iPhone X First Impressions: Stunning device, you just need to learn to cope without the home button.

Hands on with Apple's most anticipated device in years....

Interest in the iPhone X is bloody high, not in a long time can I remember so many people asking about a device from Apple other than the Apple Watch which was a whole new device.  The reason – this is the first new-look iPhone since 2014 so people are keen for something fresh.

And by fresh, we mean something Jony Ive has been sketching away at, not just amazing new chips and cameras and home buttons.

The iPhone X (Spoken “iPhone Ten”) is just that – it’s fresh.  Yet still familiar.  The curved edges are similar to the 6 design concept, the buttons are in familiar locations so in the hand it doesn’t feel like something radical.  Until you turn it on.

That’s when you get the first glimpse of the screen.   Now much will be said about these large format edge to edge screens we’re starting to see in market.  Firstly LG with the G6, then Samsung’s S8, S8+ and Note 8, Google’s Pixel 2 XL – it’s a trend, and it’s here to stay.  While Samsung’s edge to edge display is most notable from the side edges, it leaves a now seemingly large black strip on the top and bottom edges.

Apple say they wanted to create this “all screen” device from the get go – way back with the original iPhone, yet there’s been no hint of that – until now.  And I don’t think you can question they have done it well, bloody well.

The “notch” out of the top of the screen is the only noticeable “body” on the phone, save for the 1-2mm around the whole screen.  And while many think the notch looks strange, it actually makes perfect sense in regular use.  For watching videos or swiping through videos you’re entirely clear to double tap and have them square up within the screen bulk.

Top left of the notch is the time, top right of the notch are the signal strength, wifi and battery indicators.

And the whole damn screen is OLED, and strewth it looks amazing.  Sitting on a table at first glance it looked fake.  Sitting side by side with an iPhone 8 there’s not a noticeable difference but it’s probably more useful to jump back a few years and see where we’ve come from.

I’ll take a much longer look at things over the weeks ahead.  For now though, from a first impressions point of view, there are four things I want to cover.  The Camera, Facial Recognition, Gestures and Apple Pay.

The Camera

On the back the iPhone X camera runs top down not top and across, making it a very clear aesthetic difference for those who want people to know they have the iPhone X.  In regular use there are just a couple of key differences to the already amazing iPhone 8 Plus cameras.

Firstly, the 2x Telephoto lens has optical image stabilisation for still images.  This is not the case on the iPhone 8 Plus, so will no doubt add quality to those pictures, which includes the portrait shots which use that camera.

The main difference are portrait shots on the front facing “selfie” camera.  Using the high tech sensors that enable facial recognition, Apple has been able to bring their portrait mode to the selfies of the world.

Google have done this on the Pixel 2 – without the aid of the dot projector and other fancy hardware, so we’ll have to wait and put all that to the test – however, at first glance, this works very well.

Facial Recognition

There is no fingerprint scanner on this phone.  None.  Some of us hoped they would move it to the back.. nope.  Gone.

Apparently there’s a 1 in 50,000 chance of a false positive with the fingerprint scanner, good enough for the banks it seems.

With Apple’s new Face ID system, that blows out to 1 in 1 million.

Registering your face is MUCH much easier than your fingerprint too.  You just look around in a circle twice and bingo, it’s done.

The system also continues to evolve, whenever it successfully unlocks the phone it will learn a bit more about you, this is why weight gain or weight loss won’t affect it.

Face ID works fine with sunglasses on – at least it did with mine.  Officially Apple won’t say it works with all glasses, they say “most” – likely because there’s always one YouTuber who wants to prove them wrong.

For what it’s worth, it worked for me at night in bed, wearing sunnies and at my desk.  The one time it failed was in bright sun wearing sunnies walking into the sun, though I didn’t bother trying twice as I was walking to my car and had things to do.

To unlock the phone you pick it up (that wakes the screen) and just look at it.  Or you tap the screen to wake it.  Or press the home button.

What’s awesome is that your text messages and other notifications come through as private until the phone is unlocked, meaning you can view those chat messages just by looking at the screen as they appear on the lock screen.

To actually open up the phone you need to unlock and swipe up from the bottom.  This unlocks the phone to the home screen – and again, it does just work.

Probably 30% of the time I find myself looking at a screen that says “Face ID” (what it says while it’s scanning), but most of the time the delay between pressing power, or raising the phone and it opening up.

What was one action to press the home button and simultaneously scan the fingerprint is replaced with a lift and look, or a press of the home and look.

In fact, the number of times you unlock and open your phone when you just wanted to see the notification screen is now removed so that’s actually an advantage here.

In a full day and a half of usage I’ve not once sworn at the clouds wishing the home button was back.

Gestures

There’s a lot to learn.  For me, I am fortunate – and bloody glad – I got to sit down with someone to learn all this, because that has set me up well – others will need a few days to come to grips with things.

To go back home, either from in an app, or from several pages of icons across, you simply swipe up from the very bottom of the screen.

Accessing Control Centre is of course therefore radically changed, it’s not activated by swiping down from the tip right hand corner of the screen where the battery is.

Swipe down from the middle or left of screen gets you to the “Today” screen of notifications and appointments.

Siri is hidden behind the larger power button so you push and hold to summons her, a screenshot is now power and volume up.

Perhaps the least intuitive and most complex is accessing multitasking.  To do this you swipe up from the bottom as if to go home, but rather than a flick you keep your finger on screen in the middle.

To close an app you then need to push and hold to bring up a “minus” sign, similar to how you delete apps on the home page.

Apple Pay

Perhaps the biggest change day to day is Apple Pay.

Instead of placing your phone on the terminal and touching your fingerprint, you now need to double click the side (power) button, and then look at the screen.  It sounds faster, but it’s not.

It’s a bit of a drag as it requires the “authentication” before the movement to purchase.

You’ll get used to it – but for my mind, it’s ever so slightly less convenient – but without a finger print scanner I’m not sure how they do it better.

Likewise paying for apps or approving ApplePay purchases on the device is different.  Instead of the simple fingerprinting, you have to double click the side button and then look at the phone.

I’ll keep using it, if it leaves me falling out of love with Apple Pay it will be a dealbreaker for the iPhone X.

Oh, Animojis are a load of fun!

This is the best demonstration of the amount of facial data Apple is seeing with the new camera system, and right now it’s the best way to showcase it.  In time there will be games, apps who knows what made using it.

For now though, sending an Animoji is the first thing you’ll do once your phone is setup!

Reality Check?

It’s strange to say I can’t make a final call this soon, because you’re not getting any time to decide, you just have to say yes or no without getting weeks to play with it.

What I will say is that if you’re wondering how hard the iPhone X is to use without the Home button, fear not.  You’ll love it.  Most critically, research the gestures, practice the gestures.  Once you learn those, you will wonder why we bothered with a home button to start with.

If you’re wondering if the screen is all it’s cracked up to be – it is.  It looks great, feels great in the hand because you’re getting so much more on screen.

For those concerned about Face ID – it’s stronger, safer and will not freak out if you’re wearing a beanie or glasses.  And without it, we’d not have Animojis, and frankly, sending Animojis to people will be the new “I got a new iPhone” statement because they are damn cool!

I can only imagine what app developers are going to do with this Face Mapping technology.

If you put your money down, you’re on the right track, enjoy.  If you’re still waiting to make the call whether to buy or not – do it – if you’re that far into consideration, you’ll love it.

Worried it’s out of your price range, great self awareness, there’s plenty of great sub $600 phones – grab one of those (Heck, the iPhone 6 is still on sale under $500)

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Tech

Trev produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He hosts a nightly radio show on Talking Lifestyle, 8pm Monday to Friday in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
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