Apple iPhone 8 Review: Small but very powerful

Alex Kidman 27 September 2017

Quick Verdict
There's little doubt that the iPhone 8 is the lesser member of this year's crop of iPhones, but if you favour a smaller handset and have been waiting years for acceptable iPhone battery life, this is a very good premium option.

The Good

  • Improved battery life
  • Great processor performance
  • Wireless charging now standard

The Bad

  • Old school iPhone design
  • Only a single lens camera
  • iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X are more fully featured


The smallest member of the 2017 iPhone family is still a serious premium contender.

Of all the handsets announced at Apple's launch of its 2018 iPhones, the iPhone 8 model was the one that was met with the most lukewarm response.

That's hardly a shock given that the primary focus of the event was clearly the still-incoming iPhone X, and even if its full-screen display and FaceID features didn't impress you, there was always the iPhone 8 Plus, with its dual cameras and larger battery capacity.

Against that competition, the iPhone 8 is rather easy to overlook, but the reality is that it fills a niche few handset makers even consider any more. That's the space for a more hand- and pocket-friendly device with plenty of power because most smaller-screened Android handsets tend to be low-power, budget devices.

iPhone8_1_738

Design

Even more so than the iPhone 8 Plus, the iPhone 8 suffers from what I’ll call “identical iPhone syndrome” because it utilises the classic iPhone look that’s been in place since the introduction of the iPhone 6 family. There are some small scale tweaks to the overall look and feel, including the metallic banded sides and glass back, but from a practical viewpoint, if for some reason you wanted to fool onlookers that you didn’t have an iPhone 8, you could pretty easily do so.

Of course, that’s presuming they’re not familiar with the heft of the iPhone 7 because the one big change in design you’re likely to note if you’re familiar with last year’s phone is that this one is just a little bit heavier.

The iPhone 8 measures in at 138.4x67.3x7.3mm compared to last year’s iPhone 7 at 138.3x67.1x7.1mm, but it’s in the carrying weight that you’ll feel the difference. Last year’s iPhone 7 weighed in at 138 grams, but this year’s model is a bulkier 148 grams, thanks no doubt to that glass back. A case for a phone at this price point is a highly advisable option, but thankfully due to the mass popularity of iPhones, you’re likely to be swamped with choices.

As with the iPhone 8 Plus, you’ve got a choice of three finishes to choose from. The space grey variant has black front bezels, while the silver and gold both feature white front facings. I tested the silver version, for whatever that’s worth.

As with the iPhone 8 Plus, the glass back of the iPhone 8 gives it more weight. The glass back also means you’re going to be faced with it being an utter fingerprint magnet as well as slightly slippery. Apple hasn’t reinvented anything in terms of controls and buttons, so you'll get the familiar TouchID sensor as well as the same power and volume buttons. It still only has a single SIM card tray, so once again you can’t expand the storage capabilities of your iPhone. I guess we should be used to that by now.

If you want to see where iPhone design is going, the iPhone 8 clearly isn’t it because that particular accolade clearly belongs to the iPhone X. What the iPhone 8 could well be, presuming that Apple carries the X design through to next year’s crop of A12-based iPhones, is the final hurrah of this particular iPhone design.

If you're a big fan, it might be wise to invest now, whereas if you’re more fashion-conscious (and there’s no doubting that, amongst other factors, the iPhone is a fashion-brand item), then it might be a somewhat dated visual style. That’s a choice you’ve got to make for yourself.

iPhone8_4_738

Camera

Apple made the decision with its first Plus-sized camera that one of the clear delineations between iPhone models would be how many lenses you get sticking out of the back. Like the iPhone 7 before it, the iPhone 8 is the only phone of its particular generation to only sport a single rear lens. Apple's contention is that it's still its "best" single camera ever, but then they would say that, wouldn't they?

What you're looking at in a specifications sense isn't terribly dissimilar to last year's iPhone 7 camera, with a 12MP f/1.8 optically stabilised sensor. Apple's camera software is by distinction of that single lens more limited than it is on the iPhone 8 Plus because you don't get the fancy Portrait Lighting effects or indeed Portrait mode features at all, but it's still one of the most pleasant and easy to use photo apps in the smartphone space.

The one advantage that the iPhone 8 has is that, in the premium space, it's one of the best cameras on a small device that you'll find. If you're a fan of quick snaps, it's much easier to pull a phone of this size out of your pocket than a larger body phone.

As with previous iPhone generations, it's possible to get some nice shots directly from the iPhone 8, but if you're keen on precise smartphone photography, the iPhone 8 Plus or a more heavily equipped smartphone camera such as the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, the HTC U11 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 might be a better bet. For comparative purposes, here's some sample shots taken directly from the iPhone 8:

iPhone8_SampleShot4_738 iPhone8_SampleShot3_738 iPhone8_SampleShot2_738 iPhone8_SampleShot1_738

Performance

The iPhone 8 Plus took me quite by surprise when it came to the performance of the underlying A11 Bionic processor. Apple had hyped it heavily at its launch, but then it's unlikely you'd ever see an Apple event where Tim Cook got up on stage and mumbled something about new processors being merely OK.

However, while Apple has nicely kept pace with the mobile market in recent years, the A11 Bionic's performance in the iPhone 8 Plus was exceptional. It is well ahead of anything being done in the Android space right now. Or in other words, the gauntlet has well and truly been thrown down, and it has dented more than a few phone screens on the way.

The iPhone 8, however, is the lesser member of the family, and it's the sole entrant at this stage with only 2GB of RAM on board. The flip side there is that with a smaller, lower resolution screen, there's less of an performance impact shoving pixels around, so I was very curious to see how the iPhone 8 compared not only against other premium handsets, but also against the performance I'd seen out of the iPhone 8 Plus itself.

Here's how the iPhone 8 compared using the Geekbench 4 CPU test against the current top ten performers in that particular benchmark:

HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Apple iPhone 8427010272
Apple iPhone 8 Plus411310221
Samsung Galaxy S8+20206690
Samsung Galaxy S819896628
Huawei P10 Plus18636544
Nokia 819326529
OnePlus 519766506
Samsung Galaxy Note 820246490
HTC U1119196362

And here's its performance using 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test:

Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
Apple iPhone 864461
Apple iPhone 8 Plus59205
HTC U1140239
Sony Xperia XZ Premium40086
OnePlus 539497
Apple iPhone 7 Plus37956
Apple iPhone 737717
Samsung Galaxy Note 832277
HTC U Ultra29968

These results (along with my own less formal testing of app performance on the iPhone 8) need some context.

Just as there is with the large number of Snapdragon 835-based Android handsets, the differences between the scores of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus aren't that significant in themselves because most benchmarks will return slightly different scores each time you run them. They're still both obviously pushing state of the art in mobile CPUs, however, and the iPhone 8 is clearly benefitting from that smaller screen, given it has overcome its RAM disparity along the way. It's also another challenge posed against the value proposition of the iPhone X because this is very good performance at nearly half the iPhone X's top asking price.

Against other premium Android handsets, the iPhone 8 is genuinely impressive, especially if you've been a phone user who doesn't like larger phone displays because your choices here are relatively limited.

That does have to be put into the context of the display on the iPhone 8, which at 4.7 inches and 1134x750 pixels, is still quite small by modern standards. Apple has integrated its automatic white balancing "true tone" technology, first seen on the iPad Pro, into the iPhone 8, and that does make for a pleasant viewing experience for such a relatively low-resolution screen. Still, there's no getting around the fact that this is a small display and small phone. If you've grown used to larger devices, switching down to a smaller phone can be quite a shock.

iPhone8_7_738

Battery life

The history of iPhone battery life is one that is writ large with disappointment, especially for the smaller regular iPhone models. Apple's never released a phone that I'd be happy to say had all-day battery life, and that should be an absolute standard for any premium phone or even for a mid-range model in 2017.

The fact that Apple only pitched the iPhone 8 with battery life that (to quote Apple's own specifications) "Lasts about the same as iPhone 7" did not fill me with anticipation. The teardown of the iPhone 8 (because Apple never officially announces the capacity of its batteries) revealed an 1821 mAh battery, which is even smaller than the 1960mAh power pack in the iPhone 7. This had me even further concerned.

However, like the iPhone 8 Plus, Apple has rather underestimated the capacity of the iPhone 8's battery and the battery-saving measures of the A11 Bionic. The iPhone 8's battery performance isn't category-besting in the way the iPhone 8 Plus is, but it does bring it into the realm of "all-day" battery life for the first time ever.

I hit some issues using Geekbench 3's battery test because while it would run on the iPhone 8, it consistently drained the battery flat but delivered timing and scores based on the first couple of percentage points of the battery. It's a unique bug I've not encountered before (and not one that would replicate on the iPhone 8 Plus), so in order to get a relative battery life test, I ran it again, noting down the full battery time at the conclusion of the test. That gives us a comparable battery time, if not actual battery score.

Using Geekbench 3's linear battery test in that admittedly limited fashion, here's how the iPhone 8 compared:

HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
Apple iPhone 8 Plus15:27:409276
Galaxy S8+14:55:308955
Nokia 812:22:107421
Sony Xperia XZ Premium12:06:407266
BlackBerry KEYone12:05:00DNF
Samsung Galaxy Note 812:00:507208
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge11:55:007150
Samsung Galaxy S811:47:507078
HTC U1111:42:407026
Apple iPhone 7 Plus11:11:206713
Huawei P10 Plus10:39:506218
Apple iPhone 810:30:00DNF
OnePlus 59:33:305735
Huawei P109:31:305523
Google Pixel XL9:14:205543
LG G69:09:305495
Apple iPhone SE4:27:102671

The iPhone 8 is no battery monster, but it's an important step forwards within the iOS ecosystem, simply because it gives those who want a smaller iPhone an option that they won't have to keep tethered to a power supply most of the day.

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    Like the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, the iPhone 8 also includes Qi wireless charging. Sure, it's nothing new in the smartphone world, but of all the new iPhones, the iPhone 8 is the handset most likely to benefit from it. Wireless charging is inherently slower than direct cable charging, but the smaller battery on the 8 will top up much more rapidly than its larger compatriots. The smaller size of the iPhone 8 also makes it much easier to drop onto a variety of Qi chargers, hitting the sweet spot for charging to actually commence.

    iPhone8_2_738

    Verdict

    Is the iPhone 8 the least of Apple's 2017 crop of premium iPhones? Yes, it very much is, so if your focus is on having the latest, greatest and best iPhone, either wait for the iPhone X or pick up the iPhone 8 Plus because while the app performance of the iPhone 8 is similar, the iPhone 8's battery life is simply superb where the iPhone 8's is simply adequate for all-day battery life.

    If you're currently using an iPhone 7, it's perhaps a little early to make full value out of an upgrade, although you really will appreciate that improved battery life on the iPhone 8. If you're looking to upgrade from an older iPhone generation, you'll really feel the difference in power that the iPhone 8 brings.

    If you're happy to look outside the iOS ecosystem, the comparison gets a lot tougher, simply because of the iPhone 8's particular size. If you favour a smaller handset with power, your current choices on the premium Android side are a little limited.

    Huawei's excellent little Huawei P10 is less expensive than the iPhone 8, and features a better camera to boot, so that's worth considering. If you're happy to jump up to a larger handset, the asking price of the iPhone 8 could buy you any number of top-end handsets, including the Samsung Galaxy S8, Sony Xperia XZ Premium, HTC U11 or OnePlus 5 pretty easily.

    iPhone8_3_738

    iPhone 8: What the other reviewers say

    SiteCommentScore
    TechRadar"This is the phone you want if you can't afford the iPhone X"N/A
    Wired"If you want to be part of the future, save your money for now. Then go get an iPhone X and see what’s really coming next."N/A
    News.com.au"The ‘Jan Brady of iPhones’"4 out of 5
    Sydney Morning Herald"It's definitely not an afterthought to the iPhone X, but a true upgrade to the current iPhone line."N/A
    Australian Financial Review"The iPhone 8 feels like it's all bezel and very little screen."N/A
    CNET"The sensible, speedy iPhone 8 makes a nice upgrade to the iPhone 6S and earlier siblings"8.6 out of 10
    Engadget"Great choices for people who aren’t ready to forgo the home button."91 out of 100
    TechCrunch"Had Apple not announced the X when it did, the iPhone 8 would be an easy choice for upgraders."N/A
    The Verge"If the iPhone X is Apple’s bold vision of the future, the iPhone 8 is Apple making sure everyone else at the party has a nice time too."8 out of 10

    iPhone8_6_738

    Pricing and availability

    The iPhone 8 is available in Australia in silver, space grey and gold finishes and with either 64GB or 256GB of non-expandable inbuilt storage. If you're looking to purchase the iPhone 8 outright, it will cost you $1079 for the 64GB version or $1329 for the 256GB version.

    If the outright price is too much for your wallet to bear in one hit, it's also available from carriers on contract. Here's what you'll pay for the iPhone 8 from every Australian telco currently stocking it:

    iPhone8_5_738

    Specifications

    Product Name
    Apple iPhone 8
    Display
    4.7in
    Resolution
    1334 x 750 pixels
    ppi
    326ppi
    Software
    iOS 11
    Storage
    64/256GB
    RAM
    2GB
    Battery
    1821mAh
    Front camera
    7MP
    Rear camera
    12MP f/1.8
    Processor
    Apple A11 Bionic
    Size
    138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm
    mm
    Weight
    148g

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