It’s been nearly three months since the iPhone X has been available on the market, and in that time I’ve been able to truly test out what this device can do. While many outlets will dump their reviews onto the web as soon as Apple lifts their embargo, I find it a little disingenuous to call these pieces reviews. Can we really expect a thorough perspective on a product of this nature with only one week of use? Regardless, I give these journalists a huge amount of credit for undertaking that task.
Now, you’ve probably heard some of the cliches already: this is the best iPhone that Apple has ever made. And while there may be a lot of truth to that, I believe this year we have to ask for whom is this product the best for? The iPhone X showcases Apple’s ability to innovate at a scale that most companies cannot. Add to that the shared release with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, it's quite amazing how a company could pull this off during the most demanding quarter of the year. However, it's because of this supply chain mastery that we have a situation where the ‘flagship’ device isn’t really the flagship device.
The iPhone X displays Apple’s ability to innovate at a scale that most companies cannot
Promotional images do not do this phone justice. You have to hold an iPhone X to truly appreciate how well engineered it is. More than ever before, the screen seems to melt into the body, strengthening the illusion that this smartphone is seamless. The return of a glass back, along with Apple’s impeccable skill for weight distribution, makes the iPhone X feel secure in your hand. Something I would never say about the iPhone 6 or 6s. But you’re probably still going to put a case on this.
No matter how much testing the iPhone X has gone through, it's an expensive piece of equipment that's sandwiched by glass. Jony Ive may scoff at you for casing your iPhone, but he’s not going to pay for an accidental damage repair, and neither is Apple. Excuse me for stating what may seem obvious, but there's something to be said about smartphones becoming increasingly dependant on a protective case to survive our day-to-day lives. This isn't a complaint, but just something that's been trending on the market for years now. Also, what’s the German word for taking the case off your phone when you get home at night just appreciate how it feels?
Even after months of use, there are still times where I’m stupefied by the screen on the iPhone X. It runs even closer to bezels than ever before and the switch to an OLED panel has resulted in a display that feels like you’re directly touching the pixels. And in some situations, it looks like there’s a vibrant sticker on the glass that you could just peel off. Against the backdrop of Google’s issues with OLED panels, it's amazing how Apple was able to pull this off and again, at a large scale. And yes, there is a notch at the top of the phone that houses some important sensors, but it never becomes a nuisance. In fact, I feel like the notch is branding for Apple. Imagine being in a dimly lit restaurant and these Batman-esque notches are in your field of view. You’re already thinking that’s an iPhone X. And it’s not far-fetched to believe that Apple has done this on purpose. Think of it as a pseudo-Apple logo on the front of the phone.
In my time with the device, I’m starting to see some micro-abrasions on the screen. Though this may be the oleophobic coating on the display, rather than the glass being scratched itself. This phenomenon is not unique to the iPhone X or other premium smartphones and it’s almost completely negated by the purchase of a screen protector.
Apple consistently delivers quality images in a variety of situations that look sharp and natural
The cameras on the iPhone X are great, as expected from Apple. The low-light capabilities are marginally better than what we’ve seen in the past. And Portrait mode on the rear cameras continues to surprise me with how good it is. However, what's even more surprising is how poor Portrait mode can be on the front facing camera. This feature is unique to the iPhone X, but it is nowhere near as reliable as the rear cameras. Time and time again, I find myself having to be far more conscious than I’d like to be when taking a picture. Where Portrait mode on the rear cameras 'just worked', the same cannot be said for this mode on the front cameras.
These discrepancies in pictures taken by the front facing camera become even more prevalent with the new lighting effects on the iPhone X. Apple has packed in some great technology that allows you to simulate different types of lighting on your portraits. However, when you use them with the front facing camera, the results do more to show limitations of the technology than the potential. Especially with the Stage Light Mono lighting effect, which is showcased in Apple’s own commercials, the leaks and artifacts are just far too prevalent to be used as a serious photograph. I may be coming at this more critically than the average consumer, but it would’ve been appropriate to slap the 'Beta' tag on this feature.
The competition for mobile photography is tighter than ever before. While many sites will try to bait people into believing that there is one camera to rule them all, the truth is that we have at least 3 great options to take an amazing photo on a mobile device. Apple consistently delivers quality images in a variety of situations that look sharp and natural. Google has done amazing work on their Pixel line of phones to capture some the best images I’ve seen taken at night. And Samsung continues to define their space with images that have a certain look to them that borders on hyper-reality. While purists may not like this processed look, there are millions and millions of people that appreciate the secret sauce that Samsung brings. If the camera is the primary variable that drives your purchasing decision, it’s going to come down to what look you prefer. The iPhone X camera can produce stunning files to work with, but that’s subjective and you’ll have to decide which solution works best for you.
Face ID on the iPhone X is proof that Apple’s best days are not behind it
The iPhone X introduces a fork in the road for Apple. You have the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus that are great upgrades from their previous iteration and follow the same UX conventions we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. And now we have a new product that eliminates the iconic Home button and introduces a fresh set of paradigms for interacting with your mobile device.
Let me start with Face ID: it works great. It works incredibly fast and it's a very reliable way of unlocking your phone. Not to mention, it gets better over time as it learns your face. Messy hair, glasses, sunglasses, a hat, heck even a tissue hanging out of my nose, Face ID worked consistently and continued to surprise me. If there were any failures, I’ve come to realize why. Not only could the sensor be too far from your face, it could be to close. Also, the angles are generous but you’ll learn how far you can push it.
One thing that annoyed me with Touch ID was that if I were to unlock the phone with my thumb as I pulled it out of my pocket, I have now missed all the notifications on my lock screen and require another interaction to see them again. With the iPhone X, it's a blessing to pick up your phone, see your notifications at a glance (they can also stay private from prying eyes until you look at them), and swipe up to unlock. Don’t care for the notifications? Fine. Pick up your phone, look, and swipe up. It works great and works fast. Face ID on the iPhone X is proof that Apple’s best days are not behind it.
Another place where Apple’s facial recognition software shines is in Animojis. These are cartoon avatars you could access in Messages to record your facial expressions with audio to send to your friends. They're a treat to use and in some situations, deliver your message a lot better than a boring text. But that initial flood of interest in Animojis and how they can be used creatively wore off pretty quickly. I’m sure there are many people still using this feature regularly, but it’s usage is often limited by the environment we find ourselves in. Not to mention, these Animojis can only be created on Apple’s most expensive smartphone.
If Apple really wants to create more interest in Animojis, on top of including this feature on all their future phones, I would suggest an App Store to download new characters. I want my Disney Animojis Apple! How else will I kickstart my voice acting career?
Not only is the wireless charging laughably slow, sometimes it does not charge my phone at all
Wireless charging on the iPhone X is a welcome addition that literally works. Whether or not you'll use it over a lightning cable is the real question. If I’m at my desk working, I’ll let my iPhone X sit on a wireless charger (for reference, I’ve been using chargers by Mophie and Anker), but if I need a fast and reliable charge, I will always plug my iPhone X into a lightning cable. Not only is the wireless charging laughably slow, sometimes it doesn't charge my phone at all. I'm not comfortable saying that the latter is Apple’s fault at the moment, but it does leave much to be desired. I'm hoping the soon-to-be released AirPower charging mat by Apple will alleviate some of my concerns.
The full screen iOS experience is fun to use for the most part. However, there are several scenarios that are maddening and proof that the there's much to be improved on in iOS 11. Gestures, for one example, are great in theory, but can be poorly executed on the iPhone X. Trying to access the multi-tasking drawer is frustrating when you mistime you thumb, let alone attempting to force quit an application. Speaking of access, can we re-think where Control Center is? I understand that Apple has all the data they may need, but for heavy users of Control Center like myself, it's annoying how inaccessible this feature is at times. That being said, I'm still optimistic that a gesture-based iOS will be best version of itself. The real question is when?
I can’t imagine using another mobile operating system at this moment. The app library, security, and deep integration provided by iOS make it near impossible for me to consider using Android as my primary driver. However, I can't sit idly by knowing how glaring some of the issues are on the iPhone X. More than before, my phone will freeze during heavy operation. Almost every time I tap on a Messages notification while I’m in another app, I'm brought to the conversation at a higher point and cannot access the bottom of the chat box. And the worst glitch I've faced so far was when my iPhone X froze and would not respond to any gestures or the power button for a hard reset. It took about 5 minutes of patiently waiting at a gas station before the phone decided to reset itself. Again, I wouldn’t trade iOS for Android right now, but Apple needs to step up their software game immediately.
The iPhone X is not Apple’s flagship phone
I had this thought during Apple’s keynote when they announced the iPhone X and couldn't get it out of my head. The iPhone X is not Apple’s flagship phone. While it's wildly important to their future success and sports some of their best technologies, it isn’t as important to them right now as the iPhone 8. That’s the device I would still call their flagship smartphone. It's the single product that they'll sell the most of from their new lineup of smartphones. Not to mention, It has and will continue to be the first of their new devices that are discounted during promotional selling periods. Apple and cellphone carriers will partner heavily to drive iPhone 8 sales to ensure they're showing growth quarter after quarter.
So why is this important and what does it have to do with the iPhone X? Well, I believe with the iPhone X, Apple introduces a true premium tier that they’ve flirted with in the past. The Plus series of phones was sort of a premium category, but with the X, you really have to want this device to buy it. It doesn’t have the best battery life. It doesn’t have the most useable space if we’re looking at screen real estate. And it introduces several new interaction methods that can be frustrating for some users. However, even with those barriers, it's still an impressive device that can be delightful to use. No phone is without it’s flaws, and despite those seen on the iPhone X, it's still a testament to Apple’s engineering prowess.
With the iPhone X, Apple is testing the economies of scale and succeeding. And yes, the competition is closing the gap in some ways while exceeding in others, this phone shows that the future is still promising for Apple, despite some hiccups. If you’re on the fence about getting an iPhone X, let me make it easy for you: don’t. This phone isn’t for you. The best features will trickle down in future iterations and come in at a lower entry price. You see, the iPhone X is like a sports car, where it’s flashy, beautiful, and does some things that a sedan or SUV simply can’t. But for most people a sedan is all they need. That sedan is the iPhone 8. Oh, and for those of you that need an SUV, don’t worry, the iPhone 8 Plus will tickle your fancy.