Ten years after the launch of the first iPhone, Apple launched what it said was the phone that kickstarted the next decade for the iPhone. It marked the biggest shift in iPhone design since Steve Jobs launched that first device, introduced a range of technologies to Apple's smartphone and shifted the user interface in a whole new direction, all of which the latest iPhones - the XS, XS Max and XR - incorporate.
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. Apple didn't just ditch a connector this time around, it ditched one of the iPhone's most iconic interactions: the home button.
The Apple iPhone X has now been replaced by the iPhone XS and XS Max, and cheaper XR alternative, but was it the most important iPhone since 2007? Do those new technologies it introduced really add anything and is it worth considering over the iPhone XS if you can get hold of one?
A complete overhaul of the 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 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.
It's a notably different feel to aluminium phones and that, combined with the weight that comes with it, gives the iPhone X the premium feel it needs.
Sporting a 5.8-inch screen, the display real-estate is larger than the iPhone 8 Plus, 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 design changes, because those bezels top and bottom were banished, resulting in a phone that is much better proportioned than the iPhone Plus sizes ever were and something that will easily fit into most pockets.
The edge-to-edge display is stunning with the top "notch" that's packed full of sensors the only thing interrupting the design. Apple has, perhaps more than any other manufacturer at the time, aimed to give you as much display as possible in the frame. Many other phones - the Google Pixel 2 XL or HTC U12+ for example - still have bezel top and bottom. Even Samsung, who takes things in a different direction with curves at the edges of its Infinity Display, still has space top and bottom of the display, while Apple has a great uniformity to the remaining bezels - apart from the notch, of course.
It was a refreshing new look for the iPhone, one that would likely to appeal to those who felt the old, unchanging, design was getting a little stale. The iPhone X was Apple very much moving with the times, as more and more smartphones offer this new bezel-free approach, but also setting a new standard at the same time, as we've seen with the many Android devices that have launched since the iPhone X offering the notched display look.
That look resulted in a move that might have scared some though: Apple ditched the home button and Touch ID for the iPhone X and the following XS, XS Max and XR devices that have launched since. Yes, the beloved home button, something that has been present on the iPhone for the last 10 years, is gone. You now go home with a swipe up from the bottom, with new ways to access Siri and multitasking. It's a change to adapt to and one that, for the first few days, will catch you out, as you jab at where the home button used to be before wondering how you ever coped using an iPhone not like this before.
Those new gestures and button controls are incredibly easy to get to grips with though. Apple Pay moved to a double tap of the now-longer button on the side, which also doubles as a long hold to activate Siri too. Again, very Apple Watch like.
No home button naturally this means no Touch ID. The iPhone X and its successors use facial recognition instead, something Apple dubs Face ID. It means it is 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 can make unlocking your phone a much more deliberate gesture than before, however it's considerably more accurate and makes the security aspect of your phone almost invisible to you.
Ditching the home button also had another side-affect, losing some of the iPhone's iconic visual design that has been with us for so long. The new design instantly dates previous iPhones like the iPhone 8 models that were launched alongside the iPhone X and are still available. With the iPhone X design leading the way, there's a sense that the much-loved iPhone design of old will soon be retired, especially with the cheaper XR being introduced.
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
One of the key focuses of the X is naturally the display which dominates the design. Apple is appropriately calling this the Super Retina display. The 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 doesn't officially detail what the display aspect is, but it's something like 19:9. For reference, LG uses 18:9 and Samsung 18.5:9 so 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 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, but it is one of the highest quality displays you'll find.
Like other smartphones, you'll be able to tap the screen to wake, and that works really well and one of many features we use on a daily basis.
As for that so-called notch, you won't really notice it. Although people initially spoke about it as some sort of design aberration, it's just a thing on a phone and it becomes part of the experience.
In daily use, when flanked by black in apps, 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 in the grander scheme of things, notchgate is a storm in a tea cup. Once you're using the phone, it really doesn't matter.
OLED has been used in smartphones for some years, but Apple's only dalliance with the technology before the iPhone X was on the Apple Watch. Its implementation in the iPhone X 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. Compared to other flagship devices, we have to say 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 S9, which boosts colour vibrancy a little more.
The display also features Apple's True Tone tech found in the iPad Pro range, 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. 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 on a wider scale. 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.
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 got better since the iPhone X first launched. To boost the chances of it working even more frequently, you can turn off the setting that makes sure the iPhone only unlocks if you are actively looking at the display.
The technology behind it 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.
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. You can't tap in commands at arms length without picking up the phone or typing your passcode. The way round that? Use "Hey Siri" and get Siri to do it for you instead.
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.
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 plus has two 12-megapixel cameras on the rear using a similar configuration to the iPhone 8 Plus and the previous 7 Plus, so that'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. At the time of launch, the only other phone that stabilised both cameras was the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, so it was a pretty unique feature, but now the Note 9 also offers it, as do the iPhone XS and XS Max. Zoom photos feel the effect of shake more because of the longer focal length: having OIS means sharper close-ups when using that zoom lens.
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.
The camera's performance is top notch, with a fantastic level of detail in images. Low light is good too, with the optical image stabilisation helping on both cameras, but you do have to still make sure you have a steady hand and set the shot up. If you rush, it still looks awful. The two rear cameras deliver fantastic images in a variety of situations, while the front facing camera performs well too. It's still a 7-megapixel sensor, but the technology around it has been upgraded allowing you to take Portrait selfies using the same AI depth effect techniques used on the rear facing cameras.
Apple also introduced a feature called Portrait Lighting for the iPhone X, now available on the iPhone XS, XS and XR. It aims to recreate the effect 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 ensure that the (virtual) lighting falls as it should.
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 iPhone XS, XS Max and XR all add Depth Control to Portrait Mode, allowing users to adjust the blurriness of the background but the iPhone X won't get this feature.
Say hello to Animoji
- Can be used by anyone
- Brings certain emojis to life
- Saved as .mov file that can be shared with anyone
Another feature introduced with the iPhone X was animoji. Yes, animated emoji. The iPhone X and the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR can use the front camera skills for something other than Face ID and selfies - it can be applied to certain emojis 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 send that to your friends.
The end result, which can be used by anyone looking at the front facing camera is saved as a .mov file and can then be shared. It's amazing. It's the future. Yes, you will use it to justify spending that much money on a new iPhone. Maybe.
In practice we used it for the first month, but a year with the phone our use of the tech has wained considerably. Apple could do more to make it more prominent in its messaging app. Still it's a great thing to show off, and still brings a smile to our face when we do remember to use it.
Apple A11 Bionic processor
- 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 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.
There is the promise of two 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. In our aggressive testing it 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, as you can the iPhone 8 and iPhone XS and XR models. Apple uses the Qi wireless charging standard, meaning it will work with a wide range of devices already available, from charging mats to in-car charging pads, to Ikea furniture and Starbucks.
Apple was due to expand on this option too, with plans to release a charging mat of its own called AirPower, which would also charge the Apple Watch 3 and the AirPods - if you opt for the new AirPods wireless charging case - but this has yet to appear. We've tested iPhone X with both a Mophie wireless charging pad and a competing offering from Belkin, although there are others. Wireless charging isn't the fastest, but it works, and is perfect for on your office desk or on your nightstand.
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 Type-C cable, using an old cable doesn't work. 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 with no problem. In reality, quick charging is a lot more useful than wireless charging.
Other improvements we've noted are improved speakers that are louder than the iPhone 8 models and give you a greater sense of width to the sound stage, meaning ad hoc video watching or gaming just sounds better.
The Apple iPhone X launched on iOS 11, which has now been updated to iOS 12 following the launch of the XS, XS Max and XR. Specific to the iPhone X models are a couple of changes that come about as a result of not having that home button: you swipe up from the bottom to go home, a longer swipe allows access the apps that are open, swiping up will close the app and a swipe at the bottom of the screen changes apps. There are also new controls for accessing Siri, Apple Pay, and taking those all-important screenshots.
There are other features of iOS specific to iPhone X models because of that lack of a home button or the new screen. Interestingly, the iPhone X doesn't feature the iOS landscape mode found on the iPhone Plus models or the ability to zoom in on the display - not great if you've opted for that mode previous to stave off wearing reading glasses, and you can't display the battery percentage anymore - you have to swipe down in Control Centre to see it.
Control Centre is accessed by swiping down from the top of the display, with a split to separate Control Centre from Notifications. This is still very much an iPhone though and 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 really like the Do Not Disturb while driving feature that launched with iOS 11, which automatically texts people to say you are driving, and the ability to access all our stored passwords either via Settings, or in-app. It makes setting up the iPhone X much, much, easier. Some features which seemed only interesting to begin with have now become a core part of how we use our iPhones and iPad.
As for apps fitting that new resolution screen, they have quickly adapted to the new design. Many apps from the usual big app makers have gone full screen, though not all niche apps have. Those that haven't, you get a letterbox looking rather like they did on the old iPhones.
iOS 12 adds a few more tweaks, including Waze and Google Maps support in CarPlay and Screen Time, which allows you to set app limits and see how long you spend using different apps. You can read more about iOS 12 and what it offers in our separate feature.
Apple said that this phone would kickstart the next decade of the iPhone and it wasn't wrong. All three of the new iPhones steal the iPhone X's design. 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.
The polished stainless steel, the OLED display, and the overall look and feel of the package oozes quality and premium aesthetics. This hasn't changed a year on either. The ramifications of what the iPhone X set out to do are wide-ranging: the iPhone 8 dulls by comparison in terms of design even if it's still a very capable phone.
The only complaint is that premium cost. When it launched, the iPhone X started at £999, which is the same as the iPhone XS now. You might be able to find the X at a good price following the launch of the XS but you then have the £750 iPhone XR to consider, which offers the same processing power as the XS and XS Max, making it faster and more capable than the iPhone X, even if not as premium in build.
First published October 2017
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Alternatives to consider
Apple iPhone XS
The 2018 update to the iPhone X is the iPhone XS. It's an S update, so it's not a huge change, but with a dab more power and some new camera tricks. The battery life isn't hugely different and the look and feel of the phone is very much the same. The biggest dividing point between the two is likely to be what you can get for your money.
Apple iPhone XR
The Apple iPhone XR isn't yet available, but if you're looking for a cheaper alternative to the iPhone XS - with many of the same benefits - then the iPhone XR might be the device for you. 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. The starting price of £749 might undercut any good deals you find on the iPhone X.