Thursday, January 10, 2008

Apple iPhone Review By [9]

IMG_0709.jpgTo make up (somewhat) for the lack of 3G, Apple kindly included Wi-Fi, which works great when you're at home or the office and actually in range of a wireless network, but is next to useless when you're out in the world. But when you're actually using Wi-Fi, the iPhone auto-scans for existing networks, prompting you to choose one to join. Unlike say, the Nintendo DS, the Wi-Fi supports 802.11b/g, WEP, WPA and WPA2 encryption. Once you have your familiar network set up (the Wi-Fi list actually shows signal strength too), your phone will auto-join the network whenever you're in range and fetching data.

There are a few other benefits when you're on Wi-Fi, besides being generally many times faster than EDGE. First, you can actually take and receive calls when you're in Wi-Fi (they get sent straight to voicemail when you're on EDGE). YouTube videos download faster and in a much higher quality version. Battery usage is lessened when compared to cellular transmission. [top]

The highly gimped version of Bluetooth may be fine for regular people, but nerds who actually use Bluetooth for more than headsets will find this exasperating. First, yes, you can have hands-free conversations over Bluetooth, but that's it. The way the iPhone handles headsets super conveniently by giving you the option of sending a call to speaker, headset, or the phone whenever you make or take a call. Probably the best implementation of this we've seen yet.

What you can't do is, well, anything else. You can't send contacts to other phones over Bluetooth. You can't browse the phone's file system from your computer and grab files. You can't listen to stereo music (no A2DP), which is odd for a music phone. No tethering to use your phone as a modem (not like it matters without 3G). No sending photos you've taken to a Bluetooth printer. No streaming audio of any kind, even to speakers. No voice dialing. Not much of anything, really. Why bother? [top]

Oh, EDGE! What are we going to do with you? You're fast enough for browsing on the road and watching YouTube videos. Hell, under ideal connections, you do better than we've ever seen EDGE perform in the wild (likely due to costly to AT&T's Fine Edge network upgrades in anticipation of the iPhone). But you're still no 3G. If your reception happens to be horrible, data speeds will simply tank. Our own tests showed between 143k/s and 178k/s for download speed, which isn't great, it's but definitely faster than dial-up. Viewing mail isn't too horrible, but once you're trying to download a couple megabytes worth of attachments, you're going to wish you were hooked up to some Wi-Fi.

As for people who really need 3G, both Mossberg and Pogue have heard talk from Apple pointing in that direction. We wouldn't expect any 3G features to arrive for at least a year, unless Apple wants to cannibalize their own Generation 1 sales. Even if there is 3G, you'll have to pay a price in both battery life (3G chipsets suck power much faster than Wi-Fi and EDGE) and in actual price (they're more expensive).

iTunes Syncing
iphoneitunes.png The iPhone, like the iPod, lets you sync music, photos, podcasts and video through iTunes 7.3, released shortly before the iPhone's launch. Most of the contents of these four tabs are the same, allowing you to pick whether you want music videos along with music, which photos from iPhoto you're syncing, and which TV shows and movies are available. What's new is the Info tab, which is in charge of Contacts (synced from Address Book), Calendars (synced from iCal), Mail Accounts (synced from, and bookmarks (synced from Safari). What this doesn't show is that your SMS messages, your call history, your favorite callers and your notes are all backed up as well. It's like the money in the insurance policy you took out on your wife; there's no way to access it directly, but it's there when something catastrophic happens.

What you can't do in iTunes is use the iPhone as portable storage. You can't drag and drop individual files, and there's no way to view the file structure on your iPod. But, if you ever do have to restore your settings to a new iPhone because your old one ate it, all your data and settings (save for email) will make it back safely. And if you're looking for Zapruder-esque proof of custom ringtones on your iPhone, people have found icons in iTunes 7.3 that point to an eventual ringtone functionality in here, although the exact way this will work is unknown.

One thing we have to mention is the activation process, handled through iTunes in the "comfort" of your own home, which isn't all that comfortable when you're waiting 48 hours (like Jason) to get your phone activated. The backlog of people switching out from other providers and into AT&T should be cleared up now, and your process should go a lot faster and smoother. [top]

When using my second, fully functional iPhone, it put up with my almost obsessive use of all functions and lasted from 8am to midnight, with the standby mode lasting until dawn the next morning. Very nice. Other Gizmodo staff found times quoted by Apple to be within 20% tolerance, which is a great thing. I'm happy with this, but notice that I said that this was my second iPhone.

My first unit needed to be replaced because moderate to heavy use dropped a full charge to 40% left after 4 hours. Very bad, and not an isolated incident. Three other journalists have reported the same thing. (Wireless Info did a post on battery issues.) We can't be the only ones. The good news is that Apple is taking care of everyone and making swaps. This is absolutely covered under warranty, and the only question is what do you have to do to prove that your battery life is bad. I've heard of both easy walk in swaps, and cases where people needed to prove their battery was insufficient by leaving it with a store for multiple day tests.

Oh, one note -- don't trust the battery meter to tell you how much time you have left before it does. Battery life drops like crazy at the 20%. You only have 90 minutes or so of battery left after that.

Charging the iPhone took it to 80% in 2-3 hours, from being dead. To get it to the 100% mark takes another 2-3 hours. I've had situations where the iPhone would sit at 90% for a long time, even after an overnight charge. The UI for the battery charging is different than that on an iPod: There is no flashing, just a lightning bolt icon in the battery meter when charging, and a AC plug icon when it's full. Because the icon is so small, there's no easy way to see exact battery life.

Even if your iPhone's batteries work fine at first, expect to make another swap later, around the 400th charge, the battery will be at ~80%. requiring a repair [We got it wrong when we said that your battery would be dead at this point. Apple's website says so.] These numbers are good considering the performance of most lithium batteries. However, you can replace the battery when its life becomes too short for your liking by sending it to Applecare. It'll cost you about $80 if after the first year, and be covered under warranty if before then. But by what measurement is a battery defective vs just losing capacity naturally? I don't know. Why can't you swap the battery yourself? The iPhone can only be this small using lithium polymer batteries, which mold in place. It's a technological limitation, not Apple's fault.

Others test results for batteries:
Pogue: 5 hours of video, 23 hours of music (with Wi-Fi on)
Mossberg: 7 hours and 18 minutes of continuous talk time. 22 hours of music, just under 7 hours, Internet/Youtube/Email over 9 hours (All with Wifi on and email being fetched) [top]
CNet's Crave found the iPhone's battery life to be on par with its rated times.

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