The iPhone X is a beautiful mess

Nov 13, 2017, 07:00 PM

A week ago, I stood with hundreds of other people near a construction site on New York’s Fifth Avenue so that I could buy my piece of what Apple is calling the future.

The iPhone X hit stores some 10 years after the first iPhone was released in 2007. That original device helped spur a revolution in the way that we communicate today, and has had profound impacts beyond the world of mobile computing, lowering the costs of parts that are found in all sorts of other products, from wearables to drones. Apple was at one point untouchable in the luxury smartphone market. In recent years, handsets designed by Samsung, and others, have shown that given enough time, there is competition for the table stakes that Apple has set.

That leads to the question: How does Apple differentiate itself a decade later? The company says the X is the grounding for the future of Apple. What does that mean? Is this really more than a phone?

I spent the week with the phone, and here are my initial thoughts:

It looks good. The iPhone X is like a refined version of the design Apple has been iterating on each year since the release of the iPhone 6 in 2014. It’s not dramatically new, but here the screen, the phone’s biggest asset, is allowed to shine, with the metal and glass structure around it fading into the background. And the cut-out notch at the top, which holds the front-facing cameras, isn’t that annoying after a few minutes’ use.

The cameras are great. As has been the case for years with the iPhone, the cameras on this device are excellent. The phone features two rear-facing 12-megapixel cameras that can be used to create pretty snazzy portrait photos that look like they were shot on a more professional camera.

The new cameras also let you take professional-level videos, allowing you to record in 4K, with impressive image stabilization. You can also shoot in a super slow motion at up to 240 frames per second in HD quality.

If you want to unlock even more potential in the X’s camera, download a manual camera app, like Halide, or Manual, which allow you to shoot in RAW, and tweak every aspect of what you’re shooting, such as the exposure, ISO, and focus. The results can be surprisingly spectacular.

The X also has an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, which combined with the company’s new “TrueDepth” sensing technology used to unlock the phone, produces some exceedingly good selfie photos. The cameras can recognize a few faces as well, meaning your group selfies will pop like never before.

While the entire front of the phone isn’t quite “all screen” as Apple’s marketing might suggest—there’s a noticeable bump at the top of the phone that houses all the front-facing camera technology—it’s still a large, vivid display. It’s 5.8-inch, Super AMOLED display that can represent 16 million colors. It’s actually about 0.3 inches larger than the screen in the iPhone 8 Plus, even though the X is about 0.6 inches shorter.

Wireless charging is useful. Apple’s Lightning cable chargers feel like they’re almost designed to break, so it’s a welcome change that to charge the iPhone X, you can just drop into onto a wireless charger. The technology isn’t perfect, however: Most wireless chargers require the phone to be placed on them in a specific way—the first day I charged my iPhone wirelessly, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t lined it up correctly, and woke up to a near-dead phone.

As is fast charging. With certain cables (like a USB-C-to-Lightning cable which is not included with the phone), Apple claims the phone can charge up to 50% in 30 minutes. You can also use the cable that comes with the phone and a larger charging brick, like the ones that come with an iPad, to get a slightly faster charge.

Tap to wake the screen is great. If you want to quickly check the time or see if you’ve missed any notifications, you can tap the X’s screen to wake it up. It’s super useful, but much like fast charging and wireless charging, it’s a feature that many Android phone...