TECHNOLOGY

iPhone X Early Review

The future is here…almost

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BY Rahil Bhagat - 02 Nov 2017

There have been few devices as hyped in recent years as the Apple iPhone X. As I write this, eager fans are lining up around the world to be among the first to get their hands on the latest creation from the folks in Cupertino.

The iPhone X is perhaps the most drastic redesign to the iPhone since the iPhone 4 back in 2010, ditching the home button and fingerprint sensor in favor of a new face scanning system called Face ID as well as incorporating a new bezel-free OLED display.

I have had the opportunity to use the phone as my daily driver for the past few days and ahead of the phone’s launch tomorrow, here are some of my early impressions of the Apple iPhone X.

What I liked

The phone is gorgeous, seriously gorgeous.

The iPhone 8 I used until about a week ago seems positively ancient when held next to this beauty. A mix of glass, stainless steel and Jony Ive’s pixie dust, the iPhone X might just be Apple’s best looking phone yet.

The front is dominated by the 5.8-inch OLED display with a notch cut into the top for the front facing camera and other sensors needed to make Face ID work, but more on that later. Other than that, the front is all screen with nary a bezel in sight. The back houses the dual lens camera, pretty much the same one you get on the excellent iPhone 8 Plus, and is constructed of oleophobic glass that allows for wireless charging.

The device is rimmed by a curved stainless steel band that houses the lock button, mute switch and volume controls. On the bottom you have the lightning port and excellent stereo speakers.

The screen deserves special mention for being one of the best I have seen on a smartphone. Colours are rich, especially HDR content with noticeable improvements that I did not expect from a screen of this size.

Performance is also top notch with the A11 chip inside the iPhone X handling everything from dense video to HD gaming and more. Literally nothing I threw at the phone fazed it.

The cameras are pretty much the exact same set you get on the iPhone 8 Plus—meaning that they are excellent and up there with the Google Pixel 2 XL as the best smartphone shooters on the market.

The lack of a home button didn't affect me nearly as much as I thought it would. The swipe up motion comes incredibly naturally and after a few hours of useage. I found myself wondering why I was ever worried about losing the home button. The swipe is super responsive and it has a rhythm to it that you only realize after a while.

What I did not like

The single biggest grip for me has been app scaling. Case in point is the picture below.

The iPhone X being an all new, bezel free phone means that the aspect ratio of the screen is 19.5:9 as opposed to the 16:9 ratio that the iPhone 8 and most other phones have, for that matter.

Every app that requires some sort of text input (I tested from Facebook to Whatsapp and even Apple’s own Messages app) doesn’t resize properly for the new screen aspect ratio, leaving you with that bar at the bottom of the screen that might as well be a virtual bezel.

This is something that will obviously be fixed in time (I hope) via software and app updates but for early adopters, this poor use of screen real estate will spoil what should be an amazing user experience on that gorgeous screen.

Another issue I had, especially when using apps like navigation or when playing particularly strenuous games, was the phone heating up in a way I have not seen on an Apple device in nearly five years.

It never got to the levels some of my older Android phones, and at no point did it get too hot to use, but it was unexpected. Again, here’s hoping that Apple is able to fix this in a post-release update.

There’s also the price.

I am used to Apple phones costing a premium but the X is in a whole other league. Here in Singapore, the base 64GB edition goes for S$1688 (US$1240) while the 256GB model retails for an eye-watering S$1888 (US$1400).

Face ID

For the iPhone X’s most polarizing feature, I think a separate section is in order.

Does Face ID work? In a nutshell, yes. But it is, in the beginning at least, an excercise in frustration.

Setting up Face ID is a breeze, look at the camera, turn your head about like you are doing neck exercises and you are registered. In a normal environment, such as when sitting at a desk or standing, Face ID works a treat, unlocking your phone without any drama.

Unlocking your phone is a two step process. Pick up the device, look at it and swipe up to enter the home screen.

The trouble starts when you are not in one of those basic positions such as when you are lying on your back or your front, or to the side or basically in any position that doesn't have the phone looking at you front and center.

It was torture for day one and two that I skipped Face ID altogether in favor of just typing in my passcode.

After day two, the phone’s machine learning prowess started to kick in and it began to learn the nuances of my face and started unlocking with greater frequency. It is still not perfect but it’s getting better.

Beyond that, there is the issue of Touch ID. For me at least, all my major banking apps as well as some other secured apps had support for Touch ID. All I had to do was provide my fingerprint and I was in.

With the iPhone X still not out for consumers, these apps have yet to make the switch to Face ID. Until these third party app developers implement it, it means going back to the days of typing in passwords and usernames manually.

The Animoji’s are cute and great for sharing among friends. The Clips app makes great use of the depth sensing features of the iPhone X’s front facing camera too add masks and other affectations to your face.

I also like the new way notifications are handled with a locked phone. It showed which apps have waiting notifications without showing the actual content. Glancing at the phone to unlock it reveals the contents of these notifications.

When Face ID works, it feels like magic, giving you a connection to your smartphone in a way that we have not seen before. It is far from perfect, but here’s to hoping that Apple and the developer community at large are able to take user feedback and improve on a truly awesome piece of tech.

Should I buy it?

The iPhone X is a fantastic piece of hardware that gets so much right. It nails down the basics and packs in one hell of a screen. The big deciding factor will come down to Face ID.

Right now, it still has quite a few kinks to work out, which will affect the user experience of the device. Is it worth upgrading if you already have an iPhone 8? I would honestly say, no. The hardware is pretty much the same, and you can wait until Apple works out the bugs with Face ID.

For people using anything older, the upgrade could make sense--if you can afford the S$1688 price tag for the entry model. If not, the 8 and 8 Plus are fantastic options that are more  (relatively) wallet friendly.