Goodbye Home Button. Hello bigger and sharper screen.
The iPhone X debuted Friday, marking Apple’s first major redesign in years. Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers were in line at the crack of dawn to buy more than a dozen phones, which we put through several rapid tests to evaluate the model’s new features.
Based on those early impressions, the new iPhone makes good on Apple’s promise of delivering something bigger and better.
Despite the nearly all-glass body, the phone survived a few drop tests. We found the OLED screen to be bright, with deep blacks and accurate colors. And the new Face ID feature takes facial recognition to a new level with impressive results.
Here’s what our labs found out about the iPhone X on day one:
How It Works
The new handset jettisons the familiar home button, allowing Apple’s designers to expand the display while maintaining a profile only slightly bigger than the iPhone 8.
In fact, the iPhone X display is Apple’s largest phone screen ever. When measured diagonally, it clocks in at 5.8 inches, up from the 5.5-inch screen on the large-format 8 Plus.
There’s a noticeable notch at the top of the screen, which houses the Face ID camera. Apps such as Google Chrome add a bar at the top so the notch doesn’t cover up something important. Other apps such as YouTube give you the option of watching a video either full-screen, which forces you to overlook the notch, or window boxed, which reduces the image to the equivalent of a 4.9-inch screen. Neither option is ideal.
And, without the home button, you have to master new ways to control the phone. It’s fair to say there’s a learning curve, even for long-term iPhone users.
To return to the home screen from an app, for example, you swipe up. To switch between apps, you have to swipe halfway up the screen and pause. A card will appear on the screen to signal that you can swipe left or right and view which apps are open.
Apple also makes creative use of the X’s other buttons. Since you no longer have the home button to summon Siri, you now press the side button. Want to shut your phone down? Depress both the side button and the volume up button at the same time.
Apple’s Face ID feature is quick and easy to set up. You just hold the phone up and center your face inside a circle on the screen, then slowly move the phone around so the front-facing, depth-sensing camera can map your features. The phone takes you through this process twice. Each scan takes about 30 seconds.
After that, you’re good to go. To unlock the phone—or an app that would have required the fingerprint scanner on an older iPhone—you simply give the phone a quick look at your face. When the camera recognizes you, the little padlock graphic near the top of the screen opens and you’re free to begin swiping.
To get a better idea of Face ID’s capabilities, our testers put the application through a series of drills using a variety of lighting scenarios and three staffers with different skin tones.
Face ID rarely stumbled. It worked in lighting designed to simulate daylight, a typical living room, a dimly-lit restaurant, dim fluorescents, and complete darkness.
“Almost all the scenarios worked flawlessly,” says Richard Fisco, Consumer Reports’ head of smartphone testing.
In one instance where Face ID struggled, it was because the test subjects pulled a baseball cap down almost to their eyebrows, perhaps obscuring their features or foreheads. In another instance, they positioned the phone at angles to the left or right of their field of vision.
That means you may not be able to activate Face ID by, say, sneaking a peak at a phone held discreetly beneath a conference room table or while holding it off to the side while driving a car.
The OLED Screen
We had Consumer Reports’ in-house television expert Claudio Ciacci take a look at the iPhone X’s display, which employs the same OLED technology used in our top-rated TVs. To evaluate the screen’s performance, he compared it to the OLED displays on a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and an LG V30.
“They have the same attributes we’ve grown to love in OLED TVs,” he says.
Using a series of images and test patterns, he confirmed that the iPhone X screen has rich, deep black levels; accurate colors; and incredibly wide viewing angles. The differences were striking when compared to the traditional LCD screen on the iPhone 8.
The iPhone X performed slightly better than the Note 8 and the V30. The X’s screen was more accurate with colors and brighter, which brings out the highlights in photos.
“The images had a more vibrant presentation,” says Ciacci. “They popped more and the perceived detail was greater.”
To find out how tough the iPhone X’s glass design is, we subjected one of the models to a series of drop tests using a Drop Tower custom-designed by a CR lab technician.
A fixture on the vertical rail system holds the test phone at a precise angle, then lets the phone drop onto a concrete surface from a precise height. We configured the fixture to drop the iPhone X from a height of five feet onto its face, back, and two corners (one in the front and one in the back).
The iPhone X survived all four drops with just a few minor scrapes.
We then dropped a second phone onto the top edge from a height of three feet to check on the durability of the Face ID camera. We repeated that drill four more times, checking each time to see if we could unlock the phone. Though the coating on the glass appeared to be slightly delaminated, Face ID continued to work.
So Is the iPhone X Worth the Price?
With its starting price of $999, the iPhone X isn’t a purchase to take lightly. But it’s worth mentioning that the costs of high-end components—such as OLED displays and 4K video cameras—are pushing other phones, such as those made by Apple’s rival Samsung, closer to the $1,000 mark, too.
We’ll take a much closer look at the X’s camera, battery life and other unique features over the next week or two before we release our final verdict. But for fans of the Apple brand who crave the latest features and have the money to spend, the iPhone X, so far, looks like something to consider.