Review Series: iPhone 8 Plus

iPhone 8 Plus
Sony A7II
Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM
f/1.8, 1/640s, ISO-800

Title photo is inspired by Kelsey McClellan.

Before you flame me on my choice of phone, OS and/or calling a smartphone camera as a camera. Let me explain.

My Xiaomi Mi 6 was great, the portrait mode was adequate, and the phone itself ran fine. But once I started working, some issues became obvious:

– I can’t receive corporate emails/calendar events on the phone because the version of MIUI 8 I was using didn’t support full phone encryption. I had tried it once and it failed, which resulted in me losing all the data between end of May to June, fortunately, a lot of that was backed up.

– The Bluetooth stuttered when connected to my wireless headphones, which isn’t a new issue. I had this issue with my Nexus 4, Moto X, and my LG G3. My G5 somehow didn’t suffer the same fate, but as far as I know it’s a sporadic issue that had been plaguing Androids for a while now, and my suspicion is that it has something to do with kernel power optimizations not letting the CPU run fast enough to handle all the background tasks and Bluetooth music streaming at the same time.

– The Mi 6 was severely limited in LTE bands, meaning I can only use Rogers/Fido in Canada, or AT&T/Cricket in the U.S.. This effectively locks me in, and I cannot switch to a cheaper, employee plan either, because that’s on Telus.

– Android’s performance, no, Qualcomm chipsets’ performance on web has always been shit. I have absolutely no idea how Qualcomm can come away with 3 generations of chips that only has roughly 30% improvements to web performance. Scrolling through pages on my co-worker’s iPhone 7 running Chrome was smoother than my Mi 6 running Chrome, which means the year old A10 fusion still beats the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 in real-world scenario. Granted, this isn’t necessarily a fair test, because the Mi 6 is pushing 1080p, while the iPhone 7 only has to push 750p. But real-world feel is that the iPhone is faster, smoother, and with no stuttering at all, which brings me to my last point.

– I’m getting too old for this shit. Sure, the performance issues (stuttering) can be solved by a 3rd party kernel, probably. A newer build of MIUI or a 3rd party OS might support full device encryption. And everything might be all flowery after 6 hours of fiddling, then I can package that up into a nice backup and keep it for emergencies. Sure. But I don’t want to.

Having a full-time job now eats into my morale of doing other things, since usually I come home drained from work. I don’t know why it’s draining, I’m usually fine at work, but as soon as I step into my door, I need to lie down for about 30 minutes before I’m ready to do anything again.

I don’t know why.

But I’m just so tired.

So tired. All the time.

The last thing I want to deal with, everyday, is flashing/rooting/fiddling with my phone. When I had tons of free time, it was fun. I had control over everything. But now I want everything to just work with no hassles.

So I bought an iPhone.

When I saw the announcements for the new iPhone 8 Plus, I was actually pleasantly surprised that the bezels one was a separate release. I had a problem with small bezel phones, as part of my palm would always hit the edge and preventing any meaningful usage, and therefore I’d need a ring or just use it two handed. When they announced that they had made calibrations to the portrait camera, and that it would come with True Tone display, I was sold.

As part of getting old, my eyes are starting to hurt from staring at screens for too long, I started using paper mode on the displays at work, and night-shift on my work Mac, this helped quite a bit as my eyes were less strained from staring at really bright screens 8+ hours a day. Xiaomi’s implementation of this is just an orange cast over the screen, and it might’ve had placebo effects, but the screen always looked terrible with it on. I had tried the True Tone display thing in the Apple Store prior, and I knew that auto white-balance on the screen based on lighting conditions was something that I wanted, since I do read my phone in bed quite a lot.

The camera calibrations, to me, was super interesting.

I had worked as an intern on a mobile camera team before, and one of our ideas for new features at the time was to do captures over all the focal range and potentially generating a depth map in order to mimic bokeh, but ended up deciding against it because it was near impossible to create a depth map with a single camera. However, Google had done the “slightly raise the camera” thing later on, and it worked okay for macro shots. Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus was an imperfect implementation of it, as its depth map was often inaccurate, resulting in inaccurate edge detection for the shots, which had the smudging edge effect.

To me, the calibrated cameras were the secret weapon in the iPhone 8 Plus. Put that all together, I was sold on the idea of it.

I pre-ordered on the midnight of its release.

And I’ll let the results speak for themselves.

iPhone 8 Plus
Portrait Mode, 57mm
f2.8, 1/120s, ISO-25
iPhone 8 Plus
Portrait Mode, 57mm
f2.8, 1/60s, ISO-320
iPhone 8 Plus
Portrait Mode, 57mm
f2.8, 1/60s, ISO-1250
Exit Only
iPhone 8 Plus
Portrait Mode, 57mm
f2.8, 1/60s, ISO-200
Chinatown Plaza
iPhone 8 Plus
Portrait Mode, 57mm
f2.8, 1/60s, ISO-400
iPhone 8 Plus
Portrait Mode, 57mm
f2.8, 1/60s, ISO-1250

Overall, The quality is absolutely adequate. The bokehs are great when post-processed by adjusting the depth map, and the overall color, dynamic range, as well as low-light performance is the best I had ever seen in a smartphone camera.

Oh and the phone itself is very fast and zappy. Turns out on the benchmarks the A11 Bionic (buzzwords galore) blows away the 835 (roughly 200% of its performance), and pushes towards mobile i5-75xxU territory. I’ll bet Intel might’ve had a bit of a sweat when they saw the benchmarks, because to me this means Apple can eventually replace the Intel chips in their low-powered Macbooks, provided they port Darwin to ARM.

No more stuttering Bluetooth issues either.

Overall, this is the phone if you don’t want to deal with phones, yet still wants a bit of oomph for taking photos or doing heavy processing (why though) on your phone.

It is expensive, but so far, it had been worth every nickel (Canada abolished pennies).


Until next time,