Today the iPhone X is finally available to pick up -- if you can pick your way through the lines to get a unit. And that may be tough: Restricted supply because of well-publicized production problems means that if you didn't preorder, you're not walking away with one today. And even if one last unit was available, the iPhone X is also incredibly pricey at a $1000 entry point.

So, is this a must-buy investment or an over-priced status symbol? Some reviewers, like Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal, claim that the iPhone X is worth the money. Samuel Axon at Ars Technica takes a more nuanced good/bad/ugly view (with the last category being the price). Scott Stein at C/NET said that it's a "winning evolution" that requires a departure from "your comfort zone." At the Los Angeles Times, Geoffrey Fowler said that a purchase decision was "no slam dunk." In other words, even with top specs and fancy features, the question of whether to invest in one (because at $1000 it's hardly an impulse buy for most people) is complicated.

The feature 411

One of the features mentioned frequently is quality of image on the OLED screen, with Tom's Guide giving it top marks compared to the Google Pixel 2L and Samsung Galaxy Note 8: brighter with a perceived more pleasing color balance and less of a blue cast when viewed at an extreme angle, an inherent issue with all OLED screens. (But, really, how often do you put your phone on a table and try to use it at an extreme angle? Ever?)

There is an irony, as Samsung makes the screen for Apple -- it's one of the major suppliers of the technology -- so maybe other implementations might not be so bad after all. And while you get more screen for the physical phone size than with other iPhones, other vendors have managed that balance for some time now. Interestingly, according to the Tom's Guide analysis, the iPhone X display isn't as sharp as the others and which screen looks best will depend on your personal preferences. (For colors that pop and less realistically balanced, for example, Samsung was tops.)

The cameras are reportedly very good, important if you need to take photos with some quality (though often the quality comes with the skill of the photographer). The augmented reality, or AR, capabilities get high praise, and that technology will become more useful over time. According to Stern's experiments, Face ID works well and even defeats a prosthetic mask made of the user (but an identical twin may be able to get in). Wireless charging is reportedly convenient. It's good for selfies with the added twist of animated emojis that map your voice to the character.

There are also downsides. Reviewers found that using the iPhone X (no home button, for one) required major adjustments. Frankly, you become accustomed to almost any technology and user interface if you use it a bit, so that seems pretty minor. Many apps aren't yet adjusted for the new screen (that will change over time), some key features are harder to get to than they used to be, and some people call the battery life disappointing. With a glass back, you also have a secondary side of potential failure if you drop the phone.

Buy or fly

This is where the complications come in, because you have to understand your real needs. I was discussing the iPhone X with my 20-something son and asked if he thought that $1000 was worth paying. His response: Hell, no. That's mine as well, largely from a point of practicality. If my 5-year-old phone continues to do what I need well enough, why would I invest the money in something grander? Even if you aren't so Spartan in your mobile needs, the question becomes whether the additional features of the phone are worth the jump in price. Personally, I don't see it.

However, what's fine for me, or anyone else, might not be for you. Some people who are in more face-to-face business meetings and who might find themselves judged on appearance could argue that a top-line phone could be an image enhancer, much as a well-tailored business suit or luxury car. In that case, maybe the $1000 tag -- or using the Apple upgrade plan which would run between $50 and $56 a month for a new iPhone X every year -- might make sense.

Whatever your choice, it's good to remember that reviewers who have had their hands on units for a week or so seem generally positive . But try to make the decision as consciously as possible. Apple is a master of marketing and positioning. Is the yearning really for something necessary, or are you rationalizing a designed emotional pitch? You might be better off spending a few hundred (or less) on a fully adequate phone and put the rest into savings or investments. That $800 difference at 4 percent over 10 years becomes $1,184.20, according to an SEC investment calculator. Remember, you're not only paying dollars today, but a significant opportunity cost.

Published on: Nov 3, 2017
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