Review: The iPhone X is the best phone for business, period.

Review: The iPhone X is the best phone for business, period.

Ten years ago, the original iPhone ushered in a new world for mobile computing and sparked the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement at work. Soon after it arrived, iPhones were showing up everywhere in the office, forcing companies to quickly scramble to figure out how to manage them.

iPhone X Michael DeAgonia

The iPhone X, with its distinctive "notch" at the top and the inky blacks of an OLED display.

That sleek (and deceptively simple) device not only debuted a new touchscreen that would radically change how people interact with technology, it also shook up carrier control, set a new target for Apple’s competitors to aim for and created a platform for countless mobile app developers. Oh, and it eventually gave birth to a highly successful tablet boom with the iPad.

This September, the iPhone was reborn as the iPhone X, something Apple CEO Tim Cook said would set the scene for the next decade of iPhone development. The newest device, which arrived Nov. 3, marks a return to a simpler form and serves as a showcase for cutting-edge technology.

As such, it’s the best iPhone you can get, it's almost certainly the best smartphone on the market today, and it’s the one best suited for business. But with a starting price of $999, it’s expensive, which give companies pause if they’re in the habit of providing iPhones for some of their employees.

The role of iOS 11

No mobile device is an island. Hardware is just half of the equation; the other half is software. With that in mind, the most important thing to remember about the iPhone X (and the also-new iPhone 8 and 8+) is that they all run iOS 11, the most secure mobile OS available.

Smartphones carry everything from sensitive corporate data and communications to financial info, contact details for clients, access to servers and cloud storage, web browser history, photos, videos, company tools and more. So it’s important that all this data be kept private and secure. Out of the box, iOS 11 does that; Apple has made privacy and data security a priority, and it shows. Device encryption, end-to-end secure Messaging, FaceTime and iCloud sync encryption are all part of the package, which Apple spells out in detail.

Thanks to BYOD, IT admins now have a variety of EMM and MDM app suites available to lock down iPhones even more – and the reassurance that apps available from Apple’s App Store have been vetted for quality and are free of misbehaving and security-compromising flaws. Those measures have helped create a thriving ecosystem of devices and services for just about any workplace environment, workflow or individual need.

(Apple details its security efforts in this PDF. And it offers info about device deployment, enterprise app integration, and device management at scale.)

What makes the iPhone X the best phone for business is iOS 11 and the aforementioned security, privacy, and accessibility features. What makes the iPhone X the best smartphone in general is the amount of technology Apple has managed to pack into it.

What’s new in the iPhone X?

The iPhone X, which weighs 6.14 oz. and slots in between the iPhone 8 and 8+ in terms of size,  gets a wealth of new technologies in a less-familiar form factor. It’s unfamiliar because the all-display X eliminates the iconic Home button, effectively replacing it with several new on-screen gestures that users will need to learn to navigate to the home screen and between apps. (The gestures quickly become second nature.)

Apple iPhone X  - Gestures [01] Apple

The new OLED display reaches right to the edge on all sides except at the top and is framed by a stainless steel band. Silver models get a mirror-shine stainless steel band; the Space Gray models are wrapped in a dark band color-matched to the rear of the device. The back panels are an intentionally minimal silvery white or dark gray beneath a sheet of glass that some users find slippery. Other than the Apple logo and the iPhone name, the only thing else is the protruding bump for the dual camera lenses and True Tone flash.

As before, the iPhone has a mute switch plus volume up/down on the left side and a sleep/wake button on the right side (which is actually a little longer this year). The removal of the Home button means that the Sleep/Wake button picks up new tasks. Tapping it will wake or sleep the display, as before, but holding the button down invokes Siri. A double-tap brings up Apple Pay authentication. And holding down this button as well as any of the volume buttons (in effect “squeezing” the iPhone X) invokes three options: Slide to power off, Medical ID, or Emergency SOS. It also disables Face ID, requiring you to use your password to access the phone before Face ID will work again.

With the Home button — and the fingerprint-based Touch ID — gone, Apple has turned to Face ID for authentication. Face ID relies on some of the most advanced tech on the market and is the future of authentication for Apple products. (There are already rumors that it will be included in upcoming iPads next year.)

Using Face ID

Face ID is a deceptively simple facial recognition system enabled by the True Depth camera setup hidden in the much-discussed notch at the top of the screen. To authenticate, you don’t do anything you weren’t already doing: just look at the display. It’s almost instant, and there’s no other action necessary. It’s a much more passive system than Touch ID — which is still in use on the iPhone 8 and 8+.  

The Face ID system can’t be fooled by photos, and shouldn’t be susceptible to being spoofed by masks. According to Apple, Face ID has a one-in-1-million fail rate — 20 times better than Touch ID. The setup process, done when you first use the phone, is quick and easy — less complicated even than setting up fingerprints for Touch ID.

Though Face ID is theoretically more secure than Touch ID, it didn’t take long for people with similar-looking friends and family — as well as mask-makers with a 3D scanner/printer — to defeat it. In the two weeks I’ve had my iPhone X, nobody else has been able to get into it; clearly, your results may vary. 

Note: You get only five unsuccessful match attempts before you'll need to use your passcode to unlock the phone. Keep that in mind when showing off Face ID to co-workers.)

IT departments should pay close attention to this, since Face ID is used not just to log into the phone, but to authenticate payments, transactions, and purchases and even access passwords. If it ultimately proves to be vulnerable to exploits, companies can (and should) set a policy to disable the feature and make sure they’re using strong passwords. (Complex passwords should be part of corporate security policies either way.)

Touch ID encouraged the creation of strong passwords because it wasn’t necessary to type out that password each time; a touch of the finger on the Home button was enough. As a result, I used passwords and lockouts everywhere I could, keeping my iPhone 7+ a bit more secure.

Face ID settings Ken Mingis

Face ID, Apple's new facial recognition system for authentication, can be used in a variety of ways for better security.

Because Face ID requires even less effort than Touch ID, it’s enabled me to make my phone more secure. For example, I’ve been able to better lock down access to features like Siri, home control and the Control Center when my iPhone X is locked. (These changes can be made in the Face ID and Passcode section of the Settings app.)

Basically, I turned off access to all of the features when my phone is locked. Now, no stranger can use Siri to make phone calls from the Lock Screen, or see what my notifications say, or even invoke the Control Center. But I can, because Face ID authenticates at a glance when I look at the phone. That means I — and only I — can access these functions from the Lock screen. This is a security step IT admins should consider when provisioning devices.

Face ID is a revelation, and a real technological leap forward. For the sake of convenience, I hope it proves to be as reliable and secure as Apple thinks it is.

The best OLED display ever

The other hallmark feature of the iPhone X is its new 5.8-in. OLED display. Put simply: this is the best display I’ve ever used, and certainly the best display on any iPhone ever released. With earlier iPhones, animations and content felt like they sat behind a glass surface; the iPhone X’s display makes content look impossibly close to the surface, so much so it’s mind-blowing. It feels like a real-life visual effect.

The OLED screen is a capacitive multitouch display with a resolution of 1125 x 2436 pixels. It’s the densest pixel cluster of any Apple product to date, at 458 pixels per inch. (For comparison purposes, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ OLED screens offer 570 ppi and 529 ppi, respectively.) The iPhone X's Wide color display (P3) is Dolby Vision and HDR10 compliant, which means colors are vivid and sharp, while still offering more subtle hues for rich detail in photos, video and on-screen elements without over- or under-saturation. This results in more true-to-life color reproduction, with super deep blacks. (Tech specs for this display indicate a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.)

The black level is one of the things that makes OLED screens unique. Each pixel is either on, showing color, or off, showing black. The contrast is obvious when comparing the iPhone X display to a non-OLED screen. Even when it’s displaying “black,” an LCD screen is showing some minimal amount of light because the backlight is always on.

LCD vs OLED iPhone displays Michael DeAgonia

Though it's subtle, the iPhone 7+ (left) still shows some on-screen light when displaying a black image. The iPhone X (right) with an OLED display, shows true black.

Apple is clearly focused on how the new display looks. Every iPhone X panel is calibrated at the factory to Apple specifications — something not done on other phones — resulting in consistent viewing experiences for iPhone X users; what you see on one iPhone X is exactly what you’ll see on another.

DisplayMate ran the iPhone X’s Super Retina display through a bank of tests and concluded: “Based on our extensive lab tests and measurements, the iPhone X becomes the Best Performing Smartphone Display that we have ever tested, earning DisplayMate’s highest ever A+ grade. The iPhone X is an impressive display with close to Text Book Perfect Calibration and Performance.”

The display is packed with technology designed to make staring at it easier on the eyes, including True Tone, Night Shift (for night-time use), the 120Hz touch layer (for incredibly smooth reaction to screen presses and gestures), and technology to minimize long-term burn-in — something all OLED screens are susceptible to.

iPhone X home screen Ken Mingis

The iPhone X's OLED display got an A+ rating from DisplayMate for its color calibration and performance.

True Tone uses a built-in six-channel ambient light sensor to adjust the white balance of the display, based on the determined color temperature of the light in the room. This is to emulate the characteristics of a sheet of paper, helping to reduce eye strain. Night Shift changes the display’s white point at sunset (by default) and resets it to normal at sunrise. (You can set a custom schedule or disable this entirely.) This is to reduce the amount of blue light your eyes absorb, which could, ultimately, affect your sleep cycle.

One issue with the iPhone X’s display that I did notice is that there is a slight color shift when its viewed at angles. That surprised me. Previous iPhones with TFT LCDs had perfected color consistency at angles; the X has a noticeable shift. DisplayMate says that the iPhone X’s display has the smallest brightness variation at a viewing angle for an OLED; I’ll take their word for it. Even so, the display is gorgeous. 

One improvement I hope to see in a future iPhone is a 120Hz refresh rate for the display. Currently, the touch sensor ramps to 120Hz, leading to smooth animations at 60fps. But text still blurs when scrolling through documents or web articles because screen refresh rate is still 60Hz. Doubling that would allow for readable text when scrolling. 

Apple already has this technology on the iPads; it’s called Pro Motion, and scrolling through text on that device allows text to remain legible. The next iPhone needs this. 

The A11 chip: Performance to match the display

This year’s iPhones use Apple’s custom six-core 64-bit A11 “Bionic” chipset, with an M11 motion coprocessor (for tracking sensor measurements and for constant listening for the “Hey Siri” trigger) and a new Neural engine. The Neural engine is a dedicated component specifically designed for processing machine-learning calculations, such as identifying objects, places and people in pictures. It also powers Face ID and Animoji and contains the Secure Enclave. The Secure Enclave is an encrypted portion of the chipset dedicated to storing depth map and infrared image data specifically for Face ID authentication. That allows all biometric data used in the system to remain only on the device.

The A11 Bionic chipset has four high-efficiency cores running 70% faster than the ones in iPhone 7 series and two high-performance cores that are 25% faster than the iPhone 7. Unlike the A10 chip, which could use either the high-efficiency cores or the high-powered cores at a time, the A11 can use all six cores at the same time when apps need more processing power.

The Bionic chipset also includes the first Apple-designed GPU, which is up to 30% faster than previous generations. It’s tuned for Metal 2 and Core ML, yielding better graphics response times.

How powerful is the A11 Bionic? In some cases, benchmarks have it on par with Intel’s Core i5-7267U, the CPU found in the 13-in. MacBook Pro. In real world use, the iPhone X is extremely responsive, but it’s not just because of the faster six-core design. It’s because Apple writes its own software and it can be optimized to take advantage of the custom hardware. For instance, when you’re taking photos, images are analyzed instantaneously for better results with less noise. And for Face ID (or the Animojis), the Neural engine calculates image processing for people/object/location detection.

That’s 600 billion operations per second that the main CPU-cores don’t have to process, freeing them up for other tasks. The six-core chipset uses built-in iOS technologies to determine which cores — some or all of them — should be used, depending on the task at hand. These kinds of device-specific customizations are the result of years of work by Apple’s hardware and software groups. Working together, they can boost efficiency and offer performance that doesn’t come at the expense of battery life.

Qi-based wireless charging

While not specific to the iPhone X — the iPhone 8 and 8+ have it, too — wireless charging represents another step into the future by Apple. The Qi-based system requires little more than a wireless charging base, which are available at a range of prices. (Apple showcases two such chargers: one from Mophie, one from Belkin, both on the higher-priced end of the spectrum. It also plans to release its own charging pad in 2018.)

iPhone 8 wireless charging with RavPower IDG/Ken Mingis

An iPhone 8 being charged atop a wireless charger from RavPower, which can transmit up to 7.5W of power.

Wireless charging has been available in some Android phones for several years, so Apple is tardy to this particular technology. But it does offer a new level of convenience and comes at a time when wireless charging plates are even being included in some new cars and found in public locations like airports and restaurants.

Though the Qi-based system allows for up to 15 watts of wireless charging, the iPhones can only be charged at 5W. That will rise to 7.5W when iOS 11.2 rolls out. This will give you a little more juice (literally, a few extra percentage points) compared to charging the same phone running iOS 11.1. Until this technology evolves, the Lightning connector isn’t going anywhere; despite the convenience wireless charging brings, data transfers and battery charging are still much faster when the iPhone is physically plugged in.

Better cameras, front and back

iPhone users can always depend on Apple delivering a camera system capable of taking great shots, and this year is no different. The iPhone X comes with 12-megapixel wide-angle and telephoto lenses, with 1.8 and 2.4 f-stops, respectively, as well as dual image stabilization. This results in better, sharper low-light shots and smoother videos.

landscape image with iPhone X camera Ken Mingis

A photo taken with the iPhone X's rear camera, a 12mp setup with two lenses and dual image stabilization.

The front camera has received an upgrade, as well, and now features the True Depth camera system for Face ID and Animojis. Both camera systems use the built-in hardware to identify depth in images, which can be used for a more advanced Portrait mode with Lighting effects. The results simulate DSL depth-of-field shots, and the lighting effect filters are capable of producing great shots — and not-so-great shots. (Depth data is saved so Portrait and Lighting modes can be edited or removed post-shot.)

As for video, the cameras can now shoot up to 60fps 4K video, as well as slow-motion footage at 240fps at 1080p. Just remember that the camera will deliver better results in these cases with lots of light, especially for slow-motion video.

The high-resolution cameras aren’t used only for taking photos, augmented reality, scanning QR codes or making Animojis. Using the built-in Notes app, it’s possible to “import” documents into your iPhone. Let’s say you need to sign a document and deliver it to someone; you can do that instantly by using Notes to scan the document, Markup to sign the areas that need signing, and then email to send the results to the recipient.

Final thoughts

When looking at the wealth of smartphone options now available on the market in either the IOS or Android ecosystems, there are many factors to consider, including reliability, security, hardware quality and longevity, software support (both feature-specific and security-related), management and deployment, as well as the availability of third-party hardware and software support.

With the iPhone X — assuming you’re already part of the Apple ecosystem — the biggest factor may be cost. Though the 64GB model just squeezes in under the $1,000 mark, the 256GB model will cost $1,149. Add in another $199 for Apple Care, which you really should buy given the cost of repairs. (Most smart companies do this as part of the buying process already.)

Add it all up, and that’s $1,348 for the top-end iPhone X, before taxes.

For that admittedly high price, you get the latest technology, whether it’s more convenient authentication with Face ID, a top-notch OLED screen, markedly improved cameras, Qi-based wireless charging, and a host of less-obvious features tied to iOS 11 — including an unmatched privacy policy and years of consistent feature and security updates.

The technologies introduced in this model are truly significant, and will make their way into future iPhones as well as influence and affect other Apple products, including the iPad and Mac line. Because that’s what the iPhone X is: the first part of the next evolution of the iPhone design.

It’s quite clearly the best smartphone on the market.

IDG Insider

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