The brand new iPhone X — that’s pronounced “ten,” by the way, not “ex” — is a phone of firsts for Apple. The 5.8-inch OLED screen isn’t just larger, it also uses a different technology that Apple says will make colors absolutely pop. It’s also the first iPhone to completely do away with the iconic home button — you know, the one Apple popularized on its very first iPhone. And, it’s the first to offer Face ID as a new way to securely unlock the phone and pay in the check-out line.
The iPhone X is Apple’s only new device to nab optical image stabilization for both rear 12-megapixel camera lenses, a portrait mode on the front-facing camera (despite having just one lens and not two), and — more breezily — a new feature to animate emojis.
These are the distinguishing features we looked at when going hands-on with Apple’s newest, largest and priciest iPhone at Apple’s equally new Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. — see for yourself in the videos above and below.
You won’t get the iPhone X’s large, OLED screen or face unlocking on the more traditional iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, which were also announced Tuesday. And that’s by design. The iPhone X’s boldness is exactly what makes it Apple’s extra-special cherry on top to mark the 10th anniversary of the very first iPhone in 2007, which revolutionized at that time everything a smartphone could be, and hurled us on the path that led to what smartphones are today.
Apple in no way abandons the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. All three new handsets for 2017 get a major feature that Apple’s been lagging on for years: Qi wireless charging (pronounced “chee”). Wireless charging is now a Samsung staple that already works with both Qi and PMA standards. While Apple only mentioned Qi support and not PMA, it’s nevertheless a key addition that could kick up demand for wireless charging in a way that Samsung, LG, Nokia and Microsoft hadn’t been able to accomplish before.
The iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are also the first phones to launch Apple’s iOS 11 software, which comes with improvements for Siri, the lock screen and notifications, and all these smaller surprises, too.
The two biggest questions focus on the iPhone X’s most daring design change, ditching the home button. Will that actually make the phone more convenient to use? And will using your face to unlock the phone benefit you, or is it just a workaround?
It’s clear that Apple is prepping iPhone users to wave goodbye to the home button, by framing its dismissal as a feature. But until we can thoroughly test it to see how well it actually works, we’re dubious if this is an empty upsell. If it does work well, you can bet Samsung will step up its game to make its own facial recognition software secure enough for mobile payments (right now, that’s just iris scanning and the fingerprint reader). It’s likely other phonemakers would ditch a current trend to put the fingerprint reader on the back and adopt — or at least experiment — with face unlocking, too.
Apple die-hards will certainly pick up one of the three new phones. Now it’s time for on-the-fencers to make their decision. As we head into a crazy-competitive holiday season, the iPhone X, 8 and 8 Plus will together lock arms against Samsung’s best-selling Galaxy Note 8, LG’s video-focused V30 and Google’s upcoming Pixel 2 for smartphone supremacy.
Hands-on with the iPhone X: Nice size
Before we get to the specs, we wanted to first answer what it feels like to actually use the iPhone X. By screen size, this is Apple’s largest phone ever. But it’s actually shorter, thinner and lighter than the iPhone 8 Plus — that’s because it’s almost all screen with razor-thin bezels. Held in my hand (me being Scott Stein), it felt right. Unlike the too-large iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone X returns to being a good-size phone without compromising any features. In that sense, its design feels perfect. But there’s a catch this time. Or, several.
While it had a really pleasing heft and design — somewhere between the Essential Phone and Galaxy Note 8 — that missing home button is still up in the air. It’s not really needed anymore: tapping to turn on the iPhone X was easy, and swiping up to the home screen or down for Control Center isn’t all that different from how many Android phones work.
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But there’s no Touch ID, either, and Face ID was hard to evaluate. Apple employees demoed the tech in action, and it seemed to work quickly: a glance at the phone and a swipe up, and it’s unlocked. Will it be error-free, or always easy to use? Impossible to tell yet.
Apple’s front-facing camera array, called TrueDepth, shows promise, but for now it’s used in clever-but-gimmicky apps. Animoji are adorable: I was able to puppet various 3D emoji with my face. It felt futuristic and weird, and mostly worked. New Snapchat filters optimized for the iPhone X selfie cam were eerily effective. My face seemed literally painted on. Selfies with Portrait Mode look sharp, too.
My favorite part of the iPhone X is its size. (Its improved-resolution OLED Super Retina Display looks fantastic, too.) My least favorite part is its price. And I’m fascinated by the phone’s AR possibilities. But I don’t know how good it will be versus ARKit apps on existing iPhones, because I haven’t had a chance to do direct comparisons yet. Looking at AR apps was fun, but the demos I tried didn’t seem significantly different in concept from the ARKit ones I’ve peeked at before on other phones.
iPhone X has an overdue design overhaul that looks great. But the extra features beyond that aren’t clear slam dunks yet.
iPhone X price and when to buy it
The iPhone X ain’t cheap. It starts at $999, £999 in the UK and AU$1,579 in Australia. The 256GB version costs $1,149. Preorders begin Oct. 27, and the phone ships Nov. 3.
By contrast, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus start at $699 and $799, respectively. (They’re £699 and £799 in the UK, or AU$1,079 and AU$1,229 in Australia.)