- I’ve been testing the iPhone for a little less than a day.
- Overall, I enjoy the design and the new, larger screen. And I don’t miss the home button at all.
Despite some of the concerns over Face ID, it works flawlessly.
I only got to use the iPhone X briefly during Apple’s launch event last month, but it was enough to convince me Apple was cooking up a hit.
This week, I got to spend more time with it, and I’m equally, if not more impressed with what Apple pulled off.
I’ve been using the iPhone X for a little less than a day, so I won’t have a full review for you until early next week. But I do have a much better sense of how things work in the real world and outside the careful gaze of a bunch of Apple employees.
Here are some first impressions after my roughly 18 hours with the iPhone X.
Finally, a new design
The latest trend in smartphones is to cram as much screen onto the front of the phone as possible, with minimized bezels. Until now, the iPhone felt behind the times with its gargantuan size and relatively small screen.
The iPhone X is a refreshing redesign. After over three years of essentially the same look, it’s nice to see Apple make something radically different again.
The best part is the screen. At 5.8 inches, it’s slightly larger than the iPhone 8 Plus screen, but on a body that’s only a little larger than the iPhone 8. For everyone avoiding the plus-sized iPhones because of their surfboard-like construction, the X will strike the perfect balance.
It’s also the first iPhone screen to use OLED technology, which is more power efficient, has a higher resolution, and displays colours better. (Samsung phones have been using OLED screens for years, and they consistently put the iPhone to shame in that regard.) The X’s screen is stunning, almost as if it’s painted onto the phone.
The back of the phone is made of glass, just like the iPhone 8, but it’s tied together with a steel band around the edges instead of aluminium. I’m using the white/silver model, and the steel band has a nice chrome shine to it. I think it’s more attractive than the space grey model.
Of course, all that screen means Apple made another huge design change. There’s no more home button. Instead, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go back home. There’s a bar that floats at the bottom to help you see where you’re supposed to swipe from. (I’ve been calling it the home bar.) It takes a little getting used to after 10 years of mashing a home button, but it eventually starts feeling natural.
But some things on the front of the phone can’t be replaced by software, like the camera, which leads us to the controversial new notch at the top of the screen.
I don’t mind the notch
Boy oh boy did the iPhone X’s notch trigger a bunch of angry nerds.
Apple engineered the screen so that it wraps around the front-facing camera and all of its advanced sensors. (More on that in a bit.) It’s a drastically different look than the iPhone screens you’re used to, and it’s easily the most polarising design decision Apple has ever made. John Gruber, who runs the site Daring Fireball and is typically pro-Apple in his commentary, said the notch “offends” him.
That’s a pretty strong feeling to have about a phone screen.
I don’t mind the notch. In fact, I kind of like it, and I think it blends in nicely to the rest of the phone’s software interface. The sides of the notch display the time, battery status, and WiFi and cell signals. By default, photos and video don’t bleed into the notch unless you double-tap them for a zoomed-in view. You barely notice the notch in most cases, and it looks especially nice when scrolling through apps like Twitter and Facebook.
Unfortunately, I have a feeling tech pundits are going to be debating the merits and drawbacks of the notch for the next several weeks. It’s going to be insufferable. You’ve been warned.
Third-party apps need work
So far, the biggest drawback to the extra screen space and lack of home button has been third-party app design. Many of my apps haven’t been redesigned for the new screen size, so they show up with thick black bars on the top and bottom to mimic the same aspect ratio you’d get on a regular iPhone screen. It looks like a lot of wasted space.
Other apps have been refitted for the iPhone X screen, but have made a bunch of funky design choices. For example, some have large chunks of unused space at the bottom near the home bar. And I saw at least one app that showed the home bar bleeding into the menu icons at the bottom of the screen.
Apple’s not totally innocent either. There were a few cases where I saw large chunks of unused space at the bottom of the screen in some of Apple’s own in-house apps, such as the iPhone’s built-in Mail app, especially when the keyboard popped up.
I have a feeling it’s going to take a few months for developers to get used to the new screen size and shape, just like we saw when the iPhone screen got bigger on the iPhones 5 and 6.
All that panic over Face ID seems to be for nothing
No home button also means there’s no more Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Instead, the iPhone X uses a new facial recognition system called Face ID. Face ID taps into the new front-facing camera and other sensors to accurately scan your face and securely store it as a mathematical representation.
The iPhone X isn’t even out yet, and Face ID is already the feature most people seem to be the most worried about. Does it work in the dark? Is it creepy? Is it secure? Bloomberg even ran a scary story last week saying Apple told suppliers it could reduce the accuracy of of Face ID in order to meet production goals, something Apple denied.
I have a feeling all that hair-pulling is because after years of using Touch ID, Face ID will have to prove itself to be just as good or better to justify removing the fingerprint sensor.
In my short time with the iPhone X, Face ID has worked well. It unlocks the phone quickly in low light, bright light, and even in the near darkness of Business Insider’s video studio. (I haven’t tried it in a pitch-black room yet.)
Better yet, it seems impossible to trick. I had a set of identical twins come into the office on Monday to put the facial recognition system to the test. One of the twins programmed his face into Face ID, allowing him to unlock the phone with a glance. His twin brother however was locked out — he couldn’t even trick the phone while wearing a hat and sunglasses.
The two siblings told me that even some of their family members can’t tell them apart, yet Face ID was able to map a face accurately enough to tell the difference.
Face ID can also adapt as your face changes, like if you grow a beard or wear a hat, glasses, or sunglasses. In fact, one of my bearded colleagues programmed his face and then shaved himself clean a few minutes later. Face ID caught on. He had to put in his passcode twice to confirm it was him, but after that, Face ID learned who he was without having to be reprogrammed.
Of course, I’ll need to spend more time with Face ID to fully evaluate how well it works. But so far, so good.
More to come…
There’s still a lot more to unpack here. The battery life. The accuracy of Face ID over time. Some of those funky app designs. The camera performance.
And of course, there’s the phone’s $1529 starting price tag — the highest Apple has ever put on an iPhone. So far, the phone feels worth the premium price, but a full verdict will require more testing.
I’ll have that and more in the coming days. For now, the iPhone X gives a great first impression.
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