My Dad and I have been lucky enough to have picked up new iPhone X smartphones on launch day this year. Since then, I have been using my iPhone X for two months now. I bought the Space Grey 256GB iPhone X. What follows is my review of the iPhone X based on my day-to-day usage.
iPhone X Hardware
The iPhone X hardware, as you would expect from Apple, is exquisit. I am a fan of the glass and metal design language. 2017 brings yet another variation on Apple’s idea of “Space Grey”, but I like this year’s color used on the back glass. The front of the iPhone X is completely black. iPhone X feels heavier in the hand than my year old iPhone 7. Its a kind of heavy that brings with it the air of being a premium product. In practical use, I don’t notice the weight difference between iPhone X and my iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Apple had done a good job blending the radio antenna lines into the top and bottom portions of the stainless steel band. If you are not looking for them, there is a good chance that you won’t see them. This is a vast improvement over the iPhone 6.
Like the iPhones 7 and 7 Plus before it, and the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus also released this year, there is no headphone jack. People upgrading from the iPhone 6-series may find this a bit jarring as my Dad did the first time he went to use his old pair of EarPods. Fortunately, Apple still provides a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter and new Lightning EarPods in the box. AirPod users, like my self, won’t miss the headphone jack, but I realize that AirPod owners are still in the minority.
iPhone X is the first iPhone to ship without a Home button of any kind. It is the first thing that people notice about it when I show it to them. So much so, that the lack of a Home button is mentioned before mentioning the new Super Retina display that reaches all the way to the bottom of the device. The transition from pressing the TouchID Home button to swiping up on the Home Indicator bar. In the time I’ve had iPhone X, I’ve only instinctively “pressed” the Home button about six times from muscle memory. In all of those few instances, I was focused on the task I was trying to accomplish and not thinking about iPhone X. When I tried to press the Home button, it immediately felt wrong.
The front of the iPhone X is dominated by the 5.8-inch Super Retina display. According to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for iPhone X the nerdy details about the display are that it is a 2436 x 1125 pixel screen which is about 20% taller than the 4.7-inch display found on iPhone 6/7/8. In practical use, I don’t notice any loss of space coming from an iPhone 7 Plus. Actually, I prefer the width of the non-Plus iPhones because I feel that it gives the user a firmer grasp on the device without having to sacrifice display area. In my opinion, I feel less likely to drop the iPhone while trying to use it one-handed.
As you begin to use iPhone X, it becomes clear that the long-term vision of the iPhone is to be all display on the front of the device. But today, we have the “Notch”. The notch is the non-technical term for the sensor array that is at the top center of the iPhone X. Apple has packs an incredible amount of technology into a relatively small space, including the new flood illuminator, dot projector, and the new front facing FaceTime camera – all of which are necessary for FaceID. Again, in practical day-to-day use, I don’t notice the notch any more. For me, it just melts away as I focus on the content that is on the screen.
iPhone X, like the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, includes hardware that supports the Qi inductive charging technology. This has been a technology I have been waiting to come to the iPhone ever since I switched from my 2009 Palm Pre to the 2011 iPhone 4S. It has been a long wait. With a compatible Qi charger, I’m using the Mophie Wireless Charging Base which Apple has been promoting and selling in their retail stores. The Mophie charger does support the faster 7.5w charging that comes with iOS 11.2, but it is expensive. Equally good and less expensive Qi chargers are available at Amazon. In my experience, I have had zero problems with aligning my iPhone on the charge base, charging with a case on, or having the iPhone become misaligned due to notification vibrations. I feel this is because the Mophie base has a soft touch, rubberized finish that helps keep the iPhone in place. While the 7.5w fast charging feature is faster than using the 5w wall plug provided by Apple in the box, it is not nearly as fast as using a USB-C Lighting cable and 29w Apple power brick. I’m all for 29w USB-C cable charging my personal 10.5-inch iPad Pro and first generation 12.9-inch work issued iPad Pro. But, in my case, placing my iPhone X on the Mophie pad, which is on my nightstand, when I go to bed gives me a full charge by the time I wake up in the morning. While I am on the subject of charging, I should mention that in my daily usage of the iPhone X, which is to say I’m not on my iPhone all day long, I can get just about two full days out of a single charge. Most days, when I go to bed, my iPhone X battery is down to the 42-47% range. Your milage will vary, undoubtedly, based on your usage patterns.
The iPhone X’s dual camera system is the first time that the dual camera design has been implemented on a 4.7-inch device. This year’s camera upgrade is a nice bump over previous years, however, I don’t understand the the technical details about cameras and photo theory, so I don’t have an informed opinion here. I will say that for taking every day photos, the iPhone X is great, and if you are a casual shutter bug, you are likely going to enjoy using this camera. If you know what you are doing, you will be able to get some great photos out of this hardware.
iPhone X and iOS 11
If you are familiar with past iPhone or iPad devices, you will be familiar with iOS 11 on iPhone X. As mentioned earlier, the lack of any kind of Home button has forced Apple to change some gestures around. Raise to Wake and swiping up on the Home Indicator is now an important gesture combination for unlocking your iPhone with FaceID enabled. FaceID, which I will talk more about later, seamlessly integrates with Apple’s biometrics features of iOS 11. Apps that support TouchID will automatically work with FaceID and Apple Pay.
On the iPhone X, the iOS 11 Control Center sheet has moved from the bottom of the screen to the top right “ear” of the iPhone’s display. I’m not a big fan of this, as the use of two hands is required to safely activate Control Center. If it really bothers you, the Reachability option can be enabled by going to Settings > General > Accessibility. I haven’t turned Reachability back on, but I have seriously considered it in the past.
The multitasking gesture is another important gesture on iPhone X. Apple describes the gesture as swiping half-way up the screen from the Home Indicator and the holding for a short pause to engage the multitasking view. I found this to be a bit clumsy. Alternatively, I have found that if I make a right-hook style gesture, starting at the Home Indicator and swiping up and to the right in a right turn street sign arrow motion, I can more reliably activate multitasking.
Apps that have been updated for iOS 11 and the iPhone X specifically, look great on the Super Retina display. I like the stock iOS keyboard UI on iPhone X.
As you can see in the screen shots, above, the iOS 11 keyboard on iPhone X (left) is raised up from the extreme bottom of the iPhone as compared with the iOS 11 keyboard on iPhone 7 (right). I feel that this upward shift gives the user a better grip on the iPhone while still providing access to the emoji keyboard and Siri dictation buttons.
When an app hasn’t yet been updated for the iPhone X screen, below, iOS 11 fills in the screen with black bands at the top and bottom of the screen in such a way as to not interfere with the Home Indicator and status information displayed on either side of the notch.
FaceID, in my opinion, is a transformative technology. In today’s world of heightened personal information security and constant electronic surveillance, strong pass-phrases are more important than ever. When strong security measures are implemented, usability can suffer. FaceID, I feel, is a good balance between strong security and ease of use. I like to think that I have good pass-phrase hygiene. With FaceID enabled on my iPhone X, I don’t think about passwords anymore. I just pick up my iPhone X, swipe up, and boom, my iPhone is unlocked. I didn’t have to think about entering a PIN or pass code. The FaceID technology in iPhone X quickly scanned my face, did lots of complicated math, and compared the result to the value stored in the Secure Enclave. It’s like magic.
FaceID, as mentioned before, just works with the iOS biometrics security platform of iOS 11. Any app that was written to take advantage of TouchID will work out of the box with FaceID. iOS fans always expect apps like Agile Bits 1Password to just work. However, when financial and shopping apps that have TouchID support automatically work with FaceID, that’s something special that delights customers. This level of integration is hard to come by on other mobile operating systems. Initially, I found the double-click the Power button mechanic of Apple Pay, FaceID, and iPhone X positioning relative to the NFC terminal to be a little bit more difficult to use than Apple Pay with TouchID, I have gotten use to the new way of doing things. The Power button double-click seemed a little odd, until I realized that the same steps are required to use Apple Pay on Apple Watch. I’m left handed, so when I use Apple Pay with FaceID , I have become accustomed to holding iPhone X in my right hand, using my right thumb to double-click the Power button to activate the FaceID authentication scan. In practicality, using FaceID to authorize Apple Pay payments is much easier than many tech bloggers thought it would be based on the accidental beta iOS 11 HomePod firmware leak that happened this past summer.
Rough Road for Early Adopters
There were a few things that were a little bumpy on launch day. My iPhone X arrived with an early version of iOS 11, either iOS 11.0.1 or 11.0.2. My iPhone 7 Plus already had the general release of iOS 11.1. Just before setting up my iPhone X, I backed up my iPhone 7 Plus to iCloud. When I tried to restore my iCloud backup to my iPhone X, I received an operating system mismatch error. In the excitement of the day, it took me almost an hour to understand what the error message was telling me. The fix was to setup iPhone X as a new device, upgrade to iOS 11.1, and then hard reset the X and then restore my iPhone 7 Plus iCloud backup. This really put a damper on the excitement of unboxing my iPhone X and getting to play with it.
I also had some trouble getting my Apple Watch (Series 0) to properly restore and sync up with iPhone X. I ended up unpairing and repairing my Watch twice before it finally worked correctly. I wasn’t able to determine exactly what was going wrong, and based on searching the Internet, some people had this problem too, but not everyone. Just more cold water on an otherwise exciting day.
As a tech nerd in the IT field, I could appreciate the massive technical undertaking it is to rollout a new version of iOS and three new iPhones during the same quarter. My technical side says these were minor issues. The Apple fan side of me found these problems to super frustrating one the one day of the year when I am overly excited about getting a new Apple product. Fortunately, problems like this don’t happen too often on iPhone launch day which is my equivalent to a developer’s and the tech media’s Apple WWDC week.
Accessories for iPhone X
I do have a few accessories for my iPhone X. A must for me, since I don’t order AppleCare+ for my iPhones is the Apple iPhone X Leather Case. I also pick up a pair of Spigen tempered glass screen protectors. And, for wet conditions, since I live in New England, I like to have a non-leather case like the crystal clear Spigen Ultra Hybrid iPhone X case with Air Cushion technology. I would also recommend a set of Apple AirPods if you are looking for a pair of wireless general purpose ear buds. I love mine and use them just about every day.
If you are a gadget lover, and if you are reading this blog, you probably are, I really think you are going to like the iPhone X. It has exceptional build quality, an amazing display, an incredible camera system, and the transformative FaceID system. Some changes to iOS 11 were necessary to accomodate the jettison of the Home button. After a few days to a week, the replacement gestures will start to feel natural. Early adopters who received their iPhone X on launch day, like my Dad and I, ran into some trouble getting things setup, but anyone buying an iPhone X now should be in the clear.
All of the tech news in the run up to iPhone X’s announcement this past September focused almost exclusively on the $999 starting price. While the iPhone X is expensive, if it is out of your price range, iPhone 8 and iPhone 7-series devices are great choices for people upgrading from older iPhones or coming into the Apple ecosystem from other smartphone platforms.