Dubai: Over the last few years Apple has been subject to complaints about its lack of innovation with the iPhone. Come tomorrow, when the iPhone X launches globally, those complaints are largely going to end.
To be frank, my expectations following the iPhone 8 were not high. The last time Apple had a really impressive new phone was with the launch of the iPhone 6 in 2014. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 were largely just reiterations of their predecessors, and I thought the X might be more of the same.
But since picking up the iPhone X just a few days ago, it has managed to impress me on multiple fronts.
First, there is the size. It’s bigger than any previous version of the iPhone, which I always thought was too small, but the new iPhone is not so big you need to take it out of your pocket before sitting down, like the iPhone Plus. The iPhone X has finally hit Goldilocks proportions.
Then there is the edge-to-edge OLED screen. The colour difference is noticeable, with more brilliant colours and better contrast. But it’s the extra real estate on the screen that really makes a difference. The screen is longer than the iPhone 8 Plus, if a couple of millimetres narrower. To give you a better comparison, the extra space would have been enough for (almost) an extra two rows of apps on the iPhone 8 Plus, although Apple has made a smart decision to go with larger icons instead.
The only noticeable issue with the screen is “the notch”, which is where the TrueDepth camera for Apple’s new FaceID sits. The notch makes it look as if the screen has a pair of horns on top of it (if you’re holding it in portrait mode). This little notch has stirred all kinds of discussions online, and it will cut into your viewing areas if you watch any videos in full-screen mode. It’s not a major intrusion, but it’s certainly a noticeably one, at least for a while. If it bothers you, you can slightly reduce the size of the video, so that instead of the notch, you have a black box around the video. If you’re the kind of person who is bothered by letter-boxing, you’ll likely find this annoying. I didn’t. After a while I forgot it was there, but Apple’s decision to allow the notch to even exist seems odd, especially from a company usually so obsessed with design.
But as we said earlier, the notch does serve a purpose. It is the home of the TrueDepth camera, which the iPhone X uses for FaceID. This feature makes it possible for the iPhone X to “look” at you, and if it’s satisfied that it is you, it unlocks your phone. If it isn’t satisfied, it will just ask for your passcode. It will not be satisfied more than you expect, but you will learn quickly what does and doesn’t work with FaceID.
When it works, it works great. You get into a rhythm of looking at the screen and swiping up with your thumb. Most often, it scans you so fast you don’t even think it. It works consistently, and my sunglasses and hat never gave it a problem. Apple says that if there are any major sudden changes, such as shaving a beard, to your appearance, the phone will just asked for your passcode and then note the new changes for your next session. (I thought about it, but I am not shaving my beard for this review.)
The only times FaceID is a problem is when the iPhone X can’t see your face properly. This comes up more often than you might think. With TouchID, you could use your thumb to unlock the phone and sneak a peek at it during meetings. Not anymore. My attempts to steal a sideways glance at my phone to unlock it on the sly were consistently meet with a request for my passcode. The iPhone X want to get a good look at you — not from an angle, not upside down, not when you squint — before it unlocks. It won’t accept a picture of yours, either.
The TrueDepth camera also made it possible for Apple to remove the iPhone’s home button. I was initially unimpressed with this, but a home button-less does make navigation around iOS11 much faster and more efficient — after you get used to using it, which can take some time. Apple has spent the last four years training us to use iPhones by using our Thumbs to unlock it and then swiping in certain directions. Now Apple is asking to learn to use the iPhone all over again.
After three days, I still occasionally try to use my thumb to open the app switcher or swipe in the wrong direction. You now must now swipe down for the control panel and swipe up to open your app switcher, previously opened by a double tap on the home button.
It can also use some refinements. For example: Holding the power button and either volume button while swiping right to turn off the phone? That took me three attempts to make it work.
On paper, these features didn’t seem like much, but when you get your hands on the iPhone X, it actually feels like your using something new. You’d even be excused for thinking Apple has learnt to innovate again.
Let’s talk about talking poo.
Leave it humans to turn cutting edge technology into toilet humour, and we’ve never meant that so literally. The TrueDepth camera can be used to record your voice and facial expressions and use them to animate emoji. Apple is calling them Animoji, and they include an alien, a fox, a unicorn, and yes, even the poop emoji. I rolled my eyes when I first saw this, but the camera’s ability to accurately reproduce your facial expressions is, admittedly, impressive and fun. We have a feeling you’ll be seeing a lot of this in the future, even if you don’t use an iPhone X. Animoji’s can be saved as .mov files and sent to anyone, whether they want it or not.
First impressions: What it’s good at
Navigation: Apple users will need time to adjust to the loss of the home button, but once they do, navigation is even faster than before
Pictures: Apple’s new photo system improves on an already excellent camera. Additional magnets offer better image stabilisation to limit the blur in your photos.
Being the right size: Apple has finally fit Goldilocks dimensions, putting a roughly iPhone Plus-sized screen on a iPhone-sized body
First impressions: What needs improving
Charging: Apple is promising an extra two hours of battery life from this iPhone, but recharging (regardless of whether it was wired or wireless) seemed to take more time than normal.
The Notch: Come on, Apple. Get rid of it. It’s not that big of a deal, but it still shouldn’t be there. Find a way.
The price: The iPhone X starts at Dh4,099 for the 64GB version, Dh850 more than the iPhone 8 Plus, and Dh4,729 for 256GB.