2nd impressions of the Apple iPhone

After spending a full two days with the iPhone while out and about, I had the chance to put it through a few more tests. I used the camera to take photos at a fund raiser car wash, text messaged back and forth with friends, showed it off to the public at Lowe's and Les Schwab, made several more calls, received and sent emails from 3 different accounts, surfed the internet, listened to and watched a couple of podcasts and episodes of The Office, made a couple of calendar appointments, checked the weather, and wrote some notes to test the keyboard out. As fellow ZDNet bloggers like Mitch Ratcliffe and Jason D. O'Grady stated the device is quite spectacular and fresh. I think my teenage daughter might have said it best when she said "It is just a lot of fun." And yes, it is a lot of fun and I think the user experience is a blast. It will be interesting to see what people really think of it though after the novelty wears off and they need to get something done.

After spending a full two days with the iPhone while out and about, I had the chance to put it through a few more tests. I used the camera to take photos at a fund raiser car wash, text messaged back and forth with friends, showed it off to the public at Lowe's and Les Schwab, made several more calls, received and sent emails from 3 different accounts, surfed the internet, listened to and watched a couple of podcasts and episodes of The Office, made a couple of calendar appointments, checked the weather, and wrote some notes to test the keyboard out. As fellow ZDNet bloggers like Mitch Ratcliffe and Jason D. O'Grady stated the device is quite spectacular and fresh. I think my teenage daughter might have said it best when she said "It is just a lot of fun." And yes, it is a lot of fun and I think the user experience is a blast. It will be interesting to see what people really think of it though after the novelty wears off and they need to get something done.

iPhone and Nokia N95

I also made a decision to return the two other iPhones I bought on Friday for a couple of reasons. My original plan was to just buy one for myself, but since my daughters were in line the AT&T store asked if I was buying three total and since my wife needs a new phone and likes iPods I decided to go ahead and get the other two. I figured I could always sell it on ebay if she didn't want it and I didn't have any other family members or friends who wanted the other one. The two guys directly behind me in line were there only to buy and then sell them on ebay and had them listed before they actually had them. It turns out there is either a lot more stock or else fewer buyers than many people thought as they are going for the regular purchase price in most cases on both ebay and Craigslist with only a few Apple stores sold out. My wife thinks the iPhone is very cool and innovative, but she prefers hardware buttons and doesn't want to spend that kind of money on a phone. No one else I know wants to spend US$650 for a phone either. As a result, I will be returning the two extras to AT&T today. I'll keep the single opened one and continue to use it up to the 14 day period and make my final decision before then. I am split about 50/50 right now. The UI is awesome and very enjoyable to use, but there sure is a lot missing in the device as well and after the novelty wears off I may go back to my other smartphones. I am sure Apple will be releasing lots of updates over the next few months, but don't know if I am willing to be a beta tester for that time period and may wait and come back to the iPhone later. It would be a much easier decision if the iPhone wasn't so refreshing to use.

Hardware: The device feels great in your hand and is just about the right width for a mobile phone. I do not like the headphone jack and cannot even use my US$250 pair of Ultimate Ears headphones without buying an adapter. I read that Apple made the jack deep to reduce the stress on the headset jack so if this is the case, I don't mind the adapter to help prevent problems with the device hardware like I have seen on iPod minis in the past. Still, Apple should have included the adapter for folks and might want to think about sending one out to all current owners. The screen does get greasy, but I haven't seen any wear and tear on the display or backing at all whereas I saw scratches on an iPod I tried a few months ago in the first day with very gentle care. I'm still trying to get used to a single button and touch only interface, but I think those people who haven't used all these other high end smartphones may find it quite intuitive and easy. When showing it around, people were able to pick it up and use it without any probelm. The display is extremely bright and my iPhone was only set to 50% when I activated it. Battery life also seems to be quite amazing and is easily lasting me a full day with lots of heavy usage.

Text messaging: Palm has the best text messaging application with its threaded conversations, smiley support, etc. and the Apple iPhone comes in second. It does have a very cool threaded conversation layout, but it is also pretty basic and just shows the text and two color coded balloons. I love these threaded conversation type text messaging applications and think the iPhone one could be improved to offer more, like the Palm one.

Calendar: The Calendar application is pretty weak and doesn't even have a week view. At first I was frustrated by having to use Address Book on my MacBook Pro to sync contacts since I never use that application. However, I found that you can enable sync services in your preferences of Microsoft Entourage 11.3 and higher. After this, I then synced contacts and my calendar through the iTunes/Entourage conduit without issue. It was very easy to create calendar appointments, but a bit tedious to have to go left and right through several displays rather than just going down a single display to set the name, location, time and date, repeat, alert, and notes. Calendar also doesn't work in landscape mode and I would like to see landscape and portrait in every application so I stop rotating the iPhone just to see it stay in portrait mode.

Photos: I think this is one of the main applications that really demonstrate the power of the multi-touch display and extremely fluid performance of the OS. I demo this first to most people who ask about it since the way you can rotate the pics, zoom in with the finger movement, and flip through photos is incredible. It is extremely fast and still blows me away when I show it off.

Camera: The camera software is very basic with no controls except for a soft button to capture the photo. An animation that reminds me of the opening and closing of the stargate (SG-1 fan here) happens after taking a photo. I also accidentally took several photos just by getting close to the button and wish there was a hardware button or timer mode to capture photos. The photos were OK in very good lighting and I suppose it is usable for quick shots, but nothing like the 5 megapixel one on the Nokia N95. There is also no video functionality or flash so it is just a basic phone camera and nothing to get excited about. There are no resolution settings, light settings, black and white or anything and everything is automatic. I also understand the the photos are reduced in size when you email them out so that is a bummer.

YouTube: I only used this application once and it seemed to work well as shown in the Apple videos. I don't think you will want to try it with the EDGE connection though. TV-out on the iPhone would be nice to have and use with the YouTube application.

Stocks: I don't follow stocks so have no real interest in this application that seems to do what it needs to show you stock status.

Maps: The Google Maps application has functionality I have never seen before and is again another amazing application as far as eye candy goes. I am taking a cross state vacation this week and just plotted out my route. As you tap the arrow to go to the next turn, Google Maps dynamically zooms out to the whole state and then zooms into your turn. This gives you a great perspective on your proximity to other cities and is very cool. I may actually try to video this in action since I haven't seen a demo of this yet. The Google Maps application also supports traffic by simply tapping the automobile icon in the bottom right. You can view map, satellite, or list views of directions as well.

Weather: The weather widget is very basic and gives you just the current temp (high and low) and the daily values with an icon for cloudy, sunny, rainy, etc. for a weekly forecast. There is no further detailed view of weather like I have seen in many other 3rd party applications.

Clock: The Clock application is good and allows you to setup 4 different time zones in a world clock view, set alarms, use it as a stopwatch, or use it as timer. It isn't anything super spectacular, but it gets the job done.

Calculator: The calculator is as basic and feature-less as the lame Windows Mobile calculator with just your simple functions. I would love to see Apple, and Microsoft for that matter, use the awesome Palm calculator that gives you a choice to switch to an advanced calculator for conducting some real calculations. I suppose these basic ones are good for shopping and tip calculations.

Notes: The Notes application reminds me a lot of the Newton with the icons at the bottom looking very Newton-like. The application is again pretty basic with yellow background and black fonts. The fonts look good and it does allow you to capture information in a text entry program. I actually used it to take sermon notes at church on Sunday and will see if they can be exported or synced to a PC soon. There is no ability to record voice notes or add voice clips to your notes like in Windows Mobile.

Settings: It was rather unusual for me to have to go to a Settings utility that managed settings for every application, but from a new user standpoint this probably makes a lot of sense. There isn't as many settings and customization options as other devices have, but they are also simple to setup. You can quickly switch to airplane mode, manage WiFi and Bluetooth connections, check your usage time and data sent and received via EDGE, manage your sounds, brightness, and wallpaper, and customize settings for the device (date/time, auto-lock, passcode, keyboard, and network connections), mail, phone, Safari, iPod, and photos. You can also perform different types of resets (all settings, all content and settings, keyboard dictionary, and network settings) under the General settings option.

Phone calls: I sent and received several calls throughout the day and many were actually to other iPhone owners. The call quality and clarity was as good as any mobile phone I have ever tried so there are no problems there. The speakerphone works well, but could be louder. There are a few good ringtones, but they need to be louder in case you phone is in your bag or farther than 10 feet from you. The iPhone also has vibration mode, but I would prefer if it was stronger and lasted longer than the couple of seconds when a call comes in. I had to reset the iPhone to setup my custom voicemail message and that is the only stability issue I have seen. Visual Voicemail is nice, but you can also get much of the same experience on any web-enabled phone with GotVoice Visual Voicemail if this is important to you.

Email: As I previously mentioned I have setup Yahoo, Gmail, and hosted Exchange email accounts on my iPhone. I thought that Yahoo was supposed to support push email functionality, but after sending a couple of test messages nothing happened unless I started the email application or the sync timer I set up started. I'll have to figure out what is going on here since the settings for mail on the iPhone don't seem to address the issue and others have reported it does push. Gmail is just a basic POP client on the iPhone and quite weak. It would have been great if Apple was able to get the stand-along Gmail client on the device since it works like a champ on S60, Palm, and Windows Mobile devices. The hosted Exchange IMAP email is also very weak and I haven't found anyway to manage server folders, which I always thought was a main reason for having IMAP email. It also doesn't appear to actually manage email on the servers and really seems to just be a POP client. It is also a major pain in the rear to delete lots of emails on the iPhone since you actually have to swipe and tap for every single message. With Windows Mobile you can tap and hold over a long list of them and with S60 you can select multiple messages and then delete the whole list. I also found that if you try deleting a bunch of emails or reading through them quickly with the upper right arrows then you will see the iPhone pausing and hanging as it processes and loads emails. Some emails also won't change to a read status. This is very slow with EDGE and you may wonder why it stops recognizing your finger taps. I haven't seen anyway to mark messages as read and the email application is just very basic.

Safari: Most everything I read talks about how wonderful Safari on the iPhone is and I admit that it is pretty good, but I personally think the S60 3rd Edition web browser and Opera Mini are better. The first page that appears in Safari is not even readable so you must zoom in to see what is on the page and then there doesn't seem to be anyway to set a default zoom level. I also found it slower than these other two browsers and am not overly impressed at this time. It is tough to tap the right hyperlink in the full page view since you can't really read the page, but the screen does a good job of picking up your finger press. Safari doesn't have the cool visual map for going back and forward like the S60 browser does, but it does support multiple simulaltaneous open windows. When you switch between these windows with the bottom right icon a visual thumbnail map of each window appears for quick switching or closing.

iPod: I listened to a few podcasts and the on board speaker is fine for this. The coverflow is cool and the audio player seems to be well implemented, as it should coming from the makers of the iPhone. It was a pleasure watching The Office on the iPhone and it led me to wish Apple would have just released a widescreen iPod instead since the video is one of the most appealing aspects of the device, although 8GB is a bit weak for a dedicated media player. It is a shame you can't use your own headphones without an adapter and that A2DP is not supported.

Text input: The on-screen keyboard actually works very well for me and my fingers and I am able to fairly accurately press exactly what button I intended. The auto correction feature is good, but nothing as amazing as the Windows Mobile predictive text technology. I only found the iPhone feature correcting a word here and there and didn't find it extremely helpful. It also doesn't seem to work in Safari so make sure you spell your URL correctly. The press and hold zoom bubble for editing is cool and works well at focusing in on the small fonts. The .com, period, and backslash appear in the Safari browser URL line and in other situations you have a large space bar.

Wireless connections: I have found WiFi to work extremely well and my question about how fast the iPhone really is was quickly confirmed by using it with WiFi. It actually is as fast as the videos show, however none of those videos showed it operating with EDGE. Even though AT&T's EDGE network has been upgraded, the iPhone still performs slower than the S60 and Windows Mobile devices I use with T-Mobile's slower data plan. In regards to Bluetooth, the iPhone is very limited in what it can connect with (only headsets and car kits). It cannot even connect to Bluetooth keyboards, GPS receivers, other iPhones or Bluetooth devices (no wireless sync here my friend), or even Bluetooth stereo headphones. I also found that having my hand over the iPhone or even having the iPhone on the opposite side of my body made the headset I tried (Cardo scala-700) crackle, pop, and garble words. This doesn't happen with any other device I have tried so Bluetooth seems a bit weak. I have also found that my stereo completely freaks out in my car when the iPhone makes a data connection. My other devices will cause some static, but the iPhone causes major static to the point my wife turns off the radio.

Misc thoughts and experiences: There is not cutting and pasting on the iPhone and current smartphone users may feel a bit strapped by some of the limited functionality. I am sure new smartphone owners won't have an issue with the limited applications and lack of customization though. There is also no dragging and dropping functionality other than the flicking to access delete in email. I often would tap and hold to try to do more, but this doesn't work either. The lack of a back button keeps tripping me up as well and you really have to use two hands for navigation to go back and then jump to Home. The ringtone selection is ok, but there is no way to put a custom ringtone on at this time. There are no games, no voice dialing, no video capture, and no MMS. I read a rumor that lots more functionality, like a file browser, ringtone support, and more will be coming with updates.

After laying all of this out, you may wonder why the heck I am even considering keeping it when compared to Windows Mobile and S60 and I think it all comes down to the fun experience. The iPhone is a blast to use and a refreshing change from other mobile operating systems. I think Apple did a wonderful job with a first generation mobile phone and is starting out way ahead of where Palm, Windows Mobile, and S60 did. It will be interesting to see if the novelty wears off in the next 11 days I have to play with it before making my final decision on whether to keep it or not. Unless I find something of particular interest over the next 11 days this will be my last post on my iPhone experiences until I post my decision review and thoughts no later than 12 July. If you have questions you want answered, feel free to post them and I'll respond directly in TalkBack rather than littering my blog with iPhone update posts.