iPhone X: The five worst features in Apple's best phone

There’s a lot to like, but Apple needs to rethink some things for 2018's iPhones.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
7 min read
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For well over two months, my days have ended and begun with the iPhone X . Compared to older iPhones, the X feels impressively fast, slim and, with 5.8 inches of screen space, satisfyingly spacious. But as I've grown to appreciate some of its finer points, I've also discovered the traits that make me roll my eyes, gnash my teeth and occasionally erupt with a well-chosen expletive.

The funny thing is that almost all of these ire-inducing "quirks" stem from Apple's redesign of the iPhone X, which removed the home button and installed a bunch of swipes and taps to cover all navigation bases.

On one hand, Face ID and gestures prove that iPhone users can live without a home button. On the other, learning the ropes takes time, and the swipey stand-ins don't always make a lot of sense. Some iPhone X gestures feel half-baked.

So here we go, my five personal worst iPhone X navigation offenders. Stay tuned for a future piece on some of the things I truly do love about the iPhone X.

Watch this: Five annoying things about the iPhone X

Face ID never works when I most need it

Face ID, Apple's replacement for the secure fingerprint reader, uses the iPhone X's front-facing camera to approve mobile purchases and unlock the phone.

It works by making a 3D map of your eyes, nose and mouth -- except when it doesn't. Face ID recognizes me often, but fails enough times to make me notice. For example, I have about a 50-50 success rate while wearing my polarized sunglasses.

Face ID doesn't work when your face is stuffed in a pillow.


When it doesn't work is when I want it to most: as soon as I wake up in the morning. Part of the problem is biological. I'm near-sighted, which means that when I first reach for the phone while my glasses and contacts are resting in their cases, I wind up holding the phone closer to my face than the 25 to 50 centimeters that Apple recommends

And then there's the fact that in my groggy morning state, I'm lying on my side with either one eye closed, or my face buried in my pillow.

There's no way Face ID is boring its way through that, and it's not Apple's fault.

What is Apple's fault is that the iPhone X doesn't have a satisfying backup plan to my morning squinty-eye. With Face ID, you don't get an immediate second chance to biometrically unlock the phone, not the way you do when the fingerprint scanner on a home button fails; you just tap it again. 

No such luck here. You can wait some long seconds only to have to try again, or lock and unlock the phone to kickstart a new Face ID scan.

More often than not, I wind up typing in my 6-digit password, which is faster than waiting for Face ID to maybe or maybe not unlock. This gets annoying when you do it multiple times a day, every day. I'd love a biometric backup, or a faster do-over time if Face ID misses the scan the first time around.

Tip from David S.: "Regarding Face ID, you can re-drive a biometric check by "wiggling" the home bar after a failure. Just move it up and down slightly and quickly and it should re-check."

Tip from Jonathan K.: "One trick to fix some failures is to swipe up and then down on your unlock screen while holding your finger down the whole time. This allows you to unlock notifications without opening your home screen." 

Bleh battery life

If you're switching from an older iPhone with battery life that can barely hobble through a single day (especially if Apple did this), the iPhone X is a fantastic upgrade. At least at first.


The iPhone X will last longer than your old iPhone, but not as long as a $1,000 handset should.

James Martin/CNET

After two months, I noticed a steep battery decline. Of course your charge will take a hit every time you stream music or video, or use navigation. That's life with a phone. But even on days when I didn't engage these things, I found myself topping up the power reserves before going out for the night, unconvinced my phone would make it through the evening activities.

When you live on your phone -- texting, looking up stuff online, reading e-books -- that uncertainty makes the difference between a device you can trust and one you have to constantly manage.

This isn't just anecdotal, either. In CNET's looping-video tests, the iPhone X lasted just shy of 11.5 hours average after 9 tests. That's two hours less than the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus results with the same test, and six hours less than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (17.5 hours).

Anecdotally, it lasts longer than the iPhone 8 in real-life use, but peters out before the 8 Plus loses steam.

These time windows don't seem so short in a vacuum, but when you compare the results across the board, the iPhone X -- the most expensive mainstream phone you can buy -- drains as quickly as some midrange phones that cost less than half the price, if not faster.

To make matters more frustrating, Apple hides the iPhone X battery percentage meter; it isn't visible at a glance. Instead, you have to swipe down from the top of the phone on the right side of the notch to call up the Control Center. Only then can you keep a detailed tab on how much juice you have left.

Maps navigation shortcut only goes one way

Enlarge Image

Tap this to get back to your ongoing Google Maps navigation.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I use maps navigation quite a lot. When you pop out of either Google Maps or Apple Maps to do something else, the iPhone X helpfully puts a tiny blue Tic Tac around the clock, turning it into a nifty little button you can tap to pop back into the map again.

This is great, but Apple stops short. See, you can toggle from any app back into the map, but you can't toggle from the map back to what you were doing before. So if you're reading an article, you can pop into the map to check on the directions (using the shortcut) but won't be able to return to the story (no shortcut).

When you get used to pressing that shortcut button a couple dozen times during a long trip, you'll be cursing Apple that it only goes one way. Yes, there are other ways to return to a previous app (like swiping right on the bottom bezel of the screen). 

The main point is that Apple is training you to tap a space to do one half of a task. Why ask you to apply a completely different muscle memory to get back? Hopefully a future version of the software will make toggling a two-way street.

By the way, the shortcut also works with the phone app (the button turns green), voice memos (red) and some third-party apps.

Is the alarm on or what?

I'm an inveterate nervous-alarm-setter, even on weekends. I just can't relax unless I know I won't oversleep (yes, I have problems).

That doesn't stop me from waking up bleary-eyed in the middle of the night second-guessing if I set the alarm for the right time, or even set it at all. I would like to be able to glance at the iPhone X and immediately see the alarm clock icon reassure me, before drifting back to sleep.

This is how it was pre-iPhone X and still is on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Yet for some reason, Apple has decided to bury this information. You can still see it -- and your remaining battery percentage -- but you have to pull down the Control Center first.

I don't want to mess with my phone at 4am. I don't want to swipe a screen or use more brain cells than I have to. In short, I don't want to do anything that could wake me up and make falling back asleep harder than it needs to be.

But the biggest problem is…

The first iPhone was so beloved because -- in a world of hard-to-use phones that acted like mini computers with file systems, keyboards and styluses -- it was simple. Anyone could pick it up and figure it out.

10 years on, you can't use the iPhone X without a tutorial, which Apple does provide. Things that should be easy are complex. For example, don't you swipe up on the camera icon to open it from the lock screen? No, you hard-press and then release it, a change from the previous version, or swipe right.

In other words, you have to know how to interact with the button -- which has changed from the previous version -- or know how to gesture, in order to open it. That's not a good user experience, especially for a company that's made simplicity and ease of use its watchword. 

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Ten years on, the iPhone X is rife with hidden gestures you just have to know, including powering down the phone.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

A few more examples. Apple's also changed the buttons you press to take a screenshot and power down the phone. If you mess this up, you might find yourself accidentally calling 911. 

You have to know which side of the Notch to swipe for the quick-controls in Control Center (the right side) and which to swipe for your notifications (the left). And now, you double-press the lock button to finish installing an app and hold it down to fire up Siri .

While these changes are absolutely learnable, and even become second-nature over time, the iPhone X's navigability is a far cry from the logical layout that made the iPhone stand out from every other phone of its day.

It's not that I wish the iPhone X reverted to the stripped-down style of the original iPhone. It's that Apple, in paving the way with some new technologies, had the opportunity to rethink how we use a phone, and wound up making it more complicated to use -- not less.

Update Jan. 28 at 6:34 p.m. PT: Added user tips.

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