I’ve never been one for purchasing a brand new phone on release day, but on this freezing autumnal morning I was the first to exit the Exeter Apple retail store, brand new iPhone 8 in hand. I’d reserved the desired model and and entered with the intension of joining apple’s upgrade program. It so happens that doing so requires a credit check and photo ID, the only accepted forms of which are a
valid passport or drivers license. I have neither, and as the loan is underwritten by Barclays Bank there were no ifs or buts. With no other options open to me, the phone was duly purchased outright and a personal promise made to myself that I will obtain a passport in the next 12 months, and perhaps even endeavour to use it though I’m not the traveling type.
I’m upgrading from an iPhone 6 which, while ageing in technological terms, has been a great phone throughout the last couple of years besides the fact that the adhesive securing the screen to the phone had a tendency to become detached, and the battery had about as much life as a freshly baked and battered cod, wrapped in layers of greasy paper with a portion of fries and a dollop of curry sauce. A few accidents with drum sticks, pavements and the odd climbing expedition hadn’t helped, though surprisingly with some fresh glass glued into place before sale the phone still manages to appear immaculate, and a fresh battery restored full performance.
I see no reason to cover the features of the iPhone 8 in detail. This will have been done to death by thousands of tech sites and channels online even before the phone’s release, and while I was certainly one of the first in the UK to obtain the new phone I’d be willing to bet that a search for ““iPhone 8” on Youtube will reveal a mass of competing content, much of it somewhat tedious and lacking originality. I will instead offer my first impressions in what I hope will be a concise manor, helpful to first-time buyers or those also upgrading from an older model.
The first thing I noticed was the change of shrink wrap. Gone are the days when a sharp implement or a nail was required to dig into the box, the wrap instead pealing majestically to offer access to the box beneath. Gone too are the textured details of the phone on top, including the slight home button indent and textured speaker grill as found on the box for the iPhone 6. A pack of documentation (including the necessary sim removal tool) hides the new phone, which itself sits atop a charger, lightning cable, EarPods and d headphone jack adapter.
I was disappointed to note the absence of an EarPods case. Previous editions included a plastic storage case into which the EarPods would wrap. Here you get a onetime use cardboard holder, with the 3.5 mm headphone adapter conspicuously hidden beneath. The same is true for the lightning cable, which appears to be of a slightly different construction to previous cables with thicker sleeving of a stronger material. Sadly the same can not be said for the 3.5 mm headphone adapter, which is perhaps the flimsiest accessory Apple has ever produced. I’ve no doubt that it will break soon even with careful use, and frankly am unsure why they bothered including such a shameful afterthought with a phone of this price. It is of course a ploy to sell the AirPods – a product that I do intend to own, if for reasons of convenience rather than sound quality. For long journeys or home listening sessions I’d still like to be able to wire up a decent pair of headphones, so am hoping that a better solution exists.
Similarities and Differences
The phone itself is almost identical in size to my previous model, with a white bezel, aluminium edge and even the same button positions, though the headphone jack is replaced by a second symmetrical grill. The glass joints are seamless as one would expect, but glass back aside the phones are physically similar. The haptic home button does take some getting used to, having been used to a physical button since the days of the 3Gs. The adjustable click feel is a nice touch, and I was surprised by the speed of the touchID sensor which unlocks the phone instantly, a frequent task that took a couple of seconds on the iPhone 6.
I also appreciated the deep integration of the Haptic engine within iOS. Switching switches produces gentle knocks, as does flicking the side mute switch or 3D touching an element. 3D Touch was a feature introduced on the 6S and one that I have yet to use until today, but it’s a feature I’ve quickly become accustomed to particularly with access to handy shortcut menus on the home screen. It’s handy too for the 3D Touch feature, producing a gentle tap when you 3D Touch a supported control. I had expected it to emulate the feel of the Mac’s Force Touch trackpad, but it’s actually surprisingly different.
A couple of software bugs on my previous phone led e to start afresh, configuring this as a new device and setting up everything from scratch – a process that has taken me the best part of a morning. Perhaps the most difficult task involved restoring a couple of apps purchased from the US store using my UK Apple ID (Google it), which naturally weren’t showing under my “purchased” tab in the App Store.
Apple recently and rather inconveniently removed the official way to sync .IPA files to your phone with the release of iTunes 12.7 – a release which, quite rightly, aims to bring the focus of iTunes back to being an application dedicated to media. While I’m indifferent to the removal of the App Store, I do wish the ability to easily sync apps had been retained for those of us who do such things on a regular basis. It is apparently possible to sync an app by dragging its .IPA file into the iTunes sidebar, but I could not for the life of me get this to work. It is at this point that I must profusely thank the developers of iMazing for their incredibly useful app, which allows you to manage most aspects pertaining to the content stored on your iOS device. With a few clicks I had my apps reinstalled and working. This isn’t a sponsor, but it certainly should be.
It’s pretty snappy
The camera is fast becoming one of my most used iPhone features not only for capturing photos and video, but also for identifying products and reading books, documents and even LP liner notes. I was looking forward to a camera upgrade and am not disappointed. The iPhone 8’s camera auto focuses in a snap (if you’ll excuse the pun), and in combination with that A11 bionic chip can produce some of the fastest OCR (optical character recognition) results I have ever seen from any device. Face detection is almost instant from both the front and rear sensors, and the stabilisation helps a great deal. I do wish the phone had stereo microphones for better audio capture when video recording, but the monaural audio that the phone does manage to capture is of high quality. There’s less bass than before, with a slight high-end boost that offers greater clarity to a voice or an acoustic guitar, for example.
Speaking of audio the iPhone 8 features stereo speakers, sound produced both from the bottom and earpiece grills. In landscape mode the phone produces a surprisingly wide stereo spread and it gets pretty loud too with a surprising quantity of bass. It’s on a par with my 2015 MacBook Pro as far as volume and quality are concerned and fine for video consumption and gaming, though I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to music without an external speaker or headphones. Given the choice I’d rather see a mono speaker and a pair of microphones or perhaps even the return of the headphone jack, though the latter is no doubt wishful thinking.
Raise to Wake
Accuracy of the phone’s sensors appears vastly improved, particularly noticeable when using the Compass, level and “Raise to Wake” feature. Only time will tell if I find the latter feature a help or hindrance. On one hand it’s useful for its intended purpose, but it does tend to unlock the phone unnecessarily – when putting the phone in your pocket for example. It doesn’t tend to wake unnecessarily when walking around however, and slower movements don’t seem to cause the phone to wake. Further experimentation reveals that the phone must not only be raised but also tilted forward for the featured to be triggered. I utilise the iPhone’s sensors in conjunction with the RPM app for testing turntable speed and change here will only improve its accuracy so that is a welcome upgrade.
iOS 11 brings with it some notable accessibility improvements for those of us who require them. My favourite by far is Voiceover’s ability to identify objects and text within images. Focusing on an image and performing a single three-finger tap produces a spoken description of the image and any recognised text. It works across social apps including Twitter and Facebook and also in the camera, where it can be used not only to identify objects or short pieces of text but also as an aid to line up a shot.
Though I had my reservations, particularly when forced to pay the full price up front, this was a worthwhile upgrade. Speed is hugely increased across the board and the camera is already a huge improvement. Even features like 3D Touch and the Haptic engine are welcome upgrades. Say what you want about Apple’s apparently lack of revolution, but there’s no doubting the iPhone is still a solid piece of hardware backed by the better of the popular mobile operating systems. Given the choice between cutting edge hardware with reliability concerns and a fragmented operating system with an open ecosystem and consequent security concerns, or a solid and reliable piece of hardware running a closed but secure operating system, Apple’s offering will always win.