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Is iPhone X best? Searching for Apple store staff who think so

Commentary: After visiting carrier stores where employees weren't iPhone X fans, it was time to go to Apple stores. It didn't go quite as I'd imagined.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Do we have a winner?

Jason Cipriani/CNET

I'd become like Don Quixote.

I'd walk into carrier stores, tilt at the windmills of the staff's expertise and ask whether the iPhone X was the best phone I could buy.

In visits to all the major carriers -- and Best Buy -- I couldn't even find a salesperson to tell me it was the best iPhone I could buy.

What to do? Go to an Apple store for reassurance, I was told by Apple salespeople.

Surely, I'd get my deliverance, with passionate Applepersons in red shirts gushing over the future of the smartphone. Or is it the smartphone of the future?

Or is it, I worried, just another phone?

Sadly, my quest wasn't a simple one.

'Well, it depends'

My first visit to a Bay Area Apple store was just before Christmas.

I was there to buy a gift, but soon I ended up chatting about phones with the salesman.

He showed me his X and said he liked it a lot.

But is it the best phone?

"Well, it depends on what you like," he said, somewhat coyly. "The biggest problem I have with it is using Face ID for Apple Pay. You really have to put the phone at a certain angle or it doesn't work."

He started with a problem. I was already suspicious.

I was in something of a hurry, but I asked him: "So are you selling a lot more of these than other phones?"

He turned into a high-ranking member of a political party. 

"All our phones sell well," he said.

Which sounded not entirely reassuring. Indeed, it sounded like a "no."

Actually, it's the same as the iPhone 8

My next trip, to a different Bay Area Apple store, was caused by Apple and the infamous battery crisis.

Apple had admitted slowing down older phones and neglected to tell customers about it.

So I made an appointment to change the battery on my iPhone 6.

I was greeted by a slightly surly man who sat me down and told me that if my battery needed replacing, they might not have the parts, so I'd have to come back again.

Still, when the Genius arrived, things picked up. He tested my battery. It was in remarkably good condition. (I must tell my doctor.) And then I asked him whether, even though my 6 was apparently functional, I should trade up to the X.

"The X and the 8 are the same phone," he said.

"They are?"

"Inside, I mean. With the X, you're just paying the extra money for the design."

"Ah."

Wait, but what about Face ID? What about animoji? What about the smartphone of the future?

He pulled out his X.

My eyes thought they were witnessing something created by the elderly Spanish parishioner who, some years ago, tried to restore a precious Jesus Christ fresco and turned it into an artistic catastrophe.

Here was this beautiful phone wrapped in an dirty-pink case that was uglier than a Cleveland Browns loss.

"Yeah," he said, a touch sheepishly. "I already cracked it. I've had it four weeks."

"So you're saying that this phone that I should only buy for its design needs to be covered up to survive?"

"Yeah."

"But are you selling more of the X than you are of, say, the 8?"

"I think the X is doing better. Yeah, I think so," he said.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Finally, a true believer

So I went to yet another Bay Area Apple store.

I stood over the display table, comparing my 6 to an X.

A salesman came over and I asked him whether iPhone X really is the best iPhone I can buy.

"Yes," he said, with absolute candor.

At last. This, to me, was a stunning occurrence. It was the first time I'd heard such positivity about the X during a sales experience.

"But isn't the X just the same as the 8?" I asked.

"The 8 is just an upgraded version of your 6," he said. "Let me show you why the X is so much better."

At this, he put an 8 and X side by side. He showed me the difference in screen size. He put the same images on the two screens and clearly demonstrated the glory of the X's OLED.

He showed me the two cameras on the back. Though, incidentally, he had no idea why the two cameras on the back were vertical, while the two on the back of the 8 Plus are horizontal.

"I think it's just to make them different," was his conclusion.

Still, he was so intent at convincing me that the X is the best that he pulled out his own. Apple store employees like to do that, I've noticed.

He explained that Face ID is far more reliable than Touch ID.

Is it secure?

"People tell me they're worried about the government getting hold of their face. I ask them: 'Do you have a driver's license?' The government's already got your face exactly where it wants it."

He then showed me how he pays his bills with his face on his phone. I hope I'm not betraying any secrets here when I tell you he had more than one bank account.

I noticed, though, that his phone was in a case. At least this one was a simple black.

I know at least two people who are members of my personal anti-case religion. We believe that putting a phone in a case is like surrounding your car with mattress foam.

"It's glass," he explained. "You'll definitely need a case."

"But what about not being able to see the lovely phone?"

"Get a see-through case," he said and smiled, as if this was surely his coup-de-grace.

I confess that, as he went through every aspect of the phone, calmly and methodically -- he adores charging his phone wirelessly by his bed -- I was warming to his sell.

He had at least as much belief in the X as carrier store employees have in almost every phone but the X.

"So are you selling more of these than the 8 and 8 Plus?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," he said.

I wanted to believe him. Perhaps one day soon, data will support his assertion -- one that some analysts are currently questioning.

I was grateful for his civility and his enthusiasm.

And, most of all, for the fact that he didn't mention animoji even once. (A T-Mobile salesman had told me it was one of the only two reasons to buy the X.)

But whom should I believe? The genius or the salesman?