iPhone X Review: So Close

When Apple announced the iPhone X, I was probably more excited than most Android users. As a tech fan, I like innovation. And whether or not you believe the iPhone X is an innovator for all smartphones, I think most people can agree it is an innovator of iPhones. After 4 straight generations of the same old boring design, Apple took a big step into the next generation of phones. Unfortunately, they are treading on the toes of a lot of their former fans with some controversial choices.

I was hoping that this would be the iPhone to get me to switch to Android. I really was. Unfortunately, while iPhones have caught up to their Android counterparts in design, the iPhone X is still far behind in many aspects.

Screen:

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve

The iPhone X has the best screen of any iPhone. Many are saying that the screen is better than Samsung phones as well, because of the color accuracy, but I’m not so sure. For the first time on an iPhone, Apple has opted for a higher resolution than 1080p, which makes the screen sharp and easy to read. Ironically, the default screen resolution is actually higher than the default screen resolution on new Samsung phones, even though Samsung has 1440p displays. Apple brought over their TrueTone technology from the iPad Pro, which automatically adjusts the color profile based on the ambient light environment that you are in. In my experience, it tends to push the display to more yellowish colors. Apple is attempting to make reading the screen in dim lighting like reading a piece of paper, but I think they are exaggerating the fact. That being said, I could be so used to the bright blue screen of most phones that Apple’s color profile is just unfamiliar to me.

InkedIMG_20180121_105535_LI
There is a large white space in the top of the settings and messages app.

The new aspect ratio of the phone is a mixed bag. While technically there is more screen real estate than before, I don’t think Apple is fully utilizing it the way other manufacturers have. A large portion of the screen is dedicated to the new home screen gestures, and in many apps, the top buffer has gotten larger. The worst offenders are Apple’s own Messages and Settings apps, where there are large white bars above where the content begins. To be fair, this doesn’t bother me in day to day usage, and I appreciate the extra real estate.

Performance:

Here in 2017, if you are worried about the performance of a phone, it is either because you don’t have a flagship phone, or you use your phone for gaming or other heavy processing. The performance of the iPhone X was not noticeably better or worse than most of the phones I have used in the past year. I will note that there were more app crashes than I am used to experiencing, but it’s more likely an issue with apps not being optimized for the X than a lack of hardware capability. Even two months into my usage of the phone, I still experience random freezing.

Design:

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve
The iPhone X is both characteristically and uncharacteristically Apple in design.

The iPhone X is both characteristically and uncharacteristically Apple in design. On first glance, it’s clear that it is an iPhone, but once you get used to using it, it does not feel like most other iPhones. The primary reason for this is the thickness and heft – it is notably thicker than the iPhone 7 and 8. Whereas before the screen sat on top of the aluminum frame, now the steel frame curves at a much wider angle, making the connection between screen and frame seamless. I’m a bigger fan of this design than I was previous designs.

The back end of the iPhone X is now invaded by a comically large camera bump. Apple has clearly ignored any frustrations their users have had with the bump, because this one is even bigger and thicker than the Plus models before it. Apple’s reasoning for this is it needs the space to include optical image stabilization. But I think it’s interesting that the iPhone X is now over half a millimeter thicker than the iPhone 6, and also has a camera bump that is significantly thicker. Meanwhile,  Samsung has eliminated the camera bump in the Note 8, which also has two optically stabilized cameras.

That being said, what I like most about the iPhone X design is the size. While many manufacturers have achieved the low bezel displays by going bigger, the iPhone X is not physically much larger than the iPhone 8. That makes it significantly easier to hold in one hand.

Apple was clearly trying to be unique when they opted for the two colors that they released for the iPhone X – Space Grey differentiates itself from the black that Samsung uses in their Galaxys and the off white is unlike phones like the Honor 8. In any case, I do not like it. I think my iPhone X would look significantly better if Apple used a pure white color.

FaceID and Front Facing Camera

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve
The notch houses quite a bit.

After the first day with FaceID, I started understanding Apple’s intention and reasoning behind removing TouchID. They clearly were doubling down on the new technology, and refuse to admit that in some cases TouchID could be better. My first impressions of FaceID were incredibly positive. While it did not recognize my face 100% of the time, it was successful enough so that when it prompted me to enter in my passcode (because it didn’t recognize me) it didn’t bother me. Those times it didn’t work I actually felt a little more secure inside thinking that it must be a really detailed image of my face.

Unfortunately, it only went downhill from the first couple days. While I would expect FaceID to get better after time, it seemed to be less successful a few days after setting it up. Whether I was in bad lighting, or not holding the phone at the right distance, or something else, I noticed having to put in my passcode a lot more the 3rd day than I did the first day.

Another issue with FaceID is you cannot register two people on one iPhone. Apple stated that the reason for this is because they found that not many iPhones had multiple users’ fingerprints registered, but I think that’s a cop out. Anecdotally, I know many couples who have their fingerprints registered on their partners’ iPhones, and it is much more convenient than having to type in the code every time my girlfriend asks me to check her phone for her.

Worst of all, I think I found a fatal flaw with FaceID that I have not seen anyone else on the internet take note of.

You see, I started using Windows Hello on my first Surface Book 4 years ago. I was really impressed with the technology, and really excited to see where it could go. But Windows Hello (through facial recognition) is not perfect. Windows Hello is a software-based security program, which is dependent on the ability of the program to boot up in time before the user is at the home screen, ready to log in. When the device has recently been accessed, this is not a problem, because the machine can easily start up Windows Hello, recognize the user, and log in. But occasionally, you’ll be at the start screen and it will say “Windows Hello is starting.” and you have to wait for the software to boot up.

Apple FaceID never tells you it’s getting started. But that’s not because it’s not software based. It’s because Apple forced the iPhone to freeze until FaceID is ready to recognize you.

It sounds crazy. But I unlocked the iPhone X enough times to know that there is often a significant delay between when I press the power button and when the screen turns on. The same goes for when I would raise my phone to wake it. Quite often, it would take so long for the screen to turn on, I would press the power button again, and often lock the phone after it finally woke up. That additional time to wake up was longer than it took my iPhone 7 and even my iPhone 5s to wake from sleep. That is ridiculous.

Many people will criticize me for just being an Android fan and hating on Apple for the sake of it. But if you have an iPhone X, pay attention and you will experience the same problem. I would have legitimately considered switching from Android to iPhone for the sake of the iPhone X. It is that good. Except for this one thing.

Apple revolutionized the industry with the first usable fingerprint sensor in a smartphone. Then they made it even faster with the iPhone 6s. While it wasn’t the fastest, TouchID was quick, reliable, and secure enough for the average person. Apple’s decision to remove it was a very poor mistake, and the rumors of them not planning on bringing it back disappoint me.

While Animoji are cute, I am disappointed at how inaccurate the face tracking technology is. This may be because the Animoji function is not using any of the depth sensing technology that is baked into FaceID. Once of the first facial gestures that I wanted to make when I got my X, the wink, is not supported. WHY CAN’T I MAKE MY LITTLE FOX WINK??? (Update: I think they’ve improved recognition since then and now you can come close enough)

Camera:

Camera is another factor that I am not as concerned about as others. I have a threshold of camera performance at which I don’t feel like I need another device with me to take good pictures. Most mid-range and budget phones do not cross that threshold, but most  flagships from both this year and last year do. I currently use a Google Pixel first generation and an HTC 10 that both perform at this threshold. The iPhone X  crosses this threshold handily. When I had both the iPhone X and the Pixel 2 at hand, I more often chose the Pixel 2, likely because of its tendency to over process pictures. More importantly, the Pixel 2 has a camera shortcut than the iPhone X’s wake and hard press interaction.

I think more users will appreciate the dual cameras for enabling Portrait Mode than they will the ability to zoom in on a subject. Since purchasing the X, I have used the telephoto lens once. Apple included it as a differentiator in the iPhone 7 but it can no longer claim it as unique.

I still can’t believe that Apple made the Portrait Lighting mode available to consumers. It is a beta project in its infancy, and the pictures taken with it reflect this. While you may see some good pictures taken online with it, those pictures likely took several shots to get it right. The best part of modern smartphone cameras is pulling them out, taking a picture, and not having to take another one. Portrait Lighting does not have that property.

Price:

Two years ago, I would have told you that flagship phones would likely go down in price because of new entries in the mid-range market that compete directly against flagships, like OnePlus. I was wrong. For a number of reasons, flagships continue to get more expensive. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 was $70 more than its predecessor. The Google Pixel XL was $100 more than the Pixel XL. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were also more expensive than the 7 and 7 Plus. For that reason, it doesn’t surprise me that the iPhone X starts at $1000. While many will criticize Apple for this decision, I recognize that my smartphone is something that I interact with more than any other object that I’ve purchased. More than my $1,000 laptops, more than my $1,500 desktop, and more than my $30,000 car. The smartphone is a staple in everyone’s lives, and therefore people are willing to pay a lot for them. If people are willing to buy a $700 iPhone 8, they should be willing to buy a $1000 iPhone X. The iPhone X is at least twice as good as the iPhone 8 in my eyes.

 

Bottom Line:

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve
Apple continues to “innovate” through the removal of features.

While I was really excited for the iPhone X, and it mostly exceeded my expectations, it can’t replace my want for Android phones. In my eyes, the iPhone X is a huge revolution in iPhones that will hopefully help Apple catch up to Android. The iPhone X gives me hope that the next generation of phones will be even better. If you are the type of person that needs an iPhone, and you are not satisfied with the experience you get with an iPhone 7, opt for the iPhone X. The 8 and 8 Plus are so iterative I don’t think Apple should have every released them. If you have to stretch your budget to afford one of the most expensive mainstream phones in history, you should probably hold off this year, stick with an iPhone 7, and wait to see if Apple brings their modern design to us common folk that can’t pay a grand for a phone.

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