I've spent a day with the iOS 18 beta and, without Apple Intelligence, it's not a great iPhone update — but the potential is immense

You can try iOS 18 now, but with some key features missing, it might not be worth the risk of running buggy beta software.

What is a hands on review?
iOS 18 features on iPhone
(Image: © Apple)

Early Verdict

With the core iOS 18 artificial intelligence features currently absent in the beta testing phase, it feels like the biggest changes to iPhone software are still waiting in the wings. Customization options that are present are snazzy, but you're probably not going to feel like you're missing much if you skip the risky iOS 18 beta download for now.


  • +

    Customization improvements

  • +

    Better Control Center and Settings

  • +

    Excellent password management


  • -

    So much is reliant on the currently-absent AI

You can always trust iMore. Our team of Apple experts have years of experience testing all kinds of tech and gadgets, so you can be sure our recommendations and criticisms are accurate and helpful. Find out more about how we test.

WWDC 2024

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

1. iOS 18what's next for iPhone?
iPadOS 18 — the power of iPad unleashed?
macOS 15 — what's new for Mac?
4. Apple Intelligence — what will it be able to do?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have seen that Apple unveiled iOS 18 yesterday. The latest software update for the best iPhones brings some of the biggest changes to Apple’s smartphone. There are a bunch of new customization options, designs, apps, and interactions. Not to mention all the Apple Intelligence AI features.

There’s a lot to digest with iOS 18, and we’re going to be talking here about what’s currently on the first iOS 18 beta, which I’ve downloaded to try out. This hands-on will break down which features are live so far, and how stable the beta is, too. I’ll also be pulling out some of the smaller changes that Apple didn’t highlight during the keynote reveal. After that, we’re going to break down everything that you should expect from the update when the final version launches.

So, here’s my hands-on with iOS 18 so far. Unfortunately, the developer beta rules dictate that I'm not allowed to share my own screenshots with you. So you'll have to get over not seeing my new personalised home screen. But I can reassure you that everything looks identical to what Apple showed off in the WWDC 2024 keynote, and the press images used here are representative of what you can actually try today.

Warning: Please don’t download the Apple developer betas unless you are a developer, or are fully aware of the consequences the process can have.  Early beta software can be extremely unstable and full of bugs, which could wreck your device. They definitely should not be installed on your main device.

My hands-on with iOS 18 Beta 1 so far

iOS 18 is shaping up to be one of the biggest updates to iOS ever, mainly thanks to the shiny new Apple Intelligence features on the horizon. Watching the keynote where Apple unveiled everything, I was super excited, rushed to download the first developer beta as quickly as I could. But I’ve got to be honest, the current beta is a bit of a letdown compared to the iOS 18 shown on stage. It’s completely lacking in the AI department – arriving sans the exciting updates to Siri, notifications, or the Mail app just yet. Instead, it feels more like a customisation playground than a groundbreaking overhaul, much like what we saw with iOS 16 and 17.

From the get-go, iOS 18 shows off a slew of new features right on your home screen. You can now shuffle your home screen icons around almost anywhere on the grid, and even change the app icon colours. By tapping and holding an empty area, you enter a new edit mode where you can pick between dark, light, or tinted themes. You can also tweak the app icon sizes and use a Color Picker for custom colours, giving you more freedom to personalise your home screen. Personally, I like being able to opt for bigger icons, but I’m not so sure on the color personalization. The dark mode icons look good, but when you go for the tinting, things start to look messy.

Plus, you can now lock individual apps behind Face ID, ramping up your security game. Just press and hold an app icon, and you can access an option to require Face ID to open certain apps. It’s not a feature that I’ll be using, but is one that users have wanted for years. 

iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

Another major revamp in iOS 18 is the Control Center makeover. It now has rounded icons and a bunch of new customisation options, letting you add and resize controls right in the Control Center. The new design reminds me of visionOS, which I like. But it disappoints me that this design style isn’t implemented further throughout iOS 18. You can pop in a power-off button and even swipe through multiple pages of controls for added flexibility. The redesign gives it a 2015 jailbreak vibe, which I found both surprising and rather delightful.

Control Center iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

The new Dynamic Island animations, especially for the flashlight, are a treat. They add a more immersive and visually appealing layer of interactivity. One of the more subtle, yet delightful tweaks in iOS 18 is the addition of minor animations for actions like taking screenshots or adjusting the volume. You’ll notice the bezel bulge out slightly, which is just delightful. These little touches showcase Apple's attention to detail and contribute to a smoother user experience.

The Messages app has been spruced up with several new features, including the ability to use any emoji as a Tapback reaction. As someone that uses Tapbacks a lot, I’m thrilled about this. You can also apply effects to specific words or characters within a message and schedule messages to be sent later. This scheduling feature is a real game-changer, adding a whole new level of convenience for setting reminders for important messages. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to schedule a message! Genmojis and all the AI image creation stuff is missing here (which I'll detail way down below).

iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

The Calculator app has gotten a significant upgrade, carried over from the iPadOS 18 app launch (finally). It now offers scientific functions, Math Notes, and conversion capabilities. The Math Notes function lets you handwrite equations, which are automatically calculated and displayed – perfect for students and professionals alike. All I can say is that I wish I had this back when I was in school! It can sometimes take a hot second to work things out, but I expect this to get faster with time. Math Notes is definitely designed for a bigger screen, and the Apple Pencil will make writing easier on an iPad. But it’s still handy on iPhone.

iPadOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

Another standout feature is live audio transcription in the Notes app. This handy addition transcribes spoken words in real-time, making it a breeze to jot down ideas on the fly. No more relying on third-party apps, this feature makes note-taking more efficient. When I used the Google Pixel 8 Pro, I loved this feature; so I’m happy to see it come to iPhone.

Widgets are now more versatile, allowing you to resize them on the fly without the need to delete and re-add them. You can also transform widgets into app icons directly from the home screen, giving you more control over their placement and appearance. And for the first time, iOS 18 lets you customise lock screen shortcuts. You can swap out the default camera and flashlight shortcuts for other options, including launching specific apps. Although I found that I actually wanted to keep both of those!

Eye tracking, a highly anticipated feature, is now available under Accessibility settings. This lets you control your iPhone with eye movements. Although it's still a bit buggy, it's a promising addition to the accessibility toolkit.

iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

The Settings app has been reorganised for better usability, with a dedicated section for apps making navigation more straightforward. Each settings pane now includes a brief description, improving clarity. The iCloud settings have also been given a modern, organised look.

T9 dialing in the Phone app is another practical addition, allowing you to quickly find contacts by typing their name or number. Plus, iOS 18 introduces call recording and transcription, with notifications to both parties, adding a useful tool for managing phone calls.

For AirPods users, new hands-free interactions are now available. You can nod or shake your head to answer or decline calls, and voice isolation ensures clearer phone calls by minimising background noise. The new animations for selecting audio modes in the Control Centre are a nice touch. Apple Music has received updates to its queue management interface, making it easier to shuffle, repeat, and clear your listening history. These improvements make managing your music library more intuitive and user-friendly.

The Photos app has been completely redesigned, featuring new sorting and filtering options, recent days, and automatic trip albums. These enhancements make organising and accessing your photos much more intuitive. To be honest, I don’t think this was entirely necessary. Or at least the redesign. The new Collections features are neat, as I like to browse through these. But getting into your library is a bit confusing at first. It did take me about 5 minutes to work out how to select images now, I’m ashamed to admit.

iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

One of my favourite additions is the standalone Passwords app. This app consolidates all password management features into a single, user-friendly application. It's incredibly organised and includes essential tools for managing passwords and passkeys, particularly useful for two-factor authentication. As someone that lives by iCloud Keychain, this is amazing. It beats having to head into the Settings app every time I need to copy a password when AutoFill is unavailable.

Using iOS 18 overall has been pretty stable over the past 24 hours. Things have been a bit slow, especially certain features like Math Notes. But on the whole, I’ve had no major app or system crashes. It’s a bit early for me to comment on battery life, but the device managed to go the night losing only around 15-20% battery. It’s running on an iPhone 14 for context. 

But as I said, in the first developer beta, iOS 18 feels half-baked. And that’s because it is, what with the Apple Intelligence features currently missing. It appears like they’ll be coming with the public betas in July, or even later in the summer. That’s not the end of the world for an enthusiast like me, but could be problematic for developers. Since, you know, they can’t test out the biggest new features.

But alas, it looks like we’ll have to wait a little longer for Apple Intelligence. So, what else should you expect that’s missing? I won’t rehash all the features already in beta 1, but will outline everything else that’s coming up.

What else should you expect from iOS 18?

Before we delve into the AI stuff, first up is the redesigned Mail app, which is set to introduce On-Device Categorization. This clever bit of tech will sort your emails into Primary, Transactions, Updates, and Promotions, all powered by on-device intelligence. This should make managing your inbox a breeze, highlighting the most crucial emails first. There’s also Digest View, which groups relevant business emails together, so you can scan the important stuff without wading through a sea of messages. As someone that used to use Apple’s Mail app before Superhuman came out, this update could tempt me back over.

iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

But of course Apple Intelligence is the big dog here, and the moment you’ve been waiting for. Apple is stepping up its AI game in many ways, and one feature that got lots of screen time at WWDC were the new Writing Tools. These system-wide tools will help you rewrite, proofread, and summarise text across apps like Mail, Notes, Pages, and even third-party apps, all thanks to generative models. 

The AI-powered Image Playground feature sounds like a lot of fun too, letting you create playful images in Animation, Illustration, or Sketch styles right within apps like Messages, or as a standalone app. Another exciting addition is Memories in Photos, where you can craft customised memory movies by describing the story you want to tell, and the system picks the best photos and videos, even editing out distracting background objects.

Siri is also getting a major upgrade with Advanced Siri. It will be more natural and contextually aware, offering personalised assistance. You can type to Siri, switch between text and voice, and use it for more complex tasks thanks to its integration with ChatGPT, providing broader expertise and capabilities. Then there’s Private Cloud Compute, which ensures your data privacy by balancing on-device processing with server-based models on dedicated Apple silicon servers.

Apple Intelligence

(Image credit: Apple)

Over in Safari, there’s a nifty feature called Highlights on the way that automatically detects and brings attention to key information on webpages, like directions and quick links. This means you can get the gist of a page without slogging through all the text. It’s all powered by AI, but is separate to Apple Intelligence. The Reader mode has also been redesigned to include a summary and table of contents for longer articles, so you can get a quick overview before diving in. Again, AI is here, but this makes Reader into a feature I’d actually use.

Privacy gets a boost too, with Selective Contact Sharing, allowing you to share specific contacts with apps instead of your whole address book. Improved Bluetooth Privacy ensures that when you pair accessories, apps can’t see all the other devices on your network, keeping your personal info under wraps.

Maps is adding thousands of hiking trails across national parks in the United States, complete with offline access and custom route creation. You can save favourite hikes and routes in the new Places Library, adding personal notes to each spot. This could be a good alternative to AllTrails, but you’ll need to be in the US to use it. Although, I’d bet that it’ll expand to other regions soon, a la every other Maps feature.

iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

Game Mode is set to enhance gaming experiences by minimising background activity, maintaining consistent frame rates, and making AirPods and game controllers more responsive. Personalized Spatial Audio will immerse you in your games, placing you right in the heart of the action. SharePlay with Apple Music is also about to get more interactive with Shared Control, letting multiple users share control of music playing from devices like HomePod, Apple TV, or any Bluetooth-enabled speaker.

Apple Pay is getting more flexible with Rewards and Installments, allowing you to redeem rewards and access installment plans from eligible cards. Tap to Cash simplifies paying your friend back, by letting you transfer Apple Cash by holding two iPhones together. Event Tickets in Apple Wallet will now include key event information like stadium details and recommended Apple Music playlists, enriching your event experience.

iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

The Journal app is also seeing enhancements with an Insights View that tracks your journaling goals with writing streaks, entry stats, and a calendar view. You’ll be able to sort and search past entries more efficiently, and Home Screen or Lock Screen widgets will provide quick access to journaling prompts and streaks.

The Calendar app will now integrate Reminders directly, providing a seamless merge of events and tasks. A Redesigned Month View offers a comprehensive overview of your month, making planning easier.

Health is getting a redesigned Medical ID for quick access to essential health information in emergencies, and Pregnancy Tracking features to help you manage your health data during pregnancy. Emergency SOS is stepping up with Live Video, allowing you to share live or recorded media with emergency dispatchers, providing them with more context to respond effectively.

In the Home app, Guest Access lets you grant specific controls of smart home accessories to guests and set schedules for their access. Hands-Free Unlock uses Ultra Wideband technology to unlock doors as you approach, and an Energy Category will help you track and manage your home’s electricity usage.

iOS 18 privacy

(Image credit: Apple)

Accessibility features are expanding with Music Haptics, which syncs your iPhone’s Taptic Engine with music, allowing deaf or hard-of-hearing users to experience the rhythm. Vocal Shortcuts will let users with severe atypical speech record custom sounds to trigger specific actions on the iPhone.

Other minor changes include enhancements to Freeform, with improved diagramming mode, scenes organization, grid snapping, and the ability to share a board copy via a link. SharePlay will get enhanced screen sharing capabilities, allowing you to draw on or control someone’s screen. Apple Fitness+ will offer a redesigned interface for personalized workout selections and improved search features, making your fitness journey even smoother.

Early verdict

As you can see then, there's still much more to talk about. iOS 18 has more potential than any iPhone software update to date — potential to fundamentally change how people interact with their phones, and their expectations around what a device can do with only minimal input from a user.

But in the immediate aftermath of the Apple Intelligence reveal? It's simply not ready yet. It's exciting, but still a few months or weeks away from leaving the oven in the state you can expect to find it in when iOS 18 eventually rolls out for everyone. It's an exciting time, and there's an excruciating wait ahead of us — but you can be sure that when those AI features roll out, we'll have a full rundown right here. Keep this page bookmarked, and check back soon for updated insights into all the cool new stuff headed to your iPhone.

More from iMore

Connor Jewiss

Connor is a technology writer and editor, with a byline on multiple platforms. He has been writing for around seven years now across the web and in print too. Connor has experience on most major platforms, though does hold a place in his heart for macOS, iOS/iPadOS, electric vehicles, and smartphone tech.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.