The iPhone X is one of the most exciting phones released this decade – but not because it offers anything particularly innovative or new.
It’s exciting because it’s the most radical redesign of an iPhone yet, tying together a number of key trends in the industry and adding in a level of polish that will attract legions of Apple fans to upgrade, and spend another couple of years in the iCycle.
But this change doesn’t come cheap, and nor will it appeal to those who enjoy a degree of continuity in their upgrades. This is a new way of interacting with your iPhone, a way that allows you to enjoy more of iOS at any one time, and alters the way you use apps with the increased screen size.
The iPhone X is capable of fast charging – but you’ll need to buy a special cable. We’ve also added in some thoughts about the ‘lip’ and how it affects the use of apps.
iPhone X release date and price
Let’s get the important bit out of the way first: the iPhone X is one of the most expensive flagship phones ever made. It’ll retail at $999 / £999 / AU$1,579 for the basic model.
You don’t need us to tell you that’s a lot of cash for a smartphone – the cost of creating this new all-screen device has meant Apple’s ramped up the price, presumably both to offset the higher development and production costs and to protect its higher margins.
We’d heard for months of a possible delay to the iPhone X, thanks to the complexity of component manufacture forcing the timescale back – it’s rather surprising to see that it’s happened though, as recent rumors seemed to have taken the schedule change off the table.
Screen, screen and more screen
Right, let’s get down to the new stuff, and when you pull this phone out on the train you can be sure of one thing: it looks entirely different to anything that’s come before from Apple.
It’s rare that we see Apple jumping on a trend this early, but 2017 has been the year when the bezel has begun to disappear from the smartphone, and the iPhone X has jumped emphatically aboard that train.
Apart from the Essential Phone, the new iPhone looks like one of the least-bezelled phones on the market. The lip on the top of the 5.8-inch screen is the only thing that gets in the way of you and the new operating system, with the effect rather stunning.
Sat next to last year’s iPhone 7, the iPhone X is a completely different device. The effect of the wider and fuller screen is going to really impress, especially if you’ve not held the Samsung Galaxy S8, which has a similar display.
It’s hard to overstate how beautiful this screen is – and that’s not hyperbole brought on by extreme fatigue. It’s deep, rich and smooth, and draws level with Samsung in the quality stakes easily
However, what’s different here is that the screen on the iPhone X extends right to the bottom of the device, with the physical home button nowhere in sight.
Apple’s users don’t want to move away from its ecosystem, but if certain specs aren’t met these days then envy can develop when phones are shown off at the bar – so the iPhone X has been upgraded to match its rivals, with a resolution of 2436 x 1125 on the new Super Retina HD display.
The only reason the pixel count needed to be upgraded was that there’s a definite boost to be had with the sharper screens that makes apps look better and web-browsing a more beautiful experience – and with Apple charging as much as it is for this phone, it needed to bring a better screen.
But the move to the OLED display in the iPhone X has definitely brought an upgrade, with the blacks deeper, the colors richer and, well, the overall effect just brilliant.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has been dubbed the best display on the market – and now Apple is using the same technology in its iPhones.
The overall mix of technology is great, and really brings about a special-looking iPhone, rather than Apple rehashing the same tired design again.
Does the iPhone X ‘lip’ get in the way?
One of the big talking points about the iPhone X is the ‘lip’ at the top of the phone, where a section of the ‘all-screen’ display was cut out to place the cameras.
The True Depth camera at the top is needed for Face ID, so it makes sense that a small portion would need to be kept for all the technology – but it does ruin the aesthetic somewhat.
But the question is: does this ruin movies or apps? Well – not really. The first demo, The Machines, is augmented reality and needs to make the most use of as much screen as possible to be truly immersive.
It doesn’t get in the way, as the huge display takes the attention in other ways. Other apps may need to be coded to take advantage of the full screen – so the lip doesn’t disrupt anything – but the apps should scale naturally.
The screen is 18:9 (although that’s not been confirmed by Apple) so a movie that’s in a standard 16:9 format won’t fill the display – we couldn’t see anything that allowed you to extend it to the edges, but in doing so you’d lose some of the action.
This means that – again – the lip doesn’t really get in the way, with the effect of being full screen limited to apps and internet browsing… and for that, the loss of screen real estate isn’t that bad.
In short, yes the lip doesn’t help the aesthetic, but it’s not a massive hindrance.
A better design
The new iPhone X is easily, easily the best-looking phone Apple’s ever made. We were fans of the industrial design that heralded the arrival of the iPhone 4, and the curved lines of the iPhone 6.
But it feels like the new phone takes all of those ideas and smashes them into the future. If there’s one thing that’s pervaded the iPhone age of Apple it’s the laser-focused thinking on design, and the iPhone X takes that on.
The rear, which is now glass, doesn’t feel as premium as the almost-ceramic metal of previous models, but it still feels solid and secure in the hand. The edges aren’t sharp, instead folding into the palm in a way that’s pleasant to hold.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get your fingers across the display to reach all the elements, and there’s almost a feeling that you’re going to keep touching the display with every flick of a digit.
But in practice it sits in the hand just fine, and you’re able to interact with most functions comfortably. There’s definitely a set of gestures for which you have to use two hands, so we’d definitely still categorize this device as a phablet, rather than a ‘standard’ phone like the iPhone 7.
You can’t reach the top right-hand corner as easily, for instance, and we constantly found we had to jiggle the phone around in our hands to make it work properly.
We’ve not been able to try it out in the demo area, but this is certainly something we want to test to see if it’s a worthy replacement for Touch ID.
The demo we were shown was a little worrying, though. In the demo on stage the first phone failed, and when it was shown to us the person linked to the phone kept having to to turn the display off and on again to activate the system.
When held at the right distance, it worked well and quickly, but we saw plenty of missed unlocks in our time with the phone. Apparently it’ll learn your face as time goes on, but this is something we really need to test out to make sure it’s easy to get into your phone.
It’s cool that the phone will only turn on when you look at the screen, showing it knows you, but the accuracy needs to be tip top.
A new version of iOS
It’s intuitive and works well, although you do have to get used to balancing the phone in your palm.
The Control Center is now at the top right, and that needs a little more dexterity to hit – you’ll have to use two hands for that generally.
The camera on the back is bolted on vertically, rather than horizontally, showing that Apple wants you to hold the phone in landscape rather than portrait mode. This is also on account of the front True Depth camera, which takes up so much space and is needed for Face ID.
AR wasn’t really shown off at the event, although we did try out some games that were quick and really cool to look at, with the table taking the place of the arena very quickly.
With Apple’s ARKit and Google’s new ARCore, there’s no doubt that the next big contest is going to be in the AR space, with developers having a whole new (real) world to play with as a result – and it’s interesting to see Apple go so early into this space.
The front-facing camera is excellent at sensing your surroundings and your face, and the ability to map a mask, or transform you into an animated emoji (called Animoji) is genuinely joy-filling.
We can’t explain it, but there’s something amazing about being able to make an on-screen pig frown, or being transformed into a hologram.
The camera itself felt fine, very similar to previous iterations – in short, this was all about being able to sense the surroundings rather than taking better photos, which was interesting.
However, the machine learning inside should be able to better work out what you’re snapping and alter the settings to match – and the Portrait Lighting, which intelligently learns what is the subject and what isn’t, and can alter the effect of the photo accordingly, is really stunning as a feature.
The iPhone X battery size was – as usual – not mentioned on stage during launch, but there are big upgrades coming according to the brand. However, the biggest change is the way you can charge the new iPhone, with wireless charging now added to the mix.
This isn’t a new function – we had it on the Nexus 4 back in 2012, for instance – but lately it’s been Samsung leading the wireless, er, charge by including both forms of charging inside its shell.
The battery life of the iPhone X has been extended, with two hours more power than the iPhone 7 from a single charge – and that should be a real help given all the battery-sapping features on display here.
You can even get a fast charger – 50% within 30 minutes from dead – but only with a USB-C cable.
A USB-C to Lightning Cable retails for $25 (£25 / AU$35) on Apple.com, while a USB-C Power Adapter is available in a few sizes: 29W, 61W and 87W. And if you want it, the price of the cheapest adapter (29W) is $49 (£49 / AU$69) from Apple.
So fast charging is available… but it’s not coming out of the box.
Pumping at the heart of the iPhone X is the new A11 Bionic chipset, designed to handle the heavy lifting the new iPhone is calling on it for.
This equates to better battery life, thanks to the 10-nanometer manufacturing process Apple is rumored to have employed for its new chipset, allowing it to make things more efficient and thus enabling it to either crank up the power or improve battery life – or balance the two.
The new chip allows for better photo focusing, better face unlocking and all-round power improvements – this is apparently the world’s most powerful phone, which it’ll need to be given the amount of functions it’s got, and the amount of pixels it has to run.
If the planned effect of the iPhone X was to wow with its display, it’s certainly done that. The colors are just so vivid on the all-screen front, and it truly feels like you’re holding one of the iPhone concepts we wrote about years ago.
The AR effects are cool, but they’re not game-changing at this point – we wouldn’t have expected them to be right out of the box, but it’s hard to just say “Oh, we’ll wait to see what happens”.
We’re definitely going to need convincing with Face ID – Apple’s done a good job of explaining why its system is better than anything we’ve seen before, but without trying this day to day it’s hard to know whether it’ll be good enough to replace Touch ID – and the demos weren’t anywhere near convincing enough.
It needs to be thoroughly tested before we can draw proper conclusions – but while we saw it in a demo area, which isn’t perfect conditions, we had hoped it would be flawless out of the box.
But while question marks remain, there’s no doubt that the iPhone X is the futuristic iPhone from Apple that we’ve been waiting for. Just be ready to pay a hefty sum for it.