I was originally going to stand in line last Friday morning at the Apple store in Manhattan Beach, Ca. However, I passed an AT&T store on Hawthorne Boulevard and saw nobody standing in line. So, at 8 AM in the morning, I became the first of more than 100 people in line at this particular store. The security guards (hired for the launch of this) and AT&T staff were very friendly and helpful. They interacted with us in a way that customer service usually doesn’t try to. Finally, at 6 PM, the door opened. My credit was checked and the very small box was put in my hands. I felt like I had just passed the gates to Heaven, but one may think I should be condemned to Hell for waiting in line since 8 AM, when I could have gone to any Apple store that evening and purchased one, although most Apple stores sold out two days later.
I immediately activated my phone through iTunes 7.3, an easy and speedy process. Soon, I was given a phone number and immediately sync'd my music, videos, and photos. After using it for an hour, there were some minor frustrations (such as the on-screen keyboard). However, I realized that the iPhone is actually a rare product that pretty much lives up to its hype, though it’s not for everyone, especially heavy business users.
First, let’s talk about the design. The iPhone measures 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 wide by 0.46 inch deep. However, it actually feels smaller. It feels very comfortable in your hands, especially with the rounded corners. It almost feels like a bar of soap, which isn’t always a good thing since it can easily slip out of your hands. Still, it was more comfortable to hold than the Treo or most other smartphones.
The 480 x 320 pixel display is bright, crisp and beautiful. At first, it looked like an enhanced picture of a display rather than an actual display. Best of all, the screen is readable in sunlight – something most smartphones aren’t. The beauty of this display is most evident when looking at pictures, which look like actual photos rather than the pixelated mess that you usually see on Windows Mobile phones. Best of all, you can zoom in or out on the photos just by using two fingers to expand or decrease the photos.
Portable video enthusiasts will definitely have a geekgasm when watching videos on the iPhone, which makes a better portable video player than any portable media device I’ve used. Watching high resolution videos on a 480 x 320 resolution screen is a very enjoyable portable experience, especially when going to the health club or taking a long walk. There are programs, such as this one from Cucusoft, that encode DVDs or video files (including TiVo) for the iPhone. Even though you can’t store a whole library of videos (the iPhone’s capacity is 8 GB) you can always have them ready on your computer and transfer (or delete) videos when you need to. The process is very simple. If you don’t have any of your own videos, you can always launch iPhone’s YouTube application, which works very well. Unfortunately, there are many YouTube videos that aren’t available for the iPhone’s YouTube launcher yet. This will probably change in the near future.
The touch screen is just about the most intriguing part of the iPhone. I never believed that you can use a smartphone without a stylus until I finally tried this phone. A swish of the finger can bring items up or down on the screen, almost like an online rolodex. The buttons, with the exception of the keyboard (we’ll talk about that in a little bit) were very easy to press. Navigating through music and videos is quite simple and most would not miss having actual buttons. It’s easy to smudge the screen, but also easy to clean off. I would highly suggest buying a screen cover or making one of your own by cutting to size overhead transparency film and taping it. The tape may slightly take away the beauty of this technological masterpiece, but at least your screen will be protected.
As a phone, AT&T’s network worked well at several locations in the Southern California area. I did hear some static at times during calls – something I never experienced on Sprint or Verizon’s network. The phone offers no voice dial, a major feature missing for mobile warriors. It does, however, have visual voicemail, where one can choose what message he/she wants to listen to rather than having to hear every single message that occurs before the one that is most important. The earpiece volume is satisfactory, but not excellent like the volume in the Treo and other smartphones. Once the earphones are put on though, the call becomes more listenable.
As an Internet device, the iPhone works better than most feared. This is partly due to AT&T increasing the speed of their Edge networks, which normally run about as fast as the dial-up internet that has become extinct. In some locations, I only received an internet speed of 70 kbps, while in most other locations, I received speeds of 140 kbps or higher. Although the speed was workable, it was nothing like the 300-400 kbps speed found when using Sprint or Verizon’s networks on smartphones.
However, Sprint or Verizon’s smartphones don’t have a web browser like Safari, which is the real Internet, not some dumbed down Windows Mobile version. The pages usually displayed are hard to read at first since so much information displays on such a short space. But it is very easy to use your fingers and zoom by pinching at the screen on any section you want. If the Edge network is still too slow for you, the iPhone has Wi-Fi capabilities and can connect to any wireless Wi-Fi networks. It even alerts you when Wi-Fi networks are within connection range.
Many Wi-Fi networks have Internet speeds greater than 1500 kbps. It is rare to find Wi-Fi capabilities on phones from other carriers and if they do contain this capability, you can say goodbye to your battery life. Using Wi-Fi on the iPhone only slightly decreases battery life.
If you’ve made it this far into my review, you’re probably ready to run out and get an iPhone (if you weren’t one of a half million people who already did). However, some of you may want to wait. If you are heavily dependent on a thumb keyboard, this isn’t a smart device for you. Apple’s on-screen keyboard requires you to tap on the letters. Apple has circulated videos showing people using thumbs on both hands to type just as they would with a thumboard.
This method guarantees a lot of mistakes, although the iPhone does include pretty impressive auto correction software. I have tried using both thumbs for the past three days and have become incredibly frustrated doing so. I experienced better luck holding the iPhone at an angle while using my index finger to tap away at the letters. Thus, the onscreen keypad isn’t useless, but it’s not great either. It will make you long for thumb keyboards seen on the Treo. Apple would be smart to include a tactile feedback thumboard on Version 2 of the iPhone (my great geek intuition tells me it’s going to be available in November).
Those who are heavily dependent on mobile word processing documents, beware! You can open Word documents through the iPhone's outstanding email application (far better than I’ve ever seen on any PDA), but can’t edit them. Those who want to use the iPhone to jot down notes, beware! You cannot sync them with Microsoft Outlook, a major oversight from Apple. Because of all the complaints, something tells me that there will be some third party application that will enable these features. For now, however, this is very disappointing to avid business users.
Those of you who like making custom ringtones are out of luck. For now, you can only use Apple’s ringtones which are incredibly lame, unless you like the sounds of dogs barking, crickets chirping or a doorbell ringing. Even when your phone goes off, it’s easy to miss the call because the speaker isn’t very loud. It’s great that an iPod-like product finally has a speaker, but the quality is less than average. Perhaps, in the next version of the iPhone, we will have stereo speakers.
Despite a few shortcomings, the iPhone is still a major technological innovation that will only alienate a small minority of smartphone users in its first generation release. Three days after using it, I still find myself saying “Wow!” all the time. One has to feel sorry for other carriers, such as Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile, who are about to become extinct unless they come up with something just as impressive.