To Apple, the iPhone X is a harbinger of what’s to come. “Our teams have been hard at work for years on something that is important to all of us,” CEO Tim Cook said on stage at the Steve Jobs Theater shortly before unveiling the device. “The future of the smartphone.”
But for the millions of Apple loyalists around the world, the iPhone X isn’t just a cutting-edge new piece of technology — it’s an upgrade that will likely cost them more than any smartphone has before. The entry level iPhone X with 64GB of storage costs $999. For comparison’s sake, the base model iPhone 8 costs $699, while last year’s iPhone 7 was $649 when it launched.
I’ve been using the iPhone X for two weeks. Even after all that time, it’s still difficult to offer a straight answer as to whether or not it lives up to its hefty price tag. That’s because it’s not a simple one-size-fits-all answer. There’s a very good chance the way you use your phone differs from the way I use mine, therefore our priorities and the budget we’re willing to spend on a phone may be different.
That said, if you’re trying to decide whether the iPhone X is right for you, here are my five biggest takeaways after using it for a couple weeks.
Buy Now: Apple iPhone X, $999 and up
The iPhone X’s Best Feature Is its Size
Since Apple launched its first Plus-sized iPhone in 2014, I’ve always preferred it over the smaller option. For me, the longer battery life, improved camera, and extra screen space were always well worth the bulkier size — even if I sometimes found myself struggling to use the larger iPhones with one hand. But for many people, the increase in size was more of a burden than a benefit.
The iPhone X changes all that. Because the iPhone X has a much slimmer border around its display, Apple didn’t have to make the entire device larger to offer a bigger screen. Despite the fact that it has a 5.8-inch display, the iPhone X is actually significantly smaller than the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus. In fact, the iPhone 8 Plus, which is the roughly the same size as the iPhones I’ve been using over the past three years, feels gargantuan in comparison. I suspect that for many people, the iPhone X will be the first smartphone they own that’s larger than five inches.
It’s also the first phone Apple has released that includes an OLED screen instead of an LCD display, which means it offers richer colors and better contrast. The iPhone X has a 2,436 x 1,125 resolution OLED screen with 458 pixels per inch, while the iPhone 8 Plus has a 5.5-inch 1,920 x 1,080 resolution LCD screen. The iPhone 8, meanwhile, includes a 4.7-inch LCD screen with a 1,334 x 750 resolution. The iPhone 8 Plus’s screen packs 401 pixels per inch while the iPhone 8’s squeezes 326 pixels per inch.
But exactly how much better is the iPhone X’s screen than the iPhone 8’s in practice? The difference is most evident when looking at contrasting colors, like while viewing black and white photos or reading black text against a white background. In these instances, the iPhone X’s screen looks much crisper and more vibrant than the iPhone 8’s. App icons on the home screen also look sharper and bolder on the iPhone X than the iPhone 8. But otherwise, the changes aren’t immediately noticeable. As I described in my initial hands on, I generally found that the iPhone X’s screen was on par with that of the Samsung Galaxy S8+.
The iPhone X Has a Learning Curve
After axing the headphone jack last year, Apple has removed yet another staple that’s played a huge role in how we interact with our smartphones: the home button. The lack of a physical home button is becoming more common on smartphones, but most Android phone makers have replaced them with on-screen keys that require a quick tap to return to the main screen. This preserves the familiarity of using a home button without actually building one into the phone. But this isn’t so on the iPhone X: to get back to the home screen, you must swipe up from the bottom of the display. Apple has placed a helpful digital bar across the bottom of the display that beckons to be pulled up like a window shade.
But it still takes time to shake the habit of tapping the bottom of the phone. It took about two days for all of the iPhone X’s new gestures to feel natural to me, especially one that involves swiping in from the top of the screen instead of up from the bottom to access the Control Center.
A more difficult adjustment, however, was figuring out how to perform tasks like capturing screenshots and force restarting the phone without a home button. To take a screenshot on the iPhone X, you must press and release the side button and volume up key at the same time, whereas previously iPhone owners would press the home button and side button. A force restart requires you to press volume up, then volume down, and then press and hold the side button until the Apple logo appears.
None of these changes are necessarily a dealbreaker when it comes to deciding whether or not to purchase the iPhone X. But they’re adjustments nonetheless, and they’re worth considering.
The iPhone X’s Battery Life Is Excellent
Regardless of its smaller size, the iPhone X still packs a higher capacity battery than the iPhone 8 Plus, and it shows in daily usage. During a recent vacation, I started my day at 4 a.m. to travel and still had about 30% of my battery left in the evening.
While traveling, I used my phone mostly for looking up directions, taking photos, and occasionally checking social media and email. On a typical weekday, which involves checking email more frequently, streaming music, and watching video, the iPhone X lasted from roughly 8 a.m. all the way through to about 11 p.m. at night and still had some juice left.
Unlocking Is My Least Favorite Thing About Face ID
The ritual of typing in a passcode to unlock your smartphone has been out of fashion since the first iPhone with a fingerprint sensor arrived in 2013. With the iPhone X, Apple is offering what it says is a more secure and seamless way to unlock your phone: facial recognition.
The notch at the top of the iPhone X includes an array of sensors, including an infrared camera, dot projector, and proximity sensor, among other components. These sensors make it possible for the iPhone X to recognize your face so that you can unlock the phone or authenticate Apple Pay purchases just by looking at the device.
Face ID can feel faster and more reliable than the old home button’s Touch ID fingerprint reader. For one, it doesn’t malfunction if your fingertips are wet. And Apple says that the chances of someone else unlocking your phone with Face ID are one in a million.
Still, I found that in my first week with the iPhone X, it would often prompt me to enter my passcode even in well-lit conditions when it should have had a clear view of my face. Face ID improved during my second week with the phone — it now recognizes my face most of the time when I raise it to check notifications. And it worked impressively well in the dark, too. In a pitch black room, the iPhone X was able to recognize my face even when the Samsung Galaxy S8+ couldn’t. But I still found myself entering my passcode more often than with my old iPhone during those first few days.
But that’s not why unlocking my iPhone X is my least favorite aspect of Face ID. I say that because there other ways to use it that are far more interesting and hint at a larger potential than simply bypassing the home screen with a glance. Warby Parker, for example, was able to recommend several pairs of glasses that would look good on me by analyzing my face. Snapchat is using Face ID to create augmented reality masks that look almost as if they’re painted on your face. And Apple has cleverly made it so that the content of your notifications will only appear on the lock screen once the phone as recognized your face.
It’s small conveniences like these that make me more excited about Face ID, rather than just the prospect of unlocking your phone without typing in a passcode. To be sure, the feature also opens up a whole new can of privacy concerns — Reuters recently reported that Apple will share facial mapping data from Face ID with third party developers, for instance. But it’s important to keep in mind that the data Apple is sharing with app makers can’t be used to unlock phones.
The iPhone X Camera Captures Color Brilliantly
It used to be the case that the iPhone typically always outpaced its Android rivals when it came to camera quality. But companies like Samsung and Google have made notable advancements in recent years, and it’s never been more evident than with Samsung’s latest Galaxy phones and Google’s newest Pixel devices.
In a side-by-side analysis of photos taken with the iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 XL, and Samsung Galaxy S8+, I found that the iPhone X sometimes produced the most vivid and eye-popping colors, while Google occasionally won when it came to detail and contrast. In terms of general camera quality, it’s getting more and more difficult to tell these cameras apart. Take a look at some photo samples below.
Samsung Galaxy S8+
Google Pixel 2 XL
The iPhone X is also great at capturing photos in low-light conditions. The iPhone X was able to preserve more detail and color than the Samsung Galaxy S8+ when taking photos in a dimly lit room, although Samsung’s photo was brighter. The same is true when taking photos with flash: the iPhone X did a better job at making sure the subject was well-lit without looking washed out. But the Galaxy S8+’s flash was brighter, which could be useful if users care about capturing what’s in the background.
Overall, the iPhone X is exactly what the iPhone has always been: A great phone. Despite Apple billing it as the future of the smartphone, it’s not immediately revolutionary the way the original iPhone was in 2007. Apple is not the first company to create a smartphone with an edge-to-edge screen and facial recognition. But Apple’s decision to bring such features to the iPhone X solidifies the role these technologies will play in the future of how we interact with apps and access information.
Still, in the near term, the buying decision will likely come down to whether you think it’s worth splurging on a phone with a larger screen that doesn’t feel overwhelmingly large to hold. That, and the fear of missing out on all of the apps that will inevitably take advantage of the ability to analyze your facial features soon enough, of course.