Review: iPhone X

By on Oct 31, 2017 in Mobility Strategy | 0 comments

Alan Dye, who was responsible for leading the software design teams that had to decide how to handle the sensor package, says that it felt the most honest.

“We’ve got this amazing True Depth camera system packed into this space at the upper center of the display. And we thought a lot about how to design for that. And ultimately we felt really comfortable with this notion of being really honest about it and allowing for the content to push out into those beautiful rounded corners,” says Dye.

Dye says that Apple did consider using digital bezels. “We did look at various different design iterations and considered some things that kind of acted as digital bezels if you will. But ultimately we never really felt comfortable with this notion of cropping into the content. We really love the new display, we love that it’s edge-to-edge. We love the way that it fits. It feels so perfectly designed for the overall form and so we’re encouraging people just to kind of push the content right out to the corners.”

In use, I have to say, the notch is just zero problem for me. I don’t give a rat’s ass about it. I know I’ll probably catch heat but I’m not carrying water for Apple here. I think it is absolutely a compromise but, after using Face ID and the True Depth camera for other stuff, I am willing to deal with it.

And beyond “dealing with it” I can tell you that as one of a few people outside of Apple to have used it for more than a day — you stop noticing it very, very quickly. It’s a part of the display, the areas to the sides are or aren’t used and that’s it. Major apps like Instagram and Facebook have already been updated for the iPhone X screen and they look fine. Apple had to do some serious engineering to make it to the corners too, as the OLED is flexible.

Watching video in landscape defaults to cropped in and I largely forget to zoom it. YouTube’s new app reminds you to pinch to zoom out so it fills the screen and it looks cool in my opinion. I think it’s neat and a bit futuristic. I’ve been waiting for asymmetrical screens that are tailor made for their use case forever. They’re in every sci-fi movie ever and we’ve all been stuck with rectangles since the iPhone hit. I’m okay with a change.

I (about half jokingly) called the True Depth area a “flap” back in September. Given that when you minimize an app you can see that it is a whole “card” that slides out from underneath – and screenshots show the area filled in, I am technically correct about that. In the interface design world of the iPhone X it is a flap that covers that area, not a notch that cuts that area out. It means nothing but if you like completely malleable digital content to conform to a definite physicality, this paragraph was for you.

If, however, you use your iPhone for data entry or browsing or whatever in landscape, the True Depth camera is going to be bang in your way, especially if it’s on the left. No getting around it. If that bothers you, don’t get an iPhone X. But even if you think it’s going to bother you I’m not sure it actually will once you spend a few days with it.

Which is sort of the mantra of the iPhone X: Give it a few days and it all gets a lot clearer.

Using iPhone X

Day one of using an iPhone X is profoundly strange and cumbersome in a lot of ways. If you’ve spent years whacking a home button you’re not going to be able to break down those memetics in a couple of hours. I had to get used to swiping up, across, down and up again instead of tapping the button, double tapping the button or double tapping and swiping.

Day two is better. Some actions already felt super natural, like tapping on the screen to wake it, swiping across the home bar to switch directly from one app to the next, rather than bringing up the heavy app switcher. Quick and light. Other actions like quickly dropping out of an app still result in a mash of a home button that doesn’t exist.

Day five is the turn. The point at which the hardest habit to break, tapping the home button to move from any other screen to your home screen, is starting to break up.

Day six is when things started getting weird with my old iPhones. I started swiping the home button up and staring stupidly at the screen waiting for it to automatically unlock.

Anecdotally, I got the phone on a Monday and until Saturday I was still stabbing the home button to go home. Today, a week later as I write this, I swiped the home button on my iPhone 7 to try to unlock it. So give it a week or so to acclimate.

Once you do, it’s sweet. The faster 120hz refresh rate of the touch array means that every action is buttery smooth and reacts immediately to your touch. If it didn’t, the whole thing would break down. You no longer have the affordance of the time it takes your finger to leave the home button and reach up to hit the screen before you take action on something. Everything has to happen immediately because your finger never leaves the screen. And that never leaving the screen is so key.

From opening the phone to flipping back and forth between apps to closing one and opening another, it’s all action start to finish. There is no more “out to the home button and back to the screen” bouncing. It’s super-fast and fluid and makes it feel like you’re getting more done more quickly.

The switching from app to app action is not an issue at all on the fingers or hand, by the way. I know there was some super awkward spy stuff out there but you just swipe along the bar left to right or right to left to swap apps. It’s easy and relaxed. If you want to access the switcher with the “swipe up and pause” action, you can, but I don’t see any major need for it.

Grabbing Control Center with your left hand is rough work, and I’m still not sold on the placement of it in the top right corner, or the fact that the controls are at the top.

When you’re walking around with a kid in one arm and trying to snag a FastPass for your next ride and you need to adjust brightness or toggle screen lock or anything like that it is damn near painful to do it the regular way. And it’s only slightly more pleasant using your right hand.

Which is why I am so glad that reachability still exists. It is incredibly useful here. It’s also tied to a much more intuitive activation process. You can pull the whole top of the screen down with a slight “tug down” of the home bar. Then, Control Center is easily reachable with your right hand and at least not impossible with your left. Reachability is now tucked away in Accessibility, if you’re reading this and looking for it.

The strongest recommendation I can make for the new “no home button” paradigm is that after just a week, regular home button actions like double tapping feel much too heavy after just a week of using it. Ten years of the home button, it turns out, was enough to allow us to move on.

Another interface tidbit: I really like the new force-press to activate the camera on the home screen. It feels much more definitive than the fumbly “swipe from right to left” that could go awry on a notification or not trigger because you didn’t quite hit the edge.

I took no special care to preserve battery beyond what I normally would, which is to try to stay off Twitter at Disneyland (you can see that I failed fairly miserably in this regard). The temperature was in the low 90s for the most part, which isn’t crazy for Southern California, but doesn’t do batteries any favors. The reception is still fairly poor in many areas of the park and the radio goes to seek a lot inside rides, leading to greater battery drain. Despite that, and despite the fact that I shot hundreds of photos, the battery lasted all day.

I started the day by unplugging the charger at around 8:24 and skated into our hotel room at about 9:11 PM at 6 percent on power save mode. Not a bad 13 hours 2 minutes on standby and 6 hours, 4 minutes of usage in such punishing conditions. This is far less than I’d expect to get on any typical day, but not at the parks, where batteries go to get tortured. My iPhone 7 did not make it the full day. The iPhone 8 Plus made it, but I didn’t use it as heavily when I wasn’t shooting comparison photos. And the battery is larger.

Physically, the iPhone X is great. Gorgeous, shiny, it looks just fine. It feels heftier and denser like a piece of high-quality watchmaking. The chrome-like stainless steel ring around the phone is picking up some fine abrasions but they look normal, and I tend to run without a case and scratch the junk out of my phones, so it’s not an alarm bell issue. The glass back still looks great, with a multiple layer backing that has a very light pearlescent sheen below the top sheet of glass. I also like that they cut down on trying to “bevel” the camera bump. It is what it is and it looks just fine with as minimal a bezel as possible. From the front, well, you get the screen and you get the notch/flap/True Depth camera array.

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