Saturday, February 14, 2009

iPhone: First Thoughts

In my last “I want a Pre when oh when will they release the Pre” post, I mentioned the possibility of getting an iPhone, “just until a better phone can come along.” Not too long after writing that post, my phone died. When when I say it died, I mean it died—it couldn’t do anything.

So I took my own advice, and got an iPhone. The good news is that the best combination voice and data plan that I could find is the one that Rogers offers for the iPhone, so it worked out nicely. And, when the Pre finally gets launched, I’ll be able to slide that into my iPhone voice/data plan, and slide my iPhone on over to Andrea (who shares my plan), and everyone’s happy.

So what are my thoughts on the iPhone, based on a couple of weeks of usage? Read on.

First of all, the user interface is great. It’s very intuitive, and I can see why the iPhone (and iPod Touch) have been so popular. What you have to remember, though, is that Apple has never marketed the iPhone as a “smartphone”—it’s just an iPod with a phone built in. So it’s a little hard to get used to the fact that there isn’t much you can customize on the device; you use it the way Apple intends you to, end of story. (An example: To my knowledge—and I’ve looked—you can’t change the sound that the phone uses when you receive a new mail, or when you get a text message. You can create custom ringtones, and assign different ringtones to different contacts, but you can’t change the sound that’s used when you get a text? What’s that about?)

Accessing the internet is also done well. Apple made a great choice: Any time you try to access the internet, the phone looks for wifi networks first, and if it finds one, it tries to use that. Only if it can’t— or if it’s a network you don’t have connection info for—it will then fall back to the 3G network. Speaking of which, the 3G network is as fast as Rogers’ marketing would have you believe; there’s not a noticeable speed difference between the 3G network and wifi.

And, while we’re on the topic of the internet, the built-in web browser (a mobile version of Safari) is also great. Just like anything else on the phone, you can tell that the engineers really “got” the whole paradigm of the user interface for the iPhone. Similarly, the Map application (with GPS) is pretty good, and I like the way they do SMS. I didn’t so much like the weather app, but The Weather Network had a better one, which was free, so it wasn’t such a big deal, and I don’t like their Notes application (which doesn’t even sync with notes in Outlook), but I’m sure I’ll soon be downloading a better one.

Speaking of downloading apps, here’s my biggest problem with the phone, although it wasn’t a surprise: Everything drives you to iTunes. Want to get a cool application? You download it from iTunes. (There are many, many free ones, so you don’t necessarily have to spend money, if you don’t want; so far, I haven’t paid for anything from iTunes, even though I have to log in with my username and password to download anything.) Want to get a ringtone? Go to iTunes, buy one for a dollar, and then spend another dollar to convert it to a ringtone. According to Apple’s documentation, you’d think that’s your only option. (Luckily, I found an article that explains how to create ringtones for free, using the iTunes app on your computer. Unfortunately, it didn’t work at first; I created three ringtones, and only one would transfer to the phone. I must have spent a couple of hours on it, before I read a bit further in the comments for that article, and found out that your ringtone has to be forty seconds or less, and two of mine were over. Fixing that got me working, but the frustrating thing is that one of them was only over by a few milliseconds, so it was hard to track down.) Even to sync the phone with Outlook, for my calendar and contacts, it goes through iTunes. (And synchronizing takes a long time; two or three minutes, compared to the few seconds it used to take with my old phone, using Microsoft ActiveSync.)

Another cool feature—which should be the most obvious feature—is that I have a phone that can play music again. My last phone could play music, it had a mobile version of Windows Media Player on it, and I put in a 1GB memory card to load songs onto, but the problem is that the device was buggy, and WMP would stop playing music after a couple of weeks of usage. (The song would “play,” and WMP would control everything just like normal, but no sound would come out.) So just the fact that I can listen to music from time to time is a nice plus. And, along those lines, I like the way the headphones work, that came with it. It’s very intuitive to use them to listen to music, and/or answer the phone (using the built-in microphone, which doubles as a button for playing/pausing music, and answering the phone).

There is one more downfall, though, and it’s one that I can’t fault Apple for: Before buying this phone, I had already done all of that research into the Palm Pre. So I keep expecting the iPhone to be able to do things that the Pre will be able to do, and it doesn’t quite work as I’d expect it to. For example, I was surprised to find that I can’t get photos off of the iPhone onto a computer, unless I do it through iTunes! I can plug the phone into Ubuntu, and Ubuntu will recognize it as a camera, but it can’t find the photos. Similarly, the only way to get pictures onto the device are to take them with the built-in camera, or transfer them through iTunes. Oh, speaking of photos, there was another limitation that absolutely floored me: The iPhone can’t send or receive images through SMS. What?!? Phones have been doing this for years! Why would Apple cripple that? The only way for me to send someone a photo from the phone is to email it to them. Now, it’s great that I can send and receive email from the iPhone, but sometimes I’d really just prefer to send it as a text message. And if someone tries to send me a photo over SMS, all I get is a text message from Rogers, saying, “by the say, someone has sent you a picture. Go to picturemessaging.rogers.com from your phone or from a computer to view it.” And the really frustrating thing? I can access any website on the internet using Safari on the iPhone—except for the picturemessaging.rogers.com site from Rogers! So if you ever send me a picture in a text message, I won’t be able to view it until I’m able to get to a computer. Frigging ridiculous.

Anyway, I don’t want to end on a rant, because I really do like the device. The phone works great, the apps are great, and the user interface is great. I just can’t wait for the Pre to be released, so that I can get my hands on a real smartphone.

3 comments: