Apple's iPhone X faces up to its rivals

Announced last month but on sale, finally, this week, Apple's iPhone X confounds expectations on several levels.

The £999 Apple iPhone X has a glass front and back
The £999 Apple iPhone X has a glass front and back

For a start, the X is a Roman numeral, not a letter. But the more significant numerals are the three nines that make up its price tag.

Is it really worth spending £1,000 on a phone? If you’re buying outright, certainly not. But most takers of this new flagship handset will be on business tariffs with an upgrade path built in, and there will be plenty who can justify to themselves or their managers the hike in the monthly rental.

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The iPhone X represents a radical design departure for Apple. Its screen is nearly six inches from corner to corner - only an inch-and-a bit smaller than many tablets - and, like its rivals, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG V30, it goes right up to the edge. The wide bezel that has been a feature of the iPhone for a decade, and which continues to be present on last month’s iPhone 8, is nowhere to be seen. That means that despite the greatly enlarged screen, the phone itself is hardly any bigger than the 8 and actually smaller than the new 8 Plus.

It also means there is no home button - an omission which may take some getting used to if you’re a long-time iPhone owner. An upwards swipe action does a similar job.

Unusually, the screen is not the only part of the phone to be covered with glass. The back is, too, an innovation that may prove less than practical when you first drop it.

The headline feature of the iPhone X is its ability to unlock itself by recognising your face. How well this works - if, for instance, you have taken your glasses off or not shaved, or if it’s just dark - remains to be seen. But the phone’s array of sensors is undeniably impressive. It has, in common with the 8 Plus, an optical zoom lens but also optical image stabilisation on both its rear lenses and a faster signal processor that is said to let in 83 per cent more light. Its specification puts Samsung in the shade - for the time being, at least - and in many circumstances it should be the only camera you really need.

If price is your only criterion, it’s hard to make a case for the iPhone X. It’s £200 more than the iPhone 8 Plus, which is only around a quarter of an inch smaller, and shares many of the same innards. But as Apple knows better than anyone, the phone today is a fashion statement, and that holds true for business people as much as it does for teenagers at school. Think of it as the next trim level up on your company Vauxhall.

But, radical though it is, it isn’t the only good looking new model around. Google’s newly-available Pixel 2 XL phone, for instance, is fully £200 less than the iPhone X and boasts a full six-inch screen. It, too, has a stunning camera and its implementation of the Android operating system includes a virtual reality feature called Google Lens that will supposedly let you search by taking a picture of whatever you want to search for. Point the phone at a tree or a dog, and it will identify the species. It also comes with unlimited storage for photos and videos at any resolution on Google Drive.

All things considered, there has seldom been a better time to push the envelope of your expense account.