Apple iPhone X Review
Face ID: First-ever face recognition that works
After so many unexpected gripes, we’re glad we can finally move on to something Apple has managed to get just right, and that is Face ID – the new biometric authentication method on the iPhone X. It’s here to replace Touch ID fingerprint authentication, which was nearly flawless and almost universally beloved, so as you can imagine, Face ID has some really big shoes to fill in terms of reliability and convenience. Even more so when it seems to be the primary reason for having the notch.
Face ID is extremely easy to use, and you get to set it up during the initial setup process of the phone. This is the idea in short: using some really sophisticated technology, the iPhone X scans your face, creates a detailed 3D depth map of it, which it then stores securely somewhere deep inside the chips of the phone – even Apple doesn’t get to see this data. The great thing about it is that the phone builds three-dimensional face recognition data – it can tell that it's you even if it sees you from an angle – you don’t have to look at it head-on in order to get a successful authentication.
Face recognition may sound familiar to many, as Samsung has been offering this feature, along with iris scanning, on its top smartphones for some time now. However, neither face recognition, nor iris scanning on Galaxy smartphones meet any acceptable standards for reliability or convenience. They simply don’t work well, if at all. Apple's Face ID works in a completely different way and manages to fill the role of a reliable authentication method in the day-to-day without causing almost any frustration.
Face ID definitely isn't flawless yet, but it’s veeery close to that forgotten Apple mantra of “it just works”. The idea is simple: you lift your phone and it automatically wakes up (or you tap the screen), the phone engages facial recognition and recognizes its beloved owner, and then all you need to do is just swipe up to enter the home screen. In theory, the facial recognition stage should happen in under a second and be almost invisible. In practice, this almost always happens to be the case.
At this point, Face ID is so great that you can realistically expect to lift your phone, swipe up, and enter the home screen, with barely a glance of the lock screen as you get immediately authenticated. This is a very realistic scenario. It really works… most of the time. We feel that Touch ID is still the slightly more infallible feature of the two, but Face ID is very, very close, and it also feels a bit more effortless than using Touch ID.
Face ID can sometimes fail to authenticate you if you happen to look at the phone from a somewhat weird angle, or from way too far, or way too close.
An annoying thing that sometimes happens when the phone fails to recognize you, is that it doesn't proceed to try again a second time immediately after that – so even if you're quick to adjust its position to a better one – it has already given up trying, at which point you need to either enter your PIN, or go back and try again. Other times, Face ID takes an extra half-second to recognize you, and those times can be a somewhat annoying, especially if you’re in a hurry and you need it to just work, but we guess that with a bit of getting used to, those occasions will automatically get reduced to a minimum. Face ID is a great first-gen product, and we imagine it's going to get even better with updates and improvements in the future.
Face ID summary: Apple has created the first ever secure, reliable, and convenient facial recognition system in a smartphone. It works almost flawlessly, in any lighting conditions. It doesn’t care if you’re attempting to unlock your iPhone X in a completely dark room, for example – it’ll know it's you and unlock the phone in zero time. Is it better than Touch ID? Sometimes not, but most of the time – it's equally great, and that's something to be excited about.
iOS 11 and new gesture interactions
Swipe up, swipe down, wait a minute – why is this chicken imitating me?
Without a home button, how do you even make your way around iOS 11? It’s actually quite easy – instead of pressing a home button, you’ll be swiping up from the bottom edge of the screen. This gesture is essentially analogous to a home button press. It works quite well. However, we’ve already been using this same gesture on other iPhones, but to accomplish a different task: to bring up Control Center.
iOS 11 on the iPhone X works a bit differently than on other iPhones. Most notably, you get to the Control Center after a swipe-down form the upper-right corner of the screen; while swiping down from the upper center or upper left will bring down the notification area. There is another, probably weirder difference from the standard iOS experience on, say, the iPhone 8: on the lock screen of the X, you have two additional 3D Touch-able shortcuts: for torchlight and for camera. Strangely enough, the swipe-left on the lockscreen takes you to the camera as well (as is the case with other iPhones). Why do we need two different camera shortcuts on the lockscreen of the X, any why there’s no torchlight shortcut on the iPhone 8, 7, and 6s, all of which have 3D Touch – we have no idea.
With no home button, accessing the multitasking view is also different. You need to swipe up from the bottom again, but this time hold your finger for half a second in the center of the screen – and voila, you are in multitasking. It’s also possible to quickly switch between apps by swiping left and right across the lower edge of the screen. This also reminds us of the new Reachability shortcut – you just need to slide you finger down the bottom section of the display. Imagine the app dock – lowest row of icons on the home screen. You have to swipe down from about half the height of the app dock, in order to engage Reachability; that is, if you ever happen to use this feature.
Other than that, iOS 11 on the iPhone X is mostly iOS as we know it, complete with a bunch of new, average-looking wallpapers and an absurd lock sound.
Despite some of these peculiarities, iOS 11 continues to be the world’s premium mobile operating system, with unsurpassed performance, visual fidelity, and added-value features. These include the brand new, curated App Store, which is better than ever in helping you discover great apps and games every day; as well as support for forward-looking technologies like Augmented Reality; and of course, Apple’s complete range of productivity and lifestyle apps, including Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Photos, iMovie, GarageBand, and more.
One notable unique feature on the iPhone X is Animoji, which runs inside iMessage. Animoji uses the power of the TrueDepth camera system (the notch thingy) to translate your own facial movements to a selection of sweet 3D characters, including a chicken, pig, fox, dog, and panda. You can use this to record fun little video messages, and you can even save them as video clips that you can then share any way you like. Animojis are, of course, fun for a while, but we're yet to see if they'll stick.
iOS 11 takeaway: The user experience on the iPhone X takes a bit of getting used to, mostly because of the new gesture-based interactions. However, after the initial learning period, using the iPhone X quickly becomes natural and effortless, perhaps even a bit nicer than the traditional iPhone experience we all know.