The moment all us Apple enthusiasts had been for over a year finally went by yesterday, as Apple’s September event unpacked several new hardware products. Chief among those was the tenth-anniversary iPhone, aptly named the iPhone X (pronounced iPhone 10).
It’s normal for Apple lovers to get hyped as the event unfolds. It is only a couple of days after the dust settles, that a lot of us start objectively looking at the offerings. After all, Apple products don’t come cheap. For a lot of people who’ve been holding off purchases now have to decide which iPhone to get.
So, let’s deep dive into the September 12th event announcements with a curious eye.
People are typically vary of spoilers for movies or TV shows on the internet. But there’s no escaping the Apple rumors that will invade your social media timelines several months in advance. Almost everything about the iPhone X was known fairly accurately beforehand — right down to its name, the way it looks, its feature set, and price.
The biggest observable change with this iPhone and all iPhones that have come before is the edge-to-edge display that almost entirely covers the front face of the device. Apple has traditionally always been late to the big screen party. Back in 2009, when the iPhone 3GS still featured the same 3.5-inch display as the two iPhones that came before it, phones like the HTC HD2 had a “monstrous” 4.3-inch display.
After poking fun at phones with humongous screens, Apple finally boarded the large screen with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus in 2014. It had tasted blood, and the blood sure did taste good, as sales skyrocketed after the duo’s launch. In the past few years, we saw many 6.0+ inch screened Android phones that literally got out of hand; making them too unwieldy and cumbersome to use.
Since early this year, phone makers innovated around this problem by reducing the bezel size to a point where 5.7-inch and 6.0-inch displays could fit into smaller form factors. The iPhone X, with its 5.8-inch display, has a screen-to-body ratio of a little over 80 percent, matching the industry standard that’s achieved by phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8. Being Apple’s first OLED iPhone, the contrast ratio is a phenomenal 1,000,000 to 1 (LCD screened iPhones had 1400 to 1 at best).
The resolution bump to 2436 x 1125 pixels also means the pixel density is bumped up to 458 PPI (Pixels Per Inch). While reasonably higher than the 400 PPI screen of Plus-sized iPhones, it still isn’t as mad crisp as the 570 PPI display on a Galaxy S8. But beyond 400 PPI, it’s mostly hard to discern between two displays unless you’re exposed to them for a long time.
The A11 Bionic chip is a six-core chip with a combination similar to some hexa-core Android phones — four power efficient cores paired with two high-performance cores. With respect to the system-on-chip (SoC), Apple historically has always led the pack because it creates custom silicons for its iPhones and also the software that makes the most of the hardware. When compared to its predecessors, the A11 chip’s performance cores are 25 percent faster, and the high-efficiency cores are up to 70 percent faster. This is also the first iPhone to feature Apple’s in-house graphics chip, after publicly announcing that it wasn’t going to rely on longtime partner Imagination. Graphics are 30 percent faster than previous generation iPhones. Lastly, there’s a dual-core Neural Engine that exclusively processes machine learning tasks.
All these technological advancements is what makes these features work without hiccups — the Face ID facial recognition system, the depth-sensing camera systems, or the intense augmented reality apps, and more. Talking about Face ID — although a few people were disappointed that Apple couldn’t get an under-screen fingerprint recognition tech, the 1,000,000 to 1 failure rate of the technology swiftly shunned all doubts (Touch ID has a failure rate of 50,000 to 1). Apple suggests it is hard to fool the system with not just photos or videos of your face, but even professionally-made face masks used in Hollywood.
Face ID also makes using the iPhone more seamless, you look at the phone with your eyes open and it unlocks in the background. Your Lock screen Notifications will also reveal themselves once the phone knows who’s looking. The sensor array on the top of the phone also works in pitch dark conditions (by using infrared light) and even if your hands aren’t spick and span. Lastly, it will also keep the screen on until you’re looking at it, ignoring the default screen timeout — there’s enough reason to believe this feature will work more reliably than it did on Samsung phones in the past (they didn’t always work accurately as they used the front-facing camera).
That array of sensors at the top (unofficially referred to as the notch) could be perceived in two ways — it’s an ugly cut out on an otherwise beautiful-looking display (similar to the Moto 360 smartwatch’s flat tire design). Or you could say that the notch gives the iPhone X a unique look unlike any other phone in the market. Since the top part of the display is split in the middle, the top bar elements of iOS had to be reconfigured to fit into the narrower area. It also means that certain icons like the lock rotation switch, do-not-disturb, alarm, etc may not be persistently shown.
That might be a small niggle, but the bigger change existing iPhone owners will have to get used to is the absence of the home button. Instead, a single swipe upwards will take you to the homescreen, a swipe-and-hold brings up multitasking. There’s also this neat shortcut to flick between apps by swiping the bottom area sideways.
I LOVE double tapping the multitasking button on Android 7.0+ to toggle between 2 apps, and it’s nice to see a comparable iPhone X gesture. pic.twitter.com/iL6XWtLLH4
— Rohan Naravane (@r0han) September 13, 2017
The changes to the interface have received mixed reactions — people are not happy with changes made to accommodate the notch around the top edge of the display. It’s not all bad though — moving the Control Center to a swipe from the top-right corner is easier than swiping from the bottom on regular iPhones, especially with an open keyboard or a full-screen video or game playing.
Both the wide-angle and telephoto cameras at the back are now mechanically stabilised (OIS). This means clicking photos at 2x zoom, especially in low light, would yield better results. The camera sensors themselves bear improvements from the iPhone 7 models. There’s a new Portrait Lightning that simulates studio lighting effects — this feature will only be available on iPhones with the A11 chip and above.
Lastly, despite all the hardware additions, Apple claims the battery life will be “2 hours longer” than an iPhone 8 or iPhone 7 under typical use. Other than a physically larger battery, the other factor contributing to this is the power optimisations of the A11 Bionic chip. Also, since it’s an OLED display, using darker background apps and wallpapers might just eke out some more battery life from the device. The iPhone X is fast-charging compatible, but you’ll have to spend $49 on the 29W USB C charger, and a $25 USB C to Lightning charging cable. Yes, you’ll spend the same money to fast-charge an iPhone X as you would to buy an entry-level Android phone.
And speaking of charging, the iPhone X also supports the Qi wireless charging standard (thanks to the glass back), but you’ll need to buy the wireless charging pad separately. An Apple-branded AirPower charging mat will arrive next year that’ll charge iPhones, Apple Watches and AirPods together — presumably for not less than $100.
The iPhone X’s $999 price tag isn’t as atrociously high as the rumored $1400 price tag a few months before. By offering 64GB of capacity in the entry-level SKU, Apple has not skimped on storage in an attempt to upsell to the 256GB variant (that costs $1,149).
iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
Since so much has been said about the iPhone X above, I’ll avoid repeating everything that’s same about it and these two. The iPhone 8 models are traditionally designed — as in, they look not very different from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The big change however is the use of glass at the back, to enable wireless charging like the iPhone X. They also feature the same A11 Bionic chip, enabling effects like Portrait Lighting and better-augmented reality support.
The telephoto lens on the iPhone 8 Plus has a narrower f/2.8 aperture (the iPhone X has a f/2.4 aperture). Also, this secondary lens doesn’t feature Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS). But the rear camera system is a newer generation component when compared to the iPhone 7 Plus. The iPhone 8 models have some more incremental changes to their predecessors — the stereo speaker system is 25 percent louder, and is said to offer a richer output and deeper bass (better loudspeakers are always good news).
The displays on both phones, although still being LCD and bearing the same resolution, now support True Tone technology — this changes the display’s white balance to match the surrounding light. A new quad-LED flash will attempt to uniformly light foregrounds and backgrounds.
All iPhones with the A11 chip also enable 4K video recording at a smooth 60 frames per second (fps), and 1080p slo-mo videos at a high 240 fps. The Plus version of the iPhone 8, thanks to the dual camera setup, supports features like Portrait Lighting for photos clicked from the back side camera. But unlike the iPhone X, which has depth-sensing sensors up front too, Portrait Lighting and Portrait Mode won’t work for selfies on iPhone 8 duo. Both have about the same battery backup as the iPhone 7 models respectively, or do they?
— Rohan Naravane (@r0han) September 13, 2017
In isolation, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus have enough incremental changes, although in reality they’re more “iPhone 7s” than “iPhone 8”, if you catch our drift. But when you keep them next to the iPhone X, they become much more uncompelling — you’d rather spend $200 more on an iPhone X instead of spending $799 on an iPhone 8 Plus. The only saving grace is the 64GB of internal storage on both iPhone 8 entry-level SKUs.
So, do you agree? Wouldn’t you rather get an iPhone X over the iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus? Or is there something about Apple’s tenth-anniversary iPhone that’s put you off? Sound off in the comments below.