iPhone X - 3 Weeks In

Aaaaand forget everything I said about this phone being rushed.

I was one of the lucky few able to get my iPhone X on launch day within Australia on November 3rd. Delivered right to my doorstep in the early AM, when I had already departed, the iPhone sat unwrapped in courier plastic, whilst I had to work an entire day knowing my brand new gadget was awaiting my return at humble abode. 1st World Problems.

It was well worth the wait though. In my last blog post, some two months ago, I wrote a fairly lengthy review on my premature impressions of the iPhone X, based on nothing but the many hours I had spent watching YouTube videos and, of course, the Apple keynote. In that review I outlined a slew of exciting features that I was very keen to try, but noted that the whole iPhone X release and product "vibe" felt a little... incomplete. Somewhat "In opposition to the ideology of Steve Jobs", as I had previously stated.

You could not have been more wrong, Schipke.

After using the phone for just shy of 20 days now, I can honestly say, with absolute confidence, that this is by far the most glorious technological experience I have ever come across. Anything I said about abolishing Touch ID being a hasty decision fueled by panic and public opinion was clearly an opinion based on public ignorance and, yet again, a stubborn humanistic refusal to accept the sheer god-like lack of f***s given by Apple for other people's opinion. They shape the consumers demand, whilst the rest of the industry scrambles to get in line (like the good little whipping-boys they are) and satisfy the consumers, which have been largely shaped by Apple... ahh you get the picture. The point is that I was clearly displaying an attribute I loathe within others: A stubborn refusal to adapt to, or accept change, despite having put less than 1% of my total time into figuring out what's best in terms of security or convenience whereas entire teams of much smarter engineers devote their lives full time for years to come up with an ultimate solution.

And boy-howdy did that produce results. Face ID is definitely one of my top two favourite features of the iPhone X. It's quite amazing: It works with sunglasses, regardless of expression, at all times of the day and in all lighting conditions. It auto-fills the fields you want, unlocks your phone and truly gives you the genuine experience of having a password-less, hesitation-free world without sacrificing any security. Every time you need to login somewhere by navigating to a site and filling in a username and password, the Face ID has beat you to it, identified your face and logged you in without you needing to know anything about it. Anytime you pick up your phone and look at the screen for those hidden notifications the Face ID immediately unlocks and shows you the widgets that you're looking for. Face ID is so damn good that I am already frustrated with my 2017 iPad Pro for not having it. Not because I'm so lazy I can't be bothered to smother a button with my thumb, but because it's no where near as seamless an experience overall. It's truly a lesson in how much fractions of a second, when dealing with several hundreds of those a day, make up a decent factor in what is a good or bad experience with a smartphone (or tablet). And would I know any of this if the Touch ID feature was still within the phone? Probably not. 

 The iPhone 8 and iPhone X are, finally, wireless-charging capable

The iPhone 8 and iPhone X are, finally, wireless-charging capable

The fact is, Apple needed to remove Touch ID for Face ID to work with the general public. Humans are stupid. The vast majority of us, myself included, would have simply dismissed Face ID as a gimmick like the Note 8's had it not been for the fact that it is the only option. If Touch ID were still here, I would have set my fingerprint (or 3) as always and gone about my business as if no amazing, new technological brilliance and innovation had been miraculously crammed into a tiny notch at the top of the screen. Face ID feels more than complete; it feels like the feature we wanted 10 years ago, only able to come to life in it's full form now. The beautiful butterfly to a capricious caterpillar. The fearsome Drogon to a diminutive dragon egg. 

Speaking of the notch: All I can say - like many others who have used it for more than a few days - is that it's freaking awesome. It adds instant identity to the phone which otherwise resembles so many other 2017 bezeless brethren, albeit with more polish,  and practicality is not lacking with lots of useful information crammed into those 'horns' that are so often abhorred by the general press and android fans. More than that, it means I can tell which way of the phone is up while I'm using it without having to flip the damn thing to see the camera position and determine upright vs upside down. I don't notice the notch, I certainly don't hate it and I never really found it to be an imposition. It's grown on me. 

And finally, the screen. That screen. No, THAT screen. My goodness it's gorgeous. There's a good reason this Samsung-made OLED screen scored higher than every Samsung phone in existance on the industry-standard displaymate.com, and it's all in the Apple-esqueness of it all. Superior tweaking and fine tuning has given the X a truly eye-popping aura of almost 3D-like, HDR, high resolution goodness. True-to-form wanky Apple name aside (super-retina, really?), the way it's designed is so close to the surface that it genuinely feels like the picture is actually protruding off the plane of the phone, and yet it's all in the genius of how the OLED is utilized by Apple to create that effect. Most reviewers put the screen as the biggest 'feature' of the iPhone X, and they're not wrong. 

But the iPhone X isn't perfect. 

There's a few software issues that need to be fixed before a truly seamless experience can be had on the iPhone X, some of which ironically DID feel rushed. Even Jony Ive, Apple's famous chief engineer has admitted that with respect to the iPhone X this year, the hardware has been the primary focus. The software we can expect to follow to make the most of this beautiful design over the coming year.

One example of this (and my biggest peeve with the iPhone X) is the way in which the default Photo's app handles scaling of video's, even captured by the very phone they are displayed on. Watch a recording in landscape without adjusting anything and you'll have giant bezels on either side of the video due to the strange aspect ratio. Double tap on the screen to zoom in and rather than 'zooming to fill', the image (or video) will zoom right in and you'll lose most of the picture and have to try and fumble about manually to fit the image as best you can to fill the beautiful display without losing any more of the image than necessary. The whole experience in this regard is distinctly anti-Apple. Another example is the lack of landscape mode on the home screen. It all feels so easily fixable, yet is frustratingly slow in fruition. 

In short, the Apple iPhone X is definitely a Portrait-mode phone. Which is a huge shame, given the amazing colour and sheer beauty of the screen so quickly lends itself to consuming content by the bucketload, which is always better in landscape. And that's made even more frustrating due to the iPhone X camera being a damn good unit for taking video and photos. 

Performance wise the iOS range is without a close equivalent at this time. The closest phone so far, in synthetic bench-marking, is the OnePlus 5T; the new flagship which we don't even get on Australian shores (and we really should). Even then we're talking scores of between 50% to 75% of the A11 bionic chip housed in the iPhone 8 and iPhone X series. Put simply, at the moment, Qualcomm, Exynos and MediaTek all need buckle up, grab a beer and do a tonne of hard-yards, long hours and homework in order to level the playing field with processor hardware. Because right now, it's no competition, and that will have more of a factor as process-heavy applications are adopted in mainstream use such as AR, VR and multi-player gaming. 

 The iPhone X rear-facing camera's are photographic joy in its raw form

The iPhone X rear-facing camera's are photographic joy in its raw form

Gimmick wise, Animoji are a blast. However while the technology involved is nothing short of sheer enigmatic engineering excellence, the practicality of making expressions and talking to your phone like an idiot is limited, given most of us would never do this in public or within earshot of anybody else in the wild. What 3rd-party developers come up with to utilize this, however, is something to look forward to.

The front-facing portrait camera is... terrible. Don't get me wrong, it's still better than most flagship phones, but at $1529 AUD+, and flawless Face ID technology, it really shouldn't be a competitor in this arena, it should BE the arena. Yet despite the technology crammed into that notch that seemingly allows Face ID and Animoji's to work so flawlessly, it continually picks out the focal length for the actual face, and consistently blurs the ears and even edges of the hair as if it was part of the background, making for a very strange portrait picture indeed. Or maybe it's my face. Who knows. But this opinion seems to be shared pretty universally across reviewers from the very big (like MKBHD) to the very small (ie: me). The Pixel 2, I must say, does a far better (and definitely the best so far) job of intelligently defining the edges of the face, ears and everything within a similar focal distance, and correctly applying background blur to the environment using some pretty amazing machine learning and AI software. Kudos, Google. 

But that's perhaps the one remaining light at the end of a very bright tunnel for Apple here - they have the hardware, for sure, and software upgrades are free (for the public). There is no way that Apple are able to put 30,000 infra-red dots on your face in pitch-black lighting conditions and still satisfy security requirements for major banks and finance industries to unlock your phone (unlike Samsung's iris scanner) and not get portrait photo's right with a few tweaks. How long that takes will be a deciding factor here.

The rear portrait photo's of the iPhone X are simply without equal. In fact, in my opinion, rear-facing photos from the iPhone X are currently without equal. Take an iPhone 8 plus, increase the aperture of the telephoto lens and add optical stabilisation, and you have the best rear-facing bokha mode to ever exist in a smartphone. Couple that with some pretty amazing noise-elimination technology and you have the ability to capture some phenomenal shots in low-light conditions with less graininess than the world has ever seen from a smartphone. 

 Image taken in extremely low light using the iPhone X Camera and no post-production trickery. Note the lack of graininess when compared to other smartphones. 

Image taken in extremely low light using the iPhone X Camera and no post-production trickery. Note the lack of graininess when compared to other smartphones. 

All in all, the iPhone X is an amazing product. It is sheer joy to look at the screen every time I pick up my phone, and it never ceases to amaze me when I have an excuse to use the excellent camera, awesome HDR OLED high-definition display and be able to reach the other side of the rather large looking 5.8" with ease in one hand - a feature Samsung's have admittedly had for a while now with the s8. Unsurprisingly, I think the iPhone X is the greatest smartphone yet by a fair margin - albeit the most expensive by a fair margin too. But Apple have never been the type to compromise, and now that other brands are launching phones at higher price points than the previous Apple premium, I think Apple are thrilled to have a product worthy of reclaiming the title of most premium (and expensive)  smartphone to date.

It's perhaps a little obnoxious, a touch egotistical and certainly not without its flaws; but there are very few who would argue the sheer engineering brilliance, subtle innovation and premium quality of feel the iPhone X is something to be admired.

A phone befitting of the man who envisioned it ten years ago; Steve Jobs.

 

 

Thomas Schipke