It's been almost two months since we first laid our hands on the iPhone. It is a well designed mobile phone with a huge 3.5-inch display and very cool touch technology.
Before we even start, let us explain that we are definitely not Apple fanboys. We never owned anything from Apple, Inc. and we still believe that iTunes are one of the worst things that have happened to the music industry, at least before DRM.
iPhone is packaged beautifully in a very small and neatly designed box and the device comes with a stereo headset, USB cable and a power charging adapter. Apple also includes a handy small cleaning cloth for keeping the iPhone tidy and clean, along with just the basic manual.
We played around and unlocked the device in order to do this review, as T-mobile Germany or O2 Uk didn’t send us one. As the iPhone comes with a pre-installed SIM card, one of the important steps is to take it out and replace it with your own just after the device gets unlocked. We hate the fact that you won't be able to buy this device in an unlocked version unless you live in France. That is simply wrong; but, so are iTunes, and we cannot do much about them, either. In order to remove the SIM card you need a paper clip and you certainly won't get one in the phone package. As we were on the road it took us some time to find one. It won’t be easy to change the SIM if you are traveling, unless you always happen to carry a paper clip wtih you.
Unlocking the iPhone takes between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending how well you know what are you doing, and after many reboots the phone finally worked. Currently, even the 1.11 firmware can be unlocked but the EU phones will come with brand new 1.12 firmware that currently cannot be unlocked.
Back last summer we read the first reviews and we thought that was impossible to be precise with touch technology, and the iPod keyboard was my primary concern because we have large fingers.
The touch screen works only with your fingers and it won't work with any stylus pen, and that was the first surprising part for us. Initially, we dialed some telephone numbers and the phone works well at that. The keypad is also quite easy to use by adding the number and some basic contact details including a picture of a new person you meet. It's very precise with options and with your fingers, much more than we had expected.
We fell in love with its proximity detector. The iPhone will turn the display off if your phone is next to your ear and this works amazingly well. This saves this device a lot of battery life and with 3.5-inch display this was one of our primary concerns. During the call you can turn the speaker on, use the keypad for selecting some special options, and the call waiting option also works very well.
The second thing you will not find on iPods are wired stereo headphones with a microphone which allows you to answer a call, reject it or end it with a simple press of a button. At the same time, in iPod mode you will be able to skip or change the song or pause one with the press of the button or a double click.
The quality of the sound is good and you can set the iTunes as the ring tone for a nominal fee, but if you unlock the phone you can use any song or audio file you like.
There are two volume keys that will work in iPod mode or during the conversation. We see this as a smart move from Apple. In addition, a silent mode switch is also a very nice option, especially for students or business people that sometimes require a quiet environment. After a lock key, the last button on the phone is a square button that takes you back to the front menu. Very smart.
In our recent trip to the U.K. the iPhone could not recognize some of the stored numbers. In U.K. it would not show the +44 prefix, but this might be due to the fact that we unlocked this iPhone. The numbers get synchronized via Outlook and this works quite well. For any actions with an iPhone you need to use iTunes and this is the part that really sucks. IPhone cannot access your SIM contacts, which really sucks.
Finding the contact information is quite fast but not as fast as with the Nokia E61 that we used previously. You can get fast to a certain letter but there is no way to type the name of the contact and get a shortcut to speed things up, but you can navigate quite quickly to the number you need. It gets messy if you have 50 people under the letter "S," as you have to scroll through all of them. You can choose whether you want to call this person of SMS them, and this is a nice feature.
The second important thing for any phone is writing an SMS text message, and we believed it would be much less precise than it was. Of course, you tap on the screen on the SMS icon and you pick the name of the person you want to text and you start writing. You get a qwerty keyboard that works very well, better than we expected, but you do need to concentrate on it while you are writing. It takes a few days to get used to the on-screen keyboard, but you will get there.
We didn't like the fact that there is no indication to keep track of how many characters you written, and the most upsetting part for us personally was that there is not any report or way to know whether the person got the text message or not. This is something that will come in the future, we hope.
If you lose the network signal while writing an SMS you can go back with the square button and the SMS will wait for you there until you have found the network again. Until you have sent the first SMS you cannot write any others to send out later, and I hope that Apple will fix this, too, in one of its next software revisions.
Another bad thing about writing an SMS is that if you turn your phone horizontally nothing will happen, while when you do this in a browser the web page will shift as well, and you will get a much bigger keyboard that will show up on the longer side of the phone. This one is much easier to use and we hope Apple will let us write our text messages with our phone horizontally.
The same thing works for Emails, and for these you will need either EDGE or a Wireless LAN connection. EDGE works reasonably fast but, of course, 3G is faster and it is not available on this phone, mainly due to battery life concerns.
There's no way of limiting the size of Emails which you are willing to download. Apple sells these phones with an unlimited data plan only and if you have an unlocked iPod you will have to get the best data plan available. We can survive with 100MB a month, which is the best our provider offers here in Austria, and we open Fudzilla and other Web sites regularly.
The biggest issue with the data plan of an iPhone is when you go into roaming mode: the host provider will kill you with the GPRS roaming rates. We remember checking Emails in Croatia on our iPhone, where for less than 50KB I paid about 7 or 8 €, and this is simply way too much. You can only hope that there will be some pact made between iPhone providers around the world. If not, we don't recommend using EDGE but suggest that you try to find the WLAN. In roaming mode, the iPhone can easily run up a bill of a few hundred dollars / Euros just for checking a few favorite sites and getting your Email, so you've been forewarned. Once in roaming mode we strongly recommend turning EDGE off and surfing on WLAN, if you can find it.
Back to the issue of Emails with the iPod. Writing Email is as easy as writing text messages, but you cannot get the keyboard in horizontal mode, which we found to be very annoying.
The third big key is the Safari browser, and this is probably the big reason why we ultimately decided to migrate to this phone. Our Nokia E61 had a reasonably good browser, but was quite slow in rendering some sites and/or going between some options, but the iPhone is incredibly fast in rendering Websites. As Websites are our bread and butter we went for the one with the Safari browser.
Fudzilla is a quite a complex Web site and the iPhone renders it well and shows it as clearly as a PC screen. You can zoom the site with your fingers and the Safari will render the text and pictures again. You can zoom and un-zoom with a double tap of your finger. This works and looks great and you can surf on your favorite sites without major issues. Flash support is still missing, but we are sure that Apple will get there soon. Typing a URL address is easy and it is especially nice to browse the pages when you turn the phone horizontally. This works far better than we expected, and Google's search tool is just below URL line and it will make things work even faster.
The last button on the lower menu is the well-known iPod function, and we have to give these guys a lot of credit for this one. We hate the fact that you need iTunes and that it will only work with iTunes. Even if you want to download a podcast or a free video from your friend's PC it simply won't work. Apple has to do something about this in the future. Winamp might get the support for this, as it works with iPods currently. Video looks great on its 3.5-inch display but we would not recommend watching Lord of the Rings on it. It is cool to watch 25-minute TV shows or shorter videos, but definitely not to watch an entire movie. In Video mode, Apple claims up to 5 hours battery life, while music will play for 24 hours on a single battery charge.
Flipping the album covers when the phone is horizontally oriented looks really cool and natural and picking the song with a touch of a finger is a feature that works really well. We have to give them credit, as Cover Flow, what Apple calls this option, is a very unique function.
All you need to do is find the cover of the album you want, tap on it and choose the song you want to play. You can pause or skip the song on the display or on the switch at your headset. We would like to see some headset alternatives, as Apple's headsets won't fit everyone and we hope that third party vendors will come up with iPhone headphones with the microphone and a micro switch. The ones that are available and look attractive cost around $100, which is a too steep. It is very easy to break the iPhone headset so be careful with it; we were not and it broke.
Steve Jobs said that this is the best iPod so far and we definitely agree with him. It works well and is easy to use. Its functions are also logically placed so using it feels natural after just a short time.
The camera on the iPhone is 2Mpixel and takes great photos if you have good lighting conditions. The pictures are great when you look at them on a display or a PC and you can assign the picture and a special ringtone to a person, which is a nice touch. If you don’t have iTunes this is the only part of the phone that will work as a USB device. You plug it in and take pictures with the phone, while for music you must have iTunes.
There is no flash and the lens is tiny, so photos taken at nighttime will be good only if you take photos of static scenes and if you don't move the phone, again assuming that the background lighting is adequate. You can also flip the pictures and zoom it with your fingers and this works well and is fun to play with. This is a feature we want to see on future compact cameras, and in our opinion this feature is what sells the iPhone.
Airport WLAN mode also works exceptionally well. If you allow it, your phone will connect you to all the networks it can find, and it connects to a Wireless LAN network on average faster or as fast as a Centrino based notebook, which is quite impressive. Watching YouTube is much better over Wireless LAN, but video + Wireless LAN will really heat up part of the iPhone and will definitely burn through your battery life. We also suspect that one of the chips gets excessively hot.
We have to mention at least a few other applications. The calculator looks really funny, just like the old retro designed ones, and it will do its job. Notes will help you remember what you must get done and the clock alarm will help you wake up when you have to. You can set the clock for different timezones and track the time in the different part of the world.
Weather, well as the name says, it will tell you about the weather and you can set this feature for multiple cities. This works in cooperation with Yahoo! weather and it will tell you the weather forecast for the next upcoming few days.
Naturally, the YouTube button will help you waste some of your time watching videos. This works well and its quite easy to find what you want, as you can search using the keyboard. YouTube or any other video mode will automatically flip the picture to 16x9 to give you more space and a better view.
Stock pricing is the application we like. You set a few companies that you want to track and you can see how well they are doing. You can see the price in won or lost dollars or percents and it also provides a nice trend curve to see how the stock did that day, week, month, and year, all the way to a two-year time frame.
Last, but not least, there's the navigation tool. It is impressive and powered by Google earth and it will find all major streets in Vienna, Austria or in the other cities we tried and it will even show you the satellite image of the area. The sad part is that this application doesn’t work with any GPS keys and this is something that we would like to see, as a 3.5-inch screen is great for car navigation.
The map tool will even show you how to get from point A to point B, but you will have to look for the street names to find your way.
The battery will last for about two days of normal use, one day of super heavy usage or up to three days of modest usage of the other options, assuming you are not doing much talking or texting.
We have never used such a phone as the iPhone. It performed far better than expected and it looks incredibly sexy and unique. We have written many reviews and this is the best phone we have ever tried. It really left us favorably impressed.
We got one of the iPhones just to do a review and before we knew it, we loved it and decided to keep it as a cellphone. It's really quite a piece of art. It is great for Internet surfing and its touch screen is a key feature that sells it. Almost everyone who has seen the iPhone has been very impressed, and we are talking about dozens of different people.
Even our parents were having fun with flipping the pictures and playing with this Über toy. While the iPhone has its weaknesses, such as the soldered battery, lack of GPS, lack of Video recording and some software glitches, overall it is great for being Apple's first phone.
It will be tough to top this one next year but we are sure that the new one will have more memory, possibly a 3G and GPS support and, of course, a better camera that can do video. There is also some space for improvements on the phone side.
We would never pay €1,601 for this device, the total contract cost that we mentioned here, but up to €500 for a device without a contract would be quite acceptable to us. You can buy one on eBay for just a bit more than €600 on average, which is a reasonable price for this incredible device.
We strongly recommend the iPhone as a device with many great features, as well as being fun to play with. However, it costs some serious money.
Published in Reviews
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