Thoughts on the new iPhone 8 and X

The new iPhone 8 and iPhone X are beautiful examples of Apple design and product build. But when to trade phones? I’m not there yet. I’ll explain my thinking.

My current phone

My daily driver is a GSM iPhone 6+ on Straight Talk. It is check book sized making it at the upper bound of what is conveniently pocket-carried. It supports current LTE data and voice and is backward compatible with earlier GSM on-air standards. The camera is optically stabilized and takes good still photos and videos. This handset is in good physical and electrical condition.

My update criteria

  • Phone is failing electrically or mechanically
  • Phone is no longer receiving software updates
  • Carrier on-air standards make the phone obsolescent

Summary of iPhone 8 and X updates

  • iPhone 8 is a refinement of iPhone 7
  • iPhone X has an improved display and interesting Face ID feature
  • iPhone X camera emulates some real camera capabilities
  • Both iPhone 8 and X have optically stabilized cameras
  • Both iPhone 8 and X can export photo raw files
  • iPhone X comes at a substantial price premium

The killer app

The mobile phone killer app is communications. It is all about the radios and their ability to make and receive calls and perform SMS and data communications. LTE (long term evolution) is the current on-air standard for call control and data exchange. Most carriers now support packet switched voice over LTE increasing channel capacity. Pre LTE phones reserved channel capacity to send silence from one party to the other. By packet switching voice, the silent parts are not transmitted. This about doubles the number of calls a bit of spectrum can carry.

The future G5 on air standard is in beta test in selected markets. No US carriers are currently offering G5 service to regular customers. The standards committee should approve the standard in the early 20’s so commercial G5 service is about 5 years off. This makes it a good time to trade an older phone, especially one with an un-stabilized camera.

If you are happy with your incumbent phone, that is the radios and camera are working well for you, you should consider using your current phone until your carrier begins to roll out G5 in your area. If your phone is paid-for, you might consider unlocking it and moving it to a prepaid carrier like Straight Talk.

Camera Thoughts

iPhone photography  is a point and pray operation. I say this because

  • Sunlight washes out the screen as a viewfinder
  • Your hand often covers the screen when photographing low subjects or photographing over a crowd.
  • Digital photography encourages a try it and toss it approach to image making

The new iPhone X has interesting capabilities for selecting color balance and manipulating depth of field using sophisticated image processing.

Photographers use the term bokeh in reference to selective manipulation of depth of field to put the subject in sharp focus and the majority of the image in soft focus. Often, the light is also diffuse as on a cloudy day or in open shade.

iPhone X uses software to simulate these effects by taking several images, scaling them, aligning them, and combining them into a composite result. That Apple can do this automagically is a significant accomplishment. Apple has added a camera UI that gives the photographer some control over the process when making the original exposure and afterward during rendering.

The catch is that you are often doing this in bright light that prevents you from seeing the image detail needed to make artistic judgements in the field. So you let Auto do it and make your edits at home.

For these reasons, I feel that adding bokeh simulation to a camera not having an eye-to-camera view finder is largely a bragging rights exercise rather than a practical photography improvement.

The Moocher’s Recommendation

If you are still shooting with an un-stabilized camera or a software stabilized camera, the move to an optically stabilized camera represents a significant advance in your ability to make a decent image that you can crop and straighten later. Optically stabilized video is unbelievably better than software stabilized video.

The new iPhone 8 base model is optically stabilized. The 8+ adds lighting simulation and a second focal length and possibly bokeh simulation. I believe the X adds depth of field simulation. For my money, the 8 does everything I need for dog snapshots, dog video, and random photography. When I want to get fancy, I have a Sony A65 to do bokeh and fancy lighting.