Thursday, January 10, 2008

Apple iPhone Review By [1]

[Updated 4:37PM 7/11/07] Greetings irrational fanboys and Apple haters! Ten days and 12,000 ~13,500 words later, our stone-cold look at what it means to own an iPhone is done. Before we get to the in depth hands-on, here's the verdict I'd give any good friend: Wait to buy the iPhone.

Wait for What?

Look, I'm not saying wait for version 2.0. You don't need new hardware to love the phone; version 1.1 should do it. Wait until Apple updates the software. That was a hard to write, since I'm thumbing through my own iPhone like a teenager with his first Playboy. This is what the phone of the future will look like, and Steve Jobs and Apple should be proud. iPhone of 2010 aside, this model must be judged on what it is today. Like every other journalist will tell you, its multitouch UI, browser and iPod are all pants-worthy. But as the honeymoon sets, I find myself left with a phone that could be more functional. I could make comparisons to high-end Nokia or Helio phones that have endless lists of wonderful features like GPS, YouTube video uploading and more. But only a douchebag would tackle the iPhone for lacking esoteric tricks; things that belong on a Wish List for v2.0. That's not what I'm talking about.

So what's your main problem with the iPhone?

The real elephant in the room is the fact that I just spent $600 on my iPhone and it can't do some crucial functions that even $50 handsets can. I'm talking about MMS. Video recording. Custom ringtones. Mass storage. Fully functioning Bluetooth with stereo audio streaming. Voice dialing when you're using a car kit. Sending contact info to other people. Instant friggin' messenging. Sending an SMS to more than one recipient at a time.


You are Missing the Point, Lam. These seem like cheap shots.

I know these minor things don't sound like much to bitch over, but the negative sum of these granular functions bite into my satisfaction; I've come to miss the little things as I live with this superphone and realize its shortcomings in the practicality department. And while writers are covering these facts in a glancing manner, alongside the quirky QWERTY, lack of 3G, and weak email support, I feel like they are under emphasizing the flaws in light of the shock and awe of the phone's Wonders. This isn't anything as sinister as journalistic corruption; I believe we all are genuinely impressed. But maybe lots have forgotten what it is like to camp, buy, sign a contract and depend on a lone phone for many years. I'd trade fancy CoverFlow for that list of basics any day.

Are you going to ignore the good stuff just to be a contrarian prick?

Anyone decidedly anti-Apple who is grinning at what I've written so far should also know how much this is NOT a takedown; likely, you are using a handset I wouldn't even pee on cough*wm6*cough. I'm being hard on this phone because I have profound respect for this device, and want it to do better. In homage, let me quickly rehash the ass-kissage which has been told many times before: I have spent many long minutes fingering the LCD, enthralled by multitouch's effortless ability to zoom into photos and scroll through long lists. It makes the 3.5-inch screen exponentially more useful than any 480 x 320 pixel LCD should be. What can Microsoft do with multitouch? They can put it in a friggin' $10k table for the Sheraton and T-Mobile. I love the buttonless design, and even if the keyboard is not as effective as a hardware model, it can be damn fast. While many tech luminaries have said they'd wanted to defenestrate the iPhone after struggling with its ghost QWERTY, people have been running at 35-40 WPM three days in. Safari on the iPhone is the best browser ever seen on a mobile, with or without Flash, because it actually renders everything "as it should". The iPod's use of Coverflow, coupled with decent battery life for media playback, and the big screen make it the best media phone the world has ever seen. I hadn't previously used an iPod for video, for lack of want, but I find myself loading it with home movies and photos just to celebrate the iPhone's talent. That EDGE connection we were all bitching about pre-launch? When reception is good, it's surprisingly quick for browsing and even YouTube. And as Jason Chen wisely puts it, "People who are patient enough to wait for a 3G version of the iPhone should theoretically be patient enough to wait for EDGE downloads." The hardware is wondrous; that LCD, covered in optical grade glass happens to be the brightest, most contrasty little screen I've ever seen. The minimalist design makes every other cellphone look as stodgy as a rotary phone. How's that for gushing?


So what if I don't care about any of the missing features you mentioned? What else is there to keep me from buying?


Since launch, people have been ticked off about a rumor that the battery will last 400 charges and then die, costing roughly $80 to replace. This is completely wrong. (Here's a post with the correction.) After 400 cycles, the battery of the iPhone will still have up to 80% of it's max capacity. Perfectly acceptable, and seemingly better than what I've seen in many other gadgets. The wording is here on Apple's website, on the right hand side of the page. (Search for "80%".) That's on par with industry for lithium polymer batteries.

The real battery issue is that many of the units are running far below rated capacity on day one. My phone only had 40% left after 4 hours of light to moderate use; the statistically significant evidence is that I personally know four other journalists, in different parts of the country, with this problem. Apple took the best care of me, as a customer and my second unit was better. Waiting for the bad batteries to shake out of the stockrooms could be key here.

And then you'd be happy?

No. It has been raked over 1000 times, but let's talk about the missing SDK in a new light. I initially understood both sides of the argument. Devs and fanboys want crazy cool apps; Jobs was quoted as wanting system stability. Jobs has a great point. But, ironically, a 10-day test reveals another thing the initial reviewers missed -- this thing is not Mac stable, it is maybe Windows mobile stable (although no where near as laggy, thankfully). Apps crash out a few times a week, especially in the uncontrolled web, using Safari. To Steve's point, it does go down gracefully, with little to no collateral damage to the phone's core stability. Having just defended the iPhone's lack of an SDK, I will say this: The majority of the web apps are pretty lame compared to apps like the native Google Maps and the simple but satisfying weather widget. And the more robust these webapps get, the heavier they'll be while iPhone struggles to fetch both the logic and data over EDGE when Wi-Fi isn't around. I have five words for you, Apple: OS X Dashboard Widget Converter. Why would Apple not trust in the same external community of Apple-ites who developed iTunes, Coverflow, Multitouch, and Dashboard Widgets before you bought them out? These people are geniuses. Let them help the iPhone's feature set. The good news? Since the phone isn't carrier-subsidized, there shouldn't be much stink about cracking the iPhone's software open for unofficial use. It only took a day to work around the iPhone's activation, scheme, making it a $600, WiFi iPod with Safari and mail. And now the file structure has been cracked. Still, nothing's gonna be better than official support. Apple probably anticipated this.

Is there anything that you think can't be fixed?

Yes. Rosie O'Donnell's vagina.[Update: Rosie's vagina called and threatened us with a lawsuit. Kidding, some readers who were Rosie Fans were offended. AT&T is actually more like a Yeti's vagina, so we will go with that.] There are more complications that may never be resolved. Regarding the iPhone's network partner, Pogue cites Consumer Reports when he says that AT&T has the worst or second to worst reception in 19 out of 20 major cities. Pathetic. Jason's informal testing shows it to be fine, but sound quality for me has been not good and I have to redial dropped calls with alarming frequency; whether that is reception or hardware, it doesn't matter. Apple is in bed with AT&T for at least 5 years. Which circles me back to my metaphor. Signing up for the iPhone is like being tossed into a menage a trois with Angelina and Rosie O'Donnell a She-Yeti. Like 3G, there's no easy fix for this one, but it's something I can live with, as long as AT&T continues to do their part. Their part being "drastically improving customer service, the data and voice network, while not jacking up pricing." This is nothing we should hold our breath for, based on historical evidence. But based on moves like operation Fine Edge, I have some hope. Time will tell.


So are you returning this thing?

I should, but no. Don't look at me that way, let me explain. Look at other handsets from Nokia, Helio, Palm, Sony Ericsson, LG and Samsung; or anything running the vomit-inducing Windows Mobile. What they generally have over the iPhone, all these critical but technically minor functions, the iPhone could theoretically fix with a patch or two. Meanwhile, those companies in turn will never be able to make as great a UI and platform as the iPhone has the potential to be. Certainly we don't know what Apple has slated for updates, when those updates are coming, or if they'll ever come at all. (iPods and Macbooks aren't kitchen sink-ers and never will be.) So I hold it on faith, based on a trust that Apple will do what's right for us, not just what's convenient. I wouldn't make the same bet with your dollars, however, which is why I have to tell you to wait for those updates to come before you buy. But clearly, many feel the same way I do and have taken the dive; we all just have to ask ourselves what's right for us in this situation, like rational, intelligent, thinking, grown ups (or not, if you're a drooling fanboy). And we should together ask Apple to roll the software updates soon and often. Steve Willing, Apple, please fix our Jesus phone.


One more thing. What took you guys so long to review this? And where are the fanboys I know and love/hate?

Like you, I've coveted the idea of an Apple phone since it wasn't any more real than a unicorn. And when it was delivered last Friday, almost seven months after the announcement at Macworld 2007, the hype and spin were so thick, there was no way anyone could write an objective review. Ten days after I camped, plunked down $600 for one, and signed the two year contract, I think I have the perspective to understand what it means to live with this phone. Many reviews abound, but I don't think anyone has written about it from the perspective of ownership yet. That's my take on the situation. My mind is clear; this isn't a knee-jerk reaction.

Massive, 10,000 word iPhone Hands on Guide by Gizmodo and Friends


Below is the massive iPhone hands on guide, which I'll brag about and say its the only review you need. Not because we believe we captured everything, even in such a word count backed up by dozens and dozens and dozens of hours of research and writing. It's because it neatly summarizes much of the important hands on research from the reviewing community.

Authors, if you've got facts we've missed and should include, let us know. I'll update the post, and add a link to your original iPhone research as a link below. Readers, may this guide serve you as your complete guide to the iPhone until v.2 arrives.

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