NEW YORK — Reviews of the newest iPhones — the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus — landed across the Internet on Tuesday (Sept 19), with most major reviewers agreeing that they represent a modest improvement over the previous generation but remain overshadowed by the looming iPhone X.
Technology reviewers were able to test out the iPhone 8, which will begin shipping on Friday, but have not yet spent much time with the iPhone X, which won’t be available until November — but packs a significantly changed design and more features.
Most reviewers were hesitant to offer a full-throated endorsement of the phones, except for those who know they won’t be spending US$1,000 for the iPhone X (pronounced “ten”).
Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times said the phones “represent Apple’s platonic ideal of that first iPhone, an ultimate refinement before eternal retirement”.
“Unsurprisingly, both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are very good phones. Most of Apple’s improvements over the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are minor, but if you have an older model, either of the 8s will feel like a solid upgrade,” he wrote.
And if you are considering upgrading from an Android phone, there’s one area where the new iPhones still rank head and shoulders above their competition — the processor, the engine that runs the entire device, where Apple is so far ahead that it almost feels unfair.
At Time magazine, Lisa Eadicicco wrote that the improvements meant anyone who doesn’t want to invest in the high-end X model will now have several options, and not everyone will need to spend the money to upgrade at all.
“The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus may not be as flashy as the iPhone X, but anyone upgrading from an older model will appreciate the jumps,” she wrote.
“Coming from the iPhone 6s, for instance, you’re getting double the storage, the option to wirelessly charge your iPhone, a refreshed design, and a faster camera. If you’re coming from the iPhone 7 family, on the other hand, it’s harder to make the case.”
Several reviewers said the phones were stuck in the shadow of the iPhone X. Nilay Patel of The Verge said the phones were “not the future, and it’s not the cutting edge. It’s just the default”.
“While the 8 and 8 Plus share a processor, wireless charging capability, and similar camera setups to the X, they lack any truly new ideas about what an iPhone is — they’re both very much just the next step along a path Apple’s been on for quite some time now,” Patel said.
So what’s actually new? The most commonly cited improvements included the camera, wireless charging and augmented reality abilities.
Nicole Nguyen of BuzzFeed News wrote that the new iPhones had better cameras than the 7 and 7 Plus, but that the differences in images could be hard to spot.
“The new “colour filter” and “deeper pixels” in the 8 and 8 Plus mean more vivid colours and less noise. The new image signal processor helps optimise features like exposure, autofocus, and HDR, before you take the photo,” she said.
“What that means in practice is more detailed photos that really only appear more detailed if you zoom way, way in.”
David Pogue of Yahoo Finance said the wireless charging would be a feature iPhone owners would quickly grow to appreciate.
“Once you’ve tried pad charging, you won’t go back. You come home from work, you just set the phone down on your way in. Or you set it down on your bedside table. Done.”
At CNN, Heather Kelly was impressed by the augmented reality potential. “After testing early augmented reality apps, it’s clear the feature is well executed and packs a genuine ‘wow’ factor,” she said.
“It’s most useful for games, shopping and a star gazing app that overlays constellations on the real night sky. It also offers the most enjoyable way to dissect a beating human heart in my kitchen yet.”
As for battery life, Hayley Tsukayama of The Washington Post wrote that the phones would be sufficient for a typical day of use.
“The iPhone 8 Plus definitely has better battery life than its smaller sibling, even when being used heavily,” Tsukayama wrote.
“On a day where I had to use it for navigation, video streaming and plenty of email, it made it through the day and probably could have made it through the next morning without being in dire need of a top-up. The iPhone 8, when I used it, got down pretty low by the end of the day, at which point I switched to low power mode. In other words, it got me through a day, but not much further.”
The processing power impressed reviewers, but some, including Geoffrey A. Fowler of The Wall Street Journal, questioned how much you would actually benefit from the technological feat.
“What can you do with a phone that fast? Those new camera tricks, plus high frame-rate 4K video, wouldn’t be possible without it,” he said.
“And it never hurts to try to futureproof the computer you use most. But the bottleneck on the apps I use most often is Internet speed, not the processor. Aside from some 3-D games, I couldn’t find many apps that require so much horsepower today.”
Some reviewers criticised the design, which is largely unchanged in major ways from previous years. The biggest change was an all-glass back, which Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch said was a “love-it-or-hate-it” feature that he loved.
“There’s something about the texture of glass. It’s smoother than the aluminum, but typically less slippery and easier to grip. Glass also warms up to the temperature of your hand faster and stays at that temperature rather than getting hot. And when your phone is really chugging along, it distributes the heat from the processor better, making hot spots less pronounced.”
Chris Velazco at Engadget called the new models “familiar-looking phones that mostly operate the way people expect them to”.
“Apple has painted us a picture of what its mobile future looks like, so is it any surprise the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus seem dull by comparison? To be clear, it’s not that they’re poorly designed. It’s just that the iPhone’s aesthetic hasn’t changed much since the debut of the 6 and 6 Plus three years ago.”
Does it all add up to a device worth buying? Some, like Steve Kovach at Business Insider, felt the looming presence of the iPhone X made that less than certain.
“For the first time in the 10-year history of the iPhone, I can’t recommend buying the newest models,” he said. “That’s not because the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are bad phones. They’re actually great.
“But an even better phone is on the way.” THE NEW YORK TIMES