As you probably know Apple recently released the latest version of their smart phone, the iPhone 3G. Having been one of the people who queued up early in the morning to receive their new shiny toy I have had one for over a month now and thought it was time I shared my experiences.
I have been looking forward to owning an iPhone since it was first unveiled in January 2007 but refused to buy one until it supported 3G. Luckily a year later my wish came true and in general Iʼm very happy with it. I have always liked Apple for their simplicity of design and the attention to detail that goes into user interfaces, the iPhone is no exception, however Iʼm afraid to say that cracks are starting to appear in their reputation for quality.
If you donʼt know much about the iPhone then I would suggest going to http://www.apple.com/iphone, this will give you an overview of the features that are part of the device.
So I have to start of by saying the phone looks damn good 🙂 The iPhone has sparked much discussion but I donʼt think you can say much against itʼs looks, in typical Apple style itʼs got an amazing form factor and itʼs no wonder that Jonathan Ive keeps winning awards. One of the reasons the iPhone looks so good is its screen. The widescreen is 3.5” in size and makes photos, films etc. look great but it also allows for very good control of the device via its touch interface. I find this was of controlling the phone very easy to use and the interface standards for the applications ensure that buttons are large enough so that you click the right button. I am also a great fan of the keyboard a function which has caused much argument in online forums. My suggestion to people who shy away from such things and demand a keyboard with some form of tactile response is this: try it. You could be right and it may not be for you but I would get hold of a iPhone and play with it for a couple of hours, as a tip donʼt worry if you see that you have typed an incorrect letter 9 times out of 10 the software will work it out for you. Once you are used to it (and it does take some getting used to) youʼll be typing those emails two handed in no time.
Along with the keyboard two major talking points are the phoneʼs 3G reception and the battery life. This is where things start to fall down slightly, it is very true that if you have 3G turned on and WIFI turned on and you start doing a lot of web browsing then the battery does die down quickly. This certainly isnʼt a problem specific to Apple, most smart phones drain their batteries very quickly, just because of the sheer amount of work they have to do and these donʼt have a 3.5” colour display! Never the less this doesnʼt change the fact itʼs going to be a pain if you run out of battery half way through the day, so my (and everyone elseʼs) tip is to turn both WIFI and 3G off and just use it when you need it. EDGE or GPRS (the standard signal the iPhone uses) is fine for receiving email and light web pages and if I know I need to do any heavy browsing then I can just switch on which ever service I need. Actually itʼs ironic that I waited over a year to get the 3G version and I hardly ever use it, I always seem to be able to get by on EDGE or I’m in an area with 3G. So for arguments sake letʼs say I have 3G switched on, do I get reception? Well generally, yes. In most places around Bristol I get 3 out of the 5 bars, however for the people that are affected Apple is supposedly bringing out software updates that help reduce this problem. It seems to me that the phone is fine in areas of strong signal yet when it gets to a weaker signal strength it tends to revert back to EDGe to early whereas other phones would stay connected to 3G.
The last general comment I would like to make before going into specific functionality of the iPhone is that of stability. When I first got my phone it was not stable, at all. The applications often crashed and even reset itself a few times. I can live with the former but not the later, restarts are unacceptable. Luckily (deservedly may be more appropriate) Apple have released two updates (2.01 and 2.02) which seem to have calmed the phone down and with 2.1 currently in beta testing I have high hopes that I will have the stable phone that I should have received to start off with. So those are my generally views of the phone, as you can see itʼs not all good but there is still a lot to the phone to discuss. I wonʼt be reviewing all the functionality the iPhone has to offer because to be honest I donʼt use all the functions. I will however talk about what I have used on a day to day basis and Iʼm going to group those into the following sections:
- 3rd party applications
You might be surprised to find that I havenʼt included the iPod functions in the list, well itʼs only because I donʼt really use them. I have watched the occasional video and I do have a couple of albums included in case of music emergencies. I donʼt really have much to say about it really, it works as you would expect it and watching videos is a lot better than previous iPods because of the enlarged screen.
With regards contacts on your phone and the ability to ring them I donʼt really have much to say, other than contacts used to be very slow to open but has now speeded up. What requires more discussion is that of MMS and SMS. Well MMS is easy, you donʼt have it. If you want to send picture messages then you had better send an email. If you receive one you can still retrieve it albeit in a rather contrived way. If someone sends you an MMS you receive a standard text message which contains a link to a website, from here you need to
enter your phone number and a PIN that is also included in the text. From here you can see the picture realise that it wasnʼt really worth the effort and curse your friend for wasting your time. Personally I donʼt really using picture messages but if you do, youʼre going to find this annoying.
When it comes to standard texts however I find the iPhoneʼs way of storing texts per contact very useful. All texts you receive are stored by contact in a thread. Meaning that if I look at a text message from James Cook I can see all the texts that I have received since I last cleared the conversation. Since can be very useful in making sense of replies you get a few hours after you sent the original.
most sites that Iʼm going to visit while on the move just donʼt have it.
Itʼs worth mentioning that when I talk about viewing websites Iʼm talking about the full version that you would get on your desktop or laptop. The iPhone browser represents itself as a client browser rather than a mobile one. Obviously if you find yourself running on edge you can still view the mobile versions. There is also a host of website that are specifically designed for the iPhone, or at least have an iPhone version. Google for instance has a great interface for a lot of its services that are scaled to fit the iPhoneʼs screen and eliminates the need for scrolling. The buttons are of a good size and in general is much nicer to use than their standard mobile version. In short the web browsing on the phone is a huge selling point and in my opinion makes up for a lot of other mistakes that Apple are still trying to correct.
When it comes to productivity people immediately think of email and calendar and Iʼm no different I have used both Exchange and MobileMe (which definitely needs its own article) and Iʼm quite happy with the applications. Along with all the other apps that are included with the iPhone they are simple to use and are well layed out, they donʼt have tons of functionality but they do what they have well. Reading files and keeping notes and tasks on the phone is where you get into trouble. Yes there is a notes application but it doesnʼt sync with anything, personally I find this a huge problem. I was also surprised to learn that you canʼt just transfer a file over to it either. I didnʼt even research this I just assumed it would! Now there is a reasonable work around just email the document to yourself, you can read iWork, Office and PDF files that are attached to an email. Still, not ideal and neither is the complete lack of a todo list from iCal, Exchange or even a standalone application!
Luckily you can get 3rd party applications that fill the void and keep the iPhone as the hub of my productivity. Iʼm going to talk more about these later but I currently use: Evernote (a notes application), Things (a GTD task list) and Files (letʼs you transfer files directly to your phone from a machine running Windows or Mac OSX.
Now Iʼm already working on a more in-depth article on productivity so I wonʼt say much more. It is worth keeping in mind that if you keep a lot of notes and todos that you will probably need 3rd party applications.
3rd Party Applications
Now the application store is just great, basically its a shop in iTunes where you can buy 3rd party applications for your phone. It should definitely be a consideration when you are deciding which smart phone to buy. There are some amazing applications out there which are up to the quality you would expect from a desktop application and they really add something to the phone.
Now when I was talking about productivity I was mentioned that you really need 3rd party applications if you want files, todos and notes and your first impression may have been of disappointment. I really donʼt see it as a bad thing (although Apple should really sync notes and todos anyway). All the applications are downloaded through iTunes so you know where you need to look, they are of a high standard, reasonably prices if not free and in a lot of cases provide functionality that you know Apple or any other phone manufacturer are simply not going to include with the standard phone software.
There are definitely flaws with the phone and depending on how you are going to use will play a large part in which smart you end up buying. From my personal experience even with the problems that I have to put up with I really donʼt regret buying it. It has an amazing interface, the web browsing is excellent and it is all topped of with some amazing applications. I am confident that future updates will resolve the problems Iʼve been experiencing but only time will tell if Iʼm being optimistic.
If you have any questions about Apple related products or if you just want to disagree with what I have said then feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org Ideas for future articles are also welcome 🙂