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.
Text (SMS Messaging)
Our biggest disappointment with iPhone is its Text application, which we can describe only as a poor man’s substitute for Mac OS X’s iChat, and one that will make you poorer the more you use it. While Text does a nice job of presenting and organizing multiple SMS chat sessions, AT&T’s decision to fleece users for $10 or $20 per month in additional messaging charges makes the application all but worthless in our minds.
As the success of AOL Instant Messenger, iChat, and competing services has demonstrated, no one wants to pay per message to send stupid acronym-laden text strings to their friends with a data-ready device. Since AT&T’s already charging $20 per month more than competitors like T-Mobile for iPhone voice and minute plans, unlimited messaging wouldn’t have been a real stretch to just include in the plan; the lack of multimedia messaging is similarly sort of odd. It’s really a damned shame that iPhone doesn’t just include the iChat client everyone wants, as competing devices like Danger’s Sidekick 3 literally include multiple chat clients; this feature’s omission may well be a dealbreaker for serious instant messaging fans.
Little needs to be said about Calendar save that it cleanly presents iCal- or Outlook-synchronized calendar data in your choice of list, day, or month views, and unlike the iPod enables you to edit data on the road.
A nice touch is the main menu icon, which shows the current day of the week and month at all times.
Photos and Camera
These two parts of iPhone mostly work better than we expected. By cell phone standards, iPhone takes excellent photographs, though it provides almost no user control over the camera, and doesn’t include a flash. A fast lens and smart software enabled us to grab surprisingly detailed 2-Megapixel shots in morning, mid-day, and nighttime conditions, indoors and outdoors, with better than typical color rendition by phone standards. We like iPhone’s pictures better than ones taken with Apple’s iSight cameras, and the full-screen nearly realtime preview feature is very close to great, too. You can export photos from the iPhone to your PC or Mac, but can’t send full-resolution versions of the shots via e-mail; they’re reduced to 640x480.
The Photos component works exactly as Apple has shown, displaying lists of photo rolls synchronized from iTunes and taken by the camera, then 20 thumbnails at a time. Because the photos are typically better than the iPhone’s screen resolution, they can be zoomed into and out of to reveal additional detail, turned into great wallpaper for the iPhone’s initial screen, and displayed in a decent slideshow mode. Apple dropped the ball on including iPod-style transitions, however; despite iPhone’s incredible video power, you can choose only from Cube, Dissolve, Ripple, Wipe Across, and Wipe Down, without randomization. We get bored watching the same transitions again and again; adding the full iPhoto suite, and slideshow music, would make Photos even better.