Getting my hands on an iPhone X was hard. Returning it was easy.
I waited in line at the World Trade Center Apple Store, using my rusty German to listen in on an Austrian father and his two sons talk over whether to buy one or two iPhone 8s while visiting New York and taking advantage of cheaper American prices. (They settled on one.) I watched three people in front of me pick up bundles of iPhone 8s and 8 Pluses, that by my rough tally, equaled at least $8,500 worth of Apple products that were sold in about four minutes. Then it was my turn, and I slid the iPhone X across the table and said I wanted to return it. The (as always) friendly Apple rep quirked her eyebrows for a second. “Buyer’s remorse?” she joked. I wasn’t sure how to answer.
I spent a week with Apple’s newest phone, and I’m confident about two things. First, it’s the best smartphone I’ve used this year, and I’ve spent time with nearly every flagship phone released in 2017. Android flagship phones have been pushing a buttonless, edge-to-edge vision for a while now, from Samsung’s Galaxy S8 to the Pixel 2, but the iPhone X was the first to really deliver on that promise. I loved the size of it, loved the screen, loved even the somewhat abstruse new gestures. Face ID—despite a few hitches from time to time—gave me the illusion of a free and easy life with a passcode-free phone, combined with the security of no one else being able to open the thing up. It was a joy to use.
The second thing I’m confident about is that I’m not ready to spend $1,000 on a phone (or, really, $1,200, since I would really, really recommend getting the $200 AppleCare if you get the iPhone X— repairs are expensive enough to justify it). After the initial sugar rush of waiting in line and buying the thing wore off, and my credit-card statement came closer to due, the money I had handed over to Apple at 3:08 a.m. during a preorder frenzy didn’t seem so abstract. By Wednesday of this week, I woke up, swiped up and waited for the iPhone to recognize my puffy-eyed morning face, and realized I was going to return the thing. I loved the phone but not enough to spend this much money on it.
I’ve read the arguments that, besides your bed, the consumer purchase you spend the most time with is your smartphone—so you may as well get the best one you can afford. It’s an argument that makes sense to me, and for the most part, I think it holds true. If you can afford the iPhone X and you want it, get it: It’s a beautiful phone. It wasn’t a budget issue for me. I might’ve brown-bagged lunch a few more days this winter rather than buying a subpar salad in Tribeca, or taken public transit more often rather than grabbing a cab or ride-hail when getting home late, but it wouldn’t have sent me spiraling into debt. But I have a phone that works perfectly well for what I really use a phone for: reading stuff, listening to stuff, taking pictures of stuff, and communicating with people.
The equation that runs through my head to figure out if something is worth spending money on is, on some level, irrational. (Having bought a house last year, and being in the middle of buying a car right now, I can say that the larger the purchase, the more irrational my thinking gets—it’s only in retrospect that I start layering on all the logical reasons I ended up buying what I bought.) All I really knew is that when I ran that equation on this beautiful little phone, it wasn’t adding up. I loved it, and I was fine with letting it go. The iPhone X represents where the iPhone (and smartphones in general) are going to go, and I’m OK with playing catch-up down the line.
But all of that was a lot to unload on someone who just needed to check my receipt and had more people wanting to buy more phones stacking up behind me. “No,” I finally replied. “I think I’m just going to wait a little longer to get it.”