iPhone X review: Apple’s expensive iPhone X is still a thing of beauty
The iPhone X – pronounced iPhone “Ten” – is the expensive flagship handset Apple developed to mark the tenth anniversary of the original iPhone and it’s startlingly similar to the Samsung Galaxy S8.
Yet labeling the iPhone X as little more than a look at what Samsung is doing in the smartphone space is a little unfair. Apple may not have invented the technologies it lays claim to, but it has been instrumental in bringing many to the mainstream.
Of course, Apple hasn’t always been at the forefront of tech – it added NFC long after Android phones and is jumping on the AR bandwagon more than a year since Pokémon GO’s peak – but it has the uncanny knack of waiting until consumers are ready to embrace these changes, rather than getting ahead of them. And this is exactly what it’s done with the iPhone X.
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As you’ll read below, the iPhone X is the best iPhone ever made, but there is a catch. We’re reluctant to recommend anyone spend £1,000 on a phone and our list of flaws will reveal why. In a similar vein, Consumer Reports recently published its full breakdown of its iPhone X tests and it’s a mixed bag of results. Firstly, the iPhone X did not beat its predecessor, the iPhone 8, during the rigorous review process. The iPhone X’s battery life and strength were called into question and its price was a major sticking point for the company.
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In the initial drop test, the iPhone X performed “just fine”, and it surived four falls onto a concrete surface from a height of 5 feet. However, using a tumbling machine, which includes a rotating chamber that repeatedly drops a phone from a height of about 2.5 feet, the phone fared less well. After 100 tumbles, the glass on the rear of the phone significantly cracked. The screens stopped working properly after 50 drops.
However, Consumer Reports did praise the iPhone X’s fantastic display (which we’re in agreement with), and its camera is top notch. Despite its criticisms, the iPhone X did make the list of the top 10 smartphones on the market – so it’s not all bad.
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iPhone X review: Design
Apple deliberately saved its high-end features for the iPhone X and it’s unlike anything it’s released before.
It has the largest screen of any iPhone, at 5.8in and it stretches from edge to edge like those seen on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8. This screen is Apple’s first foray into OLED displays, too, and to fit the larger screen onto the device the home button has been ditched. Instead, there’s a ‘notch’ that houses the phone’s Face ID camera (more on which later). You’d imagine this might make the handset feel large, but by maximising screen size without increasing the size of the handset, the iPhone X feels smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus. In fact, it’s closer in design and feel to the original iPhone than any of its recent predecessors.
The iPhone X is available in white with a chrome silver trim, and black, with a shiny dark grey trim, and is reminiscent of the iPhone 3GS in look if not build quality. This is a bold move away from its range of previous colours. There’s no gold or rose gold option anymore and neither model quite gives the phone the same stand out quality. iPhones are used (and have been sold as) statement handsets and they’re instantly recognisable; with its screen switched off, the the iPhone X looks very much like A N Other Android phone.
Made predominantly from glass reinforced with steel, a design move enforced by the inclusion of Qi wireless charging, the handset has a habit of picking up fingerprints ridiculously easily. This glass panelling doesn’t feel as cold as the metal handsets of yore, though, and there’s something reassuring about how its warmth adds to how attached you feel to it, even after a couple of minutes of use.
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Aside from the lack of home button, most other design features remain. The power and volume buttons are where you’d expect, preserving a modicum of familiarity. The iPhone X has IP67 dust and waterproofing and there’s still no 3.5mm headphone jack, sadly. To compensate for the lack of home button, Siri and Apple Pay features have moved to the side button, which also needs to be clicked when installing apps. You also now take a screenshot on the iPhone X by holding the right-hand button and volume up together, which feels very “Androidy”. The camera bump is fitted vertically rather than horizontally on the rear (to make room for the Face ID sensors) and this makes the phone noticeably wobble when placed on a flat surface.
All in all, the handset doesn’t have the pizazz or wow factor I was expecting but its specifications are impressive and they have understated, more subtle power which signifies something a little different for Apple.
iPhone X review: Face ID
The unsightly notch mentioned before, which encroaches from the top edge of the screen, replaces the Touch ID home button and it brings with it a new form of biometric authentication: Face ID.
Powered by Apple’s so-called TrueDepth camera system, this includes a number of sensors designed to recognise a person’s face, including a dot projector, infrared camera and flood illuminator (a fancy name for what is effectively a flash), all of which work together to scan your face when you look at it for the purposes of unlocking the phone and authenticating Apple Pay transactions.
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I was cynical at first but Face ID is incredibly slick and swiping up from the bottom of the screen as the phone unlocks soon becomes second nature. Setting up Face ID is far simpler than adding a fingerprint too, you simply roll your face in a circle, and it’s amazing just how smoothly all those sensors work with such little interaction.
Face ID works effortlessly with glasses and without, and even performs in dim or dark conditions. By comparison, Samsung’s iris recognition tech doesn’t work at all if you’re wearing glasses. Although we’ve had more failures with Face ID in the dark than at any other time, we’ve had only a small handful of failures in the two days we’ve been using it.
Moreover, Apple has build in a certain degree of protection against accidental unlocking – a system Apple calls Attention-Aware, which checks that you’re awake and alert before unlocking the phone. Of course, the standout feature of this tech is the ability to create Animojis, which use the Face ID camera to transform your facial expressions into a singing poop or unicorn. Completely pointless but fantastic fun and a sign that Apple doesn’t always take itself too seriously.
One frustration with Face ID is that it’s not as easy to open the device when it’s on a table as it is with Touch ID and using it to pay for stuff via a contactless card readers (on the London Underground, for instance), now involves having to double tap the side button and look at the phone before placing it on the terminal.
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There’s another knock-on effect from the loss of the home button, too. One of these is that the Control Centre is now accessed by swiping down from the tiny space to the right of the notch instead of the more straightforward swipe from the bottom of the screen.
I’m also not too keen on the new action for bringing up the iPhone’s notifications – a swipe from the very top of the screen, just below the notch – which, to me, feels fiddly. This, again, feels very Androidy.
Getting to the recent apps view is a little more intuitive. You drag your thumb up from the bottom of the screen and hold it there for a short while. However, it’s no longer possible to simply swipe your apps away; instead you have to press and hold and then click the red ‘delete’ icon. A small yet significant annoyance.
iPhone X review: Camera
Apple has consistently made great cameras. They may not always be the best in the market (the Google Pixel 2 currently takes that crown) but the iPhone X camera, like the iPhone 8 Plus, captures photos reliably and shoots detail-packed, steady 4K video.
On its rear, the iPhone X has two 12MP rear cameras, both equipped with OIS (optical image stabilisation) and phase detect autofocus. One is a wide angle f/1.8 camera, the other a 2x telephoto “zoom”. The latter offers slightly brighter aperture at f/2.4 than the iPhone 8 Plus’ telephoto camera, but otherwise, it’s the same setup.[gallery:2]
That means performance across the board is pretty similar with excellent results in both good and bad light. It may not reach Pixel heights but the iPhone X’s camera is right up there with other rivals, namely the Huawei Mate 10 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
There is one oddity, though, and that is while the brighter aperture of the zoom lens ought to translate into less noisy images in low light, what seems to happen is that, when the light dips, the software simply switches to the wide angle camera and crops the image. That’s disappointing, and it impacts on image quality.
Still, that’s a small complaint, and for the most part the camera works brilliantly. Portrait mode works as nicely as ever and, for the first time, this mode is available using the front-facing 7MP camera; a way to turn your selfies into professional-looking snaps at the touch of a button. It’s not as good as the rear camera at producing flattering photos but it’s certainly a positive addition.
iPhone X review: Display quality and performance
Early third-party benchmark tests of the iPhone X have been unanimously positive. In fact, Displaymate, which runs exhaustive tests on phone displays, says the iPhone X has the best display it has ever tested.
Our own tests echo Displaymate’s findings. The iPhone X’s 2,046 x 1,125 OLED screen is sharp, it’s incredibly colour accurate and it’s bright, too. In fact, we’d say the OLED screen is near perfect. Plus, there are no problems with viewing angles and odd-looking colours (Google Pixel 2 XL, we’re looking at you).
As for speed and responsiveness, well that’s unimpeachable as well. The iPhone X uses the new Apple A11 Bionic chip to power it along and this, coupled with 3GB of RAM, produces very similar benchmark results to the iPhone 8 Plus. Basically, alongside its more humdrum siblings, the iPhone X is the fastest phone on the market.
More important than all-out speed is battery life and although we’ve only had the phone a few days, it is possible to draw some early conclusions on this. The first is that it doesn’t last very long during video playback. In our battery benchmark, which involves playing a video on loop in flight mode until the battery dies, the X lasted a mere 9hrs 22mins, which is a disappointing result, certainly when compared with Android rivals. The iPhone 8 Plus with its larger battery lasted far longer at 13hrs 54mins.
That’s not to say the phone won’t last you a day or even more in real-world use – we’ll add our thoughts on this when we’ve had the chance to use it for longer – but it’s safe to say that it won’t last as long as the iPhone 8 Plus.
iPhone X review: Sound quality
The speakers on the iPhone X continue Apple’s trend of high-quality audio tech in its phones and iPads. They’re louder than previous models and less tinny, meaning music from the phone is more comfortable to listen to without headphones. There’s still no headphone jack, and there’s still no official hi-res support within iTunes though, even if Apple claims it supports FLAC on its website through the My Files app.
Bass on the speakers is detailed and treble is rich and the iPhone X plays song with various instruments and levels better than any other smartphone we’ve used. There have been reports of some users experiencing a crackling and squeaky sound on the iPhone X and Apple is said to be looking into the issues.
iPhone X review: Verdict
The iPhone X doesn’t feel like an iPhone at all, and that’s not a criticism. It feels luxurious, sturdy and expensive – which, at £999, it is – with some subtle Android-style features that close the gap between the two ever so slightly.
I personally love the Samsung S8 Edge but I wouldn’t buy it purely because of the software. I’m an iOS fangirl; I find it easier to use and less cluttered than Android plus, for better or worse, I’m thoroughly entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem. These little changes to the iPhone X introduce the parts of Android I like without removing what I like about iOS reducing the temptation to make the jump.
Some of the physical design changes that move it closer to Samsung, for example, don’t excite me as much. After just two days I was feeling nostalgic for my iPhone 8 Plus with its familiar white front and larger keyboard.
That said, there are enough innovations and differences here to make a buyer seriously consider upgrading from the iPhone 7, or there would be if it weren’t for that sky high price; because it’s the sheer cost of the thing that puts me off.
With prices starting at £999 for the 64GB version and £1,149 for the top-spec 256GB model this is a phone that’s almost as expensive as a MacBook and that’s a laptop that some people say is overpriced. Samsung’s Galaxy S8, by comparison, is currently half the price, while larger Galaxy Note 8 (which was criticised for its high price when it first launched) costs around £870.
Tim Cook recently said that this high price was justified given just how much tech is inside the device (a claim that doesn’t punch quite as hard when reports suggest the phone itself costs £280 to build, even if that is the highest manufacturing costs of any iPhone) but it’s still hard to stomach. In short, while the performance, display and the camera combine to make this Apple’s best ever phone, it is isn’t significantly better than its rivals to warrant the huge jump in price.
If you’re desperate to buy a new iPhone, do yourself a favour and buy an iPhone 8 Plus instead. You might not be getting the latest and greatest Apple has to offer, but you’ll be saving plenty of cash, getting a phone that’s nearly as good, and one that – according to SquareTrade – is a lot less breakable, too.
iPhone X review: Key specifications
|Screen||5.8in Super Retina (2,436 x 1,125 @ 458ppi) AMOLED display with True Tone|
|CPU||64-bit hexa-core A11 Bionic processor with M11 motion coprocessor and “Neural engine”|
|Storage||64GB and 256GB|
|Camera||Dual 12MP rear-facing cameras, f/1.8 and f/2.4 with OIS and sapphire crystal lens cover, 7MP front-facing camera|
|Price||£999 (64GB) – from £48/mth on 2yr finance; £1,149 (256GB) – from £55/mth on 2yr finance|
|Other||Wireless charging, dust and waterproof (IP67 rating), no 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Pre-orders||27 October 2017|
|Release date||3 November 2017|