Apple iPhone X review: This gorgeous, future-proof iPhone still needs some refining
This is the best phone that Apple has come out with this year and it pretty much sets the blueprint for the next few years.
This year’s iPhone event was all about the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. So to celebrate that, Apple had a brand new phone in the form of the iPhone X (pronounced as iPhone Ten). Of course, Apple also announced the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, but these announcements were rushed as a lot of screen time was reserved for the iPhone X. This is the tenth anniversary iPhone and Apple has taken a break from its traditional design language with the iPhone X. It has also done away with the home button, which was a permanent fixture on the iPhone since its inception. This also happens to be the most expensive iPhone ever. And unlike other phones before it, it happens to be the first iPhone that Apple released in India at the same time as the rest of the world.
The pricing starts at Rs 89,000 for the 64 GB variant, and Rs 1,02,000 for the 256 GB variant. Yes, the iPhone X has crossed that Rs 1 lakh barrier, at least as far as the mainstream consumer phones are concerned. Only the limited edition Vertus or those diamond-studded phones cost higher.
The iPhone X is clearly meant for those who are looking for that exclusivity factor and the new design. The immediate audience is the iPhone 7 / 7 Plus upgraders (these phones command a good resale value, thereby reducing the total cost of ownership of the X). It is difficult to justify this kind of price point in the current Indian smartphone market scenario where you have stellar phones in the Android camp as well. Moreover, the iPhone 8 / 8 Plus are great phones in themselves, housing most of the same innards as the iPhone X. The question you need to answer is: Are you willing to pay that significant premium for the edge-to-edge display and brand new design? After four generations of similar design language, the iPhone X finally offers something new. That in itself could be enough motivation for some to pick up the tenth anniversary iPhone.
If you are a first time iPhone buyer and have your eyes set on the iPhone X, or if you are still on the fence regarding whether to go for Android flagships, the iPhone 8/8 Plus or the iPhone X, do read the review carefully.
The iPhone X certainly places the iPhone in a new direction and the design language could be a sign of things to come in future generations. There are already renders of what a 2018 iPhone lineup may look like with three different screen sizes with the iPhone X design language. As a first generation device, the iPhone X certainly has a learning curve involved. But before we get to that, let us first start off with the build quality.
Build and Design: 8.5/10
Finally, after years of staring at the same, boring, iPhone design that's stuck around since the iPhone 6 days, it's refreshing to behold the all-glass iPhone X. When we tested the iPhone 8 Plus, we were at a loss to tell it apart from the iPhone 7 Plus when seen from the front. Apple has been refining the same design language since the iPhone 6 / 6 Plus and it had started to feel dated. When you have Android rivals such as Samsung, LG, HTC and even Xiaomi experimenting with different design languages with every succeeding generation, it was disappointing to see the same old design from Apple.
The iPhone X changes things in the sense that the design language is completely new. Place the 5.8-inch iPhone X beside the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus and you will know what I mean. The iPhone 8 Plus looks huge in front of the iPhone X. And its large bezels on the top and bottom have been quite annoying over the years. The iPhone X feels quite close to the iPhone 8 in terms of dimensions. Thanks to the all-display design that the iPhone X introduces, you get very thin bezels on all sides, making this one an almost edge-to-edge display. The TrueDepth camera module on the top resides in a notch, which will take some time getting used to.
The Apple iPhone X uses glass on the front and the back as well, and there is a steel frame that separates the two. The transition from glass to steel is quite smooth and there are no sharp edges at the lipping. The steel frame adds a nice touch to the design, but it also tends to collect a lot of smudges. So you will have to keep cleaning it time and again. A glass back also means that you have to be ultra careful while handling the device as dropping it would certainly shatter the glass back.
On the right-hand side, you have the power/standby button followed by the single nano-SIM card tray. The base houses the lightning port surrounded by the speaker grille section and of course, there is no headphone jack. On the left-hand side, you have the profile switch notch and the volume up and down buttons. The top edge is clean. The antenna cuts are noticeable on the right and left-hand edges.
The rear side of the iPhone X is all glass, thanks to the support for wireless charging. The dual camera module is aligned vertically, with the quad LED flash in the centre of the two lenses and tends to protrude out significantly. So when you place the phone flat on the table, be prepared for wobbling. Adding a case resolves this issue though. The glass back tends to collect smudges and if you have a Space Gray phone, these will most likely stand out. I got the 'Silver' iPhone X for testing, where the smudges aren’t that visible unless seen from an angle or if they are right above the shiny Apple logo.
The phone feels hefty at 174 g, but it is still lighter than the iPhone 8 Plus, which is around 202 g. The iPhone X is 7.7 mm thick. The phone is quite sturdy and there are no complaints about the build quality of the device. But since it includes a glass front and back, you would be better off using a protective case, as the iPhone X will not be able to survive a fall from a height. A couple of images of cracked glass on the iPhone X were enough to make me want to invest in a protective case.
Apple has gone all out on this front. The most striking feature is, of course, the almost edge-to-edge display. The iPhone X comes with a Samsung-made 5.8-inch OLED display, which is a first for Apple. It houses the same chipset that was seen on the Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, i.e. the Apple A11 Bionic. This chipset has two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores in addition to three GPU cores and one motion co-processor. The chipset is so designed that each of the six processor cores can operate independently. The chipset is paired with 3 GB RAM and the iPhone X comes in two storage variants, namely 64 GB and 256 GB. I got the latter model for review.
On the camera front, you get a dual rear camera setup with two 12 MP cameras. But unlike the iPhone 8 Plus, these cameras are vertically aligned, and the telephoto lens has an aperture of f/2.4 on the iPhone X as opposed to the f/2.8 that is present on the iPhone 8 Plus. Also, both the camera sensors get optical image stabilisation. It is capable of recording 4K videos at 60 fps and its slow-motion camera is rated at 240 fps at Full HD resolution.
Like all the iPhones before it, the iPhone X also comes with a single nano-SIM card slot supporting 4G LTE. It's high time Apple launched a dual SIM phone, considering Tim Cook keeps speaking about the importance of the Indian market, where every other smartphone supports dual SIM. In terms of connectivity, you get Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS and Galileo, and there’s a lightning port for charging and data transfer. The iPhone X also supports wireless charging.
The notch on the front face houses one of the most important features of the iPhone X — the TrueDepth camera module. This is basically the USP of the iPhone X, which is Face ID. Since the iPhone X does away with the fingerprint sensor and the home button, there is no Touch ID present on this phone. Instead, the TrueDepth camera module helps unlock the phone using facial recognition. The TrueDepth camera module comes with an IR sensor, an IR illuminator, a front-facing 7 MP Retina HD camera and a dot projector. The module basically projects around 30,000 IR dots on your face and these are mapped by the IR camera, which helps in creating a 3D face map. This 3D face map is used as a biometric identifier, letting you unlock the phone as well as authenticate transactions, just like you did with Touch ID.
This is the highlight of the iPhone X. For the first time, Apple has gone not only with an AMOLED panel made by Samsung according to Apple specifications, but it has also used an almost edge-to-edge design. This is a breath of fresh air, especially when one considers the thick bezels seen on the iPhone 8 Plus / 8 / 7 Plus and so on. The iPhone X has a resolution of 1125x2436 pixels and the aspect ratio works out to 19.5:9. This gives it a pixel density of 458 PPI, which is the highest ever seen on an iPhone.
The display also supports Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards. So far iTunes video and Netflix support native HDR content. Binge-watching Stranger Things 2, catching India's matches against New Zealand and consuming my daily YouTube video diet on this display was a pleasure. The notch is distracting only if you let the videos bleed and take over the entire display. Honestly, I never felt the need to do that as even with the original view, you have plenty of real estate to enjoy your videos.
Browsing through photographs and playing games on this display is a pleasure too. The text is tack sharp and I spent many an hour reading long-form articles on the iPhone X with nary a hint of fatigue, the tall display really reduces the number of scrolls, which I liked. You can easily adjust the text size according to your liking, and thanks to the large screen-to-body ratio, you get a lot of screen real estate, which is a joy when it comes to consuming media on the phone.
The OLED panel ensures that blacks are deep. The display is plenty bright as well. I noticed that sunlight legibility was excellent. The display is reflective though, but it isn't so bad that it becomes a mirror. There is barely any backlight bleeding thanks to the OLED panel. Colour shift is noticeable at extreme angles but isn’t as conspicuous as what we have seen with Android flagships sporting AMOLED displays.
TrueTone colour support further adds to the viewing accuracy. Over the three week period that I have used the iPhone X, I did not notice any burn-in. All in all, this is one of the best displays around. DisplayMate has already certified it as such. The Samsung AMOLED display on the Note 8 and Galaxy S8 / S8 Plus come quite close, but there is a definite colour tinge that is noticeable in these displays. Apple has calibrated the OLED panel to its standards and it is this that elevates the display.
A lot of people have expressed reservations about the notch. Honestly, it is not such a distraction after a while. You will see the notch only if you have filled in the entire display. There is a workaround to that which uses slightly less display real estate. After a while, it is not such a distraction. Yes, when playing games it can be a bit annoying. And since it is early days, a lot of app developers still have to optimise their apps for the iPhone X display, so the unoptimised apps could be a pain.
OS and Software: 8/10
iOS 11 is the OS that is present out of the box on the iPhone X. It is the latest iOS variant and Apple seems to have integrated it well with this iPhone, which does not have a home button. So while we have done an in-depth feature on iOS 11, I would like to focus on the new things that iPhone X brings to the table. But off the bat, let me also say that there are some nagging glitches which surface time and again. The notification display, which is already a mess as it does not group them according to apps, sometimes overlap over each other, as seen in the screenshot below. The need to swipe up on the phone to get the homepage after Face ID unlocks your phone seems like an unnecessary added step. And while this may be more of an app developer issue, there are lot of apps that are yet to be optimised for the display.
Gestures are everything
Considering that there is no home button, you have to now familiarise yourself with new gestures, which can take some time getting used to. Short-pressing the volume up and standby button will let you take a screenshot, long pressing these will give you the option to switch off the phone. Pressing the volume down and the power/standby button will activate the Emergency SOS mode. Swiping up from the bottom edge will take you to the home screen. Holding and swiping up gives you the multitasking menu where you can select any apps opened from the recent past. Holding and swiping up and then going to the left or right lets you switch between apps. This can also be simulated by simply swiping left or right on the horizontal bar at the base of the display. To force shut an app, you will need to hold on any app till a red circle with a minimise sign inside appears. Tapping on the red circle will force shut the app whereas swiping an open app will remove it from the multitasking menu.
Swiping down from the top right corner of the display brings up the Control Centre and doing the same from the centre and on the left-hand corner brings up the notification menu. Siri is activated by either the call action ‘Hey Siri’ or double tapping the power button.
Face ID has replaced Touch ID
The Face ID can be setup from Settings > Face ID and the Passcode menu. The TrueDepth camera module is present at the top centre of iPhone X, giving it that debatably aesthetic notch, which also houses the front-facing 7 MP retina camera, the dot projector which throws up 30,000 IR dots to get a 3D map of your face and the IR sensor which ensures that Face ID will work even in darker conditions. Face ID can also be used with apps such as Clips or third-party apps such as Snapchat. I’m pretty sure that many more apps will get on board to make use of the front camera module on the iPhone X. Apple has promised that the Face map data is stored on the device only and not on any central server, thereby addressing fears of your facial data being open to misuse by hackers.
Another feature possible thanks to Face ID is Animojis. This is basically a group of 12 emojis which can actually be animated according to the movement of your facial muscles. The Face ID maps around 50 points on the face with that of the Animojis, which lets you animate the emojis anyway you like. You can also record the Animoji and then share it with your friends, who may not be using iPhone X, as a video file.
One feature pertaining to the Face ID that I quite liked is the ‘Attention-Aware’ feature. This ensures that as long as you are looking at the display, it will not dim or time out. We have heard reports, however, that if you hold the phone too close to your face, the phone will shut off the display much faster because it doesn't think it has your attention. For such outlier use-cases, there is a toggle to disable attention-aware features.
An added security feature is that the phone will not display the contents of notifications till you actually look at the phone. This prevents anyone else from looking at your notifications. This is a wonderful feature as you don’t have to wake your device but just look at it to see the content of the notifications, and it keeps it hidden if anyone else views the phone. I like this added layer of security because it's seamless and doesn't add an extra step to access these notifications.
You can use Face ID to unlock the iPhone, for iTunes and App Store purchase verification, Safari autofill as well as with compatible apps that support Face ID.
Control Centre is semi-customisable and you can add some your most frequently used functions as shortcuts here. While a lot of the features have been tweaked for iOS 11, a lot of the apps are yet to be optimised. So while using Telegram for the first couple of weeks, I noticed that the content would bleed around the two edges of the display on top whereas some other apps such as WhatsApp filled in that space. 3D touch is present but it's still not game-changing enough to see daily use.
Let’s just start off by saying that this is a beast of a performer thanks to the Apple A11 Bionic chip. The benchmark numbers are something that flagship Android devices can only dream of at the moment. Operations are smooth and there is barely any instance of any kind of slowdown.
The Face ID works as expected, although I did find it to be quite random at times. The face unlocking works fine irrespective of lighting conditions, but there were times when despite holding the phone up front, it would refuse to unlock and I had to put in the PIN. It worked fine even when I had my sunglasses on. Face ID does struggle when there is IR interference, but it's difficult to predict when that will happen. I sport a heavy beard and I tried changing the grooming style of the beard just to try and confuse Face ID, but the iPhone X couldn’t be bothered and did unlock every time. The part of lifting the phone at an angle to activate unlock can be a tad bit annoying, especially if you are used to the Touch ID. And I must admit, I do miss the tactility of Touch ID.
Call quality is excellent and the earpiece speakers are loud enough.
Gaming on the phone is a pleasure and thanks to the powerful GPU there isn’t any noticeable frame drop. I could play Real Racing 3, Modern Combat Versus, Infinity Blade without any hitch. All the prowess powering the iPhone X comes together wonderfully when dealing with AR apps. I tried out heavy AR apps like Human Atlas, Nightsky and AR Golf and all the apps were super responsive, although this does tend to warm up the iPhone X. It never got unbearably hot, but if you are out and about in the Mumbai summers, you will notice the heat.
Speaker output is excellent. There were many instances where I would watch hours of YouTube and Netflix videos without the need for earphones. Sound quality is really good, although it does tend to struggle when it comes to low-frequency sounds. There was no clipping or distortion of sound even at higher volume levels. And yes, there is no headphone jack so you will have to live the dongle life if you have standard headphones. I am not a big fan of no headphone jacks, but it doesn’t look like Apple is ever going to bring it back, so there isn’t any point in complaining. Siri’s understanding of the Indian accent has surely improved over the years and I did use it a lot more than I had with the iPhone 7 Plus. But is still not as good as the Google Assistant in keeping up with contextual conversations.
On the camera front, you get a dual rear camera setup with two 12 MP cameras. But unlike the iPhone 8 Plus, these cameras are vertically aligned, and the telephoto lens has an aperture of f/2.4 on the iPhone X as opposed to the f/2.8 that is present on the iPhone 8 Plus. Also, both the camera sensors get optical image stabilisation.
Apple's new HEVC encoding support enables 4K 60 fps and 1080p 240 fps recording. No other mainstream smartphone can do this. The 4K videos at 60 fps look wonderful and thanks to OIS present on both the lenses, you now get a really stable video output even if you are walking briskly while shooting. Just look at the video shot from a fast-moving cab below where the OIS just shines. This is particularly helpful during low light shooting as well. When shooting video during the daytime, the transition from dark to light areas and adjustment of the exposure is quite smooth. You still get a great dynamic range. It is a hoot for smartphone movie makers.
Add in the iMovie app and you can quickly make minor edits to your videos soon as well. The HEVC format also cuts down on the space required to store 4K video files. The slow motion at 240 fps is great as well, although the quality degrades with low light as there is a lot of noise. Coming to the still camera, well nothing much has changed from what we observed with the iPhone 8 Plus. It offers excellent daylight photographs which show accurate colours, superb dynamic range and the camera is quick to focus. You can check out the sample images we've embedded as an album below:
Low light photography is fine as long as it’s dusk, but after it gets dark, the noise becomes prominent. When compared side by side with a Pixel 2 XL or a Galaxy Note 8, the noise control and the details captured definitely has some scope for improvement. It is definitely not bad, but if you are paying the amount you do for the iPhone X, these things matter.
The portrait mode with the various lighting modes are still a work in progress. While the bokeh effect and background separation are good, it is the feathering around the edges that need work. This becomes especially prominent when you take into consideration the fact that Pixel 2 XL is able to provide a much sharper separation around edges, and that too with a single camera module on the front and back. Also, the other thing with Portrait mode is that you need to be really patient to ensure that you are at the optimal distance from the subject. For someone who loves street photography where spontaneity is of the essence when it comes to making portraits, this feature is not for me. But I had a lot of friends wanting a good profile photo for which the portrait mode is perfect as you have the luxury of time.
As is the case with all the iPhones, Apple does not officially reveal the battery capacity. But then again, there are enough resources online doing breakdowns of the iPhones to get actual numbers. The iPhone X comes with a 2,716 mAh battery, which is non-removable of course. The capacity is definitely lower than that seen on competing Android flagships. But Apple claims that this does not affect the battery life.
In our testing, we found that we could easily get around 10-11 hours of usage time with the device and a standby time or 15-20 hours. Suffice it to say that it will last you easily for a work day and then some more. One annoying thing I found was that there was no option to display battery life in percentage. The only way to see that is by swiping down from the top to get the Control Centre, you can then see the percentage indicator. Unnecessary added step I feel, as activating the percentage indicator is the first thing I do with any phone I review. Usage pattern involved three mail accounts on sync, constantly buzzing Telegram, Slack and WhatsApp, 10-15 calls a day, around 20 photos/videos, a couple of hours of Netflix and listening to podcasts and around 15-20 mins of gaming.
With the iPhone X too, Apple has bundled its slow charger. It is really sad to not see a fast charger in the box itself. Every other Android flagship phone comes with a fast charger out of the box, but with Apple, you still have to spend some extra moolah to get something that should be bundled. The logic behind it still beats me.
The iPhone X, like its other two siblings — the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus — supports wireless charging as well. I did not have a wireless charger around so I cannot speak about the charging performance. But it is a slow method of charging for sure, and you will need to ensure that your case is not too thick and that it does not allow wireless charging. There is a certain tolerance level for case thickness which will ensure wireless charging.
Verdict and Price in India
So is this the best iPhone yet? Well, if you have come this far, then it is pretty evident that the iPhone X is certainly living up to its expectations. Yes, this is the best phone that Apple has come out with this year and it pretty much sets the blueprint for the next few years. But it also demands a special kind of price. It starts at Rs 89,000 for the 64 GB variant and Rs 1,02,000 for the 256 GB variant. When a smartphone crosses the Rs 1 lakh barrier, justification can get difficult and it will definitely polarise a lot of buyers.
If you are coming from an iPhone 7/7 Plus and are looking to upgrade, the iPhone X is the logical upgrade path. You can still get a good buyback price for the 7/7 Plus, which can ease the process of purchase for the iPhone X. The supply of the iPhone X is expected to normalise in a couple of months, so you may have to face some waiting period in some markets in India. Add in the fact that some retailers are not stocking iPhone X’s due to some profit-margin issues with Apple.
For those of you who are Android users wanting to switch to Apple or iPhone 6s and older users, and are still on the fence with regards to the iPhone X (mainly due to the price), the iPhone 8/8 Plus are still very capable phones that deliver roughly similar performance as the iPhone X. If you can resist the urge of the near bezel-less display and the True Depth camera module, the 8 and 8 Plus still make for great alternatives.
The iPhone X is certainly the phone to beat, and it has set a benchmark on many fronts such as Face ID, the OLED display and performance numbers. Low light photography and the portrait lighting modes are still some areas which could do with some improvement. The Pixel 2 XL outperforms the iPhone X in the low-light photography department on most counts. But barring this, the iPhone X has an exceptional camera, especially if you love shooting videos — the fully stabilised 4K 60 fps shooting mode, in particular, will garner a lot of fans.
If you have the money to spend and are looking at a reliable device which is future proof, has a great video camera, excellent display and design, the iPhone X is the phone to go for.
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