The reviews for Apple’s new iPhones, the 8 and 8 Plus, dropped today, just as they become available for pre-order. Usually, when a new iPhone goes on sale, it’s an automatic smash hit for Apple. But this time around, Apple chose to unveil a third new phone, the $1,000 iPhone X, that will be available from the end of October. It has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a new iPhone, so where does that leave the new 8 models?
Quartz rounded up some of the opinions to see whether they thought the 8 was worth picking up:
It looks like so many iPhones before it
“The 8s look almost identical to the iPhones 7, 6S and 6, a model first introduced back when Donald Trump was still hosting a reality TV show,” The New York Times’ Farad Manjoo said in his review. This was the first time since 2009 that Apple has not followed a number model with a slightly upgraded “S” model a year later (e.g. the iPhone 6 followed by the 6S). But perhaps it should have: ”The iPhone 8 should really be called the 7S,” Buzzfeed’s Nicole Nguyen said in her review.
Many were convinced that it was, like most Apple phones, well-built, but it added little when compared to the current smartphone landscape. “The iPhone 8 might be the most polished iteration of this basic design Apple’s ever made,” The Verge’s Nilay Patel said in his review, “but compared to the Galaxy S8 and other Android flagships like the LG V30, it’s just extremely dated.”
Minor design tweaks could be frustrating
Unlike the forthcoming X, the 8 and Plus look and act just like their 7 predecessors. They both still have normal home buttons, the same screen sizes, water resistance, and still no headphone jacks. The only real change is that the back of the new phones are now made of glass. Apple said this was to allow them to charge wirelessly, but many reviewers had flashbacks to the breakable iPhone 4—the last iPhone to feature a glass back.
“I’ve already scratched the 8 Plus by carrying it around in my pocket. We’ll see what happens when millions of people around the world start dropping these things,” Patel said.
Some were put off by the design changes. Nguyen was disappointed that Apple is no longer selling a matte black version of the phone, and The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey Fowler found the changes cheapened the design: “The iPhone 7’s glossy black finish gives it a contiguous surface, like a pebble smoothed by the ocean. The iPhone 8 shows seams where the glass touches the aluminum band, making it feel a little like a knockoff.”
But some didn’t mind the glass back: “It may make the iPhone 8 more fragile—Apple says it won’t, my history with glass phones says it will—but it definitely makes it classier,” Wired’s David Pierce said in his review.
The camera is good, but not much of an upgrade
Apple has long has some of the best cameras in any smartphones, and last year’s iPhone 7 Plus was no exception. And the internal upgrades to the 8 appear to have maintained Apple’s standards, but hasn’t pushed them further. “The combination of a new 12-megapixel sensor, the laptop-grade A11 Bionic processor, and a reworking of the iPhone 8’s internals to make everything faster and more efficient,” Pierce said.
“The camera is the best reason to buy a new iPhone this year just as it has been several years running,” TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino said in his review.
Google’s Pixel phones were regarded as having the best cameras on any smartphone available last year, and Patel put them to the test against the iPhone 8: “We ran around shooting with an iPhone 8, a Pixel XL, and S8, and iPhone 7 on auto, and the iPhone 8 produced the most consistent and richest images of the group, although the Pixel was the clear winner several times, especially in extreme low light.”
Nguyen said the camera upgrades weren’t particularly noticeable, unless you planned to become a food blogger. “The Plus has two lenses, which enables ‘Portrait Mode,’ and makes food look so good,” she said. ”What that means in practice is more detailed photos that really only appear more detailed if you zoom way, way in.”
But people love the new portrait mode
The iPhone 7 Plus, with its two rear-facing cameras, was one of the first smartphones to be able to perceive depth and create images with varying degrees of focus. Apple created a camera mode called “Portrait” that made photos look almost as if they were shot on a professional camera. Apple’s taken this a step further with the 8 Plus, updating the portrait mode to feature a “Lighting” option “which mimics different lighting situations with considerable skill,” Forbes’ David Phelan said in his review.
The new modes makes for “breathtaking portraits that you’ll be surprised came from a mere phone,” Manjoo said, even leaving his proper camera at home for his child’s birthday party, leaving just this iPhone with the responsibility of capturing memories that potentially needed to be treasured forever.
“The marquee feature of the iPhone 8 Plus is ‘Portrait Lighting.’ Using deep learning and computer vision, this mode finds faces in an image, detects the planes and angles that need to be lit and applies a variety of different lighting styles that a user can choose from either before or after the picture is taken,” Panzarino said. “It works better than it has any right to.”
Battery life isn’t much better
What really matters to many people, new gimmicks aside, is whether the new phone will provide any marked difference in battery life. It hasn’t.
“One thing that hasn’t been improved is battery life,” The Telegraph’s James Titcomb said in his review. “In fact, the battery capacity is a little smaller, but efficiency improvements mean the iPhone 8 lasts about as long as an iPhone 7.”
Nguyen said she received about 14 hours of charge on the 8 Plus, and roughly 13.5 hours on the standard 8.
Wireless charging is slow and finicky
One of the few new updates in the 8 models is the inclusion of inductive charging—it’s not wireless per se, but you can now plop an iPhone down on a Qi charger, just like the ones that Samsung and other Android phones can use, and charge your phone without having to plug it in. But reviewers complained that it was no faster than standard charging, and if a phone was placed slightly askew on a charging pad, it might not charge.
“It was amazing to just put my phone down on my side table instead of futzing around with plugging the thing into its port every night. The charge speed was about the same as plugging it in,” Nguyen said. “It was not amazing, though, waking up and finding out that my iPhone didn’t charge at all, because it wasn’t perfectly centered on the pad.”
“While convenient, it isn’t fast,” Fowler said bluntly of the new charging option.
It’s still a good phone
But even if it looks like all the iPhones from the last four years, it’s still faster and smarter than its predecessors. “Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S8 is not just half the speed of the iPhone 8, but it’s actually slower than last year’s iPhone 7,” Manjoo said, having tested the 8 on benchmarking software meant to test the limits of a smartphone’s processing abilities.
“One of the under-appreciated things about more recent iPhones is how fast—really fast—they have become,” Titcomb said. “Things like the fingerprint sensor, camera shutter and opening apps now work almost instantly, and it makes us forget that iPhones used to be a little clunky.”
Or as Engadget’s Chris Velazco simply put it: “It’s an incredibly powerful machine.”
But you shouldn’t buy it
For many reviewers, the new phones are awkwardly placed. They’re not markedly better than the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, although they’re about $150 more expensive. They don’t represent the future of the iPhone, either.
Apple has made it very clear that the iPhone X is its new flagship, with all of its newest features. But the $1,000 phone is an expensive outlay, and won’t be available for about another two months (if you can even get your hands on one then). Many reviewers decided that if you can wait, and can afford it, you should hold out for the X.
“For the first time in the 10-year history of the iPhone, I can’t recommend buying the newest models,” Business Insider’s Steve Kovach said in his review.
“Everything works great. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are virtually perfect phones,” Pierce said. “And yet it’s already obsolete.”
“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,” Patel said.