While the iPhone X was only announced a couple months ago, the wait for its release felt like an eternity- Particularly as those not anxious to be early adopters of the new Face ID system and home button-free UI’s picked up their iPhone 8s a few weeks ago. I picked up my iPhone X bright and early on Friday morning, and after four days of constant use I feel pretty comfortable writing something that I’d describe as a “review," even if it’s just more of a formality at this point. I doubt there’s many people sitting on the fence still trying to decide whether or not they want an iPhone X, but, if that describes you, hopefully this is at least vaguely helpful.
When unboxing the iPhone X, the first thing that jumps out at you is the nearly bezel-less OLED screen that manages to feel huge while the overall device footprint is still reasonable. Tiny phones have been my thing basically ever since cell phones started to get smaller, with my favorite sized phone of all time being the (now) ancient Morotola Slvr L7. Larger overall footprints of smartphones have become a necessity as their functionality has expanded, but “phablets" and phones like the Plus models of iPhones have almost zero appeal to me. That being said, I always felt a twinge of jealousy watching friends with Plus-sized phones watch movies or play games. Bigger screens are always better for that.
The iPhone X is a bit of a Goldilocks device for me. The overall size of the device is barely larger than the iPhone 7, while the screen is only barely smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus. That being said, I’ve heard more than a few Plus-loving friends of mine remark that the iPhone X is “too small," which makes a Plus-sized X-like next year feel sort of inevitable. (Although who knows what they’d even call it, iPhone X S Plus? What a mess.) The OLED screen is super bright, and when you’re watching HDR content the picture looks so good it almost feels fake- Like when you see demos running on those ultra-expensive top-end OLED TV’s always near the front of any electronics store.
Two camps seem to be forming in regards to the distinctive notch at the top of the iPhone X: People who hate it, and those who just really don’t even see it anymore after a couple of hours of use. I’m in that second group, although admittedly the notch did seem pretty odd on my first day with the phone. In some way it feels like a step back, as now things like battery percentage and whether you’re connected to a cellular network or have WiFi calling active is relegated to Control Center but it seems inevitable that a future iOS update will reenable this functionality- At least on some level.
The whole point of the notch is to enable the new way you unlock the iPhone X: Face ID. You’ve probably seen the demo videos by now, and it really does work as well as Apple has shown. You really just look at your phone, swipe up, and you’re in. Additionally, apps that previously relied on Touch ID now work with Face ID, and accessing things like your banking apps by your iPhone scanning your face feels oddly futuristic. The only real issue I’ve had with Face ID is that it doesn’t really handle scanning your face while laying in bed that well. If I’m laying in bed and want to see why my phone just buzzed, it seems like I need to actually lift my head so it can get a full scan of my face.
Additionally, I typically work at a desk and just have my iPhone sitting somewhere on my mouse pad that I can see it. If I needed to interact with it, I’d just unlock it with my index finger and diddle around without ever lifting it up. That behavior doesn’t really work with Face ID, as you need to actually lift the iPhone so it can see you. None of these things are massive deal breakers by any stretch of the imagination, but rather, just a modification you’ll need to make to the habits of how you use your device.
Similarly, the new swipe gesture to close apps feels a little odd at first but quickly becomes second nature. One thing I really like about our new home button-less future is that once you enable it in your accessibility options, swiping up closes an app while swiping down triggers reachability. This feels super natural once you get a hang of it. The one odd side effect of the home button now being a software feature is that the UI element to trigger it is constantly on screen, in games and everything. Developers seem pretty confident that Apple is eventually going to let them hide this or at least theme/disguise it differently… But, I’m not so sure. It wouldn’t surprise me if the notches and home bar become the new iconic elements of the iPhone- Much like the home button circle silhouette indicated “iPhone" universally.
Speaking of apps, a surprising amount of third party apps have already been updated to support the iPhone X, although it’s painfully obvious how many of those developers rolled out iPhone X support updates without ever testing it on an actual device. I’ve seen many, many UI elements in the severe top left corner of the screen which honestly is almost impossible to access with one hand. This is just part of the growing pains of any new device format though, and something we’ve seen with basically every new device form factor. Apps which haven’t been updated are still super usable, with them rendering totally normally aside from black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
It seems like Apple is putting real effort into improving the onboard speakers of iOS devices, and the iPhone X joins the lineup of iPad Pros in coming with speakers that are actually surprisingly good for listening to things without headphones. They’re loud and crisp, and while the iPhone X is no replacement for a real Bluetooth speaker, listening to podcasts and music at your desk just from the device is totally doable. The device is loud enough that I’ve gone from listening to podcasts while having one AirPod in to just sticking my iPhone in my pocket and letting the speakers do their thing. It’s incredible how much improvement there has been in this category over the last few iterations of iOS devices.
While all these additions and improvements are undoubtedly awesome, the true killer feature for me (which is also shared by the iPhone 8) is wireless inductive charging. Between all the games I end up playing for TouchArcade and everything else I do on my iPhone, I feel like I’m always running out of battery. Having my iPhone totally dead by the early afternoon is pretty normal, and as such my house is a rat’s nest of different chargers strewn about everywhere. Still, I’m bad about plugging my phone in which inevitably results in me needing to go somewhere when my iPhone is almost dead. With the iPhone X, I was able to pick up a bunch of cheap wireless chargers on Amazon which I’ve since placed in the places I usually put my phone down at. It feels pretty magical to just set your iPhone down where you usually do and just have it charge itself without any screwing around. Heck, if I knew how awesome this was going to be maybe I’d have seriously dabbled in the Android world a bit more.
As far as gaming on the device is concerned, and its overall performance… Well, it’s just like every new iPhone. Apple releases these things at a pace where the new one comes out at a point where nothing even begins to tax the “old" one yet, so you go from a very fast phone to an even faster phone. It’s a little silly that so many people (myself included) are so into upgrading every single year. It’s hard to think of much, if anything, that even came close to pushing my iPhone 7 to its limit, and that’s once again true for the iPhone X. In benchmarks the iPhone X is comparable to mid-tier MacBooks, so I doubt there’s going to be much that pushes it very far- Particularly with how many iPhone 5-era phones there still are out there that developers need to continue to support.
It’s a weird situation, as we used to be able to say things like “Holy cow you won’t believe how much better games run on the new iPhone," but that hasn’t been the case for many annual iPhone releases now. Even the ol’ butt dyno isn’t a great indicator of performance anymore either, as apps loaded instantly on the iPhone 7. While they’re likely loading faster on the X, it’s like watching a drag race between two Ferraris. They’re both going so fast that the fact that one did a 1/4 mile a tenth of a second faster feels increasingly irrelevant.
When it comes to the new swipe to go home gesture and games, so far it really hasn’t been as much of an issue as I expected it to be as a lot of games have come to rely on full screen swiping gestures. You really need to be recklessly swiping to trigger it on accident. I see this being more of a problem with handing your iPhone over to a kid to play Fruit Ninja than anything you’ll ever actually run into yourself. But, who knows. If nothing else I think the new swipe to go home gesture will definitely impact game design moving forward as it’s a consideration developers have to have when building their games- Just like the multi-finger multitasking gesture on iPads.
Like ever year, the camera is even better and the addition of stabilization to both the 1x and 2x rear cameras is a huge improvement for people like me who seem to always be taking blurry photos. Portrait mode is also really fun to fiddle with, as it feels sort of magical the number of effects Apple is able to put on a photo now that it’s capturing depth information. If you take a load of selfies, this alone might be a killer feature for you.
Anyway, wrapping up these new iPhone reviews is always a little awkward, as the device works exactly as Apple demonstrated at the keynote. If you saw that and liked what they showed you, you’ll love the iPhone X. The screen looks fabulous, and if you take a lot of photos the camera improvements are always welcome. Face ID works how it should, wireless charging is awesome, and overall the iPhone X is a great improvement over the iPhone 7 (and 8). As usual, I’m really curious to see where Apple is going to go from here as it feels like every year they’re adding these incremental improvements to an already fabulous device family, and once again that’s true with the iPhone X.