It’s been about a month since I got my iPhone X and I have some thoughts on Apple’s most-impressive phone to date.
This phone is a very impressive piece of hardware to hold. I was immediately struck by the heft of it compared to the iPhone 7 I'd been using for a year. It's decently heavier and slightly bigger in every dimension, but the increase in physical size is emphasized by the glass and steel. The 7 is analogous to the Apple Watch Sport and the X is the stainless steel model. It feels solid, polished, and classy in a way that the 7 can't quite achieve. Now when I hold my wife’s iPhone 7 it feels too light, like a toy.
I have always been a white Apple device guy, growing up with iMacs and iPods from the beginning. Apple was white when everyone else was beige or gray. However, after seeing the Jet Black iPhone 7 last year in person (after purchasing white/silver), I had convinced myself to change in the next year. I reversed course when I saw the X though. The "silver" back of the phone is gorgeous. The stainless steel band harkens back to the original iPhone (and iPod). But the killer feature is the black face. With the OLED screen, blacks are ridiculous and putting a white bezel next to it would be a huge disservice. In my silver model, I get the beauty of the silver back with the seamless transition of device to screen on the front.
Speaking of the display: holy cow. I know there are downsides to OLED, but - whether it's optimism, lack of time, or Apple's enhancements - I haven't seen them. The colors are fantastic but the pure black steals the show. Apps with a pure black background look beautiful. Content doesn't seem to fit in a box; it just is. Other apps look great too, but the lack of a boundary between screen and phone is addictive to look at. The super high resolution is just too good to think about. There are effectively no pixels; text and images just are.
In the tall display of the iPhone X, we get more to look at. I have always wanted the real estate of the Plus phones, but the portability and usability of the regular sizes. The X basically provides that. Today's apps are generally very good at scaling vertically (usually by providing more visible content), and the extra horizontal space that the Pluses provide isn't much missed. The additional height, plus the behavior of underlapping the home indicator and status bar allows the user to see many more tweets, emails, news stories, and more web content, without requiring the width that the Pluses do.
Let's talk about the notch. I honestly don't notice it. The screen is tall enough that my eyes look at the area in the middle 80% of the phone, where content generally appears. I don't feel like the notch gives me less space; I feel like the "ears" provide more. In general, the user can consider the ears and notch the status bar. Did you get upset about 20 points of space dedicated to status information before the X came along? Now your non-notch space is much bigger and some apps make meaningful use of the ear space. (Plenty don't and that's just fine too.) The rounded corners and the home indicator space follow the same logic: they're far enough out that they don't impede content viewing (well-designed app caveat here), but the ability of the backgrounds and nearly-offscreen tableview cells to stretch to the edge makes everything feel more immersive.
The home button played a crucial role on the iPhone from the beginning. It was the escape hatch. When nothing else worked, it would get you to a familiar place. This is all the same on the X, with one difference: the gesture. Instead of clicking on a physical or virtual button, you swipe up from the bottom. I find this to be an easier action. Your thumb doesn't have to hit a relatively small circle; instead it can sloppily slide from a physical point (the edge of the device) up an inch. After an hour or two of use, my muscle memory remapped and I don't think about the button much at all. When I do it seems a little clunky. (The only place I find myself reaching for the phantom home button is when taking screenshots. I've taken so many, I'm still reworking the gestures in my head.)
Related to the new home gesture is the moving of the Control Center. Swiping down from the right side of the status bar makes semantic sense (you're interacting with system status icons) but the location is a bit of a stretch for a right-handed user like me. It's ok and I know why they had to put its there, but I wish it were a little easier to get to.
Touch ID was a perfect technology. It succeeded almost all of the time. It got the world to set a passcode on their phones. It set the standard for biometric authentication. But Face ID is a perfect experience. The key is to don't think about it at all. You set it up (much easier than Touch ID's onboarding) and ignore it. Need to unlock your phone? Pick it up and swipe up. Need to pay with Apple Pay? Look at your phone, double click the side button, set it down to pay. Need to autofill a password? Tap on the username/email you want. In all of these scenarios, this phone is doing a ton of work, looking at you to make sure you are who you should be to allow these actions to take place. But in all these scenarios, you should just look at your phone.
With Face ID, the phone knows when you're looking at it, freeing it up to do a bunch of clever things. Notification previews are hidden until you look at the phone. Your alarm quiets down when the phone knows you're looking at it. This contextual awareness is the next step in making your phone more secure and convenient.
In my experience, there have been no unexplained Face ID failures. My face hasn't changed drastically over a week, but it handles me with glasses as well as without. Darkness doesn't matter since it doesn't even use the camera (it relies on infrared instead). The only gotchas are when you're covering up your face because it's so magical you forget what it's doing or if the phone is flat on a desk, looking at your face at a pretty steep angle. A dock or a stand seems like it would be a good idea if the latter situation seems too annoying. Additionally - and most frustratingly - the phone isn’t a fan of smushed-into-pillow faces. It’s often unsuccessful when my face is on a pillow, unless I roll to an upward-facing position. This is the occasion where I most often fall back to using the PIN.
The single biggest personal reason for me to get the X was its cameras. For a year, I've seen Portrait Mode photos from my Plus Club friends and looked at my regular-sized 7 in disillusionment. Not only that, but the ability to switch to a tighter shot with a different lens is often extremely desirable. With the X, I am lacking no longer.
Portrait Mode isn’t perfect, but it’s often very good. It makes photos taken on my phone look nearly as good as those shot with my SLR and a decent lens. The most amazing thing is that all the data is stored and editable at the later time. Focos is an early contender for most-impressive third-party app in this regard. It allows you to visualize and edit where the depth effect is applied. While the iOS camera may blur one person in a two-person selfie, that can easily be fixed after the fact.
The 2x lens is just as useful as I’d hoped. The rule of fixed length lenses is to move yourself to zoom, but in reality you often don’t have that ability. Now I can get tighter shots (at the same high quality) when I’m unable to get closer to the subject.
One final advantage of the camera on the X is the optical image stabilization. While it doesn’t feel like I take a lot of video, I know that’s not the truth. I take 3 seconds of video with every Live Photo, which is essentially every photo I take. (Live Photos aren’t taken when in Portrait Mode. I guess we can’t have everything.)
This is one bit that I can’t comment much (or any) about. I have yet to try the Qi charging capability, although I do have a couple chargers on my Christmas/birthday list. In theory, it seems like a great idea: plugging in a phone is not hard, but it’s one bit of user experience friction that we encounter all the time. Especially at a desk job where my phone is on my desk 90% of the time (but where I still often get up and move around), it would be fantastic to just sit my phone down and pick it up more charged that before. One of my favorite things about AirPods is their similarly "invisible" charging, where just by putting them away they get charged. Wouldn’t it be great if just by sitting my phone down, it gets charged?
One of the more quirky and less practical iPhone X features is the introduction of Animoji. While they’re not going to save the world, they’re fun and technically impressive. They pick up on pretty minute eyebrow movements, mouth bends and eye squints. It’s amazing how well they mirror faces and in real time. I’m a little shocked that Apple’s only stuck with 12 emoji (and not rolled out seasonal ones like Santa Claus), but I guess it’s still a feature in its infancy. My two-year-old daughter loves them, and I agree that they are silly and fun.
It would be remiss to not mention the price of this "$1000 iPhone". This is certainly a valid concern and limiting factor. The monthly price of the base-level X is $50. The base-level iPhone 8 is $35. It definitely is a pricey device, but it is fairly impressive that you can get such a crazy bit of technology for less than a couple dollars per day. Are the iPhone X features a must-have for everyone (compared to the 8)? No. Is it worth the difference to me? Yes.
In the iPhone X, Apple's put some incredible features in a very impressive package. With its gorgeous display, effortless Face ID, and powerful cameras, this phone is fun and useful. It really feels like the future is already here.