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iPhone X review: is it a perfect ten? Or £1,000 folly?

The tenth-anniversary iPhone X is a glimpse of the future. And 2017's best smartphone, too.

Pros

  • A welcome change after years of nigh-on identical iPhone models
  • Front and rear cameras are excellent
  • Easy to use with one hand for most things

Cons

  • There's no getting away from it. At £1,000-plus, it's rather expensive
  • Some people might find the 'lip' or 'notch' on the screen a bit unsightly
  • If you're wedded to a physical home button, it might take you a while to adjust

First impressions and design

  • Looks gorgeous. Like a phone from the near future
  • Screen dominates the design, which really is a breath of fresh air
  • No home button means lots of new gestures to learn

iPhone X two handsets stood up app tray hero size

The iPhone X is a phone with an awful lot to live up to.

For one thing, it's the tenth anniversary iPhone. So it needs to be a landmark device that serves notice of a major milestone in Apple's history.

For another, at £999 for the 64GB model and £1,149 for the 256GB edition it's expensive. Even by the standards of iPhones.

And for another, Apple's marketing mages have been trailing the iPhone X as a bleeding-edge device that means you, me and the tech giant’s army of apostles can at last 'say hello to the future'.

That’s quite some billing. So how does it measure up to the hype?

Holding the iPhone X in my hand for the first time, it’s surprising how compact it is. Next to my iPhone 7 Plus, it looks deceptively tiny. And I’d have sworn blind, the X’s 5.8-inch screen is a good deal smaller the 5.5-inch display than my 7 Plus.

Not so. By getting rid of the physical home button and the bezels (that’s a fancy word for edges) that surround the display, Apple has managed to fit a large screen in a much, much smaller phone.

iPhone X silver and space grey backs hero size image

By way of comparison, the iPhone X comes in at 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm. That’s just a mite larger than the standard-sized iPhone 8, which is 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm.

To say the display dominates the iPhone X is an understatement. But it’s incredibly striking and a very welcome change from years of samey iPhone designs. We’ll find out how the screen actually performs later.

Constructed from a blend of glass and steel, the phone itself is sleek and features cuter, more rounded edges than recent-generation iPhones. In so doing, it recalls the iPhone 3G and 4, providing a neat nod backwards to Apple’s past.

The volume buttons are on the left-hand side near the top, and the wake-sleep button sits pretty much opposite on the right-hand side. So no change there.

What's the difference between iPhone X and iPhone 8? Here's what you need to know.

If you’ve already got an iPhone, setting up is super-easy. Just hold your current handset next to the iPhone X and it’ll detect it via Bluetooth. It’ll then transfer from your initial settings over to the X, so you can start using it.

iPhone X and iPhone 7 Plus set up new iPhone

That takes a matter of minutes, after which point you can get down to the serious business of downloading your back-up from iCloud to get everything you had on your old phone on your shiny new one.

But not everything is quite as easy as that. Because there’s no home button, you’ll have to learn a few new button combinations to perform core functions.

To return to the home screen, you now have to swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

Instead of pressing the wake/sleep button and home button simultaneously to take a screenshot, it’s now a case of combining a depression on the top volume button and the wake/sleep button.

Want to open Siri? You need to press and hold the wake/sleep button. And if you need to turn off the phone, you’ve got to hold down one of the volume buttons and the wake/sleep button. Then slide across to cut the power.

It’s a bit of a learning curve initially. For half a day or so, a combination of deeply embedded muscle memory and years of owning iPhones meant I kept reaching for the imaginary home button.

But it didn’t take long to form new habits. So much so that when I went back to my 7 Plus, I kept fruitlessly swiping up to close apps.

And finally, in news to surprise almost no-one the iPhone X doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack. So if you want to use traditional wired headphones you’ve either got to use the adaptor provided in the box. Or stump up for some wireless headphones.

Build All-glass body with metal strip
Weight 174g
Dimensions 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm

Head to our comparison page to see our selection of the best iPhone X deals.


Screen and sound

  • Large, colourful and great to look at
  • Notch is a bit unsightly, but it doesn't spoil the experience
  • Not all apps have been adapted to fit the new screen

The Super Retina screen is the first on any Apple smartphone to feature OLED technology. The upshot is that picture quality is uncommonly crisp, colours are vivid and blacks are deeper than the Marianas Trench.

If we were being churlish, we’d point out that top-of-the-range Samsung Galaxy S phones have had OLED technology for years.

But that’s by the by. The bottom line is that the iPhone X’s screen looks very, very good.

It's undeniable that the notch (the black section at the top of the phone which takes a bite out of the display) hasn't gone down brilliantly in some quarters. That's because it cuts into the area of the screen that you can actually use.

I understand that the notch needs to be there because it houses the front-facing camera and facial recogniton technology. But the iPhone X would have been even more stunning if Apple had found a way around it.

However, despite reports to the contrary, the notch doesn’t really get in the way or impair user experience too much.

Some apps have been updated to take advantage of the larger iPhone X screen and look all the better for it. In these cases, the important information (battery, time of day, etc) is still visible and nestles neatly in the areas to the side of the notch.

iPhone X Toy Story full screen hero size

But when apps haven't had some TLC, they appear ‘letterboxed’. That means there are hefty borders at the top and bottom that take up a substantial part of the screen, with the app squeezed in to the truncated space that remains.

It’s a bit of a waste of the lovely, expansive display. But it’s also something that will be a distant memory once more app creators get around to updating their wares.

Watching videos in landscape, you can either view the video in full-screen mode and learn to love (or least live with) the notch intruding into the viewing area.

Or you can opt to view the clip in letterboxed mode, which once again means you lose a chunk of the screen.

For those of you who like sodcasting your tunes to all and sundry when you’re on public transport, there are stereo speakers that deliver pretty full sound for a smartphone. That still doesn’t mean you should be playing your music out loud on buses, though.

Size 5.8" SuperAMOLED screen
Resolution 2436 x 1125 pixels
Technology HDR (High Dynamic Resolution)

Features

A face that opens doors

iPhone X setting up Face ID

As the name suggests, Face ID is Apple’s name for the facial recognition technology that debuts on the iPhone X.

It means you can now unlock your phone just by looking at it. And that you no longer to have to use the Touch ID fingerprint scanner embedded in the home button.

Which is just as well, since as we’ve established there is no home button on the iPhone X.

After a three-minute set-up process that involved moving my head around so the front-facing TrueDepth camera can take note of my facial features, we were up and running.

Once it’s ‘on’, Face ID is very impressive indeed and puts previous, misfiring attempts at the technology on Android phones to shame.

When it works - and that was 99.9% of the time - it takes a second. After which you’ve just got to swipe up to start using your phone.

It’s so fast that initially we weren’t even sure if we’d activated facial recognition properly. We only knew for certain when I passed the phone to someone else and the tell-tale padlock icon at the top of the screen stayed in the ‘locked’ position.

Impressively, it also recognised me while wearing shades and obligingly unlocked. And it wasn’t fazed when I shaved off my beard either.

In fact, the only time Face ID failed me was when I was trying to sneak a look at the football scores at the cinema.

iPhone X unlocking notifications

Perhaps it was the fact we were sat in complete darkness or it didn’t recognise my shifty look of shame. Or maybe my phone was adhering to the ‘no phones at the cinema’ policy.

Whatever the reason, Face ID didn’t work and I was prompted to enter my passcode instead. So no big deal really. Well, apart from the fact that Saints FC were losing to Burnley. But that's a rant for another time.

As you may have heard, though, facial security isn’t completely watertight. Reports are abroad that if you’re a twin (presumably the evil one) you can easily get around it. We can’t confirm that.

But we can confirm that we failed to unlock it with photos of our face. So your worst enemies or jealous lovers who’ve got a snap of you will remain locked out.

Face ID is also used to authenticate purchases with Apple Pay. Because it’s so fast and you don’t have to stare at it in a very deliberate and glowering way, you don’t feel silly when you’re paying for a drink at the bar.

But the payment process isn’t quite as smooth as it was with Touch ID. That’s because you can no longer just hold your finger on the home button when you place your phone on the reader to approve purchases.

With Face ID, you’ve now got to tap the side button twice. That fires up Face ID. Then you've got to look at the phone, so you can pay the man.

Animoji to go

iPhone X animoji hero size

Animoji is Apple’s term for the animated emoji that are available for the first time on iPhone X.

Using the TrueDepth front-facing camera, you can record your facial expressions and speak into the microphone to create a highly expressive, animated animal avatar that mirrors your movements and speaks your words.

I’m officially too old for emoji, animated or otherwise. And as someone who earns a living from writing, I always prefer to use words to communicate.

But it’s certainly a lot of fun to make animoji. And it’s not hard to admire the magical effect they have on kids and the precision with which your panda and unicorn alter-egos replicate your facial expressions and tics.

What’s more, because Animoji actually speak they’re a lot less vague and open to misinterpretation than common-or-garden static emoji. That’s something I can definitely get on board with.

Interested in the iPhone 8 instead? Take a look at the uSwitch review.


Camera

  • Dual lens rear cameras are very, very good
  • Portrait Mode on front camera makes for super selfies
  • Focuses fast, with some useful new Studio Lighting effects

The iPhone X has a dual lens camera, which comprises 12-megapixel telephoto and wide-angle lenses.

That’s the same pairing as the iPhone 8 Plus. And even the iPhone 7 Plus, which added Portrait Mode ‘bokeh’ shots with a palpable sense of depth to the iPhone’s camera repertoire back in 2016.

But there are some key differences that make the iPhone X a much better camera phone than the 8 Plus and its predecessor.

Take a closer look at the iPhone X's media credentials with our dedicated iPhone X camera review.

Not least the addition of optical image stabilisation technology to both lenses, which cuts out blurrycam when you’re shooting stills on the move and recording 4K video.

The cameras focus faster this time around too, so you’ve got a better chance of capturing fleeting moments.

Keen to find out more about the iPhone X camera? Here's the five key things you need to know.

There’s also a new Portrait Lighting mode, which lets you add studio-lighting effects to portraits, with the most striking being the stage-lighting option. This lets you fade the background to black and bring facial features into even more dramatic focus.

The addition of larger apertures means the cameras let more light in. The upshot is that we got much, much better snaps in low light conditions that we did with iPhones we’ve tested before.

In general, photos are packed with detail, and colours were accurate and true to life.

The front camera has been upgraded too, with the addition of Portrait Mode for selfies.

These bring the same 'depth effect' to self-portraits with excellent results, giving you a very real sense that Portrait Mode has found its true home on the selfie camera.

Camera Dual 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras and 7MP selfie camera
Optical image stabilisation Yes, on both rear cameras
Unique features Front camera takes 'bokeh' portraits

Performance and battery life

  • Expect 9-10 hours with standard usage
  • Takes about three hours to go from zero to full charge
  • Fast charging cable and wireless charger sold separately

iPhone X camera table football

At 2716mAh, the iPhone X is big by the standards of iPhones. That’s surely to offset the effect of the large screen. These are renowned for sapping power.

That said, the battery is still some way off the vast power-packs that you’ll find in the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 (3,300mAh) and the new HTC U11 Plus (3,930mAh).

But numbers aren’t everything. Apple’s performance optimisations mean the battery lasts just as long as those handsets.

Using the iPhone X as we would on an average day, we got between nine and a half and ten hours out of the battery.

That’s pretty standard for a smartphone in 2017. So your £1,000 outlay doesn’t mean £1,000 battery life.

If battery longevity is your number-one concern, we’d recommend you take a look at the iPhone 8 Plus, which lasts me nigh-on 11 hours.

Charging up the iPhone X from zero to 100% took the best part of three hours using standard speed charging. You can trim that by 45 minutes to an hour by using Airplane Mode.

There’s a fast charge mode too, which Apple reckons will get you 50% in half an hour.

To do that, though, you’ll need to buy a special USB-C adaptor priced £75. Which sticks in the craw a bit, given that the likes of the OnePlus 5 do fast-charging brilliantly for gratis.

It may be worth the outlay if you find the iPhone X doesn’t get you through your day, though. And if you’re spending a £1,000 on a phone, there’s a good chance that paying out a bit more won’t bother you.

Of course, you can also charge the iPhone X wirelessly. But once again, it’ll cost you.

Believe what you read and Apple’s official AirPower could set you back the best part of £200 when it goes on sale next year. Although it’s important to note that the iPhone X also supports third-party chargers, some of which are under £20.

As you’d expect the iPhone X runs supremely smoothly, thanks to the custom-built A11 Fusion chip that powers the phone. It doesn’t feel any faster than the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus to me, though.

With 64GB and 256GB storage options, these are roomy, capacious phones that won’t slow down when you load them with tons of apps, photos and downloads.

RAM 3GB RAM
Battery capacity 2716 mAh battery
OS and version iOS 11

Durability

  • Glass construction is lovely to behold. But naturally is less robust than steel
  • Resists scratches impressively
  • Water-resistant in 1m of water for 30 mins

iPhone x rear view front on

Like the iPhone 4 and 4S, the iPhone X features a glass back and front. According to Apple, it’s fashioned from the ‘most durable glass ever in a smartphone’.

We’re not in the business of breaking phones for fun. But we’re sure you’ve seen online reports of the iPhone X developing all-over cracks and malfunctioning when users drop it into concrete.

The moral of the story? Invest in a good case. Preferably a super-robust one from Otterbox, which are currently on sale £25 or so from Amazon.

We can categorically state, though, that the glass surface came out scratch-free after spending hours and hours in my pocket, nestling next to keys and coins.

We also actively tried to scratch it with a key and weren’t able to make any visible marks. So that’s a result.

Those of you who are bit clumsy will be reassured to know that the iPhone X is water-resistant and can withstand being submerged in up to a metre of water for up to half an hour.


Value for money and verdict

  • Beautiful to look at. New design is a breath of fresh air for Apple fans
  • But if you're a Samsung fan, some features will be very familiar
  • Rear cameras are very, very good
  • Front camera depth effect makes for excellent selfies
  • Animoji are fun and a technical marvel
  • Largest-ever iPhone screen. But phone doesn't feel huge
  • Despite large screen, battery holds up well. Even with heavy use
  • Wireless charging option is handy to have
  • 64GB and 256GB means there's plenty of storage
  • iOS 11 software feels new, but familiar
  • It's a major outlay

iPhone x verdict shot

There’s no getting away from it. Next to high-end alternatives from rivals, the iPhone X is an expensive phone.

But it’s also a brilliant breath of fresh air, after years of static iPhone design that left us crying out for something new.

Unlike previous Apple gadgets that had home buttons front and centre, you won’t ‘already know how to use it’. But it doesn’t take long to find your way around and once you do, the iPhone X is a joy.

Face ID is by far and away the best facial security system we’ve come across. It’s blazingly fast and watertight in all but very extreme cases.

So much so that the widespread pre-release scaremongering about security breaches now seems a bit silly.

We also loved the eye-poppingly lovely OLED screen, even if its arrival on the iPhone is a bit late in the day. And the Portrait Mode-augmented selfie camera is great, as is the dual-lens main camera.

The iPhone X is a state-of-the-art smartphone and a glimpse at the future of pocket technology. If you don’t mind the price and you’re keen to try something genuinely new, this is the phone to choose.

Think the iPhone X is the one for you? Head to our comparison page to see our selection of the best iPhone X deals.

Sold on the iPhone 8 instead? Take a look at our pick of the best deals.

Category: Reviews
Tagged: apple, iphone, iphone x

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