The past few weeks have been rough for me. I’ve been apartment hunting, packing, and moving. On top of that, I stayed up until 4 AM last Friday to pre-order the iPhone X. Refreshing my Mac’s browser as well as both my iPad’s and my iPhone’s Apple Store apps, both on and off my WiFi. I was going to be one of the first people in America to order the iPhone X. Or so I thought. None of my devices loaded the page until around 3:07. By then, the earliest I would receive my iPhone X would be on November 17th. So, instead of typing this with an iPhone X sitting next to me, I instead am looking at my boring old iPhone 6s. I’ve got to wait at least two more weeks to write my own review. Since, by then, it’ll be 2 weeks late, I’ll likely use it for a week or two before reviewing, so I can give a detailed review of the phone that accounts for everyday use. I’ll even be able to compare it to the Samsung Galaxy S8, so look forward to that review and comparison in a few weeks.
Until then, I’ve collected information from a number of reviews to answer some of the big questions about the iPhone X.
Face ID is here to replace Touch ID, but does it do a good job of it? The system uses an infrared flood light that is invisible to the human eye, as well as a randomly generated dot matrix, unique to each device, which is used to map our your face in 3D. The result is a highly accurate 3D render of your face that, when combined with on-device machine learning, allows your iPhone to ID you, even if you add glasses, change your hair, or grow a beard. In theory, it should be more convinient than Touch ID. However, in practice, it’s not quite there yet, at least not for everyone.
Does it work?
Yes. Reviewers have agreed that it works about as often as Touch ID, although, unlike Touch ID, it’ll still work even when your hands are wet, or after they’ve gotten all wrinkly from swimming. Apparently that’s for improved grip, but I’ve never seen the benefit.
Is it fast?
Yes, but not as fast as a usual read of Touch ID. It could, potentially, be faster on average, if it has fewer retries, but reviewers seem to state that it’s about as reliable as Touch ID, so it’s therefore a little slower than the old process. Still, people state that, because the action is a swipe, and because you can do the action before you look at the phone, it feels just as fast.
Is it secure?
Wall Street Journal went out of their way to break Face ID. They used photos, which can fool the facial recognition on Samsung’s latest smartphones, they used molded masks, they tried fraternal twins, and they also tried identical triplets. What they found was troubling for twins and triplets, but comforting to anyone else. Face ID couldn’t be fooled by photos, masks, or fraternal twins. However, a fake mustache was enough to lock a user out of her phone, and triplets were able to fool the phone as well, with each child being able to unlock the iPhone X. If you have an identical sibling you suspect may be your evil twin, you might want to go with a passcode lock instead, although know you’ll be safe if they, like many male evil twins, have a dastardly mustache. Make sure your passcode isn’t your birthday either, they’ll know that. Also, if you’re planning on growing a beard, be sure to unlock your phone every day, because Apple made sure the iPhone could adapt to growing facial hair or haircuts, but not for spontaneously grown mustaches. Fun fact: twins have different fingerprints, so these phones would have been more secure for them if they had a Touch ID sensor instead.
The verdict? It seems as though reviewers enjoy and trust Face ID, but it’s not perfect yet. It’s a first generation piece of software, and it’s going to take time to improve. The plus side is, Apple may be able to improve it with OS updates in the future, as well as hardware updates, as they were able to do for Touch ID.
There is one common element in every single review of the iPhone X. People love animoji. It’s fun, it’s silly, and it adds a new layer to video messaging. For all the reasons that Snapchat’s filters are fun, Animoji improve upon it with more accurate face tracking and effects. I mean, just listen to that chicken sing Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” It’s hilarious!
The video above from PC Magazine explains Animoji, and shows each of the 12 animatable emoji you’ll have at launch. Apple will likely add more with iOS updates, and even allow third parties to get in on the fun.
Seriously, Animoji is the update for this phone that people are really going to be talking about. It’s fun, no one else has it, and it has opened up a lot of possibilities. Sure, it seems silly, but people need silliness.
Is there something different about the screen? Oh? There is? Huh. I didn’t notice.
Ok, of course I noticed. The new iPhone X has an edge to edge display. The body is only slightly larger than the iPhone 8, but thanks to the edge to edge display, it’s a 5.8″ screen. That might sound larger than the iPhone 8 Plus screen, which is 5.5″, however due top the aspect ratio, the iPhone X being twice as long as it is wide, the iPhone 8 Plus actually has more screen area. That’s why the iPhone X can’t be used in landscape mode on the home screen, and it doesn’t display tabs under the navigation bar in Safari. Besides the camera, the landscape homescreen was the biggest reason I wanted a larger iPhone, so I’m a bit disappointed by this. The iPhone X is basically just a taller iPhone 8.
However, that’s still quite impressive. The new screen is larger and brighter than past screens, with less distance between the screen and the glass, making it feel like there’s no gap between the pixels on the display and your fingers. It’s also brighter than most other OLED displays, and manages to maintain color accuracy at a wider angle. Apple’s dedication to color accuracy, rather than over saturated vibrancy, means there’s no washed out colors for the sake of making the screen look flashy. Instead, you’ve got the best looking phone screen in an iPhone. Finally. With the entire device being display, it’s easy to get immersed in your content, with the phone seemingly disappearing in your hand.
The notch could have been a big problem, but it’s usually not, and many reviewers stated they stopped noticing it after a week. When browsing an app in portrait orientation, it’s difficult to even realize that there’s a notch at all. And, in apps that haven’t been sized up yet, there are black bars around the top and bottom of the display that make the app seem as though it’s running on an iPhone 8. IPhone developers will want to upgrade quickly, because users will not be happy about shelling out $1,000 to just see the same view they’ve been seeing.
The notch is only a pain in landscape mode, where it interrupts content on a side of the display. If you full screen a video, for example, it won’t stop at the edge of the notch, it’ll keep going, leaving a gap taken out of your videos. Perhaps you can ignore it, like the tall person sitting in front of you at the movies (sorry, I’m slouching as much as I can), but for many, it’ll be an annoyance. It’s far from perfect, but usually, people will enjoy the extra screen space on the left and right of the notch. Only time will tell—along with personal preference—whether or not the notch was a good idea.
It seems most people are really happy about the iPhone X’s new screen. Yes, the notch is occasionally annoying, but for the most part, the new screen is wonderful. Plus, Apple decided to include reachability after all, though the gesture for it is a bit tricky (swipe down from the last half of an inch of a screen). I’ve been jealous of Android users for years, as they’ve had access to these devices with slim bezels, while the rest of us on iOS had to deal with giant bezels on the top and bottom of our displays. No more. Now we’ve got the best screen on the market, and it’s time to gloat.
Camera head to head comparisons haven’t really popped up yet, not enough to aggregate results reliably. DXOMark hasn’t done a comparison yet, not that it would matter much. As it turns out, they give manufacturers access to their tests (for money) so they can game them. On top of that, they give preference to these companies. Google’s Pixel 2, for example, had reviews posted the day it was revealed (not even released to the public yet!) thanks to their partnership with DXOMark. Their rating system is still good, but it’s not the end of the conversation.
That being said, reviewers have called the double camera system of the iPhone X wonderful. The OIS on both the telephoto and the wide angle lense has produced the best zoom in mobile phone cameras. On top of that, it allows Apple to take some really incredible photos, using their AI alongside two stabilized, six element lens cameras to produce amazing results. The portrait mode on the iPhone is unmatched, clearly beating Google’s single camera portrait mode by a wide margin. The front facing portrait mode, however, is a little too subdued, toning down the blur a little more than most reviewers were comfortable with. Still, it’s a welcome addition to the selfie camera, and people are going to love how much better it makes their selfies look. I’ve been using an app to blur the background in my selfies for a dramatic look for years, so one step Instagram selfies, here I come! I’ll soon have a better way to show off whatever craziness I’ve done to my hair.
Apple’s AI and HDR modes are now standard. Fantastic software-based HDR (High Dynamic Range) is why the Google Pixel camera was able to shine. It takes a bunch of photos at an extremely high ISO, then blends them. The result is some noise in the photo, but details in dark spaces that are unmatched. Well, until now. The iPhone X HDR using Apple’s rear cameras to collect light information as well as scene identification using AI helps ensure your photos look fantastic. Many reviewers said they still prefer the Google Pixel on average, but that the iPhone X had the potential to take better shots. Also, it’s a matter of preference. I hate noise in photos, so I prefer a longer shutter speed with optical image stabilization. I prefer Apple’s solution. Apple definitely has the better hardware here, but they may need to catch up to Google’s AI. Fortunately, software updates are easy.
The iPhone X also uses its quad flash with something called slow sync. Basically, it does a super rapid flash during a longer exposure. The result is a properly illuminated foreground and background, with the subject in the foreground appearing without blur, which you’d normally see in a longer exposure. The result is technically incredible photos that really wouldn’t be possible without this technology. I didn’t find enough in-dept reviews of the camera, and none mentioned this, so we may have to wait a while for reviewers to play with the camera in more situations to get a good read on whether or not this is as useful as it could be.
The iPhone X has the same processor as the iPhone 8 Plus, with the same 3GB of memory. I personally have believed that no iOS device should have under 2GB of memory or less after updates to iOS have slowed down my devices, but 3GB seems to be the sweet spot for handheld devices. However, iOS 11 has been buggy, and often causers slowdowns or hangups. Even with the faster processor and memory, users are experiencing poor performance. I’ve had the iOS 11.2 beta on my iPhone for two days now, and haven’t noticed lagging as much, but it’s still an issue. Apple has a lot of work to do on the software side to improve performance on the iPhone X, but the hardware is all ready for those optimizations. It performed better than the iPhone 8 Plus in on screen benchmarks, and it absolutely crushes anything from Android, but bugs in the iOS 11 operating system may make this speed hard to notice.
The iPhone X is armed with two batteries in an ‘L’ shape, a new, low-power OLED screen, a processor with 4 low power cores, and… it still has the worst battery life of the new iPhone family, according to Ars Technica’s testing. Perhaps it was their testing methodology, because Apple says the iPhone X should have 2 more hours of internet browsing time over the iPhone 8, but it’s a shame that Apple still hasn’t drastically improved battery life. If they really want to revolutionize the iPhone in a way that’ll shock consumers, they should improve the battery life. I’d take a phone that was almost twice as thick as the iPhone X just to get a solid day or two of battery life.
Wireless charging in the iPhone X will make the battery situation more tolerable. I keep my iPhone plugged in all day while I’m at work, unplugging it to go to a meeting or grab coffee, so I’m sure I’ll appreciate just being able to pick up my phone and go. My hour long commute on the subway used to drain my battery by as much as 70%, leaving me with just 30% to take on the day (if it wasn’t for charging my phone as soon as I get in the office). Unfortunately, for testing, anyway, I moved, so I can’t do a head to head comparison with the iPhone X and the iPhone 6s, because my commute’s shorter now. I known, I’m terribly sad I won’t be able to sit in a packed train for an hour to test this now too.
What’s up with the keyboard? I understand putting space down there for items you don’t want to tap, as you’d be straining your thumbs to type down there, but why not add a few buttons, freeing up the rest of the keyboard a little? The ABC and Symbols keys could be moved down there. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem in landscape mode.
“After spending nearly a week with the device, I’ve actually convinced myself that spending $1,000 on a phone seems like a good idea.”
-Alex Cranz, Gizmodo
“It’s the future of the iPhone itself.… After my first taste of the iPhone’s future, I’m ready to buy in.”
-Chris Velazco, Engadget
“The iPhone X is nevertheless easy to recommend if you want a glimpse at what’s going to be exciting in the next 10 years.”
-Samuel Axon, Ars Technica
“The iPhone X will know you better than any phone before it, and paves the way for the phone to act a lot more like a person. Let’s hope it’s a good one.”
-Geoffrey A. Fowler, The Washington Post
10 years ago, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, he said it would revolutionize the phone. He was right, phones were never the same. Tim Cook says the iPhone X will revolutionize the iPhone, and, looking at these reviews, I think it’s safe to say he’ll be proven right in time as well. The iPhone X presents a future for biometrics, augmented reality, and screens. It’s also another big step towards a world without smartphones, where technology is seamlessly integrated into our lives. The first generation of such a device won’t be perfect, and that’s certainly true of the iPhone X, it doesn’t seem to be near perfect. But it’s a giant leap forward, and for techies, that’s exactly what we wanted to see from Apple.
Reviews used in this meta-review:
- Samuel Axon, Ars Technica: “iPhone X review: Early adopting the future.”
- Alex Cranz, Gizmodo: “I Hate How Much I Love the iPhone X.”
- Geoffrey A. Fowler, The Washington Post (via the Los Angeles Times): “Apple iPhone X is no slam dunk.”
- Adam Ismail, Tom’s Guide: “iPhone X Is King of OLED Screens: See for Yourself.”
- Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch: “Review: iPhone X.”
- Chris Velazco, Engadget: “iPhone X reviewL: Embrace the new normal.”