Update (original story below): the real review embargo has been lifted, and it turns out Apple gave reviewers only 24 hours between handing over the phone and lifting the embargo. This raised another red flag for me, and my red flags may have merit: it turns out Face ID is not exactly without issues. Nilay Patel details that while Face ID works quite well inside, it has issues outside in the sun or under fluorescent lighting. It regularly just wouldn’t recognise his face in these environments.
The other problem is actually much more interesting: almost all of the early questions about FaceID centered around how it would work in the dark, but it turns out that was exactly backwards. FaceID works great in the dark, because the IR projector is basically a flashlight, and flashlights are easy to see in the dark. But go outside in bright sunlight, which contains a lot of infrared light, or under crappy florescent lights, which interfere with IR, and FaceID starts to get a little inconsistent.
I took a walk outside our NYC office in bright sunlight, and FaceID definitely had issues recognizing my face consistently while I was moving until I went into shade or brought the phone much closer to my face than usual. I also went to the deli across the street, which has a wide variety of lights inside, including a bunch of overhead florescent strips, and FaceID also got significantly more inconsistent.
I’m not spending a lot more time on iPhone X reviews today, because it’s impossible to review a phone in 24 hours. Beware of the reviews you’re reading online today, and to Patel’s credit, they clearly label their “review” as a work-in-progress draft that they’ll be updating based on questions from users. As such, it doesn’t carry any advice or grades or anything like that, which is commendable. I haven’t had time to dive into other 24-hour “reviews” just yet (it’s the middle of a workday here, after all).
All in all, this is a very strange launch and review situation, and while it’s too early to tell if Apple is truly insecure, the early signs of Face ID issues definitely don’t help to alleviate my red flags.
Apple’s iPhone X – its most anticipated new phone in a very long time – goes on sale this Friday, Nov. 3.
So sometime this week, as usual, you’ll be able to read and watch a bunch of serious-sounding reviews, as Professional Gadget Reviewers critique everything from bezels to battery life.
But Apple did something different this year. It invited a handful of YouTubers you probably haven’t heard of to its fancy penthouse in New York, gave them some early hands-on time with the iPhone X, and let them publish their videos a day or more in advance of the official reviews. (It also let Wired/Backchannel’s Steven Levy write a “first first impression of the iPhone X” post because Steven Levy. It also gave one to Axios co-founder Mike Allen, who had his nephew play with it. And Mindy Kaling for Glamour. And The Ellen Show.)
This is quite remarkable. Why would Apple invite a number of relatively unknown YouTubers to a fancy event, hand them a few restrictive talking points and an hour or so of hands-on-time, and allow them to call their videos “reviews”, well before the real review embargo is lifted? This is basically just a repeat of the hands-on time journalists, bloggers, and YouTubers got after the launch event a few weeks ago.
This is a carefully orchestrated “control the message” type of thing, and all the videos are practically identical, with the same limited number of talking points, all shot in the same fancy nondescript loft-like Apple Store (?) somewhere in New York City.
Apple clearly wanted this to be the first thing people saw of the iPhone X. No critical reviews by detail-oriented people like MKBHD, Dieter Bohn or heck, even John Gruber (who is not happy with this). No, Apple invited small-time YouTubers who are easily impressed to make the video of their lifetimes to ensure they’d get nothing but shallow, fuzzy good press.
It reeks of insecurity, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d be very worried about just what the heck is wrong with this phone.