Tech Guide

CNBC reviews the $1,150 new iPhone X — the best smartphone you can buy

Key Points
  • The iPhone X is the best smartphone you can buy.
  • It's worth $999 or even $1,150 if you use your phone a lot.
  • The screen, camera, Face ID, Animoji and more are all highlights of the new iPhone X.
Watch CNBC's first hands-on look at Apple's new iPhone X
Watch CNBC's first hands-on look at Apple's new iPhone X

I'm glad I bought the iPhone X.

Apple provided me with a review unit on Monday and I've been using it as much as possible, specifically trying to home in on Apple's new features. You can unlock the iPhone X by looking at it, for example. It has a display that covers almost the entire front of the phone. The cameras are incredible.

There are a couple things I don't like, which I'll get into in a bit, so let's jump into what you need to know about the iPhone X.

(If you want a shorter version of this review with just the good stuff, check out my five favorite features of the iPhone X.)

The screen is the coolest new feature

All screen!
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone X display is the best display I've ever seen on a smartphone. I had my doubts before going into the review because Samsung's Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 smartphones were at the top of my list.

But Apple took screens from Samsung and had its engineers fine tune them. The results are stunning. Thanks to TrueTone, Apple's display technology, the screen always shows the most accurate colors no matter the lighting environment. It's bright, colorful and viewable from all angles.

You can see the notch here
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The notch — the black area at the top of the display where Apple crammed the front-facing camera and sensors — isn't a big deal. It tends to float into the background after a bit. I did notice it while watching the movie "Mad Max" in full-screen mode, but you can also set movies to play so the notch doesn't show. I thought this would be more worrisome than it turned out to be. (Speaking of movies, the stereo front-facing speakers are really loud!)

The notch isn't visible in video if you don't blow it to full screen
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Finally, the display supports new fancy movie features, like 4K HDR, so you can see the sharpest and most colorful version of a movie or TV show. New TVs have this feature, as do other high-end Android phones, but it's great to have that option on the iPhone X, too.

The hardware is gorgeous

The iPhone X is gorgeous
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone X hardware is the best I've ever seen Apple make. On the front and back, it has hardened glass that is the most resistant to shattering (though the company warns it's still glass and can break!).

Apple says this is the strongest glass used on a smartphone
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I love the steel running around the borders. It gives the phone a more premium look than aluminum. It's also easier to hold than the larger iPhone 8 Plus but offers a larger screen (5.8 inches versus 5.5 inches) since the display runs from edge to edge and top to bottom. Know this: When you pick up the iPhone X, it feels like a $1,000 phone.

I love the glass back and steel sides
Todd Haselton | CNBC

That's good, because $1,000 is the very least you'll pay for it.

Unlocking the iPhone X by looking at it is magic

Face ID is super easy to set up
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Face ID — which replaces the Touch ID fingerprint reader — allows you to unlock the iPhone X just by looking at it. Setup takes only a few seconds: Look at the camera and rotate your head in a circle. Do this twice and your face is registered. You can see a demo here.

Face ID works so fast that if you're looking at the phone and swipe to unlock it, you might not even notice it's even active. Try to unlock the phone without looking at it, however, and you'll see that it remains locked. And yes, it worked when I had glasses on. Apple says it'll learn, too, if you start to grow a beard over time.

Face ID can be used for unlocking apps that used Touch ID, too, so you can access your bank account, passwords and more. Apple only shows notifications when your face is recognized. If it doesn't detect your face, notifications like texts, emails and more won't show.

Face ID is also used for purchases in iTunes and the App Store. When I was ready to buy a movie, I just tapped the right button on the phone twice, looked at it, and it verified my face and made the purchase. Easy.

You'll forget about the home button

I love the steel running along the edges
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It didn't take long for me to adapt to an iPhone without a home button, though there are new gestures to learn. A swipe up from the bottom of the display takes you back to the home screen. A swipe up and a pause will bring up your open applications, which you can easily swipe through. If you're in an app, a swipe across the bottom of the screen will bring you to other open applications. It's smooth and works really well.

There are other gestures and tricks to know about. The button on the right of the phone isn't just the power button (though a long press does turn the phone on). You also hold it to bring Siri up. You tap it and the volume up button at the same time to take a screen shot. Or you hold it and the volume up button to turn the phone off. Holding it for longer will automatically dial 911, too, which you can do discretely in your pocket if you find yourself in trouble. Good to know.

Incredible cameras

Pictures are good, even when they turn off the lights on you
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone X has three top-notch cameras, including two on the back and one on the front. The two on the back are better than the iPhone 8 Plus camera. Both lenses have OIS, or optical image stabilization, which means the phone will capture a clear image even if your hands shake while taking a picture. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus have this, too, but not on the secondary telephoto zoom lens.

This is a pretty decent portrait using the front-facing camera
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The front-facing camera is a bump up from the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus with a new "portrait" camera mode. Portrait lets you take professional-looking pictures with "bokeh" or the fun blurred effect that you see from high-end cameras. Until now, portrait mode was only reserved for the cameras on the back of the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus.

It works surprisingly well but isn't perfect. Sometimes the camera tries to blur parts of the picture in the foreground a little too much, which means some of the corners of your hair or face might appear foggy. That's only if you put portrait mode on, however, and you can otherwise expect a first-class camera experience from both the front and back cameras on the iPhone X.

Animoji are a ton of fun

This animoji is me as a sad fox :(
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple added new animated emoji called Animoji. It may sound silly, but hear me out. Once you tap into the Animoji in iMessage, you'll see a selection of emoji that can perfectly mimic your facial expressions using the front-facing Face ID sensor.

Animoji mimic your facial reactions, they're a ton of fun!
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It works so well that it's bizarre. As I stared down at the screen, a chicken looked back at me making the same facial expressions. You can send these to any iPhone or Android user (the latter receives a video clip), and they're a ton of fun to use. Would I spend $999 for this feature exclusively? No way. But it's a fun addition to the iPhone X.

Wireless charging

Wireless charging is awesome
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I love that Apple finally got on the wireless charging bandwagon this year. It means you don't have to plug the phone into a charger and, instead, can drop it on any "Qi-compatible" charger. They cost anywhere from $15 to $50 on Amazon and can be placed around your house — next to your bed, on the side tables in your living room or wherever.

I love the convenience of just dropping the iPhone down to charge. It's slower than using a cable, which can be frustrating if you need a lot of juice before running out the door, but is perfect for leaving on your work desk or nightstand.

Some things you should know about

The headphone jack is gone for good
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I will be spending more time with the iPhone X but here are a few things you should know about now.

First, no, the iPhone X doesn't have a headphone jack. This isn't a big problem for me — I moved on to Bluetooth headphones a while ago — but it'll bother some folks. The good news is Apple includes a set of wired buds that plug into the Lightning jack (where it charges), in addition to a 3.5mm headphone adapter.

Still, I ran into an issue on my 45-minute ride home Monday night where, after listening to music for half the ride, the AirPods kept losing connection even after I turned Bluetooth on and off. This could be a one-off or something bigger.

The iPhone X gets hot. While filming and using the phone for a good 30 minutes on camera, I noticed it heating up on the back right-side of the device. I haven't had this issue with my iPhone 8 Plus, and it could be nothing at all. Still, note that it can get a little warm after constant use — that might get annoying if you're holding it during a long airplane ride.

Not all apps have been updated to look right for the screen yet, and it stinks. Slack, GroupMe and other applications that haven't been updated for the iPhone X look funky, with black bars at the top and bottom. I'm sure they'll be updated soon (I hope!) but know that it's an issue.

The camera gets confused sometimes!
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The new portrait modes on the cameras can be hit or miss. Sometimes you get a great picture, sometimes you get a picture that looks all out of whack since the sensors clearly couldn't pick up the front and foreground properly. (Note the Mug root beer shot above, where the whole top of the bottle was removed.) Apple improved the original portrait mode a lot (which didn't change lighting effects) so I expect this will only improve over time.

The battery life should last about a day but I still need to test the phone more to see how well it stacks up against the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. Apple says it'll last two hours longer than the iPhone 8's charge, however, so it should be good enough for most folks. I ran the phone almost nonstop from mid-afternoon until 11 p.m. and it had 15 percent left, which is OK but not great.

Should you buy the iPhone X?

I love the steel running along the edges
Todd Haselton | CNBC

If you're like me and you want the best smartphone on the market, then yes, the iPhone X is the phone you should buy. If you find yourself on your phone more than you do on your computer, constantly staring down at it, then why not get the best one there is?

The starting model is priced at $999 and includes 64GB of storage. If you plan to download lots of movies and games, then splurge for the $1,150 model with 256GB of storage. You'll want that extra space.

If you don't really care about phones or about having the latest and greatest, then there's really no need to buy an iPhone X. Save some dough.

The iPhone 7 is a good option since it's the cheapest fully loaded iPhone out there with a great camera and solid processor. Or you can even get the iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, the latter of which I also recently purchased. I don't even regret that — it's just the second-best iPhone.

You'll save hundreds of bucks going with those phones, but you'll lose the design and the screen on the iPhone X, which I think really make the experience.

Don't care about the iPhone at all? Get a Galaxy Note 8. You'll get wireless charging, a great display, a solid camera and more.

The iPhone X is the best iPhone Apple has ever made — as it should be. It's not for everyone, just the folks who really want the latest and greatest and who spend enough time on their phones where $1,000 is worth the price. If you're on the fence, take a moment to check one out the next time you're near an Apple Store. I think you'll like it.