One of the most daring and expensive phones of 2017, the iPhone X has some great design and software features that attempt to justify the stratospheric $1,000 price. It’s got ultraslim bezels and an all-screen face, an excellent camera and cutting-edge face-scanning technology. – Five iPhone X Features I absolutely love
Of course, the iPhone X has more than a few maddening feature flaws that make me shake my head in disappointment, but after using the X for over two months, I’ve come to really love some of the subtler changes. They successfully make it much smoother and more useful than previous iPhones. And when you’re using the phone for hours a day, every day, even small conveniences add up.
Here are the five that made the biggest impression on me, plus one runner-up that needs a little work.
Lock screen notifications for your eyes only
Your notifications and alerts aren’t anyone’s business but your own, which is what makes this anti-Peeping Tom feature so great.
Give the lock screen a sidelong glance and your list of notifications simply shows you the apps that are alerting you: Gmail, text, Facebook Messenger and so on.
But when the iPhone X’s depth-sensing Face ID camera recognizes you, the details of the alert fill in. You suddenly see the sender and the actual message; either the full text if it’s short or an excerpt if it’s long.
When Android phones begin adding similar advanced face-scanning technology — remember, Qualcomm is making this technology available to all phones that use its Snapdragon 845 chipset — I expect to see them adopt this approach, too.
Face ID saves time logging into websites
Face ID doesn’t always work when I want it to, but when it does, it can whisk me right into password-protected websites such as Amazon and my bank. That saves me from having to type my password a million times. It works similarly to registering your fingerprint to access a site — except you literally never have to lift a finger.
This is a feature you opt in to, so you don’t have to use it if you prefer tight password control. You can also use Face ID to authenticate purchases, but that’ll happen on a seller-by-seller basis.
Fancy portrait selfies
With the iPhone X, Apple wants you to take even more portrait shots.
Both the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X give you new portrait lighting options (in beta) to give bokeh-effect photos some additional theatrical drama. But only the iPhone X extends the same courtesies to the front-facing camera.
Flip over to selfie mode and you’re able to tap Portrait to gently blur the background and make your mug pop. You’ll also be able to choose from lighting options: natural, studio, contour, stage and stage light mono. These can make a big difference in rounding out your self-portrait.
One thing to keep in mind: While Apple uses two rear cameras to achieve portrait mode on the iPhone X, 8 Plus and 7 Plus, portrait mode selfies rely on a single camera lens, assisted by software. Don’t expect the same level of quality and detail as dual-camera portrait mode.
Easier app switching
The typical way to flip from one open app to another is to swipe up from the iPhone X’s bottom edge until a carousel of apps appears, and then swipe right to leaf through those.
Another way that I find faster is to place your finger at the edge of the bottom bezel and then flick right. That opens your latest apps in full-screen mode — the above carousel method shows you shrunken “thumbnail” versions that you can then expand once you’ve selected the one you want. This is especially useful if you want to go to an app you opened immediately before.
Tap to wake
Taking a page from Android phones, the iPhone X introduces tap-to-wake features, which means that when the screen is locked, you can tap the display to see the lock screen. (You can also raise the phone to wake the iPhone 6S and newer models, and the iPhone SE.)
When your iPhone’s buddied up to you on a table or desk, tap-to-wake is a convenient way to see the time and date or the battery and Wi-Fi status. Plus you can peep your (obscured) notifications without having to unlock the phone, or even lift it.
Runner-up: Maps navigation shortcut
When you’re in Google or Apple Maps, in the phone app or in voice memos and open any other app, a colored indicator bubble appears around the iPhone X’s clock.
You can tap this bubble from any screen you’re in to immediately return to your ongoing navigation, phone call or voice memo. It’s a terrific, time-saving shortcut that I absolutely love.
The only problem is that once you’re back in the navigation, voice memo or wherever, you can’t tap the same space to toggle back to what you were doing before.
Here’s a good example of why you might want to toggle between two screens. Say you’re navigating for someone, and most of the route is freeway driving. You may want to pop out of the navigation to read an article then pop back in to give the driver prompts about the next turn (“5 more miles, then exit Page Mill Road”).
The missing step is getting back to whatever you were doing before. Instead of being able to press the same shortcut button to flip back to your other task, you’ll have to swipe out of the map and open your browser again or use one of the above task-switching methods. None of this is hard, but once you get used to a timesaving shortcut, you’ll absolutely want to use it both ways.
Apple could have pushed just a little harder to make this feature that much better. Let’s hope two-way shortcuts make it to the next iPhone.