We just got a quick chance to play with the iPhone X, Apple’s new flagship phone arriving later this year.
The thing that a lot of people want to talk about with the iPhone X is its $999 starting price, but when you have the phone in your hand, it feels… worth it. The X is an extremely beautiful device, with a stainless steel band and glass back curving into a 5.8-inch OLED display that stretches all the way across the front of the phone. Apple’s calling this a “Super Retina Display” with 1125 x 2436 pixels of resolution, making it the highest-density screen on any iPhone. It’s super sharp to look at and punchy and vibrant as you’d expect from an OLED screen. It has all of Apple’s signature tech, too, including 3D Touch and True Tone automatic calibration.
The screen is the star of the show, and FaceID actually works
The screen dictates everything about the iPhone X’s design, including its lack of a home button. This will probably be one of the most controversial things about the phone among iPhone users, but Apple has done a lot of work to make iOS feel natural without a home button. I couldn’t test out the new FaceID authentication myself without setting it up, but it was configured for one of Apple’s demo assistants, and it worked every time he showed it off, even under the frenetic conditions and bright lights of the demo area.
FaceID works because of the TrueDepth camera system that’s tucked into the display notch at the top of the phone — there’s a lot of sensors packed in there, including a IR depth camera and a projector that throws 30,000 infrared dots on your face. The systems reads the map, matches it against the stored image on the phone using a neural network processor built into the phone, and unlocks the phone. Apple says it won’t work if you’re not paying attention, and sure enough, the phone wouldn’t unlock when the demo assistant had his eyes close. When he opened his eyes, the phone quickly unlocked. It was incredibly impressive.
Apple says the system learns your face, even if you’re wearing glasses, a hat, or change your hairstyle. And importantly, it says the system can’t be fooled by a photograph of you. Overall it’s all much better than the face-unlock systems we’ve seen on other smartphones, but we’ll have to really test it out in harsher conditions. And try to fool it, of course.
The lack of a home button does lead to some new interface patterns you’ll have to learn, though. You waking up the screen with just a tap — or better, by picking it up, which turns on the screen automatically. That makes sense, but my muscle memory got in the way of the new vertical gestures several times: where swiping up used to open Control Center, it’s now how you multitask: you swipe up to go home, and swipe up and hold to enter the app switcher. Control Center is now a swipe down from the right top edge, and the notifications shade is a swipe down from the top left.
It’s definitely a little messy — especially that swipe-and-hold move, which took me a few tries to get right. But I suspect it’ll be a quick adjustment once we have the phone for real.
The front camera is more important than the rear one
That front camera system powers a whole bunch of stuff, including new animated emoji that react to your face and some extremely impressive new filters in Snapchat. Portrait Mode is now also available on the front camera, as is Apple’s new Portrait Lighting effect. We’ve reached the point where the front camera on the iPhone is now more important and interesting than the rear one.
The rear camera on the iPhone X hasn’t been ignored, though, and it’s largely the same as the new dual-camera iPhone 8 Plus. It’s dual lens, but with a brighter f/2.4 telephoto lens that has OIS just like the f/1.4 wide angle camera.
The back of the phone is less unique than the front. It’s the same glass and metal sandwich as the iPhone 8, with dust and water resistance and wireless charging.
Apple says the iPhone X lasts two hours longer than the iPhone 8 between charges, and of course claims its A11 Bionic chip is faster than ever. But we’ll have to wait until we’re able to review it to put those claims to the test.
The iPhone X doesn’t arrive until November, and based on what we’ve seen in our brief impressions, it’s going to be quite popular when it does. Even if it does cost a thousand dollars.