The executive summary of this iPhone X Diary piece – almost a week in – is that I still love it, and I have found very little more to complain about.
Let’s start with the look and feel. I still love it. It still feels like a single slab of glass, and it has a really great tactile feel in the hand.
To me, the large size is a compromise. I do still really like the iPhone SE size, but it’s a compromise that pays off. The screen is large enough for content to feel immersive – I’ve even watched some Netflix on it – while still remaining reasonably pocketable. I can also comfortably hold it in my hand …
I’m still of the view that the difference in screen quality between Apple’s excellent IPS LCD iPhones and the OLED screen of the iPhone X is not massive, but there is one benefit I really like. A key strength of OLED is that blacks really are black. I set the Homescreen wallpaper to plain black, and now it’s just like the Apple Watch: you can’t tell where the casing ends and the screen begins. That’s a great look (above)!
Watching video, you do have to decide whether to watch in the smaller default size, or double-tap to fill the screen but have a visible notch intruding into the frame. Rather to my surprise, I prefer to fill the screen. I found I soon became oblivious to the notch, while the constrained size in default mode actually bothered me a bit. For photos, though, it was the opposite. There I found the notch intrusive, so I stick to the smaller view.
I don’t miss the Home button at all. At All. Gestures are lovely! They already feel completely natural to me.
In fact, a week in, the Home button and Touch ID login on my iPad now feel like something out of the Stone Age. This is expensive news for me, as it means I’m definitely going to want a new iPad when they get Face ID next year …
Face ID has proven extremely reliable, though not perfect.
Most of the time, the padlock either unlocks faster than I can swipe, or I swipe while it’s still locked and it unlocks as I do so. When the latter happens, mostly it is instant, while occasionally I get the Face ID scanning icon for a second and then it unlocks.
But there have been a few failures, when it has prompted me for my passcode. Every time that has happened, without exception, I’ve been able to tap Cancel, return to the lockscreen and it has then unlocked with Face ID.
Some reviews have commented about Face ID being less reliable in bright sunlight. As one reader wryly commented on my earlier piece, bright sunlight is not the easiest of things to test in London in November. Testing it in the closest conditions London has to offer, however, I haven’t found it an issue.
All in all, though, I would say that Face ID is at least as reliable as Touch ID – which also sometimes fails – and probably more reliable.
I remain a huge fan. It’s great that it unlocks the content of notifications when you look at the screen. I love the ease of ‘look and unlock.’ And I especially like the way that secured apps just act like there is no lock at all – you open them, they silently verify your face and you’re in.
One outlier here is Apple’s Notes app. When you tap on a locked note, you have to tap the ‘View Note’ button before it unlocks. I know Apple uses a single biometric authentication API which treats Touch ID and Face ID in the same way, but if banking apps can automatically authenticate without user intervention, Notes ought to too.
I appreciate that there’s an additional complication here. Third-party apps are authenticating on opening, while Notes is authenticating on request when you view a particular note. I know that battery-life makes it impractical for it to be constantly scanning, but surely it’s not difficult to see that you’ve tapped on a locked note and switch on Face ID to allow immediate access? Currently this feels really clunky.
I have discovered one other usability issue. With the phone held in my hand, switching the phone off with the side button effectively involves squeezing the phone, so I did several times find myself taking a screenshot instead of putting the phone into sleep.
My diary pieces are all about real-life usage, so I haven’t conducted a lab-style battery-life test, but I’ve compared notes with my colleagues. Benjamin ran his down to 1% power and saw the above result. Zac did the same, and said that his results were variable, but this is one example:
My own experience to date is that, as I suspected, battery-life appears to be something I never have to think about.
My best real-life test will come tomorrow, when I move homes. That will be a long day with, I expect, numerous phone and FaceTime calls in the course of the day, as well as lots of photos and using it as my main Internet device for a change. I’ll report back on the results next time.
Wireless charging made more of a difference in practice than I expected. I’m on record as saying that what I really want is truly wireless charging – where devices are charged anywhere in a room, rather than on a pad – but there is convenience to being able to pick up the phone, wander around the house and then just put it down on a pad rather than having to plug in a Lightning cable.
It’s not a massive benefit, but it is a benefit.
So far as chargers are concerned, I like stands rather than pads. So far I’ve been using this Choetech one. It’s fairly basic matt black plastic, but is unobtrusive and I really like the long LED indicator on the base. This is blue when not in use, and turns green when in use. I’d prefer a red or amber light when it’s charging and green when it’s fully-charged, but it does the job.
Once nice feature is that it has two separate charging coils, so it charges in landscape as well as portrait mode. This allows you to charge while watching a movie, for example. I’ll be looking into other options also, but for $21 I think this is a solid buy, making it affordable to have several of them around the home.
Preparing for the move has seen all my spare time disappear into packing hell, so I haven’t had much chance to play with the camera. But I did take it to a cheese festival (mmmm, cheeeeeese!) which gave me a chance to test the hardware noise-reduction on low-light shots, like the one above. This photo is straight from camera – literally all I have done is resize it for the web.
I have to say that this is seriously impressive performance. This was at night, with only the giant fairy lights you can see for lighting. I’m completely blown away by how much light it has managed to pull from a really dark scene, and just how clean the image is.
I’m actually stunned that a smartphone camera is this good in conditions which used to call for a DSLR not so many years ago. I’ll be doing some more testing over the weekend and next week, and will devote a future diary entry specifically to the camera and video camera performance.
But for now, a week in, I love this phone. I love the design. I love the feel. I love the gestures. I love Face ID.
Last time my grumbles were the burn-in risk, off-angle screen viewing, the weight and the camera bump on a desk or table. All I’ve been able to add since then is the occasional Face ID glitch, and my grumble about secure Notes.
Did I mention that I love this phone? If you also have an iPhone X, please share your own impressions in the comments. If you don’t, and have specific questions, please ask them in the comments and I’ll aim to answer them there or in a future piece.