Apple iPhone X hands-on: 10 years in, Apple rewrites its rulebook

Wait, where'd that home button go?

Chris Velazco / Engadget

Apple's event just wrapped up, and we managed to get our hands on the brand new, completely redesigned iPhone X. Just as the rumors indicated, it sports an edge-to-edge screen packed into a small body -- not that much bigger than the iPhone 7 (or the new iPhone 8). It also packs facial recognition features into the front facing camera, there's a glass back for wireless charging and there's no home button for the first time.

So, let's dive right in. Tim Cook was very adamant that this meticulously crafted machine represented the future of the smartphone, and he was probably right. After all, Apple's sheer popularity means that whatever it sticks into its devices is what the rest of the industry has to respond to. You're right to think the iPhone X seems a little familiar, though. Its 5.8-inch, edge-to-edge OLED display is indeed beautiful, especially up close. I originally expected the notch to bother me more at first since it's noticeably larger than the one on Essential's PH-1. Well, I was wrong. Apple has historically kept iOS's top bar pretty clean, s it doesn't really matter that there's a huge chunk cut out of it.

What did bother me a little more than expected were the bezels that run around the screen. To be absolutely clear: they're really not that big, and I expect most people thinking about dropping $1,000 on a phone couldn't care less. Still, given that Apple's competition has done an incredible job trimming the cruft from around their displays, I can't help but feel that the iPhone X's design doesn't have the same kind of impact as, say, the Essential or Samsung's recent Galaxys. Of course, your mileage may vary. I definitely can't complain about build quality, though: the X's glass front and back melt effortlessly into the stainless steel ring that runs around the phone, and the precision on display here is nothing short of fantastic.

So yeah, Apple built a beautiful phone. What else is new? What's really important is the way Apple rejiggered iOS to work without a home button -- if that sucked, the $1,000 asking price would be even more unreasonable. Thankfully, the team working on iOS cooked up a pretty elegant solution. If you've used a new iPad Pro, you sort of know what I'm talking about -- now, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to view all your running apps in card form, and getting back to the home screen involves dragging the app window down and flicking it away. After years of mashing the home button, using the iPhone X was... very strange for the first few minutes. Once everything clicked, I was shocked that Apple hadn't tried to do this sooner. It feels incredibly natural, to the point where after a few minutes of playtime, I really don't want to go back to the 7 Plus.

Goodbye, home button. I'm not going to miss you.

Meanwhile, Apple's weirdo Animoji worked a hell of a lot better than I thought, and so did using a face to unlock the phone. Apple's reps wouldn't let me register my face as a key, but the unit I played with was tied to a nearby spokesperson who unlocked the phone in just a moment with a glance. Unfortunately, I couldn't test how just how secure the feature is, but I'm cautiously optimistic that Apple's elaborate approach to face authentication is as secure as they claim.

When Apple unveiled the iPhone X, Tim Cook said it was the reflection of the company's vision of the smartphone of the future. Well, as impressed as I am by the X's level of craftsmanship, performance and software thoughtfulness, I think Tim might have been overstating things. The X's set of features are progressive for Apple, but we've seen quite a few of them before. I obviously can't render a verdict without having played with an X for more than a few minutes, but here's hoping the real deal reveals itself to be more than the sum of its parts.

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