Apple's iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are now available and have key strengths and weaknesses, but the biggest question for many users is not ‘iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus?’but whether they should wait (and save up) for the attention grabbing iPhone X?
When compared to the iPhone 8 there are clear benefits to the iPhone X, but these are reduced compared to the iPhone 8 Plus. So let’s break them down…
iPhone X (left) Vs iPhone 8 Plus (right)
Design – Past Meets Future
The obvious place to start when comparing the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus is their design.
While the former provides arguably the most radical redesign the iPhone range has ever seen, the latter represents the fourth iteration of a design introduced back in 2014 with the iPhone 6 Plus and is showing its age. As such the two phones have dramatically different form factors born out by their respective sizes:
iPhone X – 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm (5.65 x 2.79 x 0.30 in), 174g (6.14 oz)
iPhone 8 Plus – 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5 mm (6.28 x 3.07 x 0.32 in), 202g (7.13 oz)
In fact the only obvious design similarity between the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus is their glass backs. Introduced so Apple could add wireless charging into the mix (more in the Battery Life section), the backs provide both phones with slightly more grip in-hand compared to the aluminium backs Apple has used since the iPhone 5 (2012). But they also add fragility and cost more to repair if dropped.
Glass backs add vulnerability and weight of the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus (pictured), but they do bring wireless charging
Elsewhere the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus both omit the headphone jack, retain Lightning as their sole port, feature dual stereo external speakers (25% louder than the iPhone 7 Plus), a rigid Series 7000 Aluminium chassis and have IP67 dust and water resistance (they’ll survive 30 minutes submerged in up to one metre of water).
But that’s where the similarities stop.
What really captures the attention is the ‘all screen’ display of iPhone X with its distinctive/polarizing notch, and the fact losing its bezels means the iPhone X fits a 5.8-inch display into a form factor only slightly taller and 17% heavier than the 4.7-inch iPhone 8.
The iPhone X ‘notch’ has polarised opinion regarding Apple’s claims of a “bezel-less” display
I’ll talk more about the display in the next section, but from a design perspective the biggest consequence of the iPhone X’s changes is the full screen means no more home button. This means the iPhone X also lacks Touch ID (which the iPhone 8 Plus keeps) and puts all its eggs into the basket of Apple’s new Face ID facial recognition system (more about this in the Performance section).
iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are all IP67 water and dust resistant
Time will tell whether Apple has taken an unnecessary risk in not fitting Touch ID to the back or in the power button of the iPhone X. But how wedded you are to Touch ID will be a big factor in swinging you towards the iPhone X or the iPhone 8 Plus.
As for colour options, note the iPhone X only comes in Silver and Space Grey, while the iPhone 8 Plus adds Gold. I expect Apple will also offer a (Product) Red limited edition of both models at some stage.
Displays – Move Over LCD, Hello OLED
Of course the iPhone X’s design will grab your attention, but the OLED display is what will hold it:
iPhone X – 5.8-inch True Tone OLED, 2436 x 1125 pixels (458 ppi), 82.9% screen-to-body ratio
iPhone 8 Plus – 5.5-inch True Tone LCD, 1920 x 1080 pixels (401 ppi), 67.7% screen-to-body ratio
Yes, the iPhone X appears to win every major battle against the iPhone 8 Plus here, but its important to note some key caveats.
The iPhone X display makes the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus look antiquated
Firstly the iPhone X doesn’t actually have a larger display than the iPhone 8 Plus because it has an elongated 18.5:9 aspect ratio versus the 16:9 ratio Apple had used up to now. Factor in the pixels lost to the notch and the iPhone X actually has a fractionally lower pixel count (not to be confused with density) than the iPhone 8 Plus – but obviously this comes in a much more compact form factor.
Secondly the OLED panel in the iPhone X isn’t actually any brighter than the iPhone 8 Plus with both measuring 625 nits. This is somewhat surprising given Samsung’s newly launched Galaxy Note 8 has a 1200 nits OLED panel and its six month old Galaxy S8 has 1000 nits. Furthermore Samsung makes Apple’s iPhone X OLEDs.
iPhone 8 Tone Tone technology ensures correct colour balance in any ambient light
Despite this where the iPhone X (and OLED in general) stands out is its incredible contrast ratio (1,000,000:1 vs 1,400:1) and power savings, while it matches the True Tone technology added to the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus which colour balances the display against environmental light. Both displays are HDR compliant too and iTunes, Netflix and Amazon are adding HDR to their content libraries at an accelerated rate.
Performance – Class Leaders
The iPhone X may win the external battle, but look internally and both phones have identical class leading performance:
iPhone X, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus – Apple A11 ‘Bionic’ chipset: Six Core CPU, Six Core GPU, M11 motion coprocessor, 3GB RAM (iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus), 2GB RAM (iPhone 8)
Benchmarks show the A11 chipset literally doubling Qualcomm’s 835 Snapdragon, which is the flagship chip in all Android rivals. Not all this horsepower is required right now but with Apple making a big push into augmented reality (AR) over the next few years it does futureproof them.
Apple’s A11 Bionic is the most powerful smartphone chipset even made and is used the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
As for raw specs, Apple states the A11 delivers 25% faster CPU and 30% faster GPU (graphics) performance than the A10 chipset in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The A11 is also 70% faster when multitasking, a major advantage given users primarily spend their time jumping between apps.
But the iPhone X does carry another string to its bow which the iPhone 8 Plus does not because it harnesses the A11 Bionic to power Face ID.
Hoping to usurp Samsung’s erratic facial recognition, the iPhone X maps a user’s face in 3D via a dot projector built into the front display’s notch and the A11 controls a Neural engine which handles up to 600 billion operations per second so it can “learn” your face.
Face ID on the iPhone X takes a three dimensional scan of your face
In practice this means being able to tell if you’re wearing sunglasses, a hat, even if you’ve grown a beard and Apple claims it cannot be fooled by a photograph or even masks. Note Apple does warn users Face ID could be tricked if you have a mischievous identical twin – something that won’t trouble Touch ID (fingerprints are unique).
Cameras – The Duel Dual
Apple chose not to highlight any differences between the dual cameras in the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus, but there is actually a critical one.
While both share a primary 12 megapixel wide-angle lens with f/1.8 aperture on the back, the second 12MP telephoto camera (used for 2x optical zoom) on the iPhone X is faster than the telephoto on the iPhone 8 Plus (f/2.4 vs f/2.8) and it includes optical image stabilisation while the iPhone 8 Plus’ telephoto does not.
iPhone X camera has subtle advantages over the iPhone 8 Plus
The key advantage this should give the iPhone X is better zoom. The lack of OIS and slow aperture in the iPhone 7 Plus meant it often defaulted to simply cropping in shots from the wide-angle camera in less than ideal shooting conditions as here the telephoto struggled. The iPhone X’s improvements should reduce this.
Furthermore the iPhone X, while sporting the same 7MP, f/2.2 aperture front facing camera, benefits in the selfie department too as Face ID’s facial mapping technology is used so it can offer the popular Portrait Mode which the iPhone 8 Plus only delivers with its rear cameras.
The iPhone X also uses Face ID for ‘animojis’ – emojis which mimic your expressions before you send them to friends. More seriously Face ID should have a large part to play in the accuracy of AR as it develops as well.
Augmented Reality (AR) is a huge focus for Apple going forward
But don’t jump straight for the iPhone X after reading this as both it and the iPhone 8 Plus will benefit equally from Apple’s first self-designed ISP (Image Signal Processor) which improves pixel processing, low-light autofocus and noise reduction.
In short: both the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus will be right up there with the best smartphone cameras on the market.
Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus image samples make bold promises and the iPhone X could top it
Battery Life And Charging – Bigger Is Better
While the iPhone 8 Plus has been struggling for wins against the iPhone X, it takes an undisputed victory when it comes to battery life.
Here the iPhone X can match the talk time and audio playback of the iPhone 8 Plus, but the latter offers an hour of extra web browsing and video playback (where the iPhone X only matches the iPhone 8). I’d also expect longer standby times, though Apple declines to list those.
Still the real headlines are not how long the iPhone X or iPhone 8 Plus last, but how they charge. As mentioned earlier, their glass backs bring wireless charging and there’s also fast wired charging (50% charge in just 30 minutes), but it is important to note both features come with catches.
For starters Apple’s wireless charging is Qi-compatible (the most popular wireless charging standard), but it only works at 5W when Qi has 7.5W and 15W fast wireless charging which is supported by the likes of LG and Samsung. Apple’s own ‘AirPower’ wireless standard will emerge in 2018 (presumably to add faster charging) but I doubt it will be 15W Qi-compatible.
iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus support wireless charging
Meanwhile fast wired charging is not available out the box and both Apple’s optional fast charger and fast charging cable are expensive. This means Apple is the only smartphone company on the market not bundling fast wired chargers and cables with its devices, a fact made all the more incredible when you see the new iPhones’ prices…
Read More – iPhone 8 Vs iPhone 7: What’s The Difference?
Storage And Price – Wallet Busters
First the good news: Apple has doubled the entry level story of both the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus from 2016’s 32GB to 64GB. The bad news: there is no midrange 128GB option and both models are more expensive than any previous iPhone.
iPhone X – 64GB ($999), 256GB ($1,149)
iPhone 8 Plus - 64GB ($799), 256GB ($949)
The iPhone 8 Plus has by far the milder shock being just $20 more than the iPhone 7 Plus at entry level and top tier when it launched. This makes the 64GB model potentially the ‘value’ option on show.
The iPhone X design comes at a significant price premium
Meanwhile the iPhone X takes Apple’s iPhone pricing to a whole new level with even the entry level model busting through the $1,000 bracket after tax. Meanwhile if you buy a 256GB iPhone X, two fast chargers (home and office), some Apple insurance (because duh!), a wireless charger and then drop the phone once breaking the glass back you’re looking at a total cost of ownership in the first year in excess of $1,700.
Your bank balance will determine whether you go for the iPhone X or iPhone 8 Plus, though some of the cost will be helped by spreading it over a two year carrier contract. In fact I’m somewhat surprised three year carrier contracts are not a thing by now.
Note: if you do go for the iPhone X stock will be extremely limited throughout 2017 and shortages will extend well into 2018.
iPhone X (left) easily stands out from the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, but is it worth the price premium?
In five years time no-one will remember the iPhone 8 Plus. That’s not to write it off (it’s an incredibly capable phone), but 2017 will be all about the year Apple changed direction with the iPhone X. Whether you want to get in on the ground floor of generation one is the big decision.
Ultimately what paying $200 more for the iPhone X buys you is a classy design (unless you hate the notch), superior display, incrementally better telephoto camera and Face ID. What it costs you is Touch ID and the iPhone 8 Plus’ superior battery life.
But to claim this battle is simply Style Vs Substance would be reductive. The iPhone X is the future of iPhones, the question is how soon and how much are you willing to pay to be a part of it?