Has new iphone got the X Fac­tor?

Get­ting to grips with the hand­set that the whole world has been talk­ing about

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Adri­an­weck­ler had ex­clu­sive use of Ap­ple’s lat­est re­lease, but at £1,000, is it the right call?

With a steep start­ing price of around £1,000 is it the right call? Tech­nol­ogy edi­tor Adrian Weck­ler has had ex­clu­sive use of the new iphone X – and de­liv­ers his de­fin­i­tive ver­dict on the gamechang­ing smart­phone

By some dis­tance, the iphone X is big­gest tech launch of the year, if not in the last five years. With a new allscreen de­sign, Ap­ple has thrown cau­tion to the wind, jet­ti­son­ing the home but­ton and in­tro­duc­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy as a se­cu­rity and screen-un­lock­ing fea­ture.

It is also test­ing the mar­ket’s pock­ets as never be­fore, with a steep start­ing price of .

This is the hand­set that the world has been talk­ing about since it was un­veiled in Septem­ber. Be­cause of the com­plex­ity of its de­sign and con­struc­tion, it’s only be­ing re­leased for sale now.

We’ve been try­ing out its fa­cial recog­ni­tion, its cam­eras, its new app-switcher mech­a­nism and its new mes­sag­ing an­i­moji.

So is this the great­est phone ever made? And can it jus­tify the un­prece­dent­edly high start­ing price?

1 Ap­ple’s new ‘pre­mium’ build

I’ll start with a fac­tor I don’t usu­ally pay much at­ten­tion to: the un­box­ing. Per­haps it’s be­cause the unit I got has sparkling stain­less steel on its rims, but this is the first time since the iphone 4 – and, be­fore that, the orig­i­nal iphone – that I’ve gen­uinely been taken aback by the con­struc­tion qual­ity of a new iphone. This is ul­tra-pre­mium stuff.

Mind you, for this kind of price it would want to be. In­deed, for £ 999 (or £1,149 for the 256GB ver­sion I’m test­ing), the iphone X re­ally could do with some sort of killer fea­ture to make it worth it.

As it hap­pens, it has two fea­tures that con­tend for this, along with a num­ber of other sup­port­ing as­sets (such as ex­tra cam­era power and phys­i­cal ma­te­ri­als).

Those are Face ID and a new edge-to- edge dis­play that in­creases the size of the screen with­out mak­ing the hand­set big­ger.

2 Edge-to-edge retina screen

The ob­vi­ous first fea­ture is that “su­per retina” screen. The way that it stretches al­most to­tally from corner to corner is a first for Ap­ple and an er­gonomic game changer for those who like big screens but dis­like hav­ing ex­tra big phones to ac­com­mo­date those screens.

The deal here is that the dis­play is 5.8 inches, mak­ing the screen longer ( but slim­mer) than the iphone 8 Plus’s 5.5-inch dis­play. (Although watch out if you crack or smash this iphone’s screen – Ap­ple is say­ing it will cost con­sid­er­ably more to re­place it, be­cause of its new de­sign.)

Be­cause it’s edge-to- edge with no ap­pre­cia­ble bezel, the over­all de­vice is sig­nif­i­cantly smaller than an iphone 8 Plus. In fact, it’s much closer in size to a reg­u­lar iphone, de­spite its screen be­ing longer. This is ob­vi­ously a great ad­van­tage for pock­ets, as well as over­stretched thumbs.

As an er­gonomic up­grade, it works.

Hav­ing al­ready be­gun to get used to the smaller de­vice size, it’s al­ready hard to see me go­ing back to a larger form fac­tor.

It’s not a per­fect cov­er­age area, how­ever. The screen has had to take into ac­count all of the front-fac­ing cam­eras and sen­sors for Face ID. Th­ese are clus­tered to­gether in , which are gath­er­ers to­gether in its ‘notch’. This in­ter­rupts the flow of the screen more than a lit­tle, although the time and bat­tery sym­bols sit on each side of the notch.

I’ve only had the phone for a short time, so I’m not sure whether the ‘notch’ will bug me after a while, but I’m def­i­nitely con­scious of it at the mo­ment. This is espe­cially so as some apps ( like Face­book and Twit­ter) in­te­grate it nat­u­rally while other ma­jor apps ( like Gmail and Google Maps) kind of ig­nore it and shorten the ac­tive screen area.

Aes­thet­i­cally, this is some­thing of a com­pro­mise. But it’s there to fa­cil­i­tate the other big fea­ture that of the iphone X: Face ID.

3 Face ID

By now, most peo­ple have heard about what this is – a bunch of high-pow­ered sen­sors and cam­era tech­nol­ogy that, com­bined, can ac­cu­rately cap­ture and recog­nise your face no mat­ter how bright or dark it is. So far – and I re­it­er­ate that I’ve had the iphone X only a short time – it’s been fairly flaw­less. It’s cer­tainly much quicker than the equiv­a­lent tech­nol­ogy on ri­val de­vices such as Sam­sung’s Note 8, which isn’t as ac­cu­rate or as con­sis­tent. Face ID can recog­nise your mug from lots of dif­fer­ent an­gles, too, although not from un­der your chin or above your fore­head. ( When set­ting it up, you’re asked to roll your face around clock­wise so that its sen­sors can gather ev­ery an­gle of your mush.)

For it to work, it has to see your eyes and mouth. So if you shut your eyes or cover your mouth, you’ll have to re­vert to the pin code.

One nice lit­tle ad­di­tional fea­ture at­tached to Face ID is that no­ti­fi­ca­tions on your lock screen ex­pand to re­veal the full mes­sage if the iphone X spots that you’re look­ing at it.

4 Is hav­ing no home but­ton awk­ward?

One other facet of hav­ing an all- screen sur­face is that there’s no phys­i­cal home but­ton any more. This is a big, big move; for 10 years, smart­phones have been an­chored by that but­ton, which acts as sort of a safety valve, a short cut in a va­ri­ety of sce­nar­ios. .

Thus, this is the big­gest sin­gle user ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ence on the iphone X. So what do you do when there’s no home but­ton to act as a short­cut back to the home screen?

Ac­tu­ally, it’s a fairly seam­less re­place­ment – you just swipe up.

I’ve only had the iphone X for a short time, but even in that pe­riod my mus­cle mem­ory has be­come some­what ha­bit­u­ated to the new phone ac­tion.

Of course, the home but­ton was used for more than just re­turn­ing to base.

Switch­ing be­tween apps is now done by swip­ing up, hold­ing the app for a sec­ond and then swip­ing side­ways be­tween apps. ( This is the only ac­tion I’ve found my­self hav­ing to get used to with a few teething er­rors along the way.)

As for other func­tions pre­vi­ously con­trolled with the home but­ton, Siri is now launched by hold­ing down the side power but­ton for over a sec­ond, while tak­ing a screen­shot is done press­ing the power but­ton (right hand side) and the vol­ume up but­ton si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

As far as th­ese func­tions go, the only thing I re­ally miss about the home but­ton is switch­ing be­tween apps. But I wouldn’t have it back for the sake of giv­ing up some screen real es­tate. So the loss of the but­ton is worth it for what the iphone X gains.

Of course, those are not the only things that the home but­ton was used for.

There is the small mat­ter of the fin­ger­print sen­sor, crucial for un­lock­ing the phone, and tasks such as pay­ing for things with Ap­ple Pay.

For the lat­ter, Face ID now seam­lessly re­places your fin­ger­print au­then­ti­ca­tion. In other words, to pay for some­thing us­ing Ap­ple Pay, just look at your phone and tap the terminal.

5 The cam­era

While most of the fo­cus here is on the iphone X’s phys­i­cal de­sign, screen, Face ID and ab­sence of a home but­ton, you can’t re­view a new iphone with­out test­ing its cam­era prow­ess.

In a re­view a few weeks ago, I wrote that the iphone 8 Plus has the best cam­era of any phone on the mar­ket, espe­cially based on its low light per­for­mance.

I haven’t fully had time to test the iphone X cam­era as thor­oughly as it needs. But what I have found so far is the same stel­lar low light per­for­mance.

Like the iphone 8 Plus, the iphone X has two lenses, one with a wide-an­gle 28mm per­spec­tive and the other with a tele­photo 50mm view. Like the iphone 8 Plus (and 7 Plus), th­ese com­bine to give you way more flex­i­bil­ity and qual­ity than a sin­gle-lens phone cam­era.

But un­like the iphone 8 Plus, the tele­photo 50mm lens here is also sta­bilised, mean­ing clearer, bet­ter pho­tos, espe­cially in low light. That’s a no­table up­grade.

I’ll do a sep­a­rate re­view on the

iphone X’s cam­era prow­ess when I’ve had more time to prop­erly test it.

How­ever, there is one no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in the cam­era lay­out to ei­ther the iphone 8 Plus or 7 Plus. The lenses are ver­ti­cally aligned rather than hor­i­zon­tally places. This is par­tially due to the iphone X’s as­pi­ra­tions for aug­mented re­al­ity apps, such as Ikea and var­i­ous games.

6 Bat­tery life, an­i­moji and other fea­tures

One re­cur­ring chal­lenge and some­thing that is new. Bat­tery life on the iphone X seems fine, which is to say that I can’t yet tell whether it’s sig­nif­i­cantly poorer or bet­ter than the iphone 8 (which typ­i­cally lasts around a day, de­pend­ing on your us­age).

But the an­i­moji fea­ture is fun. There are 12 an­i­mated an­i­mals to choose from, each of which mim­ics your fa­cial ex­pres­sions (eye­brows, mouth, head) as you talk or ges­ture. They’re mainly de­signed to be used in mes­sag­ing. You don’t need an iphone X to re­ceive an an­i­moji, although cre­at­ing one ap­pears to be lim­ited to the iphone X for now. As en­ter­tain­ing as this is, it’s a slightly awk­ward fea­ture set in the sense that th­ese will clearly ap­peal more to younger peo­ple, espe­cially teens. But such a de­mo­graphic are least likely to get an iphone X be­cause of its pric­ing point.

Nev­er­the­less, it’s good fun and worth try­ing out.

The iphone X sup­ports wire­less charg­ing just like the iphone 8. It’s also more or less wa­ter­proof.

7 Ver­dict: is this worth the money?

Is an Audi worth the ex­tra money over a Volk­swa­gen? Is the Volk­swa­gen worth the ex­tra money over a Skoda? All are made by the same com­pany and largely use the same en­gines. But each mar­que scales up on fea­tures to make the car more use­ful and en­joy­able on an ev­ery­day ba­sis. Even this com­par­i­son feels strained for the iphone X, though, be­cause a high-spec Skoda beats an en­try-level Volk­swa­gen ev­ery time. But noth­ing else that Ap­ple has re­ally matches the iphone X. It sim­ply is the top gun.

But can the ex­tra out­lay be jus­ti­fied over, say, an iphone 8? This can only be a sub­jec­tive an­swer. But here’s a guide: if you want the ab­so­lute best, new­est, high­est-per­form­ing iphone out there, this is un­ques­tion­ably it. If you’re gen­uinely happy with a high- end smart­phone in a more tra­di­tional form fac­tor, then save your money and go for an iphone 8 or an equiv­a­lent ri­val de­vice.

On the lat­ter choice, I’ve writ­ten be­fore and still main­tain that the iphone 8 has a lot to say for it, espe­cially with its bumped up cam­eras, ex­tra power and ter­rific screen.

But ul­ti­mately, it has an ag­ing phys­i­cal form fac­tor with a body that is big­ger than it ul­ti­mately needs to be to fit its screen. Sam­sung knows this and moved to edge-to- edge de­vices over a year ago. LG and oth­ers are cur­rently do­ing the same.

So when Tim Cook says that the iphone X is the fu­ture of smart­phones, he’s not wrong – the all-screen smart­phone is now the clear roadmap for hand­sets. It’s just that to get Ap­ple’s ver­sion, you’ll have to pay a pre­mium over other man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Ex­ist­ing iphone cus­tomers know that Ap­ple builds all its fu­ture prod­ucts around its most cur­rent tech­nol­ogy, mean­ing the iphone X will be rel­e­vant for years to come.

Head-to-head with ri­vals such as Sam­sung’s Note 8 or Ap­ple’s own iphone 8 Plus, the iphone X is prob­a­bly ahead.

So it sim­ply comes down to how flush you’re feel­ing.

Mix

The iphone X hopes to have ev­ery­one talk­ing

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