Is the iPhone X’s facial recognition any good?

100% human
You can set up Face ID by doing two quick scans of your face.

The Face ID system found in the new iPhone X is arguably the most advanced facial recognition found in any smartphone. Without a home button for a fingerprint sensor, Apple is relying on Face ID as its primary means of unlocking the iPhone X, as well as logging in to password protected apps, making purchases from iTunes and enabling Apple Pay transactions.

Based on our experience with other facial recognition systems found in Android-based smartphones, the problem is that if it fails to recognise you too often, the whole system becomes a pointless annoyance. A failure rate of 1 in 5, for example, would probably be just about tolerable. We tested out the iPhone X on camera during everyday use to see how many times it gets it right.

Face ID factoids

Here are few other interesting tidbits we discovered about the new iPhone’s Face ID system:

  • The iPhone X unlocks just as well in dark places as is does in bright sunlight
  • We tended to get more failures when holding the phone close to our torso and looking sharply down on it
  • You can set Face ID to not require your ‘awareness’ or ‘looking directly at it’ to have more success. It comes with Awareness enabled by default
  • The TrueDepth camera system recognises you by projecting more than 30,000 invisible dots to create a depth-map of your face
  • No ‘photo’ of your face is ever taken. The depth map is converted into a mathematical ‘signature’ that is then used to compare with the signature stored on the device in an encrypted, secure ‘enclave’
  • In the video you can see some red lights appear in the TrueDepth camera array during the scanning process. This is not normally visible to the eye
  • Setting up Face ID takes about 30 seconds and involves 2 scans of your face
  • You can still use a password or PIN code instead of Face ID, and after 5 failed attempts, a successful password entry is needed to unlock the phone
  • The Face ID system recognises you even if you’ve grown a beard, are wearing sunglasses, put the lippy on, have a jaunty hat or gained some weight
  • You can’t spoof the system with a photo as Face ID uses depth along with other things to make a match
  • The probability that a random person in the population could look at your iPhone X and unlock it using Face ID is approximately 1 in 1,000,000 versus 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID

The results

As you can see in the video, we tried the Face ID repeatedly with no failures. Overall, now that we’ve been using the iPhone X for about a week, it opens most of the time and is not a bother. The only times were it is not as reliable is when looking at it from a sharp downward angle, such as when holding the phone close to our torso when sitting down.