Ah, the iPhone X…….the glorious, magnificent, flawed…..iPhone X. Whether you like it or not, it’s here and I’ve got all the dirty details. My preliminary disclaimer: I will not tell you what to do or not do with your one thousand dollars, that’s up to you my friends!
Leading up to the launch of a new iPhone this year, it has been long rumored that Apple would switch to a bezeless display, regardless if other smartphone manufacturers were or not — it takes years for this stuff so no one is copying off of one another when these features take years to design, test and produce. Apple has had it’s iconic home button since 2007, then with the advent of iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the button changed from mechanical to software based — that along with it’s usual forehead and chin have been mainstays in determining what is and what is not an iPhone.
Enter iPhone X. Minimal bezel all around the glass, no home button, simply a “home bar” indicator at the buttom, no forehead and chin — simply a notch (more on that later) at the top that houses the True Depth camera array used in FaceID. This is a radical departure from iPhone of old and when you pick this thing up, you’ll immediatelly realize, it’s a good departure.
The design of this phone, as well as all other iPhones and most of Apple’s devices, is nothing short of beautiful and it feels significant and great in the hands navigating throughout the operating system with an undeniable premium feel.
Next, the thorn in the side of this device that everyone has talked about before it was even released — the top notch. To be honest, you completely forget about the thing as you move throughout the OS and between apps, however, once you see it on a white background or an unoptimized app — it is ugly and in many instances, it can get in the way. There are many Apple centric websites and podcasts that I listen to and frequent, and they note that “once developers update for this” it will be better. The issue with this statement is that this is a design FLAW that has been introduced by Apple and developers are being forced to code around for a device that touts a larger display that the Plus model; however, has actual less usable space because of the notch and the rounded corners on the edges of the display. So, you’re either going to hate or love the notch — for me, I am not a fan as long as I don’t see it….unfortunately, here’s looking at you, developers.
iOS has been praised for being easy to use and it’s no different here as long as you are fine with a bit of a learning curve. Note, this curve will be fairly straight if you’re a fellow tech nerd; however, it could be problematic for users that love what they are used to. To put it simple, the home bar, could be usability issue for the non-tech enthusiast.
Gestures. The iPhone X is all about gestures and they are nothing short of great.
Swipe up to go home. Swipe from side to side to multitask between apps (this may be the best multitasking paradigm when going between apps on a mobile device, period — it’s that good). Swipe up and hold for traditonal multitasking (same as a double-click of the home button on iPhone 8 and below). See the video below for a sample of the interactions mentioned above on iPhone X:
Control Center additonally has gone through a few changes, the old gesture of swiping up from the bottom is no more as it has been moved to a swipe down from the right “ear” next to the notch at the top — this is something that I’m not a fan of. Not because it doesn’t work, but it’s a paradox to what happens if you swipe down anywhere else. If you swipe down on the left “ear” or from the center of the notch you get notifications. Realistically, one could be unsure how discoverable this can be. However, it is important to note that with iOS 11, Control Center is much improved.
Apple has made the switch to OLED, which gives users more in many ways, such as battery savings on dark backgrounds and more realistic colors (note that Apple’s LCD displays featured on the rest of their devices are simply the best in the business). This display is produced by Samsung, but Apple led in the design of this display and it is absolutely flawless. While the Note 8 display is fantastic and industry leading in many ways, so in this one — thanks Apple!This display itself sits at 5.8″ respectively. While this in itself is larger than the display on the iPhone Plus devices, which is 5.5″ — there is less usable space, which actually gives it a size comparable to the 7 or 8 — non Plus model. This is all because of the design choices that were made on this device with the rounded corners and True Depth camera array at the top. This makes that usable area less wide and seemingly not as tall as the Plus model, leading to less space and wasted space. Seen below:
Have a look at the Human Interface Guidelines here provided by Apple for the best experience on iPhone X, which is somewhat constrained. See below:
While this display may be great in terms of accuracy, there were compromises made to make it “edge to edge”.
An iPhone camera is always industry leading and the iPhone X is no different. The cameras (dual) in the camera are the same as the iPhone 8 Plus, except for the fact that the telephoto lens on this device adds optical image stabilization.
The rear camera produces some of the most realistic shots that I’ve ever seen from a mobile device. The iPhone, just like the Pixel 2 and Note 8 are in a league of their own. Additionally, iPhones X and 8 Plus rear portrait modes are industry leading (alongside the Pixel 2) and consistently will provide an accurate, true to life picture. New with the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus, Apple introduced portrait mode on the front-facing camera and it is a complete disaster. Here is an image sample from the front camera:
What needs to be scrutinized here is the distortion around the edges of my hair. You will see that it is blurred out as the subject (me) is detected; however, the software is unable to accurately discern what is part of my head. Note, that portrait mode is an ongoing “test” and has notably gotten better over time.
Although, this may appear as a scathing write up, I was actually impressed with the device. Multitasking and gestures are fluid, the camera and display are great and iOS just works in the same consistent and reliable manner that we’ve all gotten used to. No, it’s not bad that the operating system hasn’t changed much over the past few years, radical redesign isn’t always necessary.
However, no phone is perfect and many publications may hint that this one is — it’s not — but we must look at this device as a first generation device. Face it, all of the new features packed into this device such as the True Depth camera system, edge to edge display, Face ID and others are all on an iPhone for the first time. I am not giving Apple a pass here, simply stating a fact and noting that things need time to progress and mature. If you are looking for an experience that you’re used to pick up an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus as it is built off of the iterative design of the 6 and yes, it is darn near flawless. On the other hand, if you must have the new and shiny, you’re not necessarily a Plus user and you’re up for a extraordinary gesture based experience, you simply can’t go wrong iPhone X.
Note: FaceID was not covered as part of this hands-on because the unit used was in demo mode. The demo app on the device appeared to work smoothly; however, for a more in-depth review of the technology, refer to the video below: