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 IPHONE HARDWARE REVIEW
Review: Three weeks with the iPhone X - what's it like for gamers?
All-screen gaming
 
 Handset: iPhone X 
 Manufacturer: Apple 
by Jon Mundy
The iPhone is ten years old. Haven't we come a long way in that time?

Well, kind of. While the iPhone has improved immeasurably in each core area, it's functionally the same device it's always been.

If you skipped straight from the original iPhone to the iPhone 8 (some upgrade cycle I know), you'd probably be able to use the newer phone without any assistance.

Which brings us to the iPhone X. This is arguably the biggest disruption to the iconic smartphone series since Steve Jobs first unveiled it.

But is that disruption for the better, and is it worth its unprecedented £1000 / $1000 price tag? What's more, has Apple's strive for innovation compromised the iPhone X as a gaming device?

Design

Three years on from the last meaningful design change to the iPhone series (the underwhelming but necessary iPhone 6), Apple has finally given us a phone that looks and feels new.

Beautifully so, in fact. The iPhone X's shiny stainless steel rim and all-glass back give the phone the air of an expensive ornament or piece of jewellery.

It's the front of the phone that's the true design talking point, though. The iPhone X's deceptively huge 5.8-inch display fills the front surface, stretching out into the corners so that there's only a narrow bezel between screen and rim. We're not quite talking about an all-screen device, as Apple calls it, but it's near enough.



There's a somewhat awkward-looking notch at the top that eats into the display a little more, which we'll discuss more in the following sections. From a pure design perspective, it's an undeniable compromise, but practically speaking you'll quickly accept its presence.

More importantly, Apple's all-screen approach means that for the first time ever there's no room for the iconic iPhone home button. This is much more than just a cosmetic decision, with a number of considerable knock-on effects to the way the iPhone X is used.

One related physical change is an elongated wake/sleep button. It needs to be easier to find and use because the side button now initiates Apple Pay payments, app downloads, and Siri.

Everything else, like returning home within apps and bringing up the app switching menu, is done with upwards and sideways swipes from the bottom of that big old screen. I've found the new system to be pretty instinctive, but others have taken a while to adapt.

Features

Another major function that used to be fulfilled by that now-missing home button was Touch ID, Apple's influential fingerprint authentication system.

Rather than shift it around the back or onto the side of the iPhone X, as many Android manufacturers have opted to do, Apple has scrapped Touch ID altogether. In its place comes Face ID, which is where that unusual notch justifies its existence.

This is the TrueDepth camera, an array of sensors that work together to scan and read your face. It turns out that your mug is unique enough to function as a biometric authentication method, and it's said to be even more secure than Touch ID.



Just as importantly, it actually works. All you need to do is pick up your iPhone X and swipe up, and you'll gain access to your homescreen. That's how quickly and reliably Face ID works - most of the time.

It can struggle if you're not looking straight at the phone, or in the morning when your eyes aren't fully open. It can also falter in particularly strong light. Apart from a slight stutter when entering the home screen, though, I found Face ID to be very smooth, to the point where I forgot I was even using it.

Another new feature here is wireless charging. The iPhone X's glass back might make the phone more fragile, but it also lets you make use of the third party Qi standard to juice up your iPhone X without plugging it in.

Screen & Sound

We've talked about how the iPhone X is virtually 'all-screen,' so it's more important than ever that this screen is a good one. It is. Oh my, it is.

Apple has finally switched to OLED technology after ten years of LCD, and as first efforts go (if you don't count the Apple Watch or the MacBook Touch Bar) it's a bit of a stunner.

This display is punchy and sharp, with excellent colour accuracy and decent brightness. I really can't fault it.



Apple's True Tone system changes the warmth of the screen's colours according to ambient lighting. If you find that distracting, it's possible to turn it off.

In fact, the only issue you might justifiably have with the iPhone X display is the effect of those rounded corners and that notch, which eats into traditional media content when viewed fullscreen.

It can be distracting at first, but you do grow accustomed to it - and with video content you can bring things in to a more traditional rectangular view, if you don't mind a little empty screen space.

Gaming & Performance

I'm completely sold on the iPhone X as a phone, but I retain a slight doubt about it as a gaming device. While that one doubt is diminishing by the day, £1000 is a hefty price to pay for a work in progress.

It comes back to that unorthodox display. I'm slowly growing accustomed to the way the curved corners and the notch overlap media content, but it's undoubtedly harder to get your head around with landscape games than it is with portrait games.

Super Mario Run, Beat Street and Pktball are absolute treats on that vibrant, stretched out screen. In fact, I'd say that such games are the best they've ever been here.

It's possible that the iPhone 8 Plus is a better fit for landscape games, however. Not only do you get the whole picture with no distractions, but almost every single game on the App Store is fully optimised for it. That just isn't the case right now with the iPhone X and its unique 19.5:9 aspect ratio.



Having said that, those games that are properly optimised are undeniably more immersive on the iPhone X. GRID Autosport looks and feels stunning in high-contrast super widescreen.

Codemasters's hefty system hog runs spectacularly well on the iPhone X, too. That's thanks to its A11 Bionic CPU - the very same chip that you'll find in the iPhone 8 family. This is as powerful as mobile silicone gets right now, and no game over the next few years is even going to approach the limits of what it can do.

A pair of loud stereo speakers also helps the iPhone X as a gaming device. It's a shame only one of them is front facing, but hey ho.

Also helpful with games is a highly nuanced vibration motor, which can be used to great effect when a developer is so inclined. Ditto for the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch display.

Of course, those last three elements are also present in the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

Camera & Battery Life

The iPhone X camera is predictably excellent. It may or may not be the best smartphone camera on the market (Google's Pixel 2 is pretty great) but that doesn't particularly matter. All you need to know is that it takes really good pictures in strong to moderate lighting conditions.

It's a two-camera set-up, similar to the Plus series. The primary camera has an f/1.8 wide angle lens and OIS, which is identical to the one in the iPhone 8 family. The secondary telephoto lens stands apart from the iPhone 8 Plus equivalent, though, with a wider f/2.4 aperture and OIS to steady things out.

What this translates to is better quality zoomed-in shots than any other iPhone - especially in lower lighting conditions.



This second camera also enables Portrait mode, which accentuates the subject by blurring out the background. New this time around is Portrait Lighting, which lets you edit the type of lighting effect in these Portrait shots with some fancy professional settings.

In day to day usage, this means that you can create some really great close-up shots of people with the iPhone X - the kind of snaps you'd happily have printed off and framed.

I can't complain about the iPhone X's battery life either. Its 2716 mAh unit invariably lasts me through a full day of usage, even when I've been on a gaming binge or have taken loads of pictures. If I've had a quiet one it can often stretch all the way through a second day.

Conclusion

Apple has finally came out of its shell and created a new smartphone design with the iPhone X, and any sense of risk has paid off.

This is a beautiful phone with arguably the best display in the business, a top quality camera, and performance that's unmatched outside of the current iPhone family. Face ID is a total triumph, and the lack of a home button isn't anything like the painful transition you might be expecting.

It isn't the perfect gaming phone right now, though. While it's a beautiful canvass for any game, that unorthodox display requires proper optimisation to get the best out of it - and many developers simply haven't bothered to do so just yet.

In six months to a year things should be significantly different, but if gaming is a primary concern then £1000 is a lot to spend on a device that might not reach its full app potential until it's been superseded.

The iPhone X is without question the best iPhone ever made, and it's arguably the best smartphone on the market. But die-hard pocket gamers might want to weigh up the pros and cons of the slightly cheaper, significantly less cutting edge, but more game-friendly iPhone 8 Plus.
 

Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy 30 November 2017
A stunning design and a beautiful screen mean the iPhone X is the best yet, but its high price and unorthodox display make things awkward for gamers
  REVIEW: THREE WEEKS WITH THE IPHONE X - WHAT'S IT LIKE FOR GAMERS?
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 [READERS' RATING] N/A 
Specs Size143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm
Weight174g
Battery2716 mAh
CPUA11 Bionic
Memory64GB/128GB
Screen5.8-inch Super Retina OLED
SoundStereo speakers, no headphone jack
Other featuresFace ID, wireless charging, 3D Touch
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