Ten years after the launch of the first iPhone, Apple has launched what it says is the phone that kick starts the next decade for the iPhone. It's the biggest shift in iPhone design since Steve Jobs launched that first device, introducing a new range of technologies to Apple's smartphone as well as shifting the user interface in a whole new direction.
In many ways it's a celebration of 10 years of the iPhone, but in others it is an ambitious step forward. Apple isn't just ditching a connector this time around, it's ditching one of the iPhone's most iconic interactions.
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We've been playing with the new iPhone X at the company's September event at the new Steve Jobs Theatre at Apple Park to establish whether this is the most important iPhone since 2007, or whether this is Apple trying to fend off ever-growing competition.
Apple iPhone X preview: Design
- 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm, 174g
- Stainless steel and toughened glass design
- IP67 water protection
- Edge-to-edge Super Retina Display
The big thing about the iPhone X is that it's a completely new design. Featuring a glass front and back like the new iPhone 8 models, the new iPhone X will come in two colours - Space Grey and Silver - and feature a polished stainless steel bezel around the edge.
Sporting a 5.8-inch screen the display real-estate is bigger than the iPhone 7 Plus screen, but the chassis is considerably smaller, thanks to the shift in the display aspect. Those who've always felt the Plus was too big will be very happy with the new design changes. That edge-to-edge display is stunning with the top notch that's packed full of sensors the only thing interrupting the design.
It's a refreshing new look for the iPhone, one that's likely to appeal to those who felt the old unchanging design was getting a little stale, but this is Apple very much moving with the times, as more and more smartphones offer this new bezel-free approach.
That's resulted in a move that might scare some: Apple has ditched then beloved home button with Touch ID. Yes, there is no Home button, something that has been present on the iPhone for the last 10 years. Instead of a virtual button being hidden underneath the screen, you now go home with a swipe up from the bottom, with new ways to access Siri and a longer swipe to multitask. It's a change to adapt to.
Naturally this means that in the absence of Touch ID you need a new means for unlocking the phone and Apple has opted for face recognition. It will work with a new hardware-based technology Apple is calling Face ID. How that will pan out in real-world use is yet to be seen; it avoids the problem of gloves or sweaty hands, but makes unlocking your phone a much more deliberate gesture.
Ditching the Home Button also has a strange side affect, losing some of Apple's iconic design that has been with us for so long, but we suspect a week with the new phone will soon fix those fears. The new design instantly dates the new iPhone 8 models that were launched alongside the iPhone X. With this new design leading the way, there's a sense that the much loved iPhone of old will soon be retired.
Apple iPhone X preview: Display
- 5.8-inch OLED Super Retina display
- 2436 x 1125 pixels, 458ppi
- True Tone, HDR10 and Dolby Vision support
- 625 nits
One of the key focuses of the device is the new screen which dominates the design of the phone. Apple is appropriately calling this the Super Retina display. The new display measures 5.8-inches on the diagonal and offers a 2436 x 1125 pixel resolution for a 458ppi pixel density.
The eagle-eyed will have spotted that the resolution doesn't sound familiar. One of the big changes here is that switch in aspect that we talked about in the design. This is an important move, enabling more display space without the phone growing in size. Apple isn't officially talking about what this display aspect is, but it's something like 19:9. For reference, LG is using 18:9 and Samsung 18.5:9 and these are all pretty much in the same ballpark in terms of the shape of display you end up with.
For the iPhone, this is also a big increase in resolution. The 458ppi leaps ahead of the 401ppi that you'll find on the iPhone 8 Plus (or iPhone 7 Plus). What does this mean in the real world? It means more detail is crammed into the screen to make things sharp and look better. That's not only for viewing photos, but it enables crisper text and graphics, smoother curves and generally, more scope for the iPhone X to show off the other major change in technology: the OLED panel.
OLED has been used in smartphones for some years, but Apple's only dalliance with the technology has been on the Apple Watch previously. In presenting the new display Apple's Phil Schiller - senior VP of worldwide marketing - was keen to emphasise that OLED was now good enough to be used in the iPhone, offering a wide enough accurate colour gamut and a great 1 million-to-one contrast ratio.
The screen will feature Apple's True Tone tech found in the iPad Pro range, changing to suit the environment. Apple has also told us that it will be 625 nits brightness, and that it will support HDR. HDR is the latest thing in TV tech and the move to bring it to the iPhone will likely help adoption and availability of HDR content. The iPhone X will support HDR10 (the generic HDR format), as well as Dolby Vision, which is rather more rare.
In the flesh it certainly lives up to these claims. It is bright, crisp, and very impressive. Like other smartphones, you'll be able to tap the screen to wake it rather than having to press a button that is no longer there and there's a feeling, even from a short time with the iPhone X that everything has changed thanks to this new display.
Apple iPhone X preview: Face ID
- Biometric unlocking using your face
- Secure and hardware-based
- Won't be fooled by photos or masks
- Will work with apps as Touch ID did
Face ID is the new way to unlock the iPhone X and Apple has put a lot of emphasis on getting it right. Powered by an A11 bionic chip, all processing is done on the device rather than via a server meaning you'll be able to unlock the phone regardless of your connection to the outside world - and without sharing your face data anywhere else.
Users will have to actively look at the sensor array at the top of the device (in the screen notch) and in our demo of the new iPhone X this worked very well. The phone was able to unlock it for our demonstrator, but not us. The technology behind it scans your face and maps it so it can unlock your phone.
According to Apple it has the ability to cope with you growing your hair, wearing a hat, getting old, or wearing glasses. It uses neural networks and machine learning to work it all out, and from what we've seen it's great. However we can't wait to test it in the real world and experience the changes it brings to in normal use scenarios, like checking your emails in the middle of the night, or using Apple Pay in front of an impatient line of customers.
Apple says compared to Touch ID security it has gone from 1 in 50,000 chance of someone else opening your phone to 1 in 1 million with the face. However, says it might work with an evil twin, so be warned. For those worried, Apple tells Pocket-lint that Touch ID apps will automatically work with Face ID and that includes Apple Pay and third party apps from the start.
Apple iPhone X preview: Cameras and photography
- Two 12-megapixel cameras, wide and telephoto
- Optical image stabilisation on both
- Wide f/1.8, telephoto f/2.4 apertures
- Portrait lighting
The iPhone X plus has two new 12-megapixel cameras on the rear using a similar configuration to the iPhone 8 Plus and the previous 7 Plus. There's a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens. The big difference on the iPhone X is that both these cameras offer optical image stabilisation, whereas on the Plus phones, only the wide-angle lens is stabilised. The only other phone that stabilises both cameras is the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, so this is a pretty unique feature, and the advantage that it brings is that zoom photos feel the effect of shake more. Having OIS will mean sharper close-ups.
The aperture on these cameras comes out at f/1.8 and f/2.4 - again beating that of the iPhone 8 Plus - meaning more light can make it into the camera. We're yet to try it in action, so we can't judge its performance, but it's an exciting evolution. Interestingly the phone features the two cameras in a vertical configuration rather than side-by-side in landscape as on the other phones.
Apple has also introduced a feature in beta called Portrait Lighting. This aims to recreate the effects that you'd get from a professional lighting rig in a studio, allowing you to take some really interesting portraits, fuss free. It works on both the front and rear cameras, using data from both lenses to create a depth map and use that information to ensure that the (virtual) lighting falls as it should.
In action the results so far are mixed, but this is still a feature in beta.
One feature not in beta is animoji. Yes, animated emoji. The iPhone X can use that front facing camera's skills for something other than Face ID and selfies - it can be applied to certain emoji to bring them to life. Think Snapchat filters to the extreme, with the ability to record yourself talking with animal faces - or the poo emoji - and iMessage that to your friends. It's amazing. It's the future.
Apple iPhone X preview: Hardware Specs
- Apple A11 Bionic chip, M11 motion coprocessor
- Qi wireless charging
- Stereo speakers
- Fast cable charging supported
The iPhone X shares the same internal specs as the new iPhone 8 models with the introduction of the new A11 bionic processor, which features 6 cores, two high power cores and four efficiency cores. There is more power and greater efficiency, along with a huge boost to graphics. How this will really play out in the real world it is too soon to tell.
There is the promise of 2 hours increase on the battery performance of the iPhone 7, which is a roundabout way of saying it will last a little longer than the other models. That efficiency probably comes from the shift in display technology, but we won't have an accurate figure on what the iPhone X battery life looks like until we get a unit in for review.
Apple's focus when it came to the battery was around wireless charging. The shift to a glass back means that this technology can now come to all the new iPhone models. Apple is using the Qi wireless charging standard, meaning that it will work with a wide range of devices that are already available, from charging mats to in-car charging pads, to Ikea furniture and Starbucks.
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Apple is expanding this option, however, with plans to release a charging mat of its own called AirPower, which will also change the Apple Watch 3 and the AirPods - if you opt for the new AirPods wireless charging case.
It will come in a 64GB and 256GB models.
Apple iPhone X preview: iOS 11, with a twist
The Apple iPhone X will launch with iOS 11, as you'll find on the iPhone 8 and rolling out to a wide-range of previous iPhones too. Specific to the iPhone X are a couple of changes that come about as a result of not having that home button: you now swipe up from the bottom to go home, because there's no button to hit, while a longer swipe will allow you to access the apps that are open.
The Control Centre will be accessed by swiping down from the top of the display, with a split to separate Control Centre from Notifications. We're sure there are other details deep within the phone that we haven't yet dug out, but much of the interface is familiar enough to dive straight in, even if it will probably take a few days to adopt that new home action.
We've been using the iOS 11 in public beta form since it was first launched earlier in the summer. Some features which seemed only interesting to begin with have now become a core part of how we use our iPhones and iPad.
Elements like the new multitasking gestures and user interface on iPad make the old method seem so clunky and unintuitive by comparison. Just being able to drag apps up on to the screen in a floating window, or drag and drop files into messages and email is super convenient. On iPhone, the ability to customise and interact more deeply with controls in Control Centre is indispensable.
Apple say that this phone will kickstart the next decade of the iPhone and they weren't wrong. The screen is big and stunning, the device smaller for that edge-to edge-approach, and the underlying tech more than capable enough to make it shine. Undoubtedly this is the biggest and boldest change to the iPhone we've seen so far.
The ramifications of that are wide-reaching: looking at the the iPhone 8 afterward, it dulls by comparison. If you are power user, an iPhone fan, or if you've been waiting for that big change from Apple, this will be the model you want.