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Another iPhone Review (01/05/2009 09:58:28 PM)

iphone_495After owning an iPhone for more than a week now, and the constant "what's it like" messages I'm getting (which consequently has made me turn off my Personal Messages on MSN Messenger), I'm telling the world!

Hardware

Let's face it, the iPhone looks sweet. It's got shiny metal, a glass screen and did I say it's shiny? To pick it up, it definitely has no plastic feel to it - just a solid device that feels like it would shatter rather than crack if I dropped it. To me, it feels like "right" weight and size.

The sound from the device is nothing spectacular, but then again - what Mobile Phone is? The phone speaker is noticably clearer than my previous mobile phones. The antennae must be weaker in some respect - as there are certainly more dead zones at home than my previous phones.

The touch screen is really sensitive (at the right tolerance level), and the screen is large and bright (I have to turn the brightness down so it doesn't blind me inside...). The whole "feel" of the device to me is great - the buttons "just" work.

I can't really fault the hardware - rather I could say it would be nice to have the arrows on the button somewhere.

Software:

What the iPhone can do, it does really well. The User Interface is nice to play with, the applications bundled work well (i.e. searching for contacts, e-mailing, the web browser, the iPod etc...). Applications run extremely quick, transitions are quick and a LOT more pleasant to play with.

The web browser for a mobile phone is great, except when you are on a 2G connection. While there are anomolies in the web browser, it is easily the most impressive feature of an iPhone (which really sucks - as it's just a stripped down version that acts exactly the same as Firefox, Internet Explorer etc...). On 3G however, the browser really shines. While Opera Mini is good, it's much more convienent to have tabbed browsing and the zoom in / out features of Opera Mini.

A compression option would be nice!!! But understanding how Opera Mini works, I wouldn't anticipate it being terribly useful either. The short of it all is that 3G really should be standard now anyway, and hopefully Australia can catch up!

Third Party Applications

There is a LOT of rubbish in the iTunes store. The number of messaging clients that are rubbishware really irriates me. The biggest letdown with the architecture of the iPhone is possibly background applications. Maybe I'm just used to a PDA multitasking, but knowing how slow a standard 450MHz Windows Mobile PDA can get, I can also understand why Apple doesn't run things in the background.

This ofcourse, makes it a problem for background applications (which is where this Push technology is kind of useful - especially where developers make use of it). Push is basically a method of alerting the user of something happening sent from Apples servers. I believe it shows up similar to an SMS which can be useful under a lot of contexts.

This really shows the way of future mobile computing (that is; process data on powerful servers rather than on the device itself). Some forums suggest that multi-threading is a major oversight putting the architecture back 10 years - which is true to an extent, but Push and external servers can easily compensate for that and it is definitely evident in the GUI that the iPhone attempts to use minimal resources as possible.

So the App store is easy to use, but with the tonne of rubbish on there, it is really hard to find a useful and workable application. Given the way the device works, no programs I have downloaded apart from Palringo (an IM+ client) restore the state of the application upon reload. It just so happens there is clearly a crowd of developers who design crap interfaces for the iPhone (fring comes to mind).

The Phone:

The phone itself is garbage. Having owned one of the first hybrid Analog / Digital CDMA phones years ago (that could only receive SMS's - not send them), I was able to define my own ringtones and SMS tones without having to pay anyone any money.

So with Apple's super-dooper-easy-to-use philosophy, the way I was able to upload a custom ringtone was to locate my song in iTunes I wanted, go to the song's properties, reduce the play time to 40 seconds, create an AAC version of the song, rename the extension to have "r" as the final character, select ringtones, drag the new file in, go to Synchronise, find the Ringtones tab, select the ringtone I want to synchronise, click the synchronise button, wait, go to settings, find the phone options and finally - set the Ringtone.

So I thought that was ridiculous until I found I cannot upload a custom SMS tone without Jailbreaking the iPhone. USELESS!

The synchronising of contacts from Outlook automatically was good, as I now have complete details for all my contacts (e-mail addresses, phone etc...) - the keypad looks hideous and yeah...

For a phone, it is really ... something ... to operate. I believe it is potentially the biggest flaw on the iPhone (close to Apple's NDA's)

SMS

I love G-Mail, and have done ever since I was invited on the launch day. SMS's work as conversations on the iPhone - and as G-Mail does the same thing, I find it a really good way of representing SMS's. Just had to get that out there!

Battery Life:

Having owned a Nokia 6300 for the past 18 months, I must say I am impressed with the battery life of the iPhone. It is still terrible to see the phone only last a day, but it is doing more than my Nokia 6300 used to do (which barely lasted half a day). The fact the phone goes into standby quick is a good thing, and it doesn't whinge when the battery is running low.

Charging via USB is a welcome addition to my phone of course, especially at work where I use the internet, MP3's etc... the most.

Multimedia:

Easily the best thing the phone can do. I've never really liked iPods. I've given soooo many away as birthday presents because I always hated the interface. The iPhone still shits me that I have to synchronise it with whatever client I happen to be using - but anyway, I can get my stuff onto it and use it to listen to music (hardly worth carrying my Pocket PC around if I have a device supposedly better at playing music).

Having a proper device designed for music through headphones is a welcome addition though. Unlike my Pocket PC which managed to stuff up even the best headphones, the iPhone manages to have a good equaliser for the supplied headphones. I do enjoy using the headphones - but I really hate having to create a playlist (coming from Linux and Windows, I'm used to grouping my music into folders - not albums).

Videos are good enough to replace my laptop for watching. Normally when I would go to bed, I would use my laptop to play a movie. The iPhone really excels at video playing (once converted), and with sound makes it easier to watch something on the train or in bed.

Having a native YouTube app is also cool. Watching The Apprentice UK on the iPhone of a Friday morning is something I've been able to do twice - and really cool.

Productivity:

Uh... what is productivity? You mean... use Office... on your mobile? You mean work?... as in handling lots of e-mails???... If productivity is your main concern then forget the iPhone. It's utterly useless for large volumes of data. Believe me, I've tried dealing with e-mail accounts in the inbuilt application - and it's just impossible.

I'll just use Safari to browse the internet for the time being.

Verdict:

The iPhone is certainly cool (especially with some of the games), and it is clear Apple has tried to design an easy to use interface and on the most part has been successful. Does it replace my other phones? Absolutely not. Most other manufacturers seem to have a differing philosophy to Apple. That is; when you buy a Nokia mobile phone, they basically give you permission to go nuts. They give you everything such as turning your mobile phone into a modem, setting everything, downloading applications, uploading anything you want really. But not Apple. To make the device more useful, it looks like I will be Jailbreaking it soon.

I have a good anecdote for this. Imagine you were buying a kitchen consisting of a Stove, Microwave, Kettle and Cabinets. Everything looks fantastic - the best thing you have ever seen. They all have nice clear LCD's with touch panels and have the best user interface of any kitchen appliance you have ever seen. The microwave has been finetuned to cook your food evenly and efficiently without your input. The oven compartment of the stove is easy to use, you type your meal in and it'll adjust it's settings for you. The price is right too! A good medium price for a high end product. You're about to sign up and pay for one of these kitchens.

You ask the salesman "does the stove come with the stove top?". The salesman says "No." You say "can I get a third party one?". The salesman says "Absolutely not.". You think Ok... maybe you can get away with buying a hotplate later on because the rest of the package is great. You look at the supplied kettle and think wow - I could make hot chocolate, coffees etc... with the kettle so you ask the salesman about what you can do with the kettle. The salesman replies "You must use compatible coffee only.". You say "can't I use Nescafe?". The salesman replies "No. It must be from our store, otherwise it won't make it". You end up buying it because it's just too shiny and too good to walk away from. You get it home, and try to use the oven and the microwave at the same time - but it's not going to let you because you can only use one thing at a time. That's what the iPhone is like.

Now, in another kitchen store, you find the Nokia, Samsung and HTC equivalent kitchen. They look like a standard kitchen with some pricey, some not-so-pricey. The oven is just standard, and requires you to use manual inputs that take a while longer. The kettle does everything you want, but has 8 settings - 6 of which you will never use. The Microwave requires you to read the manual to find the location of the stop button, but once you find it's under a completely unrelated menu item, you know how to operate it. You ask the salesman about the kettle and how you would like to upgrade it. The salesman says "yeah, sure - all these kitchens can run a third party kettle as long as you have this free attachment.". You also ask about the stove - can it be shiny? The salesman says "yeah, for $10 extra, you can get this coat of paint that makes everything look shiny". This is what other devices are like.

At the end of the day, the iPhone is a consumer device - nothing more. It's a cool item to play with, but the novelty will eventually wear thin. If you're looking for productivity, the Pocket PC is the way to go. Although the Pocket PC or even Nokia / Samsung / Motorola / LG / Sony etc... may not look as nice, they do the job. I could never see the iPhone becoming a business tool - but definitely the other brands can be.

I didn't get the iPhone because it looked cool, I got it so I can start developing applications for it. Not to mention, the cap plan is really good value for the amount I'm using the phone now. So yeah - hopefully I will be releasing a few applications soon.

Anyway, I have a workplace to supervise tomorrow - better get some sleep.

- - Craig Mattson.

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