Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has built a gorgeous phone with its top-tier iPhone X. The nearly bezel-free, all-glass phone has a much smaller form factor than the company's next-best iPhone 8 Plus, but it actually has a bigger screen (5.8 inches compared to 5.5).
The iPhone X also weighs less, though the difference between 7.13 ounces for the 8 Plus and 6.14 ounces for the top-tier model is not that noticeable. What you will notice is that the X is only 2.79 inches wide compared to 3.08 inches for the 8 Plus. That may not sound like a lot, but it makes handling the newest Apple phone with one hand dramatically easier, and it also fits more comfortably in a pants pocket.
One big change on the iPhone X -- and it's the one that may create the most headaches -- is the lack of a home button. Though this creates more screen room and a more elegant phone, it also means you have to relearn how to work the device.
Apple's newest phone is smaller than its Plus models but has a bigger screen. Image source: Apple.
Home is where the heart is
If you're a tech early adopter, or someone who likes to be at the cutting edge, then theÂ iPhone X is for you. The facial recognition technology works well to unlock the device (and various apps), and upgrades in camera quality, processor speed, and even goofy add-ons like "Animoji" (animated emojis) add value.
But in terms of what most people use their phones for, the differences between the X and the 8 or 8 Plus are essentially meaningless. Even the sleek design becomes less important when you consider that you will probably put whatever phone you have in some sort of carrying case.
For casual users, there's very little to be gained in buying the iPhone X, unless the size difference really matters to you. It's not an appreciably different phone than the iPhone 8, and the lack of a home button is something that could cause headaches.
Some of the new gestures required to use the home-less phone make sense. Swiping up to bring up your apps makes sense and is easy to master. Closing apps, however, requires swiping halfway up, pausing, and then pressing on the corner of an app to bring up the red line that lets you close it. It's not intuitive, takes more effort than it should, and results in me having way too many apps open as the day wears on. To be fair, Apple's executives have confirmed that closing apps does nothing to improve performance or battery life, but some users may simply prefer to have their apps closed.
You do get used to many of the new gestures, and time makes them as natural as how many things worked with the home button. In a few cases, though, the functionality through the replacement gesture may be more complicated, making it so some people might want to wait a generation for Apple to smooth any kinks out caused by the lack of a physical button.
As a person who likes having the latest and greatest, quirks like these are not too big of a problem (though a few days in, I still do find them annoying). For most people, however, there's nothing being offered by the iPhone X that makes it enough of an improvement over the 8 (which starts at $699) or the 8 Plus (starting at $799) to justify a $999 price for the 64GB model. It's a small headache, but a headache nonetheless.
It's good, but not essential
In addition, all three phones are impressive, but not that big of a change from the iPhone 7 line. Being able to wirelessly charge -- which the 8 line and the X can -- and the company's previous phones cannot -- may make upgrading worth it.
Aside from that, the 8 and 8 Plus are mostly just incremental improvements over the 7.
The X, of course, has a sleeker design and facial recognition. Again, all that stuff is pretty cool, but it's not radically different than its predecessors. The lack of a home button can be overcome with a few days of practice, but Apple needs to refine a few of the replacement gestures to make the new system as good as the old.
Phones have become a lot like cars. The new models are generally better, but not so much so that most people feel the need to get a new one every year. That's the case with these iPhones -- you'll be happy if you get one, but if you don't need one, the digital home button drawbacks may make it worth waiting another year until Apple perfects home-button-free operation.
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Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.