Apple's iPhone X is a big deal. The excitement around it has been inescapable, and the company is no doubt hoping for its success. After all, Apple is
calling iPhone X the future of the smartphone, a claim that's accompanied by a $999 price tag. (Though there are some pretty good deals out there if you're trading in.)
In September, Apple made the decision to release the
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, more affordable iPhone upgrades, ahead of the X. But from the way the company has hyped X's release, it comes as no surprise that sales for the 8 and 8 Plus have been unimpressive, as Apple fans (and general consumers) eagerly wait for "the future" to drop this month. And the day is finally (almost) here: The official in-store release is this Friday, November 3.
So, is iPhone X really the future of smartphones? Ten hours isn't enough time to answer that question for good, but it is enough to give some initial impressions. Ahead, a complete breakdown of X's strengths and, admittedly limited, weaknesses.
See Me Now? Besides the steep price tag, the most talked about feature of iPhone X is Face ID, a feature intended to make your phone much more secure. As many Samsung users are eager to point out, Apple isn't the first to introduce Face ID on a smartphone. However, I've had a much better experience with it on the iPhone than I did when testing the Galaxy S8+. With that phone, I needed to hold it up eye level and perfectly align my eyes with two circles onscreen. Even when I thought I was doing this correctly, the phone still had trouble identifying me in poor light. On iPhone X, this wasn't the case. After setting up Face ID during the phone setup process — which is easy, you simply move your head around the circle onscreen — I had no problems getting X to identify me. It could still identify me when I put on sunglasses and a hat, in low light or bright light. The only time I needed to manually unlock my phone with a passcode was when I wore a scarf that covered my mouth. Plus, I didn't need to hold my phone up to eye level to unlock it with Face ID. I could hold my phone down near my waist or keep it off to the side — it still unlocked just fine. Much of the hype around Face ID has been alarm about how secure it really is. This is something that we'll have to wait to see once more people get the phone in their hands. Apple maintains that all facial data is encrypted, and the chance of someone else (who isn't closely related to you) being able to unlock your phone with Face ID is about 1 in 1,000,000 — that's far better odds than the 1 in 50,000 chance Apple gave for Touch ID. You can use Face ID with Apple Pay (double tap the power button to access it), and any apps that you could previously unlock with Touch ID can now be unlocked with Face ID.
Locked Away If you're used to seeing an incoming text in full, you'll find a new default notification setting on X. When your phone is locked, all notifications will show up without previews. So, if you get a text, you'll see who it's from, but instead of seeing the entire message, you'll see a generic description such as "iMessage," or for Instagram, "Notification." Only when you unlock your phone with Face ID does the notification on your lock screen change to show the full message. You can change this default by going to Settings > Notifications > Show Previews and switching from "when unlocked" to "always." However, I like the added privacy of keeping my messages hidden while the phone is locked. If the lock screen shown here looks too crazy for seeing notifications, you can change it by going to Settings > Wallpaper > Choose a New Wallpaper.
Open Sesame When you've successfully unlocked your phone with Face ID, you'll see the closed lock above the time switch to open. To go to the home screen, simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
New Gestures The home button is gone, and despite the many memorials to it on Twitter (may it rest in peace with the headphone jack), I don't find myself missing it on iPhone X. There are a few new gestures to get used to on the phone, but current iPhone owners won't find these hard to adopt. To get to the home screen swipe up from the bottom of the screen; to switch between apps, swipe up from the bottom and hold your finger in the center of the screen for a moment; to access the customizable control center, swipe down from the upper right corner; and to see notifications, swipe down from the top of the screen. I didn't have any problems getting these gestures to work, although I did occasionally hold for too long when swiping upwards, prompting my iPhone to show me the app switcher instead of returning me to the home screen.
Notch In My Way That little black rectangle along the top of the screen is called the notch, or, in Apple terms "sensor housing." This is where the infrared camera for Face ID, the speaker, microphone, front facing camera, and other tech is hidden. The notch is small, but it's still noticeable, especially when you're watching full screen video or Instagram Stories. As impressive as the 5.8-inch Super Retina HD display is — the colors pop even more than those on the iPhone 8 — it's annoying to have a small part of the screen blocked by the notch.
Halfway There On the review unit that I got, not all apps had been updated to take advantage of the full "infinity" screen display. Google Maps, for example, looks the same on X as it does on the iPhone 8 Plus. Hopefully, developers will update their apps before everyone else gets their hands on X. Otherwise, you won't always get the full screen experience. It is important to note that some key apps have already been optimized for iPhone X. These include WhatsApp, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Unicorn-ing Around Let's be clear: Animoji, the animated emoji within iMessage, are not necessary. They are, however, pretty fun. The 3D emoji, which respond to your movements and speech, are possible thanks to the new TrueDepth camera, which captures more than 50 facial muscle movements. When I furrow my brow or bare my teeth, so does the unicorn emoji onscreen. When I say "How you doin'?" Joey Tribbiani-style, so does the poop emoji. While the voice doesn't always sync perfectly with the corresponding emoji facial movements, it is impressively close most of the time. Right now there are 12 Animoji on offer: the unicorn, chicken, bunny, panda, pig, fox, alien, puppy, cat, robot, monkey, and poop. These come pre-installed on the phone and can be easily accessed by opening iMessage, tapping the App Store icon to left of the iMessage bar, and selecting Animoji from the bottom toolbar. You can send Animoji to anyone, include other iPhone users and Android owners. Overall, I had fun playing with Animoji. It isn't a make or break feature, but it is one that is, for now at least, uniquely Apple.
Selfie Time With iPhone X, Apple builds on portrait mode — a feature it first introduced with iPhone 7 Plus. Now, you can get the gorgeous background blur effect, known as bokeh, on selfies, too. I decided to compare portrait mode selfies on iPhone X (shown here and in subsequent photos on the right) with portrait mode selfies on Google's newest phone, Pixel 2 XL (shown on the left). Both phones do an impressive job of blurring the background while keeping the subject, myself, in focus. Deciding which portrait mode selfie is best is largely a matter of personal preference; I found that it varied from photo to photo. Here, I prefer the brighter colors in the iPhone X selfie.
In this selfie however, I prefer Pixel 2 XL's on the left where my skin tone looks closer to what it is in real life. In the iPhone X image on the right, my skin looks slightly orange and overly color-corrected.
This selfie was, again, a bit of a toss up. I like my skin tone in the Pixel 2 XL photo on the left, but prefer the brighter colors of everything else in the iPhone X photo on the right.
In low light, I preferred the Google Pixel 2 selfie on the left to the iPhone X selfie on the right. The scene is more brightly lit, and slightly less noisy.
Should You Shell Out For iPhone X? There's no denying that iPhone X is a beautiful phone that, in the limited period of time I had to test it, performed close to perfect. Whether it's worth $999 though, is a difficult question to answer. We've just begun the era of the $1,000 smartphone — Samsung's 64GB Galaxy Note8 costs $950 — so it's still hard to figure out which features are worthy of that astronomical price tag. If you still want the option of Touch ID in a new phone, your decision is an easy one: Go for the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus, or Pixel 2. If you like the idea of exploring newer tech, including Face ID, and can get a good trade-in deal, then it's worth waiting in line this Friday for iPhone X. If you manage to score one, be sure to tout your good fortune to friends by sending a smiling poop Animoji, or keep it classy with the talking unicorn.