You’re coming here to find out if you should buy the iPhone X$3345.00 at saleholy.com. As of this writing, too many apps aren’t ready for it right now, and other features feel not quite fully baked. You need to have the early adopter mentality to enjoy the X completely. Tell you what, though. Unlike the iPhone 8, this isn’t boring. Not one bit. Get ready to be excited by an iPhone again.
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 is nearly bezel-less, as advertised, with that notorious notch for the front camera assembly eating a chunk out of the screen at the top. It comes in space gray or silver. On the back, the dual cameras create a sharp, not smooth, bump that you should even out with a nice case. Apple says that the glass back is durable, but we strongly suggest getting a case for any $1,000 phone, no matter how strong it is.
The all-screen design would feel radical if we hadn’t seen the Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, and the like. Instead, it just feels current. It does make the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus look pretty bad, though, like they have quite a bit of wasted space.
The X’s 2,436-by-1,125-pixel, 5.8-inch, 458ppi AMOLED screen actually has less surface area than the iPhone 8 Plus’ 5.5-inch screen, because it’s a very different shape. It’s a tall, narrow screen, at a 19.5:9 aspect ratio; that’s narrower than the Galaxy S8 (18.5:9), and much narrower than previous iPhones (16:9). Using SQUID, our handy measure of sheer display size, you’re getting 12.36 square inches of display here, as compared with 9.44 on the iPhone 8 and 12.93 on the iPhone 8 Plus.
The OLED is very carefully color balanced to look as much like Apple’s previous LCDs as possible, but it just barely betrays its true nature: blacks are blacker, and colors are just a touch more saturated than on the iPhone 8 Plus. The phone supports both popular versions of HDR, HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and will show compatible content in HDR when appropriate. Compared with a Galaxy S8, the iPhone X’s colors are noticeably warmer, with whites tending a little bit more toward yellow than the bluish Galaxy.
I blasted two bright LED lights directly at the iPhone X, and the screen was still perfectly readable, with wide viewing angles. Outdoors, it looks positively gorgeous, with Apple’s lamination bringing the image right to the front of the screen, with perfectly tuned colors for natural light, and little reflectivity. It’s an excellent screen.
Display expert Ray Soneira at DisplayMate Labs agrees. His report on the iPhone X says it has the most accurate colors he’s even seen, with the lowest reflectivity in ambient light. He also puzzled out the X’s brightness: While the Note 8 can beat it in limited lab test scenarios, the iPhone X is the brightest OLED smartphone display in standard lighting, with the kinds of images on the screen that most people use.
The phone is water resistant. We dunked it, no problem. Like on the iPhone 7 series, there’s no headphone jack.
Suppress Your App-etite
Yes, the home button is gone. No, it isn’t a big deal, navigation-wise. You flick up from the bottom of the screen to go home. Flicking up and to the right shows you your most recent apps as cards, which you can scroll through to pick the one you want to open. You adapt to this very quickly.
But the lack of a home button creates one big problem: third-party apps look like a mess. It turns out the notch at the top of the display is less of a problem than the area at the bottom, where apps like Citymapper and SmartNews have their content collide with the horizontal bar that indicates you’re supposed to flick up to go home. Other apps, like the popular game Riptide GP Renegades, just intensely letterbox their content to 16:9, losing the advantage of the bigger display.
Netflix, Twitter, and YouTube show how it’s supposed to be done. They’re all aware of the notch and the menu bar. YouTube and Netflix both show mostly 16:9 videos; you can zoom them if you want, to take over the full screen, but then it crops off the top of the frame. In zoomed mode, the notch also occludes part of the video, but that’s by design. Don’t zoom. I’m hoping that app developers end up using the area around the notch for controls and status bar content.
Through my testing, I found a bunch of less visible but more disturbing third-party app problems, too. Some Wi-Fi-testing apps would just quit on the X, where they ran fine on an 8 Plus with the same OS version. Others gave inconsistent results, which is a deeper problem: how do you know where the truth is? I’ve heard that even apps that don’t look like they need to be reformatted, still need to be recompiled to run properly on the X.
It’s going to take a few months for app developers to reformat and recompile their apps. If you’re buying this phone in 2017, you need to check to see when your apps were updated, and you’re going to feel like a beta tester. For many of the kind of people who read PCMag.com, that’s fine. But people who want a seamless, finished experience should wait until 2018 before buying.
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. The iPhone X benchmarked similarly to the iPhone 8, as expected, although in general it scored even a little better. It’s the fastest phone we’ve ever tested.
The A11’s GPU is massively overpowered for the screen resolution, but there’s a reason for it: the GPU (and Apple’s new “neural processing unit”) has to crunch all of that face data coming through the front camera.
See How We Test Cell Phones
Apple says that the X has the same LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth capabilities as the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. That means there are three different models of the X: a Qualcomm one, which works on all four US networks; an Intel one, which works on AT&T and T-Mobile; and a Japanese one that Americans will never see. The Qualcomm one is sold by Sprint, Verizon, and as the universal unlocked model at Apple stores.
With a month of iPhone 8 use now past, we looked at Ookla’s Speedtest Intelligence database for an update on whether the Qualcomm model still looks better than the Intel one. It does. (Note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag.com’s parent company.) On AT&T, Qualcomm iPhone 8 and 8 Plus units are averaging about 32.9Mbps down, while Intel units average about 26.8Mbps. On T-Mobile, Qualcomm units average around 37.1Mbps down, while Intel units average around 34.8Mbps. It’s not a huge differential, but it’s noticeable and consistent. If you have the option, get the Qualcomm model, by purchasing an unlocked, carrier-free phone from the Apple Store and putting your own SIM in it.
Neither unit quite measured up to the Samsung Galaxy S8 when we were using them side by side; the S8 has 4×4 MIMO antennas to capture better signal on non-Sprint networks, signal-boosting HPUE on Sprint, and a gigabit modem. (The iPhone is only configured for 600Mbps in the US.) But if you smooth out the results over all the thousands of tests in the Ookla Speedtest Intelligence database taken across the US in a wide range of signal conditions, the differences are much less noticeable. On Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, LTE tests with Galaxy S8 models in October had just about the same download speeds as LTE tests with iPhone 8 devices. (The Galaxy S8s on AT&T were faster, at 42.6Mbps down, than iPhones were, at 32.9Mbps down; we’re not sure why.)
In terms of frequency bands, the phones have all of the US bands except T-Mobile’s new 600MHz Band 71, which it is starting to use to expand coverage in rural areas. That’s so far only on the LG V30. Expect it to appear in next year’s iPhones.
Call quality is very good; I’d especially like to call out the blaring speakerphone, which is noticeably louder than the iPhone 7’s speakerphone and quite usable outdoors. Background noise cancellation through the handset mic is very good, and it supports HD Voice, VoLTE, and other modern voice standards. Apple had problems with its voice quality a few years ago, but it doesn’t any more.
A teardown by IHS Markit shows the iPhone X using the exact same Murata Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module as the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, which means it should have the same performance. The phone supports dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, just like iPhones for the past three years have, and if you don’t have a router with 5GHz 802.11ac support, you should get one for the best performance.
That said, all of our signal and speed measurement apps have been acting odd on the iPhone X. In weak Wi-Fi signal conditions, we see lower RSSI signal strength and slower speeds on the iPhone X than on the iPhone 8 Plus. Apple said that many apps need to be updated for the iPhone X, and that the hardware should perform on par with the 8. We’ll continue to look into this further.
Our initial battery test of the iPhone X was disappointing; with its 2,716mAh battery, we got 4 hours, 56 minutes of LTE video streaming time with the screen on full brightness, as compared with 6 hours, 25 minutes on the iPhone 8 and 5 hours, 13 minutes on the iPhone 8 Plus. We will retest that a few times to see if connectivity issues may have caused the shorter result.
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. For now, it doesn’t have wireless fast charging, although Apple promises that will come with future software updates and wireless charging pads. Check out our analysis of various quick-charging adapters for the iPhone 8, which also applies to the iPhone X.
A Shot in the Dark
The iPhone X has very similar main cameras to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. They have one different spec that doesn’t matter, and one that does. The supposed wider aperture of the X’s 2x camera didn’t create different images in our low-light tests. That’s not bad. As we show in our iPhone 8 camera comparison and our Google Pixel 2 XL review, the difference between the iPhone, Galaxy S8/Note 8, and Pixel 2 XL at this point is basically bragging rights. They all have great cameras.
On the other hand, adding OIS to the 2x zoom camera made a huge difference when recording 4K videos using the 2x zoom lens. In 4K mode, it was very difficult to keep our iPhone 8 Plus steady at 2x—jitter abounded. But videos taken with the iPhone X at the same time, in the same place, were much smoother. I remember the same effect happening with the 1x camera in the iPhone 6s Plus, which was the first iPhone to introduce optical image stabilization (OIS). If you’re a serious iPhone videographer, and many people are, that’s a slam-dunk reason to get the X.
One interesting note: The OIS, oddly, doesn’t improve low-light quality in still images taken at 2x zoom. That’s because in low light, Apple still chooses to take 2x pictures by using digital zoom on the 1x lens. That’s a software choice, and I’m curious to see if Apple will tweak that in the future.
Face the Nation
The front-facing 7-megapixel 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 frames it as mostly for selfies, 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.
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. You can use Face ID anywhere you would use Touch ID, including for Apple Pay purchases.
I tried Face ID in various lighting and it worked almost all of the time. You will still have to enter your passcode, more often than you did in the Touch ID world. For instance, if you’re passing your phone around, it’s locked, and as other people start to unlock it, it’ll scan their faces—if it uses up its five valid attempts at face unlocking, you then have to enter your passcode. You can also temporarily disable Face ID, and force the passcode, by squeezing two buttons on the side of the phone.
Face ID is faster than it looks. While the animation of a little lock opening is quite slow, you can swipe up to use the phone before the animation completes. An “attention mode” setting demands that your eyes be open, so people can’t unlock the phone on your sleeping face, but it also demands that you stare directly at the phone from arm’s distance. Turning off attention mode makes it easier to unlock the phone at an angle on a table, but it’s not for the paranoid.
The system works through glasses, but not mirrored sunglasses. You can only enroll one face, and it can’t be a child under about age 13. Everyone else will have to use passcodes. It can’t be fooled by photos or models of your face, but it can be fooled by identical twins.
After a few days, you kind of forget it’s there. You pick up the phone, it wakes up, and you swipe up to unlock it. That’s very Apple. That said, I wish there was still a fingerprint scanner option, and I wish it could unlock straight to the home screen, without requiring the extra swipe.
It must be frustrating to Google when it works on something for years, putting out a string of products that don’t take off, and then Apple goes ahead and makes it mainstream in one fell swoop. The iPhone X is the first mainstream augmented reality phone, although it’s only a peek into the AR future.
The single-camera AR that Apple and Google are pushing right now is not great. Because of its unified API and huge install base, Apple’s ARKit is going to become much more widespread than Google’s ARCore, very quickly. But while it’s fun, ARKit can only detect flat horizontal surfaces, and not really map things to walls, furniture, and people.
The iPhone X’s front camera shows another level of AR, which is like motion capture in films. Using the infrared dot projector, it can turn you into Apple’s animoji or put Snapchat-like masks on your face.
Animoji are a set of 12 creatures—animals, a robot, an alien, and a poop—that imitate your facial expressions for a 10-second video clip. You create them in Messages, and you can send them to anyone; Android phone users get them as video clips. They’re adorable. They’re also, I think, a teaser. Apple is putting an API out for third parties to create animoji-like functionality, so we should expect other motion-capture characters to appear on the iPhone.
This is exciting; it’s also scary. Expect to see games like The Sims offer an option for characters with your very own face, and for big-name sticker packs to appear with popular licensed characters you can operate. (Disney, maybe?)
The AR camera also lets the iPhone X take “portrait mode” bokeh selfies, by integrating depth information to blur out the background. It works well, although I still think that Apple’s “stage lighting” feature (which tries to black out the background entirely) is too gimmicky and frequently distorts the edges of your head.
But the X stops short of true AR, which is what you get with the Microsoft HoloLens headset: the ability to seamlessly merge virtual and actual reality. I think the A11 processor has the power to do this, coupled with the phone’s dual cameras, and that Apple is holding this back to keep ARKit compatible with single-camera phones like the iPhone 7 and 8. We may have to wait for the iPhone XI to see that really happen.
The Rent Is Too Darn High
The iPhone comes in 64GB ($999) and 256GB ($375) models. No matter how exciting it is, I don’t believe any phone is worth the $345to $346 Apple is selling it for. This isn’t just an Apple problem; a $345-plus price also caused me to hesitate over the otherwise excellent Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Americans are being squeezed right now by steadily increasing mandatory costs: health care, education, and housing. They don’t need their smartphones to become $200 more expensive as well.
There are ways around this, but you need to be prepared for them. If you’re the kind of person who is good at selling phones on eBay, more power to you. Otherwise, the smartest option for the iPhone X, in my mind, is to find an old-school subsidized contract, or go with a quick-upgrade leasing program like T-Mobile’s Jump! On Demand or Sprint’s Flex Lease. That gets you paying $500 for the phone over a year, and next year you can stick with it or trade it in for a newer phone, depending on what Apple comes out with next.
I understand why Apple is charging so much for this phone. Various press reports have said that the front-facing AR camera is extremely expensive to make because of low product yields, and that Samsung is charging a pretty penny for the OLED screens.
But I’m also kicked back to the days of the first, groundbreaking 8GB iPhone, which launched at $599. It got cut to $399 a few months later. The same isn’t going to happen here, but it’s an acknowledgment that being this cutting-edge is just too expensive for many people.
Next year’s iPhone XI may also be less expensive, as Apple figures out its front-facing camera production issues, potentially switches entirely to cheaper Intel modems, and new OLED screen manufacturing plants come on line.
Should You Buy the iPhone X?
The iPhones we are recommending to most people this year are the $549 iPhone 7 and the $649 iPhone 7 Plus. The iPhone X is for early adopters, people who want a glimpse into Apple’s unfinished future, and who are willing to take on a few bumps in the road (such as poorly designed third-party apps, for a while) to get there. Yes, it’s the best iPhone, hands down. It’s the future of iPhones. It’s also a thousand flippin’ dollars.
Part of my hesitation here is that I think the iPhone X promises an iPhone XI that is going to be absolutely thundering: amazing AR capabilities, possibly a fingerprint sensor under the screen, definitely better Face ID, a gigabit modem, and all that, possibly at a lower cost.
For now, the iPhone X looks great. It feels great. It’s just the right size. And it’s going to grow, in terms of capabilities, once software developers figure their apps out. It’s genuinely exciting. It’s more iPhone than you probably need, but it shows that Apple is still innovating.