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A Brilliant Phone

Entry 1945, on 2018-11-05 at 19:45:10 (Rating 1, Computers)

I have been the proud owner of an iPhone XS for about a week now. A week is long enough to have reached the point of appreciating the strengths and having been annoyed by a few weaknesses in the design of a new device, so what are my impressions?

OK, let's get the obvious criticism out of the way first: the phone is too expensive. I am paying mine off over three years and have found a cheaper cell plan, so it's not too painful for me, but NZ$2200 for a phone is difficult to justify. Or maybe the fact that other models of the same phone cost $NZ2800 makes it look OK!

I have three other criticisms I need to cover here before I go on to the positives...

First, the screen does show some off-axis colour shift, which is annoying at first. I have already got used to it, but for a phone this expensive it is disappointing. I know that this is a characteristic of OLED screens, and that LCD screens show a similar phenomenon, except all colours are affected evenly, but maybe that is something for the OLED screen manufacturers to work on.

Second, the 3.5 mm headphone socket is gone, meaning I have to use the digital lightning connector instead. This is fine except when I want to plug the 'phones into my Mac or iPad. They don't work. So I now need two sets: one for the iPhone and another for the computer and iPad. Not a disaster, but still a small annoyance.

Third, there is something about the materials the phone is made from which makes it want to slowly slip off things and fall on the floor. The glass finish is beautiful, water resistant, and quite robust, but if I sit it on the edge of something like a couch which is not a flat surface it always seems to randomly fall off a few minutes later. Maybe it's the vibration of notifications which does it.

So, with those three (four if you include price) criticisms out of the way, what are the positives?

Well first, it's beautiful. The design is superbly elegant and simple, it's a bit shiny but not too much, and the build quality and materials are superb. This is the epitome of Apple design, where less is more.

Second, it's fast. I mean really fast. The power Apple are packing into these devices now is amazing, and it is at least a generation ahead of any comparable product on the planet. My previous phone was an iPhone 6S Plus, so I have moved ahead a few iterations in processor design, and this is a big boost in performance.

Third, the new interface works really well. The face ID is amazingly accurate. It recognises me in all sorts of light and different conditions, and it has never mistaken anyone else for me. And it works super quickly. It's like having no lock at all, except no one else can use the phone! And the new swipe gestures are much better than a home button once you get used to them, plus the worry of wearing out the home button (a common issue with old iPhones) is gone.

Fourth, the cameras are really good. I am a photography enthusiast and I know that, at the extremes, I still need a dSLR, but the iPhone takes great photos. The twin lens system works brilliantly, the exposure and focus are near faultless, the camera is super fast, and the digital processing works well (I have applied the 12.1 update to fix the front camera problem).

Fifth, the screen. OK, I admit I was skeptical about OLED to begin with, but this isn't a screen, it's a layer of reality on the front of a phone. It's more like a super high quality printed page on ultra-fine paper than a screen. It really is that good... as long as you don't have the phone tilted too much, because there is still the issue of the off-axis colour I mentioned above.

Sixth, it is more waterproof (and dust-proof) than earlier phones, and that seems real based on actual use. Water droplets seem to be repelled from the phone and it's easy to dry off if it gets wet. I haven't been brave enough to try any full immersion tests myself but other users report it survives these fine. But I do feel confident using it as a radio when in the shower!

Finally, there are other highlights too. The sound is better and louder. The screen is bigger than my previous phone, even though the phone itself is noticeably smaller (the screen goes to the edges now). The battery life is good. Obviously I have used it a lot since I got it, including syncing many Gigabytes of data, and the battery still has plenty of life at the end of the day (I always recharge my devices overnight). And the storage options are good. I decided 256G would be enough so didn't get the top capacity of 512G which adds to the cost, of course.

As I finish this post I have remembered a couple of other small issues. The first is that the phone supports wireless charging but Apple doesn't give you a wireless charger. And it would be nice if they included the lightning to 3.5 mm adapter still, too. I mean, they're charging a fortune for this phone so a few little added extras would be appreciated.

Overall, this is a brilliant phone. Sure, if I already have an iPhone X I wouldn't have bothered with the update. If I had an 8 or maybe a 7 I might not have done it either. But coming from a 6S Plus, which is really the lowest level phone which is still useful, it is a major improvement.

Whether it is really worth spending enough to buy a cheap used car is debatable. I guess I would need to spend about the same to get a really good TV or amplifier or camera, so it actually isn't so bad. Maybe the fact that smartphones are so small disguises how amazing they really are. In fact all of that technology in a package so compact is one of the great achievements of modern consumer technology, maybe even the single greatest achievement.

So, NZ$2200 for a phone. Is it worth it? Maybe not, but it might be worth paying that for a true marvel of multi-purpose, miniaturised, modern electronic design, and that's what an iPhone really is.


Comment 1 (4959) by Anonymous on 2018-11-12 at 19:04:48:

Do you have any comments on how waterproof and drop-proof the iPhone is? I'm thinking not so good.


Comment 2 (4960) by OJB on 2018-11-13 at 11:28:54:

Apple say the glass is more resistant to breakage than any other, but it is still glass. If you are likely to drop the phone, get a case. There are some really good ones out there which would mean breaking the phone would be very unlikely.

As far as water resistance is concerned, the XS has an IP68 rating which means it can be submerged in 2 meters of water for 30 minutes. Apple tend to be quite conservative on these ratings so the water resistance is good.

Basically, I use mine without being worried about water, but I am careful not to drop it!


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