5:00:00 (Saturday) – Wake up. After 20 hours in line for iPhone, we went right to sleep. However, we then immediately began work on our full review of iPhone. Everyone knows the feature set for iPhone. So, we’re just going to give you the play-by-play of each feature, based on the first full 48 hours of use.
Read more for the initial impressions and new details.
The Applications – A quick review of each application in order on the home screen.
Text (SMS). It’s nice, but the obvious lack of Instant Messenger support draws away from any fanfare. AT&T embraces GPRS/EDGE AIM clients on their devices. Why Apple hasn’t is a mystery, especially considering iChat’s support for it on Mac. Jabber support missing is understandable, AT&T is apprehensive as to VoIP on their network. However, this is probably the application with the most regret. A $600 device should have good, solid, and broad instant messaging support. Web 2.0 apps from places like Meebo may fill the void for sending a message in an emergency, but Apple needs to take action on this, pronto.
Calendar is great. But, it shows iPhone’s first-gen growing pains the most. Calendar event creation is a bit tedious, but the worst part is bumping appointments. Most days, we don’t get everything done, so we have to bump a couple events to tomorrow. Doing that on iPhone is tedious to say the least… you have to edit, then go to time, then use a slot machine-like wheel to change the date and time. A much better solution would be cut, copy, paste. But, iPhone doesn’t have that anywhere, so the alternative would be a bump-to-tomorrow option when editing an event. iCal is much easier than Outlook though, so it covers the spread (for now).
Photos works as expected, from changing screen with the accelerometer, to emailing a photo. The gestures are great, and the iTunes integration is as tight as an iPod’s.
Camera. Camera has some growing pains, but some unexpected surprises. First, the simplicity of the application. No settings to change it to Fine, and full resolution. iPhone always takes a 2.0 megapixel shot, the way things should be. The coolest surprise was when we rotated iPhone sideways. The camera button on the screen turned dynamically, indicating that it recognized the change in resolution. This means no more having to rotate a photo because of how you were holding the phone.
However, Camera also lacks video. That is not good news for iPhone, as it was one of the first phones that made transporting such large content easily (via email). Hopefully this can be fixed in-software and a future update will add video capture.
YouTube. We’ve hailed and rallied YouTube’s transition to 3GPP and H.264 simulcast encodings. We hope YouTube steps up in the future with an auto-detect on their web site, offering folks with QuickTime an instant boost in quality with the H.264 version (sorry Google, we get notes from you too). That said, iPhone is the best YouTube viewer out there. And, that’s all there is to say.
Stocks is an excellent widget. It works perfectly, and easily allows for a long list of stock viewing (just flick to see more stocks). The only disappointment is that won’t let you order stocks once added. There should at least be an option to alphabetize the symbols.
Google Maps on iPhone is no replacement for GPS. We did a two hour road trip, and it certainly fails at ease-of-use. Don’t use it while driving, it’s borderline dangerous for viewing the list of direction turns. Please, Bluetooth GPS, it’s that simple. For map viewing and satellite viewing, it’s okay. No major improvement over the typical Java phone.
Weather is just like the Dashboard widget, and works great. Now using Yahoo for data, the widget loads and works perfectly, just like a $600 device should.
Clock. The clock application has every time-task you’d want. From a world clock, to alarms, stopwatch, and timer. Each works great, and all four tout functionality that Windows Mobile and Palm lack without (multiple) third-party add-ons.
Calculator. Did Apple finally make a product with a calculator that isn’t terrible? The good news is that iPhone’s calculator finally has a look-and-feel that matches the rest of the interface, and actually works well. Unfortunately, it lacks scientific and graphic abilities, so it won’t replace that oversized relic known as your handheld calculator.
Notes. The Notes application is reminiscent of Note Pad in the pre-Mac OS X era. It’s also strikingly similar to the Newton MessagePad’s note functionality. While iTunes does back up notes, in case your iPhone is lost or damaged, iTunes will not let you access those notes on your PC. Meaning, the Notes app actually has worse functionality than the iPod, which permits uploading of notes directly.
Phone. The phone application is well-polished from a user interface standpoint. We haven’t used the Favorites or Visual Voicemail functions, but recent calls and contact views work as-expected. The dialpad is nice before a call, but during a call is a bit of a pain to access. We use GrandCentral for call forwarding, and that requires us to dial a 1 before talking to someone when picking up the call. With iPhone, we have to take the call, wait for the call to start fully, hit the Keypad button, then dial 1. Most folks won’t be bugged by this, it’s just worth noting that getting a dialpad in a call is a bit more tedious than on a regular (or even smart) phone.
Mail is simply amazing. Hands down it is the best email experience ever on a wireless phone. IMAP updates instantly (delete an email, and it’s on the trash can in the server automatically). You can now use the iPhone for email checking as effortlessly as Mail on a Mac, or Outlook, or Thunderbird on a PC. Yahoo Push Mail does work, but as we’ve shown, you won’t be taking advantage of it on your desktop.
Our only complaint with Mail is the lack of Junk mail filtering. We get lots of spam (and that’s an understatement of the situation). Mail catches about 90 – 95% of it on the Mac, why iPhone wouldn’t use the same technology is beyond us.
Safari is excellent. Our only complaint was the lack of syncing with Firefox (on either PC or Mac) for bookmarks. Our setup is tied into Google Browser Sync, so now we have to migrate bookmarks back to Safari. There are shareware applications to do that, but Apple should have included support for the world’s second largest web browser. That said, Safari on the phone is what you would expect; identical to Safari on Mac or PC, just without plug-ins. No Flash, or Java.
QuickTime is limited to H.264 playback. This makes sense, considering iPhone has a hardware H.264-decoder, and other codecs could cause performance issues. With H.264, iPhone can hand video decoding off to the H.264 decoder, freeing the processor to continue checking Mail, loading Safari pages, and handling calls, all while video is playing back.
iPod. The video and picture quality drives people in, it’s like an HDTV in your pocket. Audio quality and browsing are good as well. The only hardware problem is with the recessed headphone jack. The included headphones have to be pressed hard into the jack, otherwise the audio is muffled.
We did have one specific complaint though. Accessing the song position controls took us a few minutes, and we found threads and threads asking for it… you have to tap on the song’s image in order to get it to pop up. Movies have the song position control at the title bar.
Battery life. Battery lasted from 5 AM Friday until 1 AM Saturday. This was with heavy Wi-Fi and EDGE usage, running the gambit of features. That’s very good considering no Windows Mobile device we’ve used would have lasted that long with the usage level we’ve given it.
GSM Signal. Reception isn’t stellar. It’s as good as other typical GSM phones, but not as good as the great GSM phones for reception. This is where UMTS could have really helped.
iPhone’s headphones are not good for calls. Great for music as usual, but folks on the other end constantly complain of static. We haven’t had a chance to test Bluetooth headsets on the iPhone yet (all three died while in line for the iPhone, and are charging back up).
Holding iPhone to your ear isn’t a great solution either. The audio is a bit quiet when on full volume. It’s not great, not terrible either. Thankfully, the speakerphone on iPhone is excellent, most don’t know that the iPhone has it on when being called.
Bluetooth headsets also work great with iPhone. We’ve tested so far a Sony Ericsson HBH-610 (a Bluetooth 2.0 headset). Audio quality is great, no question about Bluetooth being the best audio connection for calls. Unfortunately, without voice dialing or other headset options, you basically press the headset button to take a call, and press it once more to hang up. No more, no less.
Wi-Fi. It’s simply the best we’ve ever seen on a smart device. Not only does it just work, but it isn’t offensive. You have the choice of seeing new networks, or only using ones you’ve joined previously. When new networks come into range, a giant Cancel button dismisses it. All base stations have a padlock next to them if they’re using WPA or WEP (just like Leopard).
Finally (for this page), the user interface. It’s simply the best. Better than all the rest. Better than anyone. Did we mention it’s simply the best. The integration and effort put into this has been amazing, and we’ve watched Apple gobble up the best UI designers in the technology field. All of that has paid off on the iPhone. From app to app, everything just works the way you would want it to. This is what we expected, and iPhone performed exactly as we wanted, with near perfection.
The little things… or, burning questions Pogue forgot to answer.
Apple gave out only a few iPhone review units. Here’s the stuff you didn’t read in terms of minutia.
The built-in speakers are great. Using the iPod is much easier when you don’t constantly have to have headphones on. This is going to help podcasting big time. The dock even has airflow holes to assist in audio transfer (so sound isn’t muffled in the dock).
You can use the SIM card with other devices, data is not hindered, just set other devices to the wap.cingular gateway and they take right off. Our loophole in the iPhone sales is paying off huge here, since you can get an iPhone and a Nokia N75 (3G Smartphone) for $510 out-the-door ($499 for iPhone, $10 for the N75 from Amazon).
Yes, we had activation issues. As we’ve detailed in the forums, the worst ones are actually the easiest to fix. Ours was fixed by plugging the iPhone into a different system, and the activation screen poped up instantly (even though it wasn’t set to sync with the iPhone… pointing to iTunes getting put on AT&T store terminals to aid in activation).
iPhone vibrates and plays the Mac Mail chime when getting new mail. This is enhanced by the music quieting down to 50%, so you don’t actually stop hearing the music. Very nice, very subtle.
The SIM slot is a real pain. You must use a tiny paperclip since large ones are too fat. SIM swapping will be a pain until a third-party SIM tray is made. And yes, for those of you on CDMA… third-party trays are common on elite phones.
While we paired the iPhone with a phone, PDA, and MacBook… they didn’t do much. iPhone is set to talk to a car, a headset, and receive vCards… that’s all for now. Hopefully this will be a focus of future improvement, people shouldn’t have to SIM swap to use their phones as a modem. iTunes should be able to sync contacts and calendar when iPhone enters proximity.
The iPhone displays power in a 256×256 icon on the standby screen when docked. Meaning, your standby screen is replaced with a massive battery indicator.
The lack of any games, any at all, hurts. This is something that should have been there in the first place.
Mute switch is great, but it only handles the phone and alarms. Other noises like video playback aren’t affected. On one hand this is nice since you can have uninterrupted playback, on the other hand, you can’t assure that the iPhone will be truly silent without sliding the volume to zero. Tip: Camera noise is only silented with the mute switch.
On another note, iPhoto sees the iPhone and works great with it, it acts like any other digital camera.
FireWire power sources, like on modern iPods, will provide power to the iPhone. However, as expected, the iPhone is USB-only, so no connectivity.
The lack of a USB Disk Mode is huge. You’re carring around a 4 or 8 GB flash drive. Putting an option in settings to mount it to a PC or Mac is important here. The only problem with this would be that the flash drive is Mac OS X formatted, however, Apple could brand it as “Mac Drive Mode” or something similar. Plus, a proper firmware could create a FAT32 wrapper for a flash drive hierarchy. All of this would be done keeping the iPhone secure, by simply denying access to folders that the rest of iPhone touches.
Charging another issue… there’s no way to check the charging status when the phone is asleep. At least the dock should have had a charging LED a-la-regular-phones. Worse, when you power the phone off, you have to wait for it to boot to check the charge.
And, finally, the start (standby) screen. It’s nice, but also rather useless. Accidental triggering of the iPhone was rare. But accidentally touching the screen magically though the pocket was basically impossible. In short, the standby screen doesn’t serve much purpose, other than to quickly tell you the time, and show a photo. The simplicity is nice, but it gets in the way at times. Probably the first improvement that should be made, should be a setting to turn off auto-lock when the iPhone is docked or charging.
Over the course of the review, I often wrote features worked almost perfectly, just like a $600 phone should. This is how iPhone stands out. While it may not do 10% of what Windows Mobile and Palm OS do, the other 90% it does perfectly. Why should people pay $600 for a phone that won’t even instantly tell the email server you want to trash a message, or check your stocks with a widget, or browse a desktop web page. iPhone’s software is so stable, that it puts Palm and Microsoft to shame. Symbian isn’t far behind, though their embrace of Safari’s WebKit browser and widgets do close the spread.
Before iPhone, Apple was just number one in music. Now they are en route to gain the same standing in the mobile sector. iPhone has so far met expectations, and is worth the $500 to $600 price. It’s worth the $2000+ for two years of AT&T service. It makes you mobile in ways you thought were simply not efficient before. Time wasted is now time you can spend. I already feel more relaxed waiting in lines, or just with downtime, because I’m not hindered. I can check my email the same as on my MacBook, I can check websites the same as I can on a PC. And it just works.
All that said, Apple needs to make key improvements. Instant messaging is missing, and it should be on the device. RSS support is cumbersome to access. And Apple’s late announcement of Web 2.0 being the only API has caused a delay in information applications. Bluetooth support needs to grow, fast. iPhone has a long way to go, but it shows the most promise.