perfectly.

That glass back is heavier than the aluminum on the 7, but it’s not bad — in fact, I like how the combination of the glass and increase in weight make the phone easier to hold than the 6 and 7, which always felt like they were about to fly out of my hand. You don’t need a case for these new phones, but you’ll probably want one: Apple claims the glass is stronger than ever, but I’ve already scratched the 8 Plus by carrying it around in my pocket. We’ll see what happens when millions of people around the world start dropping these things.

The iPhone 8 comes in three colors — I received gold and silver phones to review. The silver is pretty familiar, but the gold isn’t exactly what you’d expect. The back is a very 70s-looking cream color, which several people I showed it to really liked. It might even appease those mourning the loss of the rose gold option.

DISPLAY AND SPEAKERS
Apple’s added True Tone tech to the iPhone 8 display, which first appeared on the iPad Pro. I’ve always thought the iPhone LCD was the best overall display on the market in terms of color accuracy, and True Tone just makes it look better, by measuring ambient light with sensors on the front of the phone and adjusting color temperature on the fly. You won’t notice it working while it’s on, but if you obsessively click the button on and off under most indoor lighting you’ll see things warm up a little when it’s active.

The iPhone 8’s upgraded stereo speakers are impressively good. Just as on the iPhone 7, the earpiece gets really loud to act as the second speaker, but the whole system gets up to 25 percent louder now. You can hear actual stereo separation, which is wild.

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WIRELESS CHARGING AND BATTERY LIFE
The glass back allows for wireless charging, based on the Qi standard. Apple gave me one of the Mophie charging pads it’ll be selling in stores, and we tried it out on Qi pads from Samsung as well, and it all just worked.

Qi is pretty slow, though — Apple’s goal is to match the charging speed of its own 5W pack-in charger, but I only saw about 15 percent more charge on the 8 Plus every 30 minutes with the Mophie, which is especially pokey when you consider that you can’t pick up and use your phone during that time. A future iOS update will let the iPhone 8 draw more power out of the Mophie and Belkin pads Apple sells in stores, so hopefully things speed up when that happens.

The iPhone 8 also supports fast charging for quick top-offs, which seems much more useful — any higher-powered charger will work, according to Apple, but you’ll see best results if you plug into a 29W USB-C MacBook charger, which will net you 50 percent charge in 30 minutes. Other chargers are similarly speedy, though: I saw 40 percent more charge on the 8 Plus in 30 minutes connected to an iPad charger. But you’ll have to buy a high-powered wall charger separately to see those speeds — in the box is the same 5W brick that has come with the iPhone since time immemorial.

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CAMERAS
Over the past year, the S8 and Pixel pulled ahead of the iPhone 7 in various tests. Apple told me they don’t look at benchmarks closely, but the images from the iPhone 8 camera definitely look more like Apple’s competitors than before.

Like Samsung, iPhone images are now more saturated by default, although Apple says it’s still aiming for realism instead of the saturated colors and smoothing of the S8. And HDR is just on all the time, like the Pixel — you can’t turn it off, although you can set it to save a non-HDR image as well. We ran around shooting with an iPhone 8, a Pixel XL, and S8, and iPhone 7 on auto, and the iPhone 8 produced the most consistent and richest images of the group, although the Pixel was the clear winner several times, especially in extreme low light. We’ll do a hardcore comparison test when the Pixel 2 comes out.

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AUGMENTED REALITY
Where you do get a sense of the extra performance is when you try new apps that use Apple’s ARKit in iOS 11. There aren’t many out there, but I got to try some early versions of a measuring app, an app that teaches you about the human heart, a stargazing app, a Thomas the Tank Engine game and of course, a demo app from IKEA that lets you see what furniture looks like in a room. I use a non-AR stargazing app called SkyView Free all the time, and the AR-enabled Sky Guide AR was a particular revelation — the tracking is so much better than anything I’ve ever seen. This stuff is going to be really fun to play with as it rolls out.

There’s a whole future of phone interactions coming as AR goes from standalone demos to a core part of the app developer’s toolkit, and Apple’s way ahead of Google’s Tango effort and new ARCore approach so far. Playing with AR on iOS 11 is a pretty exciting taste of the future. But you don’t need an iPhone 8 to do it; the iPhone SE, 6S, and 7 will support it when they’re updated to iOS 11 as well.

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IOS 11
We’ll do a full review of iOS 11 as well, but it’s a huge update. You’ll notice chunkier fonts everywhere, and redesigns of most major apps. I’m particularly impressed with the new App Store design, which is much more curated and editorially-driven than before — there are blog-like writeups of apps all over the place. It’s like a fancy app catalog, and it turns the App Store into a repeat destination on your phone, not just something you have to deal with.

The new iOS 11 Control Center makes way more sense than before and offers a lot of customization options. And in extremely good news, airplane mode can now be set to just turn off the cell radio and leave WiFi and Bluetooth active, which is a huge boon for frequent travelers and people who travel in and out of spotty cell service areas.

 

Overall, iOS 11 is a really solid update — and if you have an iPhone 7, you might not miss any of the iPhone 8’s features once you have it.

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After spending a week with the 8, I can’t think of a single compelling reason to upgrade from an iPhone 7. The 7 is still extremely fast, offers virtually the same design in a lighter package with a bigger battery, and will get almost every feature of the 8 with iOS 11. If you really want Qi wireless charging, you can get a slim $15 case that supports it. And if you’re dying for Portrait Lighting, there are tons of photo apps in the App Store that offer similar effects. Of course, if you’re upgrading from anything older than an iPhone 7, the improvements in the camera and the overall speed of the phone are going to really impress you.

Apple’s line is now more segmented than before, with models at every price point between the $349 iPhone SE to the $1,125 256GB iPhone X, and the iPhone 8 sits near the top of that range. Prices are actually $50 more than the 7 was last year, with the 64GB iPhone 8 going for $699 and the 64GB iPhone 8 Plus going for $799. The decision between the 256GB iPhone 8 Plus at $949 and the 64GB iPhone X at $999 seems particularly challenging: do you value Apple’s best and newest design, or raw storage capacity? I know my answer, and it doesn’t look like another version of a phone I bought in 2014.

And yet, a lot of people are going to buy an iPhone 8 — it’s the phone to get if you’re on an upgrade plan, your older phone breaks or finally gets too slow, or you just need a new phone right now. It’s Apple’s new default phone, and it’s pretty great that a default phone is actually this good. But it’s not the future, and it’s not the cutting edge. It’s just the default.

 

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