10 years ago, Steve Job introduced the original iPhone to the world, and changed things for us forever. Just like the iPod changed the music industry drastically, the iPhone changed smartphones, marking the beginning of the era of devices that ditched physical keyboards in favour of contextual, touch-based user interfaces. And here we are, a decade later, with an Apple phone that’s possibly the most radical shift in the iPhone design and usage since the original iPhone.
The iPhone X (pronounced iPhone ten) marks the 10th anniversary of the iconic smartphone, and carries the tagline “say hello to the future”. The iPhone X (first impressions) therefore, defines the way how future iPhones will shape up. The latest flagship from the Cupertino major boasts many firsts – it’s the first iPhone with a bezel-less display, the first iPhone to use AMOLED screen tech and the very first to ditch the home button in favour of Face ID. And since the hitherto ubiquitous home button is now gone, the iPhone X is also the first iPhone to ‘ruin’ the usually consistent manner in which iOS is used across different models of the smartphone.
Related read: top 10 things you should know about the Apple iPhone X
No bezels, but that notch…
The first time you lay your eyes on this baby, you’re possibly going to be wowed the same way I was. From the rear, it’s not much of a departure – the iPhone X has the same glass back seen on the iPhone 8 (review) and the 8 Plus (review), except that the dual cameras are arranged vertically (they’re placed horizontally on the 8 Plus and the 7 Plus).
The sides have this glossy steel frame that looks nice and adds to the premium feel. Overall, the build is sturdy, though that glass back could be prone to cracks or breakage if you do manage to drop the phone on a hard surface. The front though, is quite an eye-popper, especially considering this is an iPhone you’re looking at.
The edge-to-edge display is the main reason for that of course, combined with the realisation that the signature home button is no longer there. And when you see that notch on top, you may think something’s amiss. The notch contains the TrueDepth sensor which includes the front snapper and all the sensors that make is possible to capture your face in 3D (for Face ID to work), but the cutout does feel jarring, at least initially.
After a point though, I got used to the notch. It doesn’t really come in the way too much, at least while using regular productivity and social apps. When I started using the iPhone X, there were tons of apps that weren’t optimised for the iPhone X. The Uber app in fact, hasn’t still been optimised – if you launch the app via iOS universal search, the app menu on the top left (see screenshot above) is tough to access. However, most other app developers seem to have been hard at work, and not a day goes by when I don’t see scores of updates waiting for me in the App Store, with many of them stating iPhone X compatibility in the changelog.
You’d still need a little more time to get used to the notch’s presence in fullscreen activities like gaming and video-viewing though, but the good news is that eventually, you do.
You have to face it
To implement that edge-to-edge display, Apple had to get rid of the home button. And since that home button also included the fingerprint scanner (labelled Touch ID by Apple), the Cupertino major chose to go with a face-recognition technology it’s calling Face ID for biometric authentication instead. Now this affects the way you access your phone, and since many of us do that hundreds of times each day, it’s important you understand the way it works.
So, apart from the usual earpiece, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, and front camera, the notch (or the TrueDepth sensor), also includes an infrared camera, a dot projector and a flood illuminator. Basically, this technology scans your face in 3D using infrared, and then matches the info it has captured when you want to unlock your iPhone X. Without getting into all the technical details, maybe it’d suffice for you to understand that it requires you to look at it with open eyes, and so it make out the key features of your face, including eyes, nose and ears. Apple says that thanks to usage of machine learning, Face ID can evolve over time as your face ages, and also give you access to your device if you’re wearing a hat and / or sunglasses, or choose to grow a beard for example.
On the positive side, Face ID is a breeze to set up. And it works quite well too, for the most part. When the screen is on (which happens when you’ve pressed the side button, when ‘Raise to wake’ is enabled and you lift the phone, when you receive a notification, or when you tap the display), all you need to do to unlock the iPhone X is to peer into the notch on top and voila, it’s unlocked. You still need to swipe upwards to access the home screen though. So there’s an extra step involved here to reach the home screen, versus the other iPhone models where a quick press of the home button unlocks it and takes you to the home screen straight away.
Face ID even works when it’s pitch dark, and I had no issues with it in bright sunlight as well. Sometimes though, it can fail too, and that’s when you’d need to use the good ol’ password / PIN to access your phone. It also doesn’t work when you’re lying down sideways. The Raise to wake feature and face ID is a good combination, since you can just lift up your iPhone to awaken its display and then use Face ID to unlock it. However, personally I find Raise to wake a tad annoying and also a battery drain, so I found a nice workaround for my usage. Turns out, the iPhone X has a ’tap to wake’ option buried under Accessibility settings, so with that enabled, I can just tap the screen to wake the phone and then use Face ID as normal. Do note that you could end up inadvertently unlocking the iPhone X even if you want to quickly peek at the screen to check the time or missed notifications.
Also worth mentioning that in regions where Apple Pay is available, Face ID can be be used to make digital payments. Also, the apps that currently offer the option of using Touch ID for authentication (ICICI Bank’s iMobile and Paytm for example) also work with Face ID equally well.
The learning curve is a b***h (not really)
Since there’s no home button on the iPhone X, you could end up asking yourself “so how do I get home”. Anyone who’s ever used iOS (on an iPhone or an iPad) would know that the home button is key (pun unintended) to the usage, since it’s the only way to exit a running app and also access other stuff like recent apps. Veteran iOS users migrating to the iPhone X could potentially find themselves lost initially, almost as if they’ve lost their way home. And as I mentioned earlier, the iPhone X marks the very first time Apple has made iOS usage inconsistent across different models of its smartphone.
On the iPhone X, the Control Center has moved from its usual location at the bottom and can be accessed by swiping down from the top right of the screen. Notifications can be accessed as usual by swiping down from the middle or the top left. To exit apps, you need to perform an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen (the same gesture that used to give you the Control Center earlier). For recent apps, you need to swipe up, and hold your finger for a bit on the screen. And for killing apps from the recent apps screen, you have to hold your finger on any app thumbnail till the time you see “-“ signs displayed in red on the cards. After that, you can just swipe upwards on the app thumbnails to kill the apps. From your homescreen or when any app is open, you can also switch to previous apps by swiping towards the right at the bottom of the display.
It all may sound a tad convoluted, but it just takes a day or two to get used to it, and after that, everything comes naturally. Crudely put, iOS on the X reminds me of the gesture-driven BlackBerry 10 (raise your hands if you know what I’m talking about) and the way it used upward swipes to minimise apps.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of how using the iPhone X is tad different from other iPhone models, I should also mention that with the latest flagship, Apple has even gone ahead and changed how you power off your phone. Well, the button on the side you knew as the power key isn’t really that anymore. It’s now called the side key, and works as a sleep / wake button normally. A long press of this key (which used to bring up the power off option earlier), now invokes Siri. To power off your iPhone X, you need to press and hold the side key along with either of the volume keys on the other side. To capture a screenshot, a quick press of the side button plus the volume up key does the trick. Also, when you’re installing apps via the App Store, a double press of the same side key starts the app download process, after you’ve been authenticated by Face ID. So you see… using the iPhone X does require a learning curve.
Camera and performance
As far as the shooting chops of the iPhone X are concerned, you can expect the same exemplary performance from its dual shooters as the ones on the iPhone 8 Plus. Technically, the iPhone X should be better, since it features optical image stabilisation on both its rear cameras, unlike the 8 Plus, which only has OIS on the main sensor. While the new Google Pixel 2 (first impressions) and Pixel 2 XL are still better in terms of the pure image quality overall, the iPhone X shines in video capture. Even for stills, the iPhone X takes great shots in almost all lighting conditions, and casual photographers shouldn’t be disappointed with the results.
The new Portrait Lighting mode that we saw earlier on the iPhone 8 Plus deserves mention here, since with the iPhone X, the same feature is now available on the front camera… giving you even more options to jazz up your selfies.
The same A11 Bionic chip that’s found inside the iPhone 8 and the 8 Plus is tasked with number crunching on the iPhone X, so performance is zippy and super fast – no complaints there. The X handles everything, even intensive games, with ease. As far as the battery life is concerned though, it’s average or a tad above average at best. The 8 Plus offers much better battery life in comparison. With the iPhone X, you might just need a top-up charge by evening if your usage is heavy, but for most people, it should last a day. And yes, the X can be charged wirelessly too. Don’t expect fast charging out the box though.
The iPhone X is a strange beast – it scores in almost all respects, yet has its share of quirks. Personally, I like the fact that it’s much more compact in comparison to the Plus-sized iPhones I have been using so far, yet offers a bigger screen. I can understand why it’s heavily in demand – it’s the iPhone that stands out even in a sea of other iPhones. For the first time in years, Apple has gone ahead and given its flagship smartphone a complete makeover, and considering how popular the brand’s smartphones are globally, it’s understandable that people are queuing up to buy it. It’s not as if you’re getting something significantly more capable with the iPhone X, since the 8 Plus is almost equally capable. Apart from the flaunt value, the only few things that you’d miss out if you choose to go with the 8 Plus instead are mainly the Portrait Lighting mode on the front camera and the so-called Animoji. The latter are animated emojis that use the iPhone X’s Face ID feature to imitate your facial movements, and can be shared with others via iMessage or saved as small video files. They’re fun, but the novelty tends to wear off in a few days.
Related read: Apple iPhone X vs Google Pixel 2XL vs Samsung Galaxy Note8
To sum it all up, you can still opt for the 8 Plus if you want to play it safe (and don’t want to spend the iPhone X’s asking price). On the Android side, there are quite a few flagships that you could consider, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note8 (review) or even the Google Pixel 2 XL (review), despite the latter’s reported issues. The iPhone X, if you’re loaded enough to buy one, is for you if you want to make a statement, or want to live on the cutting edge of technology. It’s a trophy gadget that you can show off proudly, smug in the knowledge that you’re holding a piece of the future. You don’t need it, but you know you want it. Good luck with finding one to buy though.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Sexy, bezel-less design
- Blazing-fast performance
- Excellant cameras
- Face ID works well, for the most part
- The notch can affect media and gaming experience
- iOS usage requires a learning curve
- Average battery life
Photos by Raj Rout