When I talked about the upcoming release of new Apple hardware, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if I would upgrade my iPhone 7 to the new iPhone X. I’m sure you all knew, as I guess I did too, that writing those words clearly indicated that I would upgrade. And, I did.

I upgraded to the 256GB space gray iPhone X. I didn’t really need 256GB of storage. My iPhone 7 was 128GB and I had used a little over half of that space. While I do plan to take many more photos and even videos, I’m not sure that I’ll need all the extra space. I’d have liked to have been able to get a 128GB iPhone X for $100 less than I paid. Oh well, I’ll suffer through.

Impressions

I’ve had the iPhone X for just about a month. I didn’t want to jump right in with an initial impressions post, as there were many of those already posted online. Also, in this post, I don’t want to do a super-deep review, as there will be plenty of those as well. These are just some thoughts and impressions about how I’m finding the new iPhone X as compared to my iPhone 7.

The main thing I’ll say is that not only am I impressed with this phone, but I love it! This is my favorite iPhone thus far and I’ll spell out why below.

Set Up

While not the most exciting aspect of a new iPhone, I do want to talk a bit about my setup experience, as there were some hiccups that I didn’t expect. Overall it was a great setup experience. Apple has really put a lot of effort into streamlining the setup process. I used the new Automatic Setup feature. It’s pretty cool. By placing the new iPhone next to the old iPhone during the setup process, the old phone popped up a dialog asking if I wanted to setup the new phone. After saying “yes” I simply held the camera on the iPhone X up to the iPhone 7’s screen and voila, settings such as my iCloud information, WiFi information, and more was transferred. It was so much nicer than having to type all that in myself.

Additionally, there is a new Express Settings option, which consolidates settings for Location, Analytics, and more into a single place. As long as you’re fine with the defaults for those settings (I am), then it’s a single button tap.

That all was great, but some things weren’t so great. Apparently, Apple’s activation servers were overloaded, and I kept getting activation errors. Here I was with my new phone and I couldn’t move past the activation step! Annoyed, I decided to take my dog for a walk. When I returned I was able to activate without seeing the error again.

The other area that did not go smoothly was transferring my Apple Watch to the new phone. During the setup process I was asked if I wanted to transfer my watch to the new phone, and of course I chose “yes.” I expected this to automatically set up my watch with the new phone without any other interaction from me. Unfortunately, that is not how it went.

After replying “yes” to that question, and then finishing the setup, my watch seemed fine. But then I noticed that it was still paired with my old phone. I went to the Apple Watch app on my new phone and it had a screen with a button to allow me to “continue pairing” my watch. That button didn’t do anything. After a couple reboots, I still had the same issue. So, I figured I’d just unpair the watch from my old phone and then pair it to the new one. That also had its share of issues. The unpairing failed with a not-helpful error. But, even so, the watch seemed to be unpaired from the old phone and ready to pair to the new phone. The first pairing attempt with the new phone failed with another error. It took two more tries, with a few reboots of devices in between, to get it to work. In the end, it’s all fine. But what a terrible experience! And worse, I really have no idea what I did to actually get it to finally work.

How It Feels

I’ve mentioned before that I spent some time using an iPhone 7 Plus and thought it was too big. I loved the camera and the larger screen, but the feel in-hand, and the inability to use it one-handed pushed me back to my iPhone 7.

The iPhone X feels perfect. I will say that it feels quite different from the iPhone 7, and I didn’t expect that. I thought it would feel pretty much the same. But, it’s clearly heavier and it feels a bit larger. I definitely notice the fact that it’s a taller phone, even if only by about 1/4 inch. I think that’s largely due to the screen being so much taller so that there is content all the way at the top.

The glass back and stainless steel sides feel great. This phone is less slippery than the iPhone 7, which is nice. I don’t use a case with my phones, as it just makes them too bulky. So, being able to have a better grip on the phone is definitely a plus.

The screen

The larger size of the iPhone X screen is wonderful. It’s been great to have more of the content from mail, web pages, Twitter, Notes, etc. on the screen. When I was using the iPhone 7 Plus, I really enjoyed the larger screen. That was one of the things I missed when I went back to the iPhone 7. The iPhone X is not as wide as the Plus-sized phones, so it’s not quite the same experience. But, for the way I use my phone, the extra height gives me more content without making the device feel too big or unwieldy. It’s just right.

Much has been said about the new OLED display Apple is using in the iPhone X. The new screen is beautiful with great color, excellent resolution, and the screen seems closer to my finger than ever before. But, I don’t think it is that big of a difference from previous screens. I’ve read some accounts that simply gush about the improvement. To them, it seems that adding OLED is the main improvement in the phone. For me, it’s definitely an improvement, but it’s not the main thing.

Battery life

My typical usage of my phone means that I very rarely run out of power in a given day. Still, I have battery anxiety. I know it’s kind of weird, but I always want the longest battery life I can get in a phone, just in case. This is especially true while traveling, when I’ll be using my phone more than usual. Battery life was something I really noticed when I switched from the iPhone 7 Plus back to the iPhone 7. Again, it wasn’t an issue for me, but it increased my anxiety as every day I noticed that I had less battery left in the evening.

I’ve noticed that the iPhone X lasts longer on a charge than the iPhone 7. But, I’ve also observed that it doesn’t last as long as the iPhone 7 Plus. I don’t do the kind of detailed battery measurements you see all over the web. I just use my phone the way I always do, so there is nothing scientific about my results. I will just say that my observations seem to match those of many other people.

I have the most battery anxiety when I’m traveling. I have not taken a trip with the iPhone X yet, so I’m not sure what that will be like regarding battery life. Usually when I’m traveling, the way I use my phone is quite different than my normal day-to-day usage. I do a lot more with my phone: I take more photos, use maps & navigation a lot, look up information, send more messages, etc. I have a trip coming up in February, and look forward to experiencing, and reporting, what I see regarding battery life.

FaceID

I was amazed at how much was written about Face ID before the iPhone X actually shipped. There was so much conjecture and concern. And no one had even seen or used it yet! I’ve learned over the years to wait to see for myself before making judgement on things like this.

I am blown away by how good Face ID is! It really does just work. While not perfect, Face ID almost always works for me. And on those rare occasions when it doesn’t, I can see why and easily correct the situation. Touch ID was the same, in that it almost always worked as well. Both of these technologies are so good that they change the way you think about security on your phone. They make it so that you can not think about security but still be secure.

Face ID makes the entire process of unlocking the phone so seamless and natural that you forget about it most of the time. This, combined with Raise to Wake, makes using the iPhone X feel faster than ever before. To start using your iPhone X, simply pick it up and swipe up on the lock screen. When you pick it up, it wakes up, and while you’re swiping up on the screen, Face ID is identifying you and unlocking the phone. It’s super-fast and very fluid. It does take a bit of time to get used to using the phone this way. After all, it’s different than how you’d do the same thing using Touch ID. Once you do it a few times, it replaces your old muscle memory and just works. It’s so much more natural.

Apple has also done a great job integrating Face ID into its authentication system so that apps can easily make use of it. Even apps that haven’t been updated to specifically take advantage of Face ID will take advantage of it if they were using Touch ID before. So, any app that you used Touch ID to log into will now use Face ID. This has worked great for me with banking apps, credit card apps, 1Password, and more. And, just as with unlocking the phone, it feels faster than before because you don’t have to do anything. No reaching to place your finger on the sensor. It just happens.

Finally, I’ve noticed a lot more places where my iCloud Keychain passwords are used. These are unlocked seamlessly with Face ID and then filled in, not just on web pages, but also for apps. I realize that this is part of iOS 11 in action, but with Face ID, it just happens with no action required on my part. It’s great.

I guess you can say that I’m blown-away with Face ID. It works well and it improves the overall experience of the phone, not just in unlocking, but also in managing access to private information. It’s a real winner!

Gestures

Using the iPhone X requires learning some new gestures and unlearning some others. While this is always somewhat annoying while learning, Apple has done a great job reworking the interaction model of the iPhone to feel natural and fluid while removing its main point of user focus: the home button.

At first, like many I imagine, I found myself reaching for the home button to unlock the phone, to return to the home screen, to switch between apps, and all the other things you use that button for. It felt slower to get around the new phone. But it didn’t take long to adapt to the new model: swipes. Swipe up from the bottom to unlock, same for getting to the home screen. Swipe up and hold for a second to switch apps, or just use the side-to-side swipe gesture along the bottom to quickly switch apps.

After a few days of adapting, I was hooked. This feels like the right way to interact with iOS, while switching to my iPad, and back to the home button, feels like the old way. Now that I’m used to the new way, it feel much faster.

One thing I recommend is turning on Reachability. For some reason, this is not on by default, perhaps because many people don’t use it. But given the taller screen, it really makes one-handed use so much easier. You can find this in Settings->General->Accessibility. Once turned on, you can grab the little bar at the bottom of the screen and pull down to pull the entire screen down. This works just like double-tapping the home button on older iPhones. It takes some practice to find the right place to pull down, but once you do it a few times it becomes natural just like the other gestures. Not only does this make it easy to reach things at the top of the screen, it also makes it easier to get to control center. You can even do this from the home screen.

The Notch

When the iPhone X was announced, there was so much negativity about the sensor area at the top of the screen, which has come to be known as the notch. I was intruiged by the design choice but held off having an opinion until I was able to use the phone myself. After a month of use, I have to say, it doesn’t bother me — at all. I might even go so far as to say that I like it.

I really like that the status indicators are in their own distinct area. It makes them easier to glance at, and it makes the content on screen seem more distinct. The black sensor area helps delineate the app area from the system area in my mind, which I think is a good thing.

I do realize that some information is no longer easily visible, and this has bothered some people. Most notable I think are the battery percentage and VPN connectivity. While I understand the battery percentage thing, I long ago turned that off to help reduce my battery anxiety. It really works! I highly recommend it. I also understand the VPN indicator as often you might forget that you’re connected (or not connected).

I do think Apple could easily address these. There is some extra space above the status indicators and with such a high-resolution screen, I could see them adding another row of indicators. Certainly not a lot of things, but to address the two above, I could see a small VPN indicator above the network indicators. And, if someone wants to see battery percentage, maybe the percentage value replaces the battery icon, and then perhaps a smaller battery icon above that. I clearly am not a designer, but I could see some work being done here that would address most of these cases.

Wireless Charging

I was unsure whether I really cared about wireless charging. But, I’ve come to really like this feature. Maybe it’s just my use case, but it makes charging so much easier.

I usually only charge my phone at night before I go to sleep. I almost always read in bed. Since my wife usually doesn’t read in bed, I turn off the lights so I don’t disturb her. Before wireless charging, when I was ready to go to sleep, I had to feel around on my night stand for my charging cable, feel the bottom of my phone with the other hand to find the lightning port, and then try to plug the cable in. It always took a couple tries to do this in the dark.

Now, with wireless charging, I can just put the phone down on the charger, which is very easy to feel on the night stand. It works great. Since I’m charging overnight, I’m not worried about how fast it charges. This has been a great addition to the iPhone.

Camera

The camera on the iPhone X, for me, is the most important feature. Each iteration of the iPhone improves the camera in some way but the iPhone X camera upgrade seems like a huge step forward. This change alone makes me very happy that I decided to upgrade to this phone.

I was pretty happy with the camera on my iPhone 7. It took wonderful pictures, especially outdoors. It captured great color and detail. But, as I noted before, I really missed the zoom lens from the iPhone 7 Plus. That was great to have, especially while traveling. Being able to capture shots that matched what my eye saw, as opposed to the wide angle of the regular lens allowed more options in framing and capturing the moment.

Having the dual lens camera system in a phone that almost matches the size of the iPhone 7 is perfect for me. I am once again able to choose wide angle or telephoto, depending on the situation. I’m thrilled with the results I’ve gotten thus far. Pictures of the far-off mountains look great using the zoom lens. It’s also great for getting close-ups for things that aren’t off in the distance. While I haven’t traveled with the iPhone X yet, I can’t wait for my next trip where I will really put the camera through its paces.

I expected to be happy to have the zoom lens again, but I was not expecting how much better this phone is for low-light photos. There is a huge difference between the iPhone 7 and the iPhone X. I have taken several shots both indoors and outdoors, with no flash, and can’t believe how much better the iPhone X is. Outdoor shots taken at night, that before would have been blurry, now look amazing. For example, we recently attended our town’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. Last year, I took pictures of the tree with my iPhone 7, and all of them were blurred and not really usable. This year, however, all of the photos I took came out clear, vibrant, and looked great. The difference was stunning. Indoors I find the same thing. I took several shots of my son during a recent dinner, and without flash, the photos all had great color and clarity. Again, a big step up from similar shots on the iPhone 7.

Finally, during that same dinner, I took a couple shots using Portrait Mode. I was amazed at the results. The backgrounds were nicely blurred, the portrait was well-lit and natural. I also used the new Portrait Lighting effects and was really happy with the results. It’s amazing what these little cameras are capable of. I have a lot more experimenting to do, but so far, I’m very happy with the camera.

Overall

I ended up writing a lot of words for “not a review.” It’s easy for me to say that I’m extremely happy with the iPhone X. And while every new iPhone I’ve had has become the best iPhone I’ve owned, the iPhone X does so in a dramatically bigger way. The removal of the home button and addition of Face ID has changed the device significantly. It’s much more natural and fluid to use in every way. The wireless charging, while not game-changing, really improves my experience every single day. And the camera…wow. Just wow. I can’t believe how much better it is than just a generation ago. As I noted above, each new iPhone improves the camera, but to me, none have ever been this dramatic. The iPhone X is a winner.