I’ve owned every iPhone except the first one, and I can say this after spending a day with the brand new iPhone X: if Apple wants its customers to think differently, this phone is the most different one yet.
There’s a lot to like about this flagship device … but also quite a bit that will annoy you at first. But if you’re committed to using an iPhone, you’d better get used to it. Apple has revealed the future of mobile phones, and there’s no going back.
If you’ve been using an iPhone during the last 10 years, get ready for a new learning curve. The lack of the home button, which makes room for a huge, gorgeous screen, will take some getting use to, and it will take more than one day. While all the swiping is somewhat intuitive, I still find myself trying to click on a button that isn’t there. Old habits die hard, and don’t even get me started on the half-swipe-then-hold gesture to switch between apps.
The marquee feature that everyone is talking about, of course, is the facial recognition that Apple called Face ID, which exists because the home button is gone. Fortunately, for the most part, it just works. Set up is much faster than Touch ID, and actually, seems to be more reliable. In the first day of heavy usage, it’s only failed a few times. That includes with and without glasses, and in total darkness. The promise that you need to "pay attention" to unlock is a little overstated; I’ve been able to unlock it while barely looking at the screen and even while squinting. It’s pretty fast, too.
Oddly, even after your face unlocks the phone, you still need to swipe up to get to the home screen, and that’s an annoying extra step when you are hammering on your phone about a million times a day. For the most part, though, Face ID is very well-executed. I may ultimately like it more than the fingerprint recognition, which didn’t work when when my fingers were damp or cold.
I found as few other oddities as I’m getting to know this phone. On a handful of occasions, for example, I’ve accidentally taken a screen shot when pulling the iPhone X out of my pocket – you press the wake button and volume button to do it, but being a bit bulkier than the iPhone 7, apparently that’s the part of the device that I’m grabbing.
Some of the other UI sacrifices on this phone are just weird. The "notch," which makes room for all those fancy facial scanning cameras, is ugly, the kind of detail that Steve Jobs would’ve probably killed someone over. It fades away during letterboxes video, but otherwise, it negatively affects the iPhone X’s sleek aesthetic. Cleverly, Apple squeezed the signal strength and battery indictor on the "bunny ears." Annoyingly, you cannot display battery percentage anymore, just the graphic.
So that’s the bad stuff. The good stuff is pretty impressive.
When you pick up the iPhone X, it has a heft that reminds me of the old iPhone 3G, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s noticeably heavier than its predecessor, but the shiny borders and glass back looks deliciously futuristic and retro at the same time. The crispness of the OLED screen is stunning; it almost looks like a backlit piece of paper when you’re reading text.
The camera on the iPhone X is nothing short of spectacular, and with dual optical image stabilization and an wider aperture (f2.4 on the telephoto) than any previous iPhone, this will be the best camera many people have ever owned.
In terms of speed, I have yet to notice any dramatic bumps; in fact, right now, the phone feels pokier than my iPhone 7 … but that’s just because it’s still syncing the 30,000+ photos and videos from iCloud. In other words, be prepared that the upgrade process may take a few days to fully complete, although the actual process of restoring from an iCloud backup is easier than ever in iOS11.
Call quality on Verizon’s LTE network remains stellar, and you’ll notice the increased volume and clarity when listening to music on its speakers.
Battery life, one day in, seems at least as good (or bad) as the iPhone 7, but I’m most excited about wireless charging. For a change, Apple isn’t forcing users into a proprietary charger. The Qi protocol means third-party chargers are cheap and easy – I bought a $16 wireless charging station on Amazon, but as usual, there are caveats. Currently, the iPhone 8 and X only support five watt wireless charging; eventually, a software update will accommodate 10 watt "fast charging," but you’ll have to bring your own wall wart to the party, since this phone still comes with the puny plug it’s always had.
Similarly, the iPhone X can charge really quickly with a beefy wall unit and USB-C to Lightning cable, but again, Apple doesn’t supply that in the box. That’s a fair amount of nickel and diming for a $1,000 phone (or $1,150 for the 256 GB version).
So, let’s talk about that price. As it has the last several years, Verizon provided me this phone, so it’s easy for me to say you should buy it when it’s not my money doing the talking. However, if it was, I probably wouldn’t think twice about dropping a grand on this device, even over the less expensive iPhone 8, and here’s why:
My iPhone has become my primary tool for work. I use it more than I use my MacBook Pro and my iPad. I use the camera much more than I use my professional mirrorless camera. It is easily the single most important tool in my professional arsenal, and that’s not even mentioning the obvious lifestyle parts of the phone. (I only will give the "animoji" feature this one sentence of acknowledgment: my daughter thinks the talking poop is hilarious, and I view it as a proof of concept for what augmented reality will be in the years to come).
So yeah, the iPhone X is better than the iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus … a huge screen size without sacrificing physical size, plus the best camera on any smart phone and the sharpest screen on the market, make it worth a premium price.
Does that mean you need it? Definitely not. Us early adopters will be guinea pigs on this buttonless phone experiment, and our usability struggles will be ironed out by the time all phones lose their buttons. Certainly some people will not benefit from the improved camera or huge screen; for those who don’t care, I wouldn’t advocate this phone – or even the iPhone 8. Save your money and get a perfectly great iPhone 7 for almost half the price.
For the rest of us, you will see that the iPhone X is definitely, positively, the best iPhone ever made. But it will frustrate you, at least at first. You have to decide if the weird quirks, steep price tag and similarly steep learning curve is worth it. For me, obviously it is, but I’ve been a Mac user since 1985. If you’re OK with Apple’s design philosophy, premium but exclusive ecosystem, and willingness to push its users into occasionally uncomfortable territory, you will learn to love this phone. After a few days, you’ll never look back.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.