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iPhone 8 review: The upgrade many people will be looking for

iPhone 8 review: The upgrade many people will be looking for

I think Apple originally went with the "number" / "number + s" convention to try and market around the generations where the more substantive changes were internal rather than external.

We tend to be superficial and so the excitement over new optics, silicon, or other enhancements can pale by comparison to new visual design. iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4s were seen as more acceptable, especially in a market where most people upgraded only every two years or so. (It also kept Apple from running out of single-digit numbers in 2015...)

Then, Apple learned to hack our superficiality by adding color variations to the s-years. Turns out, we'll grouse about the look staying the same but we'll leap at the chance to get it in gold.

Now, the market has matured. I think we've matured as well. We've realized that both "number" and "number + s" generations can introduce significant improvements, including virtual assistants, display sizes, biometric identity scanners, pressure sensors, fusion camera systems, and more.

iPhone 7 exemplified that. Apple's industrial design team could have made it triangular or donut-shaped if they'd really wanted to stick with the old naming pattern. Instead, they iterated on materials while leaving the shape almost the same.

Same with iPhone 8. Instead of sticking to pattern for pattern's sake, Apple seems to believe the all-new industrial design combined with the new internals are enough to warrant a full number increase for the name. (And they're willing to use up one of the precious few single-digit versions left — or intent on burning through them as fast as possible.)

What all-new industrial design, since iPhone 8 looks so much like iPhones 6 through 7?

The all-new industrial design that rebuilt iPhone 8 down to an atomic level. That Apple once again made iPhone 8 fit into exactly the same shape as the last few iPhones before it shows, like last year, just how dedicated the team is to that shape. Like switching from vanilla to chocolate cake but using the same mold.

It's as if Apple's industrial designers resolutely believe they've achieved the Platonic ideal for a device of this size with a Home button and Touch ID sensor — Form iPhone — and they're not going to change it just to be trendy or simply for change's sake.

It might be admirable. It might just be stubborn. It might keep them customers adverse to change and cost them customers who find it boring. Either way, it's clear that Apple's hardware team took the new glass and new aluminum and went out of their way to fit it all into precisely the same shape, even knowing the just-as-same-old "bored now" comments that would follow. (Perhaps because this year, they knew they'd have an answer for those people with iPhone X.)

The new glass in iPhone 8 is the result of a close partnership and collaboration between Apple and Corning. One that goes down to the engineering level. It allowed both companies to collaborate on an ion-exchange process that goes 50% deeper than before, and support it with an internal, laser-welded, steel and copper substructure.

Thanks to Apple and Corning's partnership, iPhone 8 (and iPhone X) also has exclusive access to this ultra-durable glass. At least for now.

It's still glass, though — once again on both sides, like iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s before it. (Though now, serenely, absolutely free of FCC indicia.) And glass breaks, just like ceramics shatter and metal bends. (Physics, it turns out, is a jerk.) But at a materials level, it feels like Apple is doing everything possible to make its new glass the most resilient possible, and to mitigate against the smaller scratches and fractures that can lead to cracks and breaks over time.

Over the course of the last week, I've seen both iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus survive some pretty nasty falls, and I've seen one hit stone tile and crack across the Home button. (The internet is full of drop tests already as well, because internet.)

I'm sure I could keep dropping iPhone 8 until I shatter them on both sides, just like I could keep crossing the street until I got hit by a car. I'm not terribly interested in discovering either of those failure points right now. I do have a history of dropped phones, which is why I have Apple Care and recommend it to anyone who asks. It's a relatively small investment, and an excellent value for a device that has literally become the cyborg extension to my life.

The glass — and iPhone 8 — comes in three new finishes marketed under three not-so-new names: space gray, silver, and gold.

Apple says there's a seven-layer color process behind the finishes that allows for both opacity and depth. It reminds me of how Jony Ive and team got so much depth in the original iPod finishes. The silver and space gray end up looking pearlescent white and slate, the gold, opalescent taupe. And because they're glass, the antenna lines are all gone.

The new aluminum is 7000 series and "aerospace" grade. It's silver, gray, and coppery/rose-ish gold on the three finishes respectively. To prevent attenuation between the different antenna systems, there are still breaks in the bands. Those are color-matched to the glass.

They're also microscopically sealed to protect against liquid and particle ingress. That means, like iPhone 7, iPhone 8 is IP67 water and dust resistant under IEC standard 60529. In my quick splash and immersion tests, they can take the same kind of dipping and keep on ticking. (Sorry.)

That's despite having a speaker system that Apple says is 25% louder and with deeper bass than last year's. In my testing it's absolutely lounder and hass more bass, but I'm not sure it's clearer. I don't have golden ears, nor am I a fan of booming systems, so I'll hit up some of my more musical colleagues to get a better sense of the speaker quality. Calls sound fine, not too Mickey, not too Vader.

Practically speaking, I wasn't sure how the loss of the previous aluminum chassis would affect the rigidity needed for 3D Touch, especially on iPhone 8 Plus. Thanks to the combination of new glass and new aluminum, though, I haven't had any problems. The best compliment I can give is that I haven't even noticed the difference, and that's a pretty impressive feat of engineering.

Put that in your iPhone 7s bubble pipe and pop it.

iPhone 8 True Tone Display

Last year, Apple brought DCI-P3 wide color gamut to iPhone with its richer reds, deeper magentas, and more vibrant greens. The results were dazzling and there's simply no going back. The next best step would be HDR (high dynamic range), which allows for even more detail in highlights and shadows.


True Tone on #iphone8 dynamically adjusts display temp based on ambient temp. Or: ???

A post shared by Rene Ritchie (@reneritchie) on Sep 23, 2017 at 10:50am PDT

LCD, which is the technology Apple has used for all iPhones to date, has many great characteristics, but the brightness and contrast ratio needed to really showcase HDR isn't one of them. We still have the building blocks in iPhone 8, including hardware-level support for 10-bit HEVC and a brightness level that goes up to 625 nits. So, like the latest iPads Pro, iPhone 8 will do the best it can with HDR. But, it's really the upcoming iPhone X, with a 1:1,000,000 contrast ratio OLED display, that will put real, end-to-end HDR in our hands and pockets for the first time.

What we are getting this year is True Tone. It debuted on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro over a year ago but this marks the first time it's been available on iPhone. The technology is cool: A four-channel ambient light sensor measures the color temperature of your environment and then adjusts the display so that white looks white. Not warm, yellow, incandescent white. Not cool, blue, fluorescent white. White. Paperwhite.

It's different from Night Mode, which subtly shifts the display towards the warmer, more yellow temperature as the day wears down in an effort to mitigate against the sleep-damaging effects of staring at screens all evening.

True Tone works 24/7 to make sure when you read an eBook, look at a photo, browse the web, watch a movie, or do anything at all on iPhone 8, the color is accurate. And not just accurate to how Apple individually calibrates it down to the sub-pixel level at the factory. Accurate to how you're looking at it every moment, from sunlight to candlelight, halogen to Hue. Carrying your iPhone around becomes like carrying a tiny, printed book or magazine around. It just looks right.

Like DCI-P3 and HDR, once you see, you want it everywhere and it's incredibly hard to go back. Like whiplash of the eyes hard.

iPhone 8 Wireless Charging

Once upon a time, Apple said it was unclear how much convenience wireless charging actually added. Same with NFC payments. Steve Jobs, famously, said no one wanted to watch video on an iPod. Now we have the TV app in our Home screens, Apple Pay in our hands and, with iPhone8, Qi standard inductive charging from any nearby pad.

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