Bring out the dusty portable tents. This one might just be worth camping out for…
Apple insiders are eager to claim that the team took more than five years to perfect the form, design and engineering bits that make up the all-screen superhero of a phone that will be unleashed upon the waiting world on November 3. While I can’t claim to have vetted that little piece of information, what is evident is that this really is the best iPhone you have held in your hand in the last five years. The 5.8in Super Retina screen has edged out the home button from the front fascia of the phone and this means, you guessed it - more screen space in less space! The resulting dimensions sit smack between the 8 and 8 Plus. Between the 7 and the 7 Plus. Between the 6 and....you get the point.
What this proves is that with the amalgamation of new technologies, the sweet spot has finally been achieved for one handed use, without squinting to read emails. The seamless nature of the iPhone X’s construction further amplifies the “hand feel”, which is beyond an iota of doubt, the best there is. The glass back fuses organically into the stainless-steel side band which relays on to the front glass and as a whole, it just feels as solid as any iPhone has ever felt in your hand. In fact, after the iPhone 5, this might be the sexiest iPhone to have made it out of Jony Ive’s secret toy shop.
DISPLAY: OMG OLED!
The all-screen claim might be a tall one if you consider the notch from the top and the black edges that curve around the OLED display. But using it for two days now, it never once diluted the experience. The notch is smartly kept out of view when you view pictures in landscape mode and even when you tap twice to zoom in, the picture will zoom in enough to avoid being hidden behind the notch. It’s only when you manually, two-finger pinch out zoom, can you really fill up the screen till the very edges. On apps, the notch is flanked by carrier name/time on the left and signal/battery indicator on the right so you don’t mind giving up that space anyway. Expectedly, not all apps have been optimised to work with this screen size and aspect ratio yet so Instagram Live feeds for example suffer from cropping of the username right at the top, which gets covered by the True Depth Camera notch.
Certain parts of Whatsapp and Uber are victim to this artefact too but updates will roll out faster than your data plan can keep up post November 3 and it’s only a matter of time until everyone catches up. The black edges acting as a border to the OLED display are less of a bother and in fact, seem to be a better trade off that other “bezel-less phones” that are forced to keep a thin chin and forehead for part assemblies. The iPhone X truly feels immersive, contrary to what other reports might suggest. There are a few quirks you do have to get used to installing in your visual memory, like the bar at the bottom of the screen that is a marker for where the Home button used to be. It’s omnipresent and sticks out like a haunting memory of Touch ID. Again, it’s not a big deal once you get used to its presence and eventually is destined to be taken off as the next ten years for iPhones will supposedly be feeding off this all-screen design and interface and people get used to this format.
The sound is claimed to be 20% louder than even on the iPhone 8, which in itself was a huge improvement over the iPhone 7 Plus. Regardless, it is plenty clear and legible with a certain heft to even low frequencies that doesn’t make watching long-form videos annoying like on other phones.
FACE ID: JUST LOOK AT IT!
A bigger paradigm shift is of course, Face ID. A make or break feature that could seal the fate for the iPhone X since so much is riding on it “just working”. Working well. Working well, every time. Working well, every time, in every lighting condition. Touch ID had become flawless over time and quick enough to not even feel like a manual input but Face ID comes with the monumental promise of being even more effortless and accurate. For a piece of tech that is so advanced, setting it up is hilariously simple and quick. Just look at the phone like you’re giving it attitude by circling your nose in the marked areas twice and you’re good to go. It then integrates with every other app that used Touch ID for authentication until now, without any input from you.
It’s effortless to the point of being scary but Apple assures us that none of this information ever goes out of the secure enclave of the device. Obviously, the first test any right minded journalist would perform is the low-light torture test for Face ID so I did the ethical thing. Sat myself on the bed of a pitch dark room and slowly advanced towards picking up the iPhone X, feeling like I had the detonator to a planet-destroying nuclear warhead. It worked every single time and I breathed a sigh of relief. The same was true for intense, bright light and its hit rate. What you do have to get used to are the variety off-axis angles that Face ID works with. You can’t nonchalantly present your thumb to the Home button even while the phone is resting on your bedside. You have to keep both eyes open and that seemed to be the only real requirement in my case and Face ID got me to the home screen even before I could realise that the phone is unlocked. Under ideal conditions when you have the phone in the hand, swiping up from the bottom simultaneously while raising the phone should do the job and in effect it just feels like you’ve picked up the phone and started working! I couldn’t grow a full beard in the two days leading up to this review so I can’t vouch for its facial recognition on dramatic transformations but it did pierce two different sunglasses I own and a hat without ever stumbling.
It works like a fully-baked Apple innovation that can become a trailblazer for others to follow. It also intuitively takes over all the apps that were authenticated previously with Touch ID. So in my case, Netflix, American Express, HDFC and plenty others just started working without any intervention. The iPhone X just looked at me and signed me in, seamlessly! It’s extremely bold of a brand to ditch a perfectly fine and accepted technology for something completely radical, without a fallback plan but hey, it’s Apple. Remember what happened to USB and the headphone jack? We don’t either.
CAMERA: BEST GETS BETTER
While the camera is largely the same as the 8 Plus, there are a couple of significant changes. The secondary, telephoto lens also gets optical image stabilisation now and a wider aperture, meaning zoomed shots should be clearer and brighter now. Coupled with the new image sensor and the OLED HDR screen on the iPhone X, the results are stunning. On a head-to-head comparison with the Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8, it would be close but the screen itself has the most true to real-life colours of the contenders and now with Dolby Vision and HDR-10 support, it even adds the requisite pop to Netflix and Amazon content streamed in HDR. While low-light has been improved, I suspect the Pixel 2 might be capturing more light but only a direct shoot out will determine the result.
Out on its own, this is at the pinnacle of mobile photography with its detail, colours and auto focus/exposure. The built-in Photos app on iOS11 is better than ever, with filters and fine-tuning controls that can bring out the best in every picture. In most cases, the iPhone 8 Plus would churn out similar results but it’s the OLED screen that makes the difference easily visible, at least on the phone screen itself. The black levels produced by the Samsung-made OLED panel are absolute and we can’t discount Apple’s own magic sauce to the screen tech that makes it the most accurate looking smartphone by far. The dynamic contrast between the darker and lighter parts of a frame are superbly judged and it allows you to underexpose for dramatic effect and add more light in the shadows using the editing tools without any compromise in the highlights.
As on the iPhone 8 Plus though, Stage and Stage Mono Portrait modes require a delicate balance of light and background colour to give the desired result. Usually, they’re a mess around the edges and should be wearing the “Beta” tag until they are useable. Thanks to the True Depth camera system up front, Portrait mode enhances your selfies now and it wasn’t very different in its results to the excellent Portrait mode from the rear cam, except for a slight loss in resolution. But since the distance from the lens to your mug won’t be more than 3ft (unless you dropped your iPhone X into a Gibbon enclosure), the lack of similar resolution won’t be a deal breaker.
ANIMOJIS: YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND IS YOURSELF
Animojis, another byproduct of the True Depth camera is a novelty feature that I don’t see wearing out as quickly as some other iMessage innovations. It’s properly cheeky and fun, although why Apple would include a poop emoji in this limited list is beyond me. Maybe it’s them not taking themselves too seriously and having some fun with a fun feature. It works well most of the time but there were occasions where more light was required to accurately convert my facial contractions to an angry rooster. It’s not the same as Face ID and won’t work in a completely darkened room. However, when you do get it right, you will be able to send it to anyone in your contact list, not just the seven who use iMessage. Animojis are saved as an MOV file so pick a character and make a rant seem cute behind a puppy face!
IOS11: DESIGNED FOR FULL-SCREEN
The new gestures are quick to master and it’s actually hard to believe how soon you adapt to the lack of a Home button, something all iPhone users have grown inextricably linked to. Swipe up from the bottom and pause to open a stack of open apps, deep press to kill them or simple swipe across the bottom bar of the phone to switch between apps quickly. Control Centre has been repositioned to the right side of the notch that is not my preferred location. I could easily bring up most-oft used functions quickly with one hand but now, with no Reachability and affixed to the upper perimeter, I’m forced to engage two hands regularly. Minor quirk that I’m sure all users will get used to (or won’t have a choice!). There’s something so fluid about the whole experience that the A11 Bionic chip really gets to shine here and show off its AR skills on the full screen. Holo, an app that is just a fun showcase of what direction AR can go in eventually, works like a charm and you can tickle a virtual tiger right on your desktop, just for fun. Of course, the primary strength of the A11 chip is its swiftness around the interface, from anything like opening a heavy pdf file to using Photoshop Express, it never once feels like it needs more processing power or grunt.
Siri is improved but yet not as useful in the Indian context as say, OK Google or Amazon Alexa. Address book contact still get mis-dialled and simple requests can escalate into an altercation. Use with caution and caveats and Siri can be smartly integrated to control your home-entertainment system, lights and the likes.
Battery life, inspite of the higher resolution and brighter OLED seems better managed than on the 8 and 8 Plus and I was powering through the day with 12% left to spare after enough hands had lusted on the iPhone X. The wireless charging is slower than the cabled option but more convenient for sure, although I’d prefer to wait for Apple’s own PowerMat coming next year to justify Qi charging benefits across the board for the Watch, AirPods and iPhone.
APPLE IPHONE X VERDICT
Like every revolution, there will be polarising opinions about the iPhone X. Notchgate is already a term and Face ID will have to trundle through a series of frat jokes like the first-ever iPad did. But, as it seeps into the consciousness of consumers and become a way of life, the older ways will soon be forgotten. Apple has decided to lead the way with an all-new authentication and unlocking system that is primary, not an optional system and just for that, I would applaud them. Face ID works uncannily well and is faster than Touch ID if you can believe it.
The camera is still brilliant and will make you think twice before carrying along the D-SLR for anything less than a National Geographic assignment. That OLED screen is immersive, almost looking like a peel-off sticker that some of the dummy retail samples are showcased with, it’s that bright, vibrant and real looking. It isn’t cheap and the lack of the 128GB option means more potential buyers will be tempted to go for the full-fat 256GB version at an eye-watering ₹1.02lacs. It’s by no means an inexpensive phone and this time, Apple isn’t apologetic about it.
Spend a few hours with it and you won’t be too. Compared to the Pixel 2 XL, it just feels a cut above in terms of overall fit and finish and is a genuinely lustworthy gadget. The last time I felt this level of gadget joy and wonder was when the iPhone 3G arrived on my desk. If only Apple’s AI and Maps were as good as Google, this would be the perfect phone.