Does the iPhone X do enough to merit its nearly four-digit price?
That's the question we're seeing asked and answered critics, as early reviews based on short-term usage are hitting the internet this morning. Most reviewers only had the iPhone X for about a day, but in that time they've generally found the redesigned smartphone to be elegant, its notch to be less of a big deal than the hype suggested and for Face ID to be OK, but not perfect.
After testing the iPhone X, Tom's Guide's Mark Spoonauer came away with a positive outlook on the smartphone, seeing the smaller size as a significant improvement, and the handset's cameras as competitive with the best competitors.
"Is the iPhone X’s design that much better? In short, yes. Putting the iPhone X next to the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, it’s easy to see why this is the true Apple flagship. You get a fairly large 5.8-inch screen in a phone that’s easy to use with one hand. Not only did I have no problem stretching my thumb across the display, the iPhone X is also a lot easier to slip into my front jeans pocket than the iPhone 8 Plus."
"The iPhone X offers more natural looking portraits, as I discovered when I took two photos of my colleague Mike with both Apple’s handset and the Pixel 2. The bokeh effect looks much more natural on the iPhone 8, while it appears more uneven with Google’s camera. In addition, Mike's skin tone looks warmer on the iPhone X, which I prefer."
"I was pretty amazed when I saw my [Animoji] alien avatar raise his eyebrows with mine and smile and frown in sync with my expressions. You can capture a 10-second animation with sound and then send it off to anyone with an iPhone or Android device; they can only respond with their own Animoji message if they have an iPhone X, too."
"This is not going to sound scientific at all, but my impression is that the iPhone X’s 5.8-inch OLED screen isn’t OLED-y enough. ... the colors aren’t as saturated as what you’ll find on the Galaxy Note 8, for example. When I watch the same Wonder Woman trailer on both phones, the greens on the Note 8’s screen popped a lot more, while looking more muted on the iPhone X."
"You do need to swipe up on the screen to unlock the iPhone X, which is technically an extra step compared to Touch ID. On my current iPhone 7 Plus, I can just press and hold the Home button to unlock and start using the device. But because you have to look at your phone anyway to use it, the only real step you need to take is swipe up on the phone. I just wish I could swipe up anywhere on the screen; instead, Apple forces you to do it from the bottom of the display."
"[The notch is] definitely noticeable. Unlike other phones with edge-to-edge screens, the iPhone X has a notch toward the top of its display that swoops down. It interrupts the flow, especially in apps that have a white background like Messages and Email. It’s a bit of an eyesore. However, on the Home screen and in other apps that have darker content, such as movies, the notch mostly fades in the background.
In his hands-on review of the iPhone X for The Verge, Nilay Patel praised its design, but found out that not all situations are optimized for Face ID unlocking.
"At a glance, the iPhone X looks so good one of our video editors kept saying it looked fake. It’s polished and tight and clean — my new favorite Apple thing is that the company managed to move all the regulatory text to software, leaving just the word “iPhone” on the back."
"Whatever the case, the results are excellent: the iPhone X OLED is bright, sharp, vibrant without verging into parody, and generally a constant pleasure to look at. Apple’s True Tone system automatically adjusts color temperature to ambient light, photos are displayed in a wider color gamut, and there’s even Dolby Vision HDR support, so iTunes movies mastered in HDR play with higher brightness and dynamic range."
"Switching apps is fun and simple: you can either swipe up and hold to bring up all your apps in a card-like deck, or just quickly swipe left and right on the home bar to bounce through them one at a time."
"The good news is that FaceID mostly works great. The bad news is that sometimes it doesn’t, and you will definitely have to adjust the way you think about using your phone to get it to a place where it mostly works great. ... Apple clarified that FaceID works best at a distance of 25 to 50 centimeters away from your face, or about 10 to 20 inches. That’s closer than I usually hold my phone when I pull it out of my pocket to check something, which means I had to actively think about holding the iPhone X closer to my face than every other phone I’ve ever used. 'You’re holding it wrong' is a joke until it isn’t, and you can definitely hold the iPhone X wrong."
"Landscape mode on the iPhone X is generally pretty messy: the notch goes from being a somewhat forgettable element in the top status bar to a giant interruption on the side of the screen, and I haven’t seen any apps really solve for it yet. And the home bar at the bottom of the screen often sits over the top of content, forever reminding you that you can swipe to go home and exit the chaos of landscape mode forever."
"There’s no headphone jack, which continues to suck on every phone that omits it, but that’s the price you pay for a bezel-less screen with a notch at the top."
Wired's Steven Levy agrees that the iPhone X's smaller, bezel-free design makes it more comfortable, but Face noted that ID hiccups seem like a controversy waiting in the wings.
"The iPhone X is a big screen in a compact form factor—Cinerama in a phone booth. Though the device itself is only slightly bigger than the standard iPhone 8, its screen is roughly the same size as that of the iPhone 8 Plus. I found the display a noticeable, and greatly pleasurable, advance over my “old” iPhone 7, whether watching The Big Sick, streaming a live football game, or simply swiping through Instagram."
MORE: The Best iPhone X and iPhone 8 Carrier Deals
"We can get a glimpse of this from those remarkable Animojis—like that scatological doppelganger that I used as a demo—as well as the first few augmented reality apps that run on the new camera inside the X, as well as the Apple ARKit for developers." He goes on to note that "it’s possible that the iPhone X will be remembered as kicking off a new wave of apps that take us a step closer to making technology truly invisible."
The switch from the Touch ID fingerprint sensor to Face ID facial recognition stirred similar reactions, but seem to feature a greater difficulty curve. While Levy couldn't fool the iPhone with a photo of his own face, he also hit moments when it just didn't recognize him, leading Apple to tell him that he "wasn’t making what the iPhone X considers eye contact," which seems like the potentially biggest downfall.
Hilariously, Levy wound up training himself to use the phone by imitating De Niro’s conversations with his mirror in Taxi Driver (i.e. "You talkin’ to me? Well, I’m the only one here!") But as frustrating as that sounds, he notes he really likes Apple Pay on the iPhone X, as "having to double-click on the side button and then use Face ID was a clearer way to do transactions."
In his review for Engadget, Chris Velazco found some nits to pick, but was generally impressed by the device's design, interface and display.
"The iPhone X feels fantastic, with a level of fit and finish that's highly impressive even by Apple's standards. I particularly like the phone's stainless steel frame -- it adds just the right amount of heft, and the glass covering the X's front and back melts into it seamlessly."
"That screen, by the way, is easily among the most impressive I've ever seen in a phone. Apple says it tuned for accuracy over sheer punchiness, and the effect is unmistakable."
"Navigating through the iPhone X's interface is generally a breeze. Since there's no home button, cruising through iOS happens with a series of swiping gestures. Slide a finger across a bar at the bottom to switch between running apps, swipe up from the bottom of the screen and hold for a moment (you'll feel a haptic pulse) to display all of your currently running apps, or simply swipe up to go back to the home screen. Despite hitting the reset button on almost a decade of iPhone behavior, Apple has built a version of iOS that handily proves home buttons aren't necessary anymore."
"That said, it's not perfect. Using the new app switcher seems just a hair slower than double-tapping the home button, and trying to close an app takes a little more effort than it should. Instead of swiping up on an app window to dismiss it, you have to press and hold the window, then tap a close button on the corner. The move was necessary since the swipe up does something else, but the process now takes an extra, mildly annoying step."
"When you fire up, say, Gmail, it's bounded on the top and bottom by empty expanses that frankly make the X look a little silly. Not exactly the experience you'd expect out of a $1,000 iPhone, but I suspect the App Store will be full of updated software by the time the X is widely available."
In his review for Cnet, Scott Stein appreciated the iPhone X's OLED display and found that Face ID worked pretty well while unlocking the phone, but that using it for Apple Pay introduced a bump in the road.
"The 5.8-inch screen is the biggest on an iPhone to date, and the first Apple handset to use OLED (organic light-emitting display) technology versus the LED/LCD in all previous iPhones. In addition to better energy efficiency, OLED screens offer much better contrast and true, inky blacks -- not the grayish blacks of LCD screens."
"Face ID didn't mind my sunglasses. Scarves presented some challenges, but that makes sense if they're pulled up over your mouth since they're hiding essential aspects of your face. All the tests worked far better than Samsung's face unlock feature on the Galaxy Note 8 -- though Samsung kept its fingerprint reader on, as an easy backup."
"Double-clicking the side button brings up Apple Pay, but an additional face-glance is needed to authorize a payment. I tried it on our vending machine at the office and sometimes it worked great. Sometimes Face ID didn't seem to recognize me. Maybe my timing was off."
"Portrait Lighting is officially in beta on both the iPhone's rear and front cameras, and my experiences with it confirmed Apple isn't finished perfecting the software that makes it work. My face ended up looking oddly cut-out and poorly lit. Unlike the rear cameras, which seemed to produce hit-or-miss Portrait Lighting shots, I haven't had luck with my own selfies."