Thursday, January 10, 2008

Apple iPhone Review By [4]

iPhone0016.jpgAlthough the iPhone is supposed to be three devices in one, there's only one of these devices that's perfect -- the iPod. With almost six years of experience making iPods, Apple took the best of the latest generation Video iPod and made it even better with touchscreen controls and a giant screen. Yes, there's not even a virtual scroll wheel, but the flick and touch interface actually work even better. Imagine if someone lopped off your arms and gave you super-strength cybernetic ones as a replacement. You may be used to the old, gentler way of doing things, but once you get used to it, the new way's actually better. Um...what we mean is that we still like both the iPod and the Zune interfaces, but the iPhone tops both, easily.

iPhone0017.jpg Finding what you want to play is very simple. The text is nice and large, and browsing lists with either flicking or, in the case of longer lists, using the alphabet on the right is fast. If you tilt the phone to either the left or the right, you go into Cover Flow view (which Apple should work into every device they will ever build) and voila! You're browsing through albums as if you pulled them off a dusty shelf. It actually works well here, seeing as your song selection is limited by the 8GB of storage.

Once you find the track you want to play and start playing it, you'll notice the gigantic album art staring you in the face. Seriously, the cover image is bigger than even on the Zune's. What's even better about this playback screen over the iPod's is that stuff like album track list, song ratings, volume controls and playback controls are at most one click away. No more clicking four times just to rate a song. Those speakerphone speakers on the bottom of the iPhone are great for listening to music on the go as well, but unfortunately only produce sound out of the left speaker. I know, totally crazy. But it's likely that the microphone is being housed under the other grill. The external volume buttons are a nice touch, so you won't have to head back into the iPod app if you want things only slightly quieter.

And since this is a three-in-one device, you can actually use the iPod while doing other things as well. Multitasking is pretty stable, and only crashes occasionally when in Safari or some other processor-intensive task. Rarely when making a call. And speaking of calls, yes, the music does fade out and restart when you take and hang up a call. (For video, it doesn't start replaying automatically.) Interesting note: If you're on speakerphone, you can actually play a song back, cup the speaker into the mic, and have an impromptu karaoke session with your buddy.

We also noticed a bug in iTunes syncing. Occasionally you will re-sync a few tracks or playlist or albums back to your phone even though the files are already there. The re-synced songs get pushed into the "other" data section, which means there's no way to reclaim this without factory resetting your phone. This bug became so bad that iTunes resynced all our music and pushed the original 2.5GB into the "other" section, which means the only way we can reclaim that space now is to run a factory reset. Luckily for you, as long as you sync before you do a factory reset, iTunes will keep your call logs, your SMS messages, and most of your settings as well so you can re-sync after the reset is done.

Another annoyance comes from iPhoto popping open whenever you connect the phone to your computer and have pictures on your iPhone to sync. iTunes coming up is fine, since you need it to sync, having iPhoto start up as well bogs everything down if you don't actually want to grab photos off your phone.

iPhone0019.jpg Because this is the iPod with the largest screen ever, you'd expect video to work great, and it does. Music videos downloaded from iTunes are smooth as butter-substitute, and miscellaneous video files encoded for iPod such as downloaded video, TiVoToGo, and DVDs all work great on the iPhone as well. We've had great success using Roxio's crunch to convert files downloaded from random places on the internet, and Handbrake'd DVDs. The only limitation is the 4GB or 8GB capacity, which means you're just barely going to have enough video for a 14-hour flight to Japan.

There's no surprises in the audio codec support. AAC, protected AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible (1, 2 and 3), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV all made it in. In video, H.264 and MPEG-4, with various audio (.m4v, .mov, .mp4) file formats are also supported. No DivX, no WMV, and nothing out of the ordinary here.

IMG_0620.jpg When you're done viewing a video, the iPhone will ask if you want to delete it, which thankfully asks for confirmation. You can also delete videos by swiping your fingers across like you do for an SMS or email, which is kind of hidden if you're not used to the swiping gesture. But if you do it this way, and then sync without unchecking those movies in iTunes, it'll reload them. Annoying. And of course, the lack of a TV out means you can't actually watch these videos on a TV, which kind of sucks.

There's also no lyrics support, no TV out and way less storage compared with the 30GB or 80GB models. Needless to say, the storage thing might not be a big deal if you're docking nightly. A 5th-gen iPod can't match the iPhone's giant screen. [top]

iPhone0030.jpgApple calls Safari "the real internet" on a phone, but it's still not nearly as good as a desktop browser. Without Flash support, Java support, and a full-featured AJAX support, you can still view most webpages, but you won't be able to get the most out of every site. That said, it kicks the living crap out of browsers on any other phone, and even third party greatness like Opera Mini. Everything just renders right. Gizmodo, Gmail (plain text support), Google Documents (Edit HTML mode), NY Times, Xbox Live, Fandango and various other sites all display very desktop-like, although without the noted flash support. Windows mobile fans will recognize the browser as being quite similar to the Deepfish developmental browser from Microsoft. (Ironically, it still crashes and kicks you out to the menu frequently.)

Some nice touches: using the magnifier cursor when you want to reposition your cursor in a text box, using a dial for a dropdown list item, auto-zooming in onto text fields when you select them, native Apple Trailer support, and automatic bookmark syncing with Safari on the desktop. It also supports landscape mode (both left and right), which also brings up a wider keyboard if you're not used to the default one.

The browser supports 8 tabbed windows, that are held in a separate tab page and flipped through coverflow style. (But slower.) In any case, they're accessible by bringing up the tab menu and flipping through currently open pages. It works quite well as a tab implementation, but it's hard to keep track of many of them if you've a lot of them open. Opening up a bunch can lead to instability as well. Thankfully there aren't a bunch of plug-ins loading in the background to bog down the browser.

But even without much plug-in support, there are noticeable problems in this otherwise stellar browser. Lots of JavaScript on a site bogs down the iPhone. Trying to load AJAX and graphics heavy sites, for example, turns the phone warm in your hand while you wait for stuff to finish. Zooming in and out works fine, but is a bit delayed when there's a lot of rendering going on in the page. Also, unlike other iPhone apps, you can only scroll in one direction at once—up and down or left and right. You have to stop scrolling in one axis entirely to start in the other. Zooming by clicking is also hit or miss, because sometimes you hit a link instead. You also cant save photos or upload files, thanks to the fact that there's no visible internal file structure.

Safari has an RSS reader. Actually, it's a web app at that activates any time you click on an RSS feed. It works quickly, and provides links to the original post, and you can bookmark them. The bad is that you can't cache entries offline for reading on a plane.

As a replacement browser when you need to look at something really quick on the go, this iPhone Safari definitely gets the job done. And EDGE browsing isn't nearly as bad as even Jobs had suggested. (He was being modest!)

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