Updated design. Fast processor. Excellent screen. First-of-its-kind augmented reality front camera.
Very expensive. Screen cutout may block some content. Not the fastest modem.
- Bottom Line
The iPhone X sets the stage for Apple's next decade, with a sharp new design and a future focus on augmented reality.
Apple's iPhone X ("Ten" not "Ex") puts the company's best face forward. It goes all-in on an all-screen design, and features newly stabilized dual cameras to perform better in low light. The gorgeous new phone's most cutting-edge feature is Face ID, a set of technologies that use the front-facing camera to make augmented-reality-ready, 3D maps of your head. It can then turn your face into an animoji (an animated emoji). We got to spend some time with the iPhone X after the announcement and came away optimistic about future applications for the new camera system. But back to the reality of now: With a $999 starting price, it's the most expensive iPhone ever.
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A Sharp New Look
Apple tends to redesign the iPhone every few years. The original models' stone-like appearance gave way to the iPhone 4's glass sandwich, which became the iPhone 6's metal sleekness. Now there's a new look.
The iPhone X's 5.8-inch, 2,436-by-1,125 AMOLED screen takes up the entire front face, killing the home button, with a notch cut out at the top for the front-facing camera and earpiece, like on the Essential Phone PH-1, which creates some interesting interface challenges. Most of the time, the area is used by the status bar, which is also split; fair enough. Third-party apps in portrait mode maintain the status bar. It didn't prove distracting while watching some short video clips—though a whole movie might be another story. We'll have to look into that more closely when we get the phone in for review.
The back is glass, with a significant bump for the dual 12-megapixel cameras. At 5.65 by 2.79 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and 6.14 ounces, it's slightly shorter, wider, and heavier than Samsung's Galaxy S8. It's also water resistant.
As much as it it will pain Jonny Ive to hear it, at a glance the iPhone X looks a lot like the iPhone 8. Holding it in your hand, though, the phone feels remarkably solid. When you run your fingers over those seams between the screen and the sides, it really does feel like a solid slab of glass.
We've heard Samsung makes Apple's OLED screen panels, but Apple's secret sauce is its wide P3 color gamut (which displays more colors) and True Tone white balance technology (which delivers truer whites in various kinds of lighting), which are exclusive to the iPhone.
With no home button, you get there by swiping up from the bottom of the display, like on the Galaxy S8. If you swipe and hold halfway up on the screen, you get a card-based multitasking display. The phone doesn't appear to support dual-window multitasking, though. Apple saves that for the iPad.
Processor, Modem, and Battery
Like the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the X uses the Apple A11 Bionic processor. The all-new processor has six cores in a big-little design, with two high-performance cores and four efficiency cores, as well as a new GPU designed by Apple. An early Geekbench benchmark result, cited by developer Steve Troughton-Smith, shows a single-core score of 4061 and a multi-core score of 9959, which nukes other smartphones (the Galaxy Note 8 gets 1870 and 6539) and is closer to the new iPad Pro, at 3936 and 9300.
Apple's innovation doesn't extend to modem features, alas. The X comes in two models: one that supports all the US networks, and another that lacks CDMA for Verizon and Sprint. We have it on good word that both models max out at 600Mbps, far short of the gigabit LTE we're seeing on Samsung and LG's top competitors.
Battery life is "up to two hours longer than the iPhone 7," according to Apple. Like the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the X supports Qi wireless charging (a new feature for iPhones), and also charges traditionally through its Lightning jack. Like the iPhone 7 series, there's no headphone jack.
Face the Nation
The front-facing camera is the iPhone X's most radical advancement. It uses a "dot projector" to throw invisible dots onto any object in front of it, and then uses an IR camera to map those dots, producing a live, 3D map of objects in space. Apple framed it as mostly for selfies, using the 7-megapixel selfie camera. But this is also how to do augmented reality right; Qualcomm demonstrated a similar three-camera Spectra image module recently, which it said will come to Android phones in 2018. We suspect this 3D-mapping technology will come to the rear camera on the iPhone XI.
— Dan Costa (@dancosta) September 12, 2017
For now, the 3D camera starts with Face ID, which uses the 3D map to unlock the phone when it sees your face (the phone has no fingerprint scanner). Your face data is stored securely on the phone, and according to Apple is never uploaded to the cloud.
Whereas the fingerprint-based Touch ID system has a one-in-50,000 chance of being spoofed, Face ID is effective for one-in-1,000,00. Apple said it tested the feature successfully against photos and latex masks, but "evil twins" may be able to unlock each others' phones. When it works, that is. Craig Federighi had to swap out phones when Face ID failed in a demo onstage. It's hard to gauge how solid the feature really is, since the units we used were all tied to Apple representatives. Most of the time, it worked. Whether that marginal security and convenience is worth the extra cost remains an open question.
We're actually more excited about Animoji and masking as proof of what this camera can do. Animoji are, well, animated emoji (mostly animals) that can reproduce your facial expressions and be delivered through iMessage—it's motion capture. We didn't think we'd enjoy messaging using a pig-faced animoji, but it was delightful. The slightest eyebrow raise was detected and reflected.
Apple also showed some amazing Snapchat-like filters that put masks on your face that look far more realistic than anything Snapchat currently offers. You can also use the depth-mapping to add a bokeh effect into selfies. We don't care much for selfies, and yet we almost forwarded some of the iPhone X selfies for posterity because they were so cool.
Before you call any of that silly, Apple is likely collecting data here on how to handle and what to do with depth-mapping data. It may be launching with Face ID and Animojis, but it seems clear this is just a gateway to a larger plan to make the iPhone the center of a mixed reality world. For that to happen, of course, the depth sensor array will need to be duplicated on the other side of the iPhone, facing the outside world, but the phone is already $1,000, so maybe next year.
There are two 12-megapixel cameras on the back of the iPhone X, one standard-focus and one 2x, both with optical image stabilization. That should improve the low-light performance of the 2x camera.
Pricing and Impressions
The phone comes in space gray or silver, in 64GB ($999) and 256GB ($1,149) models. Don't get too hung up on the iPhone X's price. Here in the US, it'll mostly be sold on two-year contracts, which will just kick it up by $8 per month or so over the iPhone 8.
That said, the X looks like a setup for Apple's next 10 years, not a mature device. The high price comes from a shortage of OLED panels, which will probably clear up in a year or so when new factories come online. Depth-mapping in the front-facing camera is clearly the augmented reality wave of the future, but it opens the question of why Apple isn't doing the same thing with the rear camera. If you can wait a year, the next iteration, whatever it may be called, will likely answer some of those questions.
But we're saying all of that without spending extended time with the iPhone X, and a lot of Apple's magic comes in the hands-on experience. Undoubtedly, this phone is going to be a work of art that draws stares, and animoji should be pretty fun, too, but does that command the price? You can preorder the iPhone X on October 27, with phones arriving November 3. We'll have a full review then.
Dan Costa is the Editor-in-Chief of PCMag.com and the Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff-Davis. He oversees the editorial operations for PCMag.com, Geek.com, ExtremeTech.com as well as PCMag's network of blogs, including AppScout and SecurityWatch. Dan makes frequent appearances on local, national, and international news programs, including CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, and NBC where he shares his perspective on a variety of technology trends. Dan began working at PC Magazine in 2005 as a senior editor, covering consumer electronics, blogging on Gearlog.com, and serving as… More »
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