I’m all about big-screened smartphones. The extra real-estate, the more immersive media consumption experience, and the sheer amount of content you can view at a glance is awesome for a heavy user like me.
I thought, for the longest time, that I’d never be able to go back to a device with a screen smaller than 5 inches. Moving to a sub-5” smartphone sounded like an absurd downgrade to me…until I started using Apple’s iPhone 8. It turns out that it wasn’t so much the size that I minded — I was just using all the wrong small phones.
Now, you shouldn’t misconstrue my words. I’m not saying “the smaller the phone is, the better it becomes” because, like most things in life, there’s a sweet spot that strikes the perfect balance between screen size and body footprint. And I think the iPhone 8 (that’s the small one) very nearly nails this balance on the head.
For my hands, the iPhone 8’s footprint is almost perfect for one-handed use. I can reach 90% of the screen without needing to shift my grip which is a refreshing change of pace from the monstrous 6”+ displays that dominate the Android flagship landscape.
And it’s a really nice piece of hardware too. I know hardcore Android users love to rag on iPhones and iPhone users but it’s hard to ignore Apple’s ability to give you a truly premium, well-rounded smartphone experience. iPhone 8’s build, for example, is stellar and I think that it absolutely smashes the other small form-factor Android devices in the market right now.
You spend a lot of money on an iPhone but, especially on the glass-backed iPhone 8s, the device you’re getting also feels like it’s worth every penny. It feels expensive, almost exquisite — it’s a kind of premium that really only Samsung does better on the other side of the fence.
Then you have the performance which is pretty much what the word buttery was conceived to describe. It’s not immediate, like a OnePlus 5, but it also isn’t bogged down by unnecessarily long animations like Windows Phone. It’s somewhere in the middle and I think that’s something many will appreciate.
What impressed me most of all, however, is despite its diminutive size, iPhone 8’s earpiece stereo speaker setup (stereo with the earpiece and bottom firing speaker) is phenomenal. I think it’s way better than speakers on a smartphone this small should ever be allowed to be.
Which is good because it made me realise that I’d gladly trade a few inches of my screen’s diagonal size for some kick-ass speakers. Turns out, screen size is not the be-all and end-all of an immersive viewing experience. I actually found myself defaulting to the iPhone 8 over my 6-inch Android handset for YouTube binging on-the-can because it sounds so much better.
Plus, it’s not like iPhone 8 has a terrible screen either. Sure, the 4.7-inch IPS panel has a resolution of just over HD 720p but it’s very crisp, has great viewing angles and gets more than bright enough to view outdoors.
I particularly liked True Tone. It’s not something you notice right away because it makes adjustments so subtly but if you pay attention, the tweaks are noticeable. Although it’s relatively invisible, I think it does a lot to to improve looking at your smartphone’s screen. It’s invisible in the best way, just remember to turn it off when you want to edit photos.
Speaking of photos, did I mention that iPhone 8 has a really, really good camera? Yeah, the fact that you can’t tweak all your settings in the camera app is dumb but this thing can take some awesome shots.
Apple nails HDR with their new smartphone cameras and the resulting photos are really impressive.
You don’t really lose details in shadows or highlights, and you get solid colours too.
It even holds up in low light, though I have to say autofocusing definitely isn’t as fast or as accurate when it gets dark.
If I had to gripe, it’d be that this small iPhone doesn’t have Portrait Mode — because there’s only one camera — even though it’s one of Apple’s biggest talking points. It’s a little disappointing but it isn’t a dealbreaker for me.
Even as someone who frequently disagrees with a lot of Apple’s decisions, I have to admit that they got a lot right with the iPhone 8. However, it isn’t perfect because there are definitely problems.
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Battery life is one. A small phone usually means a small battery and even the wizards at Apple can’t perform miracles. Right now, the iPhone 8 is splitting almost equal time with my primary Android smartphone, and even then it can’t last me a full day.
Of course, some things you should know about me is that I’m a pretty heavy user and my days are often upwards of 14 hours. The iPhone 8, lasts about 12 hours, give or take an hour.
Maybe that’s OK for you, but I need a little more and I think power users will prefer the iPhone 8 Plus. That said, it is pretty impressive that it can last that long when it only has a 1,821 mAh cell inside.
Then, there’s the issue of iOS. You can defend it until the end of days, but it’s just not the smartphone OS for me. It’s too simplistic, yet at the same time rather unintuitive. For all fanfare around its “ease of use” iOS 11 really isn’t as user-friendly as people make it out to be.
I also loathe the exclusion of the 3.5mm headphone jack. To make matters worse, the dongle Apple includes in the box is a nasty (and expensive to replace) piece of plastic that feels like it’ll break if someone even looks at it funny. Because iPhone 8 doesn’t use USB Type-C, I can’t even replace it with my HTC USB-C to 3.5mm dongle (with built-in DAC) when I inevitably break Apple’s dongle.
But all of those shortcomings, while very relevant, don’t directly contribute to the main purpose I started this experiment in the first place. The main thing I wanted to find out was if I could live with a 4.7-inch smartphone. Could it possibly provide a better experience than something with a bigger screen?
After about a week, the answer is yes and no.
Yes, because a 4.7-inch display isn’t something nobody can live with. It’s not too small (*cough* iPhone SE) so things like web pages on Chrome still look acceptable and apps like Facebook or Instagram remain more than usable.
But would I like a bigger screen? Yes, yes I would. You see, the thing I’m in love with on iPhone 8 is the form factor. The device’s physical footprint is about as perfect as it gets.
Then I look at those massive bezels and all I can see is wasted space. If Apple could fit an 18:9 aspect ratio slim-bezel screen on this body without changing its physical footprint, that’d be incredible. Maybe about 5.5 inches with narrow top and bottom bezels ala-Galaxy S8 (no cut-outs please)? That’d be swell.
Android smartphone makers stumbled upon something great when they decided to pursue tall smartphone screens with very minimal bezels. It meant they could fit a big screen into a small body, but what they ultimately did with that technology is a little disappointing. Instead of sticking to an OK screen size like 5.5”, they slapped even larger displays on their handsets. 6.3-inch Note8! 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+! 6-inch Huawei Mate 10 Pro!
What you end up with are really tall phones that are kinda awkward to use.
I think manufacturers like LG who restrained themselves to 5.7” (LG G6) were on the right track. I’ll never forget the first time I picked up the G6 at MWC 2017. I held it and thought I was holding the wrong phone because I didn’t think a device with a 5.7-inch display could be so compact.
And Apple has proven that there’s nothing wrong with a compact smartphone if it is made without compromises. If it is made to be the best a smartphone can be. If it’s as good as iPhone 8 is.
iPhone 8 was so refreshing. I forgot how awesome it was to be able to comfortably fit an entire smartphone into the pockets of my jeans. I forgot how convenient it was to be able to use a smartphone comfortably with one hand. And I forgot how great it was have all that without feeling like I was missing out on something major that I could only find a larger flagship.
Apple’s small iPhone brought it all back to me and made me realise that big isn’t always better. It made me realise that there is a sweet spot and now I’ve made it my personal quest to find the best phone that fits this sweet spot.