Iphone X: The Android Central Review

The refrain is well-known: Apple announces a new product. Half the world says it’s great, but others say it’s like refried beans.

Apple calls iPhone X the future of the smartphone, and after using it for a week — coming from months of Android use — I can comfortably say that it’s a really great phone. It is, in fact, the best iPhone I have ever used. However, this doesn’t change how much I think of iOS as a whole or the iPhone itself.

Google, its hardware partners, and other companies can still learn a little from the iPhone X.

Face identification

Amazing Face ID. To test whether Samsung’s Iris scanner, which is at the same level of security as Face ID, could be used on my Note 8, I turned off the fingerprint sensor. Samsung’s Face Recognition function is much faster than traditional iris scanning and it is also less secure.

These are some of the main differences. Face ID is a combination of face recognition and iris scanning. The software creates an image of your face in three dimensions. This means that it is able to use more than the iris scan to identify you.

Face ID is so reliable and consistent you won’t need Touch ID. Fingerprints are the best way to go until Android developers can achieve that.

The Galaxy S8 is available in two options: face recognition or iris scanning. This is quicker and easier, however, it requires that the phone is near the subject to perform (although it is great in darkness).

I was admittedly skeptical of Apple’s decision to remove the fingerprint sensor from the iPhone X — other than aesthetics (and perhaps cost), what reason did it have for not putting a Touch ID sensor on the phone’s back? — but the adjustment has been relatively seamless.

For me, it has always been reliable. It turns on when I put it in my pocket or tap once. Then it opens up slightly. The screen has been very reliable for me. I am a regular user of the touchscreen, turning it on once and moving in one direction. It’s only been an occasional issue. As I found out in cold Canadian winters, Face ID can also work when gloves are on. I have not found Samsung’s facial biometric solutions outside to be reliable enough.

Face ID APIs have the same biometrics hooks used as Touch ID. Apps like 1Password that I use dozens upon a daily basis, work straight out of the package. Android doesn’t have that luxury; Google added cross-platform fingerprint APIs in Marshmallow, but there’s no equivalent for iris or face recognition, so unless I use the fingerprint sensor on the S8 or Note 8, I have to manually enter my not-fit-for-human-consumption password every time.

In the months that have passed, I spent many hours trying to figure out how the S8/Not 8 combination of biometrics works for me. I cannot use iris scanning and face recognition by myself. Also, the fingerprint sensor was poorly placed.

Smart Lock is a useful tool, particularly if it’s connected to your wearable or within a safe environment such as a workplace or home. However, Smart Lock only works for four hours because of security concerns. It is enough for me to get discouraged. I have to be close to it and deliberate so that it doesn’t fail every single time.

On the flip side, however, I hate having to swipe up each time I unlock my phone. Samsung’s Face ID will allow me to skip the lock screen entirely. Tap the screen and authenticate to let me in.

The upside to this is that Apple has mastered biometrics in the iPhone X. Android manufacturers will need to decide whether to attempt to be competitive or stick with the proven rear- or side-mounted fingerprint sensor which they have been successful with so far.

Material, size and weight

Apple describes the Gorilla Glass coating covering the iPhone X’s front and back as “the most durable glass ever created in a smartphone,” however, it is still glass and scratches. Although I haven’t dropped mine yet, some of my tests show that it isn’t unbreakable.

The overall design of this phone is very appealing to me. The phone is slightly longer and wider than the Galaxy S8 which boasts a 5.8″ bezel-less OLED screen. However, the stainless steel frame (shiny chrome on my silver) looks great and makes it stand out. Even though it’s $1000+, this is a great deal. I don’t think I’ll be using the thing without a case.

The iPhone X is also substantial — kind of like the Essential Phone in that regard. The iPhone X weighs in at 174g, 19g more than the Galaxy S8, but is almost identical to the larger S8+. Apple knows how to build a solid phone — it’s been doing so for years — but the industrial design here doesn’t feel worlds ahead of, say, Samsung or HTC. This is a premium product with a beautiful design and a price that matches the Galaxy Note 8 (which is unapologetically aluminum).

It does provide a full set of “Plus” features within a small body. I’d love to see Samsung offer a dual camera on its smaller Galaxy S9 flagship next year, because that size — the iPhone X, Galaxy S8, Essential Phone — hits the sweet spot for media consumption and one-handed use.

Both the screen and the notch

OLED has been a hot topic right now. However, the fact is that the iPhone’s Samsung OLED screen is not particularly unique. It’s sharper than the flagship Samsung smartphones and brighter than the iPhone X. However, the screen is also very accurate with the near-perfect calibration. Samsung is still working on an OLED display without an RGB stripe. The iPhone X’s subpixel array has the same diamond shape as its Samsung counterparts.

Although the blue shift is a real thing on the Pixel 2 XL’s screen, it’s not as prevalent on the iPhone X. Despite the iPhone X’s display measuring 2436 x 125 pixels being 57 PPI less than that of the iPhone 8 Plus, OLED still has all its inherent characteristics, both good and bad. Although I love the screen, it isn’t the most advanced on the market right now. Apple is playing catch-up.

However, the notch is quite intriguing. One of the early critics claimed the notch was “absent” from the user experience. However, I find this to be a false statement. Although I do see it and find it distracting, here is what I found: When an iPhone app that understands the limitations of the notch works well, it’s amazing. Google Photos, for instance, works beautifully by using the notch area as an accent; everything important — tabs, search bars, dialog boxes — are all below it.

Many apps aren’t optimized correctly and therefore pillar-boxed. Or they don’t have enough time or the resources to make the UX improvements that the iPhone X requires. Instagram, for instance, asks you to swipe up from the bottom to open a link in Stories — I’ve given up trying that move because it takes me home every time.

Although it has its flaws, the notch looks relatively normal in portrait mode. However, if you change to the landscape, nearly all situations will appear odd. Safari does not wrap its design around the notch. This makes sense. However, some video games and apps ignore the notch altogether.

Apple will most likely shrink the notch to make it completely disappear, but we are stuck with an unsatisfactory landscape experience.

These gestures

It’s fine to use the gestures of the iPhone X. While I believe that swiping down from the right screen is an error to access Control Center, the iOS programming makes it easy for me.

Android users are likely to prefer system-wide gestures. They can return to their home screens with one swipe from the bottom, or quickly switch between applications with just a horizontal flick. Although there is still some learning to do, it is not overwhelming nor difficult. It took me around a day to get to grips with it.

The ability to swipe quickly between open apps is actually my favorite part of the UX. It’s something I use to great advantage since Android 7.0 Nougat added the ability to tap twice on multitasking buttons to switch between active apps.

Many times I wondered whether Android would eventually abandon the dedicated navigation bar. If so, what is the process? Although companies like Motorola and Huawei are making strides in this direction, I have yet to see a reliable solution to replace static keys. Google will surely find a solution to this problem if they do.

The haptics

Although haptics isn’t given a lot of attention they deserve: Apple’s Taptic Engine, which is incredibly powerful, should be emulated by all Android manufacturers. LG did a good job with the V30 — its haptics is precise, subtle, and extremely satisfying.

While I dislike the iPhone X way it sends out notifications, if the iPhone X is placed on a desk, incoming pings will not vibrate the coffee mug. It’s much more directional and effective. Android’s OS-wide interactions are dominated by haptics, so I would love for Samsung to spend more time on this.

Cameras

Apple has managed to include a second stabilization unit in the iPhone X’s secondary lens. Telephoto shots are enhanced by the extra gyro data. However, it is clear that the iPhone X can’t match the Pixel 2’s stunning output, despite DxOMark’s claims about its still-photo fidelity.

The iPhone X, just like all iPhones after the iPhone 4’s launch in 2010, offers consistency. Every photo taken with the iPhone X is usable — realistically grainy in low light, or properly exposed in the bright, harsh sun — if not spectacular.

I also think it’s interesting, and kind of hilarious, that Apple got beaten by Google in the race to the selfie portrait; even with all of the miraculous Kinect-like tech inside the notch, portrait selfies don’t look any better — and in some cases are notably worse — than those transmuted by Google’s tiny little front-facing camera and machine learning algorithms.

The secondary telephoto lens on the Note 8 was a great addition, although I rarely use it. That it’s stabilized, with a slightly wider ƒ/2.4 aperture, should help with the occasional video I shoot — the fact that the iPhone X can deliver 4K video at 60fps is one of the few standout features of the A11 Bionic chip, which is close to twice as fast as Qualcomm’s flagship platform these days — but I haven’t noticed an appreciable boost in quality over the iPhone 8 Plus.

In low light, the Pixel 2 is better, but not by much — Google is doing a better job with post-processing, since the above photo, taken in almost total darkness and lit only by the street lights and my wife’s phone screen, is ISO4800 on the Pixel 2 but not as grainy as the iPhone’s ISO2000.

I like Portrait Lighting mode that uses both rear and front cameras. Although I prefer to use the default “Natural Light” version, I’ve seen some photos that impress me.

Battery life

Apple’s description of iPhone battery life is confusing and frustrating to me. Apple’s specs page claims the iPhone X will last up to two hours more than the iPhone 7. This is confusing to me considering that the iPhone 7 uses completely different silicon, and was also released at a much lower price (more than $300).

An iPhone 8 Plus has a shorter battery life than mine, and I get all-day battery life.

Instead, I would like to be able to compare the iPhone X to the iPhone 8 Plus and 8 Plus. The only useful metric Apple provides me with is “Internet usage,” which is not specific or helpful.

The iPhone X has a lower battery life than the iPhone 8 or X. It claims “up to 12 hours” internet access on both iPhone 8 and X and iPhone 8 Plus for 13 hours. I typically go to bed with 10-15% remaining battery, the same as what I would have from a Galaxy S8 and slightly less from the Pixel. The iPhone X’s larger Android smartphones are still the best for long-term use, however, I have yet to see an Android phone that is comparable with the iPhone 8 Plus.

iOS and its ecosystem

I spend a lot of time these days going between phones — between phones running “stock” Android and others running stock Android, and others still running versions of Android you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy (but fewer of those every year, thankfully), and iOS.

iOS is still a static mess. There are many stolid icons that don’t care, red badges screaming at me for them to be cleared, and an interface on the home screen which refuses to follow my aesthetic preferences.

However, it is also extremely fast. Android couldn’t dream of maintaining touch responsiveness at the same level as iOS. Your Pixel or Galaxy may seem smooth. But, if you compare that to the seamless movement of the iPhone X home gesture, it will quickly make your head spin.

They are even better than those apps. I want to believe, now that we’re in 2017 and not 2012, that developers care as deeply about feature parity on Android, but they don’t: the best indie apps still don’t come to Android (although one can argue, and I’d agree in some cases, that the indie app scene is extremely vibrant on Android — just in a way that doesn’t make them much money); games arrive months late, if at all; and beloved products, especially camera-based networks like Instagram and Snapchat, lack specific features or optimizations that drive me crazy.

Even though it’s 2017, you can’t expect Android apps to have the same level of quality as iOS apps.

For instance, my banking app brought Touch ID and, through transferrable APIs to Face ID, support to the iOS app almost two years ago. The Android version makes me enter my password as a fool every time. Bear, my favorite writing app, doesn’t plan to make an Android version. Grocery King (my formerly favorite meal-planning and grocery app) hasn’t updated its Android apps in more than two years.

Of course, given that I spent the vast majority of my year with Android, I have come up with viable cross-platform alternatives — Google Docs is pretty good, and Mealime is great, too — but it still feels like Android apps play second fiddle to their iOS counterparts.

Apple also deserves credit. Android development is notoriously more difficult than other apps due to Java. Maintenance can also be complicated because of the large number of Android devices. But Apple has assembled an incredible ecosystem of developers dedicated to making a living with iOS. Apple’s curation tools are also great, particularly with iOS 11. I feel that there are always great apps in the App Store, but I don’t know what Google Play will feed me.

But Android is still better in these ways…

There are a few things that really stick out after I spend a long time on iOS. Notifications work much better on Android than on iOS; typing is more fun on Android; Android makes it easier to use Android and is also more versatile. And the sheer variety of Android hardware available is amazing.

Android has mastered notifications, which is one of the most important aspects in an operating system. Google leads in this respect so strongly that it may seem insurmountable. However, I dislike dealing with iPhone notifications.

Although Android and iOS may be very similar now, Google’s platform offers some important benefits.

Gboard is a popular third-party iOS application that has been ported to Android. Typing on Android phones can be a lot more fun. Gboard’s smart, reliable autocorrect works well on any hardware. It also performs almost flawlessly even with older hardware. You can also modify the autocorrect to suit your needs, just like Android. Apple included a few of these features to QuickType in iOS 11 and 10, but I still prefer my Pixel for long-form emails to be retrieved than my iPhone X.

My favorite thing about new Android phones is the simple, unobtrusive metal chassis (the $229 Moto G5 Plus) and the mesmerizing light shifts that the Solar Red HTC U11 offer. Android’s openness enabled the revolution of smartphone building and dismantling. Google’s OS still allows virtually anyone to use the internet, no matter their price.

Is it worth buying an iPhone X

Apple deserves a lot of credit not just for pushing the envelope of smartphone hardware innovation — look at iFixit’s teardown of the iPhone X to see just how elegantly the whole interior is laid out — but for creating an ecosystem where, once you’re in, you don’t want to leave.

Although I understand it would be foolish to expect us all to live together in peace, my ideal world would see each Android-loving user test the iPhone X within a couple of days and every Pixel 2 addict try the Galaxy Note 8 for the same time. The differences can be compared and lessons learned.

Android fans probably don’t want to buy an iPhone X, even if the price is $1000. This phone is quite expensive. If you are shocked at this review from Android Central, then you should definitely try the phone.

 

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