iPhone X Mini Review: Are We There Yet?

Reviewers are right that iPhone X is a fork in road. It separates all iPhones up to this point and all that comes hereafter. Reviewers are being forked as well: the older grayer geek squad will continue to write long form reviews, but as Apple already knows the younger YouTube generation are getting their opinions elsewhere. Walt Mossberg knew it was the right time to retire.

Reviewers are also right that iPhone X is alluring, beguiling, delightful and feels new like the very first time you got your hands on iPhone but with insanely faster speed and snap. I have owned every iPhone since 3G but none of them went from teething to essential as fast as X.

The screen is the fork writ large, buttonless, rounded edge to rounded edge. As Horace Dediu astutely points out in his Critical Path podcast, the square corner screen is dead. From here on screens will be containers filling ever more mutable spaces. I can only agree this is the direction Apple will go. And just like Horace feels, watching a movie in full screen notch mode is not like watching a movie, it’s like holding a movie in your hands.

Going from iPhone 7 Plus to X is weird. Things are bigger and smaller at the same time, my brain sizes the outline as smaller, my thumbs size the keyboard as bigger. The Japanese flick keyboard feels better than ever but the roman keyboard takes some thumb practice because my eye is still used to the wider iPhone 7 Plus black screen border area.

It will take a little more time for my brain and thumbs to completely connect but even now I would not go back to the larger iPhone 7 Plus size. X feels just right.

Shutter Sound
The infamous Japanese iPhone shutter sound is slightly louder to my ears on X than iPhone 7. The robust X speakers are the likely reason. I thought the sound was a bit too loud until I went on a weekend outing with an elderly co-worker who had just purchased a Docomo brand smartphone marketed for “Rojin,”The shutter sound was so soft that she repeatedly pressed the camera button thinking the camera was not working right. To her ears the iPhone X shutter sound was just right.

Suica and Face ID
Face ID-Apple Pay is also two colliding things at once. This is best encapsulated by the ‘what the heck?’ feel of activating Apple Pay via the side button double click. The new gesture is slightly disorienting at first but once you are in Face ID authorization is smoother and faster because it’s continuous. Continuous is the secret sauce that makes it magic.

My main Wallet card is a JCB Bic Camera View but occasionally I need to bring up my Express Transit Suica to deal with an uncooperative old reader that demands authorization. Touch ID was a pain for this kind of two step- bring up main card switch to Suica- operation but Face ID makes it fast and easy. One interesting thing I ran across is that when Face ID locks out and demands a passcode, Suica Express Transit is turned off until Face ID is up and running again.

The Suica NFC reader errors addressed in the JR East notice on November 8, and the timing, suggest it’s a iPhone X issue not an iPhone 8 one. As noted previously some older NFC readers, particularly UT1-Neo readers, have very tiny optimum hit areas due to small/poor antenna designs. I suspect the iPhone X NFC antenna design is different enough from iPhone 7/8 to cause occasional reader errors. To date only the UT1-Neo readers have caused problems for my iPhone X.

Suica Express Transit was already my favorite Apple Pay method with iPhone 7 Plus because it dispenses with Touch ID. Smartphone Journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa already declared Suica the best card for Apple Pay in iPhone X but I think he and the Japanese users praising it on Twitter are simply rediscovering the convenience of Apple Pay Suica that was there all along. Double clicking the sleep-wake button will become as natural as double clicking the home button, eventually.

There is one legitimate Japanese complaint about Face ID: it doesn’t work when you wear a mask. Lots of Japanese wear masks during the flu and pollen seasons on train commutes and at work, and are mandatory wear for many students. For that reason alone Touch ID iPhones will remain the go to choice for many Japanese, at least until the TrueDepth camera evolves magic X-ray like scanning capability.

That future has yet to arrive but rest of the future is here, for the rest of us.