Tuesday, August 7, 2007

iPhone Reviews

iPhone is beautiful, an object of art. It's sleek, and contrasts abound: black and silver, glossy and matte. The curved edges feel perfect in the hand. There are some subtle touches: the eye-catching chrome edging actually improves your grip, and the silver ring around the camera is grooved to catch the light. It's very thin — thinner than most mobile phones. (Some, like the Palm Treo, are positively portly next to iPhone.) It has a pleasant heft in the hand, and the buttons are easily accessible. It's wide, but not too wide: to our surprise, we could use it one-handed.

The included Dock is custom fitted, barely wider than iPhone itself. The power brick is tiny; even the USB cable's Dock connector is smaller than previous Apple Dock cables. Everything is compact, no larger than required. We found that experience continues into the phone's interfaces — everything does just enough, and nothing more.

Setup and Activation
Setup is simple, but if you haven't yet downloaded iTunes 7.3 and the latest system updates, you'll need to do that first. iTunes 7.3 is 33 MB for Mac, 47 MB for PC. The Mac OS X 10.4.10 update is 20 to 300 MB, depending on your CPU type and what version of 10.4 you currently have. iPhone includes no software CD, so you'd better have broadband or be prepared for a long wait.

The manual appeared to be missing, until we realized that the unmarked black cardboard beneath the acrylic tray wasn't a spacer, but a carrier for the manual. It also enclosed support information, a microfiber cleaning cloth and two white Apple stickers.

Once we had downloaded and installed the required software updates and rebooted, setup and activation was fast and easy. iTunes guides you through the setup process.
iTunes synced our photos, movies, music and podcasts. (We selected a subset of our photo and music collection to fit within iPhone's limited storage.) It also copied our contacts from Address Book and set up Mail accounts on iPhone, and synced over Safari bookmarks (no support for Firefox, but at least Windows users can sync Internet Explorer bookmarks).

iPhone is every bit as impressive as Apple makes it out to be, and then some. It didn't take long to become enthusiastic; iPhone really is a breakthrough device. Yet, with the possible exception of voicemail, there is no single thing that iPhone does that's really new among the smartphones it aims to usurp. Like iPod, iPhone simply does it all better — far, far better — than any other device.

The phone may be the weakest link in iPhone's offerings — but it's superb. Audio quality is excellent, the best of any GSM handset we've ever used. Both the sound coming out of it, as well as the quality of audio transmitted to recipients on landlines, are outstanding. The speakerphone is clear but very quiet (which is odd, because when playing music or video through the same speaker, the volume goes quite high).

Demonstrations of phone functionality are on Apple's web site and accurately depict the experience. Large, easily readable and frankly friendly-looking buttons provide easy access to in-call tools. Setting up a conference call is trivial; gone are the days of "call me back if I lose you!" And, you can switch to speakerphone then use iPhone's Internet features while on a call (that is, if you have WiFi service; voice calls and EDGE data use the same data stream and don't share).

"Visual Voicemail" works as well as advertised; it even has a "Deleted" folder in case you change your mind. We could scrub back and forth in messages easily, perfect for making a note of an address, phone number or other information — no need to start from the beginning over and over.

It's all indescribably easy and well thought out. The experience is notably superior to smartphones including the Palm Treo and the Motorola Q. And traditional phones, such as the hugely popular Motorola RAZR, can't even begin to compete. The glove has been thrown down.

Safari is where iPhone shines. Based on the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari for Mac and Windows, it rendered every web page we tried flawlessly. We were simply stunned at how good pages look, and how very readable they are. Even heavily designed sites such as Ars Technica and the Wall Street Journal work well. (It even worked fine with the Journal's "rollover" menus.)

iPhone's zoom gestures are the key to making the Web usable. Simply double-tap the area of the page you're interested in, and Safari zooms in to that area, intelligently enlarging it to just the right size to read on iPhone's screen. iPhone's novel "pinch" and "stretch" gestures work smoothly, and flicking a web page around is remarkably easy. In a single weekend's use, we've already come to prefer it to scrollbars. (In fact, when using a PowerBook, the author keeps trying to flick web pages and emails up and down!)

If you want more width for reading, just turn the phone on its side. Safari rotates and resizes the web page content to fit.

Safari is where you will most notice the speed of the network; we did some basic testing with DSLreport.com's Mobile Speedtest. On WiFi networks, we got around 800-1000 Kbit/sec on a DSL line, and somewhat better on higher bandwidth cable modems. On the EDGE network, we usually got 140 to 160 Kbit/sec, though we sometimes saw lower speeds and sometimes saw as much as 190. That translates to 17 to 20 KByte/sec; the MacInTouch home page takes five to six seconds to load at this speed.

iPhone switches between WiFi and EDGE seamlessly, preferring WiFi where available. We even found we could turn off WiFi while loading a large web page, and iPhone switched to EDGE and kept loading.

Safari does not support Flash, Java, or even QuickTime plug-ins. Oddly, there is a setting to disable plug-ins, but we don't know what those plug-ins might be! Safari is an excellent client for Ajax applications such as Gmail that pay careful attention to platform independence, but we couldn't use Apple's own .Mac webmail to compose messages. Admittedly, this particular application is unnecessary to iPhone, but it shows a limitation of iPhone Safari with Ajax applications that make too many assumptions about the web browser's capabilities.


The iPod interface has remained basically unchanged since the first iPod was introduced in October 2001. iPhone breaks that tradition with a new iPod interface design.

A row of five buttons along the bottom of the screen provides quick access to menus that traditional iPods have nested down in the interface. However, there are more iPod options than there is space for buttons, so a "more" button graces the corner — an unusual compromise in iPhone's otherwise well-designed user interface. Think of the four other buttons as shortcuts; you can replace them with your preferred shortcuts (e.g. the "Genres" music list).

Things get interesting when you rotate iPhone 90 degrees to the left or right: iPhone displays an iTunes-style "Cover Flow" view. Flick the album covers along, tap on an album to turn it over and view its tracks. Tap a track to play. Tap it again to flip back to album art.

We always thought of iTunes's Cover Flow as a neat visual trick but not very useful. (We discovered and enjoyed it when it was a beta project, before Apple acquired it and hired its developer.) But in iPhone's direct manipulation interface, Cover Flow feels natural, a good way to browse music.

The usual iPod functions of scrubbing through songs and setting song ratings are available, but not via Cover Flow — you'll have to rotate back to vertical. Song lyrics are not available.

iPhone video support is more limited than the video iPod's. Only certain formats of H.264-encoded video are allowed.

If you convert your own video for watching on portable devices or Apple TV, you may have to re-encode it for iPhone. While all of our iTunes Store purchases played, some video we encoded ourselves was rejected by iTunes even though it works on Apple TV. Still, the videos that did work (most of them) look great.

iPhone plays in fullscreen by default, but just double-tap the video to zoom out to widescreen, or back in to fullscreen. Tap once to bring up video playback controls.

Sync Strategies

iPhone is synced from one Mac or PC — sort of. We're used to floating our Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones among Macs and using iSync (along with .Mac sync) to keep all the Macs and phone in sync. A change made in any one location updates all the others. At first this did not seem to be possible with iPhone — we thought we would have to pick a master Mac and stick with it. But we've since discovered that we can set iTunes on another computer to merge Calendars and Contacts with those already on iPhone.

But the process of merging calendars and contacts can be very slow, especially if you have thousands of calendar entries or contacts. And, iPhone forgets its sync settings at your previous Mac or PC, so you have to repeat the merge process every time you move from machine to machine. So while you can sync it among multiple machines, in practice it's something of a hassle.

Music, Podcasts and Video likewise sync only from one Mac, but there is no merge feature — each type of is completely replaced. But like other iPods, you can at least transfer purchased music and videos from iPhone to your other iTunes-authorized machines.

The upshot is that you can sync your contacts and/or calendars at one Mac or PC (perhaps a work location), and music at another (such as home), but there is not a true multi-device sync. This is an odd omission, since Apple's iSync tool supports multi-device sync with other mobile phones.

Other Features

iPhone's various applications ("widgets") are mostly covered in our
FAQ and on Apple's web pages, but we do have a few notes on them:

The Weather and Stock widgets are simple, easy to use, and very like their Mac OS X Dashboard counterparts. They are ideal applications for low-bandwidth networks such as EDGE: they fetch conveniently small amounts of data, and display them with locally stored graphics and styles.

Calendar is basic. It doesn't support to-do items, and although it can sync many calendars from iTunes, it doesn't provide color coding or other differentiation. You can edit your own events, but not those of subscribed calendars. Unlike the iCal it is clearly modeled on, you cannot adjust events by dragging them in Day view; this view just doesn't do much. Calendar's List view is very handy, and more useful than the Day view. Traditional PDA users will not be impressed with Calendar; it appears to have been designed more as a quick reference tool than an organizer.

Camera is fun to use, with a visual shutter effect that fills in the time that iPhone spends processing and saving the picture as a JPEG. Image quality is surprisingly good, depending on lighting conditions. When iPhone is docked, iTunes starts up iPhoto or Aperture for importing.

YouTube is another fun little application. Although YouTube's library of content available to iPhone (and Apple TV) is limited at the moment, the whole catalog will be available by Autumn. You can bookmark favorite videos, but you can't log in to YouTube to access your existing Favorites the way you can on Apple TV.

Integration is good; if you receive an email with a YouTube link, Mail passes it to the YouTube widget instead of Safari (which does not support embedded video, Flash or otherwise).

iPhone's SMS capability provides text messaging with other mobile phones (text only, no photos, movies or sounds). It is styled similarly to iChat, but isn't Internet-based like iChat. SMS messages are sent over mobile phone networks, and typically incur fees or require a paid service plan. The iPhone plan includes 200 messages. You pay for both sent and received messages; a single conversation can rapidly consume this quota. After that, AT&T charges $0.15 per text message (or sells add-ons to your service plan).

The Notes widget is the odd man out on iPhone. Every other application uses the classic Helvetica face for text, but Notes uses Marker Felt. Deleting a note is handled inside a note object, instead of in the list view like every other iPhone tool. There is no provision for syncing Notes with your Mac or PC, but you can turn a Note into an email message. It's a nice enough little tool, but it doesn't feel like it was designed to run on the same device as the other programs.

Battery Life

In our first complete day of testing iPhone after a complete charge, we ran the battery down to 10% with just shy of nine hours of usage. (iPhone tracks "usage", which is all the time it spends not in standby since its last complete charge.) A majority of that time was spent using Internet via WiFi, with some EDGE, occasional photo taking, and about an hour and a half of phone calls.

Apple claims up to 6 hours of Internet use, or up to 8 hours of talk time. We didn't measure closely, but our first day appears to bear out these claims. It will take a few weeks of use to get a sense of how long the battery lasts with typical a day to day usage, but we guess that we'll be charging it every two or three days as we drop to less frequent use.

(We also learned that iPhone warns you when just 15% charge is remaining, and again at 10%.)

iPhone's battery is not removable. Apple offers an iPhone battery replacement service for about $85. (Apple also will rent you an iPhone for $29 for use during service.) Disassembling iPhone is not for the faint of heart; when the time comes to replace our battery, we'll have Apple do it. Apple says the battery should be good for 300 to 400 complete charge/discharge cycles. If iPhone lasts two to three days between charges, the battery's life expectancy at two to four years. (Actual results will depend heavily on usage patterns.)


iPhone is useless without carrier service, which raises the question of pricing.

Apple and AT&T have adopted a close variant of AT&T's standard smartphone data plan, starting with 450 minutes, 200 SMS text messages, 5000 night/weekend minutes, rollover minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile for $59.99/mo.. Family plans start at $80/mo., raising minutes to 700 with unlimited night/weekend minutes.

Current AT&T customers can add iPhone service to their existing plan for $20/month; new customers essentially pay standard AT&T rates plus $20/month per iPhone.

Enthusiastic texters users can blow through iPhone's 200 SMS message quota in a hurry. AT&T offers more expensive plans for these users; upgrading to 1500 texts adds another $10, and unlimited texting is available for $20. (We speculate that iPhone's lack of internet chat is an intentional omissions designed to let AT&T sell service upgrades.)

Apple and AT&T state that all iPhone plans require a two-year service commitment. However, iPhone buyers have discovered two workarounds.

With a sufficiently poor credit record, an AT&T store can provide you with a special code to enter in iTunes activation that enables you to obtain a contract-free, month-to-month service plan at a higher price (about $86/month).

If you buy from Apple, which does not perform an in-store credit check, you can enter an invalid social security number during iTunes activation to force a credit check failure. iTunes will then let you buy a pay-as-you-go "GoPhone" plan. (We recommend against using a random number — if it turns out to be in use, you've committed identity theft. 999-99-9999 seems to be a truly invalid number, but we have not tested this.)

Both of these methods have a higher monthly cost than the standard plans, though, so the benefit is marginal.

Customers who are currently under contract with other carriers may have to pay cancellation fees to the other carrier to terminate service early. (AT&T does not offer a fee reimbursement option.)

Total Cost of Ownership

There are two ways to calculate the cost of owning an iPhone over the two-year commitment period: total cost and marginal cost.

A basic $59.99 personal plan will cost $1,439.76 over 24 months (before taxes and FCC fees). This puts the cost of iPhone ownership at $1,938.76 for the 4GB model, or $2,038.76 for the 8 GB model.

(The 2-year cost of the no-contract option described above is about $2,075, for a total cost of ownership of $2,575 or $2,675 depending on iPhone model.)

However, with cell phone penetration now at 77% in the US, it's realistic to assume that most if not all iPhone buyers are already mobile phone users. Thus, marginal cost may be a better way to assess iPhone's price. The data portion of iPhone's cost, which is what makes iPhone distinctive from a Internet-free mobile phone, is $480 over 24 months. This puts the marginal cost of upgrading to an iPhone $979 or $1,079, depending which model you choose.

However you figure it, iPhone is not an inexpensive device.

Finally, it's worth nothing that new customers can cancel their AT&T service within 30 days of activation. This makes iPhone a WiFi-only device. We think this removes much of iPhone's value; products such as the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet offer more Internet functionality (though less elegance and ease of use) at a lower price. But the option is there.


  • Amazing user interface
  • High resolution display provides great detail and readability
  • Outstanding Web browsing with few gotchas
  • Sleek, elegant design
  • Good photo quality (for a phone)
  • Reasonably priced service plans
  • Email supports Word, Excel, PDF, MP3, picture attachments


  • Many iPod accessories will not work with iPhone
  • headphone jack completely incompatible with standard plugs
  • No to-dos, custom ringtones, voice dialing, text selection or copy/paste
  • No Bluetooth stereo music or OBEX file exchange
  • Limited video support and no Flash support

Complete Photos

Source : www.macintouch.com

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