iPhone X Review: Best & Worst Features

Typically when Apple releases a new iPhone, the changes are indisputably upgrades. There’s nothing controversial about adding a better camera and faster processor while keeping the price the same. When Apple decided to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, it was the first time that the changes felt more like a trade-off than an upgrade. When Apple released the iPhone X, I was left with a similar feeling. Apple upgraded the camera, designed an edge-to-edge display, and added Face ID, but removed the Home button and with it the popular Touch ID sensor. To further complicate the equation, Apple raised the price to $1,000. When I watched Apple announce the iPhone X, I was left with more questions than answers. Would I miss the Home button and Touch ID? Would the iPhone’s unusual notch at the top of the display bother me? How reliable would Face ID be? Most importantly, I wondered if the iPhone X was worth the extravagant price tag. After two months of using the iPhone X, I’m ready to weigh in with a definitive hands-on review.

The Screen

Last year I made the switch from the standard iPhone form factor to the larger iPhone Plus. I loved the big screen and the dual camera, but I hated having to carry around the larger phone. The main appeal of the iPhone X to me was that the edge-to-edge display allowed me to have the larger screen and dual camera of the iPhone 8 Plus but the smaller form factor of the iPhone 8. What I’ve found, however, is that while the iPhone X has a similar-sized screen as the iPhone 8 Plus, the ratio is very different. The iPhone X is tall and narrow while the iPhone 8 Plus is wider. I’ve found the dimensions of the iPhone 8 Plus to be more user friendly. However, this tradeoff is more than made up for by the iPhone X’s incredible OLED screen. The OLED display has much better color contrast than the iPhone 8 (and 8 Plus) LED display. The improved screen is not only impressive when viewing photos and videos, but because OLED represents true blacks more clearly, the display is noticeably better when reading text. The text is so crisp, it almost feels like you’re using an e-reader. Apple also added a feature called True Tone which adjusts the screen’s white balance to match the lighting in the room. I’ve found this feature to make a huge difference in usability, especially in low light.

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No Home Button

In order to accommodate the beautiful new display, Apple was forced to remove the Home button. To say that the Home button has been essential to iPhone’s UI would be an understatement. I have used the Home button constantly, and I was pretty concerned about how the UI would work without it. When using the iPhone X, there is a thin line on the bottom of the screen that serves as a digital Home button. To close out an app and return to the Home screen, you simply tap the line and swipe up. There are a few UI changes that I’ve found to be a little confusing such as accessing the Control Center (swipe down from the top right corner of the display) and the App Switcher (do a swooping motion from the bottom), but for the most part I’ve been surprised by how quickly I’ve adjusted to not having the Home button and how little I’ve missed it. It honestly only took me about a day of use to adjust.

The Notch

The edge-to-edge display is broken up on the top of the screen by what Apple is calling a notch. The notch is the section of the screen where Apple has put the front-facing camera, sound piece, and the sensors for Face ID. One of my biggest concerns with the iPhone X was that the notch would get in the way during daily use. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that it doesn’t really bother me. It does get in the way when watching videos in full-screen mode, but I rarely use my phone to watch videos anyway, and it doesn’t affect me during day-to-day use.

Face ID

When Apple first released a phone with Touch ID, it was a bit buggy. It took a few attempts to unlock the phone, and the sensor frequently failed to identify your finger. Touch ID eventually turned into a polished feature, but it took a couple of iterations for Apple to get it right. Because of this, my expectations for Face ID were really low. I could not have been more wrong. Face ID is incredibly accurate and polished. It works even when I have a hat and sunglasses on and it also works in the dark. I’ve found Face ID to be particularly effective at unlocking a phone that’s already in use for things like downloading apps or accessing Apple Wallet. While Touch ID required an extra step to unlock (placing your finger on the reader), Face ID is automatic (because you’re already looking at the screen).

With previous iPhones, you had to choose whether to display previews of notifications on your Lock screen. Displaying previews was really convenient because you could see messages without unlocking your phone, but it also sacrificed your privacy by allowing anyone else to see the previews without having to unlock your phone. With Face ID, your iPhone can identify who is looking at the phone and therefore display previews only to you. This feature not only saves you time every time you get a message, but it also shows how much attention to detail Apple paid to getting Face ID right.

Camera

I love the iPhone’s Portrait mode. It allows me to capture amazing photos that previously would’ve required an expensive DSLR camera. The problem with Portrait mode on my iPhone 7 Plus was that conditions had to be perfect in order for it to function. You had to have a lot of light and be the perfect distance away from the subject. With the iPhone X, Portrait mode works under a wide range of circumstances. Most notably, it works a lot better in low light. Apple also brought Portrait mode to the front-facing camera. While I haven’t found the front-facing Portrait mode to work quite as well, it’s still a really nice option to have. Apple also introduced Portrait Lighting, which offers four different lighting effects to use with Portrait mode. I haven’t found them to work very well though.

Wireless Charging

With the iPhone X’s edge-to-edge display and glass back, I’ve resigned myself to using a protective case. This can make it difficult for me to dock my phone when charging. Because of this, I’ve been really enjoying the iPhone X’s wireless charging capabilities. I didn’t think I’d care about it at all, but it’s really convenient to simply place your iPhone on a Qi charging pad. I was relieved to discover that wireless charging works with most cases.

Other Factors

The iPhone X’s A11 chip has been noticeably faster for me than the A10 chip in the iPhone 7 Plus, and iOS 11 has run much smoother with the X. I was a little concerned about battery life, because the X has a smaller battery than the Plus, but I’ve found that my battery lasts longer than it did on the iPhone 7 Plus. One of the most disappointing things about the phone for me has actually been its form factor. Typically, Apple makes each iteration of the phone thinner and lighter, but the iPhone X is about the same size as the iPhone 7. Nothing about its design is particularly noteworthy, with the exception of the glass back, which looks nice, but makes the phone more fragile.

Conclusion

I had a lot of reservations about purchasing the iPhone X. After using the phone for two months, I could not be happier. Most of the new features have exceeded my expectations, while most of my concerns have turned out to be non-issues. While there are a few UI choices that I’ve found to be a bit confusing, overall, I believe it’s the most polished phone Apple has ever made. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are also great phones, but if you can afford the upgrade, the iPhone X is well worth the money.

 

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David Averbach is the CEO and Publisher of iPhone Life and Android Life magazine and winner of FOLIO magazine's 2014 media industry's innovators 20 in Their 20's. David has an obsession with all things Apple. He grew up on Macs and now has a MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and an Apple TV. David enjoys traveling and Ultimate Frisbee. He has been to over 20 countries.

To contact David, email him at david@iphonelife.com.