I was at a party the other night with several people who knew I’d just been to Apple’s annual iPhone launch event. After asking me tons of questions about the new Apple Park campus, they of course asked about the new iPhone — by which all of them meant the all-new iPhone X. More than one person didn’t even know the iPhone 8 existed.
Their focus — and really, Apple’s focus — is on the iPhone X, the phone with the complete redesign, the edge-to-edge display, the facial-recognition system, and the entirely new interface patterns developed around the removal of the home button.
The iPhone 8 doesn’t have any of that. While the 8 and 8 Plus share a processor, wireless charging capability, and similar camera setups to the X, they lack any truly new ideas about what an iPhone is — they’re both very much just the next step along a path Apple’s been on for quite some time now.
But Apple will ship millions of iPhone 8s — to people on upgrade plans, people who don’t want to pay $999 for an iPhone X or wait for what seems like limited availability, and people who just need a new phone without thinking about it too much. 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. If you know what an iPhone is and you want one, then the iPhone 8 is exactly that, one tick farther down the line. It’s an iPhone.
The iPhone 8 is fundamentally the fourth generation of the iPhone 6 — Apple told us it thinks of the 8 as an “all-new design,” but that’s also what Apple said about the iPhone 6S and 7. It must take a lot of effort to keep reinventing the same basic design without actually changing it. The major difference you’ll notice is the glass back, but other than that nothing has changed — the 8 and 8 Plus will fit right into 7 and 7 Plus cases perfectly.
That glass back is heavier than the aluminum on the 7, but it’s not bad — in fact, I like how the combination of the glass and increase in weight make the phone easier to hold than the 6 and 7, which always felt like they were about to fly out of my hand. You don’t need a case for these new phones, but you’ll probably want one: Apple claims the glass is stronger than ever, but 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.
The iPhone 8 comes in three colors — I received gold and silver phones to review. The silver is pretty familiar, but the gold isn’t exactly what you’d expect. The back is a very 70s-looking cream color, which several people I showed it to really liked. It might even appease those mourning the loss of the rose gold option.
At the end of the day, you’re looking at the same basic idea as the iPhone 6, and the iPhone 6 is far from the most beautiful iPhone Apple has ever made. I’ve been calling out the basic clunkiness of the 6 design since the 6 came out in 2014, when I wrote that “The iPhone 6 Plus isn’t beautiful the way the iPhone 4 was beautiful.” In 2015, I wrote that the iPhone 6S Plus “feels particularly surfboard-y” and that it was “almost designed to be put in a case.” And last year, I wrote that “nothing about the iPhone 7’s design exceeds the rest of the industry.”
And that’s really the problem — while competitors like Samsung and LG have pushed phone hardware design far forward, the iPhone has basically stood still for four years. The iPhone 8 might be the most polished iteration of this basic design Apple’s ever made, but compared to the Galaxy S8 and other Android flagships like the LG V30, it’s just extremely dated. Apple’s true competitor to those devices is the iPhone X, but the company tells us that the 8 is also a flagship phone, and those huge bezels and surfboard dimensions just don’t cut it at the top end of the market anymore.
The Galaxy S8 is just a tiny bit bigger than the regular iPhone 8, but it has a larger screen than the iPhone 8 Plus, doesn’t have a camera bump, and generally feels like a tighter and sleeker package. I don’t love Samsung’s riffs on Android, but there’s no question that the S8 is a nicer piece of hardware than the iPhone 8. And it’s not just OLED phones that are moving past bezels — the Essential Phone has an edge-to-edge LCD screen. It seems clear that Apple’s put all of its design energy into the iPhone X, and that means the 8 suffers in comparison.
But of course, it just doesn’t matter if you have no intention of switching away from iOS, or you’re locked into iMessage. Android phones might as well not even exist for you. The thing to know is that spending money on an iPhone 8 doesn’t get you the cutting edge of phone design, or even Apple design — for that, you’ll have to get an iPhone X.