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iPhone XS: 9 biggest annoyances and how to fix them

There tips might make you love your iPhone XS, XS Max and XR more.

Angela Lang/CNET

It's been over a year since Apple released the first iPhone ($1,000 at Amazon) without a home button, the iPhone X, and switched to gesture controls. We now have the iPhone XiPhone XSiPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR that all rely on gesture navigation and facial recognition to unlock the phone and move around. Whether you just upgraded from an older iPhone or made the switch from Android, it's easy to get annoyed with an unfamiliar system. 

Maybe the Face ID facial recognition software won't unlock your phone when it should, or you're trying to figure out how to turn off your iPhone or take a screenshot? Let's look at how to deal with the most common annoyances in any iPhone that ends in "X."

Face ID seems to be delayed

iphone-x-face-id-reconociemiento-sensores

Speed up the unlock process by swiping up on the screen. 

Apple

If your phone isn't unlocking as fast as you think it should, you might just be waiting a little longer than necessary. When you tap or raise the iPhone, or press the wake button on the side, you see a little padlock near the top of the screen. After your face is recognized, the lock opens -- which takes a second or two -- allowing you to swipe up and get to work.

But guess what? You don't have to wait until you see the padlock perform its little animated opening. In my experience, Face ID actually works faster than that, meaning you can swipe up almost immediately after the screen turns on. There may be a split-second delay while Face ID finishes, er, ID-ing, but it definitely eliminates that "padlock pause."

Face ID struggles to work when you change your appearance

Changing your appearance or wearing sunglasses can affect Face ID's accuracy.

Wearing a hat, changing your hairstyle, or altering your appearance can all impact how easily Face ID recognizes you. It can be frustrating when Face ID suddenly refuses to unlock your phone and instead asks for your PIN code. But, in fact, that's a good thing. 

When Face ID asks for your PIN code and you enter it, your iPhone learns from that and tweaks how it identifies you. In other words, it gets smarter each time it fails, as long as you enter your passcode when prompted. 

However, if you routinely change your appearance and you want Face ID to just work, you can register that look with Face ID as an alternate appearance. 

On your iPhone, open Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Set up an Alternate Appearance

Face ID doesn't like sunglasses

One of the security features of Face ID is that it refuses to unlock your phone unless it detects that your eyes are open and looking at your phone. If you're wearing sunglasses and the True Depth camera system can't see your eyes, your phone won't unlock. 

To get around this, you can disable the added security feature. Open Settings > Face ID & Passcode and slide the switch next to Require Attention for Face ID to the Off position. 

Keep in mind that disabling this feature means someone with access to your phone can use your face to unlock it when you're sleeping, for example.

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Face ID doesn't work when my phone is on a table

Arguably the biggest Face ID-fail of all: You can't unlock your iPhone XS, XS Max or XR when it's lying flat on a table -- not without swiping up and then waiting a few seconds for the passcode keypad to appear.

Otherwise, it leads to the inevitable "Face ID frown," which is where you lean awkwardly over the screen and frown at having to do so, thereby reducing the chance Face ID will accurately recognize your face.

If you spend most of your time at a desk, there's a pretty good fix for this problem, one that kills two birds with one stone: Get a Qi charging stand. Not a charging pad, mind you, which keeps your phone sitting flat, but a stand. That way you can position the phone so it's facing your face, and therefore much easier to unlock.

Notifications are hidden by default

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Any iOS device with Face ID hides the contents of your lock screen notifications by default. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Part and parcel of the Face ID issue is that you can't see notifications at a glance -- not until your face is recognized. This is a security feature, enabled by default, and some would say it's a smart one. But it can also be incredibly annoying when you just want your alerts, damnit.

Fortunately, it's easy enough to toggle off. Just tap Settings > Notifications > Show Previews, then choose Always

Remember that after doing so, your notifications will appear with previews even when your phone is locked. 

I miss the Home button!

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AssistiveTouch brings back a digital home button. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Could I interest you in a virtual substitute? iOS has long offered this option in the form of AssistiveTouch, but iPhone "X" users are really embracing it.

The feature adds an omnipresent "soft" button to your screen, one you can drag and drop just about anywhere you like: off to the side, into a corner or right near the bottom where the old Home button used to be.

Even better, it can perform different functions depending on whether you single-tap, double-tap, long-press or 3D Touch. One of those functions is a pop-up menu that can be used to quickly access even more functions (like Control Center, SOS and screenshot).

To enable it, tap Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch, then toggle it on. To customize the aforementioned pop-up menu, tap Customize Top Level Menu.

My thumb can't reach the far reaches of the screen

It takes some practice, but using Reachability is an easy way to reach stuff at the top of the iPhone's screen.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

This has actually been an issue since the iPhone got Plus-sized, which is why Apple added the Reachability feature: A double-tap of the Home button would bring the top of the screen down near the bottom, thus making it more thumb-accessible.

Of course, the iPhone XS and company have no Home button, so the feature is now gesture-controlled: You swipe down at the very bottom edge of the screen. If this feature isn't enabled on your phone, tap Settings > General > Accessibility, then toggle Reachability on.

I miss my headphone jack!

OK, so this isn't an iPhone-specific problem; it's also an iPhone 7 ($640 at Walmart) and iPhone 8 ($660 at Walmart) problem. But if you skipped those two models and came from, say, an iPhone 6 ($182 at Walmart), the lack of jack can be jarring.

Fortunately, you don't have to give up your favorite headphones; Apple used to supply a dongle that lets you plug them into the Lightning port. And because the iPhone XS can charge wirelessly, using that dongle doesn't have to be at the expense of charging. You'll need to purchase the Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle from Apple for $9 if you want to go that route. 

Need a place to keep that little adapter so it's always available? Check out this dongle keychain accessory. Normally I'd also recommend picking up some extra dongles in case yours goes missing, but there are few MFi-certified adapters in the current crop of clones -- most of which have very poor ratings.

There are, of course, other options, including Bluetooth audio adapters, Lightning-compatible headphones and so on. Check them out in this roundup of headphone-jack alternatives (which focuses on the iPhone 7, but definitely applies here as well).

The old ways of doing things don't work anymore!

CNET

Want to take a screenshot? Reset your phone? Close an app? Invoke Siri? Uh, yeah, good luck doing any of that on an iPhone XS. You can, of course, just not in the ways you're accustomed to.

To quote everyone's favorite Jedi master, you must unlearn what you have learned. Because there's no longer a Home button, certain functions have been rejiggered and/or relocated. Here's a quick primer:

  • Turn off the phone: Press and hold either volume button and the sleep/wake button for about two seconds. You'll feel the phone vibrate and then see an onscreen menu that includes the old "Slide to power off" slider. (This is also where you access Medical ID and Emergency SOS.)
  • Reset the phone: Press volume-up, then volume-down, then press and hold the wake button until the Apple logo appears. (Then release that button.) You have to do all this in fairly rapid succession: press-press-hold.
  • Take a screenshot: Simultaneously press and release the volume-up and wake buttons.
  • Invoke Siri: Press and hold the wake button for about two seconds.
  • Close apps: Swipe up from the bottom of the screen, but keep your finger in place for about two seconds. Now you'll see all your open apps represented on a carousel of "cards." Scroll left or right till you find the one you want to close, then press and hold on it for a second or two. You'll see a red icon with a white stripe; tap it to close that app. (Repeat with any other apps you might want to close.)

For a complete guide to the iPhone's gesture navigation, check out this post.

Originally published Dec. 20, 2017. 

Updated April 8, 2019: Updated with additional information.