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Hands-on and first impressions of the Apple iPhone X

Although Apple's iPhone X was announced in September, the handset was previously exposed prior to the event over the course of several months through leaked renders and images of dummy models. While knowing ahead of time is sometimes beneficial, it does make the wait for the official release seem just that much longer. This past weekend, the handset finally arrived in retail stores and wireless carriers, and since then, some time has been spent learning about the iPhone X and putting it through its paces.

When it comes to the design of the new iPhone, one of the first things you'll notice when pulling it out of the box is that it feels quite sturdy and nestles comfortably in the hand. There's also a bit of weight to it, which can most likely be attributed to the use of stainless steel for the chassis, as opposed to the more traditional aluminum, that has been used on previous iPhone models. When the unit is powered off, the design of the model looks seamless, with a glossy front, matching an equally as glossy back glass panel.

The iPhone X features an elongated "side" button, as opposed to the traditional power switch found in earlier iPhones, that can perform different actions depending on whether if its pressed once, twice, or long pressed. On the opposite side, there is the ring toggle switch, and also the volume rocker. On the bottom, there is a speaker grille, an opening that is reserved for the microphone, and a Lightning port. As mentioned prior, the rear is a glossy glass panel that allows for wireless charging but also adds a nice aesthetic to the phone while also housing the protruding dual lens 12MP camera.

But before we get to the camera, let's talk about the display. The iPhone X is the first Apple handset to offer a screen not using an LCD panel and instead uses OLED. It's a 5.8-inch panel that supports HDR, 3D Touch, True Tone, and more. While OLED does have its own set of problems, they can typically emit more light, produce deeper blacks, and reduce power consumption. For the most part, with only a couple days of use, this screen looks good, with colors that are vibrant, brightness that is adequate, and things looking sharp. Naturally, more testing will have to be done, but so far, it looks very good.

We really can't talk about the display without talking about the notch. If unfamiliar, this is the cut out at the top of the screen, making space for the various sensors that make Apple's new face authentication system, Face ID, possible. While there are scenarios where you forget about the indentation on the top portion, there are other areas where it becomes a blatant reminder. So far, during limited use, this isn't a big deal for the most part, but in certain scenarios, like watching videos, it's a pity that the notch doesn't allow you to take full advantage of the screen real estate afforded by the iPhone X.

As mentioned previously, the iPhone X features a dual 12MP camera that offers the ability to take standard photos and also come in a bit closer for a proper portrait shot. You can see a small sample of images taken with the iPhone during the day and during the night. While it does employ HDR, it isn't quite as exaggerated as it would be, if shooting these same scenes with something like a Pixel. For now, the results are there for you to judge, as we will dive a bit deeper into the photo capabilities of the handset during the full review.

So what about not having a traditional fingerprint reader on the unit and instead relying on your face to unlock the device? To put it simply, Face ID works pretty well. The setup is simple, you just roll your head around twice so that the phone can create a map of your face. After this is complete, you're good to go. Oddly, the first time it was set up, it would work perfectly indoors, but once outdoors, the Face ID would constantly fail. This might have been some sort of unique situation because redoing the Face ID process once more, it would then start working like a charm.

It does take a little time to get used to, as it does require a direct line of sight with your face in order for it to work, meaning that you can't have it sitting on your desk and expect it to unlock when glancing at it. There is also an optimal distance to get it to unlock every single time and just like anything new, this just takes practice to master. It isn't perfect mind you, but, for the most part, this is an unexpected pleasant surprise of the phone. Sure, it'd be nice if the Touch ID sensor was still an option, but being the first generation, Face ID is so far pretty impressive.

Another thing that will be new to any user of the iPhone X is the new set of gestures which may take time for some to get used to given the lack of home button. For the basics, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen when an app is open to get back to the home screen. Pulling down from the top right corner will allow you to access the Control Center, while swiping from the top left will allow you to access your notifications. While the gesture from the bottom of the screen isn't so bad, the ones on the top definitely feel a bit unnatural. You can get used to it, but it isn't a comfortable move.

Over a couple of days of use, there's no getting around it, the iPhone X is different. It isn't a bad or good, but it's a device that will require iPhone users to actively change their habits, some of which have been instilled into them for over a decade. But, for the most part, things feel good in this early usage but more time will be needed to explore the ins and outs of the iPhone X thoroughly to assess it properly.

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