First Impressions – iPhone 8 Plus

Here are my initial impressions of one of Apple’s newest iPhones…

Introduction
Recently, due to an unfortunate turn of events where my oldest son dropped his iPhone 6s Plus, I was forced to purchase an iPhone 8 Plus recently. Sometimes having a pre-teen/ young teenager carrying a flagship level smartphone can be a bit problematic. Having a device is a case helps protect against shattered screens, but even then, they aren’t foolproof. You can still end up with a shattered screen despite your best efforts.

The situation with my oldest son is a great example of how sometimes, the universe just seems to be working against you no matter how hard you try. He dropped his protected iPhone 6s Plus and the screen shattered. I had the choice of replacing it via insurance claim or paying the AT&T Next acquired device off and upgrading to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. (As a brief aside, upgrading to the iPhone X was out of the question… I’m not paying $999 for a phone. EVER. It’s just not an option, especially when it’s THIS close to the Holidays, and you’re a new grandparent.) The prices in this scenario – insurance claim vs. upgrade – were nearly identical, so… it seemed the better, more prudent thing to do to purchase the upgrade on his account rather than pay the same amount of money for two year old technology.

Through the magic of SIM card swapping, my son ended up with my mint condition iPhone and I ended up with the new iPhone 8 Plus. Here are my initial thoughts on the device. If you recall, I covered this subject shortly after Apple announced both the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and iPhone X in September 2017.

Honestly, after hearing the details and writing this article, I wasn’t going to bother with the iPhones announced this year. It didn’t seem worth the cost at the time; but since I got forced into it… here I am.

To get started, here, in no particular order, are what I would consider to be the major differences between the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus:

• The iPhone 8 Plus features an all-glass design with an aero-grade aluminum chassis in between. The iPhone 7 Plus features a unibody aluminum body
• The iPhone 8 Plus also supports Qi wireless charging
• The iPhone 8 Plus’ Retina HD display supports True Tone display technology. The display automatically tweaks the white balance to improve readability depending on the ambient lighting
• The iPhone 8 Plus is powered by Apple’s 6-core A11 Bionic chip. The iPhone 7 Plus is powered by Apple’s A10 Fusion chip.
• The iPhone 8 Plus is available in 64GB and 256GB storage variants. The iPhone 7 Plus comes in 32GB and 128GB variants
• The iPhone 8 Plus can record 4K videos at 60fps and Full HD videos at 240fps. The iPhone 7 Plus can record 4K videos at 30fps and Full HD videos at 120fps

My initial impressions and analysis of each of these are below. There’s not a lot here to distinguish the 8/ 8 Plus from the 7/ 7 Plus. The devices are visually identical, except for their body construction. However, you really have to look at the back of each device to be able to tell them apart.

The Full 360
Here are some comparison photos of the iPhone 8 Plus next to an iPhone 7 Plus. My guess is that without me telling you which was which, you wouldn’t be able to tell…

DSC_5532
The fronts of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus, from left to right, respectively. The devices look identical. The only way to tell them apart from the front (without turning the devices on) is by hands on inspection.

The backs of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus, from left to right, respectively. Here, you can see a difference. The iPhone 8 Plus’ back is covered in glass where the iPhone 7 Plus clearly is not.

The left edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which.
DSC_5535
The top edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which. There is a SLIGHT color difference between the matte black of the iPhone 7 (top) and the space gray of the iPhone 8 (bottom); but that’s likely just the lighting in my kitchen…

The right edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which.

The bottom edges of the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 8 Plus from top to bottom, respectively. Again, you likely wouldn’t have known the difference if I hadn’t told you which was which. Here, the color difference between the two is a little easier to see.

Storage Space

The change that is probably the most noticeable, believe it or not, is the storage size difference. There’s no longer a 128GB variation in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. To be honest, since I had to buy a new device, I decided I didn’t want to spend the extra $150 for the 256GB variant. However, when you’re coming from 128GB, going back to 64GB can be a bit painful. While this is not what I wanted to do, moving to 256GB was not worth the extra cost to me. So, I settled for the 64GB variant and am streaming a lot more content than I was prior to purchasing the iPhone 8 Plus.

Display
The True Tone Retina Display is really very, very good. However, the impact of this white balance method is completely lost on EVERYONE about five minutes after the initial setup of the device.

During setup, you’re given the ability to turn True Tone on or off. You’re also given a button that allows you to see how the screen will look with the feature on and then again with the feature off. While the screen looks MUCH better with True Tone turned on, you forget that its turned on. You don’t have anything that continually reminds you of the feature’s effect when its turned on. This is a set it and forget it feature; and honestly this is exactly what Apple wants to have happen.

Chipset – A11 Bionic
The same can be said for the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus’ A11 Bionic chip. You notice the speed difference for about a couple hours after upgrading. The next day, it’s all business as usual. The performance difference is going to be very noticeable when it comes to VR and AI headsets and apps; but other than that, you aren’t really going to notice the performance bump later on. After the “newness” wears off, this is going to appear as business as usual.

4K Video Frame Rates
You do notice the 4K video frame rate differences, especially on larger displays (like your desktop monitor), as the video filmed on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus will appear much smoother.

Body Construction – Glass vs. Airplane Grade Aluminum
The body differences are TOTALLY noticeable; but really only from the back. You REALLY need a case on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus is very difficult to hold on to due to the glass back and smoother, metal sides. If you don’t have something with a bit of “stick-’em” on it, you’re gonna drop the phone at some point. There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ve nearly done it three to four times in the few days that I’ve had the device. Since the body is covered in glass with an aluminum underbody, as soon as it hits the ground, it’s going to shatter into a million pieces. Save your phone. Put it in a case that’s going to provide decent protection.

Wireless Charging
The go-to feature is the Qi compatible wireless/ cableless charging. I’ve been able to confirm that it works with just about any and every Qi compatible charging system available. This includes any cheap Chinese aftermarket systems as well as Samsung’s wireless charging system for the Galaxy 8 and 8XL smartphone, which is kinda cool. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of Apple’s larger charging mat. I prefer the cradle like system for the Samsung Galaxy 8/8XL.

Conclusion
So where does this leave me..? That’s a great question.

First and foremost, I won’t be purchasing an iPhone X, especially after purchasing the iPhone 8 Plus. I don’t have the funds to do so, and wouldn’t, to be very honest, on my own. At nearly $1000 USD for the entry level model, the phone isn’t reasonably priced or realistically affordable for anyone on any kind of family plan with their carrier of choice.

Now, let’s talk about the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. The iPhone 8 Plus is a decent phone to be certain; but I stand by my original assessment of the device – if you don’t HAVE to upgrade, you may want to wait for Apple’s next iteration of iPhone, due out some time next year. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus is, in my opinion, just too similar to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus. But that is Apple’s M.O. – evolution rather than revolution.

The wireless charging is really cool; and will be something that you really prefer doing and using, say at the office or by your bedside, especially if you use your device as an alarm clock to wake yourself in the morning for work or school. However, it’s not a killer, must have, do or die feature. It’s a convenience.

And that can probably sum up the entire iPhone 8/ 8 Plus experience for me – upgrading has been a convenience for me, and not much more.

The cost of the device – as well as the cost of the iPhone X, in my opinion – is bordering on excessive. The 64GB version is now “affordable” at $800 plus tax; and the 256GB version is just below crazy-stupid (at least from my perspective) at $950 plus tax. Here in Chicago that put things at $870 bucks and $1018 bucks respectively after taxes; or about $27 a month and $35 a month, respectively.

I’m shaking my head as I write this. Apple has almost completely priced me and my family out of the iPhone entirely. We used to be able to upgrade devices every two years or so (AT&T’s standard upgrade cycle is 30 months or 2.5 years). Now, it seems as though we’re going to have to make those last a lot longer than just two and a half years. Even with AT&T Next, the monthly costs for a new device are just not sustainable when you have to cover costs for four to five different devices. When you’re looking at a monthly cost of $35 to $40 per device, I’m looking at $150 – $200 per month just for devices… and I haven’t even begun to cover the cost of a voice and data plan for them yet. After all is said and done, I’m looking at nearly $425 a month, which is just crazy. Who does that just for mobile phones..?!

It truly does appear that after phones get paid off, the family is going to have to learn to live them for a while. So, my son is going to have to make this one last more than a year. Its either that, or he’s going to end up with a flip phone (or maybe a Windows Phone… I think both are just about equal when it comes to apps and functionality at this point.)

However, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on all of this. Did you upgrade to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus? Did you opt for an iPhone X? Are you sticking with what you’ve got for now and upgrading later? Are you just sick of all the evolutionary updates out of Apple and have you decided to jump ship?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your take on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus? I’d love to hear from you!

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Should I Upgrade or Not..? – Part 1

Based on the information at hand, here’s my take on Apple’s announcements from 2017-09-12…

iphone x

Apple announced three new iPhones (six, if you count the different sizes), two new Apple Watches (one with cellular and one without) and two new Apple TV’s the other day (again, if you count the different storage sizes). There’s a TON of debate going on regarding the new devices; and like EVERY OTHER YEAR that Apple announces new iDevices, the same argument starts: is the upgrade worth the cost?

Like EVERY OTHER YEAR, the answer is likely going to be the same – it depends on where you’re upgrading from.

iPhones – the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X
The iPhone 8 offers the following in terms of new tech

• An updated processor – A11 Bionic
It’s got 6 cores – two performance and for efficiency cores making it 25% faster than the iPhone 7
• An updated GPU
It’s got three cores and is 30% faster than the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7
• An updated Retina HD display
It’s got a True Tone display, making colors more realistic, as it automatically adjusts and readjusts the white balance to match the direct and ambient light around you. Dual domain pixels make it viewable from nearly any angle
• An improved camera
It’s got a 12MP camera (still) with a larger, faster CMOS sensor, a new color filter and optical image stabilization for both photos AND video.
• Wireless (Inductive) Charging
The iPhone now supports Qi charging technology in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, iPhone X, and AirPods. The Apple Watch has always supported wireless charging.
• New Storage Capacity
The iPhone 8 and iPhone X now have 256GB sizes.

So in summary,
• It’s faster,
• Has a better screen
• Has a better camera , and
• Has wireless charging

However, this can be said of EVERY new iPhone out there? I mean, isn’t that what you get with EVERY new generation iPhone? Its better, faster stronger..? This year’s camera is better than last year’s camera? I mean, the only thing new here is the implementation of Qi charging… and as every AOSP and Google Pixel fan has pointed out to me, this is something that has existed with Android phones for at LEAST two years… so where’s the new, innovative stuff?

The answer is that you won’t find it on the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus. It’s the “tock” to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus’ “tick.” You have to remember that Apple isn’t revolutionary in its technology implementations… they’re evolutionary. Their take on this is that they may not be the first to do it, but they are (likely) the ones to do it right.

In most cases, I agree with this; but don’t get me started with Apple and its services offering… iCloud and all that it offers (iCloud Drive, iCloud Backup and synchronization (photos, music, messages, files, etc.) are still screwed up and… that’s a rant for another day. I think that the “improvements” that you’ll see with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are really good, decent improvements. However, I don’t know that these are enough to justify an $700+ upgrade from the iPhone 7 (or even 6s, for that matter) to the iPhone 8.

The iPhone X offers the following in terms of new tech

• Edge to edge Super Retina display
The Home Button is gone. There are a ton of new gestures needed and required because the Home Button has been removed. 3D Touch has been reworked to work the new, OLED screen. The Super Retina displays offers truer, more vivid colors, ginormous resolution, and a 1,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio. This is the best screen on a smartphone, ever.

• TrueDepth Camera & Face ID
The selfie camera has been totally reworked because the Home Button and its Touch ID sensor is gone. The TrueDepth Camera enables a new, neural engine powered camera so that it can map your face to support Face ID and facial identification (for device unlocking as well as Apple Pay authentication).

The TrueDepth Camera drives Face ID and stores the information in the Secure Enclave. Face ID and its setup process maps an analyzes more than 30,000 mapping dots to create a precise depth map of your face. The mapping is supposed to be so accurate, that you can grow a beard, change your hair style (or completely shave it off), wear glasses etc. and you are still you to the TrueDepth Camera. Pictures and realistic masks can’t fool it, thanks to the neural engine and machine learning capabilities of both the camera and the new A11 Bionic processor.

• Improved (digital photo) Camera
It’s got a 12MP camera (still) with a larger, faster CMOS sensor, a new color filter and optical image stabilization for both photos AND video.
• An updated processor – A11 Bionic
It’s got 6 cores – two performance and for efficiency cores making it 25% faster than the iPhone 7
• An updated GPU
It’s got three cores and is 30% faster than the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7

• Wireless (Inductive) Charging
The iPhone now supports Qi charging technology in the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, iPhone X, and AirPods. The Apple Watch has always supported wireless charging.
• New Storage Capacity
The iPhone 8 and iPhone X now have 256GB sizes.

So in summary,
• It’s got a new display size and new display type
• The Home Button has been removed to provide more screen real estate
• The front and rear cameras have been totally revamped to support OIS in every mode (still and video) and for machine learning driven, facial recognition (because Touch ID has been removed)
• It’s faster and smarter to support facial recognition and augmented reality, and
• Supports wireless charging

There’s a bit more here, and to be fair, while none of this is NEW – it was pointed out to me by that same Android fan-boy that both Google Pixel and Samsung devices have had OLED displays, facial recognition, bezeless displays and wireless charging – it’s the combination and (more the) implementation of these technologies on this platform that make them (so) new. It’s the type of cameras, it’s the method of facial recognition etc., that makes the iPhone X the coveted hit that it likely will become in the Apple Ecosystem.

However, there are a few issues here that I need to cover…

Device Storage Sizes
The iPhone 7 comes in 32GB and 128GB sizes. Both the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and the iPhone X come in 64GB and 256GB sizes. To be honest, I think the same thing about the 64GB size as I thought of the 32GB size… it’s completely USELESS.

Last year Apple eliminated the 64GB size from their smartphone offering because (they said) that it didn’t offer enough storage space. Why then would they bring it back for the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus and the iPhone X?

I’ve got a 128GB iPhone 7 Plus. If I want to upgrade to the iPhone 8/ 8 Plus, I’ve either got to totally remove my entire music collection (I don’t have video on my iPhone) and revert to streaming everything; OR pay $150 USD more for twice the space I have.

I’ve got 85.50GB of stuff on my iPhone. 55GB of that is music. 8GB of that is photos and home videos taken with my iPhone cameras. The rest is used by apps and their data. I’ve got 38.50GB of free space.

Apple is forcing me to make a cost based decision that I really don’t want to make. I hate entry level devices, as they nearly ALWAYS leave you wishing you had bought more. However, without a mid-level storage offering of 128GB, its either pay more or shut up (meaning upgrade and get over it, or don’t upgrade and stop crying).

Cost
At the end of the day, for nearly everyone, these decisions are going to be cost motivated. The 256GB iPhone 8/ 8 Plus are $699/$799 and $799/$949 for the 64GB/ 256GB variants, respectively. These aren’t cheap, but they aren’t really out of line with other smartphone offerings at their tier level today. I’ll get to other issues here, in just a sec…

The iPhone X also offers 64GB and 256GB variants. Those are $999 and $1149. These aren’t cheap either, but only the price of the 64GB device has been seen from both Google and Samsung recently. $1150 for a phone – regardless of how “smart” that phone may be… is just a little nuts…

And that brings me to my overall point here… we’re really starting to push up against the envelope of reasonability when it comes to device cost.

Due to the increased device cost, you’re either going to need to buy a data plan with enough bandwidth to address the decreased storage you may have to accept in order to buy into the device; OR you’re going to have to bite the bullet and pay for the more expensive device. Either way you cut it, your carrier is going to get a bigger cut of your paycheck; and for many this may be a huge problem… especially when you’re upgrading more than one device at a time.

I’ve got four devices on my AT&T wireless account. Three of them are on the same upgrade cycle. That represents an additional cost of approximately $40 to $60 additional dollars a month (after any residual device costs of $50 to $100 per device are satisfied at upgrade time), if we upgrade on schedule based on these current device costs… and that’s really crazy.

By the way, those costs are NOT Apple specific. They are based on an upgrade of any “current” device, currently on any kind of installment program to any “new” device available, be they Android, iOS Samsung, LG or Apple, etc.

Availability
The iPhone 8 is available for purchase on 2017-09-15 (or two days from this writing) with delivery on 2017-09-22. The iPhone X is available for purchase on 2017-10-27 with delivery anticipated on or around 2017-11-03 (that may be subject to change, and will likely ONLY be available for a very small amount of iPhone X’s purchased/ ordered on October 27).

In other words, there are likely enough iPhone 8/ 8 Plus’ to go around; but landing an iPhone X of any size will likely offer legitimate bragging rights. Not that you bought the phone – regardless of how “eXclusive” it may truly be – but because the yield rates are reportedly very low, at only 10,000 per day, worldwide. That means that only 450,000 ADDITIONAL units will be manufactured – again world wide – between now and 2017-10-27. Getting one of these any time this year, will be a huge crap shoot. It’s likely that the bulk of orders for the iPhone X will be delivered some time during the early months of 2018.

To Answer the Question
So, to answer the question, “should I upgrade or not?” is going to really require you to think about it. The upgrade from the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus to the iPhone 8 may not be very compelling unless you really want the better camera and wireless charging, to put it very bluntly. The iPhone 8/ 8 Plus going to be very similar to the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus (remember… this is the “tock” update…).

The upgrade to the iPhone X may be the more compelling upgrade, but the cost and the available storage sizes really make the upgrade difficult. Not many are going to want to pay $1150 for a smartphone; and $1000 for a smaller, 64GB device implies that you may have to up the ante on your data plan in order to make it work… so you’re going to pay more for the iPhone X no matter how you slice it.

For me… the jury is still out. I’ve got to a day or two to think about it, but as of this writing… I’m still on the fence. I will likely get one to review, but it may be some time in October before I order it, IF I don’t jump on the band wagon on 2017-09-15. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Come back next time. I’ll have information on the new updated Apple Watch and Apple TV, as announced at the Apple Event on 2017-09-12!

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Waxing iNostalgic – iPhone’s 10th Anniversary

I’ve got very specific memories of using Apple’s early iPhones…

I’ve been an iPhone user for quite a long time. In fact, I covered iPhone 3G Day for Gear Diary’s Judie Lipset Stanford back in the day when I helped her get Gear Diary off the ground as writer number 3 for the site (Judie was writer number 1, Mitchel Oke was writer number 2…). Back then, Gear Diary was really a mobile first site, covering any and all mobile technologies. I wrote a lot for her between 2006 and 2008.

In July of 2008, I stood in line at a local AT&T store and picked up an 8GB iPhone 3G. It was the big boy back in its day, and it was the BOMB… or so I thought. I ended up selling the device just three months later. It wasn’t a hard decision to make, as I recall. At the time, I had had just about enough.

At that time, AT&T had a HUGE wireless coverage problem. At the time, no one seemed to be able to understand that a wireless internet device was only as good as the coverage it needed for internet connectivity. I, however, put two and two together, and made the “3G light bulb” come on for many bloggers. At the time, someone submitted my article to Slashdot, and Gear Diary came down as a result of the entire internet reading the article… apparently, all at the same time. It was very exciting, but very troubling for the site, as we tried to figure out how to keep it from falling over due to the avalanche of traffic.

Ultimately, it was AT&T’s numerous coverage issues that caused me to dump my iPhone 3G. To be honest, I just couldn’t take it any longer. When you’re sitting completely still, and your call drops 8 times in under 30 minutes, something has to change. That kind of connectivity problem didn’t exist with other smartphones at the time. I sold my iPhone 3G and was much, much happier.

However, I recognized and realized that the formula that Apple was working on would eventually gain ground over both Blackberry and PocketPC (Microsoft), the two industry leaders at the time, and had mixed feelings about my sold iPhone soon after. However, I was determined to wait it out.

I came back to iPhone with the iPhone 4S, three full revisions later (the iPhone 3Gs and the iPhone 4 were released prior to the iPhone 4S). By that point, Apple’s ecosystem of apps, music and video content had matured enough that it was a much more compelling smartphone choice; AND more importantly, AT&T had done a great deal of clean up on their network coverage issues. I’ve been a consistent iPhone user since the release of the iPhone 4S, and so has the rest of my family.

With 2017 being the 10th anniversary of Apple’s iconic iPhone, I’m looking forward to the release of whatever they end up designating as their 10th Anniversary model, be that the iPhone 8, the iPhone X. By any name, it’s bound to be an iconic device, and definitely one for the history books.

Stick around, kids. I’ve got some really fun and interesting Apple related updates and reviews coming in the next week or so.

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