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Our jargon-free review of the iPhone X

The iPhone X has been the subject of much controversy long before Apple announced it on September 12, thanks to leaked schematics and the ever-present rumour mill. The phone drew even more attention globally, commanding headline after headline for weeks on end right after CEO Tim Cook stepped off the stage following the keynote address. The questions on everybody’s lips: “Where did the home button go?”, “Why is there still no headphone jack?”, “Can anyone actually afford one?”, “Where is the iPhone 9?”

Despite all the lingering doubts and rumours of production delays, the iPhone X (pronounced ten, not ecks) sold out in minutes on the day of its pre-order, leaving customers who were late to the game only the option of delivery in 5 to 6 weeks. In China, over 5 million pre-orders were made across various retailers. Luckily, we managed to get our hands on Apple’s crown jewel.

Just a disclaimer: we only had 24 hours with the iPhone X, so this is just a first impression of the phone.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. The iPhone X is the first major redesign since the iPhone 5, and the first thing you’d notice is its screen – and boy is it beautiful. When we were greeted with the bold ‘Hello’ of the introduction page, a collective ‘wow’ went through the office.

Two notches fill up the top of the phone — something that initially drew a lot of flak. But after just a few hours of using the iPhone X, those notches seem to fade away naturally into your cognition. It doesn’t distract you from what you are trying to do with your phone, be it sending texts on WhatsApp or watching Mindhunters on Netflix.

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The iPhone X is a beautiful with its edge-to-edge OLED display and vibrant colour output.

In comparison to the iPhone 8’s 4.7-inch screen and the 8 Plus’ 5.5-inch screen, the X boasts an impressive 5.8-inch screen on a device that sits comfortably in between the former two. It’s not too big that it’ll create an awkward bulge in your pocket, yet you won’t be squinting your eyes trying to read a post on Facebook. It is the perfectly sized iPhone, and we’ll find it hard to go back to our 8 Plus.

And no, there is still no headphone jack. Apple killed it with the iPhone 7, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be making a return any time soon.

Compared to all the previous iterations of the iPhone, the X has the best screen by far. It is the first OLED display featured on an iPhone, and it uses a true High Dynamic Range (HDR) display. That the custom built OLED panel is manufactured by Samsung is not lost on us, but the real competition here is with all other iPhones and their LCD displays.

The blacks are deeper, the colours are more vibrant, and everything else just looks more crisp and sharp. On Netflix, the retro tones of Stranger Things is more pronounced and on Instagram, you would just find yourself scrolling infinitely as the posts seem more real than they appear.

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Coupled with the improved speakers on the iPhone X, watching your favourite serials on Netflix is made even better now.

The True Tone technology running in the background was a huge plus. Over the course of a day, we flirted under fluorescent lamps one moment and basked under the sun the next and True Tone subtly adjusted the colour temperature of the iPhone X to match the light around us, making the display look more comfortable.

Face ID
Like we mentioned when the iPhone X was first announced, Apple has been constantly switching up how we unlock our phones. First it was with a four-digit passcode, then it was with Touch ID via our fingerprints. With the iPhone X and the demise of the home button (more on that later), our face is now our password.

Setting up Face ID was a breeze that took less than a minute, as it was one of the initial steps you would take when you are setting up your iPhone X. The first few times, our fingers instinctively went for the phantom home button, but when we did that, we realised that the TrueDepth camera at the front of the iPhone X had already unlocked the phone for us the moment we looked at it. It was that organic and seamless.

iPhone X
Setting up Face ID was a seamless process, taking us less than a minute.

Apple designed Face ID to work even if you are wearing glasses, a scarf, or just having a bad hair day, so we decided to try that out. Out of four different sunglasses, Face ID worked on only one of them. We aren’t sure why it failed to unlock the phone three times, but that might have been due to the infrared camera not being able to pick up certain features of our face to authenticate it.

We also tried to trick Face ID using various methods: a printed photo of our face, a selfie taken on another iPhone, and when we had a mud mask on. Safe to say, you’re not going to be a victim of identity theft anytime soon if someone steals your iPhone X. Also, Face ID isn’t that intelligent yet to look past a glacial marine mud mask.

Home Button
The question asked and echoed throughout the world: “How are we going to survive without the home button?”

You will.

If you are part of the Apple ecosystem, gestures are a familiar way of interacting with your devices. If you’re not, you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

iPhone X
Apple is paving the way for gestures in a radical way – by removing the home button in its entirety.

Swiping up to go ‘Home’ is something that became second nature after less than an hour with the iPhone X. Multitasking has been made even better, now that you can just swipe at the bottom edge to cycle between recent apps. For the full trope, you just swipe up and pause, and it will display the App Switcher.

Other more complex functions took awhile to figure out. Screenshots are now taken by pressing the side button on the right, and the Volume Up button on the left. Using Apple Pay requires you to double-click the same side button and use Face ID before you tap your phone at the payment terminal. Control Center is now accessed by swiping down from the top right edge of notch.

If you have been using any iPhone for the past few years, don’t worry if you find yourself still seeking out the home button that isn’t there. It’s all muscle memory that’s going through behavioural change, something that Apple is striving to achieve with the iPhone X.

The iPhone X isn’t aiming for the title of ‘Best Smartphone Camera’, but it is the world’s most popular camera, and it performs superbly well.

Other than the vertical shape the dual 12-megapixel back cameras now sport, Apple has also included optical image stabilisation for both sensors. Too much jargon? Just know that your photos won’t have the same blurry filter compared to those shot on the previous iPhones, especially when taking photos in low light.

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The dual cameras at the back of the iPhone X immediately call for attention with their now vertical orientation.

The true photographic breakout of the iPhone X is the front-facing TrueDepth camera. Not only does it facilitate capturing your face for Face ID, it uses that same facial mapping technology so you can use Portrait mode for better selfies. Note that it’s not going to give you a perfect selfie – sometimes the parts of your face that have been artificially blurred don’t make sense, and you’d need to adjust the angle so your hairline doesn’t look like it’s fading into the background, unless that’s the look you’re going for.

Also: Animojis. While we don’t see this taking off big in Singapore (most of us hardly use iMessage, preferring WhatsApp or Telegram), it is a fun way to show the potential the iPhone X has with facial mapping. That’s definitely a yes to more Snapchat filters.

The iPhone X is the best iPhone we’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege of using, even if it had only been for 24 hours. It felt good in our hands and looked great to our eyes. The transition from the moment we raised the phone till it unlocked was seamless and felt unreal, and the OLED display was simply stunning.

There are some minor faults we picked out, for example the fact that you can’t see your battery percentage unless you pull down Control Center, but these are small software inconveniences that will hopefully be ironed out in future updates of iOS.

The price tag might also be a turnoff for many, because shelling out S$1,648 (at the very minimum) for a device with a longevity of a year might not seem practical to everyone. But for those who have tried it (aka us), it’s hard to want to go back to our mundane phones of the past. Because the iPhone X is the future, and we can only wait in anticipation of what Apple comes up with next.

The iPhone X comes in silver or space grey in 64GB or 256GB models, and will be available from US$999 starting November 3.