It is probably a little late to write a review of the iPhone that is going to interest too many, but personally I think that too many online reviews cover such things very skimpily. As I have both an original iPhone (8Gbytes) and a new iPhone 3G (16Gbytes), I can also do a little comparison.
Overall, the iPhone is a pretty good smartphone with some peculiar weaknesses but this is allieviated by a superb user interface.
Unpacking the 3G
The iPhone 3G comes in pretty much the same style of box as the original; compact and well styled to give you the impression that you are getting a serious bit of kit. Unfortunately the iPhone dock that was provided with the original is not included here. I guess Apple decided they needed to make us pay extra for it, but the standard iPod cable is included so it is still possible to get connected. Of course it is possible that I got my original with a dock thrown in for free as it wasn’t from a “proper” source.
The new iPhone still feels pretty good. It is slightly curvier than the original which is more noticeable if you look at the back. The colour scheme is also somewhat different, and perhaps somewhat more “plasticy” than the original. But it does not seem to be a cut-price version of the original; it still feels pretty good in the hand. Once minor niggle though – the new one has silvery buttons as opposed to the black buttons of the original, and they can feel ever so slightly sharp or rough to the fingers. Might be worth making the buttons with rounded edges next time Apple.
Holding it gives a feeling of slickness; perhaps a little too much as it feels like it might shoot out of your hands much like a wet bar of soap. For me a case to make it a little stickier is pretty much essential.
One area where the 3G is distinctly poorer than the original is the headphone socket. It may be more compatible (the old one was recessed making standard headphones tricky to attach), but it feels distinctly cheap and nasty.
Putting in the SIM card is just as fiddly as it was with the original. Perhaps AT&T is different and puts the SIM card in for you, but it seems odd that there is not a detailed set of instructions (or perhaps I missed them). Also it would be sensible to include a tool to poke down that hole to get the SIM card drawer open. I would hazard a guess that many older people would have trouble with this; if I had not already done it with my original I would have had to get some reading glasses to be sure I was poking the right place!
Those Peculiar Weaknesses
Most criticisms of the iPhone tend to zero in on the camera as being the weakest point of the iPhone. To an extent that is true, but just how good is any mobile phone camera? The lens is at best rather poorer than average and the sensor is always too small to produce anything approaching the quality of a DSLR. A flash might be useful, but again a mobile phone flash is never going to be much good. If you want a camera, buy a camera, and use the iPhone camera for making visual notes.
On the hardware front, there is no infrared port so this is probably just about the only smartphone to lack one. Which is fair enough on a modern phone where they consider bluetooth to be the replacement (although it makes it kind of hard to have third-party software to control the TV without one!). But the bluetooth stack is also astonishingly crippled! You can just pair the iPhone to a headset, and not an advanced A2DP one!
That means no syncing over bluetooth, no file transfers, and no bluetooth messaging. Why? I mean it would be sort of understandable with a new phone product, but it is time this was sorted out.
And no picture messaging (MMS) ? I know it is supposed to be pretty unpopular in the US, but it has caught on in Europe, so it seems odd not to have it on the iPhone.
As A Phone
The iPhone is probably the best phone I have ever used. The killer feature? Whilst in a call, all of the extra features like speakerphone, mute, hold, keypad (for navigating those machines), adding an extra person to the call are all available on screen as easy to access buttons.
The only downside ? It could do with a slider to lock the screen whilst on the phone … more than once I have terminated a call by accidentally pressing the “end call” button. It is supposed to lock automatically when raised up near the ear, but I usually use it hands-free when the lock is not supposed to operate. Turns out I was missing a feature – hit the power button during a call and the screen will lock., Apple
The “Smart” Bit
The user interface for getting into software “apps” is a simple grid of icons. If you have too many for one screen you can swipe between screens of icons. This is a moderately sensible way of getting to things; no getting lost in a hierarchy of applications, but it may become somewhat clumsy if you install many applications. I find it helpful to have rough categories on separate screens … PIM stuff, Reference, Toys and Games, System and unused.
Most of the builtin applications tend towards the simplistic which isn’t necessarily a bad thing providing that a replacement for an application you use heavily is available. Two “showcase” applications are particularly fun – the Youtube application and the Google Maps application. Some observations of the standard applications :-
- The calendar application is slightly weak and does not support synchronisation with anything other than Exchange. Other vendors have code ready to go, but Apple doesn’t allow this for some inscrutable reason – a kickback from Microsoft ?
- The calculator application very cleverly switches to an “advanced” mode with extra functions if you rotate the screen to landscape, but I do wonder why on computer calculators so slavishly emulate stand-alone ones. It would seem worth making a few minor improvements.
- Who decided that font was a good idea for the Notes application? A “handwriting” font is cute for about 30 seconds before you realise it is difficult to read. At least give us the chance of changing the font!
- The Safari web browser is surprisingly effective with two fingered zooming allowing you to quickly narrow down to read the smaller bits and to zoom out to give you an overview.
The App Store and Third Party Applications
The app store which is where you “buy” new applications is rather swamped by the number of applications now available. Fortunately there is a search facility that will let you quickly find something that you have found from elsewhere. It is perhaps just a little too easy to spend money in the app store although the prices are generally pretty reasonable and added to your mobile phone bill.
As to the applications themselves, it is as expected, a mixed bag. Some tend towards the gimmicky or totally useless – the beer application comes to mind which allows you to use your iPhone to pretend to drink a glass of beer. Others are pretty good; even fantastic such as Vicinity which will determine from your location nearby bars, restaurants, etc. Having once spent an hour wandering around Birmingham at night looking for a convenience store, I’m a devoted fan of this one!
The odd thing is that Apple seems to have a curious tendency to be a little inconsistent in what applications can make it to the app store. This pushes one in the direction of jailbreaking a little more given that gives you access to all sorts of interesting applications!
Overall, the iPhone deserves to be as popular as it is, but perhaps doesn’t deserve to be worshipped as much as some do. Still it’s an Apple product and as usualy some people will like it more than it deserves.