First impressions of the new iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus

First impressions of the new iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
PHOTO: Hardware Zone

The iPhone X looks far better in real life than the leaks made it out to be. I wasn't too impressed by the leaked renders, but the X looks and feels far better in person than they suggest. As the first iPhone without a Home button, the X signifies a landmark change for the iPhone, which I think is the reason for the odd name.

Sure, bezel-less smartphones aren't new. Xiaomi brought it out of the gate with the Mi Mix; LG and Samsung followed through with the G6, V30, S8, S8+ and Note8. But that doesn't make the bezel-less iPhone X less nice.

The new OLED screen is also far, far nicer than the other iPhones'. At 5.8" diagonal, the iPhone X has the largest screen of any iPhone, with the highest pixel density (458ppi). It also has the highest contrast ratios, at 1,000,000:1, compared to the iPhone 8 (1400:1) and 8 Plus' (1300:1). It's the first iPhone to support HDR, and like the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, come with True Tone and Wide Color (P3) displays.

I've lusted after OLED screens on Android smartphones for a long time, but I'm also wary of the potential quality issues OLED screens can have. The display units at the event had gorgeous screens with deep blacks, but we'll have to wait until the iPhone X arrives to see how production build screens actually hold up.

Photo: Hardware Zone

It's great that you get a larger screen than the iPhone 6/7/8 Plus in a body slightly bigger than the iPhone 6/7/8. If you've ever wanted the bigger screen of the Plus versions but didn't want to carry something that big, the iPhone X is the one for you.

Photo: Hardware Zone

And the build quality is solid, like all iPhones - well, except perhaps the iPhone 6 which suffered from 'Bendgate.' When you hold it in your hands, the iPhone X feels of one, sturdy piece. But of course, I didn't drop it in the hands-on area to do a shock test, which brings me to my next point …

Glass smudges and glass breaks. Glass smudges more easily than an aluminium back, and makes me remember how many times a day I used to wipe my iPhone 4. A glass back can break, whereas an aluminium back only chips. But most people keep their iPhones in a case anyway, so this might be a moot issue.

Photo: Hardware Zone

Speaking of cases, it seems leather is good for wireless charging. I wonder if many people need to rethink their case choices for wireless charging, but Apple is selling a leather case for the iPhone X on their online store, which means leather at least is good to go.

The new iPhones have the most minimal backs ever. Except for the word 'iPhone,' there's nothing where the regulatory wording and symbols used to be. It's not clear if the minimal back will be uniform in all countries when the iPhone ships, as different countries may have different rules about this kind of thing.

Unfortunately, the camera bump remains. It appears that even the best of the best of Apple's engineering prowess can't remove the camera bump, which remains the singular bane of the iPhone's sleek contours.

Photo: Hardware Zone

Apple didn't explain why the cameras are arrayed vertically instead of horizontally like on the iPhone Pluses, but I suspect it may be out of necessity more than aesthetics. After all, if you can't get rid of the bump, there are more symmetrical ways to position it, like placing it horizontally above the Apple logo.

Don't worry about the camera notch. I tried looking at photos and videos on the iPhone X, and they don't cut into the notch. Only when you zoom into them does the notch then eat into the images, but it's not a deal breaker for me.

I'm not sure how many people are going to get the new gestures intuitively. Buttons may not always be clear, but they are obvious. The new swipe gestures, like swiping up to go back to the Home screen and swiping up then pausing to see your open apps, will need to be learned. But then again, so did double-pressing on the Home button to see your open apps and double-tapping to bring down the screen.

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Posted by HardwareZone.com on Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The iPhone X is the iPhone I want, but not the iPhone I can afford. It is the best and prettiest iPhone, but it comes at a price - and an inflated one here. While the iPhone X starts at US$999 in the US, it starts at S$1,648 in Singapore. US$999 converts to around S$1345, so it costs S$303 more here for some reason.

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As nice as the new iPhone X is, I don't think I can justify spending that much on a smartphone on my salary. And the new iPhone 8 generation - heck, even the previous iPhone 7 generation - are more than good enough phones for most. Even so, there'll be plenty of people who won't have this budget problem, but it does bring up a image problem for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

THE 8 AND 8 PLUS ARE THE REGULAR IPHONES

Photo: Hardware Zone

Unlike the expensive iPhone X, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus remain at relatively the same prices as the 7 and 7 Plus. As much as I would love to carry an iPhone X, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are the ones I can afford. And I can't help but think that perception is going to hurt the new iPhones.

For previous generations, every iPhone was the same iPhone. Like a can of Coke, you could get the same iPhone as everyone else, whether you were rich or not.

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For better or worse, the iPhone X changes everything - there's now a best iPhone, and there are iPhones for everyone else. This isn't the first time that Apple has split the iPhone line, but in previous cases, the iPhone 5C and SE provided more affordable alternatives to the flagship.

Even when the iPhone Plus costs more than the regular iPhone, it was more about which size you preferred, and less about what price you could pay. But the iPhone X provides a nicer, more premium, and more expensive edition than the 'regular' iPhones.

Photo: Hardware Zone

The new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are nice, but we've seen all this before. Sure, it now comes with a glass back and wireless charging instead of the aluminium unibody, but we've been looking at the same iPhone for essentially the past three years, since the iPhone 6.

I can't help but feel some design fatigue, especially since the iPhone X looks so much more attractive next to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. It doesn't help that while the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were available in six colors (jet black, black, silver, gold, rose gold, and later, red), but the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus only launch in black, silver and gold.

Photo: Hardware Zone

That's the key takeaway for me as I tried the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus today. Yes, they're nice, but nice in the way that the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were nice. If you own one of the iPhone 6/7 generations, you'll mostly know how it feels to handle the new iPhones in person. If I were on the 7 and 7 Plus (which I am), or even the 6 and 6 Plus, I might not feel much incentive to upgrade.

What might sway me are the better cameras and screen. The iPhone is the most important camera in my life, and the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus come with bigger 12MP sensors. Usually, the bigger the sensor, the better the images. The Plus also comes with the new Portrait Lighting feature, which looks like a lot of fun (I'll reserve the judgment after we get a review unit, as I got some funky lighting on my cheeks while playing with the demo).

Photo: Hardware Zone

And while the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus screens don't come with the HDR support, higher pixel density and contrast ratios of the OLED iPhone X, they do ship with True Tone and Wide Color (PS) for richer, more accurate colours.

iOS is Apple's ace up its sleeve. If Apple was running Android, a customer fed up with the new iPhones would simply jump ship to another Android manufacturer. But iOS users can't get other iOS phones, and this works to Apple's advantage. Even if you can't afford the iPhone X, you'll still get a new regular iPhone when it comes time to upgrade.

Photo: Hardware Zone

The iPhone X now makes me wonder what will happen next year. Is the X a one-off 10th anniversary device, or will Apple continue with its normal and premium iPhone strategy, much like it does with the Apple Watch and the Watch Editions?

And is the design of the iPhones 6/7/8 now a lock-in for the long run, or will this year's X be next year's regular iPhone? Will the iPhone X's production cause its materials and manufacturing costs to drop enough that next year's regular iPhones will adopt its bezel-less design (unlikely) or at least enable its features like OLED displays and Face ID to surface on next year's regular iPhones (more likely).

AR IS GOING TO BE BIG

A big takeaway for me from today's Apple event is AR (augmented reality). After seeing the various demos, I think AR is going to be the bigger story that persists after this cycle of new iPhones. I think of how powerful smartphones are now by how many tools they've replaced - my iPhone has replaced the calculator, torchlight and camera in my life, for example.

Any useful new technology will increase the iPhone's ability to replace another tool. With AR, the iPhones can measure distances in the real world like a ruler, they can replace the jobs of catalogs by directing simulating furniture in your house and a car in your driveway, and they can play some kickass games in the real world.

I think we've barely scratched the surface of what AR can do, and the iPhone X's front camera notch is going to play a big part in that. It's scary efficient how the camera can generate a 3D representation of your face for Face ID.

Generating an accurate 3D mesh of your face using a phone is not an easy thing. Besides using it for deadly serious applications like Face ID, Apple is also using it to animate emoji, what it calls animoji. I think animoji are ridiculously cute, no matter what the cynics say. When Craig Federighi demoed how the technology is being used to generate virtual masks for Snapchat, it was impressive how accurate perspectives were in the demo.

This article was first published on Hardware Zone.

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