My first impression diary pieces are usually exactly that: based on just taking it out of the box, setting it up and playing with it for an hour or three.
This time, however, my iPhone X didn’t arrive until the end of the day on Friday, by which time I was already out for the evening. So this time I’ve had a weekend of use, and have a bit more to say.
I previously outlined the reasons I was buying it, despite my fondness for the iPhone SE. As someone who loves the design of the classic iPhones (iPhone 4/4S/5/5S/SE), and who isn’t a fan of the 6/6S/7/8, the first question I had was what I’d make of the design of the iPhone X …
On the one hand, it has that same rounded edge of the previous models. On the other hand, the near-bezel-free design unquestionably gives it a totally different look. From the photos and video, it looked great, but that’s not the same as seeing it in the steel and glass.
So let’s start with my first impressions of the overall design.
In a sentence, I love it. I think Apple has succeeded in its aim of making it look and feel like a single slab of glass. The design team has done a great job at blending together the screen, sides and back. It’s not actually seamless – you can clearly see all the joins – but it does give the impression of seamlessness in everyday use. It’s really lovely.
There has been much discussion by early reviewers about the side bezels. Apple has been hyping it as essentially bezel-free, while some early reviewers have commented on the fact that bezels are still very much in evidence.
My initial view is that it’s just right. The bezels are thicker in the steel and glass than they appear in photos, but I can hold it comfortably without obscuring any of the display. I’m sure even this much bezel will look old-fashioned in a few years, but right now I’d say Apple has struck the right balance.
There’s also been a great deal of discussion about the now infamous notch. Many were dismayed when they first saw it, while others thought it was a clever way to allow the display to dominate the device while retaining all the necessary tech at the top of the phone.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this as I use the phone over the next few days, but my immediate impressions of the notch are that it’s cute! I think it adds visual interest to what would otherwise be a rather featureless design on the front. It appears I’m not alone in this, either.
The notch also gives a convenient delineator between left and right sides of the screen for swipe-down gestures. Swiping from the left takes you to Notifications, from the right to Control Panel. (Ok, in reality, swiping anywhere other than right brings up Notifications, but it feels like a nice easy way for people to remember.)
Finally, I really like the reduced status bar clutter. I now see the time, whether location-tracking is on, phone and wifi strength and battery indicator. To me, that’s all the essentials. The battery indicator is admittedly a bit vague, but as Jeff notes, a simple swipe down gets you the percentage.
It also feels good in my hand. It’s pleasant to hold, smooth but not slippery. It feels heavier than it looks, but I think that’s because visually it looks like it should be featherweight. On the plus side, it feels substantial, but – coming from the SE – this is a lot heavier to hold. Part of the reason for that is the chunky, two-part battery, and that’s a trade-off I’ll take any day.
Coming from the SE, with its flat back, I’d forgotten how much the camera bump on the other models annoys me when the phone is sitting flat on a desk or table. I’ll have to get used to that again.
One other small issue: when the screen is off, and you’re looking at it from the front, you can’t see which way up it is. I’ll need to get into the habit of always putting it into pockets the same way up.
OLED screen quality
My first impressions of the OLED screen are that the improvements are a little overblown. Yes, it’s a very, very nice display. It looks great. But, in all honesty, so does the IPS LCD screen on older iPhones.
On the Homescreen, and in most apps, I’d say the difference is no big deal. But it does definitely make itself felt when viewing photos. I was relieved to see that Apple hasn’t gone down the Samsung route of cranking up saturation and contrast to cartoon-like levels: the iPhone X display pops, but still looks natural.
One specific issue identified in early reviews was the more limited viewing angle of an OLED screen, with dimming and color shifts when viewed more obliquely. I tested this by comparing against my iPhone SE, viewing from a variety of angles.
And yes, this is dramatic. The LCD screen continues to look bright and natural from even 45 degrees, while the OLED of the iPhone X starts to dim and shift into blue tones almost immediately you turn it away from you. The difference is marked at even 15 degrees or so, and by 45 degrees it looks muddy and, well, awful.
The switch to OLED does have one other implication for me. I work from home, and my iPhone normally sits on a dock on my desk, switched on and on the homescreen, so I have convenient access to any apps I might want to use. However, as OLED screens can suffer burn-in, Apple specifically recommends against leaving the phone on with the same image displayed for long periods of time.
Apple does refer to high-contrast images at high brightness levels, so perhaps I’m being over-cautious, but I have seen some ugly burn-in on other OLED screens, so I’m going to play safe.
I’ll therefore switch to switching off the display when not in use, so will see how convenient tap-to-wake and face-recognition proves versus having a phone that’s always on. My immediate grumble – as someone who usually sees notifications as they come in – is that ‘swipe up to unlock’ feels like an unnecessary step. I’d far rather I just tapped the screen and was instantly on the Home screen. Maybe Apple could make this configurable so everyone would be happy.
I absolutely love the new iOS 11 setup process, from an existing phone. It was so quick and easy, and I was particularly glad to see that it included Apple Pay, rather than having to set that up again – all I had to do was enter my 3-digit CCV number.
However, the very aggressive default 15-second sleep time-out, when powered as well as unpowered, was immediately annoying. I had to keep swiping up to monitor setup progress. As soon as setup was complete, and iOS updated, I changed that right away.
Auto-setup seemed to take care of almost everything. All my apps were there, in their correct places with, mostly, their correct settings. One exception noticed immediately is that it lost the settings for one of my email accounts, so I had to re-enter those. But unless I notice anything else as I continue to use it, I’m giving this 9.9/10 for a really slick setup process.
I can say immediately that anyone worrying about the switch from Touch ID to Face ID can stop now. It’s fantastic. Quick, reliable, more secure and more convenient.
When notifications arrive on the lockscreen, for example, the content is hidden until you look at the phone, then the content appears. Fantastic.
With my banking app, it asked me for permission to use Face ID, and that was it. I could then immediately use it for logon, and it’s a beautiful experience. In use, it’s as if there’s no security step at all – just open the app and view your accounts – while in reality you’re protected by something far more secure than Touch ID. I love it.
Apple says that while it did experiment with in-screen Touch ID, it stopped work on that as soon as it became clear that it could make Face ID work reliably, and I absolutely believe it. Face ID is, in my view, a far, far superior solution.
The only problem I’ve experienced so far is this:
I find I have to lean over it (while making sure not to get too close) before it unlocks.
One big thing to get used to, of course, is the loss of the Home button, replaced by a swipe-up gesture from the bottom of the screen. With many years of muscle-memory, I wasn’t expecting that to feel natural for at least a few days, but it actually started to feel like the obvious thing to do almost right away.
My thumb did keep reaching for the non-existent Home button for Siri, however. Because my iPhone and iPad are often next to me, I have Hey Siri set on the iPad but not the phone, so am used to using the Home button for that. This will definitely take a little longer to adjust.
When the phone is in a dock or on a stand, the side button is an awkward way to wake the phone, but Tap to Wake deals with that.
I really like the new swipe gestures. To invoke the App Switcher, just swipe the Home indicator (bottom bar) halfway up and pause. This works really well, and is just as easy as the old double-tap Home button method.
You can also simply swipe left or right to switch between recently-used apps – even from the Home screen, where there’s no Home Indicator. This really adds an extra level of convenience, and is easier than the old method.
The side button mirrors the behaviour of the Apple Watch, albeit with one button rather than two. Press-and-hold invokes Siri, while a double-press invokes Apple Pay. I really like this mirroring of button use. I’ll report back next time on how well Apple Pay works on the phone.
Jeff’s video tutorial below runs through all the new interactions.
The camera has two features unique to the iPhone X: Portrait Lighting using the selfie camera, and hardware noise-reduction for low-light shots.
Incidentally, CNET’s Ian Sherr had a good perspective on the value of upgrading to the latest iPhone. There’s an old photography saying that the best camera is the one you have on you at the time – having the best iPhone means you always have a good camera on you.
I found my iPhone SE more than good enough for everyday snapshots, and am looking forward to seeing whether the iPhone X steps things up a notch. I want to do a decent amount of testing with the camera before reporting back, so expect this in a future diary piece a week or two down the road.
I said before that I thought Animoji would be something I’d try once and then never use again. I tested it by sending a few to my partner, and … well, see above.
Which is an important caveat with tech reviews in particular. To me, Animoji was a complete irrelevance, and I was feeling a bit impatient about the amount of keynote time devoted to them. But to some, they are going to be a major selling-point of the iPhone X.
I do have to admit that they are cute. I can’t, though, see myself sending them to anyone else.
I’ll comment on this properly when I’ve been using it more normally. In the first few days, I’ve been using it a lot more than normal, just playing with stuff.
But first impressions are that battery life is superb. I think there’s a decent chance it could be iPad-like: something you simply never have to think about.
I’ll report back on the wireless charging experience next time.
First weekend conclusions
I said that I was impressed but not wowed by the keynote. But I’m actually pretty wowed by it in actual use. I love the look. I love the feel. I’m already a massive fan of Face ID – it effectively combines the security of Touch ID (and then some) with the convenience of an unlocked phone.
I don’t generally get very excited about a new iPhone. A new iPad, yes. A new MacBook, absolutely. But because my iPad is my go-to mobile device, an iPhone is, to me, more of a fill-in device. It’s there to do the quick tasks that don’t justify pulling out my iPad. But this one is different. I’m enjoying using it more than any other iPhone. I’m maybe even a bit excited by it (for British values of excited, obviously).
There are a few immediate downsides. Screen burn-in, requiring me to leave it off when docked on my desk, is probably the biggest of these. The extra weight, compared to the SE. The camera bump when it’s on a desk or table. The off-angle color shift and dimming. But none of these are deal-breakers.
I’ll update in a few days time. At some point, probably in a week or so, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at the camera. In the meantime, do please share your own experiences in the comments. And if you don’t have an iPhone X and have any questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them either here or in the next piece.