It’s ten years since the iPhone was first unveiled and Apple has marked the occasion with a new iPhone that doesn’t just jump one generation, it jumps several. Apple has leaped straight from iPhone 7 (via the iPhone 8, reviewed here) all the way to iPhone 10, bypassing the iPhone 7s and leapfrogging the iPhone 9 altogether.
Despite rumours of limited stock, the iPhone X is finally in stores. Thousands of people queued around blocks the world over to pick up the new Apple handset, in scenes we haven’t seen for a few years.
All Apple had to do to get so much attention was redesign the iPhone. That sounds easy, but the redesign involved the removal of the Home button, and to make that possible Apple had to rethink the way you interact with the phone.
We went hands-on with the iPhone X on the morning of its release to see just how different using an iPhone X is, and whether all the hype is justified. And we are trying very hard to say ‘ten’ and not ‘ex’, promise.
Naming conventions aside, how does the new flagship iPhone shape up? Is it going to revolutionise the mobile phone again like the original iPhone did, or is Apple now just playing catchup with the rest of the industry?
Price and availability
You can order the iPhone X now from Apple, but you can expect a few weeks’ wait depending where you live. Currently there is a three to four week wait for delivery.
It’s expected that supply of the iPhone X will be limited even into the new year, with various reports suggesting that the factories are struggling to meet Apple’s demands for units.
If this does turn out to be the case, the fact that there aren’t many iPhone X handsets is likely to add to its appeal. If you want the prestige of being one of an elite few who own the latest and greatest Apple handset, then this is probably the iPhone for you.
The iPhone X costs $999 / £999 for the 64GB model. For the 256GB model you will be looking at paying $1,149 / £1,149.
You can find out where to buy the iPhone X for the best price here.
Design and build quality
The iPhone X is a step up in build quality from every iPhone that precedes it. Even the glass-backed iPhone 8 isn’t as nice to hold as it lacks the premium stainless steel rim of the X. Cool to the touch, it’s a grippy texture that will no doubt pick up some scratches, and harks back to the design of the iPhone 3G.
The glass of the iPhone X is the same reinforced glass as on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, and while we usually like the space grey models of iPhones, the silver version is very attractive, with a shinier rim and white back.
You can’t avoid seeing the notch, but certain wallpapers and menus seek to not hide it but let it blend in, and we didn’t think it was much of an eyesore.
The notch isn’t there just to annoy us, though, its presence is due to all the technology that goes into Face ID. A closer look will reveal an infrared camera, flood illuminator, and dot projector, as seen here:
The position of this front camera also means the rear cameras are aligned vertically instead of horizontally, which does look a bit odd.
With no home button, the screen extends down and up to eliminate any real bezel. It means the display is the largest ever on an iPhone in a handset physically smaller than the Plus sized iPhones, despite the iPhone being only a shade larger than the regular iPhone 7 or iPhone 8.
That screen covers the entire face of the device, with two small ‘ears’ visible either side of the notch. Otherwise the familiar in-hand feel and curved corners remain with silence switch and volume buttons on the left-hand side, and a larger power/lock button on the right above the SIM tray.
The glass back allows for wireless charging using the Qi standard. This doesn’t mean that the iPhone X will magically charge over the air, you will need to buy a Qi compatible charging pad to lay it on. We’ll talk more about wireless charging later.
Read about how the iPhone X compares to the iPhone 8 here.
The iPhone X measures 143.6mm by 70.9mm, while the iPhone Plus is 158.4mm by 78.1mm. We love the bigger screen of the iPhone Plus, but we do feel that the phone can be a little cumbersome to use, so this could be a real benefit.
In terms of processor, RAM, storage and battery the iPhone X offers the following. We’ll list the specs here for now, but we intent to benchmark the new phone fully and will update this when we have the results.
- A11 Bionic chip
- Six-core CPU (Apple says this is the smartest and most powerful ever seen in a smartphone)
- An Apple-designed GPU (which has three cores and is capable of powering AR at 60fps, as well as enabling new machine learning and 3D games.)
- Storage of 64GB or 256GB
- Battery life that’s two hours more than the iPhone 7
The key benefit to having a screen that covers the entire face of the phone is that Apple has fit a 5.8in display into an iPhone that is actually smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus, which has a 5.5in screen.
It looks stunning. Apple’s first OLED enhances the look and feel of iOS 11 without saturating the colour palette quite as much as on the Samsung Galaxy S8. Viewing angles are excellent, with a decent range of brightness settings.
You may find trouble reaching the top of the display with your thumb when using it one-handed (if you do there is a Reachability option available in Settings), but you are likely to find it more comfortable to hold than the Plus iPhones.
If you fancied the bigger screen but were put off by the size of the iPhone Plus then the iPhone X may be the answer to your prayers. The bigger screen is much more suited to watching videos and reading books, we’re even written the odd article in Pages on our iPhone Plus.
Remember though that not all apps have been formatted to the new 19.5:9 aspect ratio, so many will display video pillarboxed and letterboxed, which looks very weird. Developers will catch up, but for now there are very few third-party apps that will display correctly.
Be wary that there may be no going back once you start using the bigger screen, the standard iPhone display will end up looking so cramped.
It’s not only the size of the screen that is a benefit here though. The iPhone X is the only iPhone to feature a OLED screen – and it’s a beauty. It has a million-to-one contrast ratio, is HDR, features True Tone – which means that it will adjust the white balance to match the surrounding light, and offers wide colour support.
An iPhone X between an iPhone 8 Plus (left) and an iPhone 8
Apple has called the display Super Retina. Marketing terms aside that means it offers 2,436-by-1,125-pixel resolution at 458 ppi. That compares to the Retina HD display on the iPhone 8 Plus that offers 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution at 401 ppi.
That’s not the highest pixel density smartphone you can get though. We’re not wanting to steal Apple’s thunder here, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 offers a 522 ppi screen.
And, pleasingly, we don’t think the notch is a deal breaker. Its matters most when it comes to watching video. As our US colleague said after his hands-on time with the new device: “Apple has built the TV app to properly frame a video without the notch – when holding the phone in landscape orientation, the video is sized so that the side that’s on the same side as the notch ends right at the notch. If you want to make the video bigger, you can double tap as usual, and it will fill the screen – which means that part of the film’s image will be masked off by the sensor area. You get to choose if it bothers you.”
It’s fine, and it’s there for good reason, as we will discuss. It’s not a reason to not buy the iPhone X.
So, there’s no home button, but you knew that by now. It is replaced by a combination of on-screen gestures, and the occasional use of the side button. In the time we have spent with the phone so far it was hard to get used to them, but switching apps requires a swipe up and hold to then cycle through those open. We have more on the iPhone X gestures here: How to use the iPhone X.
It’s very unintuitive at first, simply because it’s such a doddle with a Home button. The ever-present horizontal strip at the bottom of the UI on the phone is there to swipe up from to return to the home screen, or swipe sideways to cycle between apps in a different way to the previous gesture.
It’ll take you a while as it did us, but if you take plunge it’ll only be a matter of days until you’re accustomed.
The notch also plays it part here. You can swipe down from the left or just underneath it to bring down iOS 11’s notification shade, but pulling from the right where the battery indicator is gets you to control centre.
This replaces swiping up from the bottom of the screen, which is now the gesture for returning to the home screen. Interestingly, this is a carry-over from poor old BlackBerry’s short-lived BB10 OS.
Everything else is how you’d expect iOS 11 to run on an iPhone 6, 7 or 8 from what we can tell. We’ll delve in more when we publish our full review.
We weren’t able to test Face ID on the unit we spent some time with, but our US colleague Jason Snell says of a demo he was shown at the launch: “Sometimes the screen would go to sleep before she unlocked the phone, and more than once she accidentally pressed the side button and triggered Siri.”
Face ID creates a precise depth map of your face, which means that it’s recognising a 3D image of you. This is far more secure than the face recognition of Samsung and LG that can be fooled with a printed picture of a person.
Face ID in demo mode
On the other hand, if you are an evil twin looking to get into your sibling’s new iPhone you might be in luck. In fact, Apple has recommended that children under the age of 13 shouldn’t use Face ID as their faces are still developing and “distinct facial features may not have fully developed”. Apple has also warned that a brother or sister – and obviously an identical twin – may be able to unlock your phone.
Added to that, if you choose to cover your face for religious reasons (such as a burkas or niqab) or if you turn to a balaclava when the weather gets colder, you won’t be able to use Face ID. No need to worry if you have a beard, hat or glasses as Face ID should still work under those conditions.
There is potential for the loss of Touch ID to be viewed as a failing, which is a real shame. Apple says that Face ID, is more secure than a fingerprint but we just feel that it is sure to be prone to error. We don’t feel completely confident about Face ID working revery single time, and the fact that when Apple’s Craig Federighi tried to perform his live demo on stage at the keynote he had to go to his backup iPhone X because the first one didn’t recognise his face properly, didn’t really help.
Removing Touch ID for the iPhone X was always going to be controversial, but Face ID in principle is even more secure. Once set up, a glance at the phone (which can tell it’s you thanks to the depth-sensing front-facing camera) is enough to unlock it. You then need to swipe up to go to the home screen.
It’s a two-step process that if it works seamlessly will feel like one in a swipe up. But it means you can unlock the phone without putting it in front of your face. We will of course test this fully very soon.
Apple Pay also works via the same validation method. You trigger it with a double tap of the side button, and wait for Face ID to confirm it’s you before the phone is ready to pay. Again – our testing is in the works. Read our comparison of Face ID versus Touch ID here.
The other feature we touched on earlier is wireless charging. This one isn’t unique to the iPhone X, though – the iPhone 8 will get it too.
To charge your iPhone wirelessly you will need to buy a Qi compatible mat. Apple’s planning to release its own AirPower mat – but that won’t arrive until 2018.
It’s worth noting here that if you want to wirelessly charge your iPhone you can actually do so now. iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus both support wireless charging, and even if you have an older iPhone, you just need to buy a specially designed iPhone case or a device that plugs into your iPhone and a pad or mat on which you place your iPhone to charge.
We have an article on how to get wireless charging on your iPhone here with some recommended products.
We’re not that sure we care that much about being able to charge our iPhone wirelessly though. Sure it can be fiddly trying to plug in the lightening cable (and they are notorious for fraying around the plug which is a bit of a concern), but at least you can plug your iPhone in at your desk at work, or charge it in your car, and, crucially, plug your phone in and look at it while its charging.
If you are wirelessly charging your iPhone it is actually tied down to one spot, rather than tethered by a cable. We can’t see how this is actually better.
The iPhone X is also capable of fast charging, but not with any of the in-box accessories. You’ll need to invest in a charger and cable from Apple, which comes to about £80. You won’t want to.
The iPhone X camera offers dual 12Mp sensors, just like the camera in the iPhone 7 generation did. However there are some improvements.
The 12Mp cameras in the iPhone X (and that in the iPhone 8 Plus) has a new Portrait Lighting feature, with five different lighting styles to enhance your photos taken in Portrait Mode. Superbly, these features also work on the front facing camera although the technology used here is different.
As with the 7 Plus and 8 Plus, the portrait photo bokeh effect is made possible by the fact that there are two lenses, but the telephoto lens has a faster aperture in the newer models. With a ƒ/2.4 aperture joining the wide-angle ƒ/1.8 aperture, rather than the ƒ/2.8 aperture of the previous generation. Unlike the 8 Plus, the iPhone X’s lenses both have optical image stabilisation, meaning this is the best equipped iPhone camera set up available.
The main distinction between the cameras in the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus is the front facing camera in the X. It is a 7Mp TrueDepth camera which offers its own Portrait Mode along with the Portrait Lighting feature. So you will be able to take spectacular selfies, as long as you are looking spectacular.
But it’s the improved image and video stablisation we welcome most, with the iPhone X and iPhone 8 cameras all offering 4K up to 60fps (rather than last generation’s 30fps). And there’s 1080p slo-mo up to 240fps.
Once we have done full testing, we will report on how the phone performs.
The new iPhone X runs iOS 11. It looks awesome on the bright OLED panel compared to the iPhone 7 (and 8’s) LCD.
The full screen effect afforded by the X is startling, and will surely free up your daily use of the phone.
There are a few software features that will only be available on the iPhone X. These include the new Animoji. These are emoji that can mimic your own expressions. They are possible on the iPhone X because the TrueDepth camera on the front of the device (the one used for Face ID) can analyses more than 50 different muscle movements to mirror your expressions. There are 12 Animoji to choose from, and we’ll be testing them in-depth very soon.
You’ll also be able to enjoy some AR features thanks to the new gyroscopes and accelerometers that are incorporated for motion tracking. The TrueDepth camera in the iPhone X will enable some additional AR features.
But then again this is about Apple reinventing the regular, sometimes mundane and basic iPhone features. Check out the Messages app:
We love how the iPhone has lost its bezels, even if we remain cautious about Face ID. The decision will do wonders for the user experience and people who have been used to the design of the iPhone 6 are finally faced with something truly different.
Our upcoming full review will explore just how much this change in aspect ratio affects the software experience on iOS 11. Some apps such as Netflix will be quick to catch up and push updated, redesigned apps for the iPhone X, but we expect there will be unavoidable bugs in the process.
It’ll be interesting to see what the phone is like for day to day use, and whether we will be getting the familiar black bars for months after launch like we have found with the Samsung Galaxy S8.