Apple iPhone X Review: The Complete Flagship Package
It’s finally here, the iPhone that longtime Apple users have been waiting for, the phone that outshone the mighty iPhone 8 at its launch event, the phone that re-imagines what an iPhone should be – the iPhone with the ‘X’ factor.
Just don't call it the iPhone X – if I had a dollar for each time I’ve corrected someone who called it the “ex” instead of the iPhone “10”, I’d be well on my way towards saving for my next iPhone!
In all seriousness, the iPhone X (64GB ₹89,000, 256GB ₹102,000) is Apple’s most radically redesigned iPhone since the original launched 10 years ago, and for the most part, Apple’s nailed the brief and have given iPhone owners a reason to show off their phones once again.
Just as well, since this is the first iPhone to breach the $1,000 or the Rs 1 lakh barrier, depending on where you’re picking yours up. That said, in a year packed full of supremely competent flagship devices vying for a share of your wallet, does the X dial it all the way up to 10?
- Best-in-class OLED display
- First-gen Face ID works surprisingly well
- Great video quality, superb photos
- Unparalleled performance
- Premium, all-screen design
- Portrait lighting needs work
- All-glass design requires constant caution
- No fast charger in the box
- Not all apps are ready for iPhone X
The big change that demands your attention is the iPhone X’s screen, the first OLED screen on an iPhone and the tallest yet, at 5.8-inches along the diagonal (notice how I didn't say biggest? The 8 Plus’ screen is a tad bigger, area wise).
The Samsung-made display is quite something – the colors are rich, text is sharp and clean, there’s support for the DCI P3 color gamut and Dolby Vision HDR for apps that support it – Apple has excelled in its color calibration on these panels, and this is quite simply the best display I’ve seen on a phone.
Apple’s played catch-up on OLED tech, and the X is a near-perfect score for its display quality, even though it does suffer the mild blue shift inherent to OLED displays.
About that notch at the top, though. Look, you certainly notice it when you start using the X, and it does “disappear” or blend into the background over a period of time, more so as a raft of iPhoneX-optimized apps start hitting the App Store.
That said, there are far too many apps that still run pillar-boxed and don't embrace the X aesthetic, at which point you look like you’re using an older iPhone. Even then, it’s fairly innocuous in portrait mode – it’s in landscape where the notch creates a bit of an issue for many apps, and some games and video apps ignore it altogether, so you end up with content that’s cut off.
The large, near-edge-to-edge screen means a fresh new design – no more of the now-dated design we’ve seen being refined for the past four years. This is a seriously good looking phone, and one that feels like the near-1-lakh pricing it commands.
The chrome frame, the metal ring around the camera module, the nice amount of heft in the hand – this is a luxury product that looks and costs the part.
You are going to want to put it in a case, though – even with Apple’s claim of the X shipping with the most durable glass made in a smartphone, it’s not unbreakable, as many early adopters have found to their anguish.
Beyond the looks, the design delivers on what iOS users have long been asking for – a Plus set of features in a non-phablet sized phone.
The iPhone X size hits that sweet spot for media consumption while staying small enough for one-handed use. The all-screen design has led to the death of another gold standard iPhone component – the home button – and with it, the Touch ID fingerprint sensor.
There are a new set of gestures to navigate around iOS 11 – most are simple and intuitive, like a swipe up from the bottom to go to the home screen.
Despite having used iPhones as one of my two primary devices for the better part of the last decade, I didn't miss the home button one bit – the animations around the gestures are slick and modern, and I wasn't even thinking about the gestures a week into using the phone.
Possibly the most divisive of changes on the iPhone X, the one feature I was rather skeptical of at launch, was the removal of the fingerprint sensor in favour of Face ID. Apple’s facial recognition tech is made possible by the True Depth front camera and a bunch of fancy sensors housed in the notch up front. In the two weeks I’ve used Face ID to unlock the iPhone X, I’ve found my initial concerns to be largely unfounded.
For the most part, it works flawlessly, and the key is not to wait for the lock icon on the screen to show the phone’s unlocked – just swipe up to get to home screen as you start looking at the iPhone X and you’ll have unlocked the phone in that one quick action.
It’s true that it’s fractionally slower than using a fingerprint scanner, more so if you want to unlock the phone merely by touching it as you pull it out of the pocket or as it lies on the desk. But where Face ID scores is how seamless it gets in day to day use – apps like 1Password or Dropbox unlock as soon as they see your face, so there isn’t even the friction of that additional fingerprint validation to let you in.
Have a twin, or a family member who closely resembles you or are you important enough to be targeted by hackers who will create a lifelike mask of your face to trick Face ID? Then Face ID may not be for you – but for all others, it seamlessly replaces Touch ID and works reliably pretty much every single time I’ve picked up the X.
For a first-gen technology, Apple has nailed the biometric tech behind Face ID, and it’s left to Android phone makers to see if they’re going to even try to compete on the same terms, or stick to the tried-and-tested fingerprint sensor.
If you’ve read our iPhone 8/8 Plus review, you’ll know that the A11 Bionic chip is without parallel in terms of sheer performance, particularly when it comes to running demanding games and AR apps.
Battery life is a shade lower than the 8 Plus, which means you’ll still get through a full day of use without having to hunt for a charging socket.
The iPhone X extends its lead over the competition by shooting 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, and man, that video is buttery smooth and packed full of detail. Or you can slow the world down to 240 fps and shoot full HD video – truly a mobile videographer’s weapon of choice.
It’s with photos that Apple simply can’t unequivocally stake claim to taking the best shots across the board.
The telephoto lens benefits from the additional OIS, and photos are delightfully exposed and consistent across shooting scenarios, but when it comes to low light images, the Pixel edges ahead with their post processing to turn out more usable images.
Even Portrait mode shots, whether on the rear or the front camera, benefit that little bit from Google’s machine learning algorithms.
Make no mistake about it – the iPhone X packs a phenomenal camera that turns out accurate colors, tonnes of detail and are spot on with skin tones, but the Pixels are just better still shooters.
Finally, Animojis – emojis that use the front TrueDepth camera to sync your head and facial movements onto the on-screen character – are a whole bunch of fun.
The iPhone X then is in a league of its own, but it’s not without its share of flaws, however minor. For example, Face ID only allows a single person to register his/her face, unlike Touch ID which allowed you to register different fingers so that your kid or your significant other has access to your phone.
Portait Lighting, the camera mode that applies lighting effects to portrait mode shots, is currently a feature that’s still in beta – which is just as well since some of the modes, Stage Light in particular, are very… temperamental. Hopefully this will improve over time.
And no matter how you pitch it, not having a fast charger in the box for a phone that supports it is just wrong. I’d say that about a sub-20 grand phone and I’m sure as heck going to hold it against Apple for its 89-grand phone.
Why Buy It?
There is no doubt that the iPhone X succeeds in what it set out to do – breathe new life into a product line while keeping an eye firmly toward the future of the iPhone.
This is the rebooted iPhone we’ve been waiting for, and certainly the one to buy this year, and it’s well worth the price of admission, even if that does happen to be north of a lakh for the top variant.
2017 has shown us some great phones, but if you’re willing to pay the price, the X gives you very nearly the most complete package of all flagships around.
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at @2shar.)