The iPhone X – a review from an iPhone 7 Plus upgrader

At the beginning of January, due to some special circumstances, I had an opportunity to sell my iPhone 7 Plus and upgrade to a new iPhone X, SIM-free and direct from Apple Japan, with the total cost to me coming to zero. So I went ahead and did it. Usually I always keep an iPhone for at least two years. This is the first time I ever upgraded early.

Some things worried me about the iPhone X (e.g. the notch and the mechanical side button). So I was somewhat wary. But since it didn’t cost me anything I took the leap and have been meaning to post a review of the iPhone X since then.

These are from notes I took since January:

No Home Button, Gestures, and FaceID vs TouchID.

As everybody knows, the iPhone X eliminates the home button creating a display with almost no bezel – a near “full screen” experience.

Until the iPhone 7 Plus I often had home button problems because they were mechanical and wore out. With the iPhone 7 Plus the home button became a non-mechanical button with haptic feedback. I thought it was great.

With the absence of the home button in the iPhone X you must learn new “gestures” to replace what you used the home button for. And FaceID replaces the TouchID fingerprint sensor in the home button.

I found learning the new gestures only took about one minute. The fact you swipe up from the bottom of the screen instead of pressing the home button, or swipe down from the top right to enter the control center is no issue at all. Those gestures are quite smooth.

In my opinion it’s also easier to return to the other open application using iPhone X gestures. The way of displaying the open apps is smoother than the double-clicking of the home button.

The really nice thing about FaceID is that it gives you an overall smoother interaction with the whole of iOS, and with apps which support FaceID. Here is a simple example of what I mean. Say I want to unlock my iPhone and go into my Commerce Bank account app. With the previous TouchID I need to first press the home button to wake up the iPhone, leave my finger on the home button to let my fingerprint unlock it, open the Commerce Bank app, then rest my finger on the home button again to authenticate myself to the bank.

With the iPhone X I just pick up the iPhone and say, “Hey Siri, open Commerce Bank.” Without touching anything, the iPhone X recognizes my face and unlocks, opens the Commerce Bank app, and that app also uses FaceID to authenticate me and log me in where I see my balance. It’s a noticeably more elegant, quick, and smooth operation.

So I would say the absence of the home button, and the general use of FaceID vs TouchID is clever and elegant and an improvement over the home button and fingerprint sensor method.

That said, I think the way FaceID is used with Apple Pay to confirm a payment is somewhat awkward. You are asked to double-click the mechanical button on the right side. It’s mechanical. It takes some force. It can wear out. I hope the confirmation is changed at some point to something like a force touch on the screen. However, I find this is a feature I might use once every few days compared to general use of apps, so it’s not really a big issue.

One other point is that FaceID itself isn’t flawless. You have to hold it at the right distance or it fails. So you have to get a bit used to it when using your iPhone in bed, for example. This is pretty easy to get used to though.

Another point worth mentioning is that I don’t think FaceID is as hard to fool as Apple claims. My friend, Dave, also has an iPhone X. The only thing we have in common is that we are both not-so-young white males. I am 62 now, and Dave is turning 99 tomorrow. Yet FaceID on Dave’s iPhone X recognizes me also! I think what happens is that FaceID adapts over time. So if I’m helping Dave with his iPhone X and I enter the passcode correctly often enough that FaceID starts adding data from my face to the stored face so there is some “weird hybrid face” data stored inside. Anyway, I hear from iOS 12 that families will be able to store more than one face, so this is a minor point.

The bottom line is that I do like the absence of the home button and prefer FaceID over TouchID.

The Display.

Some of you may have followed my long battle involving the iPhone 7 Plus vs the iPhone 6 Plus displays. I think the iPhone 6 Plus had a brighter and whiter display. I’m happy to report that the new OLED display on the iPhone X is noticeably brighter than the iPhone 7 Plus was. Unlike with my iPhone 7 Plus, I do not need to use the screen at full brightness, even when reading on the train. The OLED does have a blue hue when looked at at an angle, but that is a general characteristic of OLED displays and not disturbing.

However! Please note that the nice bright and white display doesn’t happen by itself, using Apple’s default colors and what they call True Tone. With True Tone enabled, the display looks dingy and yellow. I honestly don’t understand Apple’s obsession with yellowish displays. If you think the iPhone X display is a bit yellow looking (the same thing applies to the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus), then I recommend turning True Tone off and adjusting the color tint in Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters. There, turn Color Filters on, choose Color Tint, set the Intensity all the way to the left, and set the Hue about 80% to the right. When you do that, the display color becomes what Apple calls “cooler” and what we ordinary people call “whiter and less yellow.”

Anyway, the display is noticeably nicer than the iPhone 7 Plus, and with the settings changed I am happy with the quality and color. Sometimes I feel like I wish that whites were a bit whiter, but generally it’s a very nice display, as long as you don’t use True Tone.

The Notch.

This feature certainly was controversial at first. As everybody knows, the iPhone X is almost a full display, but there is a small cut-out at the top in portrait mode for the front camera and FaceID and other sensors. Current technology still requires a non-display area for those features. I would say that 96% of the time I don’t notice the notch, or if I do it looks ok. Maybe 4% of the time it’s a little jarring, like when I open Mail, because the the background is white so the black notch area stands out.

Some apps do it nicer, because they either have dark backgrounds, like the Stocks app, or the Camera app, so you don’t notice the notch at all. Some other apps will “letter box” their display area which has the equivalent appearance, just making less use of the display.

It helps to think of the display areas on either side of the notch as “extra display space” with extra info (time, wi-fi indicator, battery indicator, etc.) rather than thinking of the notch as  a missing area.

My overall feeling is that the notch is fine given current technology. And it’s interesting that other smart phone makers are starting to copy that design now.

The Camera.

The camera is a slight improvement over the iPhone 7 Plus. It works a bit better in low light. The new “portrait mode” is a stand out feature, letting you create portraits easily with what seems to be studio lighting. I’ve taken some beautiful portraits using that feature. I wouldn’t upgrade from the iPhone 7 Plus to the iPhone X just for the camera improvements, but the improvements are there. Also, with the front camera you can create animated emoji which are fun to try out at least once. In the next version of iOS there will be more animated emoji features. I look forward to trying those.

The Speakers.

While I’m not an audiophile, I did notice that the speakers on the iPhone X are a noticeable improvement in sound quality over the iPhone 7 Plus, in volume and sound quality.

The Size.

First I was worried because while the iPhone X is often touted as having a larger screen than the iPhone 7 Plus in a smaller body. That actually is only true vertically. With the elimination of the top and bottom bezel and home button, there is much more vertical screen space on the iPhone X than on the iPhone 7 Plus even though the actual size of the phone itself is much smaller. But the iPhone X is a bit narrower. So overall, it has a bit less square inches of display than the iPhone 7 Plus.

This has turned out to be a complete non-issue for me. The screen is large and fine. And when I see an iPhone 7 Plus or iPhone 8 Plus they look like unwieldy behemoths. The iPhone X has a smaller body, weighs less, yet has a taller display and almost as much total display space as the iPhone 7 Plus or iPhone 8 Plus. It’s a perfect, very convenient size for holding in my hand or putting in my pocket. My iPhone 7 Plus used to stick out of pockets and looked awkward. It’s hard to imagine wanting a larger iPhone at this point. To me, if I need a bigger display I think that’s when I would use my iPad.

I know this isn’t a thorough review. I didn’t go through all the specs. The iPhone X of course has a faster processor, more RAM and more internal storage than the iPhone 7 Plus did. I just covered some of the areas of particular interest to me.

Overall conclusion? I love the iPhone X!

Dave’s new iPhone X

My friend, Dave, got a new iPhone X. I went over to help him set it up and move all the data over from his now “old” iPhone 6 Plus. Even at 98 years old, Dave is always excited about getting the next new iPhone.

To “sum up” he loves it. And I agree it is really quite nice, and beautiful to look at. Given that, there are some notes I have about the setup, and also the iPhone X itself. So bear with me here. I will be brief.

The unopened box!

 

Dave opening the box!

 

I was really excited to try this new feature that is supposed to let you transfer everything directly from your old iPhone to your new iPhone. But I found it only works in part. Many many things are missing in this process, including all your message addresses, your photos albums, and your music.

 

…So I hooked up the iPhone X to Dave’s iMac, setup as a new iPhone and then restored from a complete backup I made that day. That worked smoothly, recovering everything – over 1,600 photos, all of Dave’s CDs, etc.

 

The new iPhone X on the left, and his old iPhone 6 Plus on the right. An important note here! The iPhone X’s default display mode is their new “True Tone” setting, which is a bit “warmer” (yellower) than the old setting. I actually prefer the old setting and would turn True Tone off if I had one. But Dave looked back and forth between the two and said he thought the True Tone setting was easier on his eyes.

 

Dave checking out his neighborhood in Apple Maps.

 

Well, let’s see what happens if I touch this…

 

Dave also set up the new Face ID and “Hey, Siri!” and seemed to get used to the new “swipe up” gesture right away, which is what I was hoping for.

I did notice something strange about the new iPhone X though, considering that Apple is moving away from buttons.

When you download an app from the App Store using Face ID you need to double click the physical button on the side of the iPhone to confirm.

It seems ironic that they went out of their way to get rid of the home button, but require a double-click of the side button, which is more awkward, don’t you think?

I couldn’t figure out how to confirm the download at first because the message kept on saying to “double click to install” and I didn’t know what they were talking about, because you can’t double-click something on the screen. I had to do a Google search to figure out what they meant.

Now the side button performs three functions: sleep/power, activate Siri, and confirm Face ID for purchases. At lease for the purchase confirmation part, I think the non-mechanical haptic touch button on the iPhone 7 and 8 series is easier.

Otherwise the Face ID seems to work well, and Dave was able to phone me later. It’s quite a nice phone. And some lucky person at Hibikinokai in need of a smart phone will inherit Dave’s in-perfect-condition iPhone 6 Plus.

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying new iPad with keyboard case

Since I got my new iPad 5th generation in a trade-in with my carrier (traded in my old iPad Air, which itself was purchased used after selling my iPad 2 at an auction site) I find that I’ve been using it quite a lot. In fact, I’m using it to create this blog post.

Yesterday I brought just my iPad, and a tiny Bluetooth speaker for extra volume when playing songs for the class, to my weekly volunteer teaching at Hibikinokai. It worked great.

The Logicool keyboard case really makes a difference for productivity on the iPad, as opposed to mostly consuming media and checking email and Facebook.

The tablet features are great, and the keyboard just makes it easier to use for things like writing this blog post.

Some nice things about using the keyboard with the iPad include:

  • There is a special row of iOS keys, so you can easily go to the home screen, bring up your current open apps, do a search, switch languages, bring up the keyboard if you want to, control music, control speaker volume, lock the iPad and more.
  • You can use tab on the keyboard to go to the next field when filling out a form instead of tapping on the next field on the screen (which you can still do, of course – either way is fine).
  • Copy/pasting is easier because in addition to the “tap on screen” method you can use CMD+V on the keyboard. Similarly you can use CMD+L in Safari to go to the address field, CMD+A to select all text and CMD+Z to undo.
  • There is a cool Documents 6 app by Readle which essentially adds a Finder-like feature to the iPad. I understand a Finder-like feature will be standard in iOS 11 too. I used that for class by downloading some YouTube videos for class and keeping them local for playback.
  • The keyboard helps save space on the iPad screen, because when typing it’s not on-screen by default taking up screen space.

So it’s a convenient mix of keyboard and on-screen tapping tablet features.

The only problem I noticed is that when I go back to my MacBook Pro I find myself tapping on the screen now to do some things instead of moving the cursor and clicking!

Since this iPad is the wi-if plus cellular model, it’s also convenient outside. I even have a Terminal app running on it so I can connect to servers in case of a customer emergency.

Anyway, it’s quite fun. I think I’ve used my iPad this past week more than I have all my other iPads together over the past 5 years!

 

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iPad 5th generation keyboard case – what have I done?

I did something pretty stupid on Sunday. I needed a case for my new iPad 5th generation (not pro) and I was sort of interested in a keyboard case.

The new iPad doesn’t support the Apple Smart Keyboard. I knew there were several out there, including the Logicool Slim Folio made just for this iPad.

On Saturday, on the way back from Dave’s birthday party I went case hunting at Yodobashi Camera in Akibara. I almost bought a Sanwa soft back protector case (really all I need). But it seemed expensive at ¥2,800 just for that. Then I thought, well maybe I should have the Apple Smart Cover along with that. That’s like ¥4,400 yen. So the total seemed sort of boring and a waste.

But I had a Yodobashi gift coupon burning a hole in my wallet from when I got my iPhone 7 Plus in November and wanted to get something. I asked about keyboard cases for this iPad, and the salesman took me to that corner, but the ones for the iPad 5th generation hadn’t come out yet. So I decided not to get anything and went home.

On Sunday, during Hibikinokai lunch hour I went over to the Yodobashi Camera in Hachioji, right next door. The Logicool had just come out that day! I felt it and tried it and impulse purchased it.

Then an hour later I regretted it. It adds an extra 440 g to the 478 g iPad, almost doubling the weight. So it’s harder to hold in one hand and use as a tablet, which is what it is. Since I already have a notebook computer, I asked myself, “Self. Why did you do this?”

So I let myself stew about it for a day and then took it out of the box again a while ago, and I’ve been playing with it. I don’t know if I’ll use it all the time, but it is actually quite cool!

I’m tying this message on the iPad right now, at the same speed I would on my MBP. That in itself is cool.

There is also a whole row of keys at the top just made for iOS – jump to home, Siri, search, switch languages, bring up the keyboard, music controls, sound controls, lock the iPad and more. You can double-tap the home key to bring up the multi-tasking menu to switch back and forth between apps.

Also, unless you want to raise the iPad onscreen keyboard, it replaces it by default, so you save a lot of screen space that would otherwise be devoted to the keyboard.

There are extra Mac-like editing keys, like up-down, left-right arrows. I guess because this one is sold in Japan, Option-Y even switches to the ¥ sign, even when in English mode. Because of these extra keys, editing is much easier than just in tablet mode.

Technologically speaking, it is rather cool. And since I got the wi-fi plus cellular model iPad it’s like having a truly portable computer with you with an overall weight half that of my MBP.

And of course you can use the tablet on-screen features to tap and do all the normal things you do.

The keyboard comes with some small coin-sized batteries that are supposed to last 4 year before needing changing. And the Bluetooth connectivity was trivially easy.

So I’m somewhat won over by it. I might not use it all the time, but I’m tempted to try bringing it, instead of my MBP, to the next Hibikinokai meeting and doing my lectures from it.

The photo shows my MBP on the left and my iPad 5th Generation with keyboard case on the right.