The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are now on sale (and there are important differences between them), but you will have to wait longer for the iPhone X which is by far the most interesting of Apple AAPL -0.05%’s new iPhones. But the iPhone X is also over 40% more expensive than the iPhone 8, so is it worth the substantial extra outlay?
Let’s break it down…
Displays - The Past Vs The Future
There’s only one place to start when comparing the iPhone X and iPhone 8: their displays…
- iPhone X - 5.8-inch 18.5:9 True Tone OLED, 2436 x 1125 pixels (458 ppi), 82.9% screen-to-body ratio
- iPhone 8 - 4.7-inch 16:9 True Tone LCD, 1334 x 750 pixels (326 ppi), 65.6% screen-to-body ratio
The difference couldn’t be more stark. The iPhone X display is dramatically larger (though an 18.5:9 aspect ratio also means it is more elongated), while the shift to OLED delivers a much greater contrast ratio (1,000,000:1 vs 1,400:1) and power savings. Meanwhile the increased resolution and pixel density of the iPhone X are the highest ever seen on an iPhone.
Where the iPhone 8 does match the iPhone X is support for Apple’s True Tone technology (which colour balances against ambient light for greater accuracy) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) content which is appearing on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.
It is also worth noting the iPhone X is merely playing catch up to its rivals with the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG G6 and (incoming) Google Pixel 2 XL all delivering similar specifications this year as well as higher 2K (2960 x 1440) resolutions.
Design - Bulky Vs Compact
Comparing iPhone X and iPhone 8 screen sizes suggests the former should be huge, but another highlight of Apple’s flagship phone is how compact it is:
- iPhone X - 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm (5.65 x 2.79 x 0.30 in) and 174g (6.14 oz)
- iPhone 8 - 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm (5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 in) and 148g (5.22 oz)
Yes the iPhone X may be slightly taller than the iPhone 8, but it is barely any wider or thicker and only 17% heavier. Contrast this also with the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus - 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5 mm (6.28 x 3.07 x 0.32 in) and 202g (6.63 oz) - and it emphasises why the removal of the top and bottom bezels on the iPhone X is such a big deal.
But the iPhone X is not perfect. Its display has a large ‘notch’ at the top for Face ID (more about this in the Performance section) which makes viewing full screen photos and video a little odd and it has lost the Touch ID fingerprint sensor altogether to free up the front of the phone for that massive display. This is going to alienate some users.
Furthermore both the iPhone X and iPhone 8 share several design similarities. Both have glass backs which enable wireless charging to be added for the first time (more in the Battery Life section), IP67 water and dust resistance (allowing full submersion in up to 1 metre of water for 30 minutes) and rigid Series 7000 Aluminium in their chassis.
Both also retain the Lightning port (when there were faint hopes Apple would move to USB-C) and stereo speakers which are 25% louder than the iPhone 7.
Lastly the iPhone X only comes in Silver and Space Grey, while the iPhone 8 adds Gold to these options. Both will presumably have (Product) Red limited editions at some stage.
Performance - Ballistic Missiles
While the iPhone X and iPhone 8 could not be more different on the surface, internally they are deliver almost identical performance
- iPhone X and iPhone 8 - Apple A11 ‘Bionic’ chipset: Six Core CPU, Six Core GPU, M11 motion coprocessor, 3GB RAM (iPhone X), 2GB RAM (iPhone 8)
The extra RAM may seem important, but with the iPhone 8 driving a lower resolution screen and a single lens camera (again more in the Camera section) the real world performance of the two iPhones will be pretty much identical.
And that performance will be industry leading. Apple claims their A11 chipsets deliver 25% faster CPU and 30% faster GPU (graphics) performance than the A10 in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The A11 is also 70% faster when multitasking. Given the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus remain the most powerful smartphones around, the iPhone X and iPhone 8 will only see Apple extend its lead at the top of the performance chart.
But what about the ‘Bionic’ part? This is where the iPhone X stands out. While Apple has controversially removed Touch ID from the iPhone X, it has been replaced by something the company claims is just as fast and even more secure: Face ID facial recognition.
To date facial recognition used by the likes of Samsung has been poor, but the Bionic chip in combination with new sensors on the front of the iPhone X (which cause that notch) can accurately map a user’s face in 3D which means it should be both reliable and unable to be fooled by photographs or even (Apple points out) masks.
For its part the Bionic chip controls a Neural engine which handles up to 600 billion operations per second so it can “learn” when a user is wearing sunglasses, a hat or even grows a beard. How well this works time will tell but Apple does promise it will not collect any of the facial ID data the iPhone X records and it will remain on the phone.
As for the iPhone 8, it misses out on Face ID but keeps Touch ID. Depending on your feelings about facial vs fingerprint recognition, this will result in either the iPhone X or iPhone 8 being a clear winner here.
Cameras - Dual Vs Single
Another key area of difference between the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 are their cameras.
Like the iPhone 8 Plus, the iPhone X has a 12 megapixel telephoto lens which enables 2x optical zoom. This is great for zooming in on photos in good light and should be better than the dual camera on the iPhone 8 Plus as it has a faster aperture (f/2.4 vs f/2.8) and optical image stabilisation (OIS). It is also what enables Portrait Mode.
Elsewhere, however, the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 are identical with a primary wide-angle rear 12 megapixel, f/1.8 aperture camera with OIS and a 7 megapixel, f/2.2 aperture front facing camera (no OIS).
If these specs sound familiar that’s because they match the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, though Apple claims the A11 Bionic will compensate for this. The chip has an Apple-designed ISP (Image Signal Processor) which improves pixel processing, low-light autofocus and noise reduction. The iPhone X will also use its Face ID sensors to deliver Portrait Mode on the front camera.
If you don’t care about optical zoom and Portrait Mode, then the iPhone 8 will be every bit a match for the iPhone X though the larger question is whether Apple can again compete for the smartphone camera crown which Samsung and Google have dominated in recent years.
Battery Life And Charging - The X Factor
For all their internal improvements, where the iPhone 8 will disappoint is its battery life. Apple has stagnated with the iPhone 6, iPhone 6S and iPhone 7 all having similar stamina and history repeats as Apple admits there has been no tangible improvement between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8.
But the iPhone X is different. It’s not a major improvement but Apple claims the iPhone X will last “up to 2 hours longer than iPhone 7” and, while it isn’t clear where this number comes from, Apple’s spec page shows the main boosts are to talk time and audio playback.
Rather more exciting, however, is charging. Apple finally added wireless charging and wired quick charging to all its new iPhones. The former works with Qi chargers (though only at a slow 7.5 watts) while the latter delivers up to 50% charge (from flat) in just 30 minutes.
The problem is Apple doesn’t supply quick chargers in the box and they are expensive. This becomes a bigger problem when you look at the price rises for the new iPhones themselves…
Storage And Price - X Rated
Here comes the painful part. The good news is the iPhone X and iPhone 8 all start at 64GB this year with 32GB biting the dust. The bad news is there are now just two storage options and while the iPhone 8 has increased $50 against the iPhone 7, the iPhone X takes Apple’s pricing into a whole new stratosphere.
- iPhone X - 64GB ($999), 256GB ($1,149)
- iPhone 8 - 64GB ($699), 256GB ($849)
Yes, the iPhone X is a massive $300 more expensive than the iPhone 8 and $200 more than the iPhone 8 Plus at the same storage capacities and all these prices are before tax. Again this makes Apple’s omission of a fast charger in the box quite extraordinary (and the fast chargers don’t come with a cable, which in turn is different from the cable Apple bundles with the phones).
Whether these prices are justifiable will be entirely down to each customer’s bank balance, but most will gain some solace from spreading the cost over a two year carrier contract.
Note: if you do go for the iPhone X stock will be extremely limited throughout 2017 and shortages will extend well into 2018. At least this gives you more time to save up.
2017 will be remembered for the year of the iPhone X not the iPhone 8. The iPhone X fundamentally changes iPhone design for the first time since the original phone launched in 2007 and it may revolutionise how we log into our smartphones. That said, the iPhone 8 may prove a smarter buy.
For $300 less users will get a phone which has virtually identical performance, photography and charging as well as similar battery life. You won’t get the larger display, you won’t get Face ID but you will get Touch ID which the iPhone X lacks.
All of which means your choice comes down to one question: How much are you willing to pay for that new design…?