The first iPhone was truly revolutionary. It’s screen – big for the time – and intuitive software allowed you to do things that had previously been difficult or impossible on a phone. Things such as browsing the internet an attaching a photo to an email.
Fast forward a decade and phones appear to have plateaued. They all look basically the same and, as long as you’re not fishing around in the bargain bin, have decent cameras, good performance and nice screens.
How then, can Apple repeat that first success? Will the iPhone X – pronounced 10 – really be the benchmark for the next ten years?
It seems unlikely, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t get one as your next upgrade, despite that steep price.
How much does the iPhone X cost?
You’ve a simple choice if you want an iPhone X: you go for the £999 64GB model or you spend an eye-watering £1149 if you need more storage.
At the moment there are only two colour options: Space Grey and Silver. That refers to the colour of the back panel: the front looks the same with a thin black band surrounding the screen.
It’s possible a Product (Red) version will appear at some point. You’ll be able to pre-order one on Apple’s website on 27 October.
iPhone X design
Undoubtedly the biggest attraction is the screen. Not simply because of the small bezels, though. There are lots of rivals which have ‘zero’ bezels already, including the Galaxy S8, the Mi Mix 2 and others.
With the iPhone X, Apple has managed to deliver what iPhone owners have wanted for ages: a bigger screen in a body that’s not too big for your hand – or your pocket.
The switch to OLED tech is interesting as it has been rumoured for at least a couple of years now. It appears Apple was waiting until issues with colour accuracy could be overcome, claiming that this is effectively the perfect screen.
It has a resolution of 2436 x 1125 pixels, which is a density of 458ppi – a bit higher than the 401ppi on iPhone ‘Plus’ models. The aspect ratio works out as 2.17:1, a non-standard that developers will be scrabbling around to make work with their apps. (Apple has also told them to avoid putting controls along the bottom edge in portrait mode, which is likely to cause a few problems.)
The new screen has 3D Touch and support for HDR, just as you would expect. The display blends into a stainless steel band, which runs the full perimeter of the phone.
At the back there’s a new vertical dual camera arrangement which houses two 12Mp cameras. It’s surrounded by a glass panel which is necessary for the new wireless charging support, a feature that’s well overdue.
Glass on both front and back reminds us of the celebrated iPhone 4 design, but also introduces more fragility and worry. Even if Apple say this is the toughest glass it has ever put on a phone, it’s still glass.
Incidentally, Apple Care+ costs £199 for the iPhone X, which suggests that the cost of replacing a broken OLED screen is considerably more than the LCD screens on other iPhones.
Getting back to wireless charging, we’re thankful that Apple didn’t come up with a proprietary wireless charging system but wisely chose to go with the established Qi standard. This means you should be able to pop your iPhone X on a charging mat in an airline lounge, at a coffee shop or round a friend’s house, just as plenty of Android users do already.
There’s the expected Lightning port at the bottom, volume and mute buttons on the left side and a power button on the right.
Rumours of Touch ID built into this button proved false, and instead Apple gets around the issue by introducing a new ‘swipe up’ gesture which takes you back to the home screen and brings up the multitasking window where you can switch between and quit apps.
In order to call up Siri you can either say “Hey Siri” or double press the sleep/wake button. And to wake the phone, there’s a new third way: tap the screen. Again, this is something plenty of Android phones have offered for a while, but it’s welcome nonetheless.
The setup is much like the iPhone 7 Plus’ with the second camera working as a 2x telephoto when compared to the main lens.
However, this camera now gets OIS (something frustratingly absent from the zoom camera on the iPhone 7 Plus) which means sharper photos and more stable videos.
It also has a faster f/2.4 lens, which lets in 30 percent more light: another boon when light levels are low.
At the front is the biggest change. The ‘notch’ at the top houses a 7Mp TrueDepth camera. It works in tandem with a dot projector and IR camera to create a depth map of your face. If it’s dark, a special IR LED lights up your face so the system can still work.
The system replaces Touch ID and is how you unlock your phone and authenticate payments. Apple reckons it’s 20 times more secure than Touch ID and has designed it so it can’t be fooled by a photo or even a professionally made face mask.
Both front and rear cameras support a new feature called Portrait Lighting. This adjusts the tone mapping on faces to simulate different kinds of studio lighting. From left to right below you can see the various effects: Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage mono.
Plus, you can now use the front camera with the Depth Effect mode for selfies with a blurry background.
A somewhat gimmicky use for the TrueDepth camera is the ability to record animated emojis which match your expression and mouth. You can then send these recordings (with sound of course) in iMessage.
There’s sure to be plenty of apps that take advantage: Apple demoed a version of Snapchat which can much more accurately add masks and other crazy elements to your face so they look a lot more realistic than the standard version.
Driving all these components is a new CPU, which Apple calls the A11 Bionic. It’s a six-core chip with four ‘efficiency’ cores and two ‘performance’ cores.
The former are up to 70 percent faster than the A10 Fusion’s low-power cores, and the latter are up to 25 percent quicker.
The Bionic part refers to the neural engine that learns your face and helps the TrueDepth system cope when you look different. For example, you might grow a beard, put on a hat or a scarf that partially covers your face.
Graphically, the iPhone X has a tri-core GPU with around 30 percent more performance than the A10 Fusion. This should help when running intensive games, particularly those that use AR. For the uninitiated, Augmented Reality blends game graphics with the real world, allowing characters to appear to be right in front of you.
It’s worth pointing out that it isn’t just the new iPhones that can handle AR games: all devices with an A9 processor or newer will support games made with Apple’s new ARKit.
Apple has also made the iPhone X more power efficient and says it will last up to two hours longer between charges than the iPhone 7.
The iPhone X ships with iOS 11. As mentioned already, this is slightly customised to accommodate the absence of a home button.
Now, you swipe up from the bottom of the phone to go back or exit an app. Swipe up and hold your finger in position to bring up the app switching interface.
Whether or not the average iPhone owner will be happy to re-learn this fundamental navigation process is debateable, even if Apple says it’s more natural and intuitive. We assume it’s something you’ll get used to sooner or later.
The notch at the top also brings changes: you now swipe down on the left-hand side to see notifications and on the right to find Control Centre.
The latter is likely to be the most jarring, since on all other iPhones, you swipe up from the bottom to get to those shortcuts. Doing that on the iPhone X will mean you inadvertently leave the app you’re using and go to the home screen.
Turn the phone sideways, and you relocate the issues to the side of your app. When viewing websites on the iPhone X, you’ll see white bars at the sides but photos and videos simply extend right into the corners, making it feel like you’re missing out on a few details.