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I went to buy an iPhone X. AT&T told me Galaxy Note 8 is better

Commentary: An AT&T salesman tells me it's quite obvious why Samsung's large phone is better than Apple's future of the smartphone.

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


Was I sold? Or unsold?

César Salza/CNET

AT&T just wouldn't let go.

First, it emailed me on iPhone X preordering day: "Krzysztof, your wait for iPhone X is over." 

It wasn't. When I went online, I could order only the 64GB version. And only in silver. 

Still, AT&T persisted. On iPhone launch day, it emailed me twice. 

"Krzysztof, it's time. Order your new iPhone X online today." blared the first email, at 3:43 p.m. PT.

I didn't react. So at 11:23 that night: "Krzysztof, your new iPhone X has arrived!" 

Wait, I'd ordered it without knowing? Not quite. Still, I went online again. And again, I could order only a 64GB.

I still wasn't sure I wanted an iPhone X. I wanted to handle it a lot more, so I had an idea. Why not go along to an AT&T store and see if someone there could sell me on the phone? 

After all, I'd already been to a Verizon store and a Best Buy to see whether Pixel 2 was the perfect choice. And I've generally been fascinated by the sales process of late.

Lights. FaceID. Action.
Off, then, I went to a Bay Area AT&T store. 

The minute I walked in, I was cheerily accosted by a salesman eager to help. I explained that I still had an iPhone 6 and that I was looking for a new phone life. 

I added that AT&T had been emailing me quite consistently. "Apple's probably paying them a lot of money to do that," he said with a chuckle. 

He then showed me the full range of iPhones. Yes, even the SE. He explained that the two iPhone 8 models didn't impress him much.

"What about the X?" I asked.

As in so many stores, it's hard to get a true feel of a phone when it has a security cable attached. Still, the salesman had a different approach from many phone salespeople I've encountered. They always started with the camera and how wonderful it was.

This salesman began with FaceID and how it's a much quicker way to unlock the phone.

"Have you tried it?" I asked.

"No."

"Do you have any phones in the store?" 

He explained that he didn't. Indeed, even if I decided to buy one, he wasn't sure whether I'd get it in December or January. 

"I heard that there were 2 million phones and 4 million preorders," he told me. I hadn't heard that.

So which phone is the best?
He was an extremely engaging character who didn't seem entirely sold on the phone. 

I asked about the glass back and how easily it might break. He glossed over it and explained that even when people came into the store with iPhone problems -- AT&T sends people to the nearest Apple Store, of course -- none were complaining about the iPhone X.

He revealed that he was an iPhone owner, but only because he was so committed to Apple Music. I'd never heard anyone say that before.

"I've been on iTunes since I was in high school," he said. Apple Music was, for him, an extension of that commitment. (But wait, you can get Apple Music on Android now.)

I then asked the simplest question: "Is iPhone X the best phone I can buy?"

"Nah. The Note 8 is better," he replied, with pleasing candor. 

He explained that, for him, what was most important in a phone was the ability to watch movies for free. 

"With Android, I can download apps that let me do that. I can't do that with my iPhone," he said. "And the Note 8 has a really big screen."

"Ah, could I look at one?"

Instead of taking me over to the Samsung area of the store, he simply took one out of his pocket. It turned out to be his work phone. 

"Look," he said. "Here's the big difference. It's the screen. Samsung has been making TVs forever, yeah? So they've perfected it. This new iPhone, it's the first time they've ever done an OLED screen."

I remain fascinated and perplexed
I nodded, while thinking loudly to myself, "Samsung makes the iPhone X screens, doesn't it?"

No, I didn't say it. I was far too mesmerized by the experience to interrupt its flow.

I was, as I have been though all my store visits, impressed with how open salespeople can be. He'd handed me his work phone to play with as I saw fit. He was prepared to give his honest view and even admit that he'd learned about iPhone X by trial and error.

"You don't get more commission if you sell me the Galaxy Note 8 instead of the iPhone X, do you?" I asked.

"Nah. It makes no difference what phone I sell you. We don't make money on the phones. We want to sell you the entertainment that goes on them," he said. 

He did add that very few people are moving from iPhone to Android, even though he insisted that, if you give it time, Android is the better experience.

I asked how much practice he'd had on the iPhone X before it had launched. 

"I learned on the job. At first, I didn't even know how to unlock it," he admitted. He said he'd been given a few details about the new phone beforehand, but he wouldn't characterize it as training.

AT&T didn't respond to a request for comment.

This was just one store visit, yet I heard the same story from this salesman that I'd heard from others. 

"iPhones are for people who want it simple. Androids are for people who are more nerdy. Silicon Valley -- now that's a lot more Android. Here, 90 percent of our business is iPhones," he said.

I want it simple, but I left a touch perplexed by a system that doesn't really let you thoroughly inspect a product and doesn't even provide enough products for customers to hold and enjoy. 

It seems that many people encounter the hype and buy on faith. This is the world of online shopping, after all.

When I got home, I checked my emails. AT&T had written again. No, it wasn't about the iPhone X. 

Instead, it read: "Krzysztof. The new AT&T THANKS app is your access to exclusive benefits."

AT&T wanted to thank me? Why, that's nice.

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