Three months with the iPhone XS

Now that I’ve had my new iPhone XS for a few of months I feel like I’ve used it enough to have an informed opinion on it. Rather than burying the lede, I’ll start out by saying I really like this phone.

I’m coming from an iPhone 7, so many of the features that make me like the XS so much aren’t really “new”, though they are new to me. First and foremost is Face ID. This has been awesome. It really is like going back to the days of my iPhone 3G when I didn’t have a passcode on my phone: just slide to unlock.

Face ID has been pretty close to 100% reliable for me. The only situation where I consistently have issues is when I’m not wearing my glasses or contacts (at night in bed, for example). My vision is quite bad so when I’m operating without corrective lenses I end up holding the phone very close to my face; too close for the Face ID sensors to work correctly. Once I remember to hold the phone further away at a more normal viewing distance it will unlock. The only other time I had issues was one morning where it simple failed immediately every time I tried to authenticate (a reboot got it back to normal).

Contrast this with Touch ID, which was usable, but never great. I often had to put my finger on the sensor several times before it would unlock. If my hands were too wet or too dry, the fingerprint sensor wouldn’t read correctly. In particular, during a trip to Montana last fall the cold weather dried out my hands dried out so much that my success rate with Touch ID plummeted pretty much to zero. In contrast, when I went out there on a hunting trip this year just after getting the new phone I didn’t have any issues. The only time it failed to unlock was when I had my face covered on a very cold morning.

I’d been anticipating that Face ID would be a really big feature of the iPhone XS for me. The impact of Qi charging has been more of a surprise. Initially I was skeptical about the utility of wireless charging, but since it was a feature of my new phone I decided to give it a go. It’s surprising how much easier it makes it to top off my phone. Plugging in the cable was just one more point of friction that I don’t have to deal with any more.

At this point I’ve got three Qi chargers. One sits on my nightstand and charges my phone overnight. While this Anker charger isn’t the least expensive, it offers the ability to turn off the light that indicates the phone is charging, which is important to me in a bedside accessory.

I’ve also got Qi charging stands that hold the phone up at a nice viewing angle on my desk at home and at work. I initially bought an Anker charging stand for my desk at work. Unfortunately, the stand is tall enough that it contacts the camera bump so the phone sits somewhat unsteadily in it (this probably wouldn’t be a problem with the XS Max). I brought the Anker stand home and replaced it with this charger from Samsung. The circular design means the camera bump clears the top of the stand, making it much steadier (the rubberized material on the stand helps too). I use the one at work quite a bit. The one at home, not so much, in part due to the inferior stand, in part because I just don’t have as much call to constantly have my phone out on my desk when I’m at home. Both stands hold the phone at an angle that makes Face ID fairly easy to use.

The XS’ camera is definitely an upgrade from the iPhone 7. This is the first dual-lens phone camera that I’ve had, and I’ve found the 2x lens quite useful. On the other hand, I don’t really get much out of portrait mode, largely because I take few pictures of people. The front-facing camera on my phones has never gotten much use, and the one on the iPhone XS is no different (aside from FaceID).

Frankly, I thought going to the OLED screen would be a bigger deal. I’d heard lots of great things about the iPhone X screen. It’s a nice screen, but in day to day use I don’t really notice it. The notch doesn’t really bother me. I think part of this is because my phone spends the vast majority of it’s time in a portrait orientation.

I’ve always been a “small phone” guy. I really think the iPhone 5 was about the ideal size for a smartphone, largely because I primarily use my phone one-handed (if they made an iPhone X style phone in that size I’d be all over it). Like the iPhone 6/7 size phones the XS is a bit large for my taste, but workable. It’s still mostly a one-handed device for me, but I do find myself bringing up a second hand to help stabilize the phone more often. This is not so much because the phone itself is bigger than the iPhone 7, but because the larger screen means some things are a longer reach.

I’ve gotten used to the new gestures and the lack of a home button. Tap to wake is great and swiping to go home works well. I really like the ability to swipe right or left on the home indicator to switch between apps. It makes quick app switching much more accessible on the phone than it was on the iPhone 7.

Finally, this is a very nice looking phone. This is the first time since my original iPhone 3G that I’ve bought a white iPhone (all of my others have been space gray or black). I like the look of the pearlescent white back and the stainless steel outer band. Mine is currently careless (though I do have a screen protector on the front glass, as well as Apple Care).

Overall, I really like the iPhone XS. I know a lot of folks weren’t all that excited by it, but coming from the iPhone 7 it’s been a very worthwhile upgrade. Well worth the cost.