Apple iPhone 8 review: The status quo upgrade

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The Good The iPhone 8 offers wireless charging, lightning-fast performance and small but solid upgrades to its camera, screen and speakers. Its starting storage size is a roomy 64GB, double that of the iPhone 7.

The Bad This phone has the same pedestrian design, missing headphone jack and battery life as the iPhone 7 -- and no dual camera either. The iPhone 8 costs a bit more than baseline new iPhones in years past, and comes only in black, silver and a new shade of gold.

The Bottom Line The iPhone 8 has plenty of power under the hood, but lacks the extra camera features and design upgrade of the better iPhone 8 Plus and X.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 10
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 8

Editors' note (Sept. 12, 2018): The iPhone 8 reviewed here is now available at a reduced price of $599See all of the new iPhones and new products that Apple just announced. 

Apple's seductive sports car of a phone is the totally redesigned, edgy, giant-screened iPhone X.

So what does that make the 8?

The iPhone 8 is last year's design with this year's technology. It feels familiar. It's a safe pick. It's a "let's not spend a thousand dollars on an iPhone" iPhone. It's a "Touch ID and a home button matter more to me than a leap of faith into the world of Face ID" iPhone.

Read more: iPhone SE 2020 review

iPhone 8

Same feel, pretty much. You OK with that?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Make no mistake: The iPhone 8 is essentially the "iPhone 7S." Apple saved the cool features and radical new design for the iPhone X, which costs 43 percent more -- $999, £999 or AU$1,579 to start. And if you want the truly impressive dual camera, with portrait mode and 2x optical zoom -- both seriously nice step-ups -- you'll need to invest in the much larger iPhone 8 Plus ($549 at Amazon), or the iPhone X. It's a different approach than Samsung, which made its whole line of Galaxy S8 and Note 8 phones look new, but not too dissimilar from Google's take on the Pixel 2 phones. With the iPhone, new looks only come at the top end.

2017 iPhone pricing (64GB, 256GB)

US UK Australia
iPhone 8 $699, $849 £699, £849 AU$1,079, AU$1,329
iPhone 8 Plus $799, $949 £799, £949 AU$1,229, AU$1,479
iPhone X $999, $1,149 £999, £1,149 AU$1,579, AU$1,829

The iPhone 8's best feature is its processor, a fast new six-core A11 Bionic chip, similar to the processor in the iPhone X and 8 Plus. Thanks to an all-new image sensor, photo quality has improved in low light, as has video quality. The iPhone 8 adds an improved iPad-style True Tone screen, and the speakers sound nice and loud. All the new iPhones include wireless charging now, thanks to a glass back.

If you have an iPhone 7, you'll find the faster speed, better screen and better camera on the iPhone 8 "nice to have," but short of "must-buy" territory -- unless you're particularly enamored with the wireless charging Android owners have enjoyed for years.

For anyone with an iPhone 6S ($250 at Best Buy) or previous model, however, the benefits of jumping to an iPhone 8 ramp up dramatically. The speed, screen, audio and camera improvements will feel significant, and you'll get nice upgrades you missed when you skipped the iPhone 7, including water resistance.

So, yeah: That iPhone X may look great in the showroom window. But ultimately, you're driving off the lot with the practical four-door crossover. It's more affordable. It gets perfectly decent gas mileage. But it still has the same nice high-end navigation package, entertainment system and fuel-injected engine as that sweet low-slung coupe. Not too shabby.

That's the iPhone 8. The baseline 2017 iPhone remains a top-tier smartphone -- a seriously good phone. Just don't expect it to turn heads.

iPhone 8

Look, it's your $700, but we haven't reviewed the X yet.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Should you get iPhone X instead?

The X is compact -- it's got a 5.8-inch screen in a body that's taller but barely wider than the 8 -- and it feels great. Its dual cameras are better. Its display is super-bright and packs more display in nearly the same size. But, the X is a lot more expensive, a bit more fragile and doesn't have a home button: You'll have to get used to Face ID, Apple's camera-based tech for using your face to unlock the phone and pay for things. It works, but it can be annoying.

If any of that sounds attractive to you -- or if you're willing to pay a huge premium for "the best iPhone" -- go for the iPhone X. 

If you don't care about that stuff, or if you just can't see yourself paying $1,000 for a phone, the iPhone 8 is fine. Yes, it's basically what we were calling it all year: the "iPhone 7S." But S phones are often the best values, and the iPhone 8 is no exception. It's an improved iPhone that looks the same. But, in light of what the 8 Plus and X bring to the table, and camera gains made by Android phones like the Pixel 2, the 8 isn't quite the slam-dunk iPhone the 7 was.

Editors' note, Dec. 22: This review has been updated with battery benchmarks, phone durability drop test results, and comparisons to the iPhone X. The rating has been adjusted from 8.6 (4.5 stars) to 8.4 (4 stars).

iPhone 8

Mophie's wireless charging mat will work with the 7.5W faster iPhone 8 charging that came later this year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Wireless charging: Cool, but BYO

The iPhone 8 comes with a Lightning cable and plug, but it works with the existing Qi wireless charging standard. That means there are already many affordable third-party chargers on the market, and many public places -- like McDonald's, for instance -- already have counters with Qi-compatible chargers built-in.

Apple doesn't have its own wireless charge base at all, at least not yet: AirPower arrives next year, a mat that charges the new iPhones, the Apple Watch Series 3 and AirPods ($80 at eBay) with a new charge case. Some Qi-compatible chargers like ones from Belkin and Mophie can charge up a bit faster (7.5W), but they're still not what I'd call quick-charging. But, they are convenient: Lie your iPhone on them, and charge away, provided your phone's in the charge area.

If you want faster still, spring for a separate higher-wattage MacBook charger -- and, of course, the USB-C-to-Lightning cable, sold separately. The new iPhones will charge up to 50 percent in half an hour this way, but not with included chargers.

Still, now that Apple's on board with an existing standard -- Samsung and others have long supported Qi -- wireless charging looks to finally become a universal convenience. Starbucks has already pledged to make its existing wireless chargers iPhone compatible, and there are plenty of Qi chargers available on Amazon for as little as $20 in the US.

iPhone 8

The iPhone 8 (left) lacks dual cameras once again.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Better camera, but not dual cameras

The iPhone 8 doesn't get a dual camera like the 8 Plus and the iPhone X, and that's a shame. But its photos and videos do look improved.

This time around, the front and rear cameras get better mostly via new sensors and a new image signal processor. While low light shots do look nicer, and shutter speed and focus seem a bit faster, I didn't see enough of a change from the iPhone 7 to astonish me, but the photos I took all looked really, really good. The 8's camera still lacks the clever Portrait effects of the 7 Plus ($330 at eBay) and 8 Plus, and telephoto lens (2x optical zoom) found on those phones, too.

Automatic settings at an art fair. (Art by Primitive Twig.)

Scott Stein/CNET

This phone also now shoots 60fps, 4K video and 240fps, 1080p slow-mo, and those video changes make a difference for serious video work. But if you want the best iPhone camera this year, the iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X offer extra portrait modes and better rear zooming cameras that definitely make a difference. I use the closer-range 2x telephoto camera constantly.

iPhone 8

The glossy black iPhone 7 (left) versus the silver and white iPhone 8 (right).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: Old-school, but fine

When the iPhone 6 ($199 at eBay) debuted, its screen size and design made big waves. But that was 2014. Much like with the MacBook Air or iPads, Apple has locked in the design one more time here, but with a construction facelift. A return to a glass back, the first since the iPhone 4S back in 2011, enables more than just aesthetics: That's what allows the aforementioned wireless charging to work. The phone feels good, though, kind of like last year's Pixel, with a similar grippiness to the matte black iPhone 7. The glass actually makes it feel less slippery.

Color options have shrunk to space gray, silver and gold. I'm testing the silver model, and it's mostly white with silver aluminum touches. Gold looks a creamy blush-pink with gold metal highlights -- more toward the older rose gold than "true gold" end of the scale. Space gray is very close to what was just "black" on the iPhone 7. The good news is that most iPhone 7 cases will work on the 8, so long as they have some flexibility. (The iPhone 8 is a fraction of a millimeter bigger than the 7 all around.)

It's not shatterproof

Apple says the glass in the new iPhones is 50 percent more durable than last year's iPhone 7 glass, with impact and scratch improvements and steel frame reinforcements (and more durable aluminum). It's hard to tell how impact-proof these phones will be in practice because Apple won't make any specific claims.

So CNET bought some iPhone 8 models and submitted them to drop tests. The result? At 3 feet (0.9 meters), it survived. At 5 feet (1.5 meters), it shattered. Bottom line: don't drop these iPhones. Keep them in a case. My natural inclination is to coddle all-glass phones. It is, however, more durable than the iPhone X.


The impressive speakers outdo the smaller screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

True Tone and better speakers are tiny AV improvements

The iPhone 8 screen isn't OLED, the display technology used on the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy phones, which is more energy efficient and offers far better contrast and black levels. In fact, the iPhone 8's LCD screen is the same size and resolution as the 6, 6S and 7: 4.7-inch diagonal, with 1,334x750 pixels. It does get True Tone, however, a color warmth-adjusting ambient effect that the iPad Pro added last year. It makes the display seem less harsh in everyday reading, a bit like a more advanced all-day Night Shift.

Meanwhile, the speakers, which were louder with the 7, now get beefier with some bass. It's nice when you're sharing TV, movies or YouTube videos with friends, or even just using the iPhone for music at home. My son said, "It's a lot louder."