Should you upgrade to the oh-so-expensive iPhone X, settle for the cheaper but less exciting iPhone 8, or stick with what you have? Here we run through what's new this year and what's different between the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and older iPhones like the iPhone 7.
How do the new iPhones look different?
The iPhone X has a dramatically different look to other iPhones. It follows in the footsteps of the Essential Phone and the Samsung Galaxy S8 by increasing its screen-to-body ratio. By slimming down the bezels and removing the home button (a staple of the iPhone since the original launched in 2007), Apple has crammed a 5.8-inch OLED display into a smaller body than the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus. There is, however, a love-it-or-hate it indent in the top of the display to make room for the front-facing camera and array of sensors that include an IR camera, "Dot Projector," and "Flood Illumination."
Apple has also replaced the aluminium frame used since the iPhone 6 with a glass back, while retaining the comfortable curved edges, which are now made of a "medical grade" stainless steel on the iPhone X. Despite Apple's claims that the "glass is the most durable ever in a smartphone," glass is a fragile material, meaning that not only do you have to contend with potentially cracking your display when you drop your phone, but also the rear too. If you're particularly clumsy, investing in a case—official or otherwise—is advised. Or, consider sticking with your existing iPhone.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus look near identical to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus at first glance—which in turn look just like the iPhone 6—sporting chunky bezels and a home button/fingerprint reader. If you're coming from an iPhone 5S, the iPhone 8 design with its larger display is a big step up, but those with an iPhone 6 or newer may struggle to see the upgrade from a design point of view. It's also worth noting that Apple has added a glass back to the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, making it more fragile than its predecessors.
How big is the iPhone X compared to other phones?
We get it. Some people are very attached to the diminutive, easy-to-use-in-one-hand dimensions of the iPhone 7 and co. The good news is the 'no bezel' design means the iPhone X is closer to the iPhone 8 than the Plus, despite its large screen, as the below comparison from Apple shows.
In numbers, the iPhone X is just 5.2mm taller than an iPhone 8, but the iPhone 8 Plus is a considerable 14.8mm taller than the iPhone X. The iPhone X is also about the same size as a Samsung Galaxy S8, so if you don't mind how it feels in your hand then you'll be fine with the iPhone X.
How does the iPhone X work without a home button?
Using swipes. So, for example, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen on the iPhone X to go back to the homescreen just like the example below.
To get to the Control Center you swipe down from the top of the screen on the left side; swiping down from the right side opens your notifications. They're small changes, so they shouldn't be too difficult to learn. TouchID, which was built into the home button, has been replaced by FaceID on the iPhone X but TouchID remains on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.
What the heck is FaceID?
Since Apple has removed the home button from the iPhone X and with it the fingerprint sensor, it's had to come up with a replacement. Enter FaceID, a facial-recognition security system that allows you to unlock your phone with your face. Unlike Samsung's take on the concept, which debuted in the Galaxy Note 7, FaceID uses the iPhone X's new depth sensing camera to verify your features, meaning it can't be fooled with a photo in the same way Samsung's system can.
It works by using a "Flood Illuminator" (which appears to be a fancy name for a light) to provide enough light for an infrared camera and "Dot Projector" to fire "30,000 invisible IR dots" at your face. The IR image and dot pattern are then pushed through neural networks to create a mathematical model of your face, which is then compared to a stored 3D model. The facial information is protected by same "secure enclave" used by TouchID, while data processing is done on-device instead of the cloud. Apple claims its tech is so good that FaceID will work in the dark and if you decide to do something like grow a bead, wear glasses, or take up the fine art of hat wearing.
While a fine idea on paper, it remains to be seen whether FaceID can live up to Apple's promises (that FaceID failed in Apple's live demo isn't exactly a good sign). Besides which, there's little about FaceID that makes it an upgrade over TouchID—it's more of a replacement and a questionable one at that. Since the iPhone 8 and iPhone Plus lack the iPhone X's 3D camera, they don't support FaceID, but stick with a fingerprint reader instead.
The iPhone X has an OLED screen, should I care?
While Samsung has been using OLED displays in its devices for years, the iPhone X is the first Apple phone to do so. The IPS LED displays Apple typically uses are very good, but OLED technology allows for richer colours and deeper blacks, thanks the ability to turn each individual pixel on or off when needed.
Whether or not you prefer the more vivid image of an OLED display compared the an IPS display is largely down to personal preference. However, the display is technically sharper with a 2436x1125 pixel resolution at 458 PPI (the iPhone 8 Plus has a mere 1080p display), while also supporting Dolby Vision and HDR10 content.
What may help sway you is the elongated aspect ratio of the iPhone X. While direct comparisons to the more traditional 16:9 widescreen displays of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 Plus are difficult, you're able to read more lines of text inside apps without additional scrolling on the iPhone X's elongated screen. The slimmer profile also makes the iPhone X more comfortable to use with one hand, while still sporting a bigger display than the iPhone 7. You do, however, have to put up with vertical black bars around 16:9 video content (i.e. most video).
The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus have the exact same screen sizes and resolutions Apple has used since the iPhone 6. Any other year, Apple would be calling them the iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus. Both the iPhone X and iPhone 8 and 8 Plus support Apple's "True Tone" tech, which recalibrates the white balance of the display on-the-fly, depending on ambient lighting conditions, but isn't a huge selling point.
On balance, OLED is a nice upgrade mainly thanks to the fantastic contrast of OLED screens, which is great for videos and photos. There's a reason everyone wants an OLED TV these days, so it's good news Apple has made the switch even if it's late to the game.
Are the new iPhones faster?
The iPhone X and iPhone 8 have a new six-core A11 system-on-a-chip (SoC), made up of four low-power core and two performance cores, which is built on a 10nm FinFET manufacturing process instead of the 16nm process of the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7. By shrinking the process, Apple can pack more transistors into a smaller space, boosting performance and battery life. Apple claims the iPhone X lasts two hours longer on a charge than the iPhone 7, while also coming in 25 percent faster on the performance cores and 75 percent faster on the energy efficient cores.
Meanwhile, Apple has designed its own Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) for the A11 SoC, breaking its ties with Imagination Technologies. That too is faster, although, both it and the faster processor will be most noticeable in content creation apps and games. If all you do is flick through Facebook and snap photos, you're unlikely to notice the difference over the likes of the iPhone 7, or even iPhone 6S.
Surprisingly, both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have the same A11 SoC as the iPhone X. However, the A11 remains a tough sell if you're an iPhone 7 user if you're into new features, since general usability is likely to remain the same. iPhone 6S users can hold fire too.
However, those still using the iPhone 5S, 5C, or iPhone 6 may notice a significant boost in app loading times and responsiveness with the latest phones. It's also worth noting that iOS 11, the latest and greatest version of the iPhone software, is only being made available to iPhone 5S devices or newer. If you're still holding onto an iPhone 5, now's the time to upgrade.
What's so great about iOS 11?
Many of the new features Apple announced at its September 12 event are part of iOS 11, rather than tied to new hardware. Person-to-person payments via Apple Pay; an improved lock screen, Notification Center and Control Center; improved video compression via the HEVC codec; more detailed Apple Maps; Do Not Disturb while driving; a dedicated file management app; FLAC support; screenshot editing; animated GIFs; and screen recording, to name but a few, are available on all iOS 11 compatible devices.
Security has been upgraded too. Researchers and forensic analysts with access to iOS 11 report that it's harder to extract data from devices without its six-digit passcode. In addition to requiring a pin when pairing a new PC or Mac for backups, there's a new S.O.S mode that launches a lock screen with options to make an emergency call or display emergency medical information. Crucially, it also silently disables TouchID and the new FaceID feature.
Are there any features I might miss?
Thanks to their glass backs, the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X support wireless charging via the QI standard. If you've got a range of wireless charging mats and gizmos already, it's a neat feature, but note that charging wirelessly takes longer than using a cable. If you don't have any wireless charging accessories, Apple will gladly sell you one of its own wireless charging mats called AirPower, which has the unique ability to charge more than one device at once, although there are plenty on Amazon that will do that job. Also note that like the iPhone 7, neither the iPhone X or iPhone 8 have a headphone jack.
iPhone 8/8 Plus Specs
Most of the best new features are reserved for the iPhone X. One such feature is Animoji, 3D emoji that created via your facial expressions and voice. You can pick from most non-human emoji (fingers crossed this works with the poop) and use the iPhone X's 3D camera to map your eye, mouth and cheek expressions to that character in real time and send them via iMessage. Animoji is perhaps more of a novelty than it is something you'll use in the long-term, but it's a surprisingly fun novelty for a typically conservative Apple.
Apple is also pushing augmented reality hard with its new phones, although it didn't exactly sell it well during the keynote. There are Snapchat-like overlays; a new that lets you battle over real-world locations; a baseball app that overlays info when you point your phone's camera at a live game; and Skyguide, which Superimposes celestial information when you point your phone's camera at the sky. Apple also demoed a real-time strategy game during its keynote that allows players to walk around a battlefield superimposed onto a nearby surface, although it's hard to see how that's any better than a typical RTS, which lets you navigate with as much freedom via the accuracy of the mouse.
Will the iPhone X and iPhone 8 take better photos?
The iPhone X, iPhone 8, and iPhone Plus have similar 12MP, dual camera setups to iPhone 7 Plus, although the iPhone X has a superior f/2.4 aperture on its telephoto lens. Since one lens has a wider field of view than the other it allows for true optical zooming, as well as depth-of-field effects. If you're coming from an iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus, there are some improvements in picture quality due to improved optics and Apple's hardware processing, but if you weren't convinced by their inclusion in the iPhone 7, the iPhone 8 is unlikely to push you towards a purchase.
The front-facing camera of the iPhone X has been given a boost via "Portrait Lighting," which uses the 3D sensor to create a depth map and machine learning to change lighting across subject's face in real-time, even after you've taken the photo. The result is more akin to adding a light to the scene, rather than simply applying a filter, at least if Apple's demo is anything to go by.
While the iPhone X can also record 4K video at 60 frames per second, or slow-motion 240FPS video at 1080p. That's in addition to the exclusive augmented reality features. If you're happy with 1080p video, upgrading to the iPhone X just for 4K/60FPS recording and some extra augmented reality features is a tough sell, particularly since still photography should be largely the same.
Should I upgrade?
If you can stomach the £1000/$1000 starting price, the iPhone X has a strikingly different design. Not since the iPhone 4 has Apple so dramatically overhauled its flagship device. The near bezel-free display, super-fast processor and 4K/60FPS video recording make it a huge upgrade for anyone still using an iPhone 5, 5S, or 6. The augmented reality features are a neat too, even if it's not entirely clear what Apple's plans are for the tech in the long run.
If you'd rather not spend so much money, the iPhone 8 remains a compelling option, particularly for iPhone 5 and 5S users. Not only do the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus feature larger displays, but their cameras and general responsiveness are far superior. Still photos will be just as good on the iPhone 8 as they are on the iPhone X too. Yes, you don't get to sport the latest iPhone design, but the iPhone 8 ranks high in terms of pure practicality and value (at least compared to the iPhone X).
The upgrade path for those coming from an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus is less clear. Neither the iPhone 8 or the iPhone X appear to bring a huge improvement in photography, while 4K/60FPS video recording alone isn't worth the price of admission. Only the iPhone X with its new design and augmented reality features is compelling enough to iPhone 7 owners, outrageous price tag notwithstanding.
Either way, it's worth waiting for the WIRED review before taking the plunge.