iPhone X: The Future Is Close

Ten years. From its initial launch in 2007, we have seen ten major iterations of the iconic iPhone (not including the 5c and SE). This year, Apple has made a significant move to change how we think of the iPhone. I believe the simultaneous release of the familiar iPhone 8 and the new iPhone X is no coincidence. For many, getting a better phone without the learning curve and pain of slow-to-update apps for the iPhone X makes the 8 and 8 Plus the right choice for many iOS lovers.

But for those of us who have used an iPhone for years, who actually want to lead the way through glitches and imperfect user interface decisions in order to experience the future just a little sooner, the iPhone X is for us.

If you want to read a thorough review with amazing video coverage of the iPhone X, I recommend The Verge review overall. For those who want the hard Apple slant, aka the “enthusiast” coverage, I recommend iMore’s review. And for those who want a deep look at the iPhone X camera, read Austin Mann’s review.

In this review, I will address the stand out benefits and major nuisances I have experienced with the iPhone X. Keep in mind I’ve only had the phone for five days, apps will update for the new display, and the experience will most likely improve over time. But for many, the question is: Should I buy one? For that, you can skip to the end.

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Hardware

I’m no design expert, but I believe the industrial design of the iPhone X is the most beautiful iPhone to date. Possibly the most attractive smartphone across all platforms.

Personally I went with the Silver / White backed iPhone with bright stainless steel edges. It’s a striking device, and they even managed to move all the licensing verbiage to software. The only text on the actual phone is on the back: “iPhone”.

The phone is noticeably heavier than recent iPhones, but gives it a sense of quality rather than being distracting. The camera bump is fairly large and protruding, but that’s a comprise I’m willing to make for great photography. I have Apple’s brown leather case, but considering the bold new design and glass back providing some gripy-ness, I’m attempting to go case-less with the iPhone X.

Coming from three years of Plus-size iPhones, the smaller form factor has actually been pleasant. If there is a larger version of the iPhone X body style in the coming years, barring any size-specific features (like the double lens camera on the iPhone 7 Plus), I may stick with the current iPhone X size.

Display

Coming from the Plus size iPhones, the screen does feel smaller. Despite being advertised as a “5.8 inch screen,” and the Plus size being “5.5 inch” there are a few caveats. The notch subtracts some screen size, the display is thinner but taller than on the Plus, and the rounded corners sacrifice some screen real estate as well.

This loss of display space is most noticeable in apps that have not been updated for the X. Large black bars are placed on the top and bottom of un-updated apps, basically making them the size of a 4.7” iPhone screen.

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On the notch specifically, it’s not a big deal. You get used to it and stop staring at it pretty quickly. Would it look even better without the notch? Maybe, but it becomes ignorable.

The iPhone X is also the first iPhone to use OLED display technology, while every model before has used LCD. Practically, you still get an amazing looking display, which many pundits agree is the best on the market.

For those who are particular about their display though, I do feel the blue-tint when you’re viewing off axis is noticeable. Especially in mostly white background apps like Mail and Twitter. It’s not often I’m viewing the phone at an angle, but when I do the blue is obvious.

Face ID

One of the biggest changes in the iPhone X is the way you unlock the device. We’ve had Touch ID for four years, the method of unlocking your iPhone with a fingerprint.

The process of unlocking with a finger had been natural, and with Touch ID 2 it became super fast. Using it for authentication in secure apps and for Apple Pay has been convenient as well. The few downsides I ever experienced: doesn’t work with wet fingers, and some people it would just not work at all (my Mom).

Apple believes the next step in securing your device is with your face, not a fingerprint. Apple claims the chance of some random person unlocking your iPhone with their fingerprint was 1 in 50,000. The chance of someone’s face unlocking it is now 1 in 1,000,000. Unless you have an identical twin, apparently.

In practice, setting up Face ID is a much quicker and simpler process than Touch ID. And when it works, it’s downright magical. While it may not feel as fast as Touch ID, the idea that it can recognize your face as quick as it does, and only unlocks when it knows your eyes are on the screen is pretty great.

Three annoyances I’ve come across:

  • Can only register one face, for obvious reasons. Touch ID allowed for five individual fingerprints.
  • Some sunglasses and certain lighting can make Face ID fail
  • Any object blocking your face will not work with Face ID

The two situations I’ve found myself in often are drinking coffee while trying to unlock my phone, and having a hand on my chin while using the phone. In both instances I had to intentionally unblock my face to get Face ID working, or just enter my passcode manually (like an animal).

The days of unlocking your iPhone while it lays flat on a table are also gone. You’ll either need to peer over the phone or pick it up at a decent angle to unlock with your face.

While these annoyances are real, I’m still impressed with Face ID and find it a joy to use. Secure apps like banks and 1Password unlock without having to move your thumb, and do it fairly quickly.

Possibly one of the best features of the new facial recognition system: If you’re reading a webpage, the screen will not dim while you’re looking at it. Since the iPhone knows when your eyes are on the screen and when they look away, it can intentionally keep the screen on while you read, which is pretty great.

iOS Without A Home Button

Learning the swipe up to go home motion came fairly easy. After the first day I was 95% there. Times when I was in a hurry to go home I would try to press the non-existent Home button, and quickly remembered to swipe up. Not a big deal.

Taking a screenshot has come a little slower (done by hitting the side button and volume up simultaneously. And the worst of the new gestures is multitasking.

What used to be a double-tap on the Home button is now a swipe up and hold for a second. Definitely slower overall, but what’s worse is trying to force-close an app in this view. Before, a swipe up on an app in this view would close it automatically. Now, the process is:

  • Swipe up
  • Hold / Wait for apps to appear
  • Tap and Hold on an app
  • Wait for a small minus sign to appear on the apps
  • Swipe up to quit

Not something you need to do often, but when the need arises it’s a noticeably slower process.

Camera

Again, for a detailed review I suggest reading Austin Mann’s article here: iPhone X Camera. In my short experience, the rear camera is great, but not hugely different from the 8 Plus.

Optical image stabilization on the telephoto lens is great and something I will use fairly often. It makes a significant difference in videos and in low-light situations.

The selfie camera is a different story. Just as optical image stabilization in the first iPhone 6 Plus brought a leap in photo quality, the front-facing camera on the iPhone X is significantly and noticeably better. The Portrait mode features are on both the 8 Plus and X, but the quality I have seen is particularly good on the iPhone X.

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Should You Buy One?

Now for the tough question, who should buy the iPhone X? Honestly, a majority of iPhone owners may be just fine, even satisfied with the 8 and 8 Plus. Keep in mind, the five major differences between the 8 Plus specifically and the iPhone X are:

  • Form factor / display
  • Face ID
  • No Home button
  • Selfie camera better on the X
  • Optical image stabilization on the telephoto lens

Both the iPhone 8 and X have the same processor, wireless charging, same main camera lens and optics, True-Tone Display, etc.

My suggestion is this: If you recently purchased an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus and are not the super-early adopter tech person, don’t have any FOMO (fear of missing out). Wait for next year’s revision of the X’s new body style.

If you have an iPhone 6S or earlier, now is a good time to upgrade. But should you go for the 8 or X? If you’re new to the iPhone experience or coming from Android, I honestly suggest the iPhone 8 (more so the Plus). Even if you’re a long-time iPhone user but enjoy the familiarity of how an iPhone has worked for ten years, get the 8 or 8 Plus.

But if you are like me, having used an iPhone for years, enjoy being on the buggy, most cutting-edge device available, and want a small taste of the future, get the iPhone X. It’s not perfect, and you will find your own set of minor annoyances, but you’ll love it.

Two more caveats: If photography is your thing, and you want the best possible photos at all times from your iPhone, get the iPhone X no matter what. OIS on the telephoto lens is significant.

Second, even if photography isn’t your thing, but you use the selfie camera all the time, you should probably get the iPhone X. Whether it’s Instagram or Facebook live streams or bona fide selfies, the selfie camera on the X is the best on any iPhone yet.

Thanks for reading. I hope this review has helped, and if you’re feeling extra-generous, you can support future tech reviews and musings by subscribing to my Patreon account here.