Since the week before Thanksgiving, I’ve been using the iPhone X. Prior to that, I was using the iPhone 8 Plus, which Apple loaned me. During the busy fall reviews season, I also used the Google Pixel 2 and briefly used the Essential smartphone.
But this article isn’t a round up of these new phones or a direct comparison of all four. It’s about the iPhone X.
Some of my fellow Verge writers determined that iPhone X is “easily the best smartphone ever made.” There are a lot of things to love about the iPhone X, including its ridiculously long battery life, excellent camera (front-facing Portrait mode!), and just how fast the thing is. I can see why my co-workers found true smartphone love. I haven’t yet.
Nearly a month later, I’m still adjusting to certain interactions on the iPhone X. It demands a precision in swiping and pressing that just makes me much more aware of the phone, rather than having the phone exist as a comfortable appendage, one that I need but don’t need to think about much when I’m using it.
I’m sure I’d get used to a couple of these new features with more time. Or maybe they’ll be tweaked. But here are the things that are still bugging me about it.
One-handed notification access is bad
I’m obviously not the first person to notice this. When I ran a search for this problem to determine if it was a thing or if it was just me, I found this article, which describes what I’ve been experiencing with the iPhone X.
If you have smallish hands, it can be difficult to use the phone in one hand and reach the upper left-hand corner of the display with your thumb to pull down notifications, which is where they now live. My thumb just doesn’t reach. I either have to slide the phone down in my right hand, which means I’ll probably drop it at some point; or I hold the phone in my left hand while using my right hand to pull down notifications.
I know Reachability is supposed to help this. But I still don’t think this is a perfect solution. On earlier, Plus-sized iPhones, Reachability was easy to trigger with the physical home button. Reachability on the iPhone X requires a precise pull-down on the bar at the bottom of the home screen, and a slightly-off swipe opens up Spotlight search instead.
The status bar at the top no longer shows battery life percentage
Yup. To the right of the notch at the top of the iPhone X, you see icons for cellular signal, WiFi, and a battery icon. What you don’t see is battery life percentage.
It’s not too far away: if you swipe down from the right-hand side of the notch to access the Control Center, the battery percentage appears. But you’re no longer able to see it with a quick glance, which means you’re now living in a binary battery world: green or red. And, while the Control Center is a little bit more customizable now, you can’t customize the home screen so that it shows percentage.
With old iPhones, capturing an image of your phone screen was easy: you pressed the home button and the power button simultaneously. That’s not the case with iPhone X, because, again, there isn’t a home button. Now you press a combination of the right-side button and one of the volume buttons, which means that any time you just happen to squeeze your phone a certain way, you might take a screenshot.
To be honest, this has only happened a handful of times for me so far. Others are experiencing it a lot more. Either way it’s not ideal.
It’s awkward to use when it’s docked in a car
Why the hell are you using your phone while you’re driving? This is the stupidest argument ever. Alright, glad we got that out of the way.
I don’t actively use my phone while I’m driving. But I do prop my phone up in a dock on the dashboard and use it to listen to podcasts and music and take phone calls. (My car doesn’t have a built-in, interactive display, so everything happens through the phone.) And, occasionally, I want to wake up or unlock the phone when the car is stopped.
With a fingerprint sensor/home button, unlocking the phone was easy. I didn’t even have to look at the phone. Now I lean towards the center console and position my face in front of the phone for FaceID and when that doesn’t work, I have to punch in a passcode.
Sure, I could change some settings each and every time I go somewhere, so that my screen never auto-locks, but then I’d have to remember to turn that off afterwards, too. Basically, I miss having a fingerprint sensor/home button when the phone is within reach but is something I shouldn’t be paying attention to.
I found myself accidentally swiping the dictation microphone
One of the biggest changes with the iPhone X has been swiping up from the bottom center of an app page in order to switch between apps, rather than double-pressing the physical home button.
But in certain messaging apps – whether Facebook Messenger, Messages, or WhatsApp – you have to swipe up precisely from the center and not slightly from the right, where your thumb is hanging out. Otherwise you end up triggering whatever button is hanging out on the bottom right-hand side of the keyboard. Which means hitting the dictation microphone rather than swiping the entire app away.
It’s a minor thing, and you can turn dictation off entirely in keyboard settings. But it’s one that underscores the importance of having thoughtfully-designed apps that are optimized for new interactions, especially when one of the most important companies in the world rolls out dramatic design changes.
Right now there’s a good chance I’m going back to an iPhone 8, or another phone. Some people would argue that, as a tech reviewer, I’ll be putting myself in a position where I’m using hardware that will soon feel (or already is) outdated — that the mobile world is moving away from buttons, has been for awhile, and I might as well get used to it. That may be the case, and this phone does feel like the future of phones. But until certain features and apps are truly optimized to support the new hardware, I’m fine with having a phone that requires a little less cognitive load, a little less precision.