Another iPhone, another decision about whether to upgrade.

This time, the decision comes down to two simple words: wireless charging.

If you do need to upgrade, it's a perk worth considering. The latest Apple iPhone 8 and its 4.7-inch screen (and the bigger iPhone 8 Plus, which has a 5.5-inch screen) now let you set the phone down on a pad and skip all of the cables (and clutter) to charge.

I used wireless charging for a few days and found it was a game-changer for my daily business workflow. Setting a phone down on a desk to charge saves time and hassle. And you don't need an add-on case to use the feature.

Some cars, like the Toyota Camry, Audi A8, and many BMW models, even have a charge pad located near the seats. (BMW also lets you stream data from the phone wirelessly using Apple CarPlay.) I like how Ikea jumped on the bandwagon and now makes office furniture with built-in charging. You can also find wireless chargers at some retail outlets.

Belkin, Mophie, and others make the wireless charging pads. The back of the new iPhones is made of glass instead of metal, and Apple says it is the strongest glass they've ever used. The glass makes it possible to charge the phones through the enclosure.

So, what if you don't care about the new charging?

My second favorite feature is related to augmented reality, or AR. Using an app called Ikea Place (there's the same company again, hmm), I found a cool wooden chair and placed a virtual representation of it in my office to see how it would look. I could see my real desk and windows, but the chair was a 3-D graphic. I could envision using AR to imagine what a new office space might look like or watch as a 3-D car pops up on your driveway.

So what else is new? Ironically, the new models are actually thicker and heavier by a small amount than the previous iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. I noticed this when I used the iPhone 8 Plus all day--it just has a slightly more robust feel.

All of my photos looked crisp and clear, though. The iPhone 8 Plus provides a way to add a halo effect and soft studio lighting around an image, a feature called Portrait Lighting. I could see a small business using this feature to make product shots look better.

I know the new models use a faster chip, and Apple says the battery life is about the same as ever. From a design standpoint, the phones look remarkably similar to the previous incarnations. A newer model that has a brighter and more colorful screen, called the iPhone X (pronounced "ten"), will come out in November, but it will cost $999. The iPhone 8 costs $699, and the iPhone 8 Plus costs $799. I reviewed both models with a 256GB storage size.

I like the new models, but that's partly because I'm a gadget hound. I'm not really an early adopter, but I am definitely an adopter. I prefer to have the best gadgets possible. I rely on them too much. Missing one email because my phone died or crashed is not good. The new iPhones just work. They lasted all day, never crashed, and charged up on a Mophie charge pad without overheating. My apps all loaded faster than ever. Apple improved iOS 11 with several smart design choices, such as a new Control Center that provides faster access to common functions like the calculator and connected home options. The new OS has a new collection of live wallpapers that look amazing.

But we're talking about things you only notice if you are into technology. Mainstream users will definitely notice the wireless charging features. Goodbye cables forever! The new AR features are also interesting. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are great overall, but each new model is a little less compelling than the last. And then there are Android models like the Google Pixel and the Samsung Galaxy S8 that work just fine for most apps.

Smartphones do not have distinguishing features that make them incredibly compelling anymore from an upgrade standpoint. I like the new wireless charging, and the phones are well worth it to keep you on task. If you don't care about wireless charging, there's a case for waiting until the iPhone X comes out and enjoying the colorful new screen.

Published on: Sep 28, 2017