A couple of weeks back my cell phones contract was coming to an end, and I had a choice between getting a new handset and extending the contract, or going all out and buying the (£320+) iPhone with a new 18 month contract, while retaining my mobile number. I'd seen the iPhone in the media as well as having brief demo's and I liked the form-factor, weight and the functionality available. So I dived in head first and bought myself a fancy-pancy iPhone.
I've been putting off writing about the iPhone as I wanted to round off my experience with it by putting it to good use over a few weeks. Now i'm ready to write a few lines about how i've got on with it.
I'll be keeping this as a pretty fair, unbiased review and will not contrast and compare it with Apples evil nemesis's product (Windows Mobile).
I'll begin by blasting through the features I want to write about, and won't cover them all, such as the Calendar, Camera, Photos, Notes, Calc, Weather, YouTube and Clock.
Texting on the iPhone is very easy. First of all you press the Text button on your navigate bar (or wherever you've moved the launch Icon too) to launch the Texting application. Takes but a moment to load, and you're presented with a scrollable list view, with your text messages listed in a chronological order with the most recent being at the top of the list. So, you get a list of names from your Contacts list shown in this list view, with the text messages you\they have sent shown if you tap on their name. So, you tap on any of them and you'll go in to the Text message thread view. This view breaks the conversation up quite nicely, using balloons to represent the dialog, green balloons for what you've said and grey balloons for what the other person wrote. You can slide up\down to scroll through the thread. Very slick, it turns texting in to a threaded conversation, and makes it easy to follow, and to continue talking to your contacts without stepping through SMS texts to recall the thread. If you want to respond you can tap on the bar at the bottom where you enter text, or from the previous list view you can create a new text message, enter the phone number or choose from an existing contact then enter your text. You can also delete from the list view an entire thread, or do this in the threaded view and clear the conversation from memory. I'll leave the keyboard out for now, as it's worthy of a seperate heading for review.
Now, i'm unable to forward any of my text messages on to another contact. That's pretty poor, but the real let-down here is no support for MMS texting. You could say ... well you've got email so no need to MMS anymore, but you'd be missing the point. Lack of support for MMS is a real let-down. If you do receive an MMS text from someone, you receive a plain ASCII text message giving you a URL to visit (your provider\carrier website), and a several-digit number to remember so that you can access your MMS message via the built-in browser Safari. The problem with all this is that you have to write down or memorise this temporary PIN number, tap the link on the Text message to open up Safari, fill in your mobile number (groan, typing) then enter your memorised PIN. On top of this, Safari runs like a dead dog via the EDGE network and you can be looking at a blank Safari browser page for some time. Also, have you forgotton the PIN? Ok, as there is no Copy\Paste, you have to navigate back in to your SMS text thread and look up the PIN, then return to Safari to type it in. That to me doesn't rank high on usability, it expects you to get involved, requiring you to "handle" data as you shift out of the texting application and in to a browser session. Not so elegent. And, on top of this when you do get in, you get to see a thumb-nail sized picture included in the MMS text, with no option to save it locally. Gutting. MMS needs to come to the iPhone, without it we're missing something we're all use to using. Loss of expected functionality for this generation of phone is not limited to just texting, in fact the iPhone is lacking basic functionality across the board.
If someone includes a number in the SMS, then you can tap it. It'll begin dialling the phone number, you have to terminate the call then go in to your Phone application, visit the Recents tab and then choose the number that was previously dialled. At that point you can add it as a new contact, or add it to an existing contact. I'd of liked to have been able to do this without having to make a phone call :>
Emailing from the iPhone is a breeze. All you need to do is setup your POP3\IMAP email account and let the iPhone connect and bring down the email messages. Using the EDGE network you're emails, as long as they are not wrapped in eye-candy will come down quickly and can be read easily, and sending them emails is just as quick.
The option to forward an email on only came in a recent firmware rev from Apple. I couldn't believe it when I heard that the email client lacked basic functionality we've had for over a decade! It gets even worse i'm afraid. You can forward an email on to multiple contacts, that's great but you cannot BCC unless (correct me if i'm wrong here!) you go in to Settings and choose the Email application then turn on "BCC myself", which BCC's your default email account. So as a business user, or even a consumer i'm only able to To\CC people, and i'm not allowed to BCC others. Stunning lack of functionality. Also you can tell the iPone to automatically check for new emails on a frequency, lowest value is 15 minutes, or keep it as manual which requires you to tap an icon before the iPhone will check for new mail. I'd like to have that value reduced to minutes, so that i'm getting new emails quickly and not every quarter of an hour.
Aside from that, the Email client is extremely easy to use. Is fast and logically laid out, with views of your email accounts. Tap an email account then you're looking at the mailboxes (inbox, draft, sent, trash etc), tap a mailbox and you're looking at emails. Quick, simple and usable. I like it. As for data entry, using the touch-screen keyboard, I will cover that later.
I let the iPhone collect, but not delete my emails from the email server. That way when I get home I get all my emails, but during the day I delete the emails i'm not interested in off the iPhone, retaining only those that I want close to hand (for contact information, important information, stuff like that).
I was concerned i'd have to perform multiple taps to call people. Unfortunately this is the case, unless someone is calling you (at which point one tap and you're talking). If you want to make a call you have to navigate to the homepage, tap Phone, tap Contacts, Scroll around looking for the contact, tap the contact and you're dialling. In practise this isn't that difficult to do. And realistically I cannot see any other way of it happening. You need to identify someone to call, then you call them. I don't think Apple could do it any better to be honest. The quality of the phone call is very clear, and the recipient can hear me loud and clear. Even the hands-free headset that comes with the iPhone are good quality for phone conversations.
iPod and iTunes
The iPod is integrated seemlessly, is very usable and has all the features that have been exposed in other reviews. I've not got anything interesting to write about the iPod that hasn't been written up before. Looks like identical code to the iPod and iTouch, although i've not actually owned either so cannot really contrast and compare. I like the iPod, I can watch movies on the commute in\out of work, or listen to music by album, artist or playlists. All easy to use. Sound is quite clear, no crackling\hissing and low\mid\high ranges come across natural and crisp.
You can add multiple attributes on a contact, email addresses, phone numbers, notes etc. Managing your contacts is easy, and they sync with your PC\MAC address book application (outlook etc), so you have to consider the security implications of having Address, Email, Phone contact information going in to the Address Book. I use to keep my address book on the phone seperate from the data in outlook, but now they have converged and i'm managing the contact information easily. In fact it it triggered me to go clean that Outlook address book up! Bonus :>
EDGE and WiFi
EDGE is no good for web-browser period. It's good for texting, emailing and getting trickles of data down. But if you want to browse to various sites you'll be looking at a blank screen for a long time. Frustrating sometimes, I wonder if this is down to the over-usage of EDGE as it connects in to the providers network. Somewhere there is a choke-point producing a sluggish browsing experience. When I first bought the phone it seemed a bit faster on the EDGE network than it is now. This could be because a LOT more people have bought iPhones and the network isn't scaling up appropriately. Something I hope the carrier (O2 in england currently) can overcome this otherwise this iPHone is just for texting, taking calls and emailing with all the rest of the functionality used only when on a WiFi connection.
If you connect successfully to a WiFi node, it'll remember and connect if it comes back in to range. You can turn off auto-detection, and save a bit of battery power or leave it on so that you "mount" a WiFi network automatically. At home I have a secured WiFi node, and the iPhone links to it automatically and suddenly i've gone from 5mph to 60mph! Browsing and everything else becomes turbo-charged.
So far i've had some interesting experiences with the battery on my iPhone. It makes no sense that sometimes i'm not doing much and yet the battery will deplete quickly, other times I get to watch a video, listen to music or browse the web and the battery gives me plenty of usage time. I've not actually benchmarked the battery life as over a typical day I either use it a lot, or do not use it much. At some point i'll fully charge it then let it play a few movies, and see how much juice is consumed. Maybe my experiences are to do with the first few charges conditioning the battery, or WiFi depleting the battery as it's switched on to auto-detect. Sorry folks, no data on battery life usage I can offer up right now.
The touch-screen keyboard itself is used throughout the OS, with it changing in to different modes depending on where you are using it. For example if you open an email a key changes to "@" if you tap in to the To\CC (but no BCC!) fields, tap in to the body of the email and the keyboard switches on the dictionary and attempts to auto-complete words as you type. If you type a web-address in to Safari it will have modified keys for the ".COM" displayed.
The keys are seperated enough for slim fingers like mine to operate, if you are at the right angle you can pick up a fair bit of speed and knock out long emails\text messages. Otherwise you can plod along at a respectable one-finger speed. If you type in the wrong characters, the iPhone tries to determine if you meant another letter. I'm not sure how open-ended this is, whether it learns, but I cannot see how you enter new words in to the dictionary so you're pretty much stuck if some of your acronyms convert in to other words by the auto-completer. After a while you know which ones it'll auto-correct and you auto-correct the auto-corrector ;-) It is very easy to use, as long as you're static and not being shaken about. I don't see many draw-backs using the keyboard within the various applications that expose it. Nice feature.
One other thing to note about the keyboard. In Apple land it's hard to ASCII shout! You cannot lock the shift, it has to be tapped before each character is typed. The first character, depending on which application you are in is capitalised, but as I said it's HARD TO SHOUT IN APPLE LAND!
Maps on a phone. Forget everything else about the maps, yes they look like Google maps, Map\Satellite\Hybrid and Pins available to assist, but there is a KILLER feature called "Locate me". It triangulates your cellphones position in the universe, then shows you on the google map where you are.
"Locate me" is perfect for finding out where you are, then using the Directions feature to navigate to your destination. This in my eyes is a killer feature for the iPhone. No need to be lost anymore just as long as you have cell coverage. All your travel (direction) needs are met by simplying having a TomTom like unit in your car, then an iPhone for when you are walking about. I always seem to get lost, so having TomTom and iPhone, well I feel they have got my back ;-)
I found the "Locate me" feature stops working on the jailbreaked 1.1.3 firmware for UK users. I guess we have to wait for a UK jailbreaked firmware to be released. I do know if you reset back to the un-jailbreaked firmware this feature begins working again. Most odd.
Buttons and inputs
Nothing beats making unique connectors, or not using existing standards for interfacecs. Ho Hum!
The iPhone headset has a long jack plug, which means ALMOST ALL of your existing earphones will NOT WORK on the iPhone. Apple decided to recess the jack deep inside the unit, and the only thing that will plug in correctly is an Apple (hands free) headset that comes with the iPhone. The reason why this is a problem is that the units jack interface has been slimmed down so that practically everthing out there will not slip a few millimeters in to the unit due to their casing being slightly narrower than the jack plugs plastic body. Does this make sense? Look at your headphones jack, see the plastic body it is molded in too? Well the iPhone won't accept that, it's too wide. Welcome to product lock-in. Think Nokia, where everything is unique to the product, charger, headset ... Think Apple :>
I overcame this by buying a cable (off ebay for pennies) with a slim jack to plug in to the iphone, with a cable leading to a female jack plug that I can plug ANYTHING in too. There is another option and that requires an adapter that is a few inches long and sticks out the top of your iPhone. Well dodgy, as it could easily get damage the unit or snap.
There is a power button at the top of the device on the outside edge, and a navigation button on the bottom of the front face, and sounds increase\decrease on the left edge. That's it. That's all you really need to use this phone.
Excuse my total lack of terminology, when referring to these jack plugs :-) I'm sure you get the picture.
The iPhone is not open by default, your SIM is locked and the iPhone is locked. Third party application writers cannot drop apps on to the iPhone. You can open it up using the Jailbreaker application but this currently has some draw-backs. For example the currently opened 1.1.3 firmware is for the US, and if you enable this on your UK phone suddenly some things will stop working (see maps above), or you'll have a bumby ride with odd freezes\total lockups appearing while using the basic iPhone software of the applications you install.
Essentially if you want applications on your iphone you have to currently use "Safari applications" which means you have to have EDGE\WiFI access to be able to use them. No offline applications other than those built-in to the iPhone. Jailbreak the fone and you can now install stuff from the community. A word of warning though, these applications are built from reverse engineering what is already there, they do not use an SDK as Jobs has delayed it's release. I expect once it hits the streets, within weeks we'll see well-coded applications appearing that are more stable and have the iPhones OS functionality built in (wheels for choosing values, scroll lists, tap\double tap, pinch etc, essentially gestures). For now YMMV when using these applications.
I have a Love\Hate relationship with my iPhone. At times it's the best thing since sliced bread, other times I wonder "Does it blend???". The missing functionality is purely down to software. So I hope (hopefully not in vain!) that as we see newer firmware releases from Apple, we'll begin seeing new functionality added.
Speed of the EDGE network via the o2 provider in the UK, missing MMS and lack of BCC on emails is all I can really gripe about. If I un-jailbreak the iPhone maybe it'll move from Love\Hate to mostly Love, then Married Bliss once the firmware flows out of Apple with all the goodness of additional functionality enabled.
My main concern is that the next unit to come out will cancel this Generation 1 iPhone out. I mean Apple may take this unit out of their main firmware releases and slowly wind down support for the unit in favour of the next best thing that they release (next up is 3G enabled I believe). If I have to buy a new unit to get features that are software based i'll go balastic, and REALLY WILL BLEND THIS iPHONE. If I go that far i'll be sure to record it and prop the video up on WMUG website :>
If you're using a traditional phone, with no real functionality beyond camera\phone\text then you'll love the iPhone. If you are a Windows Mobile user you may find the lack of functionality a disaster and prefer to stick to Windows Mobile devices until the iPhone has matured a bit.