What is the iPhone X?
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Where recent iPhones have had displays with a screen ratio of 16:9 plus areas at the top and bottom of the phone, this one has a longer display which covers almost the whole of the phone’s front, with a screen shape of 19.49:9. It looks very different from what has come before.
The antenna band is stainless steel, first seen on the iPhone 4 and replaced by aluminium on the iPhone 6 and forwards. Here, though, it’s polished within an inch of its life so it shines like crazy. The result is a very high-end look. Like the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the back of the phone is glass, and the most durable yet in a smartphone, Apple claims. Certainly, in my 10 days with the phone it hasn’t picked up a single scratch.
It comes in two colours: that staple Apple dark shade, space grey, and a lighter silver. Uniquely for Apple, this time the frame round the front of the phone is black on both models – usually a lighter-coloured back means a white frame on the front. Not this time, because Apple wants the sensor block on the front of the screen to blend in as best it can. The silver version, incidentally, isn’t quite the same colour as on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus which has a greyer, colder shade to it. This one is more appealing, I’d say.
The other standout design feature is the sensor bar at the top of the phone. Apple calls it the TrueDepth camera system, but it’s colloquially called the notch because it takes a bite out of the top of the display. As it happens, I don’t mind the notch. It took me a few days to realise that I’d got used to it. It’s really noticeable at first and then, all of a sudden, you barely see it.
I think it’s there because Apple wanted a symmetrical styling to its phone, so the bezel around the display isn’t, as it is on other flagships like the Samsung Galaxy Note8, bigger at one end than the other. The bezel on the iPhone X is not the narrowest I’ve seen, but it’s exactly even all the way round.
Again, the wider bezel takes a little while to get used to, but I like it, it’s a solid, strong design statement.
This is the most handsome iPhone yet, and arguably among the most attractive smartphone designs from any company.
Now, that earlier screen ratio was handy for watching 16:9 widescreen content, for instance, and the new screen shows such content with black bars at either end. They’re not especially pronounced and I don’t have a problem with them.
You can also, with a tap, enlarge the movie you’re watching so it fills every available pixel, which means that firstly you’re losing part of the picture at the top and bottom of the image when you hold it in landscape format (although that's not an issue is you're watching a 2.35:1 ratio movie), and secondly you notice the notch. Oddly, the notch isn’t as bad as what you lose from the top and bottom with 16:9 content. It’s worth noting, though, that although the iPhone X has a bigger screen than the iPhone 8 Plus (5.8in against 5.5in), for watching 16:9 format stuff, the 8 Plus has a slightly larger image.
Smartphone OLED screens can be prone to strange colour results – as reviews of the recent Google Pixel 2 XL have reported – but Apple has worked hard and result is extremely good colour management. It’s true, as you angle the screen away from you, the blue caste which is a characteristic of OLED is visible. However, it’s barely seen if you’re watching a movie in landscape orientation, for instance, so it’s not an issue even if two people are watching the same iPhone X side-by-side in this way.
And the speakers on this new generation of iPhones make it sound pretty good, too. Apple says they’re 35 per cent louder than on the iPhone 7. Whatever, the audio is sharp and clear.
Back to the display. It also looks good and definitely better than the iPhone 8 Plus because of its resolution. Here, there are 458 pixels per inch, against the 401ppi of the iPhone 8 Plus, the previous high-water mark for pixel density on an iPhone.
Home Button and Face ID
Other manufacturers have moved their fingerprint sensors, too. Some have put them on the back of the phone (including Samsung, whose recent fingerprint sensor placement, just alongside the twin cameras, has been widely criticised). Some companies, like Sony Mobile, have put the sensor in the power button.
So what has Apple done? They’ve chucked it away. Crazy, right, when the sensor was so quick, so reliable and so secure?
Well, Apple says it’s replaced it with something even better, and it may be right. Goodbye Touch ID (although if you really miss it, you can still find it on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus), hello Face ID.
This is facial recognition, achieved through that TrueDepth camera system embedded in the notch on the screen’s display. It uses a series of elements which project 30,000 unseen dots on to your face to create a depth map and work out if it’s you.
It’s not an iris sensor. It needs to see your eyes, nose and mouth to work. And it’s amazing.
It’s fast, reliable and effective. Samsung has had facial recognition for its last two flagships but this is way better. It works much more often – so close to all the time that it must be in the very high 90s percentage-wise. It also works in the dark, with contact lenses or without, with glasses on or off. It’s very quick. As you look at the screen, an animated padlock swings open, but you don’t even have to wait for that. Raise the phone and the screen turns on. Look at it and swipe up and, assuming it agrees you are you, you’ll be on the Home screen.
No such knack is needed when it’s in your hands, though I sometimes raise my eyebrows as I look at it, just, you know, to check it’s paying attention. Face ID also has cute details, that only Apple would conjure up. When the phone rings, when you look at it, it lowers the ringtone volume because, well, it’s got your attention, hasn’t it, and it knows you’re right there.
And notifications remain defiantly blank when anyone else looks at your phone. But when it sees it’s you, the text message or other notification slides open to reveal its contents, for your eyes only.
Note that the lack of a Home Button means a lot of the interface, with the usual press on the button, to take you to the Home screen, or whizz you back to the front screen when you were on another one, and so on, has all being replaced with a new gesture, swiping up from the base of the display. To get to open apps, the double-press on the old Home Button is replaced by a swipe-up and pause button. But, there’s now a new bar at the base of the display when you’re in an app. You can use this to swipe right or left between open apps, which is very useful.
Acclimatising to these changes took me a good two days. I knew I’d got there when I caught myself trying to swipe up on an old iPhone Home Button!
This means you can now ginger up your selfies, if you must, with a classy bokeh effect and it even has the same Portrait Lighting feature, introduced on the iPhone 8 Plus with its twin rear cameras. Portrait Lighting, currently in beta, is a neat feature. Not only does it give you that bokeh effect, it also comes with extra settings, such as Studio Light, Natural Light and more. These use the face mapping data to brighten your face, say, or emphasise highlights and lowlights. There are also two more settings, Stage Light and Stage Light Mono, which black out the background as though you’re centre stage and you’ve found your spotlight. The Mono version, obviously, is in black-and-white.
These features are tremendous although, being in beta, still a little hit-and-miss at times.
The wide-angle camera is the same as on the iPhone 8 Plus but the telephoto lens is an improvement on any lens Apple has used before. The aperture lets in more light (f/2.4 against the f/2.8 aperture on the iPhone 8 Plus) and, like the wide-angle sensor, it has optical image stabilisation, so low light isn’t the enemy it usually is on smartphone cameras.
This is a phenomenal cameraphone. Well, the camera on the iPhone 8 Plus is terrific and a big step up from last year’s model. This is better still.
On the iPhone X, you can shoot video in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. This uses the fast processor and a new video encoder, plus a compression system which the company claims is twice as fast as previously. In practical terms, it’s as easy to use as before and the results, even at that fast fps were great: silky-smooth slow motion.
Of course, these are phones designed to shoot 4K video and to work with the advanced Augmented Reality apps which are just becoming more plentiful.
Oh, and there’s one more benefit to that TrueDepth camera: Animoji. Launch Messages and find the Animoji app that’s pre-loaded. Then choose from 12 characters including dog, cat, fox, panda, alien and, er, poo. Then, as you talk to the phone, gurning like crazy, it follows along, matching every eyebrow raise, jaw drop and head shake perfectly. Record messages of up to 10 seconds and send them to anyone, whether they have an iPhone or not.
Sound childish? Try it, it’s amazing fun.
- Powerful processor
- Superb screen
- Impressive camera
- Excellent apps and features
- Beautiful design
- Lovely build quality
- The 'notch'
Apple iPhone X Review
The notch in the top of the screen isn’t ideal, but it’s far from a dealbreaker. And the gorgeousness of the OLED display with its great contrast and solid colours makes up for it anyway.
Face ID is the best execution of facial recognition I’ve come across: fast, intimate and utterly reliable. And the Animoji dividend is great.
The price tag on the iPhone X is high but the tech inside it justifies it, for me at least, and anyway it’s only £200 more than the iPhone 8 Plus. So in for a penny…
Apple has a lot riding on this phone. But betting hard on Face ID, on an all-over screen and a super-fast processor has really paid off with an immaculate, superbly usable phone that, I’d say, puts Apple ahead of its rivals again.
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