Yesterday I took a look at my current collection of phones. Today I'll take a look at Apple's latest and greatest... the iPhone X.
As I said yesterday, I love it. For the most part.
But there are times I have to ask myself if the $1000 price tag (or whatever the monthly charge is with my Apple Upgrade Plan, which is how I can afford to buy the thing) is worth it. My previous phone, an iPhone 6, did everything I needed and still works perfectly fine. The iPhone X is, naturally, faster at stuff... but so much of what I used it for is exactly the same. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp may load faster, but the game experience is exactly the same. Safari doesn't load pages much faster over what I had. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I just went into debt $1000+ so what am I getting for my money?
Funny you should ask, as I now examine the iPhone X piece by piece...
The iPhone X is a whopping ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS. MINIMUM. This is absurdly expensive and, given the cost estimates I’ve seen for the actual parts and labor, a total cash grab by Apple because they know everybody will want one no matter what it cost. In all honesty, the $750 price tag of the Galaxy S8 seems much more reasonable for this phone, but that’s Apple for you. Many times while looking at my bank account I'll wish I had just gone for the iPhone 8, but the deed is done so I'm just embracing the horror.
Getting my new phone running was relatively painless. My iPhone 6 had iOS 11 on it, so I just had to hold it next to the new phone and (eventually) it gave up most of the info needed. Since FaceID is brand new, this adds another step, of course. You have to stare into the selfie (front) camera and rotate your head around so the X can map it out. Eventually your phone wants to download and install the latest iOS update (11.2 for me) at which time you have to enter your four-digit PIN code. Why they don’t use FaceID here is a mystery, but whatevs. After that your settings (right down to your home and lock screen background images) are grabbed from iCloud and your phone downloads all the apps you had on your previous phone. For some weird reason I had to set up my credit cards for Apple Pay twice, but this just involved entering my security codes and waiting for the bank to approve them, so not a big deal. After saying some sample phrases so Siri can understand me, I was ready to roll. Like I said... painless setup assuming you have an older phone running
I would have preferred to stick with the non-plus size phone that I already had... but the iPhone X isn’t that much bigger. Under a quarter inch top and bottom, which I can live with. The problem (if you can call it that) is that the screen real estate is larger so you can't really navigate one-handed with your thumb any more. I'm thinking of re-ordering how my apps are laid out to see if I can at least do my most common tasks one-handed, but adjusting to a new home screen layout is not something I'm looking forward to.
I am going to be brutally honest here... my Samsung Galaxy S8 kinda edges out the iPhone X when it comes to sheer looks. The S8 looks more what you’d think a mobile phone of the future would look like. The X looks like more of the same. That being said, the minimalism of the X probably pushes my aesthetics buttons a touch more than the S8. But barely. I love them both. If I have a gripe with Apple's design choices, having the camera lenses protrude out the back of the camera would be a big one. With a case on, no big deal... but still pretty tacky in the way it jacks up the clean lines and form factor of the phone. Why Apple hasn't made this a priority in their aesthetic is a mystery to me.
Make no mistake... the iPhone X is a fragile piece of tech. On my 6, I didn’t use a case, I applied corner bumpers and a screen protector. With my X I got a full-on Apple-branded silicone case and a screen protector because it’s got a lot of glass and feels far more fragile than my old phone. As an aside, I looked at a lot of cases and ultimately settled on the Apple Silicone Case, which is very nice. Beautifully constructed and branded... great to the touch... not slippery... an all around perfect choice if not for the absurd $40 price tag. Seriously, other similar cases are $15, which I would have gladly purchased if not for the ugly branding.
Considering that Apple is using the OLED panel that Samsung makes, it’s no surprise that the X looks as remarkable as the S8. Actually better, somehow. What *is* surprising is that Apple decided to notch out the screen at the top in order to maximize frontal screen real estate while still allowing for the camera and sensors the X needs. Honestly, I stopped noticing it after a couple days. Mostly. It is what it is and my brain has made peace with it.
Except... I still hate it...
Stylistically it looks crazy stupid and the way the status bar has to display around it is downright silly. And then there’s the fact that THERE’S A GIANT NOTCH THAT IS CUT OUT OF EVERYTHING YOU LOOK AT THAT'S FULL-SCREEN, FROM PHOTOS TO MOVIES TO GAMES. The thing is so bizarre that even Apple seems unsure what to do with it half the time. Older apps ignore it and center their screen from top and bottom, which is actually preferable to having to look at the notch, in my humble opinion. Seriously, I would have rather had a black bar at the top and a phone that was an eighth-inch taller than this absurdly bastardized compromise. The end.
The iPhone X has darn good sound... bordering on amazing sound... and is loud. As in room-filling loud at only 2/3 full volume. Which is good, because the quality of sound diminishes pretty fast when you go past 2/3 full volume. Still... I have to admire just how much care Apple put into the acoustics to have iPhone X be this good. I have tested it out by having a wide variety of music playing next to me while I work and am always impressed. Crisp notes in the highs and thumping bass in the lows. As an improvement over my iPhone 6, the X has stereo speakers in landscape orientation (one in the bottom and one in the earpiece). This isn't a heck of a lot of separation, but you actually do get surprisingly good stereo out of the thing. There are times that the sound transcends what should be possible in such a small device... especially when watching movies with good spatial sound. All isn't perfect, however. While listening to the achingly beautiful Some Kind of Love by The Killers, for example, there are parts where the sound becomes so distorted (even at half-volume) that it's hard to listen to. Not sure why certain sounds are so difficult for iPhone X to render when it's so great so often, but it's an issue that pops up often enough to be a problem.
I pull out my phone and swipe up to activate it. FaceID is so quick that I forget it’s even happening while I’m doing it. This is a far cry from TouchID where you can’t help but notice that you’re jockeying your thumb on the home button to get a read on it (or, if you’re using a Galaxy S8, you’re sliding your finger all over the camera lens on the back trying to get a read on its inexplicably-placed back fingerprint scanner that’s right next door). I didn’t know how I’d feel about FaceID, but I absolutely love it and don’t think I could go back to anything else. It even works in the dark somehow. Yes, there are a few times I've had to move the phone a bit (usually while laying in bed) and if my glasses are off it can have some trouble, but the fact that the tech works as remarkably well as it does the majority of the time is a true testament to Apple's innovation here. The fact that you get Animojis out of the deal is just a bonus...
Yeah. Something tells me that Animoji will get really old really quickly.
The wireless charging is great. Except... the chargers I found that work with the iPhone’s quick-charge are pretty crappy so far (including the Belkin I bought, which is $50!). And Apple really shit the bed here by using only 7.5W instead of the 15W that Qi standard allows, which means it takes forever to charge your phone completely. WHY?!?? And apparently Apple decided not to use two-way communication, so your phone can’t tell the charger when its full. WHY?!?? If you’re really in a hurry to charge your phone, plugging it into a powerful 30W charger (not included) is obviously the way to go. Assuming you want to spend the money for it. My iPhone 6S still has a good battery because I was careful to never leave it plugged in all the time. Wireless charging seems to invite this since you have to leave it on the thing overnight, so I dunno if it's actually a benefit. Depends on how much it costs to replace the battery at iFixit, I suppose.
That being said... the battery seems good on my iPhone X. After the initial charge, I didn't charge it again for two days. Granted I am not on it all day long... but there were some pretty intense periods of use for games and such, so it's still pretty impressive. At least it is for how I use my phone. But how long will it last? That's a good question. Battery longevity is a problem that manufacturers like Apple seem to like (since most people will just buy a new phone instead of replace the battery like I do) so it's probably not a priority.
Okay... here’s ultimately the real reason I paid the premium price for the iPhone X instead of going with the iPhone 8. I wanted the spectacular dual-lens camera that comes in the 8+ but didn’t want to buy a purse to carry that massive phone in. With the X, you get the 8+ camera at the 8 size phone, and that was worth the $300 to me. Heck, $300 is what it would take to buy a decent pocket camera, so going X is just one less thing to carry around. And the camera is indeed great. A nice improvement over my Samsung Galaxy S8, which is already a pretty amazing camera. The colors are richer and less washed out. The sharpness is mind-bogglingly good. The low-light abilities are equally great. It’s the total camera package and I love love love it. If, for no other reason, that I get great cat photos from it...
I'm torn on "Portrait Mode." This feature simulates an aperture for depth of field control without actually having a variable aperture. From what I can understand, it uses both cameras at the same time to try and figure out what parts of the image are closest to the camera so it can blur out the background artificially. Sometimes it works pretty great. Other times my main subject has weird blurry edges. Other times background blur is really bad quality with heavy, artificial halos, like my feet in this shot...
I prefer to turn off "Portrait Mode" and just let the camera's built-in aperture play the cards you're dealt. Still, overall a superb camera... and the video capabilities are world-class... you could film a movie with this thing! I'm guessing you'll get more than a few shots that will surprise people when you tell them they were taken with a frickin' phone. I mean, come on... look how sharp Jake's fur is in that shot! And that's reduced-resolution to fit my blog! I plan to write more about iPhone X photography in a future entry, so stay tuned.
Interesting to note that the iPhone X has an extra row of app icons compared to what my old iPhone 6 allowed. Very nice to have four more apps handy on the first home screen. As I mentioned previously, however, you can't reach all of them with your thumb one-handed... even if you've got long fingers like I do.
In lieu of the missing home button, Apple has replaced physical function with swipe gestures. Some of them work. Swiping up to get to the home screen... fine. Swiping up and pausing to get to the app switcher... fine. Swiping right across the bottom for previously-used apps... great. But swiping down from the top-right corner to get to the Control Panels? Awful. No way to do that one-handed. In order to reach it one-handed, you have to use Apple's "reachability" feature which used to be a simple double tap on the home button... but now is almost impossible with a swipe down on a tiny portion at the bottom of the screen (assuming you've enabled it in preferences). For heaven's sake, provide a sane alternative to get to the Control Panels screen... like swiping left past the "Widgets" screen... or even providing an icon... SOMETHING! The Control Panels screen is something I use constantly. To make it so absurdly difficult to access after it was so easy before-hand is a big detriment to iPhone X.
Compared to my iPhone 6 and 6S, the X is monumentally faster (as you would expect). Compared to my Galaxy S8, the X is (surprisingly) quite a bit faster as well. Using the same apps side-by-side on both phones it’s noticeably faster on the X, which surprises me. I guess all the hype Apple made over their "A11 Bionic Chip" is justified. The iOS interface is so flawlessly buttery smooth and glitch-free as to be remarkable in itself. Action games are beyond good, and well-developed newer games on iPhone X rival dedicated consoles for speed and quality (seriously, install an app like Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade and prepare to be blown away)...
I'm sure there will be a slew of new games optimized for the A11 Bionic, which means it's a great time to be an iPhone gamer.
Here’s where Apple bites it... and bites it hard. Samsung has implemented Gigabit LTE tech in their phones whereas Apple has been sitting on their hands. You don’t notice it much where I live here in Redneckistan... but in larger cities with optimized LTE networks, you do. I noticed it when traveling with both of my phones and always chalked it up to my newer Samsung phones having a faster chip-set than my much older iPhone 6S. Turns out that was only part of the game, and Apple has a lot of catching up to do. I hope they are adequately embarrassed for falling so far behind the competition. Rather than rehash this puzzling failure by Apple, here's a link to read if you're interested in this kind of stuff.
When Apple debuted the iPhone X, a big chunk of the keynote presentation was devoted to Augmented Reality, and it's clear Apple has big plans for the iPhone to be a major player in the field. Not that you'd know it from some of the shitty apps that are available right now. I downloaded two games, both of which were crap. They force you to watch ads for other games to play and weren't the least bit entertaining, so I deleted them immediately...
I also bought The Machines which was the AR gaming app that Apple demoed during the keynote. It's a far superior game to most of the dreck out there, but not quite "there" yet. Not that it's bad or unplayable... it just feels very first-generation where everything but the kitchen sink was crammed in to be used as a demo showcase. Or maybe I'm just old. Either way, it's very promising and I am definitely excited to see where AR gaming ends up in the future.
Assumably, Apple's AR-Kit development tools will eventually lead to some amazing things outside of gaming (I know IKEA has an AR app in development that allows you to place their furniture in your home, for example), but right now it's just games and gimicky crap.
Oh yeah... this thing is a phone too! Signal strength seems on-par with my iPhone 6. Call quality is mostly dependent on your carrier, but I'm not hearing any radical improvement over what I had (except when used as a speaker phone, in which case the X trounces my older iPhone).
So far as phones go, my opinion is that there isn't anything to touch the iPhone X. It's powerful, functional, has Apple's refined iOS behind it, and is filled with mind-bogglingly great features highlighting its display, sound, and cameras. My Samsung Galaxy S8 (running Android OS, which I loathe) may seem a bit more futuristic when it comes to design, but is otherwise lacking in comparison... though probably not in any way that's going to convince Android-loving mobile users to switch. I am not 100% convinced that the X is the right upgrade for everybody... the iPhone 8's more rational price point and equatable power/features are more compelling when you consider it's $300 cheaper... but the X is most definitely not a bad choice if you are willing to invest the cash (or simply must have the latest and greatest iPhone available).
My wishlist for future iPhones doesn't have so much to do with the hardware, but the OS choices that run it. If forced to come up with something, however, I'd have to chime in and say that a headphone jack was a stupid thing to axe. I know it takes up space, but it seems ridiculous that a company as tech-savvy and innovative as Apple can't come up with a way to keep it. Odds are that they could... they just didn't want to. That, more than any other example I could come up with, summarizes the joy and hurt of Apple's "We Know Best" philosophy. And yet... in many ways its served them well (as the billions upon billions they make from iPhone profits will testify) even though that makes them a bad fit for some consumers. I've come to embrace it even though I don't always like it.
In the end I'm very happy with my iPhone X even if I'm not happy about what I had to pay for it. At least until the iPhone XI is released, I'm sure.