iPhone X preview

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 six generations! Yes, Apple has leaped straight from iPhone 7 (via the iPhone 8, previewed here) all the way to iPhone 10, bypassing the iPhone 7s and leapfrogging the iPhone 9 altogether.

To confuse everyone even more, iPhone 10 is written as iPhone X. Just like Mac OS X was Mac OS 10. The company likes Roman numerals. Unfortunately people tend to say what they see, so we expect there will be a lot of confusion about what this new iPhone is called.

Naming conventions aside, how does the new flagship iPhone shape up? Is it going to revolutionise the smartphone again like the iPhone did, or is Apple just playing catch up with the rest of the industry. Here are our first thoughts, plus the opinions of our US colleague Jason Snell who was at the launch event and was able to get his hands on the device.

Design & Build quality

The first thing that will strike you about the iPhone X is that this is the first iPhone without the trademark Home Button. Does that mean it looks less like an iPhone?

When you see the iOS home screen (which will be iOS 11 by the time the iPhone X ships) there will be no mistaking the fact that it’s an iPhone. On the side you’ll see the familiar volume control buttons and on/off switch, plus the Apple logo on the back of the device is another giveaway.

The phone is also still available in the very Apple Silver and Space Grey. No Gold or Rose Gold to be seen though. There’s no such frivolity, this is a serious phone.

The Home Button had to go because Apple has given us a display that stretches across the entire front of the phone. Apparently it has always been Apple’s vision to “create an iPhone that is entirely screen”, and it’s finally done so.

It’s not only the front of the device that’s glass. The iPhone X also has a glass back to enable it to be charged wirelessly. The iPhone X (and the iPhone 8 models) will offer wireless charging using the Qi standard. This doesn't mean that they will magically charge over the air, you will need to buy a Qi compatible charging pad to lay them on. We’ll talk more about wireless charging later. Read about how the iPhone X compares to the iPhone 8 here.

The screen

Back to that screen. There is one key benefits to having a screen that covers the face of the iPhone. It means Apple can pack a 5.8in display into an iPhone that is actually smaller than the iPhone Plus (which has a 5.5in screen).

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.

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. Beware though, there is 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.

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.

If we were being really picky, our only real criticism of the screen would be the fact that there is a notch taken out of the top where the camera, speaker and microphone live. It’s a shame because the notch spoils full screen images, they are always going to have a chunk taken out of them. (It leaves less space for carrier branding too, but that will matter more to them than us).

The presence of the notch 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.”

We imagine that if we were watching a movie on the iPhone X we’d be a little put off by the chunk of missing screen.

No Home Button

The other thing that we think we might struggle with is the fact that there is No Home Button on the iPhone X. Not only was the Home Button a trademark of the iPhone design, as we said above, it’s what we are used to.

To accommodate the lack of Home Button Apple has redesigned iOS in order to replace its functions. You will need to swipe down from the upper right corner of the screen to reveal Control Center, rather than swiping up from the bottom, for instance.

It means we are going to have to completely re-learn the iPhone interface after a decade with the Home Button. Perhaps we’ll be able to adapt to new ways of doing things but I predict that we will experience a lot of frustrations as we get use to the interface changes.

Maybe it won’t be as bad as we are anticipating though. Our colleague over at Macworld US said that while they kept reaching down instinctively with their thumb to click the home button, which wasn’t there, they found that on remembering they were using an iPhone X they quickly redirected their thumb to swipe up from the bottom of the screen, just as they would today to call up Control Centre.

Doing so would hide the current app and reveal the home screen. He said that the new gestures are intuitive, we’re not so sure but we are willing to be convinced once we get our hands on the new phone.

Face ID

It’s not just the interface that has to adapt to the removal of the Home Button. Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint recognition system introduced with the iPhone 5s in 2013 as a way to secure your iPhone, and paving the way for Apple Pay, has vanished from the iPhone X too.

We think that this is a failing on the part of Apple and a real shame. Apple says that its replacement, Face ID, is more secure than a fingerprint but we just feel that it is sure to be prone to error. We just don’t feel confident about Face ID working right now, 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.

We have so many questions about Face ID and how it will be implemented. For example, how will Face ID work when we are using Apple Pay at a payment terminal or on the tube? We’ll have to wait until we can test it in the real world to find out, but we've collected some of our early impressions in Face ID vs Touch ID: What's the best way to unlock an iPhone?

In the mean time our US colleague has at least been able to see Face ID in action. He said that while he couldn’t set up Face ID to recognise his own face, he saw an Apple employee use Face ID to unlock the phone and it worked when she looked at the screen.

However, he said, she experienced some quirks. “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,” he said.

Of course by the time the iPhone X launches in November this will most likely have been fixed as these would have been early models.

A few words on how Face ID works. It creates a precise depth map of your face, which means that it’s not just recognising a 2D image of you but a 3D image of you. This, we assume, is why Face ID doesn't recognise photos or masks (so don’t bother printing out a photo of your other half to hack into their phone, it won’t work).

On the other hand, if you are an evil twin looking to get into your sibling’s new iPhone you’ll be laughing.

Wireless charging

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. 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.

Camera

The iPhone X camera, and for that matter the iPhone 8 camera, offers 12MP, just like the camera in the iPhone 7 generation did. However there are some improvements.

The 12MP camera 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.

Like the 7 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.

The main distinction between the cameras in the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus is the front facing camera in the X. Here we have 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.

There’s also improved video stablisation, 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.

Tech specs

In terms of processor, RAM, storage and battery the iPhone X will offer the following. We’ll list the specs here for now, but when we get our hands on the new phone we will be benchmarking it fully.

  • 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

Software

The new iPhone X will run iOS 11, which is due to launch on 19 September.

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.

Animoji looks like a fun feature, but we’re suspicious that it will be one of those use it once for a laugh and never again types of things. Like the Apple Watch emoji. But maybe that’s just us.

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.

For more information about the Apple Event why not listen to our podcast here:

Release date

You’ll be able to order the iPhone X from 27 October. The official release day is 3 November, although we are expecting supplies to be constrained initially.

Pricing

The iPhone X will cost $999 / £999 for the 64GB model. For the 256GB model you will be looking at paying $1,149 / £1,149.

OUR VERDICT

Whether this is the iPhone of your dreams depends on a lot of things. If you wanted a big screen but you were put off by the size of the iPhone Plus then this is going to be the answer to your prayers.

If you want to take exceptional selfies then it looks like the new front facing camera on the iPhone X will give you the ultimate in lighting and background blur to impress your Instagram followers with.

However, if you want to be able to wirelessly charge your iPhone you could just buy an iPhone 8 - or any iPhone along with a wireless charging kit.

And if you want to take even better Portrait Photos than the iPhone 7 Plus can you could buy the iPhone 8 Plus.

We’ll hold off on our final conclusion until we get our hands on the new iPhone X. We hope that when we see it in person we will be won over by it’s good looks and that Apple will prove itself to be the king of interface design even without the Home Button.

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