The iPhone X is nearly here and it’s a showstopper: Apple has finally revamped the iPhone after a few years of sticking with the same design.
It’s a huge shift, though, dropping the home button in favour of gesture-driven navigation, facial recognition for security, and an all-screen face. It’s also gorgeous, though, and feels like the truly exciting, ultra-premium upgrade we’ve been anticipating for some time now.
Still, with that R20,500 starting price, it won’t be for everyone – and while there are many reasons why we love the phone, there are also compelling reasons to consider other options. What’s great and what still needs work in the next edition? Here’s our rundown.
8 THINGS WE LOVE ABOUT THE IPHONE X
1) THAT STRIKING DESIGN
Gone is the same design we saw four handsets in a row between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 8: the iPhone X is all new, and it’s pretty special.
It’s all screen on the front, with only a smidge of bezel running around the barrier and that notch at the top, which houses the True Depth camera system. Some people hate the notch, and fair enough at that – but after using the iPhone X for a while, it fades from focus and becomes a unique part of its character.
With stainless steel along the border and glass on the back, it feels like a merging of the classic iPhone aesthetic with something new, with a nice heft as well.
2) THE SCREEN IS GORGEOUS
As we’ve seen on many Android devices, OLED provides deeper blacks and sterling contrast, and this extra-tall 5.8in display is one of the absolute best on the market today. It’s incredibly bright and has HDR support, to boot, plus it brings in Apple’s True Tone tech from iPads, which automatically adjusts the colouring based on your ambient lighting.
The 2436×1125 resolution is a little lower than you’ll see on some Quad HD Androids, but we found the difference to be pretty much imperceptible. It’s super sharp.
3) IT’S PERFECTLY SIZED
Yes, 5.8in sounds like an absolutely massive phone screen, especially if you’re used to a hulking iPhone Plus with a 5.5in panel. But since the screen stretches upward and the phone has very little bezel, it actually feels much like a standard (but taller) iPhone 8 in the hand.
That’s one of the most important, yet less-touted perks, and it’s the same kind of thing we’ve seen with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and other nearly-all-screen phones of late. It still feels like a large screen, but the dimensions bring back a level of one-handedness that was lacking with the Plus-sized iPhones.
4) IT’S A TRUE POWERHOUSE
Like the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, the iPhone X packs in Apple’s new A11 Bionic chip (with 3GB RAM here), an absolute monster of a smartphone processor. Last year’s A10 Fusion was pretty close to this year’s crop of Android chips, but the A11 Bionic has carved out a massive lead in both single-core and multi-core benchmark tests.
In everyday usage, it doesn’t feel dramatically faster than a top Android phone, but there’s extra power in store for whatever Apple and developers want to use it for. You won’t have any problem running flashy games, apps, and media on this handset for a long time to come. And iOS 11 is silky smooth on this high-end hardware.
5) GLANCE TO UNLOCK
Over the course of several years, we got used to Apple’s great Touch ID sensor – but now it’s gone. Instead, we have Face ID, which uses the True Depth camera system to recognize your mug to unlock the phone, automatically input passwords, and authorize Apple Pay.
It takes mere seconds to set up and then it works surprisingly well – most of the time. It fires out infrared dots to build and recognize a map of your face, creating a one-of-a-kind ID that should be rather difficult to circumvent. It has been spot-on in a variety of lighting and environment conditions, but occasionally just doesn’t spot you.
That’s frustrating, but it’s still the best version we’ve tried of facial scanning to date, and it should get better over time the more it sees you.
6) IT HAS FANTASTIC CAMERAS
The iPhone X makes only slight changes from the back dual-camera array of the iPhone 8 Plus, packing in two 12-megapixel cameras: an f/1.8 main camera and an improved f/2.4 telephoto camera alongside it. Together, they provide one of the top smartphone shooting experiences today.
With the main camera, you’ll get clear photos with nicely saturated colours and excellent contrast. And the allied telephoto camera brings in an improved version of the Portrait mode that debuted in the iPhone 7 Plus last year, as well as tweakable lighting conditions with the Portrait Lighting function. It also lets you zoom without losing detail, like you would with digital zoom.
7) YOU CAN CHARGE IT WIRELESSLY
We’ve been waiting for this one for a long time, but just like the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, the glass backing of the iPhone X also opens the door to wireless charging capabilities. You’ll be able to toss the phone onto a Qi-enabled charging pad to top up at any point, which saves some hassle of grabbing the cord every time you want to charge for a few minutes.
It’s a pretty solid battery inside, too: the 2,716mAh tally from the two cells have routinely given us a strong full day of usage, although you might tap it out sooner with heavy games and media usage. Not mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but it’ll get the job done most of the time.
8) YOU CAN MAKE POOP SING
Ah yes, the high point of technology: the True Depth camera system not only enables Face ID and other useful perks, but also Animoji. What are Animoji? Well, they’re animated emoji that match your facial movements 1:1, letting you record little videos to send to pals.
And you can chat and sing all the while, so if your panda bear or poop emoji wants to belt out part of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the iPhone X can make that happen. Well, that’s surely worth R20k alone! Look, it’s silly, but it’s a really entertaining bonus all the same.
6 THINGS WE DON’T LOVE ABOUT THE IPHONE X
1) IT’S INSANELY EXPENSIVE
We thought the Galaxy Note 8 was pushing it, but wow, Apple went all out for the iPhone X. The R20,500 starting price is sort of mind-blowing when it comes to a smartphone, and that’s for the 64GB model. If you need more storage, it’ll cost another R3,500 to bump the tally to 256GB.
Apple phones have almost always been a bit pricier than their Android counterparts, and we will say that the iPhone X feels appropriately premium in the way that the fancier Apple Watch models do. But most people don’t need to spend twenty grand on a smartphone when you can get an excellent flagship phone for a R13,000-R16,000, or a strong mid-ranger for much less.
2) THE CAMERA BUMP IS BAD
The camera bump on previous iPhones had been mildly annoying, but in making a large, vertical bump for the iPhone X, it has become downright obnoxious. Now when you tap on the phone when it’s laying “flat” on a surface, it might wobble with every input. That’s no good.
In fact, it’s already pushed one of our writers to buy a case for the iPhone X, if only to level out the back of the phone and provide some flat-surface stability. Also, the glass surfaces make it a bit slippery, so you might have multiple reasons to wrap it up in something sturdy and solid.
3) NON-UPDATED APPS
Many of the biggest apps and games in the App Store have been updated for the iPhone X, and they look pretty sharp, filling the entire screen and working around the notch to deliver fluid visual experiences. They really show the potential of the iPhone X’s big, beautiful display.
And then there’s all of the other apps that are still stuck in the 16:9 era. Those apps have big black bars on the top and bottom in many cases, or automatically fill the space in oft-awkward ways that look jumbled, block the battery indicator, or lose UI elements in the process. That part isn’t great. But as we’ve seen with past iPhones that shook up the dimensions, it can take quite a while before all developers get onboard.
4) YOU HAVE TO RELEARN IOS
Overall, we’d say Apple has done a really nice job of adapting the classic iOS navigational routine to a phone without a home button. You’ll swipe up to get back to the home screen, for example, and can swipe the little bar at the bottom to easily switch between apps.
It hopefully won’t take you too long to get a hang of, but if you’ve been wielding an iPhone for years and have all of that muscle memory stored up, then you might struggle mightily with the massive interactivity overhaul on display here. They’re little tweaks in many ways, but when something doesn’t work the way you expect it to, you might be plenty frustrated at your new wonder-phone.
5) STILL NO HEADPHONE PORT
It’s not coming back, people: after cutting the 3.5mm headphone port from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, it’s still absent here, alongside the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Instead, you get decent Lightning earbuds in the box, plus a little dongle that lets you plug your old headphones into the Lightning port. A little, dinky dongle hanging from your thousand-quid phone. Great.
Your best bet is to use wireless headphones, whether they’re the Apple AirPods or Beats Studio 3 Wireless cans with Apple’s W1 chip inside, or other Bluetooth earbuds or headsets that can pair wirelessly as well.