Thursday, January 10, 2008

Apple iPhone Review By [3]

Picking Up a Call
iPhone0008.jpg When a call comes in, the ID or contact name gets plastered across the top of the screen, with the wallpaper below. (That's a photo of my favorite beach on Kauai, on the north side of the island.) To pick up while your phone is locked, you have to slide your finger across the unlock bar on the bottom of the screen. It's a tactile experience that is far more satisfying than smacking a button. If your phone is already unlocked, you get still adequate Decline/Answer button combo in the photo above. I prefer the slider, but there's something really fun about punching down on big red and green keys, even if virtual. To stop the ringing, press the top mounted standby button once; to kick your caller to vmail, hit it twice.

Call Quality
Some have said the iPhone's call quality is great. I don't know that to be true. Whether it's the network, or the phone, to me, calls sounded like the person on the other end of the line had marbles in his or her mouth. And generally wasn't loud enough. (I tested this with back to back calls using a Treo 755 and Helio.) Of course, in 19 out of 20 cities, AT&T is rated either last or second to last in reception, so you're starting off crippled.

On Call Menu
iPhone0000.jpgWhile you're yapping, the screen is filled with a six pack of softkeys: Mute, Keypad, Speaker, Add Call, Hold Contacts. Under that, a big red bar button for End Call. The buttons don't get pressed while it's against your face, thanks to the proximity sensor under the glass, next to the earpiece and light sensor, which darkens the screen and disables the touchscreen. The Add Call button is most interesting, and is used for conference calling.

iPhone0001.jpgThe iPhone's conference system lets you add up to five people to a call by dialing them, or having them dial in. You have to leave the conference to dial or answer, at which point the Add Call button turns into a Merge icon. Click that to get everyone on the same line. The Caller ID scrolls to show who's is there. And a submenu gives you the power to speak to callers in private, as well as hang up on them. No idea if calling five people at once eats up your minutes at 5x, but you can be pretty sure AT&T isn't giving anything away here. If there's any function that needs a parental control, it's this one. (Parents of teenagers, I'm talking to you.)

iPhone0007.jpgOne of the most ingenious things about the iPhone's call system is that you can click to answer on speaker or headset, and then multitask. Great for boring work conference calls. Browse the web, check your calendar, email, SMS, and even play videos and music (the other party can even hear your tunes if you put them on speaker and cup the base of the iKaraoke phone). They won't even hear your keystrokes on the touchscreen. Furthermore, to get back to the Call Menu, there's a clearly labeled green bar. One shortcoming -- AT&T's EDGE doesn't work while you're on a call, so you have to be rocking Wi-Fi to use Safari, send text messages or email. Still, very nice.

Ringtones Kinda Suck
IMG_0674.jpgThe 22 ringtones the iPhone ships with are at worst, annoying, at best, benign. Right now, you can't load up your own music files or buy new ringtones from AT&T. I'm sure this will change soon, judging by the iTunes 7.3 code referring to ringtones, and I'm hoping that Steve injects some fairness into the process as he did with online music and iTunes. Here's a video walk through of all em, should you care to judge for yourself. I prefer the Piano Riff ("Bad to the Bone") or Xylophones. The ring volume can be extreeeeemly loud. So loud that the speakers seem to be straining from the load of anything past 50%. You can adjust the ringtone volume using the rocker switch on the left side of the phone. It looks just like the volume popup on OS X. [top]

iPhone0012.jpgThe SMS app would probably be the best SMS we've seen on any phone, smartphones included. There's an iChat-like chat bubble interface, which is like a threaded conversation with one particular contact. And URLs prefaced by http and www get turned into hyperlinks that direct you to Safari. But it's missing some key features even bargain-bin cellphones have. You can't send messages to more than one person at once. Plus, there's no character counter and there's no way to delete more than one SMS "thread" at once—so you're going to have to go one by one if you want to clear everything out. There's no way to sort messages by name (the default sort is by date), you can't customize the bubble colors, back up your SMS to SIM or your computer, and it's unclear who the last message was from if you're in the list view. Deficiencies abound.

In addition to all those things, there's the feeling that we get that the iPhone takes longer than other phones to "send" the message, because once you hit send, the phone locks you into a progress bar that takes a few seconds to fill. In other phones, you can hit send and shove your phone into your pocket immediately after and let the OS deal with actually sending in the background. Not so here. Did Picard have to wait three seconds after each message to Mr. Worf? We thought this was the future.

And of course, the giant complaint is the iPhone's lack of MMS messages. There's not even an option for just sending pictures and not video (which you wouldn't be able to record on this thing anyway), which makes you "oof" like being grazed in the nuts by a basketball. You can manage to send fake MMS messages to people by emailing them at their phone number email at their provider (example:, but you'll have to enter this in for everybody's contact, which requires you know the email suffix for each provider, and you have to know what service your friends use in the first place. (Here's a list of the suffixes, btw.)

IMG_05977.jpgIf a friend does taunt you by sending you an MMS, you get an SMS that tells you that you can view the message at using an included ID and a password. It's a shame that this is pretty much useless in the field since there's no way to click that URL and visit it in Safari, and there's no way to cut and paste the ID and password. That's just an awful design choice, because you can actually get a clickable URL in SMS messages (we tested with various disgusting URLs) if you format the link correctly. It could have been very easy to make this work correctly so you could at least view MMSes on the iPhone easily. One last thing: Trying to log into that website and retrieve MMS messages actually didn't work for us, over several tries. Pathetic!

iPhone0013.jpgEven with all these setbacks, the SMS app still gives you a neat history of all your previous conversations, there's unlimited SMS storage like smartphones, and there's a nice looking transparent alert that pops up no matter which app you're using, and the general feeling that you're using iChat instead of SMS. [top]

iPhone0014.jpg Email whores will rejoice at how easy it is to browse long lists of emails with multitouch finger swipes. In that way, the mail app is a step up from regular phones, and even compares favorably to Windows Mobile smartphones. But in many ways may be a step down from what business-heads are used to on the BlackBerry. You can delete messages either by clicking the trash icon inside a message, swiping your finger in the message list and clicking delete, or hitting the edit button and two-finger-back-and-forth deleting emails. None of these are optimal. Why is there no capability to highlight multiple or all emails for delete? And the front page mail counter will always be pegged at the maximum download limit of 200 messages per account you've set up, so its usefulness is curbed. (You do get more than 200 emails per day, right?) You also can't mark or unmark emails as read in iMAP accounts, and sometimes email messages will get stuck sending, requiring a reboot.

The iPhone has push email only for Yahoo Mail, but can check Gmail, AOL Mail, and .Mac mail natively. No love for Hotmail here, but checking Hotmail on an iPhone is like having the DeLorean but using it to go shopping at Costco. Although the client works great with standard Gmail, it's very quirky with hosted Gmail setups. Depending on your settings and how angry Zeus is at the moment, emails will show up sometimes on both your iPhone and your computer, and sometimes in one or the other. We can't tell whether it's the iPhone's fault,'s fault, or Gmail's fault, but we'd recommend skipping hosted Gmail on your iPhone until it's cleared up.

iPhone0015.jpgViewing email, however, is classier than Grace Kelly in Rear Window. You can use the standard pinching for zooming and flicking for scrolling, which works just as well as it does in other apps. Individual emails display just as you'd expect on a desktop client, and even supports JPEGs, PDFs, Word docs and Excel Docs in attachments.

IMG_0600.jpg Word docs displayed charts, but choked on a big image inserted inside the doc; Excel files need to have columns formatted properly, because you can't expand narrow columns and text won't always wrap properly (tabs worked, though). PDFs worked fine, as you'd imagine, although we didn't test out a protected PDF. Again, you can't edit these files. Which will make corporate types and Wall Street jerks cry, but really, this is a phone with an iPod inside. Did you really think Steve was making it for you? And thanks to the fact that you can't take or make calls when you're actively using an EDGE connection, your boss will know, by you not picking up, exactly when you were surfing Gizmodo on the phone instead of doing work. Missing calls because you're browsing the web is a shitty way to limit a device, but this is AT&T's fault.

There are more weaknesses: All you get when you sync with your Mac is a autoconfig of POP and IMAP settings on the phone. There's no "reply to" setting, no capability to mark all messages as read, no BCC, no spell-check (Apple probably wants you to rely on the word-by-word auto-correcting), and no multiple deletion or emptying of the trash can. There's a setting for auto-delete after a certain time, but that's it. Plus, again, you can only view 200 messages at once, which is fine for most of the population, but not nearly good enough for someone who needs to know exactly where his emails are. You know, like Dick Cheney. And, it's maybe an unfair gripe, but a search function here would be very helpful. Fast scroll or not, no one wants to scroll through a long list of emails to find something you can easily find with a keyword.

On the whole, the email app is just good enough that you'll be able to use it on the go, but just bad enough that you'll wish you were actually home on a computer.

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