Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2265
Apple's iPhone: The Future is Hereby Anand Lal Shimpi on July 2, 2007 6:13 PM EST
- Posted in
I waited in line, I bought two, I didn't even get a chance to play with mine because I was already taking the other one apart by the time I got home. In the middle of taking one apart, I activated mine and used it enough to get frustrated with the keyboard. I then spent the next three days using it, running down its battery and writing about it.
For the past two weeks I haven't had a normal cell phone experience; I've been testing the Samsung Blackjack or the Blackberry Curve, both great phones but reviewing is very different than using. Half the time when I'd go out I'd have a stopwatch around my neck, waiting for my phone's battery to die. For the really long tests, I wouldn't even have a phone on me, it'd be back at my desk looping through webpages trying to simulate real world usage.
You're sick of hearing about the iPhone? I'm sick of working on the iPhone, I just want to use it already.
My frustrations aren't out of hatred for the product, that couldn't be further from the truth. For the first time in over 10 years of writing for AnandTech, I didn't want to be in this industry. I wanted to be writing about cars or flowers or kittens and cheezburgers; I wanted to be in some completely unrelated industry so that the iPhone could launch and I could spend the weekend enjoying it, not trying to break it, test it and find its flaws as quickly as possible.
But it seems all I needed was perspective; during my review process my cousin called me, I didn't answer because my phone was in the middle of a battery life test. I called him back and explained the situation, after getting hassled for not answering my cell phone for the past few days. He then told me that I must have it rough, having to sit at my desk and play with cell phones all day.
I don't know why reviewing the iPhone was any different for me, I've been just as excited about other products in the past. Part of it may be that Apple kept all of us in suspense, the majority of press included. Review samples were rarer than Barcelona and the product itself had the potential to really shake an industry.
Then there was the issue of having to wait in line for what was ultimately a telephone, there are few things that I've voluntarily done that have made me feel like that.
But the end result is quite good. The iPhone isn't perfect, I can tell you that now (for more reasons than only supporting Edge), but it's a huge step in the right direction. At the same time it's a great product today and while not for everyone, its impact on the industry will be tremendous.
In the coming pages we'll walk through the iPhone, looking at what it does right and what it does wrong. We'll figure out what it needs, and maybe what we could expect in the near term from Apple. We'll look at its competitors; the argument that the iPhone does nothing new is valid, but is that ultimately what matters? And we'll look ahead to the long term significance of the iPhone and where Apple wants to take it.
An Ode to the Screen
While I was writing this review, Derek Wilson, our resident GPU guru gave me a call to chat about his upcoming DirectX 10 performance piece. Inevitably he snuck in some questions about the iPhone, but the thing he wanted to know the most was "is the screen as good as it looks in the commercials?"
It looks that good
The answer is unequivocally yes. In fact, in taking pictures for this article I had to redo a number of shots because the camera would pick out details in the LCD display that simply weren't visible to the naked eye. Capturing the beauty of the screen is really a tough job, but it really does look just as good in person as it does in Apple's own commercials/videos.
The screen also gets every bit as nasty as you'd expect it to, given that the iPhone works by rubbing your fingers all over it. The unexpected part of it all is that with the backlight on, you can't tell that smudges from three different people are all over the 3.5" screen. The only time you really notice how disgusting the screen has gotten is when the device is asleep, unfortunately it'll take more than just a wipe of the cleaning cloth to get all the grease off of it. Apple recommends turning the unit off and using a slightly damp cloth, while avoiding all harsh cleaners/abrasives.
At the same time, the device doesn't feel like a fragile jewel, it feels like what a modern day smartphone should feel like. It feels like something straight out of Star Trek. Videos cropped up over the weekend showing all the things you could do to the iPhone without scratching the screen, and honestly when using it you get the impression that you'd really have to try to damage this thing.
By default the iPhone's brightness is adjusted by an ambient light sensor similar to what's in Apple's MacBook Pro line. Indoors the display is absolutely beautiful, but obviously things change once you head outdoors. Outside the display isn't nearly as bad as the Samsung Blackjack, but it gets more difficult to see. Thankfully it's still usable, despite being washed out.
Pulling its Weight
In preparing for this review I spent quite a bit of time with Samsung's Blackjack, and honestly it still takes the cake as far as form factor and weight are concerned. Apple's iPhone is slightly thinner (-0.4mm) and 1mm longer/wider than the Blackjack, making it pretty darn close to what felt to me like the perfect smartphone form factor. Where the iPhone falls short is in its weight; while the Blackjack weighs in at 3.5 oz (99g), the iPhone is a hefty 4.8 oz (135g). While we're talking fairly small numbers here, the difference is noticeable. The added weight is by no means a deal breaker, but keep in mind that the iPhone is heavier than the Blackberry Curve in a device that's about the same size as the Blackjack; in other words, it's dense.
From left to right: Apple iPhone, Samsung Blackjack, Blackberry Curve
The heft of the device makes one handed operation difficult, something that is made even tougher by the touch-screen interface. In comparison, the Blackjack feels far more natural with only a single hand, just like a plain old cell phone.
From front to back: Apple iPhone, Samsung Blackjack, Blackberry Curve
Thankfully Apple went with a brushed aluminum exterior for the back of the iPhone, meaning we don't get the fingerprint ridden mess that has plagued some of the flashier iPods. The shiny metal rim around the glass screen does collect its fair share of grease, nicks and scratches, but there's not much you can do about that.
From Top to Bottom: Apple iPhone, Samsung Blackjack, Blackberry Curve
The device itself looks quite stylish, making even recently released smartphones and Blackberries seem archaic by comparison. A perfect marriage of a gorgeous screen and great industrial design, the iPhone is the first mobile phone I've used that feels like it was truly designed for 2007.
The iPhone has four physical buttons on it, and honestly you don't need any more. On the front of the phone is the home button, which takes you to the home screen regardless of what you're doing. The home button isn't an iPhone exclusive, many phones have it, including Samsung's Blackjack. The button is key for switching between tasks; say you're writing an email but decide you want to check a fact on wikipedia or you just remembered something that you want to SMS to a friend, hit the home button and fire up Safari or the SMS client, do what you need to do and then switch back to your email to pick up where you left off.
Take me home tonight
Hitting the home button doesn't close any applications, it merely switches back to your iPhone desktop. The home button is your iPhone's Alt (or Cmd) Tab, it's your ticket to quickly switching between applications; one press of it and a touch later and you're in another application. The functionality is perfected by the fact that the iPhone's user interface is incredibly responsive, switching between applications works like a computer, not a mobile phone.
The ringer toggle switch is set to silent, hence the visible red dot
Along the left hand side of the iPhone are two switches: a volume rocker and a ringer toggle switch. The volume rocker works as you'd expect it to, during a call or audio playback it will adjust the volume of the earpiece or speaker, otherwise it will adjust ringer volume. Mac users should find the on screen display comfortingly familiar:
Home sweet home...for OS X users
The ringer toggle switches between normal and silent ringer modes; these are the only two profiles you can configure on the iPhone and even then, they aren't very configurable:
In silent mode, all audible notifications are disabled and the iPhone will only vibrate to alert you of an incoming call/message/email. You can disable the vibrator so that the iPhone is completely silent and motionless in this mode, but that's all.
In normal mode, the iPhone will ring, bark, beep or boing at you as loudly as you have the volume set. In addition, it will also vibrate to give you the complete aural and tactile experience. You can control what events will trigger sounds, but that's as far as the customization goes.
For me personally, this is all the configurability I need when it comes to custom profiles. I usually keep my phone on vibrate, and if I want an audible notification as well a flick of a switch is all I need on the iPhone. I've never really used profiles on my Blackberries and Windows Mobile Phones of years past, mostly because there are way too many keystrokes associated with switching between them all.
On the Blackberry Curve, you have to scroll to profiles and select the one you want. It seems silly to complain about using a trackball and having to make two clicks to change a profile, but compared to flicking a single switch that you can do without staring at the screen, it is a big deal.
Profiles on the Blackjack
To switch profiles on the Blackjack you have to hit the power button and select from a list. Thankfully Samsung included a silent mode button on the keyboard itself, just hold it down and your phone is silenced. The only issue with Samsung's implementation is that the button is sandwiched between the spacebar and comma keys, not the easiest to blindly select.
From left to right: sleep/wake button, SIM tray, 1/8" headphone jack (recessed and very particular about what headphones it'll work with)
The only remaining button on the iPhone is along the top of the device, and it is Apple's Sleep/Wake button. The button is stiff enough where it won't accidentally get hit in your pocket, and just like the ringer toggle you can easily activate it without looking at the phone. Hitting the sleep/wake button while your iPhone is on and active will shut down the screen, pause whatever you're doing (e.g. web pages will not continue to load while the phone is asleep) and lock the interface. Tapping on the screen won't wake it back up, you either have to hit the home button or the sleep/wake button again. Doing so will bring up this screen:
And simply slide your finger where indicated to unlock the phone (which is very cool by the way); if you've got a password set, you'll be asked to enter it next. Just like the ringer toggle, the sleep/wake button is ridiculously useful yet overlooked on many cellphones. The Blackjack lets you lock the phone by holding down the end call key for a few seconds, while the Blackberry requires you manually select the lock button from the phone's interface (or if you have dial from home disabled, just hit the 'k' key). Both competitors at least offer an alternative, but neither is as easy as the iPhone's dedicated button.
The rest of the iPhone's interface is completely virtual, driven by the 3.5" mult-touch LCD. Know what you're getting into with the iPhone; on first glance it seems overly simplified, but if your needs and its abilities mesh, it truly is a phone interface done right.
Oh Hashmir, Multi-Touch Me Down There
We've already established that finger prints and smudges on the screen are a non issue when the device is on, now the question is: how well does the interface work?
Apple's idea behind the iPhone's multi-touch interface is that mobile phones can't work with a fixed input device. Mobile phones have to be incredibly compact, yet these days they have to run a variety of applications: everything from writing emails to planning routes in Google Maps to organizing your photos. To make things worse, the ideal interface for inputting an address is wildly different from the ideal interface for viewing pictures.
A fixed keyboard is great for writing emails (e.g. Blackberry), but you need the equivalent of a mouse for scrolling around webpages on a small screen. The stylus is a nice attempt at a mobile mouse but it's redundant, your fingers are just as capable of pointing as a plastic pen.
The multi-touch screen on the iPhone fundamentally works like most other touch screens, with the exception that it allows multiple simultaneous inputs on the screen. Much like Apple's approach in OS X, the iPhone's multi-touch interface works the way you'd expect it to.
If you want to hit a button, simply tap on it. If you want to zoom in on a picture or web page, double tap on it (double tap once more to zoom out). To scroll around tap and hold your finger in one place then drag it around.
Scrolling through long lists is done by flicking your finger up or down; place your finger on the screen then drag it up to scroll down and vice versa. The motion takes seconds to master and it's quite intuitive.
Flipping through multiple "tabs" in Safari or pictures in the iPhone's photo albums is just as easy as scrolling. Instead of flicking your finger from top to bottom, simply move it from left to right as if you were flipping through pages of a book.
By far my favorite gesture is used when quickly deleting items in a list. If you want to delete an email for example, just strike through the email with your finger from left to right, a delete icon appears and selecting it will delete the email. It's the smoothest way I've ever deleted anything.
The more advanced features involve two fingers, I found myself using my index finger and thumb but technically you could use any two of your digits. Aside from the double tap (which may not work depending on the situation), you can zoom in on an image by taking your index finger and thumb and making a stretching motion with them on the screen. Hold your thumb and index finger together, place them on the screen, then pull them apart while maintaining contact with the screen. You'll zoom in on the area you just stretched. To achieve the opposite effect, just reverse the motion by pinching your fingers together.
You do have to be firm with your touches, and you can't use your fingernails (or gloves). At the same time, the multi-touch screen works best if your hands are clean and dry; if you've got oily skin, plan on washing your hands a lot to get the best experience with the iPhone. If your hands aren't clean/dry you'll find that the gestures don't always react exactly how you'd like them to, the device is still usable but there's a measurable difference between using it with clean/dry hands vs. oily hands.
When the iPhone's CPU isn't busy downloading mail or rendering a web page, the pinch/stretch works flawlessly, as do all of the gestures mentioned above. The only time you'll encounter choppy response is if a "heavy" task is still being executed in the background.
The iPhone is usable in one of two orientations: portrait or landscape. There's an integrated silicon mass sensor that detects, based on the gravitational pull on the device, whether it is being held in portrait or landscape mode.
Switching between portrait and landscape mode is, for the most part, as seamless as it is in the TV commercials. Not all applications support landscape mode (e.g. iPhone Mail only works in portrait mode) while the playing videos in the YouTube app works exclusively in landscape. In order for the iPhone's internal sensor to best gauge its orientation, you'll want to hold the device as close to perpendicular to the ground as possible when rotating.
I have seen some quirks where the iPhone's scheduler is unable to immediately interrupt a task as I rotate the phone, causing a multi-second pause between when I rotate the phone and when the screen switches orientation.
Mobile phone interfaces are often unreasonably sluggish, and it's clear that Apple set out to fix that with the iPhone. The OS will do whatever it takes to preserve the responsiveness of the UI; for example, if you have a long email that you scroll through quickly, the iPhone may not have all of the email present in its frame buffer given the limited amount of memory on the device (possibly 128MB). If you scroll too far down in the email too quickly, you'll be greeted with a checkerboard pattern while the email gets moved into the display buffer. However, while this is happening, the UI never behaves any differently - it's still as responsive as when scrolling through data that's present in the display buffer.
Scroll too far ahead and you'll get this before the display buffer gets the data it needs; the iPhone is fast, but you're still faster.
I suspect that future versions of the iPhone with more memory and a faster processor won't have this issue, but Apple made do with what was available at the time.
For navigating through the basic iPhone interface, selecting applications, toggling settings, scrolling, zooming, etc..., the multi-touch screen works flawlessly. Being able to re-orient the display from portrait to landscape mode on the fly with virtually no interruption in the user experience is beyond impressive. It truly feels like something out of a sci-fi movie and it's one of the most understated but impressive features of the iPhone. The interface just works.
I've tried PDAs and I've tried all sorts of smartphones, but the device that won its stay in my life was the Blackberry. I've been through five different Blackberries over the past few years, including a brief stint with the Pearl and more recently, the Curve. When the iPhone was announced, I was intrigued by its promises of a fast, focused user interface, but I was concerned about the lack of a tangible keyboard.
You see, I can type pretty quickly on my Blackberries; I've written multiple pages of articles on them before, when I didn't have easy access to a notebook or when I had an idea strike me while in an unusual location. Anytime I'd pull my phone out to type down a message someone would always exclaim that they were shocked at how fast I could type on something so small. In my mind, the iPhone would inevitably lose out to the Blackberry because of its lack of a physical keyboard. Then I began testing the Samsung Blackjack and the Blackberry Curve.
The Blackjack is the perfect example of why the lack of a tangible keyboard is a non-issue. In order to attain such an attractive form factor, the Blackjack's keyboard is extremely cramped. Not only is it cramped, but if you type too quickly, the keys sometimes have difficulty registering, making you type things like anad instead of anand. The last Blackberry I used was the 7730 which had a huge keyboard by comparison. But with the Blackjack, I not only had to type slower, but I had to look at the keyboard while typing - something I rarely had to do on previous Blackberries. Then I tried the Curve.
I am Gigantor
The Blackberry Curve was a little better than the Blackjack, the issue with keystrokes not registering was not present (Blackberry's user base would definitely not stand for that), which made typing a bit easier. But the fundamental issue of a cramped keyboard remained; I had to keep looking at the keys to make sure I was hitting the right letters, and while I appreciated the form factor more than my enormous 7730, the Curve made me feel like I had the thumbs of a giant.
In both of these cases, the Curve and the Blackjack, the tactile feedback of the keyboard was hardly an advantage. The limiting factor to typing performance was the closeness of the keys and as a secondary limitation, the keystroke recognition issue on the Blackjack; in other words, the iPhone had a chance.
My first evening with the iPhone's keyboard was absolutely horrible. I had heard Apple's advice of starting with your index finger alone before graduating to two thumbs, but "dammit I am a fast thumb typer!" so I discarded the suggestion and went right to it. About an hour into trying to type anything I hated the iPhone, I wanted my Blackberry back and I wanted Apple to make me another phone with a real keyboard. The issue wasn't the lack of tactile feedback, it was the fact that my thumbs were hitting everything but the keys I wanted. I tried slowing down, but that didn't help much either, I admitted defeat and went to granny-typing with a single index finger. Even then I was making a ton of mistakes; each incorrect keystroke frustrated me to the point of needing prescription drugs. I called it a night and went to bed, I would tackle the iPhone in the morning.
One letter down, only ten more to go
The next day I took my iPhone and sat on the couch with it; away from all computers, and with a clean slate, I took my right index finger and started typing as many pages as I possibly could. I wrote some of this review, I wrote long emails to good friends, I text messaged everyone, I would not leave that damn couch until I had gotten better at typing on the iPhone.
As predictable as what happened next may be, its truth is undeniable: I actually got better with the iPhone's keyboard. I wasn't as fast as I was on my Blackberry or even the Blackjack, but I was getting there and typing on the phone no longer made me want to kill myself with a SIM card.
There are really two tricks to getting reasonably fast with the keyboard, and Apple is very forthcoming with both:
1) Start with your index finger alone (give your thumbs the week off), and
2) Trust the auto correction
Using the index finger is important for one main reason: it's smaller than your thumb. Just as the cramped keyboard is an issue on the Blackjack and Curve, it's an issue on the iPhone. Since there are no distinct divisions between keys, it's very easy to cross boundaries and select a letter you didn't intend to. Whenever you tap a key, the key itself will get bigger to show you what you've just selected, hopefully exposing itself from beneath your finger. If you happen to select the wrong key, your initial instinct will be to delete and try again but that's not necessarily the best reaction with the iPhone as you'll soon see.
The iPhone will make you feel like you've got the fattest thumbs ever
With my index finger, I'm accurate and fast in typing on the iPhone. On my best days you'd swear a room full of monkeys were churning out a copy of Macbeth, that being said, I'm in desperate need of mastering two thumbed typing. Not only does typing long emails with a single index finger grow tiring, two thumbs are necessary to even remain competitive with typing speeds on regular qwerty keyboard devices.
I'm guessing the trick to mastering thumb typing is deliberate placement of your thumbs over the keys you wish to strike. Although your thumb is bigger than your index finger, the part of your thumb that actually triggers the keystroke isn't that much larger. The main issues seem to be that the thumb's contact patch is located in a different area, and the thumb covers up more of the keyboard, making it more difficult to 1) orient and 2) trust yourself, when typing. As you can probably guess, I'm still struggling with thumbs, but it looks like there's still room to grow in typing efficiency on the iPhone.
The iPhone does its best to replace tactile feedback with aural response; you get a rewarding typewriter keystroke sound every time you hit a key on the keyboard (you can disable this if you hate it). The sound is rewarding in the sense that once you actually get fast at typing, it sounds like your pounding out your fifth novel on your iPhone, and if you thrive on feelings of accomplishment like yours truly, it'll help you get better. It's like a personal trainer cheering you on as you work out, the sounds keep coming as long as you keep hitting keys, they don't care if you hit the wrong ones or not, and that's where the second trick comes in.
The early previews and reviews of the iPhone praised its autocorrecting capabilities, which I truly didn't understand because predictive text input has been around for ages. From a distance, that's all the iPhone appeared to have, a slightly cleaner interface to T9. On the second day of using the iPhone, I finally understood what all the fuss was about.
When you're entering text, the iPhone compares what you're typing to its built in dictionary and suggest words that it thinks you are trying to type. For example, if you are typing the word incredible the iPhone will figure it out once you've typed incredibl and suggest the full word. Hitting space at this point will accept the dictionary's suggestion, saving you a keystroke.
T9 in action
The first difference between the iPhone and some T9 based systems (e.g. the Blackjack) is that the iPhone provides a single suggestion while you're typing. If you enable T9 on the Blackjack, you lose some of your screen to a two-line suggestion of possible words you could be trying to type, which changes dynamically as you type away. The end result is a distracting element on the screen that adds marginal functionality on a device with a full qwerty keyboard vs. the iPhone method that remains nonintrusive.
If you don't like the iPhone's suggestion, simply tap the suggested word and it'll disappear. Note that just like T9 based systems, the iPhone's dictionary will grow based on your typing habits; proper nouns and other words will eventually start appearing as suggestions as you type them more frequently.
Both the T9 and iPhone approaches take some getting used to if you are a qwerty Blackberry user who isn't used to such aids, but the iPhone system has a gentler learning curve thanks to its simplicity.
In addition to looking at the word you're typing, iPhone also looks at the keys you're hitting and the proximity of those keys to other keys that you may have actually wanted to hit instead. For example, the word iPhone comes preloaded into the dictionary, the device doesn't have to learn it. But if, while typing furiously with your index finger, you lose your bearings and type iogonr instead (the o key is right next to the p key, the g key is right next to h, and and r is right next to e), the iPhone will mathematically determine that although iogonr could be a word, it's also possible that you just fouled up your finger placement and meant to type iPhone. The software will suggest iPhone as a correction and all you have to do is hit space to accept it.
When Apple recommends that you trust the intelligence of the device, it's this analysis of finger placement that you need to trust. When typing, you know what keys you meant to hit, Apple's iPhone tries its best to figure that out as well (it doesn't like to be yelled at, so it tries really hard).
Syncing on a Mac and on a PC
There's this group of people that absolutely hate iTunes as an application, while I don't find myself in that category my feelings on the application are as follows:
By no means is iTunes the best application in the world, and honestly it's not nearly one of Apple's greatest efforts, but it's the easiest thing to use to sync with your iPod (and now iPhone) and thus I make do. If you asked how I'd make it better I wouldn't be able to give you a straight answer, I just know that iTunes isn't the pinnacle of simplicity that Apple has achieved with other apps.
Using iTunes to activate your iPhone is a brilliant idea; I absolutely hate sales pitches when it comes to anything technology related, and I know very few people that love going through the process of signing up for a new cell phone plan. You buy your iPhone and the rest you do from the comfort of your own chair, on your own terms.
The setup process is simple and works the same on Macs and PCs, all you need is iTunes 7.3. Input some personal information, including your SSN (assuming you didn't get a credit check at your AT&T store and were given a special code) and you're off to selecting your plan:
Like many on launch day, I got an error telling me that my activation would take longer to process but I eventually got a confirmation email with my new number.
Despite being an application originally made primarily for MP3 organization, iTunes does a good job of acting as a sync manager. First of all, if you've got an iPod chances are that you've got iTunes installed, in which case moving to the iPhone doesn't require any additional software. Secondly, you just tell it what you want to sync and in some cases where your content is located, and voila it's copying data over to your iPhone.
You don't have to eject or do anything special to disconnect your iPhone, just pull it out of its dock and you stop the sync. My single complaint about iTunes as the iPhone's sync manager is that as soon as you plug in your iPhone, iTunes switches to it within the application. Normally Apple does a good job of not letting other applications or dialog box steal focus unless you give it to them, but iTunes' handling of the iPhone just isn't one of those situations.
iTunes, stop demanding my attention
It's not a huge problem but it's one worth complaining about (just like the iPhone's SMS application isn't ground breaking, but it's worth praising). Don't misunderstand, iTunes itself doesn't steal focus under OS X, but within the application focus switches automatically. If I'm scrolling through some MP3s, realize I forgot to plug in my iPhone and rectify the situation, iTunes will kick me out of my MP3 library and make me look at its iPhone screen. Great.
iTunes looks out for you
I'm actually surprised at how well the syncing process works under Windows, it's virtually identical to it under OS X. Granted you don't have iPhoto, but iTunes will sync to Outlook just like it does to Mail under OS X. The biggest issue by far is that the iPhone presently doesn't support 64-bit versions of Windows. Maybe Apple has a thing or two to learn about the PC community, but generally the early adopter crowd is what you'll find spending $500 - $600 on a new phone and there's a chance that those same people may have a few extra GB of memory in their system. Just a hunch.
The first application listed on the iPhone's home screen is Apple's SMS text messaging app, and if you're not already a heavy texter, this application will change that.
With a very iChat-like interface (iChat being OS X's IM client for the Windows users in the audience), the iPhone's messaging client does SMS right. Text messages are grouped according to contact and are stored in conversation format; you can always clear your history if it gets too cumbersome otherwise you've got a walking log of everything you've ever texted to anyone organized by contact.
It seems like an oddly simple thing to get excited about, but honestly it's done so much better than the competition. On the Samsung Blackjack for example, each text message is handled as a separate message, much like email. If you and I are having a conversation, each message you send me, appears as a separate message in the inbox. The messages are not grouped together, they are simply organized in chronological order.
SMS on the Blackjack
While this makes sense for email, SMS is supposed to be used for shorter chats and thus it makes sense to group according to chat or contact.
SMS on the iPhone, versus...
SMS on the Blackjack
The Blackberry comes a bit closer, while it doesn't group by contact or conversation, it keeps a partial record of all of your messages within a conversation in each message. It's like keeping a copy of your chat history in each new message that's received.
The iPhone's SMS application makes it almost too easy to send text messages; you stop thinking of each message you send as costing you money and look at it more like an IM conversation. While an IM conversation is free, sending that last message that just had the phrase "k bye" just ate into your SMS budget. AT&T still charges per message and although the iPhone data plan gives you 200 free, it's easy to burn through them.
Is this last message worth $0.10?
AT&T was particularly sneaky in its SMS upgrade pricing, because in order to get any more text messages you have to upgrade to 1500 messages for an extra $10/month, there's no in-between. Of course for an extra $20/month you can send unlimited text messages, keeping in mind that is doubling the cost of your dataplan on the iPhone.
We hate to speculate that the reason the iPhone has no built in IM client is to encourage SMS use, as IMs would be covered by your unlimited data plan. While the iPhone's SMS application is great and absolutely necessary, we would like to see it augmented by AIM/GTalk support at the bare minimum.
As is already widely known by now, the iPhone only supports SMS and not MMS. If you're addicted to picture messaging, your only option on the iPhone is to email pictures to your friends. Now if all of your friends have iPhones then this works out perfectly.
The iPhone email client is one of the best applications on the device for the same reasons that the iPhone itself is impressive: it's fast and it just works.
ITunes will automatically sync your email accounts from Mail or Outlook, or you can add email accounts manually to the iPhone. Just about any POP/IMAP account will work, provided that you supply the account credentials. I setup my AnandTech email address as well as my gmail and Yahoo mail accounts.
With your email accounts configured, the iPhone can check them every 15, 30 or 60 minutes automatically. Apple desperately needs support for free push email; while the iPhone supports Yahoo push mail, it appears that you have to pay a $3/month fee to enable push support on your Yahoo mail account. If Apple can bring push Gmail support to the iPhone, I'd be happy.
Email on the iPhone is geared towards keeping up with your messages while you're away from your computer, and as such there's absolutely no search functionality. By default, the client only shows you the last 50 messages in your inbox; if you want to see more, simply flick your finger up the screen until you reach the end of the messages and ask the application to load the next 50 (this number is configurable up to 200).
As a device designed to fill the gap between when you're using your desktop and your laptop, the iPhone succeeds in handling email. While downloading email the interface does slow down slightly, but even with an inbox full of 200 messages navigating and reading email is as intuitive as it could be.
The iPhone's screen comes in handy when viewing emails, text is sharp and clear; mobile email never looked so good before.
Image attachments are scaled and visible in-line, while PDFs, Word and Excel documents are visible by launching a viewer window.
Lots of attachments, too bad there's no Powerpoint viewer
The process is seamless, if you see an attachment you can open simply click on it and if it's not already downloaded, it'll download and open in a new window; just close the window when you're done and you'll return to your email.
This is what an attachment that hasn't been downloaded looks like
The PDF/Word/Excel readers on the iPhone are nice and fast, just like the rest of the UI.
Tell me that's not the best looking PDF on a mobile phone you've ever seen
I didn't have any incompatibilities with PDF and Excel files, but I did run into the following issue with the attachment viewer and a Word document that I fed it:
It turns out that any Pages document (Pages being Apple's own publishing program) exported as a Word document results in this on the iPhone. Normal Word docs open just fine.
A couple of times I'd received an image via email on the iPhone only to find that the file was corrupt. I'd see around 20% of the image inline in the email, but the rest would be a grey box. Re-downloading the email would always fix the problem, and it only seemed to happen over WiFi. A friend of mine had the same problem, also over WiFi, but with an image he sent. The image made its way to its recipient just fine, but in his sent folder it appeared corrupt. I can't seem to duplicate the problem on command, so for now I'll chalk it up to a recurring fluke.
I've also encountered another odd issue where the iPhone on WiFi will stop being able to communicate with anything outside of my local network. Leaving Mail and returning to it a couple of times fixed the issue and it only happened once, but a friend of mine with his own iPhone reported running into the same issue just last night.
Despite its appearances, the iPhone Mail application is really designed to be a passive application. While you can send emails and photos, there is no outbox, sent mail isn't queued. To make matters worse, you can only email one image at a time, so if you're trying to send multiple emails each with their own photo attached on the Edge network, prepared for a frustratingly sequential experience.
Note that there is no way to attach an image within the email application, you have to view the image you want to send in the photo viewer and select the mail to option from there.
There's also no way to save attachments that have been emailed to you, even if they are photos. You can only view the attachments within the Mail client, and if there's an image that someone forwarded you that you'd like to save, you'll have to wait and do so on your computer and sync it to your iPhone if you want it in your photo album.
I get that Apple wanted to keep the iPhone as simple as possible, while remaining quite powerful. Keeping the user totally isolated from the iPhone's file system makes sense in the quest for elegant simplicity, but not being able to save images you received via email on the go seems like a bit much.
Here you can already see a fundamental difference in approach between the Blackberry and iPhone. The Blackberry is designed to all but replace your computer for email, while the iPhone is far more of a companion device.
Using it as a Phone
Early on in what I'll call the camera-phone boom, someone clever came up with the complaint that there are no phones out there that just make phone calls well. They all have poor camera interfaces, are mediocre MP3 players and do a boatload of other things without having actually perfected making phone calls. As infuriating as it may sound, Apple's $500 iPhone actually fills the phone call niche quite well.
The only UI downside to using the iPhone as a phone is that you need to first click on the phone button at the bottom of the screen before you can access its ability to place phone calls. Obviously incoming calls can be received at any point, but if you actually want to dial out you have to hit that little green button first.
The iPhone is the perfect melding of your address book and a mobile phone. You have four options for dialing out on the iPhone, you can dial from a list of your favorite numbers, you can look at your call log, you can dial from your address book or do it the old fashioned way with the keypad.
If you're kickin' it old school, the keypad is absolutely enormous, something you don't find on the vast majority of mobile phones, and a true testament to Apple's idea of a morphing interface. In keypad mode, all you need on the screen is a gigantic keypad, having a virtual interface makes that possible.
Dialing from your address book is just as simple as playing an MP3 on the iPhone, flick your finger up or down to find the contact, click on it and click on the number you'd like to call (e.g. work, home or mobile). Admittedly the contact list took some getting used to (I'm still not totally comfortable with it) being that the names on the screen are so large compared to what I'm used to on the Blackberry. In a way it seems like I'm lost trying to find the person I'm looking for since I'm so used to using a scroll wheel or trackball to navigate through a huge list of much smaller fonts.
The recents view is your call log; it logs incoming, outgoing and missed calls. Missed calls are colored red, and you can also view them separately by tapping missed at the top of the screen. The interface doesn't distinguish between incoming and outgoing calls until you click the little blue arrow to the right of the call.
A call log done right
Multiple calls to/from the same person within close proximity in time are grouped together, with the number of calls placed in parentheses. Selecting additional details about any group of calls will tell you exactly when the calls took place. None of this data is unique to the iPhone, the Blackberry and Blackjack both offer it, but neither competitor presents it in such a clean and easily accessible way.
Your favorites are basically your speed dial numbers, for those contacts that you call/harass oh so frequently, it's just one touch to call from this list.
Steve Jobs' visual voicemail demo at Macworld was one of the things that really got me excited about the iPhone, it was voicemail done right. In practice, it works just like you'd expect it to.
When you get a voicemail your iPhone will vibrate and the phone icon at the home screen will get a little 1 next to it, indicating that you have one unchecked message of some sort (either a missed call, or in this case a voicemail).
The voicemail interface is super simple, you're presented with a list of people who have left you messages and you can listen to them in any order. No calling a weird number and dealing with an automated voicemail system; your voicemail is handled the way it is done on any VoIP platform, except this is on your cellphone.
Let's see what Anand left us!
You can even record your voicemail greeting from this interface.
Features like forwarding voicemail simply aren't available from the iPhone and I have no idea how visual voicemail works (or doesn't) if you're roaming on other networks. The iPhone doesn't let you select what GSM/Edge network you're on, so I couldn't force it to join a non AT&T network to see the impact on visual voicemail.
The device isn't ergonomically suited to being held up to your head for prolonged periods of time, if you're going to be having long conversations you'll want to invest in a bluetooth headset. The weight of the device contributes to it being uncomfortable while held up to your ear.
The earpiece gets really warm if you use the WiFi a lot, and putting it up to your ear while on the phone will result in profuse ear-sweats. It's not as hot as the bottom of the MacBook Pro for example; it's warm enough to notice, not to burn.
The speakerphone works well and voice quality is respectable, at least compared to the Blackjack and Blackberry Curve.
The iPhone has four major functions, all of which are lined up along the bottom of the home screen. You've heard the keynote by now, it's a phone, it's an email client, it's an iPod and its a web browser. The iPhone ships with a port of Safari 3, and does actually make web surfing bearable on a mobile phone.
The problem with web surfing on most mobile phones is that the screens are so small that there's no reasonable way to display an entire web page. The manufacturers make a tradeoff and attempt to display the page at full resolution, forcing you to scroll around to find what you want. Site owners, in turn, create mobile-friendly versions of their websites that are basically long pages of text so you can at least read the content on a crippled browser.
By doing away with any sort of fixed input device, Apple freed up a lot of real estate on the iPhone for a huge screen. So why not try to display an entire website, just scaled down on this gorgeous screen? That's exactly what the iPhone does.
You get a zoomed out version of the same website you'd see on your computer, and using the same double tap/stretch/pinch gestures you can zoom in and navigate around the website. Double tapping can sometimes get annoying in Safari, if you accidentally double tap on a link, which is where the stretch gesture is useful. When you zoom in on a page the actual zooming process is quick, but there's about a one second delay before the website is usable again as the page is re-rendered in the new resolution. During this delay, nothing works, gestures, scrolling, clicking, etc... It's frustrating because the rest of the UI is so fast and responsive that whenever it stops it's even more pronounced.
Page rendering is also an issue; while a web page is loading you basically can't do anything else on the screen. For example, trying to scroll while a page is loading will either result in you not being able to scroll, or a choppy half scroll that stops abruptly. You're far better off waiting for the page to load before trying to proceed. Even trying to hit the X button to stop loading a page can take some time to process.
Expect to see this screen a lot
The problem is that even over WiFi (and especially over Edge), web pages can take a long time to fully render, and when the rest of the OS runs so smoothly it's frustrating to be in any situation where it doesn't. Just because you're on WiFi you shouldn't expect to get notebook-speed performance when loading web pages. My guess is that we're fairly CPU bound here, possibly compounded by a lack of system memory.
The vast majority of sites I visited had no problems with mini Safari 3 on the iPhone, although occasionally I'd run into a site that had issues with a background repeating itself too many times. There is no Flash or Java support, so expect to see many missing elements on websites (but on the bright side, it's like free ad-block right?).
AnandTech in my palm
Entering in URLs is very easy, you get a slightly different virtual keyboard in Safari than you do in other apps on the iPhone. There's no spacebar, but you have dedicated / and .com keys. There's no www. key but for most URLs you can just leave that part off and you'll be ok. Typing .net, .org or any other non-com TLDs can be frustrating since you don't have a one touch way of getting to those, but luckily Safari keeps a great history of previously visited URLs. Just typing "ana" in the address bar brings up AnandTech and a couple articles I visited while testing the iPhone.
One annoyance is that there's no quick way to bring up the address bar while on a web page; you have to scroll up to the top of the page to find the address bar, which can be a problem once again if the page isn't done rendering, making scrolling a little tough. Update: Thanks to a number of AnandTech readers, I now know a work-around for my Safari quirk. If you're at the bottom of a page in Safari, where the address bar isn't visible, simply tapping the top of the screen (where the time is) will take you to the top revealing, you guessed it, the address bar. Thanks to all who commented/wrote in, you've made my iPhone experience a little better :)
Multi-window browsing is supported on the iPhone, simply tap the icon in the lower right hand corner and select New Window to open a new browser window. You can also flip through open browser windows in this view, but once you open a couple windows the contents of the inactive ones are dumped from memory and simply reloaded when you switch back. Apple clearly made the iPhone as conservative as possible with its memory management.
Given that there is no copy/paste support, the only way to share something interesting with your friends/family/co-workers is to email them the URL. If you click on the address bar there's an option to "Share" the URL, which opens up an email window with the active URL pasted into the message body.
Safari on the iPhone is good, easily the best mobile browsing experience on any device this size and light years better than its closest competitors, but it needs work. I suspect that many of the problems will simply take software optimization and faster hardware to correct, but they are solvable and this is a step in the right direction.
Wireless Networks: Edge, WiFi and Bluetooth
The initial previews and reviews made the iPhone's lack of 3G support out to be its Achilles' heel, but honestly after using the phone for a while, it is a problem but not the only thing worth mentioning. Fixing things like the performance issues while rendering a web page would be nice, but I've been using phones on Edge for a very long time now so I'm not as bothered by it.
I can understand the battery life concerns about going to something 3G; the iPhone is already not great on battery when you're surfing the net or handling emails, lasting around 6 hours in my tests. Moving to 3G would cut that down to even lower levels, but I see the desire for an option at least.
WiFi is an interesting alternative to Edge on the iPhone, and it's great if you're using your phone at home or work (or if you live in a place where there's municipal WiFi). Performance on WiFi isn't great however, I got around 1.5Mbps in my tests on WiFi. While that's a huge improvement over the 100Kbps I averaged on Edge, neither is what I'd consider "fast".
The issue is that the iPhone interface is just as responsive as a computer, so you inherently expect the sort of performance you'd see on a notebook and it's just impossible on a device like the iPhone. It's so fast in all other aspects that the network is truly the weakest link in the user experience, but I'm not sure if 3G alone would fix that given that performance on WiFi isn't up to par with what's necessary in my opinion.
Switching between WiFi and Edge is truly seamless as long as you've got the WiFi network pre-configured with the iPhone. Apple also makes it really easy to get rid of WiFi networks you're no longer using, just forget it:
I think overall we need a handful of upgrades to the iPhone alongside 3G; we need a faster processor, possibly more system memory, maybe even faster flash. The MLC flash in the iPhone has absolutely horrendous write speeds compared to SLC, which could be holding the iPhone back a bit. I can see Apple introducing a 3G version in about 12 months, addressing many of these issues at the same time.
Bluetooth support on the iPhone is limited to headsets alone, you can't transfer files to the device over Bluetooth and you can't browse it either; using it as a modem for your notebook is also impossible.
Of course you can't sync over WiFi or Edge, you can only copy music to/from the device over USB to avoid hurting record sales.
It's an iPod Dammit
The one aspect of the iPhone that still hasn't sunk in for me is the fact that this thing is actually an iPod. Inevitably the majority of attention has been placed on the phone/internet aspects of the iPhone, while its ability to be an iPod has been relegated to a casual mention in passing. But the iPhone is quite capable of replacing your iPod, provided that you're not dependent on having more than 8GB of music with you at all times. True music aficionados will still hang on to their iPods, but the iPhone is designed for the crowd with slightly less music who love their iPods but hate carrying two devices around. If you carry your iPod around everywhere, the iPhone should be quite tempting as it helps reduce pocket clutter.
The iPod + phone meld not only makes sense, but it's done well on the iPhone. About the only thing that's missing is the ability to assign your MP3 files as ringtones.
The classic iPod interface is changed, having been replaced by something that conforms better to the iPhone UI. Playlists are obviously still supported, as is the ability to create a playlist On-The-Go.
You can browse music according to artists, songs, albums, composers or genres. You can even customize the menu at the bottom of the iPod screen to give you direct access to audiobooks or podcasts. The one thing that I'm really missing that's present in iTunes on the Mac/PC is the ability to type and search by name for a song/artist/album.
Viewing all the tracks on an album gives you this slick interface, the slider at the bottom controls volume
Tilt the iPhone on its side and you get a layout of album covers to flip through, much like you would at a record store, if you'd like to listen to an album in particular. If you have a lot of music that's unreleased (or poorly pirated), you'll be greeted with a bunch of blank album covers which ruins some of the beauty of this feature.
This would look cooler if everything had album art
There doesn't seem to be a full hold mode on the iPhone; while hitting the sleep/wake button will prevent you from accidentally hitting anything on the screen, the volume rocker is still active.
Thankfully the iPhone has a volume limiter that you can engage to prevent you from accidentally ruining your hearing while listening to music with the iPhone in your pocket.
The speaker on the iPhone, while well suited for voice conversations, is not great for listening to music. It's functional but prepared for distortion-a-plenty, you're better off sticking to headphones.
The earbuds that come with the iPhone are a standard set of iPod headphones with a mic/button about 5 inches below the right earbud. If you're listening to music when you get a phone call, the iPhone will automatically fade out and pause your music so that you can answer your call (just click the button on the headphones). Click the button again to hang up and you're back to your music.
When I first went to try video playback on the iPhone I was lost, I kept looking around for a video player until I eventually remembered that the iPod button was all encompassing - audio and video seekers can find refuge there. The video formats supported by the iPhone are the same as the iPod and Apple TV, you're basically limited to low bitrate H.264/MPEG-4 files, both of which Quicktime Pro will encode for you. The iPhone is in dire need of DivX/XviD support, but that's something Apple will never do, so either plan on converting anything you want to watch to H.264/MPEG-4 or wait for someone to hack this thing.
Videos look great on the iPhone and as a whole, it puts competing devices to shame. While both the Blackjack and Blackberry can play MP3s and videos neither has the storage or interface of the iPhone, they are functional but not nearly as well done as a dedicated iPod or in this case an iPod within the iPhone.
The Photos button on the iPhone acts as a repository for both your synced photos from your computer, but also pictures taken with the iPhone's built in camera. The interface is purely iPhoto, and once again, it's fast, purposeful and intuitive.
You can flick your way through the photo index, and tap on individual pictures you want to see. Viewing photos is one area where using the iPhone in landscape mode can really come in handy, and of course you can use the stretch/pinch gestures to zoom in and out of your pictures.
The iPhone is incredibly fast when flipping through photos, the speed is comparable to what I see on my desktop, due in part to the fact that iTunes shrinks the images that it syncs to the iPhone.
Stretching in action
Assigning any of your photos to be your wallpaper or the picture that comes up when someone calls you is a simple tap away; emailing a photo is just as easy.
Smile for ze Camera
The iPhone comes with a built in 2MP camera, but without any flash or portrait mirror. Picture quality is decent in good lighting, but no where near as good as the Samsung Blackjack. I'd say that overall quality is better than the Blackberry Curve, but definitely behind the Blackjack.
Pictures taken with the camera are automatically dumped into the iPhone's Photo album, and you can sync them to your computer through iPhoto on the Mac.
Taken with the iPhone
Taken with the Blackberry Curve, the colors are a bit washed out and the picture is blurrier than the iPhone
Taken with the Samsung Blackjack
There are no options in camera mode and there's absolutely no support for making videos on the phone, all you can do is take still pictures. While the quality of cell phone videos is hardly impressive, they can be useful at times and it's unfortunate that there's no integrated "iSight" for the iPhone.
4GB vs. 8GB
You see, I'm on a never-ending quest to have access to all of my content, on any device, at any time, anywhere. The iPhone is a stop on the road to convergence perfection, and as such you have to think about it as much more than a phone. I made the mistake of looking at it as an iPod, figuring that I take around 4GB of music with me in my car so a 4GB iPhone should suffice.
My mistake was in discounting exactly how many pictures I'd throw on this thing; my initial iPhoto sync had around 700MB of pictures stored on the phone, and after seeing how well the iPhone works as a picturebook I wanted to add more. The problem is that there's simply not enough room on the 4GB iPhone for all the music and pictures I'd like to store, thus making a strong argument for the 8GB iPhone.
I would caution you against underestimating the importance of more storage on the phone; initially I scoffed at the idea of spending an extra $100 on the 8GB iPhone, this thing will probably be obsolete in another year anyways once the 3G version comes out, so why bother spending more? The mistake comes in that you can't view the iPhone the way you do any other phone you've ever owned. Coming from years of Blackberries, the decision between 4GB and 8GB is like asking a homeless guy whether he wanted an Enzo or Veyron, it's so out there that it was unfathomable.
If you have any music/photo library at all I would strongly encourage you not to make the same mistake I did and opt for the 8GB version instead.
Apple's iPhone doesn't have a Flash plugin, which means no watching videos on YouTube among other things. Given the popularity of YouTube, Apple worked with Google to include a custom YouTube application for the iPhone that plays H.264 encoded YouTube content.
The entire YouTube library isn't available for viewing on the iPhone, but all new content added will be available in an Apple TV/iPhone compatible H.264 format while older content is slowly being converted.
The YouTube interface on the iPhone is just as clean and elegant as the rest of the applications; you can search for YouTube videos, view the most popular or featured videos. Unfortunately there's no way to browse channels or if you've found a particular video, to view everything by that member.
The quality of the videos depends on whether you are on WiFi or Edge. On WiFi, you get a higher quality H.264 stream while on Edge the quality is noticeably worse (honestly it looks the same or a little worse than .flv YouTube you get on the web).
YouTube over Edge, ugh
YouTube over WiFi, mmm
As you'd expect, streaming over WiFi is fast but performance over the Edge network is actually reasonable if you've got full signal strength.
The Google Maps application on the iPhone is nothing unique, as Google offers its Maps software for many mobile phones including the Blackberry Curve we tested as a competitor.
The difference between the iPhone version and what you use on other mobile phones is that the interface is far more responsive and easier to interact with, but functionally, it's no better than what's available on other phones.
Google Maps on the Blackberry Curve
You can navigate the map with your finger, and just like other applications on the iPhone you can stretch and pinch the screen to zoom in and out.
Google Maps on the iPhone
Like many of the features of the iPhone, Google Maps isn't a revolutionary part of the device, but it's done better on the iPhone than on any of its competitors.
Stocks & Weather
Since the iPhone platform is locked down from a development standpoint, we need to turn to Apple for any thick client applications for the device. Apple ships the iPhone with two of its popular widgets from OS X: Stocks and Weather.
Both widgets work identically to the way they do under OS X, although the Weather widget lets you flip through multiple cities just like you would pictures on the iPhone.
We'd like to see more widgets on the iPhone but without cluttering the iPhone's clean interface. Over time we'd expect Apple to add more to the iPhone, but we're curious as to exactly how while keeping the straightforward interface.
The calendar on most mobile phones is borderline useless, once again limited by poor interfaces. Windows Mobile and Blackberry devices have done quite well, but the iPhone is a cut above the pack, once again due to its UI and ease of use.
The iPhone's calendar is simple and straightforward; it'll sync with iCal under OS X or Outlook under Windows. It's already been mentioned that the iPhone calendar only supports a single calendar, while its desktop counterpart can have multiple calendars each with a different color.
The simplification of the calendaring application is part of a theme visible throughout the iPhone's software: the device is actually quite simple, but what it does do it does damn well.
Clock & Calculator
The clock application on the iPhone is an unexpected gem; not only does it allow quick access to world time, but it gives you easy access to setting alarms as well as timers.
I am usually shocked at how complicated setting a simple alarm can be on most cell phones, the iPhone is one of few exceptions to the rule and does the job well.
Wake me up
The interface is pretty self explanatory:
The slot-machine interface is pretty cool, although a bit sensitive
And of course you've got the Calculator app, which unfortunately doesn't give you anything above and beyond your basic functions; engineering students had better hang on to the trusty TI or HP.
Apple's upcoming release of OS X 10.5, codename Leopard, will feature support for "Notes" built into its Mail application, and it looks like we get a watered down version of that with the iPhone.
The Notes application is basically a text editor for composing short messages on the iPhone. You can only do two things with a note once you've composed one, either email it or delete it. The application itself has some neat transition effects, but other than that there's nothing terribly special here.
Some have complained that the Notes application doesn't fit with the rest of the iPhone UI, but it seems just as fitting to me as the Stocks and Weather widgets. Admittedly I've used it mostly for practicing typing, as any notes that I'd take have been in emails to myself. If I was able to sync the notes to something on my computer then I might have more use for it, but that's just not the case today.
The iPhone needed a place where you could jot things down and that's what the Notes application does.
Yes the iPhone crashes, and for the comparison that I hate to make, it crashes less than my Windows Mobile 5 based Blackjack.
The iPhone has only crashed a couple of times for me, and each time it did the same thing. I'd be browsing the web and all of the sudden the application I was using would quit and take me back to the home screen as if I hit the home button. There are no errors, no ugly messages, nothing; it's literally as if you accidentally hit that home button.
The first time it happened to me I thought I actually hit the home button; later realizing that the home button would require a deliberate press with a reasonable amount of force to activate, I came to the next conclusion: yay I just crashed the iPhone.
Both times Safari crashed on me, I had just opened a popup window and I was rotating the iPhone at the same time. I did that same exact deadly combination multiple times and it only crashed twice, and only then did I know that the iPhone was truly running the same Safari that I had on my Mac. There are many times when Safari under OS X will just keep crashing for me over and over again, only to be totally fine after it gets the crashing out of its system. I will have made no hardware or software changes, Safari will just crash two or three times in a row and then be fine for the next month. I don't get it, but now I can take that behavior with me in my pocket. Apple, how did you know the key to my heart?
All kidding aside, the device is robust; it handled my small library of 1045 pictures without a problem, and Apple has already proved that it knows how to manage multiple GB of music and videos quite well. The device is stable and the only two crashes I've had in my extended usage of the the device were handled gracefully. The only indication I had that the device had crashed was a message from iTunes the next time I tried to sync, asking me if I wanted to send anonymous crash log data to Apple.
Using the iPhone you already know it's not going to last very long on battery; I didn't have enough time to run the full suite of battery tests, but those that I did run will give you a good idea of what to expect.
The first test is a strict email benchmark. I created a gmail address and signed up to receive all of the latest postings from some of the most popular newsgroups through Google Groups via email. The end result is a mailbox that gets over 5000 messages a day, and a perfect worst case scenario email test.
All three devices were run on the Edge network to be the most balanced, but keep in mind that the Blackjack supports 3G and the iPhone can run over WiFi. Bluetooth was enabled during the test, but remained unpaired with any devices.
The Blackberry Curve was the only device out of the three that could receive emails instantly, and it did so much faster than either the Blackjack or the iPhone. Both the Blackjack and iPhone automatically checked the mailbox at 15 minute intervals, but in actual email download speed the iPhone was clearly faster than the Blackjack.
Battery life for email was a clear victory for the Curve, lasting just over a full day doing nothing but checking emails. Keep in mind that all three devices were set to their silent profiles, meaning that the Blackberry was constantly vibrating as it received multiple emails each minute.
The iPhone more than measured up to Apple's own estimated 6 hour battery life during Internet use, lasting 6 hours and 53 minutes. The Blackjack on its standard battery came in last at a bit over 5 hours. From our experience, the extended battery would probably bring the Blackjack up to the iPhone's battery life.
It's important to note that these tests are best case scenario as I'm not walking around town with the phones while testing them, which would be far more stressful on battery life. That being said, the Blackjack and iPhone simply don't cut it for high volume email devices, there's just no replacing the Blackberry. For casual email though, either will work fine.
Our other battery life test is strictly web surfing; we loaded a series of nine web pages stored on a local server and looped the test until the batteries ran down. The screen was left enabled on the Blackjack and iPhone but we couldn't force the Curve to do the same, so its results are slightly inflated by having a screen that went to sleep after the first 30 seconds of use.
This time on WiFi, the iPhone comes in closer to its estimated 6 hour internet battery life. Again, you're looking at best case scenario battery life; watching a lot of videos on YouTube will run the battery down
Update: It looks like Apple has thoughtfully included a way to disable SMS notifications on the iPhone, it's tucked away in the Passcode Lock settings page (Settings > General > Passcode Lock). First supply a passcode, then under the Passcode Lock settings you can disable SMS notifications thus solving part of the embarrassing problem illustrated below. For sake of continued hilarity, we'll leave the hypothetical below as it should serve as a reminder to keep SMS notifications in mind when you start customizing your new iPhone.
The original unedited page remains as follows:
Do not, under any circumstances, allow someone to use your iPhone without your careful supervision. Let me paint a picture:
You're using your iPhone, your boss walks by and asks to see it. While playing with it, you get a text message from one of your friends who just wants to make you laugh at work. Here's how the iPhone would display the aforementioned message:
Hello embarassing! There's no way to prevent this from happening to you, other than to get new friends (Update: It turns out that you can disable this from happening, the setting is under the Passcode Lock menu)
Note that it pops up on screen, giving you a preview of the message, regardless of what application you're in. Even if the phone is locked, the message will sit there on the screen until you choose to ignore it or view it.
Now if you're the only person using the phone, then there's no problem; in fact, the iPhone handles interrupting you with phone calls and text messages quite gracefully. But you can't predict what sort of message you'll get and when, and there's no way to turn off iPhone's SMS preview notifications so be very careful before you hand your iPhone over to your mother.
Then there's the other big issue to worry about when letting someone use your iPhone: if setup properly, it has all of your emails, and pictures, stored on it. Think about that one carefully before ever letting the iPhone out of the safety of your hands.
Obviously these issues only crop up when you willingly let someone far too curious use your iPhone; preventing unwanted use of your iPhone is easy to ensure, simply provide a passcode to lock the phone and you'll be greeted with the following screen anytime you try unlocking it:
Entering in your passcode is super easy thanks to the large touch screen and 10 digit keypad. The iPhone will auto-lock itself after a user selectable time period.
The iPhone's interface is its biggest selling point. For years you've had to force yourself to conform to your cell phone's UI, the iPhone is the first phone I've used that works the way you'd expect it to. The elegance and simplicity of the interface just makes sense, and I would expect elements of it to find their way into Macs of the future.
The iPhone is in no way perfect, it's lacking in a number of areas and has wonderfully paved the way for years of subsequent iPhone releases to come. Battery life is ok but far from usable without a recharge under heavy use; Blackberry users that are accustomed to being able to beat the hell out of their phones for a full day only to charge it the next may be in for a disappointment with the iPhone.
Email is handled wonderfully on the iPhone, but the device is very clearly aimed at filling the gap in access between when you're at your desk and when you can power on your notebook. It doesn't have the battery life to handle days of tons of email, so the iPhone isn't going to be infiltrating large corporations anytime soon.
You can't make videos on the phone, you can't copy/paste, there's no IM client, you can't replace the battery on your own, you can't add applications to it, there's no Flash/Java support, it's heavy and the list goes on. But here's the catch: there isn't a phone out today (smart or not) that doesn't have at least as long of a list of issues.
It's a device designed for the tech savvy consumer and it's a true revolution in interface, but not as a smartphone. Just about everything you can do on the iPhone, you can do on present day smartphones and in many cases, there are things you can't do on the iPhone that you can on its competitors. What the iPhone aims to do however is master the things it can do.
My initial reaction to the iPhone announcement in January was this:
"It's in the UI that Apple's iPhone is the most revolutionary, at least upon first glance. Those users who have pointed out that there's nothing truly new about the iPhone are right; fundamentally most of the features of Apple's iPhone can be found in other phones, but it's in how those features are implemented that sets the iPhone apart from its competition.
At first glance the iPhone doesn't look all that impressive, but in the usage videos at Apple's site and during the Jobs keynote you really get insight into the strengths of the UI. Its speed, simplicity and organization of things like text messages and voicemails just makes sense, to the point where we wondered why it hadn't been done before."
Six months later, having the device in hand, I can say that my first impressions were correct. The iPhone makes no advancements in what you can do, but it really perfects how you do them. The distinction is important because for years cell phone manufacturers have simply been tacking on more functionality to their devices, resulting in a significant loss in ease of use. It's the same feature clutter that plagues many software applications as they get older. Apple took some of the most important aspects of today's smartphones and did its best to perfect them, and for the most part with success.
There are many complaints that you can levy on the iPhone, it's too slow, expensive, it can't do X Y or Z, but the praise you can sing is arguably more powerful. The iPhone perfected text messaging, it made mobile web browsing usable, it integrated the smartphone and the iPod, it brought forth an interface that just makes sense. There are no convoluted layers of menus, no poorly made graphics with sluggish interaction; the iPhone works like a computer, but in the palm of your hand.
The excitement around the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) died down because no one's hardware/software implementation was really done properly. Well folks, the iPhone is a couple generations away from being a true UMPC, it just needs some faster hardware and more storage space. There's no doubt in my mind that Intel's ultra low power x86 projects are being eyed by Apple for use in future iPhones, it's only a matter of time before we have the power of the first Centrino notebooks in our pockets.
The Blackberry UI versus...
Everyone has asked me if it's worth it, if they should buy an iPhone, and honestly it's a difficult question to answer. It is expensive and it isn't perfect, but going back and forth between it and the Samsung Blackjack or the Blackberry Curve just highlights how much of an improvement in usability it is over the competition. You know it's going to be updated with faster hardware and better wireless, you know that you can technically do anything the iPhone does already for much less money, but that being said I'd still recommend it.
The iPhone UI
The iPhone just does it all so well; it's much like the argument for OS X vs. Windows, they can both do the same stuff, OS X's approach is simply preferred by some. I expect that the iPhone's UI is a bit easier to attract converts than OS X, but the point remains the same: it's not what you can do, it's how you do it.
Quite possibly the best thing about the iPhone is that it doesn't matter if you buy one or not, it's impact on the phone industry will be tremendous regardless. Competition is a very good thing and in a market that seems dominated by players uninterested in improving user experience, I'm thankful Apple lit the fire that it has. The iPod brought about a revolution in MP3 players, and I expect the iPhone will do the same for the smartphone market. It will take a while but eventually we will get real competition for this thing, which is a good thing for everyone.
For years I'd wanted a device that could let me be more productive, and RIM finally gave that to me with the Blackberry. Since then I've been looking for a device whose interface would truly impress me, and that's what Apple has done with the iPhone. We may not have flying cars, but the iPhone is what I, as a kid, imagined we'd have by now.