I’ve had the latest iPhone from Apple for almost 3 months now, so plenty of time to determine whether its worth its £1000 or $1000 price tag, to me at least.
The iPhone X has a new 5.8″ HDR OLED screen, face recognition, is waterproof to IP67, has a wide angle and short telephoto lens both with image stabilisation, supports wireless charging and has the latest and greatest A11 bionic processor.
The packaging is up to Apple’s usual high standards, but the supplied accessories are disappointing. As discussed in my article on fast charging, Apple still only supply the slow 5W 1A charger. So despite the iPhone 10 being one of their first generation of phones to support fast and wireless charging, you’ll have to purchase both separately.
At first glance it may look like you get a set of wireless headphones, but that’s just clever packaging and wishful thinking. Included are the standard Apple EarPods with a Lightning connector, and you also get a Lightning to 3.5mm adaptor so you can connect any set of headphones or indeed a microphone.
The phone itself is beautifully designed and the build quality is excellent. It’s small compared to my iPhone 6 Plus, and it feels a little heavier, but the weight is about the same – it’s just a bit denser.
Display, Face ID and gestures
Although billed as the biggest iPhone screen, the 5.8″ display is narrower and has a little less surface area than the iPhone 8 Plus and all previous Plus models for that matter. It also has the well documented notch for the Face ID camera, which isn’t a problem in portrait mode, but intrusive in landscape mode.
The new 18.5:9 ratio means that standard 16:9 YouTube videos will have significant black bars either side in landscape mode, although you can pinch the screen to “zoom to fill” the content. This will lose some of the top and bottom of the video and will highlight the Face ID notch, but I generally find it a worthwhile compromise.
But the screen with its new OLED display technology 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio does look superb – the best I’ve seen on any iPhone yet. Not that I’ve ever been at all disappointed with any iPhone display. With a brightness of 625cd/m2 (candela per square metre), the phone is usable in the brightest sunlight we get, in the UK at least. The Super Retina HD display with 458ppi is higher than any other iPhone, but I doubt you’ll notice any difference against the next best 401ppi of the other iPhones.
There’s also HDR support, which is the next big thing, but there’s little content available to showcase this technology, and the physical size of the screen wouldn’t do it much justice anyway.
The new True Tone features adjusts the white balance of the display based on ambient lighting. I leave it switched on, and it does make a small difference, but it’s not a huge selling point for me.
A lot has been made of Face ID, and it does work surprisingly well. Setup is much quicker than the fingerprint reader it replaced. And it’s far more reliable than my previous 6 Plus’s fingerprint reader, although that was a few generations old.
There are a couple of frustrations with it. It doesn’t work in landscape mode, and if the phone is on your desk say, you have to awkwardly position your head over the phone to unlock it, or pick it up. It does work in the dark though.
Gestures are probably the most significant change from older iPhones. Without a home button, Apple has had to completely rethink how you navigate the phone.
It does take some getting used to, but in less than 24 hours I was absent absentmindedly attempting similar gestures on other devices without gesture support.
You don’t need to wait for the unlock icon to appear, just tap on the screen and swipe up to get to the home screen. This gesture will always get you back to the home screen. Swipe from the right of the notch to get to the control centre. And from the left of the notch to get to notifications. Swipe up and hold your finger to get to the multitasking screen, and press and hold on any open app to then close the app by swiping up.
The most useful gesture is swiping right across the bottom of the screen to switch to the most recently open app. You can continue swiping to the right to open other previously opened apps, and then you can swipe left and right to go back and forth.
But with no home or power button, to turn off the phone or take a screenshot seems a little more clumsy than it should be. You take a screenshot by pressing the side button and volume up button. But this is so easy to do accidently, that my camera roll is littered with random screenshots.
To turn the phone off, you need to press and hold the side button and either the volume up or down button, which is easy to forget.
Performance, battery life and charging
The iPhone X has Apple’s latest A11 Bionic processor and 3GB of RAM and is very fast, so much so that it makes even my farily high end video editing and gaming computer, feel relatively slow. Opening a web browser and searching all happens as quickly as you can type. I don’t do much gaming on my phone, but Grid Autosport which is optimised for the iPhone X looks amazing.
Geekbench, which measures the performance of the processor only supports my real-use experiences. The single core score of over 4000 is over 20% faster than the previous generation of iPhones and three times faster than my old iPhone 6 Plus. To put this in context, my i7 desktop computer with 24GB RAM gets a similar score.
Battery life is never a particularly strong point of iPhones, but the 2716mAh battery usually leaves me with between 20% and 50% at the end of the day, which is similiar to my 6 Plus when it was new. You have to swipe down right of the notch to now see the battery percentage, which is a minor inconvenience.
I have a separate article on charging the latest generation of iPhones, so I’d suggest taking a look at that. But in short, the iPhone X supports fast charging. So with any charger that supports the USB Power Delivery standard including the Apple 29W charger, and Anker’s variant; together with an Apple USB Type-C to Lightning cable, you can charge the iPhone X from completely flat to 47% in only 30 minutes.
It’s also possible to use any widely available and relatively cheap Qi charger to wirelessly charge the iPhone X. Of the ones I tested, my preference was the RavPower charging stand.
To turn the phone off, you need to press and hold the side button and either the volume up or down button, which is easy to forget.
The built in stereo speakers sound good and are louder than previous models, which is handy when you don’t want to plug in headphones.
The dual lens camera
The 12MP dual lens camera was my real draw to the iPhone X. The Samsung Note was its closest rival with a similiar 2 lens setup. The Google Pixel 2 and the Samsung S8 have excellent image quality, but only a single wide angle lens.
The iPhone X has a standard 28mm wide angle lens, and a 52mm short telephoto lens – in 35mm equivalent terms. Unique to the X, both these lenses have image stabilisation built in. The iPhone 8 Plus only has image stabilisation on its wide angle lens. The telephoto lens is also brighter at f2.4 versus f2.8 on the 8 Plus. The wide angle lens is f1.8 on all iPhone models since the iPhone 7. This all means that the iPhone X should be able take better photos when light levels drop. The small sensors in smart phones need as much light as possible, even with their clever processing.
The dual camera system also enables the phone’s Portrait mode, which uses the offset distance between both its lenses and the resulting parallax differences, to calculate a depth map. Thus allowing the background of portrait shots to be blurred, something that’s not possible optically with the tiny sensors in smartphones.
The front camera on the iPhone X is 7MP with an f2.2 aperture. But this TrueDepth camera system as Apple calls, used for Face ID, also adds an infrared emitter. Unique to the iPhone X, this gives the front facing camera a Portrait mode too.
Apple’s camera app is quite basic, but is easily accessed from a hard press on the camera icon or a swipe from the right at the lock screen. It’s still a little awkward and takes longer than it should. I would like to be able to program the Siri button to activate the camera.
There’s no manual controls or RAW shooting with the default camera app. But you can switch between the wide and short telephoto modes easily.
I have number of third party camera apps over the years, which do have manual controls and support RAW, such as Camera+, ProCamera, CameraPixels and Lightroom Mobile to name a few. But since you can’t change the default app, and the third party apps won’t record live photos, I find myself using Apple’s app probably 90% of the time.
By default the iPhone X uses the new HEIC and HEVC format for photos and videos respectively, with their improved compression algorithms. I’ve discussed this in more detail in my article on backing up your iPhone photos.
Photo and video quality
Photos taken with the wide angle lens in good light are excellent, and a match for my Panasonic G80 (G85) interchangeable lens camera in many ways. As light levels drop, the photos still look good on the iPhone’s screen and only close inspection reveals noise and artefacts.
I do find the telephoto lens a little disappointing. Using the default app, even if you select the 2x zoom, the camera will frequently still use the wide angle camera and then apply a destructive 2x digital zoom to the image. The app doesn’t inform you of this, but pulling up the EXIF data confirms it.
Apple is “intelligently” determining that in certain situations, light levels are insufficient for the less bright telephoto lens and you’d be better off with the brighter wide angle lens and a digital zoom. If you want more control, you need to again use one of the third party apps which force the zoom level you have selected.
I would prefer the app just told you it couldn’t enable the 2x zoom, so I could choose to crop after the fact.
Video quality is also impressive with good lighting. By default, the camera records at 1080p with 30 fps. There’s no way to change this in the camera app; you need to go into Settings | Camera | Record Video. I’d recommend changing this to at least 1080p 60 fps for smoother motion. You can go all the way to 4K 60 fps but the storage requirements, even with the new HEVC H.265 based compression, might persuade you otherwise. I reserve the 4K 60 fps mode for special occasions, and when I might want to grab an 8MP still from the video.
Image stabilisation works well especially for video. Video footage looks very smooth, almost like it’s been taken with a gimbal. For images, I didn’t notice a huge difference over my iPhone 6 Plus.
Slo-mo video is another feature that puts most cameras to shame. The iPhone X will shoot slo-mo up to 1080p at 240 FPS. Again you’ll need good lighting for the best results, and lots of storage space.
HDR or High Dynamic Range mode is similar to previous modes. I like to change the default automatic mode, so that I can at least see whether I’m shooting HDR or not.
HDR images are very good if perhaps a bit conservative, but there’s nothing stopping you using a third party HDR app like Pro HDR X, or shooting a bracketed exposure with something like CameraPixels and creating your own HDR compositions later.
I didn’t expect an awful lot from Portrait mode, but it’s a lot better than I expected and I imagine we’ll only see this get better and more sophisticated.
If you look closely, your will see the depth map isn’t perfect. But for sharing and small prints I’ll doubt anyone will notice.
It is quite fussy about where the subject is, but with a little care you can normally get good results. And you have the option to turn off the Portrait mode after you’ve taken the photo anyway.
I’m always slightly torn between Portrait mode and standard Live Photo mode with young children. The additional Live Photo video clip is arguably of greater value to me than a background blur.
Portrait mode with the front camera doesn’t work quite as well as the rear camera but is nice to have.
There are also the Portrait Lighting modes which are fun to play with, but I don’t find them reliable to enough to be of any true value, yet. There are listed as a beta feature by Apple so I expect they will only get better. They can be enabled after you’ve taken the shot, so you can always see if they offer the desired effect at a later stage.
There’s little doubt that this is the best iPhone yet, and it should be at £1000 for the base 64GB model. There are a few annoyances: the notch is hard to ignore in landscape mode and the telephoto lens is not as useful as I’d hoped.
But the screen is fantastic, gesture control is mostly very well thought out, and image quality in both photo and video modes just gets better and better.
If you’re not concerned with the dual lens, and have no allegiance to Apple, then the Samsung S8 or the Google Pixel 2 at around half the price makes more sense. If you like the idea of the dual lens and want an Apple phone, the iPhone 7 Plus is the best value option at the moment. There’s no Face ID or wireless charging, the telephoto lens is slightly lacking compared to the iPhone X, and it has a previous generation processor. But you’ll save yourself over £300.
- OLED screen with 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio
- Face ID generally reliable
- New gestures well thought out
- Photo and video quality excellent in good light
- Class leading 4K 60 fps video and 1080p 240 fps slo-mo
- New A11 Bionic processor extremely fast
- Fast charging and wireless charging support. Using standard technologies (USB-PD and Qi)
- Waterproof and dust proof to IP67
- Portrait mode works surprisingly well
- Live Photos and 3D touch
- Good speaker quality and volume
- Price – similar premium smartphones from Samsung and Google almost half the price
- Only slow charger included. No fast charger or wireless charger
- Telephoto camera is disappointing, especially using the default camera app
- Notch does get in the way in landscape mode
- Many apps still don’t take full advantage of iPhone X’s screen
- Have to swipe down the control centre to see battery percentage
- Lack of home and power buttons means the procedure to take screenshots and power off the phone is a little clumsy
I hope you found this article useful. If you have any specific questions, please do ask below in the comments section – I do my best to reply to any questions.
And as ever if have found the review helpful, please consider using the Amazon links below for any purchases. It doesn’t cost you a penny, and the small amount of commission I get will keep the site going! Thank you.
Amazon links to products mentioned in review:
Apple iPhone X
Apple leather case
Anker glass screen protector
RavPower charging stand
Samsung Galaxy S8
Google Pixel 2
Apple’s 29W USB-C fast charger
Apple lightning to USB-C cable
Anker’s 60W 5 port charger