Apple’s radical new iPhone X begs the question: can the other flagship phones compete?Tech guru Jenneth Orantia looks at the best new offerings in the market from all the major players.
Apple iPhone X
From $1,579 apple.com/au
The iPhone X is the device that Apple needed to make. Last year was the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone, and with mounting pressure from rival smartphone manufacturers the onus was really on Apple to pull a rabbit out of the hat and create something truly special.
Happily, Apple has delivered the goods with the iPhone X. Everything from the redesigned aesthetics and stunning screen through to the upgraded cameras and added support for wireless charging all contribute to an exceptional smartphone that redefines what’s possible within a mobile device.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the iPhone X is its screen. Apple has achieved a feat worthy of David Copperfield by shoehorning a 5.8” display – the largest in the iPhone’s history – into a compact and familiar iPhone shape.
This engineering coup was accomplished by eliminating the dead space between the screen and the edge of the phone, creating a near-borderless display that’s beautiful to behold. It doesn’t hurt that Apple has also moved to using OLED display technology — the same tech used in premium TVs. When using apps with a black background, on-screen blacks were indistinguishable from the surrounding bezel.
But as with everything, there are a couple of small caveats. A “notch” at the top of the device that houses the front-facing cameras and an array of sensors disturbs the continuity of the edge-to-edge display. While it’s not a deal-breaker — and there are some who actually like how different it looks to the traditional rectangular display — it causes an issue for apps that haven’t been updated for the iPhone X. Updated apps seamlessly wrap around the notch, making full use of the extra pixels.
Shaving away all the dead space around the iPhone means that Apple has also gotten rid of the home button. Users will have to learn a new series of gestures, taps and presses to do everything from returning to the home screen to taking a screenshot — but the learning curve isn’t a steep one.
What’s more jarring is moving from Touch ID to the new Face ID technology to unlock the phone. It’s just not as fast or as reliable. In exceptionally dark or bright environments it typically fails, which means you have to revert to entering an old-fashioned password or pin code. It works most of the time, but as the gatekeeper between you and your phone’s contents, it really needs to work all of the time.
But these are minor quibbles that can mostly be fixed with software updates. If you can afford the premium price tag — which is a big “if”, given the iPhone X has taken the crown as the most expensive smartphone ever — then you won’t be disappointed. It’s a spectacular, lust-worthy smartphone that will have even Android enthusiasts questioning their loyalty.
Huawei Mate 10 Pro
From $1,099 huawei.com/au
Better known for its cheap and cheerful smartphone range, Huawei has made a play for the top end of town with its new Mate 10 Pro, combining gorgeous hardware design, next-gen specs and modern software tweaks.
The Mate 10 Pro offers plenty of features that you won’t find anywhere else, including dual SIM card slots, which lets you keep your existing number while taking advantage of newer plans with more data. It also packs an extra-large 4,000mAh battery, which is good for two days of usage between charges.
But by far the most impressive aspect of the Mate 10 Pro is its camera. Huawei boasts a Leica-branded dual lens camera on the rear, pairing 12-megapixel RGB and 20-megapixel monochrome sensors with advanced features, all powered by artificial intelligence that automatically recognises specific scenes, objects and motion for the sharpest snaps possible.
The Mate 10 Pro’s software is excellent as well. It’s the first non-Google device to ship with the latest Android 8.0 Oreo operating system, and while we weren’t huge fans of the interface straight out of the box, there’s no end to its customisation. Power users will have a ball tinkering with the options in the settings, and we particularly like the split screen mode for running two apps simultaneously.
Oddly, the Mate 10 Pro’s main competition is the Mate 10 itself. While both devices share the same software, design, processor and camera, the Mate 10 misses out on a water-resistance rating and has smaller storage and RAM size — and works out to be a couple of hundred bucks cheaper. The Mate 10 also has a higher resolution display and additional features not found on the Pro like a microSD expansion and headphone jack.
Google Pixel 2
from $1,079 store.google.com
Google’s prowess in the software department has touched almost every key feature on its new smartphone, the Pixel 2, and it’s made for a delightful user experience — as well as making the phone quite the market competitor.
For instance, while the camera isn’t feature-rich from a hardware perspective, the Pixel 2 still manages to produce amazing images. Google’s software smarts combine a whole heap of futuristic tech to produce crisp, beautiful images from quite simple hardware.
And a fun additional extra within the photo app is Google Lens — a visual search engine that can identify objects in photos. It’s not perfect yet by any means, but it can recognise famous landmarks and link you to the relevant Wikipedia entry, perfect for travelling.
It can even see business cards and automatically create a new contact in your address book. We expect this feature to get significantly better and more capable as more people use it.
One of the hallmarks of a Google-branded device is that it offers the pure Android experience, and the Pixel 2 pairs this with one of the latest processors. There’s no lag, and the device positively flies in day-to-day usage.
Really the only let down of the Pixel 2 is its design. Despite coming to the party with an upgraded water-resistant chassis, the device doesn’t have the premium aesthetic or edge-to-edge display boasted by its rivals. To be fair, it’s something you stop noticing before long, and the screen is otherwise bright and vibrant — especially following a software update that enabled a saturated colour mode in the display settings.
Samsung has always appealed to power users with its Galaxy Note smartphones, and the newest Note8 is no exception. Boasting an oversized 6.3” display — the largest screen of any smartphone — and equipped with a variety of unique features, it comfortably takes the crown as the most full-featured smartphone on the market.
Technically, the Note8 is only $80 cheaper than the equivalent 64GB iPhone X, but if you dig a little deeper, the value proposition is a lot better. The street price can be considerably lower than the RRP, with JB Hi-Fi selling it as low as $1,379, and the built-in microSD card slot means you can add more storage cheaply.
On a day-to-day basis the Note8 is delightful to use, so long as you don’t mind its larger size. The curved edge-to-edge screen uses the same punchy AMOLED display technology found in previous Samsung smartphones, and while the colours can sometimes verge on lurid, for the most part it makes for a pleasant viewing experience.
The dual 12-megapixel cameras on the rear improves on the S8 Plus’s single camera design, and is something you’re likely to get mileage from. Not only does this give that nice background blur for portrait photos, but the Live Focus feature lets you adjust that level of blur before or after you take the photo, and the Dual Capture feature can simultaneously take wide angle and close up versions of each photo.
Still need convincing? Simple things like a standard headphone socket means you don’t have to fuss with an adapter cable to plug in your existing headphones or pay extra for a Bluetooth pair.
Apple iPhone 8 and 8 Plus
From $1,079 apple.com/au
Apple really deviated from the norm last year by introducing not one, but two new iPhone ranges: accompanying the flagship iPhone X is the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus range. While it’s tempting to dismiss these as the “older” model, the 8 Plus is similar to the X in many ways.
The 8 Plus sticks to the same look that Apple has been using since 2014, but it’s been upgraded on the inside, sharing the same chip systems, artificial intelligence processing, camera and storage options as the X. If you’re not swayed by the slightly larger screen and more compact form of the iPhone X, and won’t miss extra frills like wireless charging support, you can save $350 by opting for the iPhone 8 Plus.
Some may even prefer the 8 Plus on principle. The wider phone allows for more comfortable touch-typing on a physically larger keyboard, and the remaining home button means you don’t have to fuss around with the hit-or-miss Face ID technology — the Touch ID is far more reliable for instantly unlocking the device, and might feel less daunting for people who don’t like technology looking for their face all the time. The iPhone 8 Plus even offers a stylish white-and-gold colour option that’s missing with the iPhone X.