CUPERTINO, Calif.—Hold your iPhone 6, 6s or 7 in your hand. Close your eyes and imagine it with a shinier glass back, a speedier processor, improved cameras and wireless charging. Now you’re holding an iPhone 8!
That may sound like a perfectly good upgrade and, on Tuesday, it was the best iPhone Apple ever introduced—until a few minutes later, when the company showed off the iPhone X, which has all of that and more. Apple’s iPhone lineup is now as crowded as a minivan on summer vacation, and the iPhone 8, the would-be star, is a middle child in a middle seat.
At Apple’s event in Cupertino, I had a chance to try out all three of the new models, and there’s no doubt: The 4.7-inch iPhone 8 ($699 and up) and the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus ($799 and up) are very good devices.
From left, the new iPhone 8, the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus displayed at an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on the Apple Park campus on Sept. 12.Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The new glass back gives them a fresh feel, and they handled graphics-intensive augmented-reality apps like champs. I had a lot of fun with the iPhone 8 Plus’s improved camera portrait tricks.
If the iPhone X is the phone of the future, the iPhone 8 is more like a “just right” Goldilocks phone of the present. But when you look at it in the context of its iPhone alternatives, it seems lost in limbo.
iPhone 6s ($449 and up). Seriously, Apple has kept this 2015 phone in the mix. (In smartphone years, it’s well past retirement age.) For $450, you get a phone that looks similar to the 8. Though behind in camera quality, battery life and performance, it has some of Apple’s most recent tricks, including Live Photos and a 3D Touch screen. If there ever were a budget iPhone that still competes with midprice Androids, this is it.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have a new glass back. Photo: Emily Prapuolenis / The Wall Street Journal
iPhone 7 ($549 and up). The iPhone 7’s price drop to $549—or $669 for the larger Plus—makes it more desirable than ever. I promise you’ll get over the missing headphone jack, and you’ll enjoy the improved battery life and water resistance—all of which remain the same on the 8. The iPhone 7 Plus also has a dual-camera system, though it doesn’t get the new Portrait Lighting tricks.
If you’re upgrading from an older phone and don’t want anything too large, the decision between a 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and the same-size iPhone 8 is the toughest one. Are you just paying $100 for a fancy glass back? Or are the camera and performance improvements meaningful? (If you can hold off on pre-ordering, you’ll benefit from our detailed comparative testing, so stay tuned. You can also look at our iPhone X vs. iPhone 8 rundown here.)
If you currently have a 7, jumping to the 8 doesn’t make any sense. Best to hold out for the X... or even the XI.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus now support wireless charging. Photo: Emily Prapuolenis / The Wall Street Journal
iPhone X ($999 and up). You get it at this point: This is the phone to want. As my colleague Geoffrey Fowler said, the X moves the ball forward in a way no iPhone has in years.
The edge-to-edge 5.8-inch OLED screen is bigger and way better than the iPhone 8 Plus’s, yet the X is smaller and easier to manage in your hand. And when you’re starting at $800, the $200 difference matters less and less.
The front-facing camera will turn your face into your password—or a talking poop emoji—and the two rear cameras improve upon the iPhone 7 Plus’s depth features. (The 4.7-inch iPhone 8 still only has one camera anyway). Plus, the iPhone X delivers two more hours of battery life, says Apple, compared with the iPhone 8 and 7.
The iPhone 8 Plus's cameras add new depth and lighting effects.Photo: Emily Prapuolenis / The Wall Street Journal
iPhone SE ($349 and up). If you want Apple’s only remaining small phone, the 4-inch SE, at its new even-lower price, go ahead. You won’t need my advice on any of the above.
So as you imagine holding that shiny new iPhone 8 in your hand, remember this: Pay a bit more, and you get the entirely redesigned iPhone X that truly feels different. Pay a bit less, and you get the not-too-distant past, which will still feel like the future to anyone with an iPhone 6s or earlier.