The Apple iPhone X is everything we hoped for. It’s the true successor to the original iPhone, with lust-worthy styling, superlative materials, and a stunning amount of power and intelligence for a hand-held device.
Apple unveiled the 5.8-inch (yet surprisingly palm-friendly) smartphone as the all-important “one more thing” portion in a cavalcade of new product announcements.
Yes, there’s a pair of new iPhone 8 devices and they have their obvious charms, not the least among them is a lower price than the $999 iPhone X (that’s pronounced “ten”), but that also includes an all-glass back and wireless charging.
And yet, when you touch the Apple iPhone X, which goes on sale October 27 and ships November 3, you realize it’s something more.
The iPhone X is the future of Apple smartphones.
After Tim Cook’s two-hour, yet fast-moving keynote, raced up the stairs of the new Steve Jobs Theater to the cavernous demo space for some hands-on time with the 10th-anniversary iPhone. I freely admit that I didn’t, at least initially, go looking for the all-glass iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, the new LTE-enabled Apple Watch Series 3 or the Apple TV 4K (which I couldn’t find anyway). My target, my goal, was the iPhone X.
I didn’t realize how much I missed the glass back if the iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and 5S until I held the iPhone X. Sure, the super-polished Jet Black iPhone 7 approaches the feel of glass, but, to be honest, the tactile experience of touching ultra-hard glass (which may or may not be Gorilla Glass) is unmistakable.
Retina on steroids
The OLED Super Retina Display (they just keep adding superlatives), is bright, brilliant and color rich. it also covers almost the entire face of the camera like smooth honey poring over a pancake.
There are power, sleep and volume buttons on the sides, but that screen is unmarked by the iconic home button.
I got the briefest of demos on how to returns to home with a sweeping gesture that starts from just below the edge of the screen. And then I saw how you did a similar gesture from the top edge of the screen, only on the left side of the TrueDepth notch, to reveal the control panel.
It’s true, the iPhone X introduces a topsy-turvy world of iPhone interface control and information. Icons for the cell connection and Wi-Fi shifted to the right (next to battery life), while the time moves from center to left (alongside location).
What surprised me the most is how well the gestures worked. Yes, I know Craig Federighi struggled for a moment with one during his keynote demo, but I got it right every time.
I did not get to set up FaceID face registration and unlocking, though, I did witness an Apple rep in the demo area repeatedly unlock the device with his face.
I looked at photos, videos and games in portrait and landscape mode and what I noticed is how, especially in the former, the notch faded into the background. I can’t tell if this is because the notch is smaller or, perhaps, more elegantly designed than the one on the Essential Phone.
Whatever few hundred pixels you lose to the TrueDepth notch and its array of sensors is worth it.
All the depth and facial recognition technology puts some rather powerful tools in your hands that are, for now, best experienced through the wickedly entertaining Animojis.
I’m not a fan of tech companies coining new labels for dopey features, especially ones that seem to twist existing tech terms, but I have to hand it to Apple: Animojis are something special.
The concept is simple: Drop adorable animated emojiis in iMessage texts. Animojis, though, are more than simple animations; they use the TrueDepth face tracking technology to sync, for instance, a monkey face animation with your mouth movement and expressions. I tried this repeatedly and, as long as my mug was facing the camera, it just worked. I was hooked and could not stop making faces and talking through my monkey avatar.
For now, I assume that the performance here is a combination of the TrueDepth sensors and the powerful, new A11 Bionic CPU, which even includes what Apple is calling a Neural Engine.
Almost pro-level portraits
As predicted, the iPhone X cameras are also different than those you’ll find on the iPhone 8. In addition to reorienting the cameras from horizontal to a vertical alignment, both the wide angle and 2X zoom have optical image stabilization.
I didn’t get much of an opportunity to take photos, but I did try out the upgraded Portrait mode, including a new feature called Portrait Lighting, which allows you to apply dramatic lighting effects both during and after you’ve taking the photo. In the demo space, I took photos of Apps Reporter Karissa Bell with the Stage Lighting option (you switch through the lighting models with an on-screen dial).
After I took the photo, which converted it to black and white replaced the surrounding demo room scrum with a dramatic, all-black backdrop, I used the same dial to switch to other light modes, including the original background.
There are other things I noticed like, no, the 3.5 mm headphone jack is not back and Apple did not swap out the lightning port for USB-C. This surprised me since this is, after all, Apple’s phone of the future and its clear to me that Apple thinks USB-C is part of that future. It just seems like a strange omission. Perhaps Apple realized that that port switch would further complicate people’s feelings about Apple and dongle-mania.
Initially, I wondered if, after seeing the Apple iPhone X anyone would consider buying the less sexy iPhone 8 or the larger iPhone 8 Plus, but as one executive reminded me, no one wants to hand their child Apple’s premium (read $999) phone. The Apple iPhone line is now more stratified than ever, reaching all the way back to the now nostalgic iPhone SE. With the iPhone 6 and 7 line sitting in between, Apple’s iPhone price range now runs from $349 to almost $1,000. It’s a lot of design and feature choice, with iOS 11 acting as the common thread that may drag consumers (from cradle to grave) from one iPhone experience and price tier to another.
I am concerned about the storage tiers. 64 GB is okay, but not great for the $999 model, but who knows how much you’ll pay for the 256 GB device. For no good reason I can discern, there is no 128 GB option, which means you’ll be making a big price jump if you want more storage.
I know that the iPhone X, like the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, has wireless charging, but Apple didn’t demonstrate it in the demo room, so I can’t speak to how or how effectively the Qi-based technology works.
In addition, there wasn’t any mention of sound quality or the speaker array (it appears similar to the iPhone 7 and 8) and Apple didn’t add smart connectors for accessories (keyboard) or the ability to use the Apple Pencil with the device.
As for me, I see the iPhone X as an aspirational device that many will request in the coming months. So far, I like what I see, but will withhold recommendation until my full review.