The iPhone 8 is a conundrum: it’s an excellent phone, a hero handset, but one that’s destined to be the bridesmaid and never the bride.
Launched on the same day as the all-new, all-singing, all-dancing iPhone X, the iPhone 8, which looks virtually identical to every premium Apple handset since 2014, is the plain sibling, beautiful on the inside but not exactly a head turner. If it were part of 2017’s briefly ubiquitous ‘man checking out another woman to annoyance of girlfriend’ meme, it would be the annoyed girlfriend.
Apple has simultaneously launched two “tiers” of handset in the past – the premium iPhone 5S and the mid-market 5C – but never has it launched two premium handsets at the same time. And, while the iPhone X costs £300 more, the iPhone 8 is still £699, and I never want to visit the alternative timeline where that isn’t a vast amount of money to spend on a phone.
So... why? Well, a few reasons. First up: this is a great phone in its own right. The iPhone 8 (essentially the iPhone 7S if you were to follow Apple’s prior naming conventions), is the Platonic ideal of the handset Apple has been making for the last three years. It’s a handset that’s been refined and honed to perfection. It’s fast, relatively attractive, and has all the bells and whistles Apple has been steadily rolling out over the last decade. It just works. It’ll handle anything you throw at it, never breaking a sweat.
Pull it out at a dinner party and you won’t overhear the guy across the table calling you a flash git.
If the iPhone X is a brilliant start-up wowing the world with talks of a big-money IPO, the iPhone 8 is a modest stake in a FTSE 100 company, guaranteed to pay a dividend, consistently outperforming the market. It’s a solid bet. Pull it out at a dinner party and you won’t overhear the guy across the table calling you a flash git.
“Refined” is a good word to describe it. The aluminium chassis is now sandwiched between two sheets of glass, a subtle nod, perhaps, to the iPhone 4, which is still held up as a high-water mark of Apple design. And while many users will cosset it up in a protective case, you should resist that urge, because it feels lovely in the hand; buttery smooth, slightly cold to the touch. It’s like the iPhone 7 but slightly nicer.
Of course glass, even special, seven-layered glass, has a habit of breaking. So I carried out my own unofficial drop test, so unofficial that even I didn’t know about it until I was picking the phone up off the ground, frantically patting it down to check for damage. It tumbled from elbow height onto unforgiving stone, but survived with only a superficial gash to the corner – not a scratch on either glass surface. Clearly this isn’t a comprehensive assessment of its durability, and I don’t plan on repeating the experiment, but it does chime with Apple’s assurances that it’s tougher than its materials would suggest.
That glass back isn’t just for stroking, either. Glass is less of a signal blocker than metal, so the antenna bands from previous generations have been banished. The iPhone 8 also – finally – supports wireless charging, so you can sling it on a charge pad and watch it go. In practice, I find this more trouble than it’s worth, once you’ve plugged the pad into the mains and cleared space on your desk. The best use-case may turn out to be hassle-free charging in coffee shops, where the pads can be built into the furniture. Whatever: the option’s there, and you can still use a Lightning cable if you prefer.
The camera is, as always, a big selling point. It far out-performs its modest tech specs, using a combination of hardware and software to produce really stunning pictures, with incredible detail. There are some very geeky explanations about how this is achieved, some involving machine learning, but if you’re the kind of person who takes the majority of your photos on a smartphone, you probably don’t care much about them. They look great. They will impress your friends on Instagram.
What else: the screen remains very good, now coming with a True Tone display that adapts to your surroundings, correcting the white-point to make things look more natural (and text easier to read), whether you’re under your duvet or in direct sunlight. The speakers are better, the processor is faster, it even comes in a nice new shade of gold.
The iPhone 8 feels designed for contract upgrades and better-than-average business packages. And if your HR department puts one of these on your desk, you have reasons to be cheerful. It’s an outstanding piece of hardware that, through circumstance and probably design, nobody is making a big fuss about. It’s a wonderfully functional bit of kit that’s destined to live in the shadow of the most highly anticipated phone of at least five years. You may well go on to own one, and you’ll probably enjoy it very much, but in five years time you’ll struggle to remember much about it. And sometimes, that’s enough.