Apple iPhone X review: The future of iPhone
Overview, Design, Display, and Audio
Note: This article was first published on 9th November 2017.
The iPhone X is the most exciting iPhone since... well, the first iPhone. Maybe its the mysterious 'X' name (pronounced "ten"), or the fact that it's the first new iPhone design we've seen in three years, but when Tim Cook unveiled it back in September, I remember saying to myself, "I need this phone" and I haven't said that in a long time.
The iPhone X boasts a lot of firsts: it's the first iPhone with an OLED display, it's the first iPhone without a Home button, it's the first iPhone with Face ID, and it's the first iPhone with a bezel-less all-screen design. Is that enough firsts to convince you this is a phone you should be okay with spending S$1,648 on (or S$1,888 for the 256GB model)? Let's find out.
|Apple iPhone X (256GB)
I've used an iPhone as my primary phone since the 3GS. Back then, there was only one screen size and I was happy, but for the past few years, I've gone back and forth between the 4.7-inch and the 5.5-inch Plus model, and I've never really been satisfied with either. While small displays were fine back when I got my first iPhone, I now find the normal iPhone screen a little small, but I also find the Plus a bit too big to hold comfortably with one hand, and I'm always worried I'll drop it while I'm trying to stretch my finger across the screen (even with Reachability).
The iPhone X, however, sits in between them, and like Baby Bear's porridge, is just right. The bezel-less display is a little wider and taller than the iPhone 8, but it's narrower and shorter than the 8 Plus, making it a lot more comfortable to use and hold.
While the bezel-less display is the focal point of the new iPhone, it's not the only shiny new thing on the X - quite literally.
Replacing the aluminum frame Apple has used since the iPhone 6 is a new stainless-steel band that runs around the sides of the phone. On our Silver review unit is a gleaming chrome finish that you can't help but notice, while the Space Gray X gets a DLC (Diamond Like Carbon) coating that is equally reflective, but in a more subdued dark metallic gray. The only downside to such a shiny finish is that it will undoubtedly get scratched and scuffed over time (think of the backs of those early iPods).
Like the 8 and 8 Plus, the back of the X is glass, which enables wireless charging. The X also boasts a dual-rear camera setup like the 8 Plus, only this time the cameras are aligned vertically rather than side-by-side. According to Apple, the only reason for the change in orientation is due to internal space constraints - apparently the TrueDepth camera on the front takes up a lot of space.
The power button (officially it's been re-named the "Side button") is a bit longer on the X than it is on the 8 or 8 Plus. It looks a bit like a volume rocker, but the whole thing is still one button. With the removal of the home button, some of its features have relocated here. For example, you now double press the Side button to activate Apple Pay, while long pressing it activates Siri. To take screenshots you press the Side button and the volume up button at the same time.
Once again, there's no headphone jack, but with a lot of other phone manufacturers also doing away with it, it's starting to look like Apple was right all along.
The iPhone X is the first iPhone with an OLED display. Generally speaking, OLED displays are lighter, thinner, more power efficient and have better contrast ratios than LCD displays - although they're not all great, the Google Pixel 2 XL's OLED display being one obvious example. The display on the iPhone X is made by Samsung, who make some of the best mobile OLED displays out there, and the X's 'Super Retina HD' OLED is just as good as the Super AMOLED displays found on Samsung's own smartphones. It's bright and sharp, with great contrast and none of the off angle problems plaguing the Pixel 2 XL. Furthermore, Apple has custom designed the display for the iPhone X, so colors look a lot more natural and aren't as saturated as the ones on Samsung's smartphones.
The display itself is listed as 5.8-inches with a 2,436 x 1,125 pixels resolution (~458ppi) but because of its tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio, it's not actually that big. The X is closer in size to the iPhone 8 than it is to the 8 Plus, and if you watch regular 16:9 aspect ratio content on it, there'll be big black bezels on either side, so it will appear about the same size as a phone with a 5-inch display. The tall display takes a bit of getting used to, but you'll appreciate the extra screen real estate when browsing the internet, or when using apps optimized for the X. It reminds me a lot of when Apple went from the 3.5-inch 3:2 aspect ratio iPhone 4, to the 4-inch 16:9 aspect ratio iPhone 5 - the display is a little taller, but it doesn't feel like a huge increase in screen size.
Like the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the X has Apple’s True Tone system to automatically adjust the display's color temperature to the ambient light. Furthermore, the X has a 10-channel light sensor compared to the 4-channel unit in the 8, which makes it even more precise at reading the ambient light. The X's display is also Dolby Vision and HDR10-certified, which means you'll be able to watch HDR content on it. Conveniently enough, Apple has just rolled out a bunch of HDR content on iTunes.
Okay, let's talk about the one bad thing about the X's display: the notch. I've been using the iPhone X for a week now, and while I've heard other people say it doesn't bother them, I just can't ignore it. My home and lock screen, and most of the apps I use all have white backgrounds so it's impossible for me not to notice a big notch at the top of the display. I'm also annoyed that the battery percentage is no longer displayed in the top right corner of the screen because the notch robs you of valuable notification space so there's not enough room for it - you have to open the Control Center to check your exact battery percentage.
Apps that aren't optimized for the X's display, but use iOS's auto-layout system and fill the entire screen, will often have content disappearing behind the notch (Instagram's volume bar just so happens to be right where the notch is) or will be cut off at the sides due to the unusual aspect ratio. Other apps that don't fill the screen instead have huge black borders at the top and bottom (effectively running in 16:9 aspect ratio) - this includes Google Maps, Uber and Spotify.
The problem gets even worse when you're using apps that are meant to be run in landscape mode, like content apps like Netflix and YouTube and most games. With the notch at the top you can still sort of ignore it, but in landscape mode, you now have a huge obstruction on the left side of the screen. Watching fullscreen content on YouTube, you either get a small video window with black bars all around the display (refer to image immediately below), or an entirely fullscreen view with a notch obscuring content on the left side of the screen - neither is great. A lot of games operate the same way, you either have a notch obscuring content, or you get a windowed mode.
Now I understand that eventually these problems will go away as more app developers update their apps specifically for the X (although I imagine a lot of developers won't be too happy about having to code a specific version of their app just for the one phone on the market with a huge notch at the top), but for now it's an annoyance and it spoils my enjoyment of an otherwise amazing display.
The iPhone X has the same stereo speaker setup as the 8 and 8 Plus, utilizing one bottom firing speaker and a second speaker located at the top of the phone under the ear piece. Like the 8 and 8 Plus, audio quality on the X is surprisingly good, with decent stereo separation and a healthy amount of bass. Like the 8 and 8 Plus, the X also lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, you get a pair of Lightning EarPods and a Lightning-to-3.5mm jack dongle in the box.