More Thoughts on the iPhone

July 2nd, 2007 | Posted in It's All Geek to Me!

Since nearly every blog on the planet is heaping either praise or disdain on the newly released iPhone, I imagine most people are sick of hearing about it either way. As such, this will be my last post about the device until there is a significant update or a new version.

Having had a few days of real world use with the phone, I have a list of the very good, the not too bad and the ugly and some final thoughts to those on the fence about getting one. The usual stuff you read about I’m just going to gloss over (except the stuff that is truly exceptional), so I hope these are points not usually head about.

The “Really Good”:

  • Phone Reception- I’ve noticed for some reason the iPhone gets a stronger signal than my Motorola Razr. The Razr was useless in my studio, whereas the iPhone gets a decent signal. I was worried about that, but it looks like the iPhone’s reception is at least as good as a Razr and most likely better. UPDATE- One thing I have noticed is that the internal antennae must be located in the bottom of the phone. I get noticabley less reception if I cover that area when I hold it. If I hold it more in the upper half by the edges, there is a significantly better signal.
  • Settings- As I wrote on Saturday, the OS X based interface is as good as advertised, but the “phone” setting functions are particularly smart. On the phone itself you can turn on and off things like call forwarding, call waiting, options to show your caller ID… in other words options you formerly had to dial in and follow a press-button menu to change. You can also see at a glance if you have these options on or off. You can also check your AT&T account services with a press of a button for things like your used and remaining minutes, your bill and other data. The info is then sent to you as a text message (it does not count against your plan’s message total).
  • Contacts/Calendar Syncing- The iPhone is the best PDA I’ve ever used (I’ve had Palms and iPaqs), syncing seamlessly with my Mac’s Address Book and iCal with complete transfer of all info including notes, alerts and other data. No other phone can do that with a Mac, or PDA for that matter (not without a third party software solution).
  • Visual Voicemail- This is as remarkable as you might expect. No waiting to dial, no delays, no passwords and voice prompts. You can see the voice mails as if they were e-mails and just press one to listen. Delete them unlistened to if you want. A great time saver. I sometimes dread getting my voicemail when I am short on time… expecting to hear a “you have 14 new messages” in my ear. This way I can check quickly and see if anything urgent needs attention at a moment when I don’t have the time to wade through them all to check.
  • SMS Texting- This was something I was looking forward to, as my Razr was worthless with a regular keypad. A lot has been said about the touch screen’s keyboard accuracy without the tactile feel of real buttons. It does take some practice, but I am already proficient with my index finger and am getting close to being able to use two thumbs to really type fast. You have to trust the software’s auto correct features in order to make it work. Even if you mangle a word early on in the spelling, if you get enough of the letters right overall it’s likely the iPhone will figure out what you meant to write and give you the correct word as a choice to accept with the press of the space bar. Texting appears as a chat-like linear conversation. Conversations are saved in a list, and you can just hop back on to them as you wish, or clear them and start again. This list keeps your text buddies accessibly so you don’t have to dig through your contacts to find them to initiate a text message.
  • Photos- I’d place this in this category just because hte iPhone is truly a showcase for your pictures. It syncs completely with Mac’s iPhoto and you can carry your entire photo library with you like a giant virtual photo album. The terrific screen resolution makes the pictures look fantastic, and the zoom, scroll and landscape features make looking at them easy and fun. The slideshow feature also works well, but I’d like to see more options for transitions when it plays. The camera is an afterthought…
  • iPod- This would belong in the “greatest ever” category except for the woefully inadequate memory. My 5th Gen iPod with Video seems like a clunky toy compared to the iPhone. The coverflow browsing of the music, the landscape video, playback controls… everything is light years better than the current iPod. When they make an iPod with this screen and interface with 80 GBs of memory or better I will be in line for that for certain.

The “Not Too Bad”-

  • E-Mail- The iPhone transfered my mail account setting from my Mac upon the first sync, and I could get my e-mail with the press of a button immediately. It does not sync my actual messages, though, which is something I’d like it to do. I usually leave my computer on at home and it downloads my mail every 5 minutes, so I don’t often have any messages on my server for the iPhone to get. I may have to turn that off when I leave the studio so my e-mails are available for iPhone download. When using wifi the iPhone’s mail works well, but what about using the AT&T EDGE network? I tried it inadvertently today and it downloaded 6 messages pretty quickly (it checks for mail automatically when you press the mail button). No attachments to slow it down, though. One thing I’d change right away is to give it an option to not check mail when you press the mail button. It would be better to be able to review your inbox without downloading every time. You can also set your iPhone to check for messages automatically at intervals when the phone is not in use. Presumably it will only do so if it has access to the EDGE network and an adequate signal.
  • Internet- This is an interesting and cool oddity with little practicality. The screen is just too small to really be able to use the iPhone for real web surfing or research on the internet. You may be able to do most tasks eventually using the landscape, zoom and scroll features, but at best it is very awkward compared to a real laptop. The EDGE network is awfully slow, so if you cannot find a free wifi spot it’s even more tedious to use the internet on the iPhone. I also noticed that some websites still think you are on a regular cell phone and automatically divert you to a mobile version of their site (MLB.com does this). I can view and see this blog, but have not been able to access the admin area to actually write a blog post or do any other tasks. UPDATE I accessed the admin area and moderated comments via the iPhone and EDGE. It worked and the speed wasn’t bad at all on EDGE. If iPhone 2.0 gets on the 3G network as promised, it would be quite accpetable speed-wise for most tasks. It was still awkward and would never replace tasks on a laptop or desktop, but on the run and in a hurry doing something quick? Yes, it would do that nicely.
  • Wifi- Speaking of wifi, I’ve had mixed results with reception on the iPhone. We have a wifi home network, and after setting it up to connect to our router I see a very inconsistent connection and signal even when I am in close range. My iPhone will connect to the home network, but it often drops it and sometimes says it can’t connect even if I am right by the router, then suddenly does without my help. When connected it seems to work fine.
  • Camera- Ehhhh. It’s not really any better than any cell phone camera. It will not make you leave your digital camera at home.
  • Widgets- Most of these mini programs work pretty well. Stocks works as expected, offering 1 day to 1 year graphs on individual stock and Dow Jones performance, daily closing levels and other data. Maps works pretty well, especially if you use it in a wifi area. The satellite pictures are kind of starling… I was able to zoom in close enough to my house to see my yard and roof, albeit it fuzzy at that zoom level. Using it for directions worked pretty good, although you expect it to track your progress and of course it does not. It works like Yahoo Maps or Mapquest, just giving you directions from point A to B. It got me to my son’s schoolmate’s house today for a swim party. With a better cell network this would be very useful for driving directions on the fly. Weather works like the OS X widget, and you can have multiple cities that you can flip through… looks rainy in Paris tomorrow. Clock works just fine, including a World Clock feature with multiple city’s at a glance. This is useful for me with operations and clients in multiple cities. The alarm works as well, and you can set multiple ones as needed. There is also a stopwatch and timer feature… interesting but no more than that. The Calculator is nice and works much easier than on a regular cell phone, but no better than a PDA. I haven’t used Notes yet, but that seems pretty self explanatory.

The “Ugly”-

The iPhone isn’t perfect. Surprisingly some of the simplest things it doesn’t to right or at all:

  • No voice dialing- I don’t get this. OS X has terrific voice recognition built in, but you can’t assign a voice dial name for a contact and use it for dialing. This needs to be added in a future version. It’s a major oversight. Handsfree use of a cell phone is important for safety.
  • No custom ringtones- This is supposedly going to be changed with a software update this fall. Good, because ringtones are a big part of the cell phone landscape.
  • Ring not loud enough- also the vibrate feature is weak. Maybe the delicate electronics can’t handle a big vibration? I hope that’s not the case. I can’t get the ring loud enough to hear it when I’m walking around in even a fairly calm public place. At the theme park? Forget it. Without a good vibrate the iPhone is impossible to hear outside a quiet place. In the real world that is a problem.
  • Ringtones not customizable for text messages, e-mail, etc- I had a different ringtone on my Razr for a text message as opposed to a phone call. You can’t do that with the iPhone (yet). You can specify ringtones for indivudal contacts, but there are simple sounds for the other incoming messages… once again hard to hear.
  • You Tube- This last minute addition widget is worthless. Apparently only some of the videos on YouTube are viewable. A search for “Mad Magazine” netted zero MAD related videos (there are several on the real YouTube site doing the same search) and gave me unrelated results instead. Maybe the search function does not work? I don’t know for sure, but the ability to watch a lot of bad home videos made by people with just enough video equipment and way too much free time is useless to me. Full access to all YouTube videos might be at least interesting, as there are lots of classic video clips and things of real interest hidden among the dreck.

Overall I find the iPhone worth the money for my specific needs. My biggest needs were a PDA/phone combo for business/personal use that syncs easily with my Mac, a full featured phone with easy to use text messaging and some quick access to e-mail if needed. The extra features are icing on the cake, especially the iPod part which I will use when I travel to waste time on the plane. I did NOT need it for real internet access, full featured e-mail or to replace my current iPod. If any of those three were important I’d be sorely disappointed.

The iPhone is an excellent PDA, a very good phone, a decent alternative in a pinch for e-mail access, an interesting oddity for internet access but no replacement for a laptop and an super-cool, awesome and fun second iPod for limited use but again not a replacement for a full capacity iPod. Some of the shortcomings of the iPhone are supposed to be addressed in an upcoming software update, and some may be fixed in iPhone 2.0 coming no doubt within the year, but some cannot be fixed due to current physical restrictions. Unless they invent some holographic projected screen an iPhone sized device will never be big enough for real web surfing, and until they develop flash drives with a capacity of 60 GBs or higher the iPhone will never be a replacement for a true iPod.

No more about the iPhone for a long time. I promise.

Comments

  1. cedricstudio says:

    Thanks for the very thorough review. I’m seriously considering getting an iPhone, this is helpful info.

    About YouTube, I read somewhere that they are in the process of converting their entire video library into a format that will play on the iPhone but it will take several months to complete. For now only a small number of their total videos are formatted. Eventually the MAD stuff should show up.

    Also, I’d be curious to know what happens when your iPhone gets an e-mail that has an attachment, for example a client sending reference images for a project. Once the files are downloaded from your server, I don’t think you can save them anywhere on the phone….so how do you get the files moved onto your studio computer?

  2. Tom says:

    Interesting about YouTube. If full access to it was there, I might feel different.

    As for attachments, I have gotten some jpegs and PDFs and they are easily viewable. No way to save them right now, but you could forward them back to yourself if need be. Like most email clients, you can also set the iPhone to not remove emails from the server when downloading, so they will all still be there to get in your studio… attachments and all.

    Incidentally, I wrote this comment on my iPhone using the EDGE network. It isn’t that slow as to be unusable.

  3. Tom says:

    I updated some of the entries above this morning with some new discoveries.

  4. delamora says:

    When using the internet, does that count towards your minutes? Or is internet access unlimited no matter what plan you’re on?

  5. Tom says:

    The iPhone requires you use AT&T Wireless of course, and any voice plan can be used on the iPhone. However you are required to add a special iPhone data plan in order to use the phone. All three plans include unlimited internet access, and only differ with respect to text messaging:

    Plan A: Unlimited Internet, 200 text messages/month- $20.00
    Plan B: Unlimited Internet, 400 text messages/month- $30.00
    Plan C: Unlimited Internet, Unlimited text messages/month- $40.00

  6. delamora says:

    Glad your enjoying the phone. I’m hoping I can hold out till the next generation.

  7. Tom says:

    I struggled with that a bit myself. Should I wait for the next version, that will doubtless have more polished features based on feedback from the first one? Ultimately I decided to get the 1st gen for three main reasons:

    1. With computer based gadgets, there is always a better one just around the corner. Waiting for it means never getting anything.

    2. The iPhone is much more of a computer than it is a cell phone. The software aspect of it can be updated very easily through iTunes. Like a Mac, iPhone is able to upgrade to a new operating system if needed. Already there is an update being prepared for this fall which is rumored to include an iChat instant messaging program, a file browser and disc mode for saving/transfering files (thjere you go, Cedric!), customized ringtones, support for iWork and Keynote, widescreen typing and others.

    3. It was just too damn cool to resist, and I can always just buy the next gen one as well.

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