I’ve used modern smartphones for a long time. I remember purchasing the first Nokia phone with a camera (7650) in mid-2002, and it was fabulous. The 0.3-megapixel images I was able to capture were grainy, but I was taking pictures with a phone, so who cared about the quality of the images! Most phones I owned between 2002 and 2010 were Nokia phones, with Symbian OS.
I then spent a few years with all sorts of different Windows Phones – the Lumia 800 (in 2011), the HTC HD7 (2010), the Samsung Omnia 7 (also in 2010). It finally became evident there was no real future with the platform, as the iPhone and plethora of Android devices seemed so much more capable. This was almost 10 years ago.
I’ve since used Android as my primary mobile OS. Up until September 2018, I used an OnePlus 5T and I loved every minute of my time with it. Fast charging (and it’s really fast), splendid display, and massive RAM and storage, and compared to many other flagship phones it was very affordable. What’s there not to like?
Then I went to Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, this past September. It seemed everyone had an iPhone. The new models were just released – the XS, and the XS Max. I’m not sure how to pronounce the model names, so I usually just say “ex-cess” which I’m quite certain is wrong.
Over lunch, I sat next to a few friends who used their iPhone X to check something. It seemed so fluent and aesthetic. I suddenly found myself wanting an iPhone. I had been thinking of getting a cheap iPhone as a backup phone, but I found myself really wanting one.
Don’t get me wrong – I still love Android. After 7 or 8 years on Android, it felt a bit boring. I had the same apps, same customizations, and same experience regardless of which device I was using at any time. When you have cheesecake every week, you start craving for some Ben & Jerry’s. That was my reasoning. Maybe it’s not flawless, but given a slight jet lag, massive amounts of mediocre coffee, and the opportunity to get a new gadget, I was sold.
I opted for the iPhone XS Max. I foolishly thought the “Max” stood for “bigger display, more stuff on the screen and generally superior” but as it turns out, it’s simply bigger but not more efficient or operable.
I’ve now lived for about 3 months with the iPhone as my main mobile device. I ditched my Android in an afternoon, and simply started using the iPhone as a replacement phone with no intention of going “back.” I’m still using this phone today.
What’s great about the iPhone XS?
The camera. It’s great! I find myself wanting to reach for my pocket just to take a picture. It’s fast, has plenty of controls and I feel it allows me to concentrate on composition and everything else moves out of my way.
My XS Max has 256 GB of storage and I’m not sure how much I’ve used, but each picture uses about 6 MB so I should be good for a long time. I offload the majority of my media and content to Dropbox.
Updates. No more browsing shady websites trying to find ways to speed up OS patches. With Android, it is and has always been a major problem. OnePlus did some great work on that, but at times I felt I was waiting for weeks to get an update that was already widely available for other brands.
With iOS, the moment I read about an update made available at the moment my phone chimes and asks me to download the said update. Granted, some updates seem to be focused on new emojis which I’m too old to understand, but it’s still huge upside in owning an iPhone – you can be always up-to-date if you want. And it doesn’t take any effort.
Face ID. My OnePlus had something similar, and it worked well for unlocking the phone. With Face ID I find it’s weaved into everything from App Store purchases to authenticating to corporate email (with Outlook) to accessing my password database. I rarely have to punch in my PIN these days. I still miss a good fingerprint reader though.
My laptop, a Lenovo Thinkpad, also has biometric authentication through Microsoft’s Windows Hello, and using my face to log in has been the norm for a couple of years. With Face ID, it has become the norm when using the phone.
There’s a good app for everything. I needed to edit a few photos – simple touches and leveling, nothing drastic. There’s an app for that, and it’s usually free or super cheap. This is the experience I have several times each week – I need to do something with the phone, and the iPhone App ecosystem simply delivers. I feel most apps I’ve downloaded more or less conform to Apple’s user experience guidelines if there are any. Each app feels like all other apps, in a positive way.
With Android, there’s usually an app – which is staggeringly horrible. Sometimes they look like old Visual Basic apps from 1995. Sometimes they crash. Many times they work, but not always as I need to either purchase a ‘Pro’ version, or the app is littered with ads and popup dialogs.
Battery life. This has been a positive surprise. iPhone XS Max easily lasts a full day, and halfway through the next without charging. Admittedly I’ve worked hard to not use my phone too much so that obviously helps. I never use the battery saver, and I haven’t had a reason to carry my USB battery pack with me.
Screen Time. Something that was introduced recently with iOS 12, Screen Time allows me to monitor and control my media consuming habits. I’m currently averaging about 2 hours and 30 minutes each day of phone usage for the past 7 days. This is 22 % less than previously, so I’m making small progress. My weekly total is about 17 hours, which I find way too high. Then again I’m using the phone for most of my media consumption (TV, news, movies, podcasts, webcasts) as well as a lot of communications through Microsoft Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, and Twitter. I’m aiming for 1 hour/day, so there’s still some drastic measures I need to do. One of these is to enable a feature called Downtime, that allows me to effectively block me from using my +$1000 devices. Sounds cruel but I know that would work for me.
Screen Time also tracks how many times I pick up the phone each hour. For me, it’s 3 times per hour. I also get roughly 4 notifications each hour – and I’ve spent a comically long time to disable all notifications.
Gestures. Last, but one of my favorites is the gestures. As the iPhone XS (and X) phones do not have a home button, there are gestures. Swiping up hops back to the home page, or swiping a little less up shows all running apps. It’s simple, intuitive, and just works.
I had to borrow my son’s phone, which is an Android, and I found myself wanting to swipe up all the time. Funny how small things become second nature in just a few months.
What’s not great about the iPhone XS Max?
I started writing this article with the intention to really think through the things that I dislike about the phone. I knew some of these were superficial, but for a device you use for hours a day, the little things become big things and you get irked. I realize many of the following dislikes are built in to iOS and/or the hardware, but perhaps there are some I haven’t internalized properly and someone comes up with a solution and makes my day a little bit nicer.
Multitasking – or the lack of it. The aggressive hibernation of apps is comically atrocious. Every day, I browse something in Chrome and need to hop to my password manager or calendar to check on something. Perhaps the dates for my upcoming travels, to fill in someplace else.
I swipe up, select the other app from the list of all ‘running’ apps, and then hop back to my browser. Only to have the browser resume from hibernation – the tab is often reloaded, and I get to see the app icon as if I just launched it for the first time.
I now realize why OnePlus devices have massive amounts of RAM – this is one of the core reasons. I never had an app reload that I had run before – even after weeks of not using the app. It simply popped up in a millisecond when I needed it. With the iPhone, this has been the biggest and most frustrating thing to grasp – why do I need to re-launch and potentially lose data and context?
It seems certain built-in iOS apps such as the calculator and camera get some leeway from the internal scheduler. This probably also explains why battery life is seemingly pretty great.
I’ve formed a habit of opening the Dropbox app on my phone a few times a week. I then click on the Photos tab, to force uploading photos to the cloud. With Android, this was all automagical and with iPhone, I have to do these sorts of household chores or otherwise I miss my data on other devices.
All-glass body. I admit I did not check if the body of the iPhone XS Max is really all glass, or just mostly glass. I know when I purchased the device from Orlando, that I must protect it with a case – otherwise it would shatter in a conference minute. The original Apple bumper case in black leather is really nice, but it’s also really bulky and clumsy. I sometimes take the phone out from the case in a padded room and admire the craftsmanship. It’s the most beautiful phone I’ve ever owned, and I feel bad for hiding it. Aluminum or plastic back wouldn’t be as flashy, but at least I could enjoy the phone a little bit more without fear of breaking it.
Charging. It – is – slow. I’m tainted with OnePlus, which has Dash Charging (with a special charger) and it’s always been even a bit too fast. With Apple’s own cute 5 Watt charger it seems to take an eternity to charge the phone to 100 %. I often plug the phone in the morning and unplug it for lunch. And it’s still only at 60 %. I then cope with this easily until the evening, but might not have a chance to plug it in until the next morning – and I’m back to 60 %.
During the past 7 days, I haven’t had a chance to charge the phone fully once. I might need to purchase a wireless charging pad or a better charger. One would hope that with a flagship device such as the XS Max, Apple would provide a real charger out of the box.
I need to plug in my phone now.
Lack of control and customizations. People have jokingly said the walled garden of Apple is really walled. I didn’t really understand what this meant until I got my own Apple device. There are so many things I cannot configure, such as the DPI, icon size, home screen layout, keyboard, the notification bars. All things I frequently modify to my needs of the moment with Android.
With iOS, I feel I’m stuck with the same exact settings as everyone else. Yet, my needs might differ from someone else’s and this I feel hinders my productivity and user experience. The two different notifications bars feel superficial and clumsy, and yet the icons on these are comically large. The very large 6.5″ display simply gives me very large icons, but not more icons.
The dock allows for 4 icons at the bottom. For Android, I think I had 8, and a sliding dock with 8 more so 16 icons easily accessible.
iOS feels very dated. I purchased the very first iPad back in April 2010 when it was made available. After almost 10 years, iOS feels very dated. Similarly to how Windows XP feels very dated if you’ve used to Windows 10 for a couple of years.
Apple has always been the master of branding, usability, and aesthetics – yet iOS feels very 2012 to me, still. I’m not a fan of changing things for the sake of it, but perhaps slight progress would benefit everyone.
App Store issues. My App Store icon has shown 6 notification since the very first day I bought the phone. I see 6 apps waiting for an update – all Apple apps: Clips, GarageBand, Keynote, Numbers, Apple Store, and Pages. If I click ‘Update’, it thinks for a second and does nothing. If I click ‘Update all’, the same thing occurs. It seems broken for reasons unbeknownst to me.
I also seemingly cannot open the App Store on my laptop, and remotely install or uninstall apps for my phone. With Google Play Store, this was a routine task – I would hear about an app that seemed great, and I would simply initiate the installation remotely on my laptop without reaching for my phone.
Safari. I hate Safari as much as I hate broccoli. It falls into similar category with Microsoft Edge – it offers very little and does not look good. The first app I installed on my phone was Google Chrome. Sadly, it’s lightyears away from Android’s Chrome implementation. I’ve understood this is because Apple tightly controls the rendering engine, and Chrome is forced to use WebKit, Apple’s own rendering engine. This hinders the usability so drastically, I find myself reaching for my laptop instead of using the browser on my phone for longer periods of time.
Perhaps this is the same for Android, or it was the same for Windows Phone, but Apple’s overly controlling approach is maddening.
Not everyone lives in the US. Apple seems to think mobile data is very rare, expensive, and slow everywhere in the World. I cannot seem to download a new OS update without first connecting to wifi.
In Finland, I pay about 32 € (~$35) a month for unlimited 4G that goes up to 300 Mbps. It really is unlimited in the sense, that I can use it as much as I like – for the current period I’m at 63 GB, and roaming is also allowed throughout the EU (15 GB/month which I find quite generous). For an extra 15 euro each month I can get bandwidth up to 600 Mbps, and roaming up to 20 GB each month.
I’m writing this from our summer cabin, which is located near a small town in Southern Finland – but still over 100 kilometers from the capital area. 4G frequently gets anywhere from 50 to 100 Mbps of bandwidth – unlimited. It feels very awkward to set up ad-hoc wifi, just to download anything large on the iPhone as it insists on using wifi.
With Android, I recall I could simply click “I’m sure my mobile data fees will be okay even if I download a 10 GB patch over 4G” and it commences download and remembers my choice.
I’m certain I’ve managed to list all the issues with my iPhone now 🙂
So – why not switch back to Android then?
I’ve had the thought of switching back, more than once. I’ve resisted the idea mainly for two reasons: I made the educated decision to pay for the phone out of my own pocket, so I cannot cheat by getting another phone, or switching back to the OnePlus I had. I’m not sure what the aftermarket for iPhone XS is, but I’d probably suffer a lot of money in the transition back.
Second, the upsides of the phone are simply too great. Especially the camera. Comparing photos from my Android phones, they look – at times – like they were taken with a potato.
I realize I might my notes and thoughts here might seem like a true first world problem to some. And in reality, they are. I would probably be very well off with a Nokia 2110i (the one with the replaceable antenna, and week+ long battery life!). I like to consider that any device that I use professionally for hours each day, should allow me to do my best work possible. Within a few years, the investment is negligible, so I feel even if I’m slightly disappointed at certain features of the phones, it is still a very fine device for getting stuff done.
And as a small-business owner, I think that’s what really matters.
I work with Azure and frequently write about my experiences. I’m a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, ex-MSFT. Based in Helsinki, Finland.