Apple iPhone X Review: An expensive vision of Apple’s future

Alex Kidman 8 November 2017

The iPhone X is the best iPhone Apple has produced to date, and the most radical reinvention of the platform in years, but it's not the iPhone most people should buy this year.

Quick Verdict
Apple's thrown everything it could into the iPhone X, and it's the best phone they've made to date. At its premium price, however, it's not a handset for everybody.

The Good

  • Great processor performance
  • Sharp display screen
  • Fast camera
  • Face ID is very cool technology
  • Animoji are fun (for a while)

The bad

  • The notch is an annoying intrusion
  • FaceID needs refinement to be more reliable
  • No headphone jack
  • iPhone 8 Plus has better battery life
  • Very high asking price


Apple is, on the whole, a very conservative company. Once it has fixed its position on a particular feature (or lack thereof) it takes significant pressure for it to make substantive changes.

Substantial change is precisely what the Apple iPhone X sells itself on, because in many ways it is a radical reimagining of the iPhone platform, and a very clear signal of the direction Apple intends to take its mobile platform into the future.

That being said, if you're looking to buy an iPhone X right now, you need to know if it's worth Apple's hefty asking price.

iPhoneX_10_738

Design

Where the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are very clearly iPhones modelled after their immediate predecessors, the iPhone X's design is one part-forward looking, and one part Sir Jony Ive taking all the previous iPhone design blueprints and tossing them in a blender.

There's the return of solid silver rounded sides against black which feels like something of a throwback to the first iPhone 3G generation of phones, although the iPhone X is notably taller and much thinner.

iPhoneX_iPhone3GS_738

Measuring in at 143.6x70.9x7.7mm with a carrying weight of 174 grams, the iPhone X sits neatly between the smaller size of the iPhone 8 and the much larger size of the iPhone 8 Plus, although the lack of bezels means that it packs in a slightly larger display than either of them, at 5.8 inches. However, that's a slightly deceptive statistic, because it both includes the notch "ears" in the equation, and it's actually slightly narrower than the iPhone 8 Plus screen in any case.

It's the first iPhone to switch to OLED technology for its display. This is apparently part of its higher asking price, with Samsung reportedly charging Apple a significant premium for the technology, long found in its Samsung Galaxy phones.

The two most obvious changes in the iPhone X are at the top and bottom of the display. At the bottom, you won't find a home button or TouchID sensor, because they're very deliberately absent. It's a very clean design in that sense, although long-term Apple users will inevitably find themselves trying to tap where the button "feels" like it should be. The lack of a home button does help in making the screen seem larger than it is because you're so very used to it being there.

Instead of TouchID and a home button, Apple is relying on the FaceID cameras housed at the top of the iPhone X display screen for verification, alongside new touch gestures and button combinations to cover off everything the iPhone X can't do due to the lack of a home button.

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The presence of the FaceID cameras brings with it the rather obvious and sometimes annoying "notch" at the top of the iPhone X display. Apple by default shows battery life and mobile/Wi-Fi signal strength to the right of the notch, and it's also from here you swipe down to access control center. Swipe down from anywhere else at the top and you'll bring down the notification blind, including if you swipe down from the left "ear" of the display.

The notch is unsightly, but it very much depends on the app you're using as to whether or not you'll actually see it. If an app behaves itself in screen layout terms (and not every app will, at least not yet) and it displays that area in black, it's all but invisible. OLED displays are very good at displaying black tones, and the hiding effect works well.

 

If it's any other colour, however, the notch is unmissable and annoying, and it's even worse with apps that don't obey the iPhone X's display size and try to show content underneath the notch itself. Given that the two "ears" around the notch don't do a whole lot of information display, it's hard not to think that Apple should have simply opted for a phone with a single unbroken horizontal bezel element to avoid this issue altogether.

The iPhone X comes wrapped in glass, quite literally, with a shiny all-glass back in either silver or black hues. There's a fairly significant camera bump in play, such that the iPhone X cannot sit flat on its back anywhere unless you wrap it in a case. That's a step you absolutely should take because teardowns of the iPhone X suggest that repairs to either the front or rear when you drop it will be very expensive indeed.

As has been the case since the iPhone 7, the headphone jack is nowhere to be seen, with Apple displaying a strong preference towards its Bluetooth headphones such as the Apple Airpods. A 3.5mm to Lightning adaptor is provided in the box for use with regular wired headphones.

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Camera

There's some very interesting camera technology in play on both sides of the iPhone X, putting it ahead of the already impressive Apple iPhone 8 Plus in certain ways that may have significance for your use, especially around the front.

The same FaceID camera that provides authentication is also used to provide the front-facing camera with the "Portrait lighting" mode that Apple has offered in the iPhone 8 Plus via its two rear-facing cameras. It does this by firing off the IR camera used for FaceID to create a proper depth map of your face when taking a portrait selfie, rather than combining two actual lenses.

For straight portrait selfies, it can work very well indeed:

iPhoneX_Sample_PortraitSelfie1_738

But with some portrait lighting modes in some conditions, the results can go askew, with some unusual cutout effects not uncommon:

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Apple does stress that the portrait lighting software is still in beta, so there's scope for improvement. If you're selfie obsessed, it's a very flexible tool that may simply require you to take a few extra shots to get the portrait you really want.

At the back of the iPhone X, there's a pair of vertically mounted lenses, as distinct from the iPhone 8 Plus' horizontally mounted pair. Like the 8 Plus, they're twin 12MP sensors, but the iPhone X benefits from slightly wider apertures, with f/1.8 wide and f/2.4 telephoto to the iPhone 8 Plus' f/1.8 and f/2.8 sensors. That gives the iPhone X a slight edge in situations such as low light photography, although they're both generally excellent cameras for a wide variety of camera work in most situations.

2017 has been a bumper year for smartphone cameras with a lot of distinct choices depending on your photography shooting style. For what it's worth, at the time of writing DxOMark rates the iPhone X camera at 97, just marginally behind that of the Google Pixel 2 at 98. The score difference appears to come despite the fact that the iPhone X outshot every phone camera tested to date for stills, it was slightly less impressive for video shooting.

To test this out, I took the Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X out for a little head to head photo shooting:

The iPhone X has wonderful flexibility due to the presence of the 2x optical zoom lens, something absent from the Pixel 2 XL. Here's a sample shot from the wide lens:

iPhoneBridgeSample_wide_738

And then the same shot through the telephoto lens where you can see the aperture difference in play too:

iPhoneBridgeSample_tele_738

However, in low light, it's very much the Pixel 2 XL which shines, although the iPhone X is no slouch. Here's a sample low light shot from the iPhone X:

iPhoneX_lowlight_738

And the same shot from the Pixel 2 XL:

Pixel2XL_lowlight_738

Of course, the iPhone X has that twin lens, so I could have taken a second zoomed lens shot of the bridge, something I'd have to crop or digitally zoom for on the Pixel 2 XL. The utility there really comes down to how you plan to use the camera.

Overall, the iPhone X is a highly competent camera phone, as it absolutely should be at its asking price. Here are some sample shots from the rear camera:

iPhoneX_SamplePhoto1_738 iPhoneX_SamplePhoto2_738 iPhoneX_SamplePhoto3_738 iPhoneX_SamplePhoto4_738 iPhoneX_SamplePhoto5_738

Performance

While Apple's gone all-out with the display and the camera on the iPhone X, the same isn't exactly true with regards to what's going on under the hood. The iPhone X shares the same A11 Bionic processor as the Apple iPhone 8 Plus and Apple iPhone 8, and even the same 3GB of RAM as the iPhone 8 Plus.

The A11 Bionic is an extremely capable processor without a shadow of a doubt, but in terms of differentiating lines between iPhone models, there's very little to it, both in straight app testing and in overall benchmark scores. Here's how the Apple iPhone X compared using Geekbench 4's CPU test:

HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Apple iPhone X418510319
Apple iPhone 8427010272
Apple iPhone 8 Plus411310221
Samsung Galaxy S8+20206690
Samsung Galaxy S819896628
Huawei P10 Plus18636544
Nokia 819326529
OnePlus 519766506
Samsung Galaxy Note 820246490
HTC U1119196362
Sony Xperia XZ Premium19086324

The iPhone X has a very slight benchmark edge over its compatriots, but not at a level where you'd notice actual app performance differences.

The same is true in 3D performance, where the 2017 iPhones run essentially neck and neck:

Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
Apple iPhone 864461
Apple iPhone X61256
Apple iPhone 8 Plus59205
HTC U1140239
Sony Xperia XZ Premium40086
OnePlus 539497
Apple iPhone 7 Plus37956
Apple iPhone 737717
Samsung Galaxy Note 832277

Benchmarks only tell part of the smartphone story, and whether you'll actually appreciate the extra power of the A11 Bionic comes down to your actual usage of the phone. That's where the no-home-button design also comes into play because it entails using a new set of gestures for actions such as screenshot taking, app switching and even hard resetting the iPhone X.

We've compiled a handy guide to all the new gestures. Some are simple and quick, like app switching by swiping along the bottom of the display, while others are more troublesome.

I encountered a single instance of the iPhone X locking up during testing, at which point all I could do was a hard reset, which is a tap of volume up, volume down and then the side button. The timing on this is really tough to judge, especially when the phone won't otherwise respond, and much harder than on previous iPhones.

The gorgeous OLED display on the iPhone X shines with HDR-compliant video, as you'd expect, but rather like when the iPad first emerged, it's also a mixed blessing. Older apps (especially games) with less high fidelity visuals can tend to look a little more pixelated on the iPhone X's display as a result.

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Battery life

We've already seen that the A11 Bionic can be both a powerhouse processor while keeping battery usage to a minimum. The iPhone 8 has the best battery life for a small-screened iPhone I've ever seen in years of testing, while the iPhone 8 Plus currently sits at the top of our battery life comparison chart in straight line testing.

I was intensely curious to see where the iPhone X would sit because it's a mix of approaches. Apple has stated that it expects the iPhone X to last "up to 2 hours longer than iPhone 7", but that it expected the iPhone 8 to have the same battery life as the iPhone 7 itself.

That wasn't the case for the iPhone 8, but then the iPhone X also has more battery capacity. However, it has to weigh that against the battery demands of the largest diagonal display on any iPhone.

Apple never formally announces battery capacity for its iPhones, but iFixit's teardown of the iPhone X reveals that it has two battery cells that combine for a capacity of 2,716mAh, up slightly from the iPhone 8 Plus which packs in 2,691mAh capacity. That gives the iPhone X some interesting scope for battery performance.

Using Geekbench 3's older battery test, here's how the iPhone X compares:

HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
Apple iPhone 8 Plus15:27:409276
Galaxy S8+14:55:308955
Apple iPhone X12:46:507652
Nokia 812:22:107421
Sony Xperia XZ Premium12:06:407266
Samsung Galaxy Note 812:00:507208
Samsung Galaxy S811:47:507078
HTC U1111:42:407026
Apple iPhone 810:30:00DNF

The iPhone X has good battery life, but it's resoundingly beaten by its stablemate, as well as Samsung's Galaxy S8+ in a direct regular drain battery life test. Your actual battery life may differ depending on usage, naturally, but there's pretty easily a day's battery charge in the iPhone X for most users here.

The iPhone X, like its 2017 counterparts, is also compatible with Qi wireless chargers if you fancy a little cable-free charging. Qi is super-convenient, but it is notably slower than a direct lightning cable connection if you need power in a hurry.

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Verdict

The iPhone X is easily Apple's most-hyped and most-anticipated iPhone in years, thanks to the combination of the new design and that extremely premium asking price giving it a cachet of exclusivity.

Those two factors should directly influence whether it's the right iPhone for you because, beyond the simple fact of being able to afford one in the first place, its appeal rests very much on what you want out of a smartphone in 2017.

If you ache to have Apple's latest and greatest and can afford the asking price, then there's no question that this is the iPhone you should buy. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are great phones, but they're the vision of where Apple has been, not where it's going in the future.

Vision is all well and good, but at the same time, you do need to be aware that you're buying a first generation product, in the same style as any buyer of Apple's original 2G iPhone did a decade ago.

That was a visionary product, but the next year saw the first 3G, app-enabled iPhone hit the market, making the 2G iPhone instantly old school. Likewise, while FaceID is great technology, it's in need of a little refinement before it's near bulletproof.

Apple's been down that path before, as the original TouchID sensor had its own path to becoming truly reliable. FaceID will get there, but it's not there yet, and other compromises, such as the screen notch are a mark against the iPhone X being an automatic must-buy option, especially at its high asking price.

That's why I'd strongly argue that any prospective iPhone X buyer should consider the iPhone 8 Plus this year while we wait for Apple to refine the iPhone X proposition.

For less than the asking price of the 64GB iPhone X you can score the 256GB iPhone 8 Plus with the same performance, markedly better battery life and an always-reliable TouchID sensor for unlocking. Against that, the premium price for the iPhone X has a tough time comparing for value.

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Apple iPhone X: What the other reviewers say

SiteCommentScore
Gizmodo"The reason you buy the iPhone X is because of that too luxurious design, and that audaciously hedonistic display, and that super cool depth-sensing selfie camera."N/A
Techradar"Finally, the rebooted iPhone we've been waiting for"4.5/5
CNET"iPhone X is an overdue and winning evolution of the iPhone, but you’ll need to leave your comfort zone to make a jump into the face-recognizing future."9/10
AFR"...there is something irrational about the appeal of iPhone X, something ineffable about its form and function..."N/A
News.com.au"Is the world’s most expensive smartphone worth buying? It’s certainly worth considering."4.5/5

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Pricing and availability

Apple sells the iPhone X outright for $1579 with 64GB of onboard storage, or $1829 with 256GB of storage.

The iPhone X is also available from Telstra, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile and Optus on contract plan terms:

Specifications

AppleiPhone X
Display5.8in
Resolution2436 x 1125
ppi458
SoftwareiOS 11
Storage64GB/256GB
RAM3GB
Battery2716mAh
Front Camera7MP
Rear CameraDual 12MP
ProcessorApple A11 Bionic
Size143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm
Weight174grams

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