Thursday, January 10, 2008

Apple iPhone Review By [2]

History in Brief
The iPhone was announced by Steve Jobs at the Macworld 2007 Keynote, January 9th, 2007, at 9:42AM. (The same time appears on the iPhone in many ads and photos.) Before that, it was the subject of many fanboy photochops and speculative rumors. It was referred to as the Jesus Phone in December 2006, a move that we at Gizmodo now kind of regret. (Wikipedia's page has a lot more history.) [top]

IMG_0665.jpgThe iPhone's corporeal self is composed of a plate of optical-quality glass featuring a slot for an earpiece up top, a home button on the bottom, which together sandwiches a 3.5-inches. This is a very yummy sandwich. There's a stainless steel rim bevel flush around the face, which caps the aluminum body. The home button brings you back to the main menu if your phone is unlocked, much like a TiVo remote's TiVo button. Some have wished it had a secondary function with a double tap or hold, but I like it as is.

IMG_0326.jpgThe aluminum rear has a distinct rocker for ring, earpiece, headphone and speaker volume, as well as a toggle for ringtone off, which mutes all sound but that from the iPod functions. The matte finish won't show scuffs, unlike that of an iPod.

IMG_0479.jpgOn top, there's an instant standby/wake button. It can trigger shutdown if held long enough and then followed up with a finger swipe on the touchscreen. There's also a SIM tray that you eject by paperclip or pin. The headphone jack has that quality of...lameness. It's recessed, so many headphones, minijack cables and cassette adapters for the iPod or any portable media player just won't fit. Belkin sells an extension adapter for $10, but this design feels almost malicious in nature. A shock coming from friendly Apple.

IMG_0320.jpgThe iPhone's 2MP, 1600x1200 camera is located on the top left of the back, and is nothing more than a recessed lens. No flash. More on how it performs, and what it lacks, later.

IMG_0315.jpg The bottom back of the iPhone has an Apple logo dead center, and some etchings: "iPhone" in a large font, with the words "Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.", Model, IMEI, FCC ID, serial numbers, as well as capacity (8GB or 4GB in a little rectangle).

IMG_0659.jpg The bottom fifth or so of the back plate is plastic, which houses the radio antennas. That places it as far away from the headphone jack as possible for minimal interference. (There's still some GSM buzz at times, when using a dock or a cassette adapter, but never with the stock headphones.) It also houses the 30-pin dock connector you're familiar with from generations of iPods, and a speaker, which is unrated but fairly loud, especially since it appears that only one of those grills is actually a speaker with the second grill possibly being a mic. Bass and ringtones above 50% definitely overdrive the little guy, so I'm not sure many of these speakers will last beyond year one. [top]

IMG_0694.jpg Apple provided a set of mic-enabled headphones that, thankfully, fit into the recessed slender headphone jack. The buds fit like your dad's jacket when you were 14; loosely, but they get the job done. You definitely shouldn't be going jogging with them. The audio quality is fairly decent, on par with current Apple headphones, which is to say, "replace them". But the default pair does have a mic for taking calls, and an in-line button you can press for song and call control. Click once to pause the song, twice to forward to the next song, once when a call comes in to answer, and once more to end it.

But since you'll be using this to make calls as often as you'll be using it to listen to tunes, you'll be happy to hear that there's no GSM buzz or interference at all. Some have wrapped it around the iPhone to verify this. We've had less luck with some of our tape AC adapters in our cars (one has buzz, one works fine), and horrible luck with line-in iPod docks (definitely buzz when the iPhone's close enough to the speaker). But we're happy that the $10 Belkin adapter, although overly long, allows us to listen to music in our cars. Speaking of third-party adapters, the V-Moda Vibe Duos we've been using are as good as V-Moda Vibe headphones for music, which is to say, very good for the price. Not only that, you can also take calls with the Duos, which means you can shove the Apple stock headphones into your bag to use in emergencies. [top]

Size and Weight
Small women, children and dwarves have said it to be heavy compared with the thinnest phones. At 4.8 ounces and 4.5 x 2.4 and .46 inches, it fits well within the palm of a manly hand such as mine, but not so comfortably inside of a tight pair of Jordaches. There is, as you must surely know, no physical keyboard. And I like it like this. (More on this later.) My stainless steel rim is already scratched, and I baby this phone, so don't expect any handsets from the original shipment to look very good after a year of use if not housed in one of those over the top aftermarket cases. [top]

IMG_0518.jpgIt's the brightest and most contrasty LCD I've seen on a portable, and although I haven't had the heart to test my own for durability, the consensus is that it's very scratch resistant and pretty smash resistant...for a piece of glass. (See PC World's sadistic torture tests, which claim it's sturdy, and see this video of Mr. Butterfingers dropping it one second after opening it.) It's manufactured by Balda, a German company:

Balda now makes glass-surfaced screens that are far more sensitive, thinner, and harder to scratch or smudge than the plastic displays that now dominate. They offer sharper resolution, and unlike conventional touch screens--which get confused by more than one finger at a time--Balda's displays can sense several human digits simultaneously.

This suggests that the glass screen upgrade Apple boasted about in mid-June alongside a battery upgrade was facetious, and the glass screen was planned all along. It also explains why even the smallest links on a webpage, in Safari, are easy to click on. It does not explain why the keyboard seems to only like one key press at a time.

BTW, it's so bright that I've turned it down to preserve battery life. Even at 25% of max output, the screen is easily visible. [top]

iPhone Hardware Gallery

In addition to the multitouch screen, the iPhone has three second tier sensors. 1) An accelerometer that detects rotation of the phone from landscape to portrait. 2) A light sensor that can be used to automatically dim and brighten the LCD's backlight. 3) a proximity sensor that knows when I put the iPhone to my greasy face. It then shuts off the backlight and keeps the buttons from being triggered. Fancy, and useful. [top]

The Rest of the Guts
Picture%2012-1%20copy.jpgThe memory is the same kind by Samsung used in iPod nanos, and the processor is an ARM design. All components, from power management, to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, are established as phone components. The point: This brings the cost of manufacturing down, and the reliability up. That's a big sign of relief from a company with a history of shoddy v1.0s. It's not the hardware you have to worry about here, with possible exception of the battery. (More on this later.) This phone will NEVER run 3G without a new radio in here. For details, see or iSuppli 3rd party experts who have done knowledgeable teardowns. [top]

User Interface
You know those iPhone commercials with the baby music and the ghost hand? Don't they make using the iPhone look easy? Well using the multi-digit touchscreen interface is actually that simple. It allows for scrolling through lists of movies, music, contacts, and through long webpages even easier than if you were using a full-sized PC with mouse and keyboard. The same goes for zooming in and out of maps and webpages. It's the iPhone's best feature, and everyone from geeks to technophites should pick it up without any hesitation. Apple is ages ahead of anyone here (except Jeff Han, who might be working on something even cooler). There are a few gestures.
• Flick: For scrolling lists and Cover Flow, place your finger on the screen and slide it quickly across as if you were spinning a wheel. Speed is variable.
• Stop: By dropping your finger on the screen after a fast flick, you can stop the motion.
• Double click: In most apps, this zooms.
• Click: For navigating URLs in Safari and selecting buttons and media files.
• Pinch in: For controlled zooming out, take two fingers on the surface of a photo or webpage, and squeeze them together to move the image out. The ratio of pinch to zoom isn't quite proportional.
• Spread out: The opposite of pinching, for zooming in. [top]

IMG_0609.jpgI like the virtual keyboard. Apple shouldn't try to compare it to the physical equivalent in, say, a Blackberry Curve, but it's definitely an upgrade to a predictive text or a basic dialpad. (Hey, it's got an iPod inside; this is not supposed to be a phone for suits.) When you're not operating in silent mode, there's a satisfying audio tic, which makes for a nice bit of feedback, even if not tactile like an Immersion technology system. (They should maybe add this, a little rumble induced by the vibrate motor every time you click a key.) When you get the hang of it it can be extremely fast because you're not actually pressing keys but merely glancing them. (Here's a video of someone typing fast on an iPhone.)

iPhone0010.jpgIn fact, going fast depends on you letting the predictive correction fix things for you as your fingers fly. Say you type "teh" instead of "ten"? Since N and H are relatively near each other, the iPhone will suggest "ten" in a popup, which you can select by hitting the spacebar. (As if you were just moving on to the next word.) To cancel an impending autofix, just click on the x in the popup (above). Cancel the autocorrection twice and it'll add the word to the dictionary. Be careful, as once you add a word, you can't erase it unless you reset the dictionary to default, eliminating all the words you've added. It's an elegant solution to the cramped keyboard, but still a hack in the sense that a working keyboard shouldn't assume you are going to make errors all the time.

IMG_0696.jpgThe keyboard has no landscape mode for anything but Safari, which makes sense. The keyboard takes up too much real estate in landscape mode, leaving just a sliver of real estate left over, and to make people input text in portrait, while browsing in Safari's landscape mode would be disruptive.

Some people have said the main keyboard needs a period, although there is a neat trick where you hold the key that switches to the symbol/numeric keyboard and slide your finger up to the symbol you want to quickly get there. (Details.) This click-and-hold method also works for quickly capitalizing letters when holding shift and sliding to the letter you wish capitalized. Oh, since your finger will be over the keys you want to type, the iPhone pops up the letter you're depressing to inform you of your impending keystroke. Handy for sliding your finger to the correct key if you're about to mistype. [top]

Magnifying Glass
iPhone0011.jpgTo move the cursor around a body of typed text, tap and hold until a movable loupe, or magnifying glass appears. Very useful, although it sometimes will appear offscreen when doing this in Safari's landscape keyboard mode. Unfortunately, the cursor shift doesn't include a way to select text for copying and pasting. A major annoyance, but we love the loupe. Maybe there can be a hotkey which triggers text selection in Loupe mode. [top]

Some reviewers have complained about the general lack of coherence between UI language from app to app. That's easy to explain. Apple developed the phone using separate teams, all working with limited information, as to limit leaks. Without someone micromanaging and coordinating these teams during such a tight development schedule, it's likely many of these details were overlooked. It's not a big deal, but it does show seams in the iPhone's designs. [top]


Menu Items

This is your speed dial list. It's unlimited, and you fill it by toggling a switch in your main contact list, or by clicking the + button on the favorites page and selecting a contact. Unfortunately, you can't setup a true one touch speed dial from the home page, or do voice dialing of favorites from speed dial. Even cheap phones have this feature. The best you can do from locked is 2 to 3 presses to dial. The favorites list can be edited or manually resorted.

Along with the favorites list, the recent calls list helps to make sure that you'll have to go into your giant contact list as seldom as possible. You can toggle between all calls and missed calls, and the list will aggregate multiple calls to and from the same contact next to each other into one entry, complete with time or day (Yesterday, Friday, Etc). The list can get pretty long, so it includes a toggle to view only missed calls (listed in red), and a button to clear the list. BTW, missed calls are tallied on the icon, and are added with new voicemails to the main phone icon's tally. (See the Phone icon above, and it's annotated '3'.)

iPhone0045B.jpg The rest of the contact list is fantastic. You can use the swiping method to browse through your list, and if it's large enough, the alphabet shortcut list shows up along the right-hand margin as well. Drag your finger along here to jump to the corresponding letter, which is by default set by last name. What you can't do is search for an individual contact by typing the name, which is useful for people with gigantic lists. Since contacts sync very cleanly with Address Book on the Mac, you'll be able to fetch all details that are in the list on your computer onto your phone, and vice versa. Add a new address on your Mac, and it goes onto your phone. Add a profile pic on your iPhone, and it ends up on your Mac. It's easily the best contact manager we've seen on a phone, smartphone or otherwise. And the iPhone is very flexible with custom data fields.

Surprise, surprise, we have a complaint: If you move contacts around in groups on the Mac, it doesn't quite sync up to the phone unless you give it the old "overwrite all contacts on next sync" option in iTunes. And you can't send contacts, by Bluetooth, email, SMS, or any other method, to another person.

iPhone0049B.jpgWe're going to have to say that the virtual keypad is even better than a real keypad. The buttons are gigantic. It's hard to find a phone with buttons this big, virtual or otherwise. I like that if you exit the dialpad with half a number in there, it's still there when you return. (Useful for looking up phone numbers online, since you can't cut and paste from Safari or any other app on the phone.) You can also dial a number and quickly add it to the contacts list using the button on the bottom left of the dial pad.

Visual Voicemail
iPhone0048B.jpgVisual Voicemail works flawlessly. There's a list of messages that you can easily listen to like a set of sound files. You can easily call the guy back or delete the email, as well as scrub through the message to the part you want to repeat. There's a big button for calling back the person who left the message, too. Visual Voicemail, unfortunately, doesn't download messages to your phone for playback when you're not online (in an airplane) and can't be backed up to iTunes. Messages delete after 30 days, automatically after you've listened to them. There's a play/pause control, a time bar, and callback and delete buttons. There's a button for going to the caller's contact info in address book, and speakerphone. Voicemail greetings can be recorded here, too. Effective, efficient, and a great idea executed flawlessly. It's worth noting that even if someone figures out how to unlock an iPhone in the future, Visual Voicemail requires backend integration, so this function won't work at all on another network. If we had a gripe, it's that the iPhone doesn't have an occasional audio chime to let you know about waiting messages. (And SMS or missed calls, either.)

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