Tech Guide

I'm perfectly happy with the iPhone 8 I bought — there's no need to wait for the X

I'm perfectly happy with the iPhone 8 I bought -- there's no need to wait for the X
I'm perfectly happy with the iPhone 8 I bought -- there's no need to wait for the X

I pre-ordered the iPhone 8 Plus before I had a chance to play with it, and I'm still happy with my decision.

I wasn't sure if I would be, considering Apple's going to launch the iPhone X in November with more advanced features like facial recognition and a fancy display.

After a few days with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, I'm pretty confident most folks are really going to like these devices, even if there is a better model on the horizon.

Basically, the iPhone X is going to be the device that gadget-heads who need the latest and greatest, and are willing to wait for it, will buy. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are for everyone else, and while the design might feel like it's getting old, they're fantastic devices.

iPhone 8 vs iPhone 8 Plus

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
Nina Raja | CNBC

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are almost identical when it comes down to specs. The latter has a 5.5-inch display instead of a 4.7-inch screen and has Apple's more advanced cameras that allow you to take fancy portrait photos and zoom into objects (more on that later). It has a slightly bigger battery, too, but otherwise almost everything else is the same.

No, there still isn't a headphone jack, but I've long moved on to using Bluetooth headphones. Apple includes a set of earbuds in the box that work over its Lightning port, however, so you're not left out in the cold. You can always grab an adapter, too.

Still no headphone jack, but that's OK.
Nina Raja | CNBC

The stereo speakers, which fire sound from the top and bottom (or left and right in portrait mode) are louder and are easily among the best on a smartphone I've used. It's really pleasing to sit on the couch and watch a TV show on the iPhone without hearing sound coming out of just one side of the phone.

The new iPhone 8 models feature a shiny glass back panel instead of aluminum, which Apple has used in almost all of its iPhones. The glass panel enables support for wireless charging, a feature Apple hasn't ever offered before.

The iPhone 8 Plus
Nina Raja | CNBC

Wireless charging is powered by the "Qi" (pronounced chi) standard, which is in most phones that offer wireless charging. It's super convenient to drop the iPhone on a charging pad at a desk or bedside table, but Qi is still slower than using a charging cable. The pads are broadly available from all tech retailers and can be purchased for under $20. Apple is launching its own wireless pad next year, and I'm curious if that'll add faster charging speeds. I sure hope so.


AR gaming is really fun
Nina Raja | CNBC

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus pack Apple's most advanced processor, called the A11 Bionic, which helps power everything from an incredibly fluid gaming experience to advanced augmented reality applications.

It felt just as fast as last year's A10 in my tests, but I think that's because the apps that will truly take advantage of the power inside haven't been developed yet. This should give some room to run for folks building advanced 3D augmented reality experiences, which really pound on the processor.

Without getting too geeky, there has been a lot of chatter about faster Gigabit LTE wireless networks that are going to roll out this year and a bit about how the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus don't support them, as other phones like the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 do.

I have yet to experience those networks, and I think most folks are going to be safe buying these without missing out on any major changes in the next year or so. The phones nearly support those speeds, and most content that's currently available doesn't require the higher speeds anyway.

That said, someday when streaming 4K video is a normal thing, you might want Gigabit LTE. You won't get it in these phones.

The camera kicks butt

The iPhone 8 Plus camera's portrait mode is fun! Here's my dog.
Nina Raja | CNBC

There are a lot of really good phones with fantastic cameras right now, including Samsung's Galaxy S8/Note 8 family, the Google Pixel and the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Apple's iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus continue to push the boundaries.

Both phones took excellent photos on the fly, and feature a now-common option called optical image stabilization that helps keep photos clear even if you shake or you're riding in a bumpy car. They're also super quick to snap a picture, which meant I was able to grab really stellar pictures of my dog, even catching her licking her lips.

My puppy in the yard, shot on iPhone 8 Plus
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Last year, Apple introduced a new feature called "Portrait Mode" on the iPhone 7 Plus. It uses both camera sensors to add a depth-of-field effect, or bokeh, which basically blurs the background and turns an otherwise simple photo into one that looks like it was snapped by a professional photographer (if you get it just right.)

Apple is building on that this year with a new option that allows you to change the lighting effects on the subject. You can turn the whole background black, create a black and white portrait, change lighting on the face and more. It's really fun but it's also still in beta mode. If you take your time and really pay attention to the environment and make sure you subject is separate enough from any background objects (plants and the like) you can get some neat photos. It's still imperfect, though, and hard to get a great shot on a first try.

This is a black and white portrait of me.
Nina Raja | CNBC

One of my favorite photos I've ever taken was on an iPhone 7 Plus, and I'm looking forward to catching a new favorite on the successor.

iOS 11

Both new iPhones ship with , which is also available for older devices, from the iPhone 5s and newer. It adds a lot of features without feeling foreign.

You'll still see the same home screen grid of icons and 3D Touch is still supported, so you can press on the screen to access fresh menu options. Apple added several new features, however, including my favorite: a redesigned . This lets you swipe up from the screen to access all sorts of options. You can turn on a feature to record your screen, control your Apple TV, toggle Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, see your music controls, access any smart lights or devices you might have installed in your house and more. It's my most-used new feature in iOS 11 by far.

iOS 11 Control Center
Nina Raja | CNBC

Apple's also putting an emphasis on machine learning in iOS 11 which is all now part of Siri's artificial intelligence. Once just a voice assistant, Siri is now the brains behind the software, too. Siri might recommend news stories it thinks you're interested in with the brand new News application (which is also a must-use app), or music based on your tastes. Siri, the voice, also sounds more natural and has new abilities to translate languages. It has come a long way from the robotic voice you might be used to, though still doesn't feel as smart as Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.

I think most folks will find a lot of neat tricks in iOS 11, especially on the iPad, and there are all sorts of new features ranging from a file system (finally!) to new note-taking capabilities and screen-shot editing tools. It's a solid upgrade but not too drastic that you'll feel lost.

Augmented reality

Placing furniture with the IKEA AR app
Nina Raja | CNBC

Another part of iOS 11 and the iPhone 8 story is augmented reality. This can best be thought of as using the digital world to overlay objects on top of the real world, where the iPhone acts as your screen or portal into viewing that experience.

And the easiest explanation for all of this is the new Ikea application. You can use it to shop for furniture while dropping digital versions of couches, chairs, stools and more all around your house. The object is true-to-life in measurement and you can use your iPhone to walk up to it, view the fabric and more. It's magical and stunning but a hair buggy still (we had access to an early version, so sometimes furniture would just float in the sky.)

Ikea's AR app on the iPhone 8 Plus
Nina Raja | CNBC

Other apps include a new game called The Machines, which basically lays a super-detailed and live game world on any flat surface of your home -- complete with flying space ships and marching marines. Another, Night Sky, lets you use augmented reality to see where planets, stars and constellations are. Apple says AR is going to be huge and that this is just the beginning of something massive, like when it first introduced the app store.

The good news is you don't need Apple's new iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus to experience AR, thought the cameras, software and processors are all fine-tuned to offer the best experience. You'll need a fairly new one, however, including the iPhone SE or iPhone 6s and newer.

Should you buy it?

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
Nina Raja | CNBC

I love the iPhone experience, even if it hasn't changed much over the past several years.

The home button feels natural to me now (the iPhone X doesn't have one), and I like that Apple added wireless charging, new cameras and a faster processor that'll keep me up to date with the best apps that'll launch this year.

Most folks are probably fine sitting pretty with an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus, but there really are some fine upgrades here. The screen is way better, the cameras are better, and wireless charging is a convenience that I'm willing to pay for, even if it is a little slow. If you don't need those things, then don't upgrade.

Should you wait for the iPhone X? If you're the kind of person who likes to show off the latest and greatest technology, sure. But I didn't. It won't ship until November and I want to wait and see how that new experience pans out, and if there are any first-generation bugs Apple will have to work out.

If you have an iPhone 6s or older, I think this is your best bet for an upgrade. I prefer the larger iPhone 8 Plus for the bigger screen and better camera system, but you'll be happy with either model.