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Thursday, May 21, 2009

My iPhone Review Part 1

My iPhone Review Part 1

Iphone Review

Yes I am one of the hundreds of thousands that picked up an iPhone this past weekend. I convinced myself not to get a 1st-gen product but by 7 PM Friday, I couldn't hold out any longer thus my bank account became $600 poorer, $649.49 to be exact. So what do I think about the uber, Jesus, end-all iPhone? I can summarize in one statement; it's all that and a bag of chips, but you feel kinda gypped because the bag is only half full. Hit the jump for the full review.

It's one thing to charge $600 for a product but it's another when that product comes from Apple. People have come to expect the best packaging from a company synonymous with design. The iPhone packaging doesn't live up to Apple's repertoire. It seems lackluster and rushed. I've purchased countless desktops, laptops, and iPods from Apple and their packaging all have one thing in common - attention to detail. The way things open up, unfold, reveal themselves, clever little messages, play with type, plastic caps on cables, neat twisty ties - all those are missing from the iPhone packaging. What you get instead is just a practical solution for packaging a small electronic device that comes with a few peripherals (headphone, dock, USB cable, a/c charger). Nothing fancy here.

The iPhone is a gorgeous piece of industrial design. The glass screen, the brushed aluminum, the mirrored Apple logo, and chrome accents all scream "I'm expensive and I want everyone to know it". True, everyone would know it. You could spot an iPhone from half a block away. As minimal as the design is, it looks like nothing else out there. Ports and tactile buttons are thoughtfully placed. Rocker switches feel firm and slightly clicky.

But not all is fine and dandy. There are two major flaws in the design, one of which I guarantee will be addressed in a revised iPhone. For one, the two speaker grills surrounding the dock connector aren't both speakers. One is a mic and the other is a mono speaker. I would think Apple engineers could have found a better place for the mic and use both grills as a speaker. For a device that plays music and videos, it's surprising it only spits out mono sound. I guess Apple thought most people would use headphones but there's a design flaw in that as well. The standard headphone jack is deeply recessed into the top of the unit. The included headphone works fine but try and plug in any 3rd party headphone and you'll find the thick rubber ring around the input won't seat all the way into the headphone jack. How in the world did this get past Johnny Ive, Apple's lead industrial designer? People who splurged on a $200 pair of noise canceling headphones for the iPod will have to purchase a $10 adapter to have it work properly with the iPhone. As I said before, this is something Apple must address for the 2nd-gen version.

User Interface
Hands down the best user interface of any smartphone. It blows Symbian (Nokia, Sony Ericsson), Palm, and Windows Mobile out of the water. Intuitive is the keyword here. Everything is where you'd expect it to be. No need to read manuals, 10 minutes and you're up to speed. Apple's legendary skill in user interface design pays off and the iPhone reaps all the benefits from decades of practice. Starting up the phone only takes about 5-8 seconds. Menu animations have a whimsical quality to them. Flicking, touching, pecking your finger around the screen feels easy. The touchscreen is hyper sensitive so getting around is a cinch.

But there's definitely room for improvement. One HUGE caveat is no copy/paste function, which is counter intuitive for a device so heavily reliant on touchscreen. How easy would it be to highlight a line of text to copy and paste somewhere else? I can't imagine why Apple left this function out.

The OS also needs some sort of path bread crumbing, a way for the system to remember where you came from as you move from app. to app. Without it, you're always required to back out using the home button and drill back down into the menus apps. again. They're never too deep but it's still an annoyance. For example, I could be viewing photos and then notified of a new text message. I click to view it but in order to get back to my photos, I'd have to click the home button, and select the photo app. again. A global back button that remembers the last place I was in would be super helpful in making it one less click to navigate around.

It's the one thing smartphone users questioned when they saw the virtual QWERTY keyboard. There are boatloads of reviews on how well typing works so I won't get into too much detail here. I will say this. It does take some getting used to. Your first few days with it are liable to convince you this was the worst mistake on the iPhone. But give it a few days more and you realize it just takes practice. After a week or two, you'll be typing with both thumbs dramatically improving speed. The predictive text isn't as smart but it apparently learns. As you get to know the phone, the phone tries to get to know you. It's a cool little union so you don't wanna give up on it. Just give it some time and you'll forget how difficult the first few days were.

Aside from that, its very sensitive and doesn't lag between keystrokes. My only complaint would be how you have to switch keyboard menus to access punctuation. I know there's not much room to begin with but basic punctuation marks like periods, question marks, and commas should really exist on the same screen as the alpha-numeric keyboard.

Phoning is probably the best thing the iPhone does which is awesome since it's first and foremost a phone. You can't even use any of the other features without an active AT&T account so those of you thinking of using it exclusively as an email/video/music device can forget about it.

The sound quality is very good. The rocker style volume switch makes it easy to adjust. Conference calling, holding calls, answering call waiting, and manually punching in phone numbers is a cinch. Everything just works and works beautifully.

Visual Voicemail is absolutely awesome. Why telcom carriers didn't do this before is a mystery to me. They could have charged it as a separate service and I'm positive people would buy it. The ability to see voicemails labeled by contact name or caller I.D. number and to listen to any one of them regardless or recorded order is so cool. My mother leaves tons of voicemails, epic ones and sometimes I want to skip them and listen later (sorry mom). It's all much easier than doing the whole "press 9 to save" thing. On the iPhone, just tap, tap and you're done. It also archives voicemails so know that you can always go back. This feature is a real winner and one I hope other carriers copy.

Writing Emails
I have never seen an email program this beautifully executed on a phone. Sure there are plenty of programs for WinMo and Palm but they don't come close to this in terms of ease. Setting up your account(s) is a cinch. You can either opt to sync with your computer in which case you're done. The syncing process does everything for you. You can also manually go in and set it up yourself. The phone already has pre-setups for Yahoo, Gmail, and .Mac. Just enter in your login username/password and you're good to go. If you use Yahoo mail, it automatically gets pushed to your phone instantaneously. I hope Gmail and .Mac see push service soon. It's both a time and battery saver.

Yes, it has a few flaws. First off, managing multiple mailboxes is cumbersome. When you tap into the mail app., you're presented with a list of all your email accounts. You then drill down thru each one to access your mail. I wish they would have followed the structure set in the desktop version of Mail. Mailboxes are grouped into a tree filing system. That way everything stays on one screen and the only time you'd move to the next is to read mail. There's also no way to multiple select. The app. gives you the option to move and delete mail but doing it one-by-one is a chore. I hope this is an issue Apple addresses very soon. Lastly, you can't add attachments from the app. If I want to email a photo, you have to go into the photo app. and do it from there. It's a convoluted way of doing things so again I hope Apple addresses this issue.

Check back tomorrow as I cover the camera, YouTubing, iPod, Google Maps, web browsing, connectivity, customization, and AT&T's service. 


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