Anyone who knows me personally or has read my articles and tweets knows that I’m not exactly an Apple fan. I’ve been vocal about my preference for Android’s endless customization over iOS’s controlling, restricting ways; I was very, very critical of the iPhone 8; I poked fun at the iPhone 7’s bezels every time I reviewed a sleek Android device. Heck, I’ve even drew the wrath of this columnist at MacWorld not once but twice.
So not only am I not an Apple fan, actual Apple fans would probably consider me a hater.
Whatever. I may be very opinionated, but I believe I’m a fair dude. I’m critical of iOS being limiting because it is. Take a look at the homescreen of a few Android phones — each one is going to look unique. I’m talking about different app icon styles, layouts, widgets, etc. With the help of third party launchers and icon packs I can spin my Galaxy Note 8 homescreen into thousands of styles (below are some samples I whipped together in under ten minutes). I’m talking complete aesthetic and stylistic overhaul.
Now look at the homescreen of a few iPhones. In fact, look at a dozen iPhones … they all look mostly the same other than the wallpaper, right?
Why can’t I arrange apps on the homescreen the way I want, Apple? This isn’t even a completely superficial, aesthetic-driven complaint. Living in a crowded, on-the-go city like Hong Kong, I frequently have to use my phone one-handed while standing in trains or walking up and down stairs, so on Android I place my key apps at the bottom of the screen, where they’re easily accessible. I also like minimalism, so I keep the rest of the homescreen app free. On iPhones, I can’t do that. Apps must go from top down, left to right. If I want just a few apps on the first home page, they must sit all the way at the top, out of reach. If I want them lower on the screen, I must fill the rest of the entire homescreen with apps.
It sounds like a trivial complaint, but it’s really not if you think about it. A smartphone is our personal computer and most important daily tool to communicate, get work done, etc. We should be able to do basic customization to fit each of our lifestyle.
But even having said all that, after testing the iPhone X for a week and half, I’ve decided to make it my daily driver. This means the X is currently home to my main sim card, and is the phone I bring out and about every single day.
So just what about the iPhone X impressed me enough to have me abandon Android? The bezel-less display? Nah, the LG V30 offers very similar immersive experience. The X’s dual rear cameras? Nope, in my testing I found the X’s main shooters isn’t necessarily better than the Galaxy Note 8’s or Huawei Mate 10 Pro’s dual-cameras. The build quality? The X feels nice in my hand, but so does my Xiaomi Mi Mix 2.
I’m using the iPhone X as my daily driver because of that notch above the screen, and a bunch of little refinements that are not big deals on their own but the combination makes for a compelling package. But first let’s talk that notch, home to the “TrueDepth Camera System,” which includes, among other things an infrared camera and dot projector. Those two combine to shoot 30,000 invisible dots into my face, creating a 3D map of my mug that Apple uses for identification purposes.
I thought using facial recognition to unlock the phone (which Apple calls Face ID) was going to be a pain, but after using the iPhone X for well over a week I’m completely sold. It works almost all the time, in any lighting condition — even dark rooms or out in the sun. More important, it works from various angles. I know facial recognition is nothing new — the LG V30 offers one too — but never has it been done better.
Face ID doesn’t just help me get past my lockscreen, but also help me verify purchases in the App Store or via Apple Pay, and even help me keep prying eyes from reading my lockscreen notifications. Here’s how it works: when a WhatsApp/WeChat/whatever message comes through, the lockscreen will light up with a notification stating there is a message, but it will only show the content of the message for me when I look at the phone. Any other face will just see a blank message.
The TrueDepth system also allows the iPhone X to shoot selfies in bokeh mode (which I don’t really care about), create animated emojis that mirrors my facial expressions (which I want to say I don’t care about but I do…), and take some very good, atmospheric selfies.
The latter is due to this new feature called Portrait Studio Lighting, which simulates the lighting effects of a studio portrait. The results are quite stunning.
In the past year I’ve gotten so used to Chinese and Korean phones approach selfies like a fashion magazine editor: everything is about whiter skin and a slimmer face, even if it requires unrealistic photoshop jobs. Phones from LG and Huawei and Meizu all come with pre-built beautification filters that make me look like a plastic surgery’ed out wannabe K-Pop star. Apple goes the other direction with selfies: realistic portraits with some moody studio lighting. Check out the two selfies below of my girlfriend and I.
We shot the two pics in a bright room — the spotlight look is totally iPhone X’s software at work.
Before I continue talking about photography, let’s back up a bit and talk the iPhone X’s general hardware: it’s a very nicely constructed handset with glass front and back, held together by a stainless steel frame that feels more sturdy than the aluminum frames of other phones. The 5.8-inch OLED panel is beautiful and well-balanced, and its corners are rounded at the same angle as the phone’s corners. It’s a very delightful design touch that looks and feels elegant. The iPhone X also has a higher-than-usual touch input refresh rate of 120Hz, and it makes scrolling on the X a tiny, tiny bit more “natural” than scrolling on most Android devices. Apple gets the little things right.
Overall the handset feels very polished, like all the iPhones before it. The lack of a home button, contrary to the mainstream media brouhaha, is something I got used to within like two minutes. Maybe it’s cause I’m used to Android phones which has long abandoned physical home buttons, but even for loyal iPhone users, they’ll familiarize themselves with the swipe-up gesture after 20 minutes.
Under the hood is Apple’s A11 chipset, and performance is excellent as expected. Because Apple designs its hardware, software and chipset in unison, there’s just a level of performance efficiency that Android phones can’t match. Again, it’s the little things.
With that said, I do wish Apple would implement a one-hand mode that isn’t trash. The iPhone X is small enough that its lack of one-hand friendliness isn’t a huge deal, but I still have to loosen and re-adjust my grip just to hit that damn top-right button while walking down crowded streets and that’s always a concern.
Now, let’s move onto photos…
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