iPhone 8 Hands-On: Don't Overlook This Big Update

The iPhone X is getting all the hype, thanks to its extended OLED display, Face ID facial recognition technology and cool-if-creepy animated emojis. But don't be blinded by those flashy features. Apple's new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus offer their fair share of upgrades, too — especially in the case of the iPhone 8 Plus. And they just may be the new iPhones to get, particularly if you're put off by the iPhone X's $999 price tag.

Think of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus as the more affordable upgrades. The 4.7-inch iPhone 8 will start at $699, just $50 more than the iPhone 7's debut price. The 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus starts at $799 for the 64GB phone, a $200 discount from the iPhone X without sacrificing too many features.

The iPhone 8 (facedown) and the iPhone 8 PlusThe iPhone 8 (facedown) and the iPhone 8 PlusHaving had a chance to see the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus up close, we found a few features that make these new models formidable upgrades.

Wireless Charging: The iPhone X isn't the only phone that's gone wireless. Both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus feature wireless charging, using the Qi standard. This is enabled thanks to the device's glass back, a new look compared to the iPhone's recent designs.

As for that glass-and-aluminum design, Apple doesn't think you need to worry about breaking that back pane, claiming it's the most rugged glass to ever be used in a smartphone. We gave an iPhone 8 Plus a few solid thumps, and it felt fairly solid. An aluminum bezel helps strengthen things. And the new iPhones are microscopically sealed to make them resistant to water and dust.

MORE: iPhone X Revealed: All the Big Apple Event News

A Better Processor: iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus won't have to make do with a second-hand processor. Those devices are getting the same A11 Bionic CPU that powers the iPhone X.

The A11 offers two performance cores and four-high efficiency cores along with an Apple-designed performance controller. Apple says the performance cores are 25 percent faster than the A10 while the high-efficiency cores are 70 percent faster than last year's chip. The A11 also offers an Apple-designed graphics processor, which will make graphics 30 percent faster than they were with the A10.

Not only does the processor figure to be a big advance over the A10 inside the iPhone 7, it's also expected to leave the best Android phones in the dust. Leaked benchmarks suggest the A11 is going to turn in much faster speeds than Snapdragon 835-powered phones like Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.

Camera Improvements: Both versions of the Phone 8 improve on the cameras that Apple included in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, though the iPhone 8 Plus really stands out, thanks to its dual rear cameras. The two 12-megapixel lenses on the back of the 8 Plus — one with an f/1.8 aperture, the other with an f/2.8 aperture — support a new and improved Portrait mode feature that takes those stylized portraits the iPhone 7 Plus can take and adds some very impressive lighting effects.

Portrait Lighting on an iPhone 8 PlusPortrait Lighting on an iPhone 8 PlusYou may recall the Portrait mode feature introduced with the iPhone 7 Plus that let you take sharply focused photos of an object while adding an artistic blur to background details. The iPhone 8 Plus improves upon this with Portrait Lighting, a feature available as a beta when the iPhone 8 Plus ships later this month. Portrait Lighting lets you adjust the lighting on a subject to emphasis the contours of a person's face or offer dramatic stage lighting or darken the background. You can impose these effects before you take a shot or adjust them afterward.

In a hands-on area at Apple headquarters, an Apple rep showed us a photo of woman with the background completely blacked out. Using Portrait Lighting, we could circle through a total of five different effects, highlighting her facial features or lighting her from below.

All this is made possible by the image signal processor that's included with the A11 Bionic, so Portrait Lighting will be exclusive to the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. iPhone 7 Plus owners will be green with envy — even after you adjust the lighting.

As for video, both iPhone 8 models will be able to record 4K video at 60 frames per second, and 1080p at 240fps for super-slow-motion. Apple says its video encoder optimized the quality of your video with real-time image and motion analysis.

Augmented Reality: Neither the iPhone 8 nor the iPhone 8 Plus will be left out of Apple's AR party. The phones' cameras offer better low-light shooting and smooth 60 frames per second frame rates for an optimal AR experience. Apple's also given the iPhone 8 a new gyro and accelerometer, for more accurate tracking.

We fired up Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade on an iPhone 8 Plus and delighted as a realistic-looking robot battle unfolded on the table in front of us. Realistic-looking shadows added to the immersive impact.

Other Improvements: The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus pack True Tone displays, bringing Apple's automatically adjusting screens from its other devices, including its iPads, to the more pocket-friendly iPhone.

Music lovers — in spaces where they feel free to kick out the jams without headphones — will also like the iPhone 8, as Apple claims the redesigned stereo speakers are 25 percent louder than the iPhone 7, with even more bass.

Best of all, if you like to carry your entire world on your phone, Apple's upped the base storage on the iPhone 8. Both models start with 64GB of storage, compared to 32GB on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. There's still no microSD card slot to expand storage even further, but you can't have everything.

Outlook

You'll give up some features if you opt for the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus over the iPhone X. Besides that extend display, the iPhone X promises improved battery life while the iPhone 8 models will likely just match the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. That means Apple's iPhone 8 models are unlikely to crack the list of our longest-lasting smartphones.

Still, for $200 less than a top-of-the-line iPhone X, you're not making too many sacrifices with an iPhone 8 Plus. We'll find out more once we've had the chance to test the phones thoroughly, but from what we've seen, Apple's other iPhone upgrades deserve more attention than they're getting.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are available for preorder on Sept. 15 before arriving in stores Sept. 22. The phones come in gold, silver, and space gray.

Image Credits: Mark Spoonauer and Philip Michaels/Tom's Guide


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