Category Archives: Technology

iPhone X: early impressions

On October 27, I set my alarm for 2:50 a.m., so that I could pre-order the new iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone 10”) from Apple’s website.

The site was locked until 3:00 a.m., at which time I started refreshing the screen, so I could get my order in. By 3:08 a.m., I had successfully placed an order for a Space Gray iPhone X with 64GB of storage.

If you’re asking why on Earth anyone would wait up until 3:00 in the morning to buy a new smartphone, it’s a fair question.

My best answer: For you, dear reader.

State of the art?

As it turns out, the iPhone X isn’t just any new smartphone. It is the 10th Anniversary iPhone, a special version of the device that 10 years ago started the smartphone revolution.

And, with this version, the iPhone still leads the pack.

There are, no doubt, Android fans out there who would argue that point. After all, the  Samsung Galaxy 8Google Pixel 2, and other Android-powered smartphones (and there are many of them) are nicely designed and quite capable.

But from this viewpoint, the iPhone X establishes a new standard. There are a bunch of new technologies built into the iPhone X. With this device, however, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Based on the early reviews (and I’ve read a half-dozen or so), the iPhone X has been almost universally praised for its design, build quality, and advanced feature set. (See here for a nicely written and comprehensive review.)

And, if you’re interested in going truly in-depth, Apple rounded up a compendium of reviews here.

Strong start in the marketplace

Prior to Apple announcing the iPhone X on September 12, 2017, there had been a cacophony of Internet chatter about production problems, delays, and uncertainty about the design.

Would the new iPhone have a Home button? Would it really not support TouchID (the fingerprint reader), or would the reader be on the back (a questionable compromise)?

Would the iPhone X be severely limited in availability because of problems with the face recognition cameras or the OLED screens?

Worst of all, might there be issues from early production?

Now that the iPhone X is shipping, it appears that most of that chatter was idle speculation or purposeful misinformation.

Although the iPhone X is backordered until early December now, it does appear that Apple’s manufacturing partners have ramped up and are producing millions of the devices.

At Apple’s most recent quarterly earnings announcement on November 2, 2017, CEO Tim Cook stated that demand for the iPhone X was “very strong”. Given that Apple is also selling the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus models, I’m guessing that Cook chose his words carefully so as not to dampen any demand for those models in favor of the X.

Nevertheless, Apple has guided a monstrous quarter, which includes the holiday season, with projected revenues in the area of $84-87 billion. Seems the company expects to sell a great many of these new iPhone models in the quarter.

First impressions

At this writing, I’ve only had about a week with the iPhone X, but my overall first impressions are good—very good.

I’ve been a longtime iPhone user, but with the iPhone X, everything feels new—the physical design, the spectacular full-screen OLED display, and the addition of FaceID.

Kudos to Apple. The iPhone X is striking as a physical object, and the fit and finish are superb.

Apple reportedly carefully tuned the OLED display to its usual exacting standards. What’s remarkable is that the screen real estate is actually a bit bigger on the iPhone X (5.8-inches diagonally) than my previous phone, the iPhone 7 Plus (5.5-inches diagonally), even though the Plus is larger and more cumbersome.

In fact, the iPhone X is only a little larger than the standard size iPhone 7 (or newer iPhone 8). As a result, the iPhone X is a little easier to hold and operate than the Plus, without giving up the large-screen benefits.

The iPhone X is limited to two colors, silver and space gray (my choice). It features a front and back glass design with a stainless steel frame holding everything together.

Here’s the iPhone X (left) and iPhone 7 Plus side-by-side:

The screen—and the notch

The OLED screen on the iPhone X is superb. Colors really pop and the high-resolution and contrast level make it a pleasure to use, indoors or out. Apple lists key specs as follows:

Super Retina HD (2436-by-1125-pixel resolution at 458 ppi); HDR (High Dynamic Range); 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio; True Tone; Wide Color; 625 cd/m2 Maximum Brightness.

In other words, the display is very good. If you revel in specifications, Apple lists them for the iPhone X in gory detail here.

In applications, like Twitter, the background color looks like a sheet of bright white cotton paper.

Reading even smaller type sizes on websites and in apps is easier than on any screen I’ve experienced. Which is good, because I do a lot of reading online.

Then there’s the notch (see picture above). Some reviewers have absolutely railed at Apple’s decision to add this design feature, saying it would be better with a full-width black bar at the top.

The notch area that protrudes onto the display holds the TrueDepth camera, which enables the FaceID authentication method.

I’ll say this much. The notch is an acquired taste, and I can certainly understand why some reviewers are disturbed by it. But, in practice, after a few days, the notch becomes a non-issue.

Many app makers have already released new versions of their apps that work around the presence of the notch, and I suspect that after a few months, the hue and cry will wane.

FaceID

Like TouchID (fingerprint authentication) before it, FaceID requires some setup, so that the iPhone can record data (shape, contours, angles, etc.) about your face.

FaceID is fast and fluid and works wherever TouchID works: to unlock the iPhone; to log on to banking and other websites and apps that support TouchID; to use Apple Pay.

Each app behaves a little differently in its support of FaceID. This is particularly true if you’d previously been using TouchID.

Typically, you have to authenticate with your password. Then, either automatically or with some minimal setup, FaceID becomes the default authentication method.

Without the Home button, when the iPhone X is locked, the unlocking process requires, first, authentication with FaceID, then an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen to display the Home screen. This took a little getting used to, but quickly felt natural.

Also, you have to be looking directly at the screen for FaceID to work, whereas with TouchID, you could reach over to the phone wherever it sat and unlock it with a touch of the finger. I haven’t really run into many instances where that has been inconvenient, and FaceID does mitigate the issues of wet fingers or an overly smudged fingerprint reader.

FaceID enables some new capabilities on the iPhone X. One is the new Animoji feature, which lets you infuse an animated figure with your facial expressions, and record sound while you’re doing it. Save the Animoji, and you can text it a friend, make a movie from it, and so on.

Animojis are whimsical and a bit silly at the same time. Which probably means they will be one of the iPhone X’s most popular features.

Sound quality and phone calls

I don’t know how Apple does it, but with each release of the iPhone, the sound quality is improved. The iPhone X, which offers stereo speakers (one at the bottom and one at the top), is no exception.

I usually listen to music with headphones (the AirPods are my weapon of choice lately), but the iPhone X can be a serviceable mini-boombox in some situations (cooking in the kitchen, working in the home office, lounging at the beach, etc.). It sounds that good.

Callers’ voices sound crisp and clear, and folks on the other end have told me that I was coming through loud and clear, as well.

I haven’t experienced any dropped calls as yet, either.

And that 3.5mm headphone jack that was removed starting with the iPhone 7? Nowhere to be found on the iPhone X, either. It’s gone, folks. (But as with the iPhone 7 and 8, the iPhone X includes a Lightning-to-35mm adapter in the box.

Cameras

Although by no means comprehensive, I took several photos with the iPhone X rear camera, indoors and out, and, again, the quality is noticeably better than my iPhone 7. (And I thought that camera was exceptional.)

On the rear, the iPhone X features dual 12 megapixel cameras (28mm, f/1.8 & 52mm, f/2.4) with phase detection autofocus, 2X optical zoom, and quad-LED (dual-tone) flash.

The rear camera also enables 4K video recording, touch focus, face/smile detection, and HDR in both photo and panorama mode.

The front-facing camera is 7MP, f/2.2, 32mm, with HDR, and with the capability to take 1080p videos at 30 fps, or 720p videos at 240fps.

There’s some serious horsepower here even for photo/videography enthusiasts. I’ll write more in-depth about the cameras in a later blog post.

High marks

As mentioned, Apple has packed a lot of technology into the iPhone X’s rather svelte form factor. From it’s A11 Bionic processor enabling augmented reality, to it’s all glass design enabling wireless charging, to its re-imagined user interface without a Home button.

I’ve barely scratched the surface, but so far, I’d have to give the iPhone X high marks.

One’s impressions are subjective to a point, but I agree with many other reviewers who have said this is Apple’s best iPhone to date.

In fact, at least one reviewer has said it’s Apple’s best product ever.

From my viewpoint, the iPhone X is more revolutionary than evolutionary. It provides a platform on which Apple will be innovating for the next several years.

On that note, the iPhone X can certainly evolve into more sizing options for Apple. Because I became so used to the size and weight of the iPhone 7 Plus, I could definitely get behind a Plus-sized version of the iPhone X with, say, a 6.9-inch screen.

I could also imagine an SE-sized version, with a 5-inch screen, but because the SE is Apple’s low-cost entry for emerging markets (e.g., India), it’s not likely they’ll use the new form factor unless they can drop the unit manufacturing cost. Some estimates I’ve read suggest the UMC of the iPhone X is somewhere between $360-$415. Only Apple knows for sure.

One area where I could fault the iPhone X is in durability. It’s kind of a shame to have to put this beautifully designed object inside a protective case, but given the price and the phone’s all glass design, the risk of damage is too high for my taste.

Consequently, I bought two cases that were highly rated, both from a company, Spigen, that’s been making iPhone cases for a long time.

The two cases I bought are the Rugged Armor and the Ultra Hybrid. Either would suffice, but I decided to go with the Rugged Armor, as it appears a little bit thicker and more protective. At less than $11, it’s money well spent, in my opinion.

Bottom line

Whether you like to own the latest and greatest, or you keep your smartphone for years, the iPhone X is cutting edge now and will remain current for years to come.

Both Apple and its carriers are offering all kinds of payment plans and other enticements, so shopping around might yield a deal you can live with.

As for owning an iPhone X, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. So far, I’m delighted.