UNBOXED: Reviewing the Apple iPhone X
What is one supposed to do after writing what they believe is the one thing that they were meant to write? That’s a question I’ll start to ponder after finishing up this review of the one product that I feel like I’ve invested so much time in from an analysis standpoint—from covering the early rumors of the iPhone X, all of the way through the production issues that were reported on this summer, to the early success realized on preorder day, and up through the madness of launch day.
But here we are. I now have had my hands on the iPhone X for the better part of a week. I feel like there’s still so much to learn about the device as I work my way through all of the nuances of Apple’s reconfigured iOS 11 as it was built for the X.
Boiled down, the iPhone X is best described as a device that current iPhone users will be intimately familiar with, but at the same time it feels like an entirely new phone. From an innovation standpoint, this is a supremely positive thing. Since 2014, the iPhone has essentially been the same device. Over the past three years we’ve seen internal progress, memory upgrades, and new camera features. But the iPhone itself—from a hardware perspective—was starting to feel tired.
Even going from the iPhone 8 to the iPhone X this year, you immediately feel like you’re holding an entirely new product in your hand. The heavier all-glass design certainly has something to do with that. But so too does the completely reconfigured front-facing panel. The Home button is no more. And, with the exception of a thin notch at the top of the screen, the iPhone X’s OLED display stretches beautifully from edge to edge. As an OLED screen, the iPhone X displays colors more vibrantly with deeper blacks and greater contrast. And, of course, wireless charging is now an option (as it also is with the 8 and 8 Plus).
Of course, many of these same features have “long been around” in other smartphones. But it’s never been Apple’s MO to rush to market with something that isn’t ready for the bright lights. They’re going to work on their craft, listen to what consumers are asking for, perfect those features, and then eventually roll them out when they’re ready. The iPhone X is the perfect example of that.
About the Notch
Though distracting at times, it’s easy to get over the black notch when you realize what Apple was able to pack into that tiny area of the screen. If you’re familiar with the Xbox Kinect that was introduced a few years ago, Apple essentially took that product and shrunk it down to a size small enough to pack into their next-gen iPhone. That area includes a TrueDepth camera that is capable of projecting tens of thousands of tiny, invisible dots on your face to create a precise depth map, allowing the phone to accurately recognize the user. Apple says the technology is far more accurate that its TouchID technology.
Not only does FaceID provide an extra layer of security, but it also allows that front facing camera to be one of the most powerful on the market. Portrait mode photos, which were only able to be shot on the rear-facing camera of the Plus model iPhone, is now accessible on the front-facing iPhone X camera. That means selfies will look exceptionally better on the new iPhone.
Additionally, it’s this same FaceID technology that enables those quirky Animojis to be a thing. And while those little animated character may seem like the stupidest Apple-esque gimmick ever—which they are—they also serve a very important purpose in the grand scheme of camera technology. It provides a unique outlet for people to craft personal messages in video form without the need to show their own face on camera. That may seem like a so-what kind of commentary, but there’s something to be said about our unwillingness today to send video messages on the regular. They’re highly personal moments, and Apple has found a way to entice users to share these little snippets in time with loved ones in a more consistent (albeit, rather silly) manner.
What I’m more interested in, as a tech follower, is where Apple plans to go next with this FaceID technology. How can they capitalize on everything packed into that notch, and what features will this lead to down the road?
iOS 11 X
In ditching the Home button, Apple had to completely reinvent the way users navigate their iPhone X. The main driver of the device is still the iOS—iOS 11 in this case. But with the reconfigured design of the device, Apple had to create some special features within the iOS that only iPhone X users would have access to. Some of the more noticeable additions include swiping up from the bottom to go home, the swipe-up-and-pause to swap through apps, and the drag-down menus differing depending on which corner you drag down from (notifications come from the top left/center, while the control center is located in the top right). Apple Pay now works by double tapping the power button, similar to how its pulled up on the Apple Watch.
There is definitely a bit of a learning curve, which isn’t a huge issue, but it’s one that every iPhone user is going to experience when switching to the X. Once those movements become natural and you forget about the nonexistent Home button, you realize how much easier it really is to navigate this phone and how enjoyable the experience is.
I do, at times, still find my thumb searching for the Home button, but I imagine that will eventually subside over time.
Another noticeable difference is the screen size in relation to the new iOS. Apple’s introduction of the 5.8-inch display on the iPhone X is the first screen size change since the introduction of the iPhone 6 Plus. That means app developers have to optimize their apps for the new display. Most of your major apps are already there, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. But when an app isn’t optimized, it’s very noticeable—take Gmail, for example, which still shrinks down to the smaller iPhone screen size, leaving black bars at the top and bottom of the phone. Similar to apps that stretched out when the iPhone 6 Plus came out, I imagine these un-optimized apps will slowly disappear, but it is a little frustrating to see how many are still lagging behind.
A Pretty Penny
A discussion about the iPhone X is inevitably going to turn to the price of the phone. It’s expensive. It’s not Apple’s first ever iPhone to go over the $1,000 threshold (last year’s 256 GB iPhone 7 Plus did that). But it’s the first to start at such a high price—$999 in this case.
With that, though, user’s are getting a premium product, built with premium materials, and under a premium banner.
And not to say that price doesn’t mean anything anymore, but with the way wireless contracts are constructed today, if a consumer plans on upgrading the device next year anyway, they won’t even get close to paying that full price anyway. Still, I have my own thoughts on the increasing cost of smartphones and the iPhone in particular. And there’s nothing too thrilling about the thought of iPhone prices moving forward.
All that said, the iPhone X is a stunningly beautiful device. If there is such a thing as the pinnacle of the smartphone market this would be it. And given the amount of technology packed into it, I think we’re just scratching the surface of its potential.