Review: Apple iPhone (4GB/8GB/16GB)
Pros: A truly next-generation mobile phone with world-class industrial design, iPod-caliber audio and video playback, and great telephone performance in handset, speakerphone, or Bluetooth modes. Novel, nice approach to “visual” voicemail. Strong web and photo browsing features are augmented by a gorgeous, high-resolution 3.5” widescreen display and novel multi-point touchscreen controls; iPod functionality benefits significantly from good built-in speaker. Acceptable full-day battery life for typical users, and good e-mail client with initial signs of enough features (some Exchange server support, Word, PDF, and Excel document display) to satisfy more demanding business users. Surprisingly strong EDGE performance for web and even YouTube video use, boosted to sub-laptop speeds when switched to Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) network.
Cons: Two-year AT&T contract required for purchase; not usable with other wireless carriers, forcing users to rely upon AT&T’s less than superb customer service and inconsistent network coverage regardless of their regional or personal needs. No true instant messaging support; overpriced SMS feature. Size, price, limited storage, and lack of user-replaceable battery restrict appeal to a smaller-than-iPod market niche—for now. Significant TDMA noise and other physical and electronic incompatibilities make use of iPod accessories, as well as docking to your computer, somewhat unpleasant. Long-term durability and warranty/out-of-warranty replacement questions remain unclear and potentially significant for all buyers.
Step back a moment and consider where we are today, at the beginning of July, 2007. Apple Inc. has sold over 100 million iPods, and around 3 billion songs through its iTunes Store. It is finally regaining market share in the personal computer industry it helped to create. And it has now accomplished what fans have been dreaming about for years: it has released a mobile phone that it developed itself, from top to bottom.
Even before its June 29 release, Apple’s iPhone ($399/8GB, $499/16GB)
succeeded in capturing America’s national consciousness to a staggering extent: the company had never released a cell phone, its most notable pocket-sized product, iPod, struggled to sell 100,000 units over its first months on the market, and its collaboration with Motorola for ROKR, SLVR, and RAZR “iTunes phones” was widely received as disappointing. Yet somehow, the very premise of iPhone—a mobile phone with museum-quality design, unusually straightforward telephone calling, and advanced Internet and iPod-style multimedia features—managed to draw hundreds of thousands of customers to attend launches at stores run by Apple and its U.S. partner, AT&T. They lined up by the hundreds despite factors such as a relatively high price, certain hardware limitations, and the fact that only four independent people were allowed to fully test and write about it before its release. [Editor’s Notes: On September 5, 2007, Apple dropped the price of the 8GB iPhone to $399, and discontinued the 4GB iPhone. On February 5, 2008, Apple added a 16GB iPhone at a $499 price point, without otherwise changing the device’s features or dimensions. Our review was updated solely to reflect the price and capacity changes.]
The “somehow” is now obvious: when it works, iPhone is a nearly miraculous product. Running a stripped-down version of Apple’s OS X operating system, iPhone feels more like using a next-generation Apple tablet computer than an upgraded iPod, offering web, e-mail, widget, and communication features that have been made “cool” through simplicity, a colorful high-resolution LCD screen, and a brave new multi-point touch interface. Plus, whether it’s playing back music, movies, or photos on that display—a 3.5” widescreen—only bug-obsessed users will find anything to complain about. iPhone takes the best recent features from iTunes, including Cover Flow, simple video controls, and simple photo optimization, and creates an outstanding update to the familiar iPod interface. It is also an almost superb cell phone, better than we’d thought likely, with only small caveats.
Unfortunately, iPhone also suffers from several issues that we consider to be relatively serious: first-generation hardware problems, some snags in customer service, and its lack of a user-replaceable battery are major reasons that some users will want to wait for the second-generation iPhone, whenever Apple releases it. Comparatively minor issues—such as several less than fully streamlined applications, missing features, and small software glitches—won’t turn users away, but will leave them expecting more. For these reasons, while iPhone is a considerably more impressive achievement for Apple than was the original iPod in 2001, and a strong starting point for a transformation of the mobile phone industry, it’s not right for everyone quite yet. Our full review looks at iPhone’s good and bad points, continuing with the page links above and below. We’ve also added individual editors’ takes to page 9 of the review.
[Editor’s Notes: For additional details on iPhone’s myriad functions, its AT&T calling plans, storage capacities, and accessories, please check out our Complete Guide to All Things iPhone.]