Apple’s iPhone X has the best phone display I have yet seen, and it strikes the perfect balance between phone size and display size—at least for me. When I handled the device at the Apple event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino today, I was convinced by that display alone.
But the iPhone X is just as much about its new facial recognition technology as it is about the display. It was here that I had more nuanced, or even mixed, feelings while using the device. Once again, the way you interface with your phone has changed—and, at best, it’s roughly as efficient to use as it used to be with some adjustment. At worst, it’s a little less elegant.
But, as Apple always does, let’s start with the design.
Design and user experience
First, let’s talk size: the iPhone X felt similar to both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8 in my hand; the size may be slightly different, but you probably wouldn’t know it without being told. Only when holding an iPhone 7 in one hand and the iPhone X did I notice. But yes, the X is marginally larger vertically and horizontally—by 0.21 and 0.15 inches, respectively. The thickness is almost exactly the same.
The display, though, is much larger. At 5.8 inches, the X’s display is actually larger than the iPhone 7 Plus’ display. It occupies the entire front surface of the device except for a small slither at the top that houses the front-facing camera, some other hardware, and tiny, tiny bezels on the sides.
That slither cuts into the display, which would be a bit odd if not for the fact that that area was usually occupied by the status bar in previous iPhones anyway. Immediately, I wanted to know if it would cut into 16:9 video; the answer is “no,” unless you’ve zoomed in to make it fill the whole screen. The phone’s aspect ratio, when held in landscape mode, is wider than 16:9. So that area is just black anyway.
If you’re an app or game developer, there’s going to be some hair pulling in your future; the new aspect ratio is going to mean a lot of work for a lot of app and game devs… again. And said ratio is now different between the iPhone 7 or 8 and the iPhone X, so you’ll have to support both for the best user experience. It’s the iPhone 5 all over again. Even if you’re not a dev, expect a transition period just like you saw when we moved from the iPhone 4 to the 5.
But the transition won’t be as painful as the iPhone 5 if you’re running an app designed for the previous phone’s display. Because of the OLED display, those edges really are truly black. They blend seamlessly into the physical body of the phone, that means they look like part of a bigger bezel. Images display just like they would on the iPhone 7 or 8.
With the addition of this near-full-face display, we lose the home button completely and Touch ID with it. That means you can no longer log in with your fingerprint; instead, you use your face and a swiping gesture. Swiping to unlock is back, and I’m honestly not a fan.
Your iPhone X will map your face in three dimensions when you set it up. After that, you start up the phone and get to your home screen by simply looking at the front-facing camera and swiping up on the display from the bottom of the device.
To revert to the home screen from an app, you use the same gesture from inside the app. To go to the multitasking view, you swipe halfway up the screen, then let go. I found the multitasking gesture to be a bit frustrating at first; there was no clear indication as to how far I needed to go or when I could stop. I’m sure I’d adapt eventually, but it wasn’t intuitive, and you (usually) expect something more intuitive from Apple.
The multitasking view looks similar to the existing one, with a series of cards descending in space horizontally across the screen. Whereas in iOS 10 on the iPhone 7 you swipe up on a card to close the app, the iPhone X running iOS 11 requires you to hold your finger down on the card so red indicators appear on all the cards. From there, I tapped them out.
The multitasking view works like it did some iOS versions ago, with the red minus sign in the corner. In general, I’m not a fan of anything that requires me to hold down my finger for a while to gain a basic function. I’m not glad that’s back.
Other home button functions have been moved around. For example, the Apple rep said that you can take a screenshot by holding the power button and the volume button simultaneously; previously, it was the power button and the home button.