Apple iPhone X Review: Big Screen, Small Device

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There are plenty of new features in the tenth-anniversary iPhone, but they all come down to fitting the large screen of an iPhone Plus into the small body of a regular iPhone. Doing this required some controversial changes, including ejecting the Home button and increasing the cost to $1000. And the iPhone X has some other bells and whistles too, like wireless charging.

Our iPhone X review is based on extensive use of this new model, allowing us to provide real-world insight into all the new features.

iPhone X Home screen

iPhone X Build and Design

Getting lost in all the hoopla surrounding Apple’s latest smartphone is the device’s basic goal: squeeze a big screen into a small chassis. The iPhone X has a display as large as the iPhone 8 Plus while its body takes up just 4.7 cubic inches, versus the 5.75 cu.in. of the Plus. As a further comparison, the X is just a bit larger than the 4.2 cu.in. iPhone 8.

The situation is somewhat similar with weight, with the the iPhone X at 6.1 ounces versus the iPhone 8 Plus at 7.1 oz. and the regular iPhone 8 at 5.2 oz.

Anyone who has been using an iPhone 7 Plus or its predecessor will notice a significant decrease in size and a slight drop in weight. Apple’s newest fits more easily in a pants pocket, even with a case on.

With the screen off, the iPhone X looks like every other phone: a slab with curved edges and corners. It’s available in black or grey. The iPhone X is comfortable to hold, and is proportionally thinner than the Plus models. Apple returned to using glass for the back plates to enable inductive charging. A side effect of this is the device is now extra slippery.

Build quality is excellent, of course, and our test unit completely resisted our efforts to bend or twist it.

It meets the IP67 standard for dust and water resistance. This rating allows for “No ingress of dust”, and means “Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water up to 1 m”. This isn’t the highest rating for water resistance so don’t take the iPhone X swimming, but it’s likely to survive a water-related accident.

iPhone X Display

When measured diagonally, the screen in Apple’s latest is 5.8 inches, as compared to the 5.5- and 4.7-inch displays in the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone 8. But that’s not the best way to judge screen size. The X has an odd aspect ratio of 2.2:1, meaning it’s very long and thin. By contrast, the iPhone 8 Plus’ aspect ratio is a wider 16:9. The result is that both the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus have almost exactly the screen area: about 12.8 square inches.

The X does boast the highest resolution of any iOS phone: 2436 by 1125 pixels, resulting in 458 pixels per inch. That’s higher than the 8 Plus’ 401 ppi.

This is the first iOS device with an OLED display, though it’s hardly the first phone, as Samsung has been using this type for years. Even a quick glance makes it obvious why OLEDs go into high-end devices: they are beautiful. There’s a million-to-one contrast ratio, so colors and extremely vivid and blacks and completely black.  White areas look like paper.

The display is bright enough to be used outside. And not just in the shade–our tests show that this is the first iPhone that can be easily used in direct sunlight.

There’s a downside though, beyond even the higher cost of OLED panels: the potential for screen burn in. This isn’t something that’s going to start showing up immediately, but Apple suggests users don’t keep the same elements on the display for longer than necessary, especially not at full brightness, because eventually these might become permanent.

This display covers almost the entire front of the iPhone X, so there’s no room for the Home button and fingerprint scanner that’s so much a part of previous iOS devices. Instead, Apple went with a face-recognition system. There’ll be more about Face ID in a bit, but the hardware for the system takes a chunk out of the top of the screen: the infamous “Notch”.

In many situations the Notch goes unnoticed, but in others it’s a pain because it doesn’t leave room for many of the status indicators that used to sit at the top of the display. There’s no room for an icon when Personal Hotspot is being used; it’s up to the user to remember why the clock has turned blue. There’s also no room for any kind of Bluetooth indicator or battery percentage.  Most of the indicators have migrated to the Control Center, where they are no longer available at a glance.

Some features haven’t changed, like 3D Touch. Which is good because the removal of the Home button means touching the display is even more important than in previous iPhone models.

The big, gorgeous OLED display is the best part of the iPhone X, but it’s not without problems. People who keep a GPS app running for hours every day should be concerned about screen burn in, and we think Apple would have been wiser to have the screen start below the Face ID scanners.

Face ID

Switching from the fingerprint-scanning Touch ID system to the face-scanning Face ID was controversial, but mostly because people were concerned it would be unreliable. Our testing shows that our early concerns were unwarranted: the system is at least as reliable as Touch ID. And possibly more secure.

iPhone X TrueDepth Equipment

In over a week of heavy use, with hundreds of successful recognitions, there were only a couple of occasions in which the device failed to recognize us immediately. It had no problems with glasses on/off, hats,  and hairstyle changes. Darkness also isn’t an issue. On both occasions when the device didn’t recognize us, turning the device off and turning it back on again fixed the problem.

This facial recognition system doesn’t work with clothing that covers facial features, like a scarf in front of the mouth. More significantly, Face ID doesn’t work in landscape mode at all. Hopefully this limitation is something Apple will eventually be able to fix. Whenever the device doesn’t automatically unlock itself, typing in the passcode is always an option.

We made unsuccessful attempts to trick Face ID with family members with similar facial features–our parents, brothers, and sisters didn’t resemble us enough for a false positive.  The security conscious should also be pleased to hear that Face ID won’t unlock the phone unless the user is looking at the camera. It really remains locked if the eyes are closed or just looking away, just as Apple promised.

iPhone X Buttons

Buttons get a quick mention in most reviews, but the elimination of the Home button brings huge changes to how users interact with the iPhone X. There is a definite learning curve, and users should expect to take a while to become accustomed to the new methods.

This isn’t the place for an exhaustive list of all the new ways of doing things, but replacing all the functions of the Home button requires learning numerous on-screen gestures as well as combinations of the three side buttons.

The button on the right side is no longer just for power; it now handles multiple functions depending on how long it is pressed, or what other buttons are used in combination.  

The new on-screen gestures that replace the Home button aren’t complicated, but they take a while to get used to. But anyone who had a Palm Pre a few years ago has a head start, as switching or closing iOS applications now has quite a lot on common with the way webOS handled these tasks. 

iPhone X Ports and Speakers

iPhone X Speakers and Lightning Connector

Like all iOS devices, the only port on this phone is a Lightning connector. This is used for charging, but also to connect various accessories. We tested the iPhone X with Apple’s HDMI adapter as well as the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive and experienced no issues.

The iPhone X has no headset jack, as it’s part of Apple’s push toward Bluetooth audio accessories. It does come with a pair of basic earbuds that plug into the Lightning port, as well as an adapter that allows standard headphones to be plugged into the same port.

Also missing is a removable memory card slot, something Apple has refused to include for a decade now. Thankfully, third-party device makers have stepped in. We tested the iPhone X with a Leef iAccess microSD Reader and experienced no problems.

The speakers on this model are unchanged from its predecessor, to the point where Apple doesn’t even bother to mention them on the official specifications page. These dual speakers are located on the bottom edge, on either side of the Lightning connector.   They provide a decent amount of sound for hearing alarms and such, but anyone using the iPhone X for music is going to want headphones or an external speaker.

iPhone X Cameras

Apple put essentially the same dual 12 MP camera arrangement with LED flash in the iPhone X (and iPhone 8 Plus) that was in the iPhone 7 Plus. This provides digital zoom up to 2x and optical zoom up to 10x. The latest devices add optical image stabilization for both rear cameras.

The highlight of the dual cameras is bokah images, in which the subject of the picture is in focus but the background is blurred. Apple confusingly calls this “Portrait Mode” and improved the capabilities with its latest devices. The new Portrait Lighting feature lets users capture images with simulated lighting arrangements, contour lighting, stage lighting, etc. These tricks can even be applied to images later.

This feature is still in beta, but we tested this early version out with a furry friend of ours:  


A nifty feature only for the iPhone X is that bokeh/Portrait mode images can also be taken with the front-facing camera thanks to the TrueDepth equipment used for Face ID. And these pictures look sharp because the camera has a 7 MP resolution. Selfies have never looked so good.

Another wacky side effect of the TrueDepth camera is Animojis–cartoon characters that mimic the facial expressions of the user. These can be recorded in 10 second snippets and then sent as text messages. Or these short videos can also be saved, or copied into emails. We’d like to say Animojis are silly and pointless but that would be hypocritical as we’ve sent about 50 of them to friends and family.

iPhone X Performance

This is the first device with a new processor, the A11 Bionic. This has been designed by Apple for artificial intelligence tasks, most notably Face ID. Beyond that, the A11 includes six processor cores: two running at 2.39 GHz for handling tasks requiring greater performance, and the rest taking care of jobs where power efficiency is more important. Any combination of these cores can be running at the same time.

We benchmarked this computer with Geekbench 4 and found that it solidly outperformed almost all of its top competitors. The iPhone 8 Plus came out slightly ahead just because both it and the X use the same processor but the 8 Plus has fewer pixels to deal with:

 

Apple’s latest has 3 GB of RAM (2.72 GB), which is a generous amount for a iOS device that can’t run two applications on screen side-by-side.

This company used to be chintzy with the amounts of storage built into its smartphones, but thankfully has finally gotten over it. The iPhone X  is available with either 64 GB or 256 GB of capacity. Going for more storage adds $150 to the cost.

iPhone X Software

iOS Application Switcher

This device launched with iOS 11.1, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s the latest and greatest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, but it debuted with loads of bugs and the company has been burning the midnight oil fixing them.

Anyone with an iOS device can install all or any part of Apple suite of iWork business software (Pages, Sheets,  and Keynote) or the iLife suite (GarageBand and iMovie) free of charge.

iPhone X Battery Life

Apple promises that a single charge of the iPhone X is good for up to 12 hours of Internet use, or up to 13 hours of wireless video playback, or up to 60 hours of wireless audio playback. We tested it by continuously playing video over a WiFi connection with the backlight at 50%, and the device lasted 10 hours and 19 minutes. That’s a very respectable, if not up to Apple’s promise. Both this test and our real world use show that the X will last a full day of heavy use on a single charge.

This is one of the first iOS devices to support Fast-charge, in which the device’s battery can get up to a 50% boost in 30 minutes though a USB Type-C connection. However, Apple doesn’t include necessary cable, instead offering a slower USB Type-A one. It’s up to the user to purchase a Lightning cable that can connect to a USB Type-C port ($25), as well as a compatible charger or laptop with a UBC-C port. 

The iPhone X is also one of Apple’s first devices to support inductive charging, in which the phone receives power while sitting on a charge pad, without any wires plugged in. Amazingly, the device supports the Qi standard, without Apple deciding to create its own rival standard. That said, a wireless charger isn’t bundled with the device, so it’s up to users to obtain their own.

iPhone X Final Thoughts

As its name suggests, the iPhone X was released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the original iPhone. That’s why Apple pulled out all the stops, putting in a large OLED display, reliable facial recognition, and inductive charging. All of this fits into a casing about the size of a standard iPhone.

Obviously, this model brings significant changes to the iPhone line, which also brings controversy. Most notably, the Home button has been pushed out to make room for the big display, requiring people to learn new ways to interact with their device.

And, of course, there’s the price. The 64 GB version is $999, while the 256 GB one is $1,149. While that’s a lot to pay for a phone, it isn’t much more than its top competitor:  $960 is the cost of the rival Samsung Galaxy Note8, which has a slightly larger 6.3-inch display but the same amount of storage.  That said, fans of iOS who want a big screen could opt for the iPhone 8 Plus and save themselves $200.



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  1. xitongzou

    The price is pretty ridiculous when you compare it to the price of the Galaxy S8 and Pixel 2 though.