Rene Ritchie iPhone X review: “The best damn product Apple has ever made”

This is a long review, chock full of detail. Definitely worth your time.

A few pieces on Face ID, just to give you a taste:

Here’s where there’s a difference between Touch ID and Face ID: Touch ID throws away the original enrollment images of your fingerprints almost immediately. Face ID keeps the original enrollment images of your face (but crops them as tightly as possible so as not to store background information). That’s for convenience. Apple wants to be able to update the neural networks for Face ID without you having to re-register your face each time.

And:

The True Depth camera reads the data and captures a randomized sequence of 2D images and depth maps which are then digitally signed and send to the Secure Enclave for comparison. (Randomization also protects against spoofing attacks.)

The portion of the Neural Engine inside the Secure Enclave converts the captured data into math and the secure Face ID neural networks compare it with the math from the registered face. If the math matches, a “yes” token is released and you’re on your way. If it doesn’t, you need to try again, fall back to passcode, or stay locked out of the device.

And:

None of the neural networks have yet been trained to distinguish multiple registered faces. They can tell you or not you, but not you, someone else, and not either of you. That’s a level of complexity beyond the first iteration of the system. Right now, very few people reportedly register multiple fingers for Touch ID, but Apple could add that functionality to a future implementation of Face ID, if there’s significant demand.

Yesterday, we posted an op-ed from Ben Lovejoy saying:

My guess is that doing all these checks for more than one person would make face-recognition noticeably slower than Touch ID, and Apple was concerned that reviewers and consumers alike wouldn’t respond well to that. That, I think, is the real reason Apple limits Face ID to a single face.

Rene’s take is that the system was not yet designed to handle more than a single face, that it’s not an issue of CPU performance, but of neural network design. All interesting.

One last excerpt, that connects to something we posted earlier this morning, about the ACLU and privacy concerns:

What developers can’t do is get your face data. Just like apps never got access to your fingerprints with Touch ID, they never get access to your face data with Face ID.

Once the app asks for authentication, it hands off to the system, and all it ever gets back is that authentication or rejection. Apple has a separate system, built into ARKit, the company’s augmented reality framework, that provides basic face tracking for Animoji or any apps that want to provide similar functionality, but it only gets rudimentary mesh and depth data, and never gets anywhere near Face ID data or the Face ID process.

This is just a tiny taste of Rene’s review. A fascinating read. One smart cookie.



  • John Kordyback

    Gee whiz, I wish Rene would get off the fence with his opinions.

  • freediverx

    Why aren’t any of these people testing FaceID outside in sunlight to verify Patel’s claim that it’s unreliable in this conditions?

    • Janak Parekh

      Mostly a combination of two things:

      1. Apple only gave out most review devices for a very brief period of time, about 2 days ago, and people tend to work indoors;

      2. It’s late October and it’s starting to get cold outside, so reviewers, who are are trying to get through stuff in detail quickly, are likely working indoors.

      To Rene’s credit, he clearly explains the issue with sun and the Face ID sensor, and it’s unsurprising: if the sun is at your back and hitting the sensor, it’ll be overblown and not work very well.

      This is the kind of thing that more time will yield details. In the meantime, I suggest reading Matthew Panzarino’s take. He took the phone to Disneyland, and his Face ID experience was pretty flawless. https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/31/review-the-iphone-x-goes-to-disneyland/

      I’ve read and listened to a lot of X reviews and Nilay’s so-so experience is an outlier so far.

    • leefyock

      It’s in the iMore article.

      “Direct sunlight on the Face ID camera can blind it, just like any camera. If you’re standing with the sun directly over your shoulder, turn a bit before using Face ID. (This is like the moist finger with Touch ID.)”

  • lkalliance

    Typical Apple shill. Galaxy Note 8 runs rings around this overpriced piece of iCrap.

    • lkalliance

      No, wait, scratch that. I mean it sounds like Face ID is done right, and this is the fastest phone in the world. I’m not sure about the notch, but I think I’ll get used to it. Finally, the true “Jesus Phone.”

      • lkalliance

        No, wait again…something in between those two.

        • Mo

          It’s a process.

  • Luis F. Vidal

    I haven’t read the article yet, but I hope he tested it in full daylight when the sun makes you just a silhouette; when you are lying beside your bed and just reach it to check, I’ll hate to fully grab the phone and put it in front of me to unlock it, or alternatively type the password when Touch ID eliminated that step so effectively. And what about lying flat on a desk, like I have my 6 when I’m working or eating some snack or taking a coffee? I don’t see how Face ID can work at those sharp angles where I just have to touch the Touch ID to unlock, and those are the kind of situations where all the easy experience is thrown to the trash can. I’m sorry, I don’t believe in that Face ID as the only option.

    • Janak Parekh

      Rene talks about this a bit, and specifically, how Attention Detection interacts with this. If those are incredibly important to you, you may want to turn off Attention Detection (or, get a touch ID enabled phone).

      IME I find touch ID not great in those circumstances, either. If my iPhone or iPad is at a weird angle, I have to use my arm at an angle to get my thumb enough pressure to press it reliably. (I’ve also trained my index fingers on my 2nd gen 2017 iPad Pro, and still find the experience cumbersome and unreliable when it’s flat on a table even then.) I’d say touch ID fails me 3-5 times a day as it is, specifically after a shower, washing hands, or in these cases where I then have to retry.

      • Luis F. Vidal

        Well, I don’t experience those weird angles you talk about, I have registered my two thumbs, my two indexes and my right middle finger so I can reach it easily at almost any way I need and it works almost every time. Touch ID almost always work for me, unless I have wet or too dirty hands, but I find those situations acceptable.

        • Janak Parekh

          Sounds like it works better for you than me. I have a 2-year-old at home, my hands are washed a more often, and so touch ID’s limitations have become glaringly obvious. I’m not buying an X yet, but will probably next Spring, and am really looking forward to no more failed touches.

          • GlennC777

            Sounds like you may need to re-register your fingerprints or something. Touch ID on my 6S has been incredibly reliable and almost too fast.

          • Janak Parekh

            I’ll give it a shot. This happens on two discrete devices (a 6+ with a first-gen sensor, a new iPad Pro with a second-gem sensor), so I wasn’t sure if it would make that much of a difference.

            I’ve also been told you can enroll “wet” fingerprints.

          • GlennC777

            Another possibility… some fingerprints are just harder to read? Maybe Face ID is your ticket.

    • rick gregory

      “when the sun makes you just a silhouette;” Yeah if the sun is directly behind you it’s an issue. Turn a few degrees.

      “when you are lying beside your bed and just reach it to check” If you aren’t looking at the screen how are you checking anything on the phone??

      ” what about lying flat on a desk” I’m not that concerned about this one but facing at odd angles when doing things like Apple Pay is close to this and I’m interested in how that works.

      • Janak Parekh

        Apple Pay on the X segregates the Face ID and tap steps. You double-press the power button while holding the phone, it pops up Face ID and authenticates you, and then instructs you to tap the NFC sensor once that’s done.

        • rick gregory

          Which is far less efficient than the current workflow where I hold the phone next to the terminal, Apple Pay activates and I hold a thumb over TouchID.

          IF the workflow you outline is required (ie.. I can’t hold it next to the terminal, look at the phone when Apple Pay becomes active and have it go through) that’s a definite step backward.

          • Janak Parekh

            I’m pretty sure you have to double-click on the sleep/wake button to enable Apple Pay. Whether you do Face ID and tap at the same time… I assume it’d work, but Apple’s videos all show doing the Face ID step first.

            The new workflow is very similar to the Apple Watch (where you have to double-click the button to enable NFC/Apple Pay as well). It sounds clunky, but in practice it’s not at all.

            In many ways, I prefer it, because I always worry that with Touch ID what would happen if my finger isn’t properly recognized for any reason. And about 5% of the time I accidentally press the button, etc.

          • rick gregory

            Yeah thats why I use my phone, not Watch for Apple Pay :). Of course it’s also that with the Watch you have to face it to the terminal so you can’t see when it goes through.

            Academic for me anyway since I’m waiting until next year when we get the XS ….

          • Janak Parekh

            To each their own. Anecdotally, I (and many other folks I’ve seen, heard, talked to, read on fora, etc.) much prefer using my Watch for Apple Pay.

      • edsug

        “when you are lying beside your bed and just reach it to check”

        “If you aren’t looking at the screen how are you checking anything on the phone??”

        Quiet, you!

  • lkalliance

    I’m a little unclear on Apple Pay. He writes that you double-click the side button to indicate intention to pay, both for purchases on the phone and for Apple Pay. Then he goes on to describe the likely amount of annoyance in learning to use Face ID instead of Touch ID at Apple Pay terminals, based on your current workflow:

    –If you, like Rene, tend to double-click the home button FIRST to invoke Apple Pay, then tap the terminal, then you’re already used to doing a double-press to invoke, and you just change where you press.

    –If you, like me, tend to just tap the terminal and wait for Apple Pay to invoke itself, then (if I read him right) it works the same way. Does that mean that Apple Pay does NOT in fact require a double-press of the side button, if I tap the terminal first?

  • edsug

    Anybody else feel like this fear and doubt about face ID seems… familiar? Like every time Apple does basically anything, there’s a LOT of concern…then once people are using it, they are like, “oh yeah, that was never a problem.”

    For me the best example of this isn’t actually touch ID (though it had the same slew of fears and doubts), but the naming of the iPad. Anyone remember how the world collectively lost its goddam mind about the name “iPad”? It was a BIG DEAL.

    But now, somehow, it’s not a problem anymore. Which would seem to indicate IT NEVER WAS A PROBLEM and PEOPLE LIKE TO FLIP OUT.

    I’d be willing to bet face ID will be the same way.