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iPhone X long-term review: How does it hold up?

The iPhone X saw a big change to the long-established iPhone formula, and currently, it’s difficult to say if it’s been a complete success. Having used the phone solidly since its release, my thoughts regarding the iPhone X seem to change on a weekly basis.

I remain a huge fan of the design and build of this handset, especially the precision and splendid finish. My device has remained in a case since its unboxing – either Apple’s official leather one or Twelve South’s Relaxed Leather case – and as a result the device is scratch-free. Others in the Trusted Reviews office, who decided against using a case, have paid the price; the stainless steel rim, in particular, is prone to scratches. The screen is the best I’ve seen on such a device, and performance is smooth and slick.

My biggest annoyances with the iPhone X are with the software. iOS 11 is fine, but the lack of thought behind the X-specific UI becomes more frustrating by the day. I often find myself struggling to pull down the Control Center; and the wasted space when the keyboard is open remains odd. Most apps I use have updated to the longer layout, but few have really built themselves around the new size. I’m really hoping iOS 12 focuses on making the X feel better to use day-to-day – and also fixes the terrible notification system.

Face ID, for the most part, works well, but struggles when I’m not paying it full attention. I don’t think it’s ever worked on my first try in the morning, and it fails even if part of my face is covered.

Battery life has remained steady and the camera is only beaten by the Google Pixel 2 XL – but then you’d expect no less from a £1000 device.

What is the iPhone X?

The iPhone X – or iPhone 10 – is a hugely important device for Apple. Not only does its release coincide with the 10th anniversary of arguably the most important tech product of the past decade, but it’s the first iPhone in four years to undergo a major redesign. It’s also the best iPhone I’ve ever used – but it comes at a cost. A pretty hefty one.

iPhone X – Design

Apple has been coasting for too long with the design it introduced for the iPhone 6, but that all changes with the iPhone X – in a big way. You don’t need me to tell you the iPhone X is a huge departure from the iPhone design of old – just look at the pictures. Not only does it look good, however; Apple has done a fantastic job at actually making it feel rather good in the hand.
This phone is simply gorgeous. It’s slightly taller than the iPhone 8 (and 7 and 6) but much narrower and smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus. It strikes the perfect balance, especially since you’re getting a 5.8-inch display here.

The aluminium sides have been swapped out for stainless steel – as seen on the Apple Watch – and the front and rear of the device are glass. I received the Silver variant for review – and, unfortunately, it wasn’t long before it was covered in fingerprints, those shiny sides being a particular magnet. This is a phone that looks fantastic straight after a wipe-down; not so much a few hours after it’s been in your greasy palms.

Also of concern is how the iPhone X will fare over time. No matter how unscientific they might be, drop tests indicate that the finish here doesn’t lend itself well to wear and tear. After all, the stainless steel Apple Watch I’ve been using is a scratched-up mess. As a result, my iPhone X has spent much of its time inside an Apple case, but this certainly sees it lose points in the glamour stakes.

It’s around the front of the iPhone X that the magic happens, though. The iPhone 8 has an extensive bezel running around the display, but the iPhone X doesn’t. Similar to the Samsung Galaxy S8, Apple has pushed out the screen to the edges here, significantly reducing the bezel. A noticeable black border remains, but it adds a nice contrast to the bright display.

The lack of a thick bezel means there’s no room for the Home button, a feature present on every single iPhone iteration until now. As a result, there’s no Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Instead, the iPhone X sees Apple introduce facial recognition – a bold move.

All of the components for Face ID (infrared camera, flood illuminator, dot projector) are housed in what’s affectionately being called the ‘notch’. You’ll find the notch at the top of the display, where it somewhat disrupts that all-screen look. There’s been much controversy concerning the notch with regards to it completely ruining the immersive experience. Once you begin using the phone, however, I’ve found that it simply blends into the background.

iphone x design

Sure, you notice it when the screen is on, plus it juts into video if you’re playing something full-screen. But in all other instances it fades into the background. Certain apps – Apple’s Music being one – use software trickery to blank out the notch, and some apps clearly need to be updated to ensure important buttons aren’t hidden by it.

In the space either side of the notch you’ll find the battery indicator and time. Annoyingly, you can no longer see the battery percentage remaining or whether you have a pair headphones connected without opening the Control Center. The bigger annoyance is that the battery and signal indicators aren’t in line with the bottom of the notch, so they dip slightly below and look rather weird.

I do feel that the notch gives the iPhone X a bit of character and a distinctive look, something lost by the dismissal of the Home button. I’m sure Apple would get rid of it in an instant if it could cram this tech inside the bezel; but it does feel as though the company wants to use it as a distinguishing feature while it’s here.

iPhone X – Face ID

I’ve used Samsung’s face unlock and iris scanners a fair bit, and have never been particularly impressed by either their speed or accuracy. So it was important that Apple’s Face ID worked every single time. And I have to say I’ve been thoroughly impressed by Face ID; there hasn’t been a single time I’ve wished for Touch ID instead.

It works accurately in both the light and dark; it can’t be fooled by pictures or masks; and it works if you’re wearing glasses too. There have been reports that twins have fooled it, and Apple told me some IR-blocking sunnies won’t work, but these are limited scenarios. Note that you need to be ‘actively aware’ for it to work – you can’t just shove it in someone’s face and expect it to unlock.

Face ID isn’t perfect, though, but then neither was Touch ID; the fingerprint scanner was poor if your fingers were slightly greasy or wet. This isn’t a problem now. However, I have found that Face ID struggles if my eyes are a shrivelled mess, usually first thing in the morning, and if the phone isn’t close enough to my face. If you’re the type of person who tries to sneak a look at their notifications with your phone at pocket-level then you’re out of luck.

Apps that previously used Touch ID as a means of unlocking will automatically be replaced by Face ID without the need for an update, and you can of course use it for Apple Pay payments too.

iPhone X – Screen

The iPhone X sees Apple switch out its usual LCD screen tech for an OLED panel for the first time. Samsung, Google and many other Android phone makers have been using this technology for some time now, and it’s nice to see Apple finally joining the fray with a product other than the Apple Watch. This is also the highest-resolution screen ever on an iPhone, with a slightly odd 2436 x 1125 pixels, plus there’s support for the DCI P3 colour gamut and Dolby Vision HDR.

iphone x design

OLEDs offer better contrast, true blacks and a more colourful picture, but they’re not always perfect. The LG panels used by Google in the Pixel 2 XL have come in for plenty of criticism for poor viewing angles and an odd blue tinge. Even the excellent screen on the Samsung Galaxy S8 is prone to suffering poor viewing angles.

Apple’s OLEDs come from Samsung, and while there’s a small shift to blue if you tilt the device off-axis, it’s far less noticeable than on the Pixel 2 XL. Apple says it’s made a fair few tweaks to this panel, and the company’s optimisation of it is certainly different to Samsung’s approach for its own Galaxy S8 and Note 8 panels. Colours on the iPhone X are more natural and the saturation isn’t quite so intense.

The iPhone X’s screen also benefits from True Tone, which alters the screen temperature depending on the environment you’re in. 3D Touch makes a return, too, allowing you to perform alternative actions on applying different levels of pressure on the screen.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the iPhone X’s display will come down to what features you value most in a screen. For me, this is the best screen on any handset I’ve seen. I downloaded a few HDR-enabled movies from iTunes – something you can’t do on Android – and they’re stunning. I wouldn’t normally watch an entire film on a sub 6-inch screen, but on the iPhone X I did – and I wasn’t distracted by the notch at all.

iPhone X – Performance

The internals of the iPhone X are exactly the same as those in the iPhone 8 Plus, making this one of the fastest phones I’ve reviewed this year. It’s powered by the A11 Bionic chip, which is ridiculously fast, plus 3GB of RAM. Aside from a few software bugs in iOS 11, navigating the iPhone X is a universally smooth experience.

The A11 Bionic is a six-core processor with two high-power and four low-power cores that churn through all tasks with ease. In benchmarks, it scored 10,000 in the multi-core Geekbench 4 test, which isn’t far off double the scores achieved by flagship Android phones; it achieved 4121 in the single-core tests.

As is the case with the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, however, much of this power feels redundant. Even with the addition of augmented reality experiences, there doesn’t appear to be anything in the App Store that can really push this phone to its limits. All apps and games I’ve tried run without lag – but it’s a similar story with the iPhone 7 and even the 6S; AR apps run fine even on older hardware.

Even though the screen stretches nearly edge-to-edge, there’s still room for the dual-speaker setup of the past few iPhones. This sees one forward-facing speaker on the front and a downward firing unit on the bottom working together. Sound will no longer be blocked by your hand when you’re watching video in landscape orientation, and it gets very loud.

It isn’t only the volume that impresses; audio quality is decent too. Bass is nicely tuned and there’s plenty of detail. I’d probably still stick with Bluetooth headphones for proper music listening, but for watching YouTube this setup is great.

There have been some reports of a strange hissing that comes from the earpiece, but I haven’t encountered any such issues. In my opinion, call quality is excellent, with the noise-cancelling mics doing an excellent job of blocking out noise.

Three’s Wi-Fi call features works excellently – this is still one of the few phones to support it – and the device offers strong reception for both data and Wi-Fi.

iPhone X – Software

The lack of a Home button sees big changes to the way in which iOS 11 operates. No longer is this an operating system controlled pretty much via a single button; you’ll now need to learn a heap of new gestures.

You now swipe up from the bottom of the display to head to the Home screen, and swipe and hold to access the multitasking menu. In addition, no longer can you simply swipe apps away anymore; you have to press and then tap the little ‘X’ icon. My favorite gesture is a quick swipe along the lower part of the display to quickly switch apps.

These new gestures take a bit of getting used to, but after a few days’ use, most of them feel natural. The swipe up to go Home feels like it should have always been on option, but the little movement to multitask could be improved.

Other functions that previously required the Home button have been remapped to the elongated lock button on the side of the device. A double-tap of this brings up Apple Pay, while rapidly hitting it five times dials the emergency services. To capture a screenshot you press the lock switch and volume down; a longer-press of this combo will turn off the phone completely. Your notifications will also only show when you’re looking at the phone, and timers will dim when it knows you’re looking at the phone.

My biggest annoyance so far is with apps. Those that haven’t been updated to take advantage of that extra display space display ugly black bars and act basically as iPhone 8 apps. Not only do they look terrible, they just don’t work very well

iPhone X – Camera

The iPhone X has dual 12-megapixel cameras on the rear, as there are in the iPhone 8 Plus, and that makes it the smallest iPhone yet to benefit from two sensors.

The main wide-angle camera is optically stabilised with an f/1.8 aperture – as seen in other 2017 iPhones – but the telephoto lens has been updated. It’s also now optically stabilised, with the aperture widened from f/2.8 to f/2.4. Both upgrades make the camera a much better performer in low-light, an area in which iPhone cameras have been found wanting in the past.

Apple says it has completely rebuilt the sensor, making it larger and faster, and there’s a new ISP (image signal processor) for better textures and colours.

Photos taken with the main camera are truly excellent, with only the Google Pixel 2 taking shots as good. Pictures are more saturated than previous iPhones, although not to Samsung’s level, with vivid colours and lovely dynamic range. This makes it excellent for landscape shots, offering a fantastic feeling of depth

Why buy the iPhone X?

The iPhone X represents the change in direction the series has been due for some time now. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are great phones, but their ageing design and lack of real innovation holds them back. The iPhone X feels like a genuine step forward, especially in design – but this device won’t be for everyone.

I can’t really see this handset appealing to the Android crowd – there simply isn’t anything here that you can’t get on an Android device. If you want a shiny new Android phone that’s properly high-end go for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or Google Pixel 2. But if you’re an iPhone person, then you’ll absolutely love the iPhone X.

Face ID is better than Touch ID in the majority of scenarios, and the screen is the best I’ve ever laid eyes on. The glass and metal body is a stunning piece of engineering, and it more than shows that Apple is still capable of designing gorgeous hardware.

The biggest roadblock to entry, of course, is the price. At $1000/£1000 it’s a huge investment – but if I was going to spend that much on a phone then it would be on the iPhone X. It’s probably an odd thing to read if you haven’t held the phone, but this feels like a product worthy of a high price-tag.