Every once in awhile a piece of technology is introduced that surprises and delights the masses. Apple has a history of being front and center in this technology delivery. The original Macintosh in 1984, the iPod, the original iPhone, iPad, AirPods (yes AirPods), and now the iPhone X. But wait you say, the iPhone X really doesn't have any technology that hasn't been released by other technology providers i.e.. Samsung, Google, LG, etc. While that is almost certainly the case for many the elements that make up the iPhone X, this generation of phone is the first to change how we use the iPhone in our everyday lives.
This is not meant to be an in-depth review of every iPhone feature but rather just my musings as someone who has used and owned every generation of iPhone since the 3G, including using that original iPhone purchased for my wife in 2007.
The Look and Feels
First off the device itself. Full glass front and back encased by stainless steel edges. I picked up the Space Gray model and my initial impressions is that the X is a beautiful phone. Beautiful to hold, beautiful to look at (I'll get to the OLED screen later), overall the most attractive phone Apple has ever produced. It's so beautiful in fact, that it's almost a shame putting any type of case on this device, slim or not. Sure, the drop tests have shown that the dual glass design can break if dropped at a reasonable distance, but heck, that's what AppleCare+ is for. I find the X to be one of the heaviest iPhone models I have owned, especially coming from the years of the non-plus models. I truly believe that the extra heft and feel of the stainless steel and glass make it easier to hold than the ever-so-slicker aluminum casings of iPhones past (and present). I have been carrying the iPhone X without a case since getting it and I plan to do so until the mood strikes to cover up this beauty or I plan on taking it along for the ride in potentially non-friendly phone conditions, i.e. vacation.
OLED Done Right
Turning on the device, you are bombarded with the beauty of iPhone X's OLED display. OLED, for all it's negatives consisting of image burn-in, off-axis color viewing, and overall lifespan of these displays, is absolutely gorgeous on the X. This is a screen specifically designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung. I have never been a fan of Samsung's over saturated, pastel like colors displays. With the X, Apple has brought to the table a "Super" Retina display that shows colors accurately while still remaining to provide that "pop" when needed. The screen is clear, crisp, and readable in direct sunlight, even with it's lower nits (a unit of visual light intensity from a computer display) than traditional Samsung displays used in the Galaxy line and Note devices. The jury is still out yet on whether the Apple OLED's will suffer image burn in as reported on the new Google Pixel 2 XL's, but I am hoping Apple engineers did all they could to minimize any potential issues that may occur over time. In terms of size of the display, the X sports the largest display ever on an iPhone at 5.8". The screen is taller and narrower than the predecessor model Plus design, and that's not a such a bad thing, especially coming from the smaller non-plus designs. The taller aspect ratio is wonderful for viewing lists: email, Twitter feeds, etc. The edge-to-edge screen minus the notch allows me to see more information than prior models. I can even now fit more widgets in a Today view without swiping to scroll.
Yeah the notch is there, it's ever-present. We know why it's there (getting to FaceID in a second). But seriously, it's a non-issue. After a day or two using this device, the notch almost becomes a badge of honor, distinguishing itself and the iPhone X as a unique entity in the sea of smartphone commonality. To be honest, more jarring is the apps that do not quite take advantage of the expanded real-estate and extend into what have become known as the "horns", left and right areas of the notch area primarily used for information display (time, signal strength, Wifi, and battery level sans a percentage indicator.
Extraordinary. Magical. It works. FaceID is Apple's preferred method of biometric authentication and will most certainly be used in future generation of iPhones. Training it to recognize your face is extremely easy. Not only does it register your facial pattern and stores it into its Secure Enclave, the neural network of intelligence actually learns and remembers variations in your face that can occur over time (facial hair, morning look, etc). It even works with sunglasses. The day after I received my X I went out in direct sunlight and tried on my 2 favorite pair of Ray Ban polarized glasses. Both worked fine. FaceID is not perfect and can be affected when bright light sources interfere with the IR beams that scan your face, but in most cases, FaceID has worked as advertised. FaceID can be a bit challenging unlocking the phone while laying flat on a desk or table, but the angle at which FaceID can get that scan registered is pretty extensive, as long as what I call the "lean in look" is less than a 45 degree angle when looking at the phone.
As expected, many people are comparing FaceID to TouchID. It's important to remember that TouchID went through a couple of iterations of refinement and speed improvements, but I believe FaceID will go through the same iteration cycle, becoming faster as technology allows. By all means that does not mean the current FaceID is slow by any measure. Raising the phone up and swiping up to unlock while FaceID performs the scan and unlocks the phone is the method that I found works the quickest to unlock the phone. Swipe to unlock has made it's triumpant return, after a brief absence during the TouchID era, albeit a bit different than the horizontal swipe of days of yore.
Home Button, What Home Button?
Every iPhone from the beginning model has had a home button. The "safety net" for novice and expert users alike. It was core to using the iPhone and now it's gone. Good riddance. The swipe up gesture on the iPhone X feels natural. It's easy to remember. Swipe up to go home, swipe up and hold for multitasking, swipe up to stop "jiggly" mode. It's the new home button. Even from a phone sizing perspective, losing the home button has allowed the phone to become all-screen. An advantage that brings the iPhone into the future. Although all buttons have not been banished...yet. The enlarged sleep/wake button now performs more actions based on the type of press applied to it, and even combines with the up/down volume buttons to perform various tasks:
1. Single press - Sleep/wake
2. Double press - Apple Pay and wallet activation
3. Triple press - accessibility shortcuts (customizable)
4. Single Press with Volume Up button - screen shot
5. Volume up press, volume down press, Sleep/Wake button hold - phone reset
6. Press and hold both Sleep/Wake and Volume up OR Volume down - Power off/SOS mode
Yeah, that's a lot to remember and seems like a Nintendo control button press combo, but it's the price that is paid for removing physical controls from the device.
The Quirks and Not-So-Good Stuff
Sometimes the future comes with snags and annoyances, especially when it pertains to the implementation of a new or different way of doing things. The iPhone X is no exception. My main annoyances are not necessarily with the hardware or capability of how the iPhone X performs, they are mostly the design decisions and changes in iOS to work efficiently on the iPhone X. First and foremost, is the activation of Control Center. Control Center has been improved in iOS 11 and with custom selections of the controls in the panel which has become more useful than ever. Even in iOS 10, I used Control Center for music and podcasts, access to camera and flashlight functions, and more. The right horn swipe down to access Control Center on the X has to go. Apple needs a better way for people to access this oft use functionality. While the X is easier to hold than a iPhone Plus model. Even reaching the top right of the phone can be challenging, especially one handed. Reachability was (and is) a poor and janky solution to this issue. My suggestion for accessing Control Center is to mimic the same access motion as multitasking (swipe-up and hold), and like the iPad, show the Control Center panel with a quick swipe to the left to access open and running apps. In that way, you have an easier way of accessing Control Center and align it with a similar action on the larger iPad.
Other minor annoyances are on developers of some of the apps I use. The most obvious are those apps that don't take advantage of the larger X display. I am hoping that these devs get on the bandwagon sooner than later and we don't have to go through a non-retina to retina transition that took years for some apps and some not at all. Another scenario is that some apps must have not been coded to use TouchID in a standard way and now on the X do not work properly, or removed the bio-metric option altogether. My Banking app of choice is a prime example of this. It worked wonderfully with TouchID and once launched on the X, a message telling me, "FaceID will be coming soon" is a bit annoying since I use the app often enough to make manually typing in a password a real pain.
Final iPhone X Musings
I love this phone. It's the best damn iPhone I have ever owned. I know I say that with each generation, but all of those iPhones have been iterations of a familiar tech spanning back to 2007. I now own the flagship iPhone and am on the cusp of using tomorrow's technology today. That's not exaggeration or hyperbole, but rather an insight to how I feel. iPhone X are beta users., testing out the next generation of iPhones. If what I have explained thus far on my thoughts of the iPhone X are any indication, the future should be grand. I look forward to putting this amazing device through its paces.