We give our first impressions of Apple’s new lineup of smartphones.
Apple has unveiled its new smartphones, with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus boasting a host of improvements. The headline act, however, is an all-new model, the iPhone X, which brings facial recognition and an end-to-end screen to its flagship series.
All the new iPhones will have the new version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 11, and the company also announced that iOS 11 will be available to all Apple users with compatible devices from 19 September. (See our feature for more details on what's new in iOS 11 and which Apple devices will get the upgrade.)
At its launch event, Apple lifted the lid on the premium handset that’s intended to shake up its approach to smartphone design. Apple boss Tim Cook said he wanted the iPhone X to “set the path of technology for the next decade”.
We had the opportunity to get our hands on all three new iPhones at the event. Here are our early impressions.
Hands-on with the iPhone X
Apple has deliberately saved its high-end features for the iPhone X and it’s unlike anything the company has done before. It has the largest screen of any iPhone, at 5.8in, stretching from edge to edge, similar to the display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, the Galaxy S8 and S8+.
The iPhone X has ditched the home button; has brought the iPhone 7 Plus’ Portrait Mode to the improved 7-megapixel, front-facing camera; and added Face ID, Apple’s latest biometric authentication system. All impressive specs that help the phone stand out from its predecessors, as well as many of its rivals.
Display and design
There are obvious similarities between Apple’s iPhone X display and the screen on Samsung’s Galaxy devices, but Samsung’s showcases videos, for example, much better because of the way it sweeps over the edge rather than running up to it.
That said, we do prefer iPhone X’s bezel-less screen over Apple’s previous displays, and the 5.8in Super Retina Display is, overall, stunning.
Design-wise, the iPhone X is made predominantly from glass reinforced with steel and has a Qi wireless charging panel built into the back – a much-needed addition. Despite the fact it picks up fingerprints ridiculously easily, this glass panelling makes a vast difference to how expensive the phone feels. It doesn’t feel as cold as the metal handsets of yore and there’s something reassuring about how its warmth adds to how attached you feel to it, even after a couple of minutes of use.
The iPhone X is lighter (174g) than the iPhone 7 Plus (188g) and iPhone 8 Plus (202g), yet feels heavier – in a good way – giving weight, excuse the pun, to its impression of luxury. We were also surprised that, despite the fact it’s made from glass, the iPhone X feels more sturdy and less likely to slip from our hands than the iPhone 7 range does.
No home button?
The most immediately noticeable thing to be removed to make way for the screen is the iPhone’s home button. Swiping up from the bottom of the display now takes you to the homescreen, and the same gesture can be used to jump into multitasking. The iPhone X’s side button can be held to bring up Siri.
The lack of the home button isn’t as jarring as you might think. It took no time at all to get used to opening apps and returning to the home screen by swiping up, and a small white bar at the bottom of the display is a nice visual touch to remind you to swipe. This also helps locate where you need to swipe. That said, it didn’t work as well as pressing a physical home button does and we often ended up simply scrolling whatever was on the page rather than clearing it.
Face ID and TrueDepth
The iPhone X uses a new Face ID facial-recognition system to unlock your device. To support the Face ID, a so-called TrueDepth camera system has been added to the top of the display and the dual-camera setup on the rear of the device now sits vertically rather than horizontally. Given how sophisticated this TrueDepth system seems, it’s small enough to blend in and doesn’t distract from the edge-to-edge display.
Powering Face ID is a machine learning “neural engine”, which has a dual-core design and can apparently manage 600 billion operations per second. According to Apple, Face ID learns your face, “even if you decide to change your hairstyle”.
Face ID also works with payments, which Apple says is “fast, intuitive and simple”, but could potentially be super awkward – imagine gurning every time you buy a coffee. You can also use facial tracking to record animated Emojis, called Animojis, to pretend you’re a panda or a talking poo.
Camera and specs
For the camera, the iPhone X has a 12-megapixel dual camera on the rear (f/1.8 and f/2.4 respectively), with quad-LED True Tone flash. The front TrueDepth camera is 7-megapixel, and can now do portrait mode selfies. Those front sensors also include a dot projector, microphone, speaker, ambient light sensor, flood illuminator, proximity sensor and infrared camera.
Powering the device is an A11 bionic chip, the same as the iPhone 8 (see below). The upgrades to power consumption mean the battery life is apparently two hours longer than the iPhone 7. iPhone X also works with wireless charging, via the AirPower charging matt – which can also charge the Series 3 Apple Watch and AirPods.
At first glance and feel, the iPhone X doesn’t feel like an iPhone at all, and that’s not a criticism. It feels luxurious, sturdy and expensive – which it certainly is. Coming in 64GB and 256GB configurations, the iPhone X will set you back a whopping A$1,579 with 64GB and A$1,829 with 256GB.
All three new iPhones offer plenty of improvements, including a faster processor, improved cameras and built-in support for augmented reality. That said, there are enough new features and differences in the iPhone X to make a buyer consider upgrading from the iPhone 7, and forsaking the iPhone 8 range – but that price is a major sticking point.
We’ll reserve our final judgement until after we’ve spent more time with the iPhone X, but at these outright prices, it’s hard to see how we’d recommend it above, say, the Galaxy S8 or iPhone 8 Plus.
In any case, you’ll have plenty of time to make up your mind. Apple won’t start taking orders for the iPhone X until 27 October and shipping until 3 November.
Next: hands-on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
Hands-on with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
Available much sooner will be the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, with pre-orders starting on 15 September and shipping on 22 September.
The new handsets skip the “S” model that has been part and parcel of the iPhone family since the 3GS, jumping straight to a new number, with Apple promising improved phones in every way.
Of course, they’re faster. Apple is packing the phones with the newly announced hexa-core A11 Bionic processor, which the company reckons offers up to 25% more speed in two performance cores, and 70% more on four of them. It also includes the first ever Apple-designed graphics processing unit, which Apple estimates will be 30% faster.
There’s little change to the screens – 4.7in and 1334 x 750 pixels for the iPhone 8 and 5.5in and 1920 x 1080 pixels for the iPhone 8 Plus – although they do inherit TrueTone, the ambient light detection tech built into the 10.5in iPad Pro.
However, the stereo speakers are reportedly 25% louder than those found on the iPhone 7, with far deeper bass. That’s a good thing, as the 3.5mm headphone jack isn’t coming back, despite the public mourning at its premature death in 2016.
The handsets, we’re told, are made from aerospace-grade aluminium, with glass on front and back reinforced by steel. It’s the “most durable glass ever in a smartphone,” the company estimates, which feels a bit like praising the child-safe qualities of the world’s least predatory tiger, but we’ll see.
As every leak predicted, Apple has finally joined the world of wireless charging, using the Qi standard employed by most existing handsets – good news for owners of them, as the third party charging accessories market is about to get a lot more competitive.
Apple made quite a big deal of the new camera on the handsets, but it’s hard to take too much from it from the examples shown on the big screen at the launch event. It’s still a 12-megapixel jobbie, but Apple boasts it will let in 83% more light helping it capture a lot more detail, and function markedly better in low-light conditions.
This will also be somewhat handy for the augmented reality (AR) functionality that Apple is pushing with AR Kit. Apple claims this is the first smartphone designed for AR – although Asus would beg to differ following the release of its Zenfone AR, while Google is introducing of ARCore that will result in more Android devices taking advantage of AR.
The iPhone 8 comes complete with a new gyroscope and accelerometer for better tracking of virtual items in the real world, along with the A11 chip’s “bionic neural engine” that’s “custom-tuned” for the AR features built into iOS 11.
iPhone 8 early verdict
The iPhone 8 is a difficult middle child of Apple’s new family. It offers a number of improvements over the iPhone 7 but falls short of some of the features of its larger sibling, and pales in comparison to Apple’s iPhone X.
The 12-megapixel rear-facing camera now comes with a faster and larger sensor which Apple claims “delivers advanced pixel processing, wide colour capture, faster autofocus in low light and better HDR photos.”
Its 4.7in display uses Apple’s True Tone technology to make the screen blend in more with its surroundings, giving it more natural paper-like appearance. Like its larger siblings, the iPhone 8 runs on Apple’s advanced A11 Bionic chip – we’ll report back once we’ve benchmark tested the phone, but we strongly suspect it’ll be very quick.
Also like the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, the glass design makes the iPhone 8 feel luxurious and the AR capabilities have to be seen to be believed, although the smaller screen doesn’t quite do it justice in comparison with its larger siblings.
We’ll reserve our final judgement until after we’ve spent more time with the handset, but our first impression is that the iPhone 8 doesn’t quite feel like a compelling upgrade. None of the features listed above are unique to the iPhone 8, for instance. Yes, they’re a step up from the iPhone 7 and, yes, they certainly leave older models and some rivals in the dust, but all are available on the iPhone 8 Plus, which comes with a number of its own advantages.
That’s not to say the iPhone 8 doesn’t have appeal. If you prefer smaller handsets and don’t want the tiny iPhone SE, the 4.7in phone fits comfortably in your hand, it offers high-end specs and the improvements over the iPhone 7 are noticeable. It's also much lighter (145g) than the iPhone 8 Plus.
The iPhone 8 is also significantly cheaper: at $1,079 for the 64GB model (or $1,329 with 256GB), it’s $150 less than the Plus, a whopping $500 less than the iPhone X and, incidentally, $120 cheaper than Samsung’s Galaxy S8.
Next: iPhone Plus verdict
iPhone 8 Plus early verdict
We’re more enthusiastic about the iPhone 8 Plus than we are about the standard iPhone 8. The Plus’s Full HD 5.5in screen highlights the improvements that have been made to the display – namely the addition of True Tone – much more than its smaller sibling. The larger display also helps showcase the AR features more effectively.
The Plus’s larger form factor and the glass back make the phone feel very high-end, although it now tips the scales at a hefty 202g.
Beyond the screen, the Portrait Mode introduced on the iPhone 7 Plus now comes with Portrait Lighting on the iPhone 8 Plus. You can mimic the kind of lighting effects created in professional studios, as well as stage lighting, and the results are seriously impressive.
“Portrait Lighting is based on extensive research into the art and science of portraiture and core photographic lighting principles,” Apple explains, and it uses the dual cameras as well as an image signal processor to recognise the scene, create a so-called depth map and separate the subject from the background. Machine learning is then used to create “facial landmarks and add lighting over contours of the face” in real time.
Like-for-like, the iPhone 8 Plus offers enough improvements to warrant an upgrade from the iPhone 7 Plus. An upgrade is especially warranted if you have the smaller iPhone 7 or previous iPhone models.
The display is a genuine delight, and its AR capabilities really do need to be seen to be believed. Having wireless charging is now a significant selling point for both iPhone 8 handsets, as is A11 Bionic chip.
The iPhone 8 Plus isn’t cheap, however, at A$1,229 for the 64GB model and A$1,479 with 256GB. That entry-level model is $120 more than the Galaxy S8, but $120 cheaper than the Galaxy S8+ and $350 less than the iPhone X.
Overall, the iPhone 8 Plus is our favourite of Apple’s new lineup, delivering the best mix of features, size and value (at least compared to the iPhone X).
Is it better than the best Android phones like the Galaxy S8? We’re not so sure. We’ll report back once we’ve benchmarked and spent more time with the handset.