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.
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Apple’s surprise 15th application for iPhone turns out to be one of the device’s best features. The web-based streaming video service actually works—via caching—when you’re on some EDGE networks, displaying an error message when it’s on too-slow cell towers, and always flows smoothly when you’re using iPhone’s Wi-Fi features. This guarantees that you’ll almost always have access to free video content to watch while you’re on the road—a major advantage over cell phones that try to charge you for junky clips. As with the iPod video functionality, YouTube playback looks as good as the material it’s fed, and benefits from a streamlined search interface, as well as bookmarking and “share” with friends features.
We weren’t blown away by YouTube on Apple TV, but on iPhone, it’s impressive, and limited only by the small collection of videos that are iPhone compatible. Videos uploaded only days ago still haven’t become available for viewing on iPhone, which surprised us given Apple comments to the contrary; it remains to be seen whether YouTube is able to get its full library transcoded for iPhone viewing by the previously announced Fall 2007 deadline.
Stocks, Weather, and Calculator
Derived from OS X widgets of the same names, these three applications work exactly as they’ve been demonstrated to work on both Macs and iPhones. They still look gorgeous, impress Mac neophytes, and offer very quick access to several types of information that people want to know about during the day. Stocks lets you add new stocks by company name rather than ticker ID if you prefer, which is great, and even tracks international stocks.
You can add multiple stocks and scroll through the list easily without displacing the on-screen performance chart; you can also search for information on the stocks from Yahoo with a single button press. Weather tracks multiple cities in individual windows, which are impressive when scrolled through.
iPhone’s Maps application, powered by data from Google Maps, is pretty nice. As normal, Apple has created a great looking interface that’s fun to use thanks to pinch zooming controls, and simplified one-click access to drawn maps, satellite imagery, lists of searched locations, and realtime traffic data.
The biggest omissions from Maps are obvious—GPS isn’t here, so you need to enter all locations on your own, and voice-style turn by turn data isn’t here, so you’ll need to have a friend read you the step-by-step route guidance it provides for driving directions in small on-screen text.
But what Maps does do, it generally does well. You can access address information from your contacts list, and use it rather than typing addresses in with the on-screen keyboard. Searched locations provide contact information that can be clicked upon for instant phone calls. And the satellite imagery is cool to see on the small display, if not exactly unfamiliar to people who, say, have had computers for the last several years. Our only problem using Maps is that maps sometimes pan off to one side after we’ve finished zooming in, putting us off-center relative to the target, so pulling your fingers off the screen at the same time is critical.
It’s somewhat surprising that Apple went hog wild in designing its Clock Application: the subtle, clean graphical treatment of its “add as many world clocks as you want” World Clock application, alarms, stopwatch and timer make these even more pleasant to look at than they were on the iPod. But functionally, we had a few issues. Unlike the weather application, which lets you truly select the city you’re in, World Clock is still limited to the major city presets that the iPod and other prior-generation clocks are saddled with. Being able to name your favorite city, say, once in the settings or the Phone application’s contacts list, then automatically getting weather and clock data for that city, would just make sense given iPhone’s Internet access and multifunctional design.
We found that the clock, timer, and stopwatch features worked as expected, but we experienced a very serious lockup in the alarm feature that may have wrecked one of our iPhones. The alarm combines a musical wake-up call with vibration, and locked up when it wasn’t silenced immediately. After a minute of vibration, our iPhone’s touch screen literally stopped working entirely, and could not be fixed. We were able to return it for a replacement, but we’ve never seen anything quite like that happen on a phone before, and to the extent that it could damage your phone, we wouldn’t advise you try the feature yourself.
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