Greetings irrational fanboys and Apple haters! Ten days and 12,000 words later, our stone-cold look at what it means to own an iPhone is done. Before we get to the in depth hands-on, here's the verdict I'd give any good friend: Wait to buy the iPhone.Wait for What? Wait until Apple updates the software on this iPhone. That was a hard sentence to write, since I'm thumbing through my own iPhone like a teenager with his first Playboy. This is what the phone of the future will look like, and Steve Jobs and Apple should be proud. iPhone of 2010 aside, this model must be judged on what it is today. Like every other journalist will tell you, its multitouch UI, browser and iPod are all pants-worthy. But as the honeymoon sets, I find myself left with a phone that could be a lot more functional. I could make comparisons to high-end Nokia or Helio phones that have endless lists of wonderful features like GPS, YouTube video uploading and more. But only a douchebag would tackle the iPhone for lacking esoteric tricks; things that belong on a Wish List for v2.0.
So what's your main problem with the iPhone? The real elephant in the room is the fact that I just spent $600 on my friggin' iPhone and it can't do some crucial functions that even $50 handsets can. I'm talking about MMS. Video recording. Custom ringtones. Mass storage. Fully functioning Bluetooth with stereo audio streaming. Voice dialing when you're using a car kit. Sending contact info to other people. Instant friggin' messenging. Sending an SMS to more than one recipient at a time. You are Missing the Point, Lam. I know these minor things don't sound like much to bitch over, but the negative sum of these granular functions really bites into my satisfaction; I've come to miss the little things as I live with this superphone and realize its staggering shortcomings in the practicality department. And while writers are covering these facts in a glancing manner, alongside the quirky QWERTY, lack of 3G, and weak email support, I feel like they are under emphasizing the flaws in light of the shock and awe of the phone's Wonders. This isn't anything as sinister as journalistic corruption; I believe we all are genuinely impressed. But maybe lots have forgotten what it is like to camp, buy, sign a contract and depend on a lone phone for many years. I'd trade fancy Cover Flow for that list of basics any day.
Are you going to ignore the good stuff just to be a contrarian prick? Anyone decidedly anti-Apple who is grinning at what I've written so far should also know how much this is NOT a takedown; likely, you are using a handset I wouldn't even pee on. I'm being hard on this phone because I have profound respect for this device, and want it to do better. In homage, let me quickly rehash the ass-kissage which has been told many times before: I have spent many long minutes fingering the LCD, enthralled by multitouch's effortless ability to zoom into photos and scroll through long lists. It makes the 3.5-inch screen exponentially more useful than any 480 x 320 pixel LCD should be. What can Microsoft do with multitouch? They can put it in a friggin' $10k table for the Sheraton and T-Mobile. I love the buttonless design, and even if the keyboard is not as effective as a hardware model, it can be damn fast. While many tech luminaries have said they'd wanted to defenestrate the iPhone after struggling with its ghost QWERTY, people have been running at 35-40 WPM three days in. Safari on the iPhone is the best browser ever seen on a mobile, with or without Flash, because it actually renders everything "as it should". The iPod's use of Coverflow, coupled with decent battery life for media playback, and the big screen make it the best media phone the world has ever seen. I hadn't previously used an iPod for video, for lack of want, but I find myself loading it with home movies and photos just to celebrate the iPhone's talent. That EDGE connection we were all bitching about pre-launch? When reception is good, it's surprisingly decent for browsing and even YouTube. And as Jason Chen wisely puts it, "People who are patient enough to wait for a 3G version of the iPhone should theoretically be patient enough to wait for EDGE downloads." The hardware is wondrous; that LCD, covered in optical grade glass happens to be the brightest, most contrasty little screen I've ever seen. The minimalist design makes every other cellphone look as stodgy as a rotary phone. How's that for gushing? So what if I don't care about any of the missing features you mentioned? What else is there to keep me from buying? Since launch, people have been ticked off about the battery's 300-400 charge rating, which will cost roughly $80 to replace. OK, but this is an iPod, you should not be surprised. The real battery issue is that many of the units are running far below rated capacity on day one. My phone only had 40% left after 4 hours of light to moderate use; the statistically significant evidence is that I personally know four other journalists, in different parts of the country, with this problem. Apple took the best care of me, as a customer and my second unit was better. Waiting for the bad batteries to shake out of the stockrooms could be key here.
And then you'd be happy? No. It has been raked over 1000 times, but let's talk about the missing SDK in a new light. I initially understood both sides of the argument. Devs and fanboys want crazy cool apps; Jobs was quoted as wanting system stability. Jobs has a great point. But, ironically, a 10-day test reveals another thing the initial reviewers missed -- this thing is not Mac stable, it is maybe Windows mobile stable (although no where near as laggy, thankfully). Apps crash out a few times a week, especially in the uncontrolled web, using Safari. To Steve's point, it does go down gracefully, with little to no collateral damage to the phone's core stability. Having just defended the iPhone's lack of an SDK, I will say this: The majority of the web apps are pretty lame compared to apps like the native Google Maps and the simple but satisfying weather widget. And the more robust these webapps get, the heavier they'll be while iPhone struggles to fetch both the logic and data over EDGE when Wi-Fi isn't around. I have five words for you, Apple: OS X Dashboard Widget Converter. Why would Apple not trust in the same external community of Apple-ites who developed iTunes, Coverflow, Multitouch, and Dashboard Widgets before you bought them out? These people are geniuses. Let them help the iPhone's feature set.
Is there anything that you think can't be fixed? Yes. Rosie O'Donnell's vagina. There are more complications that may never be resolved. Regarding the iPhone's network partner, Pogue cites Consumer Reports when he says that AT&T has the worst or second to worst reception in 19 out of 20 major cities. Pathetic. Jason's informal testing shows it to be fine, but sound quality for me has been not good; whether that is reception or hardware, it doesn't matter. Apple is in bed with AT&T for at least 5 years. Which circles me back to my metaphor. Signing up for the iPhone is like being tossed into a menage a trois with Angelina and Rosie O'Donnell. You want the beauty, you have to sleep with the beast. Like 3G, there's no easy fix for this one, but it's something I can live with, as long as AT&T continues to do their part. Their part being "drastically improving customer service, the data and voice network, while not jacking up pricing." This is nothing we should hold our breath for, based on historical evidence. So are you returning this thing? I should, but no. Don't look at me that way, let me explain. Look at other handsets from Nokia, Helio, Palm, Sony Ericsson, LG and Samsung; or anything running the vomit-inducing Windows Mobile. What they generally have over the iPhone, all these critical but technically minor functions, the iPhone could theoretically fix with a patch or two. Meanwhile, those companies in turn will never be able to make as great a UI and platform as the iPhone has the potential to be. Certainly we don't know what Apple has slated for updates, when those updates are coming, or if they'll ever come at all. (iPods and Macbooks aren't kitchen sink-ers and never will be.) So I hold it on faith, based on a trust that Apple will do what's right for us, not just what's convenient. I wouldn't make the same bet with your dollars, however, which is why I have to tell you to wait for those updates to come before you buy. But clearly, many feel the same way I do and have taken the dive; we all just have to ask ourselves what's right for us in this situation, like rational, intelligent, thinking, grown ups (or not, if you're a drooling fanboy). And we should together ask Apple to roll the software updates soon and often. Steve Willing, Apple, please fix our Jesus phone. One more thing. What took you guys so long to review this? And where are the fanboys I know and love/hate? Like you, I've coveted the idea of an Apple phone since it wasn't any more real than a unicorn. And when it was delivered last Friday, almost seven months after the announcement at Macworld 2007, the hype and spin were so thick, there was no way anyone could write an objective review. Ten days after I camped, plunked down $600 for one, and signed the two year contract, I think I have the perspective to understand what it means to live with this phone. Many reviews abound, but I don't think anyone has written about it from the perspective of ownership yet. That's my take on the situation. My mind is clear; this isn't a knee-jerk reaction. Massive, 10,000 word iPhone Hands on Guide by Gizmodo and Friends Below is the massive iPhone hands on guide, which I'll brag about and say its the only review you need. Not because we believe we captured everything, even in such a word count backed up by dozens and dozens and dozens of hours of research and writing. It's because it neatly summarizes much of the important hands on research from the reviewing community.
Authors, if you've got facts we've missed and should include, let us know. I'll update the post, and add a link to your original iPhone research as a link below. Readers, may this guide serve you as your complete guide to the iPhone until v.2 arrives.
History in Brief The iPhone was announced by Steve Jobs at the Macworld 2007 Keynote, January 9th, 2007, at 9:42AM. (The same time appears on the iPhone in many ads and photos.) Before that, it was the subject of many fanboy photochops and speculative rumors. It was referred to as the Jesus Phone in December 2006, a move that we at Gizmodo now kind of regret. (Wikipedia's page has a lot more history.) [top]
Hardware The iPhone's corporeal self is composed of a plate of optical-quality glass featuring a slot for an earpiece up top, a home button on the bottom, which together sandwiches a 3.5-inches. This is a very yummy sandwich. There's a stainless steel rim bevel flush around the face, which caps the aluminum body. The home button brings you back to the main menu if your phone is unlocked, much like a TiVo remote's TiVo button. Some have wished it had a secondary function with a double tap or hold, but I like it as is.
The aluminum rear has a distinct rocker for ring, earpiece, headphone and speaker volume, as well as a toggle for ringtone off, which mutes all sound but that from the iPod functions. The matte finish won't show scuffs, unlike that of an iPod.
On top, there's an instant standby/wake button. It can trigger shutdown if held long enough and then followed up with a finger swipe on the touchscreen. There's also a SIM tray that you eject by paperclip or pin. The headphone jack has that quality of...lameness. It's recessed, so many headphones, minijack cables and cassette adapters for the iPod or any portable media player just won't fit. Belkin sells an extension adapter for $10, but this design feels almost malicious in nature. A shock coming from friendly Apple.
The iPhone's 2MP, 1600x1200 camera is located on the top left of the back, and is nothing more than a recessed lens. No flash. More on how it performs, and what it lacks, later.
The bottom back of the iPhone has an Apple logo dead center, and some etchings: "iPhone" in a large font, with the words "Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.", Model, IMEI, FCC ID, serial numbers, as well as capacity (8GB or 4GB in a little rectangle).
The bottom fifth or so of the back plate is plastic, which houses the radio antennas. That places it as far away from the headphone jack as possible for minimal interference. (There's still some GSM buzz at times, when using a dock or a cassette adapter, but never with the stock headphones.) It also houses the 30-pin dock connector you're familiar with from generations of iPods, and a speaker, which is unrated but fairly loud, especially since it appears that only one of those grills is actually a speaker with the second grill possibly being a mic. Bass and ringtones above 50% definitely overdrive the little guy, so I'm not sure many of these speakers will last beyond year one. [top]
Headphones Apple provided a set of mic-enabled headphones that, thankfully, fit into the recessed slender headphone jack. The buds fit like your dad's jacket when you were 14; loosely, but they get the job done. You definitely shouldn't be going jogging with them. The audio quality is fairly decent, on par with current Apple headphones, which is to say, "replace them". But the default pair does have a mic for taking calls, and an in-line button you can press for song and call control. Click once to pause the song, twice to forward to the next song, once when a call comes in to answer, and once more to end it.
But since you'll be using this to make calls as often as you'll be using it to listen to tunes, you'll be happy to hear that there's no GSM buzz or interference at all. Some have wrapped it around the iPhone to verify this. We've had less luck with some of our tape AC adapters in our cars (one has buzz, one works fine), and horrible luck with line-in iPod docks (definitely buzz when the iPhone's close enough to the speaker). But we're happy that the $10 Belkin adapter, although overly long, allows us to listen to music in our cars. Speaking of third-party adapters, the V-Moda Vibe Duos we've been using are as good as V-Moda Vibe headphones for music, which is to say, very good for the price. Not only that, you can also take calls with the Duos, which means you can shove the Apple stock headphones into your bag to use in emergencies. [top]
Size and Weight Small women, children and dwarves have said it to be heavy compared with the thinnest phones. At 4.8 ounces and 4.5 x 2.4 and .46 inches, it fits well within the palm of a manly hand such as mine, but not so comfortably inside of a tight pair of Jordaches. There is, as you must surely know, no physical keyboard. And I like it like this. (More on this later.) My stainless steel rim is already scratched, and I baby this phone, so don't expect any handsets from the original shipment to look very good after a year of use if not housed in one of those over the top aftermarket cases. [top]
Touchscreen It's the brightest and most contrasty LCD I've seen on a portable, and although I haven't had the heart to test my own for durability, the consensus is that it's very scratch resistant and pretty smash resistant...for a piece of glass. (See PC World's saddistic torture tests, which claim it's sturdy, and see this video of Mr. Butterfingers dropping it one second after opening it.) It's manufactured by Balda, a German company:
Balda now makes glass-surfaced screens that are far more sensitive, thinner, and harder to scratch or smudge than the plastic displays that now dominate. They offer sharper resolution, and unlike conventional touch screens—which get confused by more than one finger at a time—Balda's displays can sense several human digits simultaneously.
This suggests that the glass screen upgrade Apple boasted about in mid-June alongside a battery upgrade was facetious, and the glass screen was planned all along. It also explains why even the smallest links on a webpage, in Safari, are easy to click on. It does not explain why the keyboard seems to only like one key press at a time.
BTW, it's so bright that I've turned it down to preserve battery life. Even at 25% of max output, the screen is easily visible. [top]
Sensors In addition to the multitouch screen, the iPhone has three second tier sensors. 1) An accelerometer that detects rotation of the phone from landscape to portrait. 2) A light sensor that can be used to automatically dim and brighten the LCD's backlight. 3) a proximity sensor that knows when I put the iPhone to my greasy face. It then shuts off the backlight and keeps the buttons from being triggered. Fancy, and useful. [top]
The Rest of the Guts The memory is the same kind by Samsung used in iPod nanos, and the processor is an ARM design. All components, from power management, to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, are established as phone components. The point: This brings the cost of manufacturing down, and the reliability up. That's a big sign of relief from a company with a history of shoddy v1.0s. It's not the hardware you have to worry about here, with possible exception of the battery. (More on this later.) This phone will NEVER run 3G without a new radio in here. For details, see semiconductor.com or iSuppli 3rd party experts who have done knowledgeable teardowns. [top]
User Interface Multitouch You know those iPhone commercials with the baby music and the ghost hand? Don't they make using the iPhone look easy? Well using the multi-digit touchscreen interface is actually that simple. It allows for scrolling through lists of movies, music, contacts, and through long webpages even easier than if you were using a full-sized PC with mouse and keyboard. The same goes for zooming in and out of maps and webpages. It's the iPhone's best feature, and everyone from geeks to technophites should pick it up without any hesitation. Apple is ages ahead of anyone here (except Jeff Han, who might be working on something even cooler). There are a few gestures. • Flick: For scrolling lists and Cover Flow, place your finger on the screen and slide it quickly across as if you were spinning a wheel. Speed is variable. • Stop: By dropping your finger on the screen after a fast flick, you can stop the motion. • Double click: In most apps, this zooms. • Click: For navigating URLs in Safari and selecting buttons and media files. • Pinch in: For controlled zooming out, take two fingers on the surface of a photo or webpage, and squeeze them together to move the image out. The ratio of pinch to zoom isn't quite proportional. • Spread out: The opposite of pinching, for zooming in. [top]
Keyboard I like the virtual keyboard. Apple shouldn't try to compare it to the physical equivalent in, say, a Blackberry Curve, but it's definitely an upgrade to a predictive text or a basic dialpad. (Hey, it's got an iPod inside; this is not supposed to be a phone for suits.) When you're not operating in silent mode, there's a satisfying audio tic, which makes for a nice bit of feedback, even if not tactile like an Immersion technology system. (They should maybe add this, a little rumble induced by the vibrate motor every time you click a key.) When you get the hang of it it can be extremely fast because you're not actually pressing keys but merely glancing them. (Here's a video of someone typing fast on an iPhone.)
In fact, going fast depends on you letting the predictive correction fix things for you as your fingers fly. Say you type "teh" instead of "ten"? Since N and H are relatively near each other, the iPhone will suggest "ten" in a popup, which you can select by hitting the spacebar. (As if you were just moving on to the next word.) To cancel an impending autofix, just click on the x in the popup (above). Cancel the autocorrection twice and it'll add the word to the dictionary. Be careful, as once you add a word, you can't erase it unless you reset the dictionary to default, eliminating all the words you've added. It's an elegant solution to the cramped keyboard, but still a hack in the sense that a working keyboard shouldn't assume you are going to make errors all the time.
The keyboard has no landscape mode for anything but Safari, which makes sense. The keyboard takes up too much real estate in landscape mode, leaving just a sliver of real estate left over, and to make people input text in portrait, while browsing in Safari's landscape mode would be disruptive.
Some people have said the main keyboard needs a period, although there is a neat trick where you hold the key that switches to the symbol/numeric keyboard and slide your finger up to the symbol you want to quickly get there. (Details.) This click-and-hold method also works for quickly capitalizing letters when holding shift and sliding to the letter you wish capitalized. Oh, since your finger will be over the keys you want to type, the iPhone pops up the letter you're depressing to inform you of your impending keystroke. Handy for sliding your finger to the correct key if you're about to mistype. [top]
Magnifying Glass To move the cursor around a body of typed text, tap and hold until a movable loupe, or magnifying glass appears. Very useful, although it sometimes will appear offscreen when doing this in Safari's landscape keyboard mode. Unfortunately, the cursor shift doesn't include a way to select text for copying and pasting. A major annoyance, but we love the loupe. Maybe there can be a hotkey which triggers text selection in Loupe mode. [top]
Overall Some reviewers have complained about the general lack of coherence between UI language from app to app. That's easy to explain. Apple developed the phone using separate teams, all working with limited information, as to limit leaks. Without someone micromanaging and coordinating these teams during such a tight development schedule, it's likely many of these details were overlooked. It's not a big deal, but it does show seams in the iPhone's designs. [top]
Favorites This is your speed dial list. It's unlimited, and you fill it by toggling a switch in your main contact list, or by clicking the + button on the favorites page and selecting a contact. Unfortunately, you can't setup a true one touch speed dial from the home page, or do voice dialing of favorites from speed dial. Even cheap phones have this feature. The best you can do from locked is 2 to 3 presses to dial. The favorites list can be edited or manually resorted.
Recents Along with the favorites list, the recent calls list helps to make sure that you'll have to go into your giant contact list as seldom as possible. You can toggle between all calls and missed calls, and the list will aggregate multiple calls to and from the same contact next to each other into one entry, complete with time or day (Yesterday, Friday, Etc). The list can get pretty long, so it includes a toggle to view only missed calls (listed in red), and a button to clear the list. BTW, missed calls are tallied on the icon, and are added with new voicemails to the main phone icon's tally. (See the Phone icon above, and it's annotated '3'.)
Contacts The rest of the contact list is fantastic. You can use the swiping method to browse through your list, and if it's large enough, the alphabet shortcut list shows up along the right-hand margin as well. Drag your finger along here to jump to the corresponding letter, which is by default set by last name. What you can't do is search for an individual contact by typing the name, which is useful for people with gigantic lists. Since contacts sync very cleanly with Address Book on the Mac, you'll be able to fetch all details that are in the list on your computer onto your phone, and vice versa. Add a new address on your Mac, and it goes onto your phone. Add a profile pic on your iPhone, and it ends up on your Mac. It's easily the best contact manager we've seen on a phone, smartphone or otherwise. And the iPhone is very flexible with custom data fields.
Surprise, surprise, we have a complaint: If you move contacts around in groups on the Mac, it doesn't quite sync up to the phone unless you give it the old "overwrite all contacts on next sync" option in iTunes. And you can't send contacts, by Bluetooth, email, SMS, or any other method, to another person.
Keypad We're going to have to say that the virtual keypad is even better than a real keypad. The buttons are gigantic. It's hard to find a phone with buttons this big, virtual or otherwise. I like that if you exit the dialpad with half a number in there, it's still there when you return. (Useful for looking up phone numbers online, since you can't cut and paste from Safari or any other app on the phone.) You can also dial a number and quickly add it to the contacts list using the button on the bottom left of the dial pad.
Visual Voicemail Visual Voicemail works flawlessly. There's a list of messages that you can easily listen to like a set of sound files. You can easily call the guy back or delete the email, as well as scrub through the message to the part you want to repeat. There's a big button for calling back the person who left the message, too. Visual Voicemail, unfortunately, doesn't download messages to your phone for playback when you're not online (in an airplane) and can't be backed up to iTunes. Messages delete after 30 days, automatically after you've listened to them. There's a play/pause control, a time bar, and callback and delete buttons. There's a button for going to the caller's contact info in address book, and speakerphone. Voicemail greetings can be recorded here, too. Effective, efficient, and a great idea executed flawlessly. It's worth noting that even if someone figures out how to unlock an iPhone in the future, Visual Voicemail requires backend integration, so this function won't work at all on another network. If we had a gripe, it's that the iPhone doesn't have an occasional audio chime to let you know about waiting messages. (And SMS or missed calls, either.)
Picking Up a Call When a call comes in, the ID or contact name gets plastered across the top of the screen, with the wallpaper below. (That's a photo of my favorite beach on Kauai, on the north side of the island.) To pick up while your phone is locked, you have to slide your finger across the unlock bar on the bottom of the screen. It's a tactile experience that is far more satisfying than smacking a button. If your phone is already unlocked, you get still adequate Decline/Answer button combo in the photo above. I prefer the slider, but there's something really fun about punching down on big red and green keys, even if virtual. To stop the ringing, press the top mounted standby button once; to kick your caller to vmail, hit it twice.
Call Quality Some have said the iPhone's call quality is great. I don't know that to be true. Whether it's the network, or the phone, to me, calls sounded like the person on the other end of the line had marbles in his or her mouth. And generally wasn't loud enough. (I tested this with back to back calls using a Treo 755 and Helio.) Of course, in 19 out of 20 cities, AT&T is rated either last or second to last in reception, so you're starting off crippled.
On Call Menu While you're yapping, the screen is filled with a six pack of softkeys: Mute, Keypad, Speaker, Add Call, Hold Contacts. Under that, a big red bar button for End Call. The buttons don't get pressed while it's against your face, thanks to the proximity sensor under the glass, next to the earpiece and light sensor, which darkens the screen and disables the touchscreen. The Add Call button is most interesting, and is used for conference calling.
Conference The iPhone's conference system lets you add up to five people to a call by dialing them, or having them dial in. You have to leave the conference to dial or answer, at which point the Add Call button turns into a Merge icon. Click that to get everyone on the same line. The Caller ID scrolls to show who's is there. And a submenu gives you the power to speak to callers in private, as well as hang up on them. No idea if calling five people at once eats up your minutes at 5x, but you can be pretty sure AT&T isn't giving anything away here. If there's any function that needs a parental control, it's this one. (Parents of teenagers, I'm talking to you.)
Multitasking One of the most ingenious things about the iPhone's call system is that you can click to answer on speaker or headset, and then multitask. Great for boring work conference calls. Browse the web, check your calendar, email, SMS, and even play videos and music (the other party can even hear your tunes if you put them on speaker and cup the base of the iKaraoke phone). They won't even hear your keystrokes on the touchscreen. Furthermore, to get back to the Call Menu, there's a clearly labeled green bar. One shortcoming -- AT&T's EDGE doesn't work while you're on a call, so you have to be rocking Wi-Fi to use Safari, send text messages or email. Still, very nice.
Ringtones Kinda Suck The 22 ringtones the iPhone ships with are at worst, annoying, at best, benign. Right now, you can't load up your own music files or buy new ringtones from AT&T. I'm sure this will change soon, judging by the iTunes 7.3 code referring to ringtones, and I'm hoping that Steve injects some fairness into the process as he did with online music and iTunes. Here's a video walk through of all em, should you care to judge for yourself. I prefer the Piano Riff ("Bad to the Bone") or Xylophones. The ring volume can be extreeeeemly loud. So loud that the speakers seem to be straining from the load of anything past 50%. You can adjust the ringtone volume using the rocker switch on the left side of the phone. It looks just like the volume popup on OS X. [top]
SMS The SMS app would probably be the best SMS we've seen on any phone, smartphones included. There's an iChat-like chat bubble interface, which is like a threaded conversation with one particular contact. And URLs prefaced by http and www get turned into hyperlinks that direct you to Safari. But it's missing some key features even bargain-bin cellphones have. You can't send messages to more than one person at once. Plus, there's no character counter and there's no way to delete more than one SMS "thread" at once—so you're going to have to go one by one if you want to clear everything out. There's no way to sort messages by name (the default sort is by date), you can't customize the bubble colors, back up your SMS to SIM or your computer, and it's unclear who the last message was from if you're in the list view. Deficiencies abound.
In addition to all those things, there's the feeling that we get that the iPhone takes longer than other phones to "send" the message, because once you hit send, the phone locks you into a progress bar that takes a few seconds to fill. In other phones, you can hit send and shove your phone into your pocket immediately after and let the OS deal with actually sending in the background. Not so here. Did Picard have to wait three seconds after each message to Mr. Worf? We thought this was the future.
And of course, the giant complaint is the iPhone's lack of MMS messages. There's not even an option for just sending pictures and not video (which you wouldn't be able to record on this thing anyway), which makes you "oof" like being grazed in the nuts by a basketball. You can manage to send fake MMS messages to people by emailing them at their phone number email at their provider (example: [email protected]), but you'll have to enter this in for everybody's contact, which requires you know the email suffix for each provider, and you have to know what service your friends use in the first place. (Here's a list of the suffixes, btw.)
If a friend does taunt you by sending you an MMS, you get an SMS that tells you that you can view the message at viewmymessage.com using an included ID and a password. It's a shame that this is pretty much useless in the field since there's no way to click that URL and visit it in Safari, and there's no way to cut and paste the ID and password. That's just an awful design choice, because you can actually get a clickable URL in SMS messages (we tested with various disgusting URLs) if you format the link correctly. It could have been very easy to make this work correctly so you could at least view MMSes on the iPhone easily. One last thing: Trying to log into that website and retrieve MMS messages actually didn't work for us, over several tries. Pathetic!
Even with all these setbacks, the SMS app still gives you a neat history of all your previous conversations, there's unlimited SMS storage like smartphones, and there's a nice looking transparent alert that pops up no matter which app you're using, and the general feeling that you're using iChat instead of SMS. [top]
Email Email whores will rejoice at how easy it is to browse long lists of emails with multitouch finger swipes. In that way, the mail app is a step up from regular phones, and even compares favorably to Windows Mobile smartphones. But in many ways may be a step down from what business-heads are used to on the BlackBerry. You can delete messages either by clicking the trash icon inside a message, swiping your finger in the message list and clicking delete, or hitting the edit button and two-finger-back-and-forth deleting emails. None of these are optimal. Why is there no capability to highlight multiple or all emails for delete? And the front page mail counter will always be pegged at the maximum download limit of 200 messages per account you've set up, so its usefulness is curbed. (You do get more than 200 emails per day, right?) You also can't mark or unmark emails as read in iMAP accounts, and sometimes email messages will get stuck sending, requiring a reboot.
The iPhone has push email only for Yahoo Mail, but can check Gmail, AOL Mail, and .Mac mail natively. No love for Hotmail here, but checking Hotmail on an iPhone is like having the DeLorean but using it to go shopping at Costco. Although the client works great with standard Gmail, it's very quirky with hosted Gmail setups. Depending on your settings and how angry Zeus is at the moment, emails will show up sometimes on both your iPhone and your computer, and sometimes in one or the other. We can't tell whether it's the iPhone's fault, Mail.app's fault, or Gmail's fault, but we'd recommend skipping hosted Gmail on your iPhone until it's cleared up.
Viewing email, however, is classier than Grace Kelly in Rear Window. You can use the standard pinching for zooming and flicking for scrolling, which works just as well as it does in other apps. Individual emails display just as you'd expect on a desktop client, and even supports JPEGs, PDFs, Word docs and Excel Docs in attachments.
Word docs displayed charts, but choked on a big image inserted inside the doc; Excel files need to have columns formatted properly, because you can't expand narrow columns and text won't always wrap properly (tabs worked, though). PDFs worked fine, as you'd imagine, although we didn't test out a protected PDF. Again, you can't edit these files. Which will make corporate types and Wall Street jerks cry, but really, this is a phone with an iPod inside. Did you really think Steve was making it for you? And thanks to the fact that you can't take or make calls when you're actively using an EDGE connection, your boss will know, by you not picking up, exactly when you were surfing Gizmodo on the phone instead of doing work. Missing calls because you're browsing the web is a shitty way to limit a device, but this is AT&T's fault.
There are more weaknesses: All you get when you sync with your Mac Mail.app is a autoconfig of POP and IMAP settings on the phone. There's no "reply to" setting, no capability to mark all messages as read, no BCC, no spell-check (Apple probably wants you to rely on the word-by-word auto-correcting), and no multiple deletion or emptying of the trash can. There's a setting for auto-delete after a certain time, but that's it. Plus, again, you can only view 200 messages at once, which is fine for most of the population, but not nearly good enough for someone who needs to know exactly where his emails are. You know, like Dick Cheney. And, it's maybe an unfair gripe, but a search function here would be very helpful. Fast scroll or not, no one wants to scroll through a long list of emails to find something you can easily find with a keyword.
On the whole, the email app is just good enough that you'll be able to use it on the go, but just bad enough that you'll wish you were actually home on a computer. [top]
iPod Although the iPhone is supposed to be three devices in one, there's only one of these devices that's perfect -- the iPod. With almost six years of experience making iPods, Apple took the best of the latest generation Video iPod and made it even better with touchscreen controls and a giant screen. Yes, there's not even a virtual scroll wheel, but the flick and touch interface actually work even better. Imagine if someone lopped off your arms and gave you super-strength cybernetic ones as a replacement. You may be used to the old, gentler way of doing things, but once you get used to it, the new way's actually better. Um...what we mean is that we still like both the iPod and the Zune interfaces, but the iPhone tops both, easily.
Finding what you want to play is very simple. The text is nice and large, and browsing lists with either flicking or, in the case of longer lists, using the alphabet on the right is fast. If you tilt the phone to either the left or the right, you go into Cover Flow view (which Apple should work into every device they will ever build) and voila! You're browsing through albums as if you pulled them off a dusty shelf. It actually works well here, seeing as your song selection is limited by the 8GB of storage.
Once you find the track you want to play and start playing it, you'll notice the gigantic album art staring you in the face. Seriously, the cover image is bigger than even on the Zune's. What's even better about this playback screen over the iPod's is that stuff like album track list, song ratings, volume controls and playback controls are at most one click away. No more clicking four times just to rate a song. Those speakerphone speakers on the bottom of the iPhone are great for listening to music on the go as well, but unfortunately only produce sound out of the left speaker. I know, totally crazy. But it's likely that the microphone is being housed under the other grill. The external volume buttons are a nice touch, so you won't have to head back into the iPod app if you want things only slightly quieter.
And since this is a three-in-one device, you can actually use the iPod while doing other things as well. Multitasking is pretty stable, and only crashes occasionally when in Safari or some other processor-intensive task. Rarely when making a call. And speaking of calls, yes, the music does fade out and restart when you take and hang up a call. (For video, it doesn't start replaying automatically.) Interesting note: If you're on speakerphone, you can actually play a song back, cup the speaker into the mic, and have an impromptu karaoke session with your buddy.
We also noticed a bug in iTunes syncing. Occasionally you will re-sync a few tracks or playlist or albums back to your phone even though the files are already there. The re-synced songs get pushed into the "other" data section, which means there's no way to reclaim this without factory resetting your phone. This bug became so bad that iTunes resynced all our music and pushed the original 2.5GB into the "other" section, which means the only way we can reclaim that space now is to run a factory reset. Luckily for you, as long as you sync before you do a factory reset, iTunes will keep your call logs, your SMS messages, and most of your settings as well so you can re-sync after the reset is done.
Another annoyance comes from iPhoto popping open whenever you connect the phone to your computer and have pictures on your iPhone to sync. iTunes coming up is fine, since you need it to sync, having iPhoto start up as well bogs everything down if you don't actually want to grab photos off your phone.
Because this is the iPod with the largest screen ever, you'd expect video to work great, and it does. Music videos downloaded from iTunes are smooth as butter-substitute, and miscellaneous video files encoded for iPod such as downloaded video, TiVoToGo, and DVDs all work great on the iPhone as well. We've had great success using Roxio's crunch to convert files downloaded from random places on the internet, and Handbrake'd DVDs. The only limitation is the 4GB or 8GB capacity, which means you're just barely going to have enough video for a 14-hour flight to Japan.
There's no surprises in the audio codec support. AAC, protected AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible (1, 2 and 3), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV all made it in. In video, H.264 and MPEG-4, with various audio (.m4v, .mov, .mp4) file formats are also supported. No DivX, no WMV, and nothing out of the ordinary here.
When you're done viewing a video, the iPhone will ask if you want to delete it, which thankfully asks for confirmation. You can also delete videos by swiping your fingers across like you do for an SMS or email, which is kind of hidden if you're not used to the swiping gesture. But if you do it this way, and then sync without unchecking those movies in iTunes, it'll reload them. Annoying. And of course, the lack of a TV out means you can't actually watch these videos on a TV, which kind of sucks.
There's also no lyrics support, no TV out and way less storage compared with the 30GB or 80GB models. Needless to say, the storage thing might not be a big deal if you're docking nightly. A 5th-gen iPod can't match the iPhone's giant screen. [top]
Safari Apple calls Safari "the real internet" on a phone, but it's still not nearly as good as a desktop browser. Without Flash support, Java support, and a full-featured AJAX support, you can still view most webpages, but you won't be able to get the most out of every site. That said, it kicks the living crap out of browsers on any other phone, and even third party greatness like Opera Mini. Everything just renders right. Gizmodo, Gmail (plain text support), Google Documents (Edit HTML mode), NY Times, Xbox Live, Fandango and various other sites all display very desktop-like, although without the noted flash support. Windows mobile fans will recognize the browser as being quite similar to the Deepfish developmental browser from Microsoft. (Ironically, it still crashes and kicks you out to the menu frequently.)
Some nice touches: using the magnifier cursor when you want to reposition your cursor in a text box, using a dial for a dropdown list item, auto-zooming in onto text fields when you select them, native Apple Trailer support, and automatic bookmark syncing with Safari on the desktop. It also supports landscape mode (both left and right), which also brings up a wider keyboard if you're not used to the default one.
The browser supports 8 tabbed windows, that are held in a separate tab page and flipped through coverflow style. (But slower.) In any case, they're accessible by bringing up the tab menu and flipping through currently open pages. It works quite well as a tab implementation, but it's hard to keep track of many of them if you've a lot of them open. Opening up a bunch can lead to instability as well. Thankfully there aren't a bunch of plug-ins loading in the background to bog down the browser.
Safari has an RSS reader. Actually, it's a web app at Reader.mac.com that activates any time you click on an RSS feed. It works quickly, and provides links to the original post, and you can bookmark them. The bad is that you can't cache entries offline for reading on a plane.
As a replacement browser when you need to look at something really quick on the go, this iPhone Safari definitely gets the job done. And EDGE browsing isn't nearly as bad as even Jobs had suggested. (He was being modest!) [top]
Notes This Notes app is useful in the same way that a man dying of hunger eats rats and berries—you can't be choosy when it's all you've got. In the absence of voice notes, to-do lists, and Microsoft Word support, Notes is the only place in the entire phone that you can actually take down notes (unless you count writing an email to yourself). And thanks to the fact that it doesn't actually SYNC to anything through iTunes (not even to the Notes in Mail.app under Leopard yet), it stays on your phone until you delete it.
Actually typing in notes with the keyboard is fine, but with the standard keyboard up, you can only use half the screen's real estate at once. There's no horizontal orientation for typing either, like in Safari. But there is a fancy magnifying glass cursor that you can use to move the cursor around. And thanks to the fact that the period, commas, and everything else but letters are on the second "symbol" keyboard, you're going to be switching back and forth for punctuation or leaving them out entirely and sounding like your BFF Jill.
The notes themselves are different in look and feel from anything else in the iPhone, complete with Sticky Notes fonts and hand-drawn icons on the bottom. It doesn't appeal to everyone (it does to me). Also, besides the email app, Notes is probably the one place where you're going to miss not being able to copy and paste text. And if you want to get your notes to someone else, your only option is to mail the note in its entirety, sans formatting (there's no formatting anyway), in the body of an email. There's no way to send it as an attachment.
With the lack of Word document support, it would have been nice to be able to convert incoming Word docs into Notes, edit them in plain text and email them off afterwards, but no such luck here. The nice flipbook effect when you flip through multiple notes is nice, but doesn't make up for feature shortcomings. We just hope that when Leopard arrives, notes can actually sync to your PC so they become slightly more useful. [top]
Calculator What can we say? It's a simple calculator. It's nice that Apple added this in, since every phone since the Carter administration has one, but we wish there was some audible feedback when you pressed a button. A click noise, a beep, or even an "awooooga" noise. Anything! But it does make for a nice tip calculator, which may actually backfire with the waiter looks on you with disgust, thinking "You have enough cash for an iPhone but all you're giving me is a measly 12%?" [top]
Clock Although a clock, timers and a stopwatch would hardly qualify for a "top level" app, Apple's done a good job in combining the OS X Dashboard clock with the boring clock/alarm/timer apps in other phones.
The World Clock app shows four different time zones/clocks at once, but can support any number of locations if you're either pulling off a multi-national bank heist or just keeping track of what time it is where each Gizmodo writer lives. You can re-order the clocks, which is great, but unfortunately the clock icon on the top level icon menu doesn't represent the current time. It would have been so much cooler if it had.
The Alarm app can also set an unlimited amount of alarms that fire off one of your many (somewhat lousy) ringtones on the iPhone, complete with snooze and repeat options. You select the time with a dial, which is actually as much fun to play around with as it is to actually use to set an alarm. Again, if user-customizable ringtones eventually arrive, you may be able to use them as your alarm tone as well. Waking up from a nap to one of the default ringtones is just painful.
The Stopwatch app has nice big digits and supports an unlimited amount of "laps." We tested that by jamming our finger on the lap button spastically, not by actually running. Who do you think we are?
The Timer app is a regular countdown timer that plays back, again, one of your ringtones. There's an even bigger dial here that you can fiddle with. [top]
Weather Just like the clock app, the Weather app borrows heavily from the OS X Dashboard's weather widget. And just like the clock, it's a shame that it doesn't show the current weather as the actual icon (though coincidentally it actually is 73 degrees right now). The weather is displayed in tabs, and you can scroll through your current set by flicking left and right. The dot indicators on the bottom show which weather tab you're currently looking at.
What's strange to us is that the iPhone weather is powered by Yahoo, whereas the Dashboard weather is powered by Accuweather. This mismatch means you're going to get different temperatures depending on where you look, and the question of which is more accurate is up to meteorologists to debate. Suffice it to say, the six-day forecast is enough to make sure you always have a jacket whenever you need a jacket.
Commenter Photoman reminds us of the Yahoo icon:
[The button]takes the city you're viewing on weather, pops it into the browser and gives you a Yahoo info page on that city, with events, movie times, pictures etc etc.
If we could make the weather icon active on the menu, complete with live-updating temperatures, that would be good. (The calendar icon does this.) It's kind of bad that the front icon is always showing sunny and 73 degrees, especially when the calendar app is updated live. [top]
The first and most important thing to note is that there is no GPS in the iPhone. The Google Maps app does the best it can without a GPS, but having to enter your current location (if you even know it) before getting directions is annoying. Once you do enter your starting location, you can get turn-by-turn directions that even simulate a GPS (you tell it when you're turning by clicking next). The real-time traffic is nice if you're commuting, and will definitely save you time when you're rushing out the door. And even without GPS data, it would be nice to be able to set a home town, or cache your last location of search so that unspecified queries for businesses would be local. (Tip: I just use my local zip code.)
This app, BTW, is far better than Safari/Google for searching for businesses. Locations can be easily added to the contact list, a separate bookmark in maps, and the phone numbers of any businesses can be dialed right away.
Contact integration, again is excellent, and you can map the address of anyone in your main address book. To go home, just search for yourself or make a bookmark of your home named "home." Once you find a business, you can get directions to or from that location, add it to your bookmarks, or even create a new contact for it if you want to save it for later. This usually works, but searching for "ramen" sent me to "Ramen Sovramonte Veneto, Italy", where there's probably very little actual ramen to be found.
The map app shares similar UI traits with other iPhone apps, and this consistency is both Apple's strength and a thorn in its ass. It's great that the app remembers exactly what you were doing if a call comes in; this could have been a source of major headaches. But other UI traits like pinching and scrolling don't quite work all that well here. Scrolling gets the job done, but pinching is a pain if you want to quickly move from one place on the map to another. Google Maps just requires a far greater level of zoom and pan than any website or photo in your album. Zooming by double clicking many many times is the better way to go. And, you will look like a woodpecker going from city to street view. Map data seems to cache, and do pretty well over EDGE. (Street view is faster than the detailed satellite mode, however.)
What's lacking from maps, besides GPS, is hybrid satellite view. The current satellite view just shows satellite and not street names, which is fun for peeping around, but somewhat useless because you can't tell what streets you're looking at without toggling back and forth between map view. EDGE is also slow, but it eventually loads the map and gets the job done. This is fine if you're not in a hurry, but if you're totally lost and trying to find out exactly where you are, it can be exasperating. For the chronically lost (me), this definitely doesn't