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iPhone X Review: One week with the world’s best smartphone

Updated Dec 13th, 2017 9:02AM EST
iPhone X Review

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Apple is a company that usually isn’t first. Not with larger-screen smartphones. Not with the switch to OLED panels. Certainly not the first to a 12 megapixel camera. Nope, not edge-to-edge displays. Wireless charging? You’re dreaming. Widgets? It barely has them now. Removable storage? You know what… just writing that whole list of Apple’s late moves and failures, I can’t even begin to think of why I even want to use the brand new iPhone X.

Yeah, that’s a lie. Take the above, rinse and repeat every year (or every couple of years if we’re lucky). But if you’re reading this, regardless of which side of the technological aisle you affiliate with, you should know that moving first isn’t Apple’s goal in most cases. It’s to offer a product that combines technologies the company thinks are ready for prime-time, while also being immensely scalable and economically feasible.

The iPhone X doesn’t just take a couple of the latest features and combine them together into some mediocre plastic shell without a soul or purpose. Oh, no. The iPhone X is Apple’s vision of where the smartphone goes from here, 10 years after the original iPhone was released. It’s a completely uninterrupted holistic thought, one that is genuinely profound. I still can’t believe that a company could make a smartphone so good, even after using it for over a week.

The star of the show, the screen, is perfect in every way. It is a beacon of embarrassment to all other phone manufacturers. A shining display of excellence and precision. It’s been rated the best OLED on any mobile device in the world, and that is accurate. Colors are accurate, black levels are deep, viewing angles are the best of any OLED on a smartphone, and brightness is bright.

Take that gorgeous OLED and now shape it into this unimposing, fluid-feeling rounded rectangle, with a rounded cut-out at the top for the brand new sensors. Let’s talk about that for a second. Let’s have a talk about the notch. There seems to be no end in sight to people complaining about something on a new iPhone or Apple product when it’s announced, only to never talk about it again after they begin to use said product. I understood the reason behind the notch, not just from a technical perspective (there has to be space for these sensors and cameras), but also from a branding perspective.

The iPhone is one of the most identifiable products on the entire planet. You could put it up there with a Coca-Cola bottle. So, what would happen if Apple just released a phone that had a perfectly rectangular screen, no forehead, no chin, and especially no home button? It would mostly look like any other smartphone on the planet. Look at this image here and tell me if you can recognize the middle phone as an iPhone?

Not really, right?

What about now? That’s one of the big reasons Apple decided to take this route, and it works tremendously. You can identify someone using an iPhone X in public immediately with no question about which phone it is. But how does that work for you, the user? It’s great. I don’t have any issue with the notch at the top of the phone whatsoever, and I’m very sure you won’t either. Get over it, stop whining, and enjoy your iPhone X.

Plus, that notch enables some incredible things. Things — would you believe it! — that Apple is bringing to the market for the first time, even before Android manufacturers. I’m talking about Face ID, the TrueDepth camera system that includes a flood illuminator, a dot projector that projects 30,000 infrared dots on your face, an infrared camera, and a 7-megapixel front camera. Then you have the standard ear speaker that doubles as one of two stereo speakers, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, and a microphone.

Yeah, no big deal. All of those things working together deliver one of the most transformative experiences on a smartphone, ever. It’s because the system is so good that it disappears in use. Apple has once again nailed bringing a feature or technology to market that you as the user do not have to consciously think about at all. You don’t have to think about how it works or why it works, just that it works. We’re entering the era of passive authentication for our devices, one in which you no longer have to actively unlock your devices at all. They will just know it’s you, and unlock immediately and automatically.

Face ID has been almost flawless in operation. There are times it will not recognize you, but over time it starts to learn more of your face and from multiple angles, becoming even more accurate. The new Portrait Mode on the iPhone X is also great, though it is in beta and can be rough around the edges at times. Literally. Sometimes it has some trouble detecting the part of the picture that needs to be in focus. I would expect this to be improved over time.

Animoji, the animated emoji feature that tracks your facial features, is extremely fun. It has brought laughter to myself, my family, and friends.

The phone is now made out of a stainless steel frame that is sandwiched between two sheets of glass, the strongest glass on a smartphone, according to Apple. It is, unequivocally, the most beautiful smartphone I have ever seen or held. It’s just perfect. The phone feels like it should cost even more — something that could be sold in Selfridges or Maxfields for a lot more money — but Apple’s been down that road before…

My only complaint about the materials on the phone would be it heavily nudges you towards using a case. I am not using a case as I really love how the phone feels without one, but I have a firm understanding with myself that at some point, this phone is most likely going to be dropped. If there’s any silver lining there, the iPhone X is much more usable without a case than every iPhone since the iPhone 6 — you could more confidently hold a wet bar of soap in one hand than one of those previous-generation iPhones.

The rear-facing cameras are absolutely fantastic in my limited use with them. Limited in the sense that I have taken probably hundreds of pictures of my son and around my house, but I haven’t really gone anywhere in the last 10 days since I was working on this review, so I don’t have any Earth-shattering photos to share of exciting travel destination pictures, or artsy low-light shots of the condensation dripping off of a bottle of Red Stripe, or some $2 million supercar being photographed on its way through the Swiss Alps. But here’s a portrait picture of myself, my dog, and the fall beauty around my home. I hope it suffices.

iOS 11 is a very nice update to the software component of the iPhone. And on the iPhone X, with no home button, you have a brand new way to navigate it. It is a monumental success and every Apple employee on the design and software engineering team should be incredibly proud. They have taken what was the entire main user interface of the world’s most beloved operating system, the entire interaction paradigm that has shaped the modern smartphone industry, and changed it for the better. There’s no button to push, so you swipe up from the bottom instead. To multitask, you swipe up and pause, and flip through your recent apps. To access the Control Center, you swipe from the top right corner, for your Notification Sheet, the left top corner. It is absolute butter. Kerrygold, not Land O’Lakes.

Battery life is actually improved over a non-Plus model like an iPhone 6 or 7, or even 8, though is just a touch less than using an iPhone 7 Plus or 8 Plus, for instance. I can usually get through a solid day or just about, and that’s pretty much what most of us expect from a smartphone today without a charging case. The compatibility with wireless chargers makes this a bit better by letting you rest the iPhone on a wireless charger at your desk or nightstand, or at a coffee shop, or wherever you may frequent that plays passive-aggressive New Age music while being surrounded by uppity patrons fighting for a table so small you can’t fit your elbows on it.

Some other general thoughts: the stereo speakers are incredibly loud and full, being able to just tap your phone to turn on the display is a nice addition, and replacing the power button with a larger side button that controls both Siri and Apple Pay is great. I absolutely adore the 3D Touch shortcuts on the lock screen for the camera and the flashlight, they feel like physical toggle switches. You should also know that the color iPhone X to buy this year silver. No other entries will be accepted.

If you can’t tell by now, then I will repeat myself — the iPhone X is the best smartphone in the world. I need more time, but it’s probably the best smartphone ever made. It is the start of a new chapter for Apple in the smartphone world, one in which the company is beginning to show us just how good the future of smartphones can look, way ahead of every other manufacturer in the world.

Can’t innovate anymore, my ass.

Jonathan S. Geller
Jonathan Geller Founder, President & Editor-in-chief

Jonathan S. Geller founded Boy Genius Report, now known as BGR, in 2006. It became the biggest mobile news destination in the world by the end of 2009, and BGR was acquired by leading digital media company PMC in April 2010.

Jonathan is President of BGR Media, LLC., and Editor-in-chief of the BGR website.

What started as a side project at the age of 16, quickly transpired into 24-hour days and nights of sharing exclusive and breaking news about the mobile communications industry. BGR now reaches up to 100 million readers a month through the website, syndication partners, and additional channels.