It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I woke up at 2AM on October 27 to preorder an iPhone X. Even with the rumors about the phone being in short supply, I managed to get my order in quickly enough to get my phone on launch day. So I have an iPhone X now!
I thought I’d write down some first impressions from the past few days, and try to help answer the question on everyone’s mind: is a thousand-dollar smartphone worth it?
It’s All Screen
The first thing I noticed when I turned on the iPhone X is how much different the phone looks with the screen filling nearly the entire front of the device. Recent Android phones such as the Galaxy S8 have been doing this, and I’m glad Apple finally jumped on the bandwagon. It makes the phone feel futuristic, like it’s some kind of sci-fi prop rather than a real device.
The notch at the top has been a topic of heated debate, but it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I kind of like it. It gives me the feeling that the screen is expanding to fill all available space, which is a really refreshing feeling compared to the previous iPhones.
I’m coming from the iPhone 7 Plus, so the X is a bit smaller. This is a welcome improvement. I like being able to hold the phone more securely in my hand and fit it into my pockets more easily. The screen is a bit narrower than the Plus, but it’s noticeably taller, so I haven’t really missed the larger screen area from the Plus.
I haven’t used the phone for long enough to form a nuanced opinion of the screen quality, but so far I’m impressed. It doesn’t feel as vivid and colorful as some Samsung phones I’ve seen, and I think that’s because Apple was going for color accuracy rather than super-saturation. My impression so far is that the screen produces images in accurate color while not overstating things, which is preferable to me in a phone. That may not be everyone’s preference, but I like it.
Face ID Is Better Than Expected
The iPhone X feature that has everyone talking is Face ID, the new facial recognition system that replaces the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Unlike a lot of the Internet, I had confidence that the feature would work well. But I wasn’t sure it would really feel like an improvement over Touch ID. After all, besides the occasional annoyance of not being able to unlock my phone when my hands were wet, Touch ID seemed fine.
But I have to say that Face ID is an improvement over Touch ID in almost every scenario. My favorite part so far: I can pick up my phone to look at a notification on the lock screen, and tap that notification to open the associated app. That’s it. With Touch ID, if you hadn’t already used your fingerprint to unlock the phone, you’d be prompted to scan your fingerprint before the app would open. With Face ID, accessing an app by tapping the notification is a behavior that makes sense and happens naturally.
Another place Face ID is awesome is when you’re doing things in the operating system that require a password. For example, I use Mint to track my finances, and I have the phone app configured to require authentication when I open it. I was excited when I got a phone with Touch ID because I could open the app and scan my fingerprint to gain access. But now I don’t even have to move my finger to the Touch ID sensor to log in. I can just tap the Mint icon, the phone quickly scans my face, and I’m in. It’s easy and convenient.
The same sensors that enable Face ID also enable some other features, such as the Animoji animated characters that match your facial expressions. I’m probably going to talk about this more in a future article, but Animoji are a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see what other developers do with this capability.
I do have to say that Face ID isn’t perfect and it’s going to take a little getting used to. Just like we all had to learn how to interact with Touch ID, we’ll have to slowly adjust our habits to work with Face ID. The biggest problem I’ve run into so far is that sometimes I have my phone too close or too far from my face for the feature to work properly. I noticed that when I’m using my phone in bed when I don’t have my glasses on, I tend to hold it too close for the Face ID sensor to be able to detect my face properly.
That will take some adjustment on my part. It’s not a great feeling to have to adjust your habits to suit a new device, and the iPhone X is going to require you to change how you interact with your phone in a number of ways. The swipe gestures for various actions (such as going to the home screen, switching apps, opening Control Center, and more) have all changed.
For the first day or two of using the iPhone X, you’ll make a lot of little mistakes. But I think it’s something we will all get used to quickly. I’m already at the point where I try to swipe up on older iPhones instead of hitting the home button.
Not One, But Two Great Cameras
It’s no secret that I’m a big supporter of smartphone photography–I’ve even started writing a series on taking better iPhone pictures. So naturally I was very interested in seeing what the camera on Apple’s latest flagship phone can do.
I haven’t had the opportunity to use the camera in too many different situations yet, but so far I’m impressed with what it can do. If you’re coming from an older iPhone, the biggest improvements you’ll notice are the new Portrait Lighting feature and improved quality and capability of the front camera.
Portrait Lighting is going to be deserving of its own post, but Apple has done some pretty impressive software magic here. It gives you the ability to apply different lighting effects to a picture taken in Portrait Mode and can make your pictures look unexpectedly dramatic or more evenly lit, depending on what setting you choose.
These aren’t Snapchat or Instagram filters. They’re more nuanced tweaks to the picture that make it look more like it was taken with a professional photography light setup. In my brief testing so far, I don’t think I’d use Portrait Lighting in every shot, but I’m excited to have the option available to me. I’ve taken a few cool pictures with it so far.
I knew to expect Portrait Lighting, but what surprised me about the cameras on the iPhone X is just how good the front camera is. I’m really impressed with the quality of the pictures, and I think this is the first phone I’ve had where I felt like I could take just as good of a picture with the front camera as I could with the rear camera. Selfies are a big part of what people use their phone cameras for, so this is going to be a welcome improvement for many of you.
As a bonus, because the iPhone X has all of the sensors for Face ID on the front of the phone, you can use Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting on the front camera. It works great and is easy to use, but there’s one caveat: right now, it only seems to work well with one person in the frame. This is likely something Apple can improve with software updates, but you’ll have a hard time taking a selfie with a friend using the portrait features.
Finally, An iPhone That Feels New
If you’ve read this far, it’s probably obvious to you that this isn’t a review of the iPhone X. I haven’t used the phone for long enough to form detailed opinions about its features. Although I called out a few minor annoyances, I didn’t spend much time criticizing the phone. As I get more experience with it, I’ll certainly point out things I don’t like. Feel free to either ask me what I don’t like in a few weeks, or stay tuned for a more in-depth review. But for now, the iPhone X has made a great first impression on me.
One thing that is particularly exciting about this phone is that it’s the first iPhone in quite a while that has really felt new. Every iPhone I’ve gotten has had a set of new features that I’ve been excited about, but the X feels like a bigger jump in design. I can tell as soon as I press the power button and see the screen light up, filling almost the entire front face of the phone. When I tap the Buy button on an app and see the Face ID icon as the phone scans my face for authentication, it feels like the future.
So is the iPhone X worth a thousand dollars of your hard-earned money? Only you can really answer that, but if your phone is a big part of your life, I think you should consider upgrading to the X. For me, my smartphone is by far my most-used piece of technology. I use it every day to catch up on news, communicate with friends, navigate to new places, and play music. It’s often the only camera I have with me, and I’m constantly using it to take pictures and video of the things around me. Sometimes I even use it for things I would normally do on a computer, such as editing photos or writing blog posts, just because it’s more convenient to use.
So for me, spending $1000 on something I use so often is well worth it. From what I’ve seen of the X so far, it’s a noticeable upgrade from even the year-old iPhone 7 Plus. I’m excited to see a new design and new major features from Apple, and I’m looking forward to using the phone more so I can write a more detailed review later. All in all, I’m impressed with the iPhone X.