An iPhone X-periment
Apple used to give us a fresh-looking iPhone once every two years. Then the iPhone 6 came along, and the company decided it could afford to lower the pacing a bit. The 6s arrived on schedule, then the 7 followed; and now we even have the 8 – all basically reusing absolutely the same design, save for some small enhancements. As a result, Apple’s line-up started looking a bit conservative in comparison to some of its direct rivals. Refined and premium, but conservative.This year, we’re finally getting what we’ve been asking for – a brave new iPhone design, albeit in a prohibitively expensive package – it starts at $999. However, Apple insists the iPhone X is way more than just a fresh set of clothes for the same thing; it wants it to be the start of a new chapter in the iPhone story, and this means we’re in for some major changes in the iOS experience paradigm as well. A fresh, new look, and drastic changes to how we interact with iOS – this alone sounds incredibly intriguing, but actually there’s even more to the iPhone X that may amaze, surprise or even irritate you.
The iPhone X is a controversial device, that much is certain. Way more controversial than the iPhone 7, which dropped the historical audio jack. With the X, Apple is taking a lot of risks, and introducing a lot of firsts. Funny how these two always seem to go hand in hand, right? The thing is, as mentioned in the first paragraph, Apple developed a bit of a conservative image during the last few years. And here we are now, putting Apple, risks, and firsts in the same sentence again. This tells you we have something really special on our hands, but make no mistake – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Come with us on a journey that will get you to truly know Apple’s most exciting smartphone in recent years.
Design and Notch
Great fit and finish, but the notch is weird, and not in a good way.
The biggest thing going for this phone is obviously its bezel-less design – the 5.8″ display of the iPhone X reaches from one end, all the way to the other; it covers the entire front, with just a thin, continuous frame circling around it. If we could put the full stop here and call it a day, it’d have been a quick and easy win for the iPhone X. Unfortunately, we’re just 15 minutes into the movie, and you just know something bad is about to happen; something that will allow the plot to develop further.
As we circle around the display, we inevitably reach the top edge, where we meet this year’s antagonist: the so-called ‘notch’. Sitting up there, biting into the top edge of the screen, the iPhone X’s notch is both a blessing and a curse. How come a blessing? With an all-screen design, there’s obviously no space left for the trusty Touch ID fingerprint home button. How do we unlock the iPhone X securely, then? Located in this pitch-black space within the iPhone X notch are all the camera and sensor components required for a new type of biometric authentication on smartphones: 3D face recognition! More on that – later, but all in all, that’s why the notch is there, forever ruining the seamless look of the iPhone X.
The notch is a unique visual element that makes the iPhone X unmistakable, unlike many current and future bezel-less smartphones, which will have very little to differentiate themselves with. This, along with enabling Face ID, are the only positive things we can say about the notch. Toss them aside, and all we’re left with is one huge compromise. The notch doesn’t look good, it ruins what could have been a striking, forward-looking smartphone. If the notch wasn’t there, the iPhone X would have been the apotheosis of smartphone design.But it’s there, and you’ll be constantly reminded of its presence throughout your daily interactions with the iPhone X. The negative effect it has on the appearance of the product is substantial, but the destructive aftershocks it sends across the overall user experience are even bigger.
In terms of materials and finishes, the iPhone X mimicks what the Galaxy S8 introduced back in April this year: high-quality glass front and back surfaces, held together by a super-nice, polished metal frame. Although, we should probably point out that Samsung uses aluminum for its frame, while Apple goes for a slightly higher-end stainless steel. Apple’s top smartphone feels amazing in the hand, but it falls a bit short in one area, and that’s color variants. While Samsung offers the Galaxy S8 in a total of 6 likable colors, the iPhone X is available only in Space Gray (very dark gray) and Silver (very light gray). Among the two, the Silver version is the way more interesting and exquisite one, as the Space Gray option is just that – very dark gray across the whole thing – no accents or any kind of flare.
DESIGN TAKEAWAY: The iPhone X is nice, but the notch prevents it from being a work of art. It is by and large a utilitarian design in a contemporary, premium package. Even with the Galaxy S8 being a six-month old device at this point, the iPhone X feels more like a gap-closer than anything else – it fails to convince it was worth all the wait.
Display… and Notch
The iPhone X is the first ever iPhone to use a 5.8” OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display, which Apple has decided to call “Super Retina Display”. Forgive us if we don’t get ourselves to use this branding anymore, ever.
OLED screen technology works in a very different way from the traditional LCD, and comes with its own pros and cons. Here’s a very quick summary:
- Superb contrast and vividness
- Viewing angles retain high brightness
- Faster response times (less motion blur)
- Viewing angles introduce color inaccuracy
- Susceptible to burn-in effects
There’s a couple of controversies surrounding Apple’s first OLED display right now: one is the so-called burn-in effect, and the other is the blue tint. We won’t lose time discussing the burn-in here, because we believe Apple has largely taken care of ensuring the OLED display will remain in good shape throughout the expected lifespan of the device. If you’d like to learn more about it, though, just check out this article.
So what about the blue tint? Here’s the thing: the iPhone X display has very balanced, true-to-life, yet nice and vivid colors when viewed head-on. However, as the case happens to be with all OLED screens out there, there is a pronounced color shift whenever you view the screen at an angle, essentially making colors appear more blue-ish. This is exactly what’s going on with the iPhone X. OLED displays on Samsung Galaxy phones have always exhibited such behavior, and now Apple’s OLED display, which is also produced by Samsung, does the same. The interesting thing here is that the iPhone X’s display behaves more like a last-gen Galaxy S screen in this respect – when comparing it head to head with the Galaxy S8, Samsung’s latest flagship seems to be a bit less susceptible to these color shifts. Nevertheless, the issue isn’t so bad as to hamper the overall viewing experience with the X.
The tall, 5.8” display with super-high 1125 x 2436 px resolution is quite big; however, it’s mostly taller than the iPhone 8’s display, and just a tiny bit wider. Because of this, the iPhone 8 Plus’ 5.5” screen with standard 16:9 ratio continues to offer the biggest screen area on an iPhone.
The iPhone X’s display is great in that it’s so expansive, yet the phone itself isn’t too big (like the iPhone 8 Plus), but there is once again a plot twist: that irritating notch up there. You really can’t unsee the notch, and this in itself is a detriment to the viewing experience. The far bigger problem is that outside of Apple’s own apps, the vast majority of third-party applications out there aren’t optimized to utilize the full screen area on the iPhone X. This is surely going to change going forward, but for now, the experience is more than a little upsetting, because more often than not, the user it stuck with substantial black bars around the content, be it a game or video. Unoptimized apps that need to be viewed in landscape present the worst experience right now, because the phone not only surrounds them with black bars from left and right, but also clears some space under the app, in order to position the useless horizontal line – a reminder that you can swipe up to return to home at any time.Many of the most popular apps out there, like Facebook, or Instagram, or even some hit games like Super Mario Run have already been updated to take advantage of the 5.8” screen, but there’s a ton of content out there that is still giving us the black bars treatment, including high-profile apps like Gmail and Google Maps, for example. That’s one thing, but a whole other issue is the type of user experience you’ll get even after your favorite app or game has been optimized. Take YouTube, for example – a service you may be familiar with. By default, it launches videos with a generous amount of wasted, black space around them – you get close to zero benefit form the expansive screen of the X. You can then pinch-out your fingers on the screen to have the video maximize. At this point, the notch is now clearly visible on top of the video, with just a part of the rounded corners of the screen visible too. Overall, it all makes for a genuinely weird video shape.
It turns out, at least for now, the YouTube app developers haven’t found a more reasonable way of handling the iPhone X’s screen eccentricity. Will others find better workarounds in the future? Let’s hope they do! Or maybe Apple could just design its future phones so they don’t have this ridiculous notch.
DISPLAY SUMMARY: The new display is beautiful to look at, and the benefits of the OLED technology generally outweigh the negatives. The 5.8” diagonal is a great size, but the presence of the notch often means that you’re far from taking full advantage of it right now, be it for video, games, or regular apps.