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iPhone X: Our biggest questions about the phone we don't have

We’ve seen it and touched it -- briefly. But we still don’t know a lot about Apple's forthcoming "ultimate" iPhone.

My time with the iPhone X was brief. In a crowded demo room at the Steve Jobs Theater back on Sept. 12, I tried to use it as long as I could. And I can't wait to take it for another spin.

Just a week later, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are now known quantities. (Check our iPhone 8 review and iPhone 8 Plus review.) They'll be widely available on Friday. But if not for their glass backs, they have a look and feel that's familiar to iPhone owners for the past few years. The iPhone X (pronounced "ten," not "ex") remains the big unknown in the equation, however.

If you're considering buying an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus this week, know that the X looms. Coming out Nov. 3, it could be the best iPhone ever made. (That's certainly the intention.)

Or maybe not. It's still a riddle wrapped in an enigma. We don't know enough yet. These are my biggest unanswered questions -- and the reasons why I'm advising anyone interested a new phone to wait until we have the answers.

1. Is Face ID the same, better or worse than Touch ID?

Apple is giving up Touch ID on the iPhone X, going only with Face ID as a password alternative and for payments. I saw Face ID demoed by Apple employees but never got to use it myself.

Will Face ID work reliably in all everyday instances? What about lighting conditions, or what I choose to wear, or how my face looks? Even if facial recognition is flawless, will it be more annoying to hold the phone in position for facial scanning than to use my finger for a simple home button click? Touch ID isn't flawless, but it works really well. Will Face ID feel so seamless and instant that Touch ID feels old-fashioned? 

2. How does iPhone X screen size compare to earlier phones?


We made this size comparison to scale, so you can see just small the iPhone X is, compared to the screen it holds.

Aaron Robinson/CNET

The iPhone X has a larger 5.8-inch display than the previous 4.7- and 5.5-inch phones. But it's not exactly that simple. The X has a longer display, more like Samsung's 2017 phones. It's not as wide as Plus phones, so it may feel cramped if you're used to those. Likewise, the iPhone 8 Plus' wider display might suit some documents and PDFs a bit better.

Also, there's that notch where the front-facing camera is. If apps use the screen around the notch, as some demo videos seemed to, will it seem bizarre? If apps don't use that extra space, will the screen size feel less impressive?

3. How difficult will it be to relearn swipe and button shortcuts?

The X mixes up the iOS 11 interface: Instead of swiping up for Control Center and down for notifications, it's down for Control Center and up to go home -- or, up and hold to switch between apps. For Siri, you'll now hold down the long side button, like on the Apple Watch, instead of pressing the home button (because there is no home button). Will it feel intuitive or annoying? Will it just take getting used to? It wasn't bad in my demo time, but I didn't use it for long.


iOS 11 on iPhone X is a whole different ballgame.


4. How durable will the first all-screen iPhone be?

According to Apple, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are made with stronger glass than previous iPhones, along with a stronger aluminum frame with steel underneath. The iPhone X uses the same materials, but its nearly edge-to-edge screen is obviously differently engineered. We still don't know much more durable the new 8 models will be in the long term, and we definitely don't know about the iPhone X.

5. How much better is the X camera vs. 8 Plus?

The X and 8 Plus have the same wide-angle rear camera and same video recording upgrades. But the X's rear second telephoto camera has a better aperture (f/2.4) and optical image stabilization, which should mean better low-light photos and less blur. Then there's a matter of the front cameras: The iPhone X has a 7-megapixel camera like the 8 Plus, but it adds depth sensing for front Portrait Mode photo effects. This all sounds promising, but will it result in subtle or large photo differences?

6. Will anyone care about Animoji?

I turned myself into a talking poop emoji. I became a chatty unicorn. The depth-sensing TrueDepth camera can do some more advanced 3D scanning, and Apple's first application beyond Face ID to show its potential is a novelty animated-emoji tool for Messages. Much like Stickers, all those lasers and balloons in the Message app, and the Clips app, Apple's trying for some fun with Animoji, and only iPhone X users will be able to send them. Will it be beloved or forgotten? 

7. Will you even be able to get one?

AirPods were backordered for weeks. The iPhone X is expected to be in even shorter supply. In fact, it may be a toss-up between the iPhone X and the SNES Classic as to which product is more impossible to obtain this year. The later-in-the-year sale date could mean some people won't end up with new iPhones until 2018. If that wait stretches on into February or March, will those potential customers choose to opt for an iPhone 8 Plus, a Galaxy S9 -- or just wait it out until next September?