iOS 8 full review

Unlike iOS 7 which brought some major visual changes to Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 8 is really just a series of tweaks and additions that – as with all iOS updates – make it even better than before.

Let’s start with some of iOS 8’s best new features, including notifications, the improved camera app and the QuickType keyboard. See also: iPhone 6 release date, new features and specifications.

iOS 8 review: Notifications

Notifications are now interactive, so you don’t have to switch apps to reply to a text message, for example. When a notification pops up, it will look the same as before, but you can drag it down to reveal options such as accepting a meeting invite, or a text box to type a reply.

iOS 8 review

iOS 8 review: camera app

The camera app has gained a couple of extra features including a self-timer option at the top, offering a 3- or 10-second delay. There's also a brand new time-lapse mode, which automatically chooses a suitable interval time between frames based on what you’re shooting.

A more useful everyday tool is the capability to adjust exposure manually. This is tied to the tap-to-focus feature: you tap and can then drag a sun icon up or down to change the exposure.

The app also supports extensions, so developers can add new filters and potentially other functions, so we’ll have to wait and see what they come up with.

iOS 8 review

iOS 8 review: QuickType Keyboard

When typing, the new QuickType feature suggests words which you can tap on to add them to your sentence. This isn’t only based on the current word you’re typing: it also predicts what you might type next. It’s surprisingly effective and on occasions correctly predicts a string of words, allowing you to simply tap on each to quickly build up a sentence. You can swipe downwards on the suggestions to hide them, and swipe up to reveal them again.

Predictions are context aware, so you’ll see different words depending on the app. In Mail, you’ll get more formal suggestions while in Messages, the words tend towards more casual speech.

iOS 8 review

Apple has also opened up the keyboard to developers, so you’ll soon be able to download different keyboards – as you can with Android – and get Swype-style capabilities for typing by swiping. One should be available on the app store almost immediately after iOS 8 is released: SwiftKey. Don’t confuse it with the SwiftKey Note app, which is different.

iOS 8 review: Little tweaks

Throughout the operating system you’ll notice little differences that make your life that bit easier. For example, when in the Mail app, you can now swipe across the screen to quickly delete or archive a message instead of having to tap the delete or archive button. Swiping right instead of left marks a message as read (or unread if you’ve already opened it). Plus, a new Flag option means you can quickly mark an email without opening it.

The action button is more useful than before, allowing you to share things via even more apps thanks to the fact that this is another area where Apple has allowed developers in.

iOS 8 review

In fact it isn’t really fair to include these ‘extensions’ in the little tweaks section, but this new feature means apps can share information with each other in iOS 8 rather than having to run in its own little isolated world. It’s more than simply sharing a photo to Facebook or Twitter: it means is that you can have widgets in Notification Centre and that you’ll see extra extensions appear in the sharing menu in lots of apps.

They’re customisable, too. When you scroll to the end of the ‘activities’ list, a More… option lets you change the order so you can get to your most-used actions without scrolling. The same is true of the list of apps, and you can also turn off certain options so they don’t appear in the list at all. So if you don’t use Flickr, there’s no need to have that cluttering up the list.

Double-tapping the Home button in iOS 8 still brings up the multi-tasking screen but you’ll see recent contacts as well as apps. Tap on a face and you’ll get various options such as calling them, sending a message or using FaceTime. It makes it a bit faster to keep in touch with people you speak to often.

iOS 8 review

Siri is much the same as before, but can now identify music that’s playing thanks to a tie-in with Shazam. Usually, you’ll also see a Buy button so you can purchase it from iTunes. (You can see what Apple did there. Clever.)

Settings have grown, and there’s a new battery usage menu which shows (like Android does) which apps are eating up your power. This is great for quickly working out why your battery is draining, rather than killing all the apps and using a process of deduction.

iOS 8 review

It’s a shame, though, that there’s still no way to search for a specific setting, even using the new Spotlight search. Instead of the ‘Search this iPhone’ box when you drag downwards on a home screen, you now see Spotlight Search which also searches the web and Wikipedia, depending on your query: it’s context aware. Given the sheer number of settings in iOS 8, it’s a pain that Spotlight doesn’t cover them as well.

iOS 8 review: Continuity

If you also own a Mac, you’ll benefit even more from iOS 8. Handoff is a feature that allows you to start a task and continue on your Mac, running Yosemite or later. This could be an email or a document or something else. Developers can also use Handoff, so it won’t only be Apple apps which have this.

You’ll also get text messages appear as notifications on your Mac, and even answer phone calls – or make them, as long as your iPhone is within Wi-Fi range, of course. If you’re somewhere without a router, the two devices can use Wi-Fi direct to communicate.

iOS 8 review: Family sharing

Until now, you’ve been allowed to install purchased apps on the whole family’s devices. With iOS 8, you get Family Sharing. Someone – typically a parent – can invite up to four other people to share an account so any purchases from iTunes or the App Store are paid from one card.

This is almost the opposite way the Google does user accounts. With Family Sharing, each person has their own iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and restrictions can be put in place for allowed content for kids under 13. You can set it up so that kids (or anyone) must get the owner’s approval before they’re allowed to purchase anything. This also works for in-app purchases, helping you to control costs.

Family sharing also means that everything purchased by anyone is immediately available to download to everyone’s device, subject to content restrictions of course. As before, you can set apps and other media to automatically download or prevent that.

The final element is a shared family calendar, to which anyone can add an event and view everything.

iOS 8 review: Messages

Messages has been given some new features – some of which you may have seen in rival messaging apps, notably Whatsapp. One is the ability to hold the new microphone icon to record a quick voice message, then swipe upwards to send it. You can also record a video and swipe upwards to send that to a friend.

iOS 8 review

Apple has also integrated Find My Friends. There’s a new Details button at the top which brings up new options. You can send your current location, which inserts a map, as well as choosing how long to share your current location. The Details screen also shows a list of recent attachments from the contact including photos and videos.

It’s easier to manage group messages, as you can name them and add or remove contacts from the thread. You can also mute individuals so you don’t get notifications when they reply.

iOS 8 review: Photos app

There are some big tweaks to the Photos app including a new editing option which has a dial icon. Tap it and you get three new options: Light, Colour and B&W. You can tap each to get a slider and adjust the image. Tapping the list icon gives you even more options, such as the Saturation, Contrast and Cast options within Colour.

In iOS 8, you have much finer control over rotating images and an Auto option will try and straighten your image with just one tap. All edits are non-destructive, which is why there's now a yellow Done button instead of Save. You can return to your edited photo at any time and there will be a red Revert button which allows you to go back to the original.

iOS 8 review

You’ll also notice two new albums: Recently Added and Recently Deleted. The latter is like a Recycle Bin which keeps deleted photos for 30 days, just in case you didn't mean to delete them. You have the option to recover individual shots or recover them all. If your goal was to free up storage space, you can hit the Delete all button - an action which can't be undone.

Better still, you can search your photos by date, place or album name, which is far, far faster than scrolling through hundreds of them.

iOS 8 review: iCloud Drive

The new iCloud Drive works like traditional cloud storage where you choose which files to put in iCloud Drive. Before, iCloud automatically synchronised only certain data and you couldn’t get at specific files, photos or videos as you can with Dropbox, for example.

There’s no iCloud app, but when you’re in an app which supports iCloud Drive, you will be able to see the contents of your drive with a familiar folders and files view.

Plus, there's the new iCloud Photo Library. This goes beyond My Photo Stream (which still exists) and lets you store and access your entire photo - and video - library in iCloud. Previously, there was no way to automatically send videos to iCloud so you could view them on other devices. Now there is, and that’s very good news.

The not so good news is that you have to pay for it. Yes you get 5GB for free and yes the cost per GB is much lower than last year, but photos and videos now count against the 5GB and 5GB isn’t going to be enough to back up even the smallest capacity iPhone.

iOS 8 review: Health app

A brand new app for iOS 8, Health integrates fitness and health information into one place. It’s early days so we haven’t been able to test out the Health app yet. We do know it will be able to import data from certain activity trackers, such as the Nike Fuelband, and heart rate monitors.

iOS 8 review

It will also work with health apps and help you track your health and fitness, monitor your cholesterol, vitamin intake and much more. You can also create an emergency ‘card’ with vital information about allergies, blood type, current medications and anything else that emergency services might need.

You can choose what information to share (or not) and everything is encrypted when you phone is locked.

iOS 8 review: security

iPhones are more valuable to thieves, and are therefore more likely to be stolen. The police know this, and Apple knows this. In iOS 8, security has been beefed up even more than in iOS 7, making a stolen iPhone pretty much unusable. That’s why it’s important to avoid skipping over steps during setup when you get a new phone.

When you restart an iPhone running iOS 8, Control Centre and Notification Centre won’t work until you unlock it (and neither will Siri, if you’ve set it to be available on the lock screen), and this prevents anyone enabling flight mode if they steal your phone, turn it off and then back on again later.

Extensions are much like Android’s intents where you’re asked which app you want to use to accomplish a task. However, Apple claims to have made this a lot more secure. Rather than the whole app running, a ‘stub’ is used to carry out the task – such as posting to LinkedIn – and apps can’t share data.

Privacy is critical, too, and iOS 8 now warns you when an app has been using your location in the background, and offers to take you to Settings where you can prevent that happening, or allow it to continue.

iOS 8 review: Verdict

With all the new features, extra security and privacy, and the fact it’s free, getting the update is a no-brainer. Download it as soon as Apple’s servers will allow.

The only exception is if you’re an iPhone 4s owner (and there are a lot of you). Performance on the 4s is an unknown, but going by past iOS updates, the oldest supported devices tend to be slower as they struggle to cope with the extra demands. We’re not saying you shouldn’t update, but it’s well worth holding on as long as it takes for others to report back on whether iOS 8 runs smoothly or not.

We tested iOS 8 on an iPhone 5c over the last few months and even though we were using beta versions, there was never an issue with performance – it runs at least as well as iOS 7. That means anyone with an iPhone 5, 5c or 5s should have no speed issues and is pretty safe to update immediately.

Now read: How to update to iOS 8

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