iPhone X: Five things I absolutely love

Other than the big screen and slim bezels.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
4 min read
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One of the most daring -- and expensive -- phones of 2017, the iPhone X has some great design and software features that attempt to justify the stratospheric $1,000 price. It's got ultraslim bezels and an all-screen face, an excellent camera and cutting-edge face-scanning technology.

Of course, the iPhone X has more than a few maddening feature flaws that make me shake my head in disappointment, but after using the X for over two months, I've come to really love some of the subtler changes. They successfully make it much smoother and more useful than previous iPhones. And when you're using the phone for hours a day, every day, even small conveniences add up.

Here are the five that made the biggest impression on me, plus one runner-up that needs a little work.

Lock screen notifications for your eyes only


iPhone X gets cryptic with messages until you make eye contact.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Your notifications and alerts aren't anyone's business but your own, which is what makes this anti-Peeping Tom feature so great.

Give the lock screen a sidelong glance and your list of notifications simply shows you the apps that are alerting you: Gmail, text, Facebook Messenger and so on.

But when the iPhone X's depth-sensing Face ID camera recognizes you, the details of the alert fill in. You suddenly see the sender and the actual message; either the full text if it's short or an excerpt if it's long.

When Android phones begin adding similar advanced face-scanning technology -- remember, Qualcomm is making this technology available to all phones that use its Snapdragon 845 chipset -- I expect to see them adopt this approach, too.

Face ID saves time logging into websites

Face ID doesn't always work when I want it to, but when it does, it can whisk me right into password-protected websites such as Amazon and my bank. That saves me from having to type my password a million times. It works similarly to registering your fingerprint to access a site -- except you literally never have to lift a finger.

This is a feature you opt in to, so you don't have to use it if you prefer tight password control. You can also use Face ID to authenticate purchases, but that'll happen on a seller-by-seller basis.

Fancy portrait selfies


You can take selfies with the same cool lighting effects as you can with the rear cameras.

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

With the iPhone X, Apple wants you to take even more portrait shots.

Both the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X give you new portrait lighting options (in beta) to give bokeh-effect photos some additional theatrical drama. But only the iPhone X extends the same courtesies to the front-facing camera.

Flip over to selfie mode and you're able to tap Portrait to gently blur the background and make your mug pop. You'll also be able to choose from lighting options: natural, studio, contour, stage and stage light mono. These can make a big difference in rounding out your self-portrait.

One thing to keep in mind: While Apple uses two rear cameras to achieve portrait mode on the iPhone X, 8 Plus and 7 Plus , portrait mode selfies rely on a single camera lens, assisted by software. Don't expect the same level of quality and detail as dual-camera portrait mode.

Check out what happens when you try taking portraits with the front-facing camera.

Easier app switching

The typical way to flip from one open app to another is to swipe up from the iPhone X's bottom edge until a carousel of apps appears, and then swipe right to leaf through those.

Another way that I find faster is to place your finger at the edge of the bottom bezel and then flick right. That opens your latest apps in full-screen mode -- the above carousel method shows you shrunken "thumbnail" versions that you can then expand once you've selected the one you want. This is especially useful if you want to go to an app you opened immediately before.

Tap to wake

Taking a page from Android phones, the iPhone X introduces tap-to-wake features, which means that when the screen is locked, you can tap the display to see the lock screen. (You can also raise the phone to wake the iPhone 6S and newer models, and the iPhone SE.)

When your iPhone's buddied up to you on a table or desk, tap-to-wake is a convenient way to see the time and date or the battery and Wi-Fi status. Plus you can peep your (obscured) notifications without having to unlock the phone, or even lift it.

Runner-up: Maps navigation shortcut

When you're in Google or Apple Maps, in the phone app or in voice memos and open any other app, a colored indicator bubble appears around the iPhone X's clock.

You can tap this bubble from any screen you're in to immediately return to your ongoing navigation, phone call or voice memo. It's a terrific, time-saving shortcut that I absolutely love.

Watch this: 9 iPhone X tips and tricks

The only problem is that once you're back in the navigation, voice memo or wherever, you can't tap the same space to toggle back to what you were doing before.

Here's a good example of why you might want to toggle between two screens. Say you're navigating for someone, and most of the route is freeway driving. You may want to pop out of the navigation to read an article then pop back in to give the driver prompts about the next turn ("5 more miles, then exit Page Mill Road"). 

The missing step is getting back to whatever you were doing before. Instead of being able to press the same shortcut button to flip back to your other task, you'll have to swipe out of the map and open your browser again or use one of the above task-switching methods. None of this is hard, but once you get used to a timesaving shortcut, you'll absolutely want to use it both ways.

Apple could have pushed just a little harder to make this feature that much better. Let's hope two-way shortcuts make it to the next iPhone.

Read next: iPhone X: 5 things that drive me absolutely nuts

And also: The 7 best new features in iOS 11.3