The iPhone X is the huge leap forward that Apple’s handsets needed. Aside from the original iPhone in 2007, this new iPhone is set to have the biggest impact on Apple’s smartphone direction ever.[Update: We’ve been using the iPhone X for a few weeks now, so check out our updated findings throughout this review]
Apple itself is calling it the future of the smartphone, the embodiment of what it’s been trying to achieve for a decade. But while the iPhone X is all about premium parts and an all-new experience, it’s a huge gamble for the Cupertino brand too as it tries to reclaim some leadership in smartphone innovation.
Losing key, reliable elements like the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, the home button; introducing new methods of navigating and unlocking the phone – and charging a lot more for the privilege – seems risky for a company that was already treading new ground by doing away with the traditional headphone jack last year.
But the iPhone X is the handset we’ve been demanding from Apple for years – a world away from the increasingly-tired designs that those who just want a new iPhone have had to make do with.
The fervor around this phone tells that story – everyone wants to know if the new iPhone X is worth having, partly because it actually represents a new iPhone, and that fervor is such that they don’t seem to care about the cost.
So… is the iPhone X worth having? Will it change the direction of an industry where many of the specs Apple has put in – wireless charging, bezel-less displays and face recognition – are already on the market?
Can Apple put all this together in the way that just works, and create the greatest iPhone of all time?
- By far the best screen on an iPhone
- Clear, vibrant colors
- Notch at top slightly irks, but doesn’t get in the way
The first thing you’ll notice about the new iPhone is hard to miss: the new screen blazes into your eyes the second you pick up the handset.
The 5.8-inch OLED display is, quite simply, the best thing Apple has ever crammed into an iPhone. It’s leaps ahead of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus for so many reasons: the sharpness, the quality, the fact that it fills the whole front of the phone, and the color reproduction.
It’s also using a new, longer, screen, but while it looks larger than the iPhone 8 Plus’ 5.5-inch display on paper, it’s only marginally bigger in terms of actual screen real estate – it’s just stretched upwards.
OLED technology means you’re getting deeper blacks and more blinding whites, so everything from websites to the photos you take will look a little better.
Some will point to the fact that Samsung has been using OLED screens on its phones since the first Galaxy, but Apple counters that by saying it’s only now that the technology is good enough for its phones.
On the face of it that sounds defensive, but when you use the iPhone X you can see it’s a screen that’s incredibly, well, Apple.
It’s not the sharpest or most colorful screen on a smartphone, but it’s clean, crisp and doesn’t suffer from terrible color shifts when you move it around. It’s a great display to look at, and that’s what you want on a phone.
It’s also been dubbed the best in the world, by the esteemed DisplayMate testing, showing that it’s the brightest and more color-accurate OLED on the market and good off-centre brightness shifts – showing Apple can tune the tech from Samsung really well.
The term ‘bezel-less’ has been bandied about for the iPhone X, but that doesn’t really tell the right story. Yes, there are slight bands around the edges of the screen, but they don’t mar the experience – they give the fingers something to land on, preventing accidental touches of the screen.
Apple could reduce these further in the future and offer a more visually-appealing iPhone, but on the X the experience is still striking.
Talking of visual appeal, the notch at the top of the iPhone X is something that’s going to divide opinion, and that’s fair. Apple has taken this little chunk out of the top of the screen to house the new TrueDepth camera, and it encroaches on the display.
In portrait mode it’s hard to notice it’s there, and the way the notifications bar spills around it is nice.
However, place the phone in landscape mode and it’s far more noticeable; it’s an irritant when you’re watching movies, as when we wanted to expand them to fill the screen (one of the real beauties of having a longer display) elements of the action were cut out by the notch.
The longer screen is also thinner though – this means there’s less real estate for typing. We didn’t notice this at the start, but when flipping between the X and an older iPhone, you’ll really see there’s less space for your digits to tap onto.
While we’re talking about that longer screen, the 18:9 format is something we’ve seen on a number of other phones this year, and in the Android world the apps are largely encoded to fill the display just fine.
On the iPhone X, however, that’s not the case, with many apps we used packing massive black bars above and below the display. That’s quickly started to improve though, and each day more apps update for the longer screen.
The issue with apps using the black bars is that it makes the iPhone X look like any other handset from Apple – even an iPhone 3GS – and given the screen is the main visual differentiator on this phone, and you want every app to fill the display nicely, so it’s good many developers are getting their act together and making an X-friendly version of their wares.
Oddly, Google is one of the big hold outs, with Maps, Mail and Keep (among others) still not updated. We would have expected the search giant to get cracking on improving its apps as the iPhone is such a big market for it.
The new display on the iPhone X also showcases a new feature for Apple: HDR playback. The phone can show movies encoded in the HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats, and combined with the OLED display the images offer so much more depth and realistic color reproduction.
If you’re watching a scene with explosions in it, the effect is incredible on the iPhone X – much like with all OLED screens.
However, it’s inherently harder to make out detail in darker scenes in HDR movies – that’s something you’ll need to adjust to.
Compared to the LCD screen of the iPhone 8 Plus, there are times when you can see less of the action, but compare them side by side and you’ll see that the overall richness, depth and quality for watching movies is just higher on the iPhone X.
Like the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the X uses a True Tone display, which mimics the lighting conditions around it and will adjust the white balance accordingly. It’s not a reason to buy the phone on its own, but it’s a really premium little extra that you’ll grow to like.
- Facial recognition is very impressive
- Animoji is novelty, but shows camera’s power
- Contactless payments are more inconvenient
Face ID – Apple’s facial recognition system that replaces the fingerprint-scanning Touch ID – is simple to set up, with the iPhone X encouraging you to put your face into view at the start; spin your head around a couple of times and you’re ready to go.
That’s all you need to do in order to be able to unlock your phone with your face, and as long as the iPhone X can see your eyes, nose and mouth you’ll be able to get into your handset easily.
And we really do mean easily – Face ID has far, far exceeded our expectations for the new biometric technology. We’ve used facial recognition on other phones many times, and it’s been erratic and, well, terrible.