Saturday, 7 October 2017

REVIEW: iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

Let's face it: the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were greatly overshadowed by the iPhone X.

And I know because I saw proofs, over 13,000km apart: in my 'ringside' seat during the unveiling at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino and in Dubai during the 8's launch.

Over in California, I saw the comments on social media while the X was being flaunted, which were filled with stuff like 'will wait for iPhone X' and 'not much difference' (to paraphrase those sentiments). Over here in the emirate, a handful (still) lined up early for the start of iPhone 8 sales - and anyone who's in the know, well, knows that's nothing compared to previous launches.

But that doesn't mean the iPhone 8 doesn't have tricks of its own. Remember that dude who bought 12 units on launch day in Dubai?

To start off, Apple has whittled down your capacity choices down to two: 64GB and 256GB. That means you have to decide based on whether you stock up so much stuff or not. The iPhone 8 goes for Dh2,849 and Dh3,479, while its big bro will set you back Dh3,249 or Dh3,879.
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On to the juicy stuff in, once again, no particular order.
 
Performance

Like with every new iPhone, performance is bumped up - and this is quite noticeable with the iPhone 8, thanks to the new A11 Bionic chip (reminds me of some Super Sentai series that I watched growing up).

Apple promises that, with this new six-core design, the iPhone 8 has up to 70 per cent faster efficiency cores, up to 25 per cent faster performance cores and up to 30 per cent faster GPU.

What do you do when aliens and robots invade your turf like this? You play with and enjoy them.

And it shows - and it's not just because of iOS 11: I tested the new operating system on both a 7 Plus and 8 Plus, and you'll definitely feel the upgrade in speed. (For good measure, I also dragged a friend's 6s Plus into the fray and... you probably know how it panned out.)

That li'l chip is also responsible for Apple's next major project (currently underway): augmented reality. The A11 Bionic works in harmony with Apple's own Metal 2 developer software, which is used to create console-like games. And it'll give you a whole new perspective on stuff like AR and 3D, if those demos are any indication.

Its speakers, meanwhile, are up to 50 per cent louder and have a meaner bass (who doesn't love bass?).
 
Wireless charging, finally

Finally (repeat: finally). Wireless charging has been around for a while, and Apple took quite a longer time than expected (much to the frustration of some) to finally bless its iPhone with this.

If you can't wait until 2018 for the AirPower (right), just find a Qi-powered wireless charger for now.

So, you know the drill: find some wireless charging mats/stations/whatever, place your iPhone 8 on it and khalas. This is made possible by the iPhone 8's embedded charging system and all-glass back design. It works on chargers that run on Qi technology, an open universal charging standard created by the Wireless Power Consortium. If you've heard of this of the first time, well, let's just say that this service is - aside from the wireless charging mats you can buy from Belkin, Mophie and many others - already available in certain places like cafes, hotels, cars, airports and even furniture.

Here's a bonus: Apple announced the new AirPower, its very own wireless charging mat. It's ultra-thin and will allow you to charge up to three devices at the same time - an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods with wireless charging case, for example. Spoiler: it won't be available until 2018, with no specific date yet as we publish this.

Breaking out the glass

That glass back isn't just for aesthetics.

Speaking of that glassy thing above, Apple also decided to slap on a new all-glass back design on the iPhone 8. It doesn't just allow wireless charging; it also gives a new touch and feel to the flagship. And this isn't your ordinary glass: Apple says it's the most durable glass ever on a smartphone, reinforced by 50 per cent deeper strengthening layer and aerospace-grade aluminium band for extra reinforcement - plus oleophobic coating to easily remove those irritating fingerprints and smudges.
 
Oh, the iPhone 8 is still IP68-rated, so go ahead and soak it up to 1.5 metres for up to half-an-hour.

Say cheese (again)

Well, cameras are indeed an integral part of mobile life nowadays. And the iPhone 8 - especially the 8 Plus - is making sure it's keeping up, even to the point of being ahead in some aspects.

The 8 still retains the 12MP found in the 7, though now it has an all-new sensor that's faster and more stable. More importantly, it has a quad-LED True Tone flash, compared to the dual one found in its predecessor, meaning it'll deliver illumination that's more uniform; while I'm not really a fan of using flash when the light is enough (natural lighting, you know), the quad-LED flash does the trick, though at certain situations you may not see any significant difference.

Moving over to the more interesting dual-lens camera on the 8 Plus - both lenses of which have OIS - there's a new addition to its arsenal, thanks largely to iOS 11 and the A11 Bionic: Portrait Lighting. Remember Portrait Mode? With Portrait Lighting, the camera now uses facial landmarking and depth maps, which in turn allows some neat light tricks, aside from the resident bokeh effect: natural, studio, contour, stage and stage mono.

The five modes of Portrait Lighting (from top-left): natural, studio, contour, stage and stage mono; you may see why the last two are my faves.

Apple says this ain't filters; rather, the device studies your face and calculates your look based on the scene's light, using machine learning. Rather creative move - much to the delight of selfie lovers.

As an addendum, images are expected to look their best on the iPhone 8's Retina HD Display, which now boasts the best colour accuracy and wide-colour gamut in its class - 'lifelike' stuff, as Apple terms it. The 8 has a 1334 x 750 resolution, while the 8 Plus has 1920 x 1080.


One more thing to clarify: Animoji isn't available on the iPhone 8 - it's on the iPhone X. So hold back those facial expressions that you've been practising all along.

AND SO.

Pound-for-pound, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have decent upgrades compared to the 7 and 7 Plus - though I know a lot of you out there would disagree with me, and would dismiss these as token upgrades. I personally think that Apple - with the launches of these plus the iPhone X - is (probably) trying to create a whole new category of iPhone. The iPhone 8 is best suited for those who'll bulk at the extra cash they need if they want that high-end gizmo.

 Well, honestly, if you were to ask me objectively if I'd make a purchase decision - much like many iPhone fans I've spoken to - I'd rather wait for the iPhone X. Though that'll be at least an extra Dh1,250 we have to cough up. And it isn't really that surprising that the diehards and loyalists won't mind getting both.

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