72 Hours with the iPhone X

Mark McElroy
Written by Mark McElroy

That glorious screen both delights and concerns me.

The Notch. The black flap of sensors obscuring a bit of the upper edge of the screen — concealing the forward-facing camera array and other sensors — ceases to attract attention after a day or so of use. The notch is a non-issue. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

FaceID. A colleague at work — a smart person — reached the incorrect conclusion that unlocking the iPhone would require holding it up in front of your face for a few seconds. “Won’t that look obvious to other people?” In fact, FaceID is so fast and so good at what it does, it becomes transparent. By the time you swipe up to access your home screen, the phone is unlocked and ready.

Better yet: some apps already use FaceID to log you in, eliminating the need to tap in a password by hand. The Weight Watchers app, for example, used to demand a password every single time I launched it. With FaceID, it just opens up and works. (Given that I use the app multiple times a day, this functionality alone makes the iPhone X seem worth the investment.)

Animoji. The iPhone X has a library of twelve animated critters — a cat, a dog, a unicorn, a fox, a robot, a chicken, etc. — that can be mapped to your face and mimic your every expression. Imagine a magic mirror that replaces your reflection with an image of a panda bear that matches you move for move. That’s animoji.

Most iPhone X pundits claim people will use animoji for a week or two and then forget about them. I disagree. People haven’t tired of sending emoji — smiling faces, firecrackers, piles of poop. Animoji are just the next step in emoji’s evolution. Finding just the right character for a given message — the pig, for example, to ask friends which barbecue place we’re going to tonight — makes routine communications feel more clever and more engaging.

The flurry of “animoji karaoke” videos will end, but the medium will persist … and grow. Besides, the current use of animoji is really just a proof of concept. I believe Phase Two will evolve beyond cartoon characters and give me the ability to wear another face entirely. Imagine being able to make a FaceTime call as Ryan Gosling or Donald Trump — or even an idealized version of yourself. That’s the future.

One odd note: because my brother is blind in one eye, one of his eyes is always closed. When I demonstrated animoji for him, all of the characters, based on the iPhone X real-time map of his face, closed a corresponding eye. Intellectually, I know this behavior is nothing more than the characters acting as they are programmed to, but emotionally, it felt as though the characters were mocking my brother, and I felt a pang of protective anger when I saw it. The moment still bothers me.

Battery Life. My days usually start at 5:45 a.m. Monday was a particularly heavy day of iPhone use, given that my personal use (taking photos, reading RSS feeds, checking Instagram, checking email, sending texts) was combined with lots of public use (people trying out the swipes that replace the functionality of the home button and playing around with animoji). One colleague’s children visited the office yesterday afternoon and spent more than thirty minutes interacting with the animoji, grunting and squealing and clucking and making robot voices with delight.

By the time we walked home from dinner (about 7:30), I still had 60% of my battery available. By that time of day, under similar conditions, my trusty iPhone 7 Plus would have been at 20% or less. Impressive.

Weight and Carry. Everyone seems a little surprised at the iPhone X’s weight. It looks like it would weigh about the same as a pack of cards, and so, when lifted, it feels heftier than expected. As a result, the device feels solid and serious — more real.

After growing used to carrying an iPhone 7 Plus in my pocket, carrying the iPhone X is bliss. I’ve been given a lighter, smaller phone without feeling as though I’ve given up any screen real estate at all.

I am currently using Apple’s silicone case, but expect to stop doing so. For me, the only reason to add a case would be to improve the “grippiness” of the iPhone X. With its glass back, it’s grippy enough. Besides, the case adds a bit of frame to what is otherwise a glorious edge-to-edge slab of screen

The Screen. It’s glorious: the blackest blacks, the tightest text, the most realistic color, the most detailed and faithful representation of photos. Technically and practically, there has never been a better screen on any device, ever.

On Day 1, I worried a bit about the “blue shift” — the fact that, when seen from an extreme angle, images on the iPhone X’s OLED screen look bleached out. In practical day to day use, however, I forgot the issue entirely. How often do you look at your phone from bizarre angles?

OLED screens from other manufacturers have been shown to suffer “burn in” (elements on-screen for extended periods of time can leave permanent ghostly shadows of themselves). I’ve seen no evidence of this in 72 hours of use (and would have been really angry if I had!). However, Apple has posted a worrisome note on its support site:

With extended long-term use, OLED displays can also show slight visual changes. This is also expected behavior and can include “image persistence” or “burn-in,” where the display shows a faint remnant of an image even after a new image appears on the screen. This can occur in more extreme cases such as when the same high contrast image is continuously displayed for prolonged periods of time. We’ve engineered the Super Retina display to be the best in the industry in reducing the effects of OLED “burn-in.”

Guess what? Having a “high contrast image … continuously displayed for prolonged periods of time” is exactly what happens under one very popular normal-use condition: GPS.

I thought about this while driving to Mom’s house and back this weekend. That involves two and a half hours one-way continuous display of Google Maps, an app designed to have high-contrast graphics that are displayed for long periods of time. How long before that green bar at the top and white bar at the bottom are burned into my $1000 screen?

All I can say is: AppleCare+, people. AppleCare+.

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