(Pocket-lint) - The Apple iPhone X was replaced by the iPhone XS which in turn has since been replaced by the iPhone 11 Pro.

Released 10 years after the original iPhone, it was the first in a new generation of iPhone, with the biggest shift in iPhone design since Steve Jobs launched that first device, It also ditched one of the iPhone's most iconic features: the home button in favour of Face ID.

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In many ways the iPhone X was a celebration of 10 years of the iPhone - hence the iPhone 10 name - but in other ways it was an ambitious step forward.

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Design overhaul

  • 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 was that it was a completely new design. Featuring a glass front and back, the iPhone X comes in two colours - Space Grey and Silver - and features a polished stainless steel frame around the edge that shimmers and catches the light in the same way the stainless steel version of the Apple Watch does.

Sporting a 5.8-inch screen, the display real-estate is larger than, say, the iPhone 8 Plus, but the chassis is considerably smaller.  Those who've always felt the Plus was too big will be very happy with the design changes because those bezels at the top and bottom were banished, resulting in a phone that is much better proportioned than the iPhone Plus sizes ever were.

The edge-to-edge display was stunning at the time the iPhone X was introduced, with the "notch" the only thing interrupting the design. At the time of its launch, many other phones - like the Google Pixel 2 XL - still had bezel top and bottom. Even Samsung, who took things in a different direction with curves at the edges of its Infinity Display, still had space at the top and bottom of the display, while Apple introduced a uniformity to the remaining bezels - apart from the notch, of course.

This has, of course, changed now with many phones ditching bezels and notches entirely. While the iPhone's notch remains large - due to Face ID - many Android devices launched since the iPhone X have notches that are quite a bit smaller than the iPhone X. 

Ditching the home button lost some of the iPhone's iconic visual design that has been with us for so long. But Apple has continued to ensure through the iPhone 8 and 2020 iPhone SE that there's still an option for those who like a home button. 

Face ID means it's super fast to unlock your iPhone and saves you the problem of opening your phone while wearing gloves or with sweaty hands as with the Touch ID sensor. It makes the security aspect of your phone almost invisible to you. 

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Super Retina display

  • 5.8-inch OLED Super Retina display
  • 2436 x 1125 pixels, 458ppi
  • True Tone, HDR10 and Dolby Vision support
  • 625 nits brightness

The Super Retina display measures 5.8-inches on the diagonal and offers a 2436 x 1125 pixel resolution for a 458ppi pixel density.

One of the big changes is a switch in aspect ratio to 19.5:9. At the time, LG used 18.7:9 and Samsung 19:9 so these are all pretty much in the same ballpark.

There is also a significant increase in resolution. The 458ppi leaps ahead of the 401ppi that you'll find on the iPhone 8 Plus. What does this mean in the real world? It means more detail is crammed into the screen to make things sharper 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 its technology: the OLED panel. It's not the highest resolution on a smartphone, though, but still has a great quality to it. 

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As for that so-called notch, you don't really notice it. Although people initially spoke about it as some sort of design aberration, it just becomes part of the experience.

In daily use, when flanked by black in apps or dark mode, it disappears almost entirely. That's thanks to OLED's ability to shut off the light completely from those areas of the display. When watching a full-screen movie, yes, there's the notch at one side, but once you're using the phone, it really doesn't matter.

OLED has been used in smartphones for some years, but Apple's only previous dalliance with the technology before the iPhone X was on the Apple Watch. Its implementation in the iPhone X, XS and 11 pro - is similar to the Watch too, with inky-deep blacks and precise punchy colours only on a much larger scale. It is bright, crisp, and very impressive, even in bright sunlight.

It's one of the best displays we've seen, leaning towards the natural end of the spectrum when compared to something like the Samsung Galaxy series, which boosts colour vibrancy a little more.

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Like many other Apple devices, the display also features Apple's True Tone tech, changing to suit the environment. The idea is that the colour balance in the display shifts with the ambient light. True Tone works really well, however purists might prefer to turn it off, because it can mean your display is shifting from cool to warm tones as you're using it. If you've not seen the technology before it does take a little getting used to, especially when you can see it changing and shifting in real-time as you move the phone around.

Apple's iPhone X display is HDR ready too. The iPhone X supports HDR10 (the generic HDR format), as well as Dolby Vision, which is rather more rare. HDR and Dolby Vision content is readily available and supported by Netflix though and iTunes also moved to support HDR in a big way through Apple TV so you can watch that content in HDR on your iPhone X too.

Rather than bore you with all the details about HDR here, you can read up on what Dolby Vision is, or dive straight into learning all about mobile HDR right here.

Unlocking your iPhone with 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, iPhone XS, XS Max and XR and Apple has put a lot of emphasis on getting it right. 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.

Setting it up takes about 30 seconds and once enabled, you will have to actively look at the sensor array at the top of the device (in the notch) to unlock your phone. You'll still need a PIN as backup too. In the real world it's worked 9.5 times out of 10 for us. It's not perfect, but it's very good and it's significantly improved since the iPhone X first launched.

The technology behind Face ID scans and maps your face with 30,000 dots checking for depth so you can't spoof it with a picture and it must be able to see your eyes, nose, and mouth. That's fine with a wig, hat, most sunglasses, or a scarf for example, but covering up your mouth with the scarf will cause it not to work. This is a different to the face recognition or iris scanning you'll find elsewhere.

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The facial recognition is blisteringly fast, fast enough that you don't really have to wait for anything to happen, although we suspect many will feel they have to wait for the padlock icon to change (you don't). The Face ID tech works in all the environments we tried: outside in the sun, in a pitch black room, on the train, in a bar. It just works.

Unlike Touch ID that would automatically take you to the home screen, Face ID still requires you to swipe up to go beyond the lock screen. It's something you can't change, but does mean that you have a chance to look at your notifications first. For us, we've quickly found that you simply pick up the phone and swipe up. By the time you've done that gesture the phone has unlocked and you're off doing what you meant to be doing. 

Where we've found Face ID doesn't work though is when the iPhone X is out of line of sight like on your desk next to your laptop or keyboard.

Most Touch ID apps automatically work with Face ID and that includes Apple Pay and third-party apps, while Safari's auto password fill feature also doesn't autofill unless you look at the screen. Clever. 

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Apple iPhone X cameras and photography

  • Two rear 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 has two 12-megapixel cameras on the rear using a similar configuration to the iPhone 8 Plus, so that's a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens. The big difference on the iPhone X (and XS, for that matter) is that both these cameras offer optical image stabilisation, whereas on the Plus, only the wide-angle lens is stabilised.

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, which should result in better quality images in low light conditions.

This setup gives you a fantastic level of detail in images but low light performance is only OK - it's much improved in the iPhone 11 Pro, of course. With the iPhone X and XS you do have to still make sure you have a steady hand and set the shot up. If you rush, it looks awful.

The two rear cameras deliver fantastic images in a variety of situations, while the front-facing camera performs well too. It's only a 7-megapixel sensor, but you can take Portrait selfies using the same AI depth effect techniques used on the rear-facing cameras.

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Apple also introduced a feature called Portrait Lighting for the iPhone X, also available on later Face ID iPhones. It aims to recreate the effect that you'd get from a professional lighting rig in a studio, enabling 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 ensure that the (virtual) lighting falls as it should.


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Of the different modes, our favourite has to be Studio Light (the second image above). It adds a lovely brightness to the picture without adjusting the overall exposure and contrast, and the results really lift the picture - especially faces, even on a bright and sunny day. Some of the pictures we've taken are almost DSLR-like in quality. It's that good.

The ones we don't like are Stage Light and Stage Light Mono (far right above). The results from shooting on the iPhone X using Portrait Lighting are either laughable or stunning, it's that divided. Thankfully Portrait Lighting is a non-aggressive filter you can apply to any picture you've taken in Portrait Mode so if you don't like the effect you can change it or turn it off altogether.

The later iPhone XS, XS Max and XR and iPhone 11 series add Depth Control to Portrait Mode, enabling you to adjust the blurriness of the background.

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Performance

  • 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 iPhone 8 models with the A11 Bionic processor running the show, featuring six cores, two high power cores and four efficiency cores. There is more power and greater efficiency, along with a huge boost to graphics compared to older iPhones.

In our aggressive testing, the iPhone X is on par with the iPhone 8 Plus. As we always say, how long the battery lasts depends on what you do with it. We've easily been able to achieve a full days of testing with the camera and all our daily apps, and still have power to get us home in the early morning. That's all-day battery life to us.

To help you get topped-up throughout the day, Apple introduced quick charging and wireless charging on the iPhone X. The shift to a glass back meant you could wirelessly charge the iPhone X, using the Qi wireless charging standard.

Quick cable charging comes with a caveat: you have to use the right charger to get it to work and that's not something that comes with the phone. You also have to use a Lightning-USB-C cable. You can use the MacBook charger for this, however we've also tested it by connecting to quick chargers that shipped with Android phones and found it worked no problem. 

Other improvements we've noted are improved speakers that are louder than older iPhone models. 

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Verdict

Apple said that this phone would kickstart the next decade of the iPhone and it wasn't wrong. Aside from the 2020 iPhone SE, all new iPhones use the iPhone X's design.

The iPhone X still impresses - the screen is stunning, the device smaller for that edge-to-edge approach, and the underlying tech is more than capable to make it shine. 

At launch, the main complaint is that premium cost. When it launched, the iPhone X started at $999/£999, which is the same as the 11 Pro now. That means you can now pick up the iPhone X for a lot less money nearly three years on. And you'll still get a phone that's not that much different from newer devices, camera smarts aside. 

This review was first published in October 2017 and was last updated in May 2020 to reflect market context and software updates.

Alternatives to consider

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Apple iPhone XS

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The iPhone XS replaced the iPhone X and, while the iPhone 11 Pro is an even newer option, the XS adds a dab more power and some new camera tricks. The biggest dividing point between the two is likely to be what you can get for your money.

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Apple iPhone XR

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The Apple iPhone XR is an excellent cheaper alternative to the iPhone XS and iPhone 11 - with many of the same benefits. It has an LCD display rather than OLED and it only has the single camera on the rear, but it has a premium build, just as much power and very much the same experience as the iPhone XS.

Writing by Stuart Miles.