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.
iPhone’s Notes application, used to let you type out text notes rather than displaying Notes data from iPod software, is only OK. Its biggest sin, like Mail, is in forcing you to use the portrait mode’s thinner keyboard when you could be typing on the landscape orientation instead. Oh, and the use of that awful felt marker font, which was never cool, now looks like 1993 or so whenever it’s on screen.
iPhone’s Settings menu is unremarkable, which is generally a good thing, given that most cell phones make setting adjustments confusing beyond belief with multiple tabs and features that don’t appear where you’d expect to find them. That’s not the case here. Need settings? They’re all here, organized in some semblance of a logical order.
It’s easy to flip the device into Airplane Mode, which turns off the wireless antennas so the device’s iPod features can be used without interfering with speakers or the in-flight systems of airplanes. And it’s similarly easy to add a wireless network to join whenever iPhone finds it. Bluetooth should be right next to these features at the top of the Settings list.
The myriad other features of the phone are generally—with the exception of Bluetooth—easy to find in the places you’d expect to find them. It would be nice to have a way to cut directly to the individual applications’ settings from within those applications, but in the absence of such a feature, this collected menu works well, and would benefit only from further settings to enable greater iPhone customization.
iPhone’s single most controversial feature is its on-screen keyboard, which has been designed to eliminate the need for a slide-out or fixed-position physical keyboard. Without rehashing all that we’ve said on the subject before, the on-screen keyboard does in fact have a multi-day learning curve, is more easily used initially by users with thinner finger tips, and is in need of further Apple tweaking.
The keyboard appears in various forms throughout iPhone’s interface. In Mail, Text (SMS), Maps, and YouTube, it is strictly vertical. It always has a QWERTY-style keyboard with space, return, and shift keys. Sometimes—when you’re entering an e-mail address—the space bar becomes smaller to provide instant access to @ and period keys. Other times, you need to click on a symbols key to access one or two screens worth of punctuation; you always need to do this for numbers. In vertical form, the keyboard will require days of user adjustment, but there’s no doubt that you get better every day you use it, and eventually progress from hunt-and-peck typing to two-thumb typing.
In Safari, the keyboard can switch into a larger, widescreen orientation for entry of URLs and other information. Though this bigger keyboard mightn’t be ideal for simultaneous reading and writing on other applications, it’s much easier for big-fingered users to type on instantly, and an unfortunate omission from the other applications. We’d hope to see this keyboard, or a slightly modified version, make a wider appearance in iPhone’s interface with a future software update.