Finally. At last. About time!
It’s taken a good while, but you can get an iPhone X today; just walk into an Apple store or your nearest and dearest telco; they all have them in numerous quantities.
But should you?
I’ve never been one of those guys that lined up outside an Apple Store to get the first of anything. I did get the iPhone 3G on it’s release day – but that was because I was working at the Apple Store at the time! I’m the kind of guy that will wait until I need to upgrade to something.
With my iPhone 6 Plus workhorse, the need was clear; it’s performance was… stuttered. The moment Apple released iOS 11, the writing was on the wall. In ink. Etched. Chiseled. Written in thirty-foot high letters of fire, even*. Months of pain dealing with the sloth that had become the iPhone 6 Plus needed to end.
And that was the single reason to make the jump, but the result has been a complete delight and a new love for iPhone.
Unlike my old iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone X looks better in real life, even without the benefit of photoshop. The web imagery does no justice to the finish. The smooth shine of the glass front, the depth of the glass back, the stunning chrome edge.
iPhone X feels good in the hand too; significant but not cumbersome. The screen is large, but the device is compact, due to what’s been taken away.
Don’t underestimate design. Design is more than looks and feel.
If you’ve ever seen the documentaries Helvetica or Objectified, you’ll understand that design is more than the look of a thing – more than vacuous beauty. If design ended there you simply wouldn’t use a thing. The stunning design that starts with the outside continues throughout every tiny, thoughtful aspect of iPhone X.
And, yes, I’ve seen both Helvetica and Objectified.
Call me crazy.
This is it. It’s the mother feature. The main selling point. The reason for iPhone X to exist.
And also probably the most under-appreciated.
Gone is the ubiquitous Touch ID fingerprint identification; replaced with a technology so seamless that it feels like magic. Face ID uses 30,000 (count them!) dots, sprayed across your face, to learn who you are, and then uses your face to unlock everything which would previously need TouchID, or (even further back in time), your passcode.
Does it work? Seamlessly. Outside of on-screen cues that FaceID is being used to unlock your phone, make app-store purchases, log into online banking, or populate your password on a web site, it’s literally as simple as looking at your phone – something you do every minute you use it.
I’ve thrust my phone into several people’s faces and tried a photo of myself (and others) to try to fool it – it doesn’t get fooled. I setup FaceID with my glasses on, and it recognises me with them off, and even with my hand covering my chin (as you do when you’re looking at your phone, thinking). Apple claims the phone learns how your looks can change over time, so growing a beard isn’t an issue. Does it work if you have a large bushy beard, and then shave? I’m not sure about that, but it does work if I cover the entire beard area of my face – so it well may!
FaceID also makes iPhone X more secure. For example, when locked, your phone tells you that your have a notification, but doesn’t reveal the content until you look at it. Arthur C Clarke is quoted as having said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.
Magic, meet FaceID.
And, yes, FaceID does work for the blind. By default, FaceID requires you to look at the iPhone to activate, but this can be switched off, such that all you need is a face.
While FaceID is staring at your face all day, your face is staring at the display, so changes to the display are always a big deal, and iPhone X’s display has changed in major ways.
Firstly, there’s size. At 5.8 inches it’s bigger than any other iPhone screen. The display is the phone. The bigger size is a no-brainer, though going bigger always has the potential for associated downsides. Making the display the phone means that, despite the bigger screen, iPhone X is surprisingly compact.
Secondly, there’s OLED. OLED displays show true black – not just very dark grey – but actual, lack-of-light, black. Colours on OLEDs really, really, pop, the displays are thinner, and they use less power than LCDs. OLED hasn’t been without it’s flaws; colours shift depending on the viewing angle and can change over time, and they have struggled in bright light (notably, daylight), so Apple’s been slow to the OLED party, knowing that it’s customers expect only the best. Apple’s implementation has mostly dealt with these issues, and implemented OLED as a retina display, and the result it spectacular.
Androidians will tell you the Samsung Galaxy S9 has a higher resolution display (570 ppi versus 458 ppi on iPhone X), but the human eye can’t see past 300 ppi, so I’m not sure of the point.
Out, damn notch! (Photo by Qi Heng/VCG via Getty Images)
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room – The Notch. To get iPhone X as small as possible Apple made the, um, bold design decision to take a notch out of the top of the display, where the front-facing camera, earpiece, FaceID, and various other sensors live. Personally, it bugs me. I don’t notice it like I did a week ago, but I would have preferred 5mm more height and no notch.
Having said that, the notch doesn’t interfere when it really counts; viewing wide-screen videos, taking a screenshot, taking a photo, or scrolling through your photos. Apple has told developers to embrace the notch. Some are avoiding it, but mostly you just don’t notice it, like watching a play when someone with a bouffant is sitting in front of you and off to the side a bit – it’s a tiny distraction in your peripheral vision that you eventually get past.
On the plus side, having the notch does make iPhone X smaller overall, and this is a good thing. While I love the larger displays of the iPhone Plus line and other “phablets”, my 6 Plus was always too big for my hands. It was OK in my pocket, but making calls was like holding a frying pan to my cheek!
iPhone X has a big, beautiful, bright, poppy screen in a compact form factor – imagine Cinerama, in a phone booth. It’s only slightly bigger than the iPhone 8, but its screen is roughly the size as the iPhone 8 Plus. Finally, I can watchStar Trek Discovery on Netflix, in the dead of night, on a gorgeous, personal display.
What a display!
No Home Button
With FaceID replacing TouchID, we say goodbye to the home button, an integral part of iPhone since day one. It’s sudden removal is one of those jarring deletions that Apple is famous for, and I didn’t know how I would deal with this, but relearning takes very little getting used to. The home button single-press functionality has been replaced with a swipe up from the bottom of the display, and double-press has been replaced with swipe-and-pause. These changes take a short minute to learn, and you quickly realise Apple had prepared us for these gestures when it released iOS 11. It’s not a terribly dramatic change.
I knew I’d mastered the gestures when I found myself trying to use them on my iPad. Oops. My finger no longer drifts to the home button, but automatically swipes upwards, to no avail, alongside that awkward moment when I expect my iPad to unlock itself just by giving the camera my best Blue Steel.
The removal of the home button is philosophically in line with Apple’s loathing of buttons; I’m surprised that volume and power are even still buttons, and not little touch pads. No doubt they will disappear when a completely submersible iPhone is released in due course.
iPhone has always been at or near the forefront of mobile camera photography, and – as the archetype of all smart phones – is indirectly responsible for the mass accessibility of consumer photography, and consequently, for trillions of pointless #beentheredonethat photos. We’re all guilty!
The iPhone X camera represents a major upgrade over iPhone 6 / 6 Plus. Since I’m not a photo buff, I’ll leave it to others to go into a detailed technical analysis, and just skip to what it means for your family photos and videos, and why they’ll look so much better.
Pixels pixels pixels. iPhone X’s camera sensor has more megapixels (12 versus 8), so photos have more detail and look sharper. Should you ever, you know, accidentally print your snaps, they’ll look great – even if blown up as posters. Want proof? Check out Apple’s Shot on iPhone campaign, littering billboards literally everywhere.
Low light? No problem! For those intimate family dinners, iPhone X takes better photos in low light, with less graininess. Take you happy snaps with natural lighting instead of filling with flash and avoid those awful night-time shadows.
Optical zoom. Like the iPhone 7 and 8 range, iPhone X has an optical zoom – not just a fake digital zoom. OK, it’s just 2x, and there are phones with 10x zooms, but they have heavy trade-offs; either the processor is slow, or the screen is small, or they can’t shoot 4K video, or they have low storage – you don’t get something for nothing!
The best portraits, Jerry. The best! This feature is my favourite, as it’s so simple and creates such beautiful photos. Take a portrait of your best friend / girlfriend / cat / pot plant, and see the background fade into soft focus, and your eye drawn to the subject. Magic.
Then there’s 4K video. Newer TVs, TV shows, and movies are all in 4K, and iPhone X can shoot 4K at up to 60 fps (frames per second) – sharp and smooth, like Barry White. You could shoot a film with iPhone X, and then watch it on your 70-inch home TV. Don’t believe me? Fine… ask You Tube. This video compares iPhone X to a professional grade video camera.
If you’re serious about taking well-above-average photos and video, then I recommend investing in 3 more things: a lens kit (Moment, for wide, telephoto, fish-eye, and macro), a gimble (for super-smooth motion), and time; to learn how to set up your shots and make photos and videos. Check out this video to learn how to shoot more cinematically.
Most importantly, I can report that I look both stunning and frightening in selfie portrait black-and-white with stage lighting!
Everything is punchier – everything reacts when you say go!
I can’t remember the number of times I’ve yelled at my iPhone 6 Plus with iOS 11 installed. “Go, you tendrille’d beast! Push forth thou sloth!” – or words to that effect.
Yes, iOS 11 is great. Yes, on a phone as old as the iPhone 6, it’s awful. Even after wiping my 6 Plus and not restoring from backup, it still sucked the life out of me, making me wait for everything. With the 6 Plus, I was actually scared to install apps. Was constantly closing them. Was always looking to reduce background tasks or minimise add-ons, and forever waiting. Waiting. Waiting…
iPhone X features more of everything that makes a computer go faster; faster processor, more processor cores, more memory, and faster graphics. The end result is that you’re never left waiting for iPhone X to do it’s thing. It’s performance is smooth no matter what; and that’s all that really matters.
AR is the next big thing in mobile phones.
Do not be fooled into thinking it’s all Pokemon Go. Yes there are cute games, like The Machines, which transmogrifies your kitchen table into a superhero battleground, or classics like Halo, now available in AR form. There’s the general silliness of animojis, where your face is used to animate a cute emoji, or Snapchat’s weird take on that, by layering masks and floral haberdashery onto your animioji face.
But all this is the tip of the AR iceberg.
The tremendous performance, display, and multiple sensors in iPhone X make it a perfect AR tool. Like the humble mobile phones of the 1990’s, AR will unlock new opportunities, and likely impact 3 areas in addition to the obvious (games).
Tradies. Apps like Magicplan, which lets you create floorpans on the go with just your iPhone X, are great for real estate agents, architects, and others in the building and renovating industries. Alongside this are design apps like IKEA Place, which lets you place virtual furniture in your living room.
Retail. Bricks and mortar retail has been significantly eroded by online stores, but AR can enhance physical shops, making the experience distinct from, and superior to, online shopping. Nothing beats tactile interaction, and AR can significantly improve the physical shopping experience in ways online cannot ape.
Education. Insight Heart is an app which places a virtual human in your living room and then lets you extract and examine it’s huge, bloody, beating 3D heart, suspended like a fugitive from a horror movie! It’s surreal and educational! Rolls Royce has a Trent 1000 app; for those times you just have to know how this engine works. It’s easy to see how these AR apps will quickly become educational must-haves.
Like the first iPhone apps, the computer GUI, and the invention of the mouse, AR is disruptive because of what it will let people do, and that will be figured out in the coming tomorrows.
iPhone X leaps ahead of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the speaker category, with stereo speakers, and front facing audio. Plus, the earpiece acts as a speaker when you’re watching videos in landscape mode, so you can actually hear stereo.
Of course, you’d never seriously watch anything without your AirPods, but – in the event you’ve left them at home, the audio coming right from the phone is awesome, and loud enough to hear most anywhere.
Battery Life and Wireless Charging
Yes – iPhone X has a smaller battery that iPhone 6 Plus, but it uses that power better, mainly due to the OLED screen needing less power than an LCD screen. The end result is that I have around 35% power left after a full day’s work, whereas my iPhone 6 Plus would be at around 15% at the same time, and tanking.
This means that I can go out after work, take photos or videos, make calls, even tether, confident in the knowledge that I won’t need to recharge before I get home late into the night. This makes a much bigger impact on how you use the phone than you’d think – you no longer have to plan to charge your phone before you head out for a big night.
Unlike the case with photography, I am an avid fan of increased battery life and thus appreciate the iPhone X’s alleged two extra hours of power between charges (compared to an iPhone 7). I had no time to assess this scientifically, but can verify that my unit powered through the usual late-afternoon low-battery doldrums and still seemed to have some juice when it came time for nighttime charging. That charging occurred on a wireless pad—though, at this point, adding another gadget to the house just to free myself of plugging in a cable seems a dubious trade-off.
No matter how good the battery is (unless it’s a radioactive diamond battery), then eventually your iPhone will need re-charging. Wireless charging is new for iPhone. Along with my Apple Watch and AirPods, I can now use a variety of charing pads which adhere to the Qi charging standard, to charge my gear just by putting them down on the pad.
No more looking for the cable – or worse – the right cable. Imagine a table top which charges your phone. The real beauty here is that you no longer have to think about these things – they just automagically happen.
iPhone X is rated IP67, but what does that mean?
The first digit (6) refers to dust – so no dust should be able to get into my iPhone X. This is great for, um, gardening, going to the beach, visiting a dustbowl…
The second digit (7) refers to water – under lab conditions, iPhone X was submerged in water of depths of under 1m for 30 minutes, and didn’t sustain any permanent damage. In reality you can get the phone wet, and don’t need to panic in the rain or if a bottle of coke spills over it (aside from the sugar), and should even be OK if it takes a quick dip in the tub. But don’t go swimming with it. Having said all that, the touch screen doesn’t work if either it or your hands are wet.
It’s better than my old iPhone 6 Plus, but there’s a ways to go for true water proof-ness and usability.
So, Should You Upgrade?
With every single iteration of the iPhone, Apple has claimed that it’s the best one the company has ever made. But for this anniversary edition – coming at a time when critics are griping that the company had tumbled into an innovation trough – Apple’s genuinely pushed the iPhone to the next level.
Tim Cook calls the iPhone X “the future of the smartphone.”, and I agree.
If you have an iPhone 6 or *gasp* older, just go out – today, right now – and upgrade to iPhone X.
You’ll thank me later.
* thank you, Douglas Adams