Review: 10 Days with the iPhone X

I still remember when the first iPhone came out. I didn’t get it because I was young and broke, but its smooth edges and flashy screen instantly put my candy bar phone to shame. The iPhone was drastically different, and my journalism classes spent hours speculating about how full-color, Internet-connected reading devices might change the future of news. 10 years later, we live in a “fake news” world and Apple is no longer the sole leading innovator in the phone category. As Google and Samsung creep forward, a lot rests on the iPhone X’s ability to rekindle our sense of wonder. So, does it?

Here’s my review after 10 days.

The Screen

According to Apple, their “vision has always been to create an iPhone that is entirely screen.” I picture this culminating in a credit-card thin piece of glass. By then, we probably won’t make pedestrian things like “calls” anymore, and won’t call it a phone but, something like an “iLink.” That, the iPhone X is not. However, it is a good halfway point.

The screen itself is beautiful, covering the entire front of the phone other than the pesky notch at the top, which houses a camera and speaker. An OLED screen, it’s actually made by Samsung, and apparently costs as much as $130 per unit. That’s huge for Samsung. I barely remember that one of their phones exploded. After ten days with the phone, I love the screen. It’s the best thing about the iPhone X. I don’t, however, love the notch. I tried to be positive and write it off as an Apple-y quirk, but it’s intrusive.

Face ID

People who ask me about Face ID are not excited about it. They like using their finger to unlock their phone, and find this innovation a bit creepy. When I sent back my old iPhone 7 Plus, the guy at FedEx asked me if Face ID would read my emotions and advertise based on them. It’s a little dystopian.

I think Apple’s vision was to make unlocking your phone seamless—and sometimes, it is that way. That said, I would be surprised if anyone buys this phone FOR Face ID. It’s not really a huge consumer benefit.

The one time I did find myself marveling at it was when I tried to open my phone in the tub and realized I could do so without drying my hands. The iPhone X is certified tub-friendly.

Body & Design

The iPhone X only comes in one size (5.8-inches) and two colors: Space Gray and Silver.They want to curate the experience by eliminating choices, which is very Steve Jobs of them. But I want a big phone, and I want Rose Gold. Even Steve Jobs liked color choices!

I opted for Space Gray, which is basically black. The strangest thing about this phone is how uniform it is. I often find myself holding it upside-down or backward because it is one smooth, black block. The back camera is large and intrusive, but when I’m grabbing the phone off a table or out of my purse, it doesn’t matter. I still have to take a moment to find the proper orientation without the home button. It’s a shiny, slippery, almost featureless thing when it’s not turned on.

Gestures & UX

People are curious about how usable it is without the home button. A cashier at Whole Foods was very concerned that the bar at the bottom of the screen will show up in screenshots. (It does.) That said, I find the user experience improved in this phone. I love swiping up from the bottom of the screen instead of using the button. Flicking back and forth between apps is really convenient. I find myself wishing I could do this on my iPad.

ONE EXCEPTION

To me, there is one thing about this phone that is way worse than the iPhone 7. That’s the keyboard. Luckily, this is a software problem, and one that I hope they change in the next iOS. Because there’s no home button, the keyboard has been lifted up, leaving a gap underneath it. They very unwisely chose to place a language-switch button in the bottom left, and a mic in the bottom right. My palm CONSTANTLY triggers the language switch button when I’m typing. I can’t send a tweet or text without accidentally switching to emoji three times. It’s horrible. Other people have told me they don’t have this problem, but I’m guessing as the adoption of the phone grows, more will. This feature is so annoying that I regularly miss my old phone.

The Camera

I can’t say I’ve given the camera an extensive test, but here’s my POV so far. The best thing about it, to me, is that portrait mode is much less finicky.

This unedited photo shows how Portrait stacks up on the iPhone X. This looks great overall, although the top of the glass disappears.

On the iPhone 7 Plus, portrait mode was a bit of a pain. You had to walk back and forth for a minute before it was ready to work. On the iPhone X, it’s much more flexible. Best of all, it’s available on the front-facing camera.

I have heard whispers that the Pixel’s camera is still better. It should be, since photography seems to be the main hook Google has latched onto for their phone.

Animojis

A few YouTube reviews I watched described animojis as “one of the best” things about the new phone. Really? I’ve barely used them. I could see the facial mapping technology taking off thanks to other apps, like Snapchat.

The Price

People are very concerned about the $1,000 price of this phone. Here’s my rationale. Smartphones have always been expensive at retail price. The Samsung Galaxy retails for around $850. We’ve been protected from high cell phone prices because our cell phone carriers bury monthly payments in our bills. We think they’re around $200 because that’s what they want for an upgrade, but they’re much more expensive than that. I personally ditched Verizon and AT&T in the last few years, opting for the more consumer-choice-friendly T-Mobile. (That’s another conversation.) Now, I get my phone straight from Apple, through their upgrade program.

I pay $56/month for my iPhone X with 256g capacity. I was paying $41/month for the iPhone 7 Plus with the same capacity. Is the X worth $15 more a month compared to the 7 Plus? TBD, honestly. One way to look at it … $15 is about the price of an HBO subscription. Do I get an HBO subscription-worth of extra joy from the iPhone X every month? So far, I’d say no.

Either way,  I certainly won’t pay full price for this phone, as the upgrade program will let me trade it in next year, meaning I’ll only pay 12 payments of $56 ($672).

The iPhone Upgrade Program

Speaking of the upgrade program, I would now recommend it. In prior years, I would have recommended it with caution. Each time I traded in a phone for an upgrade, I knew I was in for about three hours at the Apple store. For whatever reason, it was a huge pain. Now, you get pre-approved on the Apple Store app, and the phone comes straight to your house, with a trade-in kit. On your own, you can switch your SIM card, activate your new phone, and send back your old one. It was super slick. Jump on that bandwagon now. Worth noting: these payments come with Apple Care.

The Good

Overall, I love the screen. Using my favorite apps like Duolingo is much more fun on a screen like this. I just wish this was more of a competitive advantage. The camera is also a lot more flexible and can better compete with my mirrorless camera’s wide apertures.

Like I say every year, the new phone is better than the last phone. Do I regret switching? No. Except for when I’m typing on the horrible keyboard.

The Bad

The keyboard. But that could change.

I also miss the Plus size quite a bit.

In Summary …

At first, I found the iPhone X to be disappointingly iterative. What if Apple had waited to remove the headphone jack, and released the iPhone X with accompanying (free) Airpods and a wireless charger? It may have felt like an exciting breakaway from the world of cords. Instead, these elements were all released piecemeal, and I just had to do a software update to allow my phone to type the letter “I.”

I’m getting tired of feeling like a beta tester, especially at this price point. I remember when it was novel that Apple products came charged, so you could use them right out of the box. I feel like this seamlessness has been downplayed in the quest to innovate as quickly as possible.

But to play devil’s advocate, certain things are becoming more and more seamless, like the Upgrade Program. Once I got used to my phone, I started wishing my iPad was more like it. I’m 100% here for an iPad Pro with Face ID and a bezel-free screen. Even though I wish the iPhone X was more of a category game-changer, I can’t deny that it’s a solid improvement.

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