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Dial It Up To 10

The iPhone X gives Apple's handset portfolio the big leap forward, much needed to compete with the hugely improved Android competition

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It's possibly the most anticipated smartphone in the past decade, a complete reimagining of what it means for an iPhone to be an iPhone. This is the iPhone with the ‘X’ factor…just as long as you don't call it that. The iPhone X (pronounced ‘ten’, not ‘ex’) gives Apple’s handset portfolio the big leap forward they needed to compete against the hugely improved Android competition, and finally gives iPhone owners a reason to show off their phones again.

It starts with the all new, edge-to-edge 5.8-inch display that is not only bright and punchy as OLED displays tend to be, but leagues ahead of displays on current flagships, besting even Samsung’s Note series on colour accuracy and brightness. The narrower 19.5:9 aspect ratio coupled with the negligible side bezels gives the X an ease of one-handed use you wouldn't associate with the 5.5-inch display iPhone 8 Plus. Plus, this makes the X closer in size to the iPhone 8, without compromising on the large screen canvas one rightfully expects from a modern flagship.  Crucially, for a phone that starts at nearly one-lakh rupees, the iPhone X looks and feels the part with the chrome frame and the premium heft in the hand.

Yet, as top-notch as this display is, there is the small matter of the notch on the top of the screen that houses the front camera and a host of sensors. It’s certainly noticeable to begin with, but if you use a lot of the first party apps or those optimised for the iPhone X, it starts to blend into the background over a few days of use until you stop noticing it’s there. It’s in landscape mode where the notch poses an issue for many apps, with many games and video apps opting to ignore it altogether leading to content that’s cut off behind the notch.

The other thing you notice almost immediately is the lack of a home button and the trusty Touch ID fingerprint sensor. While the former is handled by a set of intuitive swipe gestures, it’s Apple’s approach to biometric security that is arguably the biggest tech advancement in the X. With no fingerprint sensor, Apple relies solely on a 3D map of your face to authenticate you before it unlocks your phone.  In the two weeks I’ve used Face ID, I’ve gone from skeptic to believer — for the most part, it’s worked flawlessly, recognising my face through sunglasses, when I’ve picked it up in a dark room or while I’ve been on the move. It won’t unlock if its lying on the table or if I’m looking elsewhere, but these annoyances are minor compared to how frictionless it’s made the entire experience.

Under the hood is the same A11 Bionic chip that powers the iPhones 8, and performance is snappy and fluid, even when it comes to running demanding games and augmented reality apps. Battery life is a tad lower than the Plus variant but still lasts a whole day, though I do wish Apple had included the fast charger in the box. With 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, the X comes highly recommended to mobile videographers and amateur Spielbergs. Stills score high on colour accuracy and detail, but when it comes to low light photography — the Achilles Heel of smartphones — Google’s Pixels edge ahead.

As complete packages go, the iPhone X impresses and lines up alongside the S8 and the Pixel 2 series as one of the most exciting phones of 2017. Make all the kidney jokes you want, but if you can afford to buy the iPhone X, it’s well worth the price of admission.  

[email protected];  @2shar

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double bonanza

G oogle’s Pixel smartphones were undoubtedly among the best Android phones to have launched last year, and what they lacked in design and good looks, they more than made up for in camera and software experience. With the second-gen Pixels — the Pixel 2 and the larger Pixel 2 XL — Google not only follows up with a solid sequel but in some ways, shows the bigger smartphone players a thing or two about how to marry great software and hardware to make a phone truly sing.

Pick up both devices and you’ll see the gradual refinement of the original Pixel design — with the aluminum unibody design and the distinctive dual-tone rear. It’s up front where the biggest difference lies — while the Pixel 2 XL has been given the 2017-spec thin-bezel treatment, the Pixel 2 surprisingly hasn't, and it looks dated — almost as if Google didn't want you to consider this flagship seriously in the company of its peers. So, you get two similarly sized phones, with one sporting a standard 5-inch full HD OLED display and the other a tall 6-inch Quad HD+ pOLED display. Which brings me to the elephant in the room — while the Pixel 2’s display is a joy to look at and use, there were many complaints around muted colours and a marked blue tint (when viewed off-center) on the larger XL’s display. Google pushed out a software update during my review which addressed these issues somewhat, but there’s no two ways about it — the display on the Pixel 2 XL simply isn’t as good as those on other flagships.

What the Pixel 2 family has in common, is where both excel. Performance, for instance.  Both are powered by Qualcomm’s latest 835 chip and 4 GB of fast LPDDR4x RAM, and the vanilla, uncluttered Android 8.0 Oreo platform flies on this hardware. Whether you’re scrolling, multitasking or playing games, there’s a pleasing sense of fluidity and zero lag across the board. The Active Edge feature — you squeeze the sides to launch the Google Assistant — is very convenient. Storage is limited to the variant you buy, but there’s unlimited original-quality cloud storage for your photos/videos, for the next three years at least. The new generation of Pixels gain dust and water resistance, but you lose the headphone jack, and while there’s an adapter for the Type-C to 3.5mm in the box, not shipping with earbuds of any kind is odd. Well, at least there are dual front-firing speakers, which sound loud and clear on both the devices.

Now, if there was one thing that elevated the first-gen Pixel above all others, it was the camera, and Google is practically showing off now with the second-gen, eschewing the same dual-sensor setup that’s caught the fancy of the rest of the smartphone world…and still turning out arguably the best images around. The secret sauce, aside from the improved hardware on offer, is Google’s machine learning algorithms, and photos taken with the Pixels are stunning, particularly in low-light. Even with the single front and rear camera setup, the Pixels turn out blurry background portraits to rival (and in some cases, beat) the best. Bottom line, this is the camera to beat.

With so much in common, it comes down to whether you want a modern design with a slightly disappointing display, or a smaller phone without the fancy design elements that flagships are packing these days. The Pixel 2 is the safer choice, but no matter which one you pick, you get the assured Android OS updates and stellar software and camera experience across both. They're not cheap by any measure, but if you’re deeply embedded in the Android and Google ecosystem, you won’t regret it.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Magazine 25 November 2017 iPhone X android Pixel

Tushar Kanwar

The author is Technology Columnist and Program Manager in Bengaluru, India

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