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Apple’s Late 2017 Collection: A Roundup of Reviews

The iPhone X may still be a month away, but three of Apple’s recently announced products are now available: the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the Apple Watch Series 3, and the Apple TV 4K. Some hardcore Apple fans may have preordered without a second thought, but if you’re more discerning, you’re likely holding off until you can read the early reviews. Here’s a roundup of the most informative coverage of each product.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus — With the next-generation iPhone X coming soon, we expected a muted response to the iPhone 8, with its merely evolutionary design. We were right.

Nilay Patel nailed the lack of enthusiasm in his review for the Verge with the simple statement, “It’s an iPhone.”

BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen echoed those sentiments:

None of these updates are bad — together, they make the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus slightly faster, more comfortable, more convenient, and better at taking photos compared to older iPhones. But make no mistake: if you were expecting the NEW! NEW! NEW! of a “whole” number iPhone (A new kind of port with the 5! A new bigger phone with the 6! Water-resistant and no headphone jack with the 7!), you might be underwhelmed.

Yahoo’s David Pogue agreed, saying, “…if Apple hadn’t unveiled the iPhone X, there’d be no buzzing at all. The other phone Apple unveiled that day, the iPhone 8, is a very minor upgrade indeed.”

However, that’s not to say the iPhone 8 isn’t a worthwhile upgrade, nor worthy of merit. TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino took a unique approach: “If the camera is a platform, the time to begin reviewing the iPhone as a camera is long overdue.” So how does the iPhone 8’s camera stack up? “Killer,” he said. Photographer Austin Mann agreed, and posted some impressive photos to back up that claim.

The iPhone 8’s speed is also impressive, and it has proved in tests to be notably ahead of the fastest Samsung phones. In a Tom’s Guide speed test, it took just 42 seconds for the iPhone 8 to export a two-minute 4K video clip, while that same export took the Samsung Galaxy Note over 3 minutes and the Samsung Galaxy S8+ over 4 minutes.

In summary, the iPhone 8 is the best iPhone yet, even if it offers relatively little new beyond Qi wireless charging. It will be interesting to see how the iPhone 8/iPhone X split affects iPhone sales, as Austin Mann points out:

As for the iPhone X, I feel a bit like the kid in the infamous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment from the 1960s where the researcher sets a marshmallow in front of a child and tells him he can eat one marshmallow immediately, or, if he can wait 15 minutes, he’ll be rewarded with TWO marshmallows.

When I wrote this shortly after the iPhone 8 launch, you could order an iPhone 8 and would have it in your hands within a week, regardless of capacity or style. I can’t remember an iPhone launch with immediate availability past the first hours of preorders! The most likely explanation is that people are waiting for the iPhone X, but Apple can reportedly make only 10,000 per day.

Apple Watch Series 3 — If the iPhone 8 reviews could be summed up as “great, if boring,” the Apple Watch Series 3 reviews were less kind.

Joanna Stern’s Wall Street Journal review set the tone. In testing the Apple Watch Series 3, she experienced poor battery life and spotty cellular connectivity. (You can watch her amusing video for free, but the article is behind a paywall. However, the text of the article is mirrored at Morningstar):

You’re lucky if the battery allows you to roam on cellular for longer than half a day — especially if you’re making calls. And only a limited number of third-party apps work without the phone close by. (No Instagram, Twitter, Uber.)

Most worryingly, my colleague Geoffrey Fowler and I experienced cellular connectivity issues on three separate pre-production models, in two different states, on two different 4G LTE carriers.

On the AT&T-connected models, the cellular connection dropped, calls were often choppy and Siri sometimes failed to connect. On the one that ran on T-Mobile, I experienced several dropped connections.

Lauren Goode discussed similar issues in her review for The Verge:

It became apparent after my first full day using the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE that something wasn’t right. My review Watch was paired with an iPhone 8 and was on an AT&T wireless plan. In one of my initial tests, I went for a walk with the phone on airplane mode, and tried to send text messages and use Siri to initiate phone calls through the Watch. Those didn’t work. I tried asking Siri basic questions. That didn’t work. Siri also wasn’t “talking back” to me, something that’s supposed to be a new feature on the Series 3 Watch.

Phone calls did sometimes work from the Watch, but I had to manually tap through my contacts or recent calls list on the Watch and initiate the call that way. (Calls through Bluetooth headphones sound good, but the Watch’s built-in audio isn’t ideal for extended conversations.) By 11:42 that morning, after 60 minutes of working out with LTE, multiple attempts to use Siri, and two seven-minute phone calls, the Watch’s battery had drained to 27 percent.

So Apple replaced my original review unit with a second Series 3 Watch, also connected to AT&T’s wireless network. Siri was now audibly responding, which the company later said was attributable to the fact that the first batch of preproduction units hadn’t been set up properly with Siri.

But that doesn’t mean the LTE connectivity issues went away. On more than one occasion, I detached myself from the phone, traveled blocks away from my home or office, and watched the Watch struggle to connect to LTE. It would appear to pick up a single bar of some random Wi-Fi signal, and hang on that, rather than switching to LTE.

Apple later released a statement blaming those problems on a Wi-Fi bug and promising a fix. iMore’s Serenity Caldwell explains the problem in detail.

In the New York Times review, Brian X. Chen didn’t seem to have those problems but still found cellular capabilities to be of questionable value. However, he praised the Series 3 overall:

Although I think most people can skip buying the cellular model, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the first smart watch I can confidently recommend that people buy. While I don’t personally find it attractive enough to replace my wristwatch, the new Apple Watch is a well-designed, durable and easy-to-use fitness tracker for people who want analytics on their workouts and general health (R.I.P., Fitbit).

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber gave the Series 3 a glowing review, but lamented the monthly cost of its cellular service:

The only thing I don’t like about the addition of cellular networking to Apple Watch is out of Apple’s hands: the monthly price to add it to a cellular plan. AT&T and Verizon are both charging $10 a month per watch. I don’t expect it to be free, but $120 a year feels like too much for a device that I’m using instead of the iPhone I’m already paying (a lot) for. With our Verizon family plan, it also costs $10 a month to add an iPad. But an iPad is a device we use in addition to our phones, not instead of. I think $5 per month is the right price. (And DF readers in Canada and Australia report that’s about what it costs from the carriers in those countries — this is perhaps a U.S. problem, not a worldwide one.)

The takeaway seems to be that if you’re in the market for an Apple Watch, the Series 3 is good if you don’t care about spotty and overpriced LTE service. If you do want cellular capabilities, it’s probably worth waiting a while to see if watchOS updates improve performance.

Apple TV 4K — If you read only one review of the Apple TV 4K, make it Nilay Patel’s outstanding review for The Verge, which goes into incredible detail about how the Apple TV 4K stacks up as a high-end home theater device. Unfortunately, his verdict isn’t stellar:

But the new Apple TV doesn’t support Atmos. And it doesn’t support YouTube in 4K HDR. And it doesn’t have Disney or Marvel movies in 4K HDR. And it makes some 1080p content look less than great.

So from the jump, the Apple TV forces you to run your nice new 4K HDR TV at a suboptimal setting at some point during the course of using it. The specifics of this problem might only be of interest to A/V nerds, but the way it looks in the end will affect every single Apple TV 4K owner. I suspect Apple will eventually add an advanced setting to allow for mode switching, but out of the box right now, this is what you get.

Granted, many of these concerns are high end problems, but with the Apple TV 4K commanding a high end price of $179, the complaints are appropriate. Fortunately, Apple says the Apple TV 4K will support Dolby Atmos surround sound in a future update.

Likewise, CNET’s David Katzmaier said many good things about the Apple TV 4K, but concluded that it just costs too much for most people.

Tom’s Guide expressed the same opinion:

Ultimately, the Apple TV 4K is gorgeous and intuitive, but it’s not ambitious enough for the high price. If you’ve got a 4K TV and a lot of money tied up in the Apple ecosystem, this box is worth a look. Otherwise, you could probably invest the extra $80 in some excellent 4K movies instead.

Across the board, the reviews are lining up with the initial impressions I offered in “Apple TV Finally Enters the 4K Realm, but It Will Cost You” (12 September 2017).” The Apple TV 4K still provides the best user experience but is overpriced, especially considering how long competing products have offered similar technical specs.

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