Body & Design

For the most part, the design of the iPhone X can only be described as elegant. Both the front and back of the phone are glass, and the metal band on the edges is made of 'surgical grade steel.' The advantage to the glass back is that the iPhone X now supports wireless charging, but the disadvantage is that it is just one more surface on the iPhone that can crack.

We don't submit our testing units to drop tests (and there have been at least a few of these tests done on the Internet already), but even though it's been treated gently, our iPhone X has scuffs on that high-end steel edge, and one minor scratch horizontally across the screen. Basically, if you're going to shell out ~$1000 for the iPhone X, be sure to also budget for a good case.

Click through to see the scratch more easily. And, yes, I'll admit it's not really noticeable while the screen is on, but there's still a scratch there and it bothers me. It's not even my phone, and it bothers me.

The rounded corners on the screen are kind of a neat touch, but because the earpiece at the top of the screen cuts into the screen's available space, there's less room for information display at the very top. This means that several status icons such as the rotation lock, Do Not Disturb, Bluetooth and the specific battery percentage are no longer available at a glance, as they have been on previous iPhones. You'll need to swipe down from the top right to see them.

The cutout on the top of the iPhone X leaves very limited space for status icons and information.

The flip side to the screen is that, as an OLED panel capable of a wider-than-sRGB P3 color gamut, it's just beautiful to look at. It's capable of true HDR display, and though the viewing angle isn't necessarily mind-blowing, watching videos (particularly if you have a 4K / HDR subscription to Netflix) is about as immersive an experience as a 5.85" screen can get. The brightness, contrast and quality of color are all fantastic on the iPhone X.

A close-up of the twin camera setup on the iPhone X.

The elimination of the home button also takes some getting used to, as does using your face to unlock the phone. As such, even for long-time iPhone users (I had an iPhone 4S and 6 for a couple years each), you'll need to re-learn some muscle memory to operate the phone as quickly as you might have been used to. That said, when handling an iPhone 8, I find myself missing the full-height design of the iPhone X display, even if the curved corners are a bit 'out there.'

Handling and workflow

General handling is another reason we'd recommend a case for the iPhone X. Being all glass front-and-back, it's incredibly slippery, not only in your hand, but also if you happen to place it on a smooth surface at any sort of incline (it'll slide to the floor).

That said, the controls in Apple's default Camera app are well laid-out. The on-screen shutter release is in a great spot to operate with your thumb in either vertical or horizontal orientation, and the set of additional controls at the top of the screen are easily manipulated with your free hand.

The default camera app is your iPhone X's window to the world. Modes are on the right, between the shutter button and the live preview, which can be fiddly to operate in horizontal orientation as shown here. Icons on left are, from top: filter effects, self timer, Live Photos, HDR and flash.

This isn't so much the case in selfie mode, though; holding the camera out in front of you for single or group shots can make it hard to hit the either on-screen shutter release on the screen or one of the volume keys to take a shot without getting your fingers or palm blocking the frame. Some competitors allow for either voice or gesture commands to trigger an image, and we'd like to see Apple implement something like this in the future.

Additionally, the default app looks a little basic in comparison to other high-end smartphone options; the default app on an LG V30, for example, allows for both manual control (in stills and video), as well as Raw capture from its built-in camera app.

But this isn't really new for Apple; it's a defining philosophical characteristic of the company that they do things on behalf of the consumer, in an almost 'we know best' sort of way. If the underlying software processing can offer the average user as much (or even more) image quality than they could want, why bother to muck about with manual settings or a Raw converter? But we'll take a closer look at DNG capture and quality later on.

In any case, for those users wanting to wrest as much control as they can over shooting parameters, be aware that using the touchscreen to adjust settings can be fiddly. In the mobile Lightroom CC app in particular, the sliders to manipulate shutter speed, ISO and other settings are difficult to manipulate with anything resembling precision.

Lightroom CC mobile app

Camera+ mobile app

Lightroom CC isn't the only way to DNG capture on the iPhone (and it also doesn't automatically place DNG files in an easily accessible place). The free VSCO app supports DNG capture, though at the time of this writing, there's no way to swap from the wide lens to telephoto lens. The $2.99 'Camera+' app does allow this functionality, and captured DNG files can be easily imported to your Mac using the Image Capture application included with Mac OS X. Similar functionality is available with the Windows Photos app (so long as you have the latest version of iTunes installed). Plus, the exposure adjustments in Camera+ are far less fiddly than those in Lightroom CC.

For people that are just interested in casually documenting the world around them with a minimum of fuss, the iPhone X makes for a solid proposition. For power users looking for the best mobile platform to take full control over their settings, the iPhone can be a bit hit-or-miss.