A month ago, November 3 2017 to be precise, I drove to the Apple Store at One Infinite Loop to get my first ever pre-ordered iPhone. This 10-year anniversary launch of the phone that changed how we use technology and consume information as a species featured many personal firsts:
- First iPhone I pre-ordered
- First iPhone I got on launch day
- First time I bought not one but two iPhones during launch week
- First time I went to the One Infinite Loop campus
Stunning Looks and Build Quality
The X is perfect execution of a design that’s other-worldly. Let me quote Mike Murphy who posted this initial impression for QZ (emphasis mine):
The iPhone X is like a refined version of the design Apple has been iterating on each year since the release of the iPhone 6 in 2014. It’s not dramatically new, but here the screen, the phone’s biggest asset, is allowed to shine, with the metal and glass structure around it fading into the background. And the cut-out notch at the top, which holds the front-facing cameras, isn’t that annoying after a few minutes’ use.The notch truly isn’t a distraction after the first day of use. I am not a heavy watcher of mobile video so if you are, YMMV. Back to the form: the phone feels hefty without being too large. It’s the perfect size for me.
The cameras on the X are excellent overall to the point that they make an amateur like me come across as a good photographer. Selfies, portraits, scenes, et al are captured with the right degree of fidelity and detail. I am a fan of the convenient zoom toggle (1x-2x) in most modes, including Panorama, and while the Portrait Lighting modes are still a work in progress, they produce reasonable results. I am excited for the future because the underlying technical prowess is baked into the hardware; it’s just a matter of iOS maturing to unlock the latent potential.
#iOS and the #iPhoneX making my friend Tim Toyoshima look like a cycling God. @Apple #iOS #portraitmode rocks pic.twitter.com/lJORmOZ8WlI haven’t taken Mike’s recommendation to download a manual camera application, such as Halide or Manual, because most of the moments I capture don’t involve manually tweaking knobs such as exposure and focus. The results I am getting are spectacular enough...
Where the iPhone X truly shines is in taking selfies. Hate selfies all you want, we all take them; the X takes the best selfies of any camera I have ever used. Period. This is me without trying...
The new Super AMOLED 5.8 inch display is vivid, large and an iPhone first. That this display is slightly larger than that in the iPhone 8-Plus while being the same form factor as the iPhone 8 is a testament to Apple’s hardware engineering genius!
I have gotten used to placing my iPhone on its wireless charging pad every other night instead of fidgeting with a Lightning cable. It might seem like a small thing, but at a $1000 cost of entry, it’s the little things that make a difference. And honestly, I don’t get the complaints about how the phone needs to be perfectly placed on the charging pad for things to work. I haven’t had a single “mis-placement” in a month of ownership.
That wasn’t a typo or misrepresentation: I charge my phone every other day now and am super impressed with the battery life on my X. I am currently between jobs, so my usage of the X is on the heavier side: reading books, Hacker News, Apple News, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.
- Tap to Wake makes it very easy to catch the time and new notifications
- Double Tap plus FaceID for Apple Pay (I never really got the hang of the triple Home Button press to activate Apple Pay)
- Dual speakers sound great
The Rough Edges
FaceID feels Rushed
For a v1 product, FaceID is a very strong release. This said, it’s got as many edge cases where it doesn’t work as TouchID did. On the whole, I still don’t know if FaceID is as much of a usability leap forward as Apple claims. What’s worse is FaceID works when you least expect it to (dark rooms, when I just wake up and only have one eye open) and fails when it really shouldn’t (with sunglasses on, in brightly lit rooms). I understand the technical reasons for why it behaves the way it does in these situations, but it’s still jarring. V2 of FaceID should fix most, if not all, of the reported niggles and usability issues.
R.I.P. Home Button
I miss the Home Button. Yes, it didn’t work when I had wet or oily hands, but I got used to its quirks. More than the access control the button provided, I miss pressing Home to “Go Home”. In lieu of the heretofore ubiquitous button, Apple has given me a slate of gestures that I have to learn. And as hard as I try to master them, they are elusive at best and frustrating at worst.
Gestures aren’t user-friendly, ‘nuff said. One can argue that Apple is the King at taking something unusable and sprinkling magic pixie dust on it. The dust isn’t working this time around. Using gestures precisely takes a lot of muscle memory, which I don’t have yet, leaving me annoyed. And really, whose bright idea was it to have an omni-present, random, gray bar at the bottom of the screen? More importantly, who decided to bestow that bar with multiple capabilities (Switch Apps, Activate Reachability, Go Home)? To quote Mike Murphy again:
I now have to swipe up on a random bar that never leaves the bottom of the screen to go home, double-tap on the side button for Apple Pay, and hold it for Siri. To see what apps I have open, I have to slowly swipe up from the bottom of the screen and to the right, which is a very awkward action that I’m still messing up frequently. To close an open app, I now have to do that swiping action, let go, hold down on an open app, and tap a little red minus icon that pops up. Before you could just swipe away the open app. All these new interactions feel awkward and inelegant. Hopefully that’s just because I’m not used to them yet.How should I swipe: Down or Up?
You will have to learn how to swipe (direction) and where to swipe (location) to get the menu you care about. The Control Center is swipe down the right side; the Notifications Center is swipe down from the left side; swipe up and you go Home. The notch in the middle means the top bar shows me less information at a glance that it used to (battery percentage being one such sacrificed data point).
Death by Paper Cuts
- Off Means Off, Maybe: Turning WiFi and Bluetooth off from the Control Center doesn’t really turn these off; it temporarily disconnects you from the current WiFi network or Bluetooth device.
- Accidentally Siri: The larger power button on the side is easier to “ghost” press when the phone is in my pocket (car keys, for example, set Siri off).
- Cover Up or Pay Up: The gorgeous display and the glass back make this the easiest iPhone to damage in recent memory. Every time you break something, you will pay a pretty penny. Even if you don’t like it, you are going to have to buy a case and a screen protector for this phone. Or an insurance policy. Or both!
The $1K QuestionIf you need to upgrade, both the iPhone 8-Plus and Galaxy 8/Plus/Note series present viable alternatives to the X. To wit, most of the components inside the 8-Plus and the X are identical, but the 8-Plus costs $200 less. The Galaxy 8-Plus and Note are in the same ballpark as the X, so money shouldn’t be a consideration.
Here’s what this decision comes down to: your willingness to change how you use your phone to accommodate everything that Apple has changed in the X. Some changes will make sense, others will seem arbitrary. You cannot choose the changes you want; Apple has foisted all of them on you, in one sleek package. I have already grown accustomed to the new interaction paradigm, but I still feel like the total package isn’t there yet.
If you aren’t someone who must have the latest technology and already have a capable phone, I’d say save the $200 and wait this iPhone X release out. Despite great hardware, iOS 11, even three months post release, is the most bug-riddled operating system release since Windows Vista. To summarize then, this is a great phone that is hamstrung by the software. Maybe iOS 12 will truly unlock the potential of the hardware platform and usher in the next era of personal computing as Apple envisions it.
While Apple might not have the best track record with v1 of a new product, its the BEST at iterating and improving on a design. Next year’s iPhone X-Prime will feature hardware and software that are synchronized at every step. I guarantee it. Let this serve as a notice to Samsung and its ilk. Catch up or be left behind for good.