There’s a saying within consumer electronic circles that Apple, contrary to popular belief, is never the first to introduce something -- but when it does, it gets it just right. That’s the iPhone X in a nutshell.
Almost all of the new features in this handset are old news for smartphones. That bezel-less, almost all-screen face? Xiaomi did that in late 2016. Wireless charging and an OLED display panel with richer colours and deeper blacks than the LCD screens on older iPhones? Samsung’s handsets have had those for years.
But what Apple does best is adding value and ingenuity instead of just filling out spec sheets. For example, when Samsung reduced the bezels to get rid of the home button on the Galaxy S8 last year, it merely moved from a physical button to a digital button on screen -- which meant the phone still operated just like older editions. The benefits of going bezel-less were mostly aesthetic.
Apple, however, saw the removal of a tactile physical button as an opportunity to rethink the way users interact with the phone, giving the iPhone X a button-less navigation system of swipes and taps that feels way more futuristic -- and completely changing how users unlock the phone.
Even that OLED display (which is sourced from Samsung, by the way) has a decidedly Apple touch. The American tech giant calibrated the panels itself and the result is the most balanced and colour-accurate display on the market -- even moreso than Samsung's own phones. The Galaxy’s saturated and bold display may still be more eye-catching at first glance, but the the iPhone X’s display is more true to life.
The iPhone X is a refined, polished package all around with one true innovation: The TrueDepth Camera system. This series of sensors located at the top of the display (created by the company behind Microsoft’s original Kinect motion sensor for Xbox 360) allow the iPhone X to create a 3D map of your face. It can then use this for a myriad of things, such as projecting a pair of 3D, virtual glasses on your face in eyewear shopping apps; turning you into an animated emoji with facial movements that mimic yours; or most importantly... unlocking the phone.
Yes, facial recognition is another technology that other companies have already tried, to mostly mediocre results, but that Apple has done properly. The iPhone X’s facial unlock feature, dubbed Face ID, works most of the time, and when it does, it almost feels magical. You simply bring the phone up to your face (the screen lights up automatically when it senses motion) and second or two later your phone will be unlocked. It just works. And it's a good thing it does, because the iPhone X lacks the Touch ID fingerprint sensor iPhones have had for years.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work all of the time. While it does work in the dark, it doesn’t work well under intense sunlight, or if you’re in the middle of eating as the phone is scanning, or even if you’re resting a hand on your face -- Face ID might fail in any of these situations, forcing you to input your passcode.
The TrueDepth Camera system, as you’ve probably heard or seen by now, takes up a small bit of the display up top. It’s known as “the notch” in the west and as a “receding hairline” in China, and it does detract from the illusion of a true edge-to-edge screen. This didn’t bother me much when using the phone upright (which I do 95% of the time), but it’s jarring when watching full screen videos. The notch makes it look like someone took a bite out of the screen.
As for the cameras on the back, it’s the same story for Apple as in the past couple of years. I find the cliché “Apple products just work” to be eyeroll-inducing, but it’s true with the iPhone’s cameras. Even though other phones beat the iPhone X in specific areas -- the Huawei Mate 10 Pro can capture more lighting in the dark; Samsung’s cameras produce more dynamic shots; and Google Pixel 2’s portrait mode is far superior -- the iPhone X is the most well-rounded, and always seems to find the right balance. That means you don’t really need to think with the iPhone X: Just point and shoot and you’ll very likely end up with a shot with accurate colours and the right exposure.
On the flipside, Apple’s tenth anniversary phone is also essentially a first-gen product, so the iPhone X has quite a few shortcomings. The rear cameras stick out so much from the back of the device that it’s not only unsightly, but make using a case essential because the phone won’t lay flat evenly otherwise. Battery life is underwhelming, as the handset likely won’t make it through an entire day on a single charge.
And finally, if you’re someone who has always preferred Android’s endless customisation over iOS’s relatively restrictive structure, nothing about the iPhone X changes that. You still can’t arrange widgets freely on the homescreen the way you could on Android; iOS’s handling of notifications is still a mess; and you can’t run two apps side-by-side.
But if you’re an iPhone user and like iOS? The iPhone X is almost a must, if not now then later. Even if you’re worried about giving up the home button, or Touch ID, the writing's on the wall: The iPhone X is how all iPhones will look soon. You might as well embrace the future today.