Hands-on with the iPhone X
The iPhone X (pronounced iPhone 10) is a hugely important device for Apple. Not only is its release coinciding with the 10th anniversary of arguably the most important tech product of the last decade, but it’s the first iPhone in four years to undergo a major redesign.
iPhone X – Price
The iPhone X starts at £999/$999 for the 64GB model and £1149/$1149 for the 256GB version
iPhone X – Design
Apple has been coasting for too long on the design it introduced with the iPhone 6, but that all changes with the iPhone X – and it’s changed in a big way. You don’t need me to tell you the iPhone X is a huge departure from the tired iPhone design – just look at the pictures – but Apple has done a fantastic job at actually making it feel really good to hold.
There’s no way around it, this phone is gorgeous. It’s slightly taller than the iPhone 8 (and 7 and 6) but a whole lot narrower and smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus. It’s kind of the perfect mix, especially as you’re getting a 5.8-inch display here.
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The aluminium sides have been swapped for stainless steel, just like on the Apple Watch, and the front and back are glass. My unit is the Space Grey variant and it’s already started picking up fingerprints nearly everywhere. If I was buying one myself I’d go for the Silver model, which is actually more like a shiny white.
Around the front, though, is where the magic happens. The iPhone 8 has a huge bezel running around the display, but the iPhone X doesn’t. Like on the Samsung Galaxy S8, Apple has pushed the screen out and reduced the bezel. There’s still a noticeable black border, but this adds a nice contrast to the bright display.
Not having a thick bezel means there’s no room for the Home button – something that had been on every single previous iPhone. This in turn means there’s no Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Instead, Apple is turning completely to facial recognition – a bold move.
All of the components for Face ID (infrared camera, flood illuminator, dot projector) are housed in what’s being affectionately called the ‘notch’. This sits at the top of the display and disrupts that all-screen look. There’s been a lot of controversy about the notch over whether it’ll completely ruin the immersive experience, but I can’t imagine it being an issue. Yes, you can certainly notice the notch when the screen is on and it juts into video if you’re playing it in full-screen, but everywhere else it fades into the background. Maybe it’ll irritate me more over time, but we’ll see.
Having used Samsung’s face unlock and iris scanners a fair bit, I’ve never been impressed by either their speed or accuracy. So it’s important that Apple’s version, dubbed Face ID, works every single time. Even if it refused to recognise my face one in five attempts it’d be super-annoying. I haven’t had time to really test Face ID yet, but setup was as quick as Touch ID and it hasn’t failed so far.
iPhone X – Screen
The iPhone X sees Apple switch out its usual LCD screen tech for an OLED panel for the first time. Samsung, Google and loads of other Android phone makers have been using this technology for ages, but it’s great to see Apple finally joining the party.
OLEDs tend to offer better contrast, perfect blacks and a more colourful picture, but they’re not always perfect. The LG panels used by Google in the Pixel 2 XL have come in for plenty of flack for poor viewing angles and an odd blue tinge.
Apple’s OLEDs come from Samsung and on first viewing they don’t suffer with those problems. There’s a small shift to blue if you tilt the device off-axis, but it’s not noticeable if you’re looking at it straight on.
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Apple says it’s tweaked a lot about this panel, and it certainly seems different to how Samsung optimises the screens f0r its own Galaxy S8 and Note 8. Colours seem a lot more natural and the saturation isn’t quite so violent. There’s also True Tone, which alters the screen temperature depending on your environment. 3D Touch also makes a return, allowing you to perform alternative actions when you press on the screen harder than a regular tap.
This is the highest-resolution screen ever on an iPhone, with a 2436 x 1125-pixel resolution, plus there’s support for the whole P3 colour gamut and Dolby Vision HDR.
iPhone X – Software, performance and battery life
Aside from losing the Touch ID sensor, not having a Home button leads to big changes in how iOS 11 operates. You now swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go home, and swipe and hold to access the multitasking menu. I’m so used to hitting the Home button that already these gestures are requiring extra effort.
The taller screen is also causing a few problems with apps. Apps that haven’t been updated to take advantage of that extra display space have ugly black bars and act basically as iPhone 8 apps. Plenty of apps have already been updated, though, so hopefully developers will jump on board quickly.
One of the few iPhone X exclusive features is Animoji. These are, as the name suggests, emoji which you can animate thanks to the Face ID camera. It’s ridiculously addictive turning yourself into a poo or unicorn with your facial expressions, and you’re not restricted to just sending them to other iPhone X owners.
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The internals of the iPhone X are exactly the same as those in the iPhone 8 Plus. It’s powered by the A11 Bionic chip, which is ridiculously fast, plus 3GB of RAM. You can read my full iPhone 8 Plus review for how that performs, and I suspect the X will be very similar. There are the same storage options available, although considering the price it would’ve been nice to see Apple just offer this in a 256GB variety instead of the base model’s 64GB.
I haven’t had the iPhone X long enough to even make an estimate on its battery life, but Apple claims it’ll last two hours longer than the iPhone 7. This seems an odd comparison, especially as the iPhone 8 is out, but it does give the impression this won’t match the Plus models for endurance.
iPhone X – Camera
On the back of the iPhone X there are two cameras, just like on the iPhone 8 Plus. Both have 12-megapixel sensors, but one has a telephoto lens for zooming in and utilising the array of portrait modes. That telephoto camera is the one that’s been upgraded here, as it now packs optical image stabilisation and a wider f/2.4 aperture. Both upgrades should make it better in low light when compared to the 8 Plus, but I’ll have to spend more time with it to see if that’s the case.
Those fancy depth-mapping features that make Face ID possible are also utilised in the front-facing camera. It still takes 7-megapixel photos, but like the rear cameras it can use those Portrait effects to give selfies a more professional look.
The iPhone X is undoubtedly a gorgeous phone. After a few boring iPhone iterations, Apple is well and truly back at the forefront of smartphone design.
Look past the design, though, and there could be a few things that hold it back. Will Face ID be as fast and reliable as Touch ID? Will the battery make it through the day? And will developers quickly update their apps to make better use of the display?
There’s also the elephant in the room here, and that’s the price. At £1000/$1000, this is the most expensive phone I’ve ever used and will likely continue remain so until the next generation of the iPhone. This instantly means it’s not for everyone and with so many high-end options coming in much cheaper, is it worth it? That’s a question that’ll have to be answered in our full review.
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