I went to buy an iPhone X. T-Mobile told me it wasn't worth it

Commentary: A visit to a T-Mobile store reveals some very particular feelings about Apple's new phone.

Chris Matyszczyk
5 min read

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

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Not worth it?

César Salza / CNET

I think of T-Mobile most often when I see it's insulted Verizon and when I see someone wear a pink tutu at a party.

Still, it's presented itself very well over the last couple of years as the carrier that thinks most about customers, especially with its push toward unlimited data.

Could it possibly be the store that would guide me toward buying the right phone?

Regular readers might know that I've been visiting various retailers to see how they present different phones to customers. You know, in person.

I've been to both a Verizon store and a Best Buy to learn about Pixel 2. In both cases, I was guided toward a Samsung Galaxy.

I went to an AT&T store, where I was told that the Galaxy Note 8 was a better phone than the iPhone X. 

What would T-Mobile tell me? 

I was moved to visit, as the carrier offered a 2-for-1 promotion on the iPhone 8 last week

Did this mean that T-Mobile was selling so many iPhone X's that it was desperate to get rid of the lesser upgrade from last year's phone? 

Was iPhone X the phone that would tear me away from my trusty, now slightly rusty-looking iPhone 6?

I went to a San Francisco Bay Area T-Mobile store to find out. 

It all started well enough

A sprightly salesman approached me as I looked over the iPhone range.

I showed him my iPhone 6. He didn't sneer. This was a good start. Not everyone looks so kindly on old phones in the Bay Area.

He swiftly dismissed the iPhone 8 as a minor upgrade. 

"You've got wireless charging, faster processor and you've got the glass back. But it's pretty much the same phone as the one you've got," he said.

"But wait. Don't you have a 2-for-1 promotion going on for these right now?"

"That ended Monday. We've got a 2-for-1 on the Samsungs, but not on the 8's."

Was this the moment I was going to be told Samsungs were better? Not yet, it seemed.

"Oh, so did you have the promotion because you needed to get rid of a lot of 8's?" I asked.

"No," he replied, a little too quickly. "It was just a promotion."

I then asked him about the iPhone X. He couldn't show me how Face ID works, because each phone can only work with one person's face. 

He insisted, though, that it was secure. "I think there's a million-to-one chance that someone else's face will open your phone," he said.

iPhone X? It's not worth the extra 200 bucks

Then things took a strange turn.

He suddenly volunteered that it took more time to get to all your apps on the X than it did with the iPhone 8 Plus.

"With the 8 Plus, you just double-click on the home button and, look, there they all are," he said. "With iPhone X, it's messier." He showed me how much messier, as he made several gestures to achieve the same effect.

So the future of the smartphone takes you back in time, not forward?

"A lot of people aren't buying the X because they miss the home button," he said. "Look, there's not much difference between the X and the 8 Plus. The camera's the same, the screen size is almost the same. All the iPhone people in this store upgraded to an 8 Plus, not an X."


"Because they didn't think the X was worth the extra 200 bucks."

I confess to being surprised. I've enjoyed the candor of all the salespeople I've talked to. But here was one who was trying to sell me what most people would tell me is a lesser phone.

"So why do people buy the iPhone X?"

"One of the biggest reasons is the animojis," he said, with something of a chuckle. These require your facial features from Face ID and animate them into, say, a unicorn or a pile of excreta. A pile of singing excreta, if you want to enjoy animoji karaoke.

"But these are just younger people, right?"

"No, all ages. It's incredible."

And the best phone is...the one that's dead

"So which phone do you think is the best?" I asked.

"For me, the Note 8," he said, without hesitation. "I had an iPhone for a while when the Note 7 thing happened. But when the Note 8 came out, I went straight back to it."

He explained that, for him, Android was better because he could "do more" with it, especially download free apps. I'd heard this from several salespeople. This one loved the Note 8's big screen.

It was then that he admitted his Note 8 had died just before Thanksgiving. "Just totally dead," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

He had a temporary phone but would be going straight back to a new Note 8 shortly, he said.

Now that was brand loyalty. And no, unlike staff in other carrier stores, he said he didn't get a work phone from T-Mobile.

"So are you saying I should get a Note 8?" I asked. "Isn't it hard to switch from iOS to Android?"

"It's simple," he replied. "We do it all here for you."

This was an incentive I hadn't heard before. But he stopped short of telling me I should go Android.

"You should stick with iPhones," he concluded, with a tinge of pity. "It's what you know." 

OK. So, finally, which iPhone?

This salesman was utterly charming, if occasionally distracted by a sudden influx of customers in the store. 

He took me over to the iPhone comparison chart to make his final pitch.

"See here. With the 8 Plus, you even get one hour's more browsing than you do with the X," he said. (This is true. 13 vs. 12.)

He could see I wasn't quite convinced.

"What it comes down to is this," he said. "If you take a lot of selfies and you like animojis, get an X. If you don't, get an 8 Plus."

He got pulled away by another customer and became so involved with that customer that I ended up leaving the store. 

And I underline, as always, that this was just one visit to one store.

On the plus side, he hadn't tried to move me over to Android, as salespeople in other stores had. On the 8 Plus side, he seemed determined that the big, but not so novel, phone was right for me.

I asked T-Mobile whether salespeople are incentivized to sell certain phones at certain times. The company declined to comment.

Was he trying to sell me the phone he thought would be best for me? Or was he trying to sell me the phone he wanted to sell me? That's the real-life customer dilemma. 

I dwelt on this for a moment, before another thought invaded: At no store has a salesperson told me the iPhone X is the best phone or even, in this case, the best iPhone. Even though my colleague Scott Stein, who knows about these things, insists it is definitely the latter.

That's a little odd, isn't it?