iPhone 3G: First Impressions

apple-iphone-3g-2Okay, so we fell for the hype a bit.  I got the wife an iPhone 3G as a gift.  It’s cool, it has some nifty features, it’s got a pretty decent price tag – and I’d been wanting to check one of these things out for a while – so it had all the makings of a great gift.  I come from a long line of Windows Mobile devices and phones, so I know what it’s like to have a bevy of features in the palm of your hand.  So after having it for a couple weeks now, is the iPhone really any better than all those other toys I’ve had?

Well – the first thing I noticed was it seems to just work…  Okay, Apple seems to have some reputation built up about it’s OS being reliable, easy and intuitive.  Well, I’m into technology, so those things have never really interested me much – haha.  I haven’t had a lot of exposure to Macs, OS X or even iPods – sticking more to Windows and Linux distributions, so the iPhone is really my first deep dive into the whole Apple ‘thing’.  Well, I can attest that the iPhone is easy to use and intuitive.  Reliable?  Well… not so much – we’ve already had a hang or two that required a reboot, and a time where the push mail just went to lunch, didn’t get any mail anymore, and didn’t tell you it wasn’t connecting – so it doesn’t seem much better in reliability to any of my WM stuff.

On the easy side:  it was setup to get onto the Internet and get Yahoo mail via push in a blink of the eye.  Oh, and no messing about with editing network connection configurations or anything, changing where to store attachments, etc. etc.  It just worked and she was happy immediately.  So that’s not that much of a big deal, what about other stuff, you say…

Well, let’s just go down the list, in stream-of-consciousness order:

  • Internet and Web Browsing:  Wow.  I’ll say it again.  Wow.  I’ve used Pocket IE, Opera Mobile, Opera Mini… even the new Opera Mobile 9.5 beta, and this Safari version on the iPhone just absolutely kills web browsing on any windows mobile device.  No contest – and I don’t want to hear any whining from any of you fellow WM users out there.  Go pick up one of these in the store and surf a bit.  It rocks.  Opera Mobile 9.5 doesn’t even hold a candle to it (even when it’s not crashing).
  • Mail:  Not bad.  It’s a pretty decent interface, it works and it’s integrated into the contacts system for the address book.  It can fetch mail from POP/IMAP just as well as a WM device.  A unique feature is support for the Yahoo mail as a push reception versus just fetching – handy if you use Yahoo mail.  I haven’t tried the Exchange push yet – that’s what I’m really hesitant about making any switch to the iPhone over, as I’m a huge user of Exchange push for mail, contacts and calendar items – so no judgement can be rendered there yet.  All in all, no better or worse than WM here.
  • Voicemail:  Interestingly unique feature with the ‘visual voicemail’.  Not so much visual, but you do see each voicemail as attached to the number or contact it’s from – so you can play whichever one you want, rather than calling into a voicemail system and going through in reverse order.  Nifty, so yeah, it’s better than WM – but not a feature you have to run out and buy one over.
  • GPS:  So lots of phones have integrated GPS now, so it’s not unique.  What is unique is there’s a pretty customized googlemap program that it’s integrated with.  It’s cool, and real easy to use.  I have noticed the phone gets a GPS lock pretty quick – quicker than the WM devices that are GPS equipped.  The assisted GPS (where it can get some initial location info from the cell tower) is most likely the reason, and that will be in WM phones too.  With the googlemap software, you can get directions… but for some odd reason, there’s no turn-by-turn direction capability.  That’s odd, and it even gets more odd – apparently it’s not allowed in the terms of the development kit for the iPhone either, so I wouldn’t expect any apps to come along and offer that functionality anytime soon.  Jeesh – my handheld hiking GPS can even do turn by turn navigation.  What gives?  Maybe they don’t want to be liable when some idiot drives his car into a lake because it said so?
  • Reception/Signal:  So far, so good.  Doesn’t seem much better/worse than my WM phone, or the wifes old ‘normal’ phone.  The 3G service does come and go pretty easy, but that’s more AT&T’s fault than Apple’s, I suppose.
  • Sound Quality:  Very good, indeed.  It’s much superior in quality and volume than my WM phones.  The real plus is it’s got a real speakerphone.  Sure, other phones do, but they’re small, muffled, tinny, or exceedingly low volume.  This speakerphone is actually useful.  Even good enough to decently listen to music.
  • Text Entry:  There’s no keyboard.  That’s a big compromise to swallow for those of us heavy into e-mail.  The virtual keyboard thing isn’t bad – but it’s not as good as having an honest to goodness keyboard.  It does auto-correct as you enter, which is handy if you have big fingers like mine and it’s a little tough to hit the keys accurately.  Unfortunately, it’s very hard to avoid the automatic response of backing up to retype mistakes rather than proceeding and hoping the auto-correct figures it out – so in the end it doesn’t save that much time.  Maybe they’ll make one with a real keyboard someday so they could put in a bigger battery, because…
  • Battery Life:  Dismal.  Obviously, there’s a lot of features, and features mean power – which means sucking the battery dry.  But why have those features, if you don’t use them?  And then why have those features when if you do use them, you won’t be using them for long?  Maybe 3G sucks more battery… okay, but then it’s pretty sketchy here in town, so often the phone is just on the EDGE network.  I don’t have wireless on, no bluetooth on (which doesn’t seem to eat up battery life on my WM phone anyway).  GPS can eat up power you say… well, yeah – but then again my handheld hiking GPS has a better GPS chip, better accuracy, a color screen and gets about 18 hours out of 2 AAs, so I’m not really buying that story.  I think the story is it’s just a small battery, especially given the features and use of the device, and more thought was given to size than to daily usage.  This will be the big hit for breaking into big-time business use.  Those users expect their device to last them through the day.  The iPhone doesn’t – especially if you really use it much.  Also, you can’t replace the battery… so when that battery starts to die off from the many recharge cycles per day, you’ll have to send it off to have it replaced.  Maybe Apple will be nice enough to answer your calls for you while it’s gone.  On the plus side, the power adapter is ultra tiny, and I think I understand why it’s so small… You’re meant to carry it in your pocket with you.
  • Camera:  Who the heck uses a camera on a cell phone, anyhow?  Maybe I’m just daft, but if I’m going to be taking pictures, I’m bringing my Nikon D300 and getting some good pictures.  Well, if you choose to use the camera, it sucks.  But then again, so does the camera on my WM phone.  So does the little point and shoot Sony digital camera we have to get snap shots.  It’s not about megapixels, people – someone please educate the masses!!  It’s about sensor size.  Small sensor (i.e. on a phone or a small digital camera) equals crummy image quality.  And then there’s shutter lag, aperture…  Good luck getting a sharp picture of something that isn’t dead.  I really hope people out there aren’t really trying to take pictures with these things.  Since these little sensors don’t get very good still image quality, the best thing to do is usually capture small snippets of video, which is more pleasing in low-resolution or poor quality.  Oh, but there’s no video ability with this phone.  That’s odd.  Maybe they don’t want to be responsible for any youtube videos of people driving their cars into lakes because their turn by turn GPS told them to.
  • Media Player:  Well, it’s an iPhone, so it’s an iPod too.  Works just fantastically as a ‘MP3′ player – headphones included.  You can even hop on iTunes and buy lotsa music right on the phone.  Please don’t show my wife how to do that.  I do have to give the edge to WM here, though… It’s more open on WM – so you’re not limited to the types of audio/video you can play.  It’s a bit more cramped on the iPhone/iPod front, but if you stick with standard formats and stuff purchased off iTunes, you’re fine.  I’m not big into MP3 players or portable video stuff… That’s what the Home Theater PC is for!
  • Notes:  I do take notes from time to time on my WM phone, and I like it.  I can pop out the stylus and quickly scribble down something.  There’s a Notes app on the iPhone, but since the touchscreen isn’t stylus driven, there’s no scribbling a note with a stylus.  You’re left entering the information via the virtual on-screen keyboard.  Not a deal breaker by any stretch, but it does take away a convenience.  Sure, there’s apps that allow you to handwrite, but due to the touchscreen technology, it’s not very good – it’s much more legible with the finer point of a stylus versus your finger.
  • Screen:  Nice, bright and vivid.  While the resolution isn’t dramatically good or anything, the size of the screen is spot-on.  The WM phones seem to go for higher resolution, but smaller screen size.  Not sure why.  It’s a mobile device, so ease of reading is better driven by a larger screen than a higher resolution on these things.  Apple got this one right.  Wish HTC would drop the buttons from the bottom of their phones and go larger on the screen…  The iPhone is Bright and easy to read outdoors and indoors, with the brightness adjusting to the ambient light.  It is a touch brighter than needed in all situations, though – and I’m sure that’s not helping the battery life at all.
  • Other Apps:  Cool, definitely, but nothing that’s show-stopping versus WM phones or other devices.  There’s a YouTube app, which makes it easier to watch porn on your phone.  Just a tip to parents…  The kids like to play with the shiny devices we get, too – and apparently, the first time we opened up the YouTube app and it went to the Top 25 videos… well, let’s just say it wasn’t appropriate for kids.  We removed YouTube from the home screen.  Another tidbits by default are a stocks app and a weather app.  Both cool – but again, other than the looks which are nifty, nothing you couldn’t do with other technology.

So… What to do?  Well, so far I’m still a bit undecided.  After having an iPhone in the family for a couple weeks, it’s definitely more than just a ‘cool’ phone.  I’m personally on the fence about switching over from windows mobile.  I’m concerned about the battery life, and about the extent/capabilities of the Exchange push synchronization – and a bit hesitant about giving up a real keyboard for the virtual keyboard.  While there’s more updates to come as we explore the phone in more depth – feel free to chime in with comments on your thoughts!

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