Two weeks with iPhone

I bought an iPhone on it’s second day of availability. I actually tried to get one on the first day by the ATT store I decided was the most likely candidate to be the least crowded only got 35 phones and I was number 50 or so. The store manager didn’t bother to inform us until he’d sold them effectively wasting a lot of people’s time. In my case about two hours. I decided that I’d try the Apple Store in Tysons Corner the next morning before heading out to the Folklife Festival and that turned out to be a good choice. I got there about 20 minutes before the store opened. When they opened at 9AM, I was roughly number 25 in line. I was in the store by 9:05 and out by 9:12. Pretty painless.

I activated the phone that evening at home. It was probably around 10PM by the time I got home so I was hoping the delays people experienced on the first day would be resolved. It turns out there was still some delay but within 30 minutes my iPhone was active. For some unknown reason I had to power cycle the phone to get it to see that it had service but that may just be the wildly erratic service I’m getting at home these days.

The iTunes program is used to sync your content with the phone. In my case I’m using a Mac Pro running OS X 10.4.10 and I already own an iPod so I was familiar with iTunes. I was easily able to synchronize my calendar (from iCal) and my contact list (from Address Book). My music collection is far larger than the iPhone would hold so I created two play lists. One was simply a selection of 400 random tracks that haven’t been heard in at least a year and aren’t podcasts. The other is a list of podcasts that haven’t yet bee listened to. This provided me with a few days of musical variety.

To synchronize photos I had to start using iPhoto. Without iPhoto I was limited to choosing one (recursively searched) directory. This would show up on the iphone as one long photo album. It would be better if it created an album automatically for each subdirectory but unfortunately this isn’t the case. Instead I had to import my photos into iPhoto and then break them up into albums. I was then able to choose which sets of photos I wanted on the phone. It was annoying (I don’t much like iPhoto and have no other reason to use it) but it isn’t a huge problem.

My email accounts were automatically synchronized with iPhone so I didn’t have to copy any of that info over by hand.

Now my iPhone was set up and ready to begin using. I’ve been using it a fair amount over the last week and my overall satisfaction is quite high. It isn’t perfect, but it really is quite well done. It also demos really, really well.

As a telephone I’ve no major complaints. I really haven’t made that many calls but those I’ve made have been clear and the user interface for making and accepting calls is very clean. The speaker phone volume can be a little low. In an environment with a fairly loud environment it probably won’t be very audible over the noise. Of course in that sort of environment your caller probably wouldn’t be able to hear your clearly through the background noise either.

The iPod application works well. The coverflow looks really cool but I don’t find it very practical, mostly because I tend to listen to things through playlists instead.

The photo application is wonderful. I’ve gotten more wow’s from people when they see how you move through photos and zoom in.

The calender application also works well. There does appear to be an iTunes problem in selecting the calendar you wan events created on the phone to appear in but hopefully that will be fixed. It certainly isn’t an insurmountable problem.

The reason I got an iPhone was I wanted one device that would be a mobile phone, play music, show photos and handle my calendar. Every other device I’d tried that did had such an awkward user interface and was so crippled that it was essentially unusable If these applications worked well the other applications (email, web, etc.) could work or not and it really wouldn’t bother me too much. These four were the critical ones for me and after a week, they aren’t without flaws but they are the best implemented version of them I’ve seen on a mobile device.

Of course, those other apps are there and so I was curious how usable they would be.

Email also works well. I’m never going to make iPhone my primary email client but it’s nice to be able to check and send emails whenever I need.

Web browsing also works surprisingly well. It is a small screen but the software makes good use of it and the ability to zoom in and out as well as rotate the iPhone allow you to usually make effective use of the screen. It works particularly well on pages organized in columns. I wouldn’t want to do a lot of browsing with it but for quick lookups it works well.

The You Tube application is surprisingly fun. I’ve shown people videos on the phone and gone looking for things to watch when I had a few spare moments with nothing else to do. It’s fluff but it’s fun.

The weather app shows current conditions and five day forecasts for the cities you specify. It’s ok but it wouldn’t always find the city I wanted (especially overseas) and unlike most other place on iPhone won’t let you reorder the list. Obvious enhancements for it would be weather radar and weather alerts.

I haven’t played much with the stocks app but it seems like a way to keep an eye on the market.

The map app is pretty cool. It’s a iPhone specific google map implementation. It can also act as kind of a “poor geek’s GPS” in that you can get it to calculate a route and then manually step through the turns. This so clearly screams for a real GPS that it seems likely that future iPhone implementations will have one. As it is, I don’t think you could use it in a car while driving though a passenger could certainly act as navigator with one. It’s definitely cool and for me probably more useful while on foot than in a car.

The SMS app seems well done but I don’t do a lot of text messaging. I’ve received a few and that has worked well. A lot better than the UI on my old Sony phone. Still, it’s not likely I’ll ever send many SMS’s.

The built-in camera is ok. It’s only real advantage is that it’s with me all the time. Still, a 2 megapixel camera with no zoom capability isn’t very useful.

The clock app is nice for keeping an eye on time around the workd as well as setting alarms and having a stopwatch. The list of cities it knows about are somewhat limited so I found myself choosing a city somewhere else in the same timezone but it does work.

The notes app let’s you take notes on the phone. I haven’t played much with it but it seems suited to jotting down some bit of information you have to remember for later.

Overall the apps are a solid implementation. There are obvious places where things can be enhanced but this a good first release. The screen is extremely clear. It does smudge easily and by the nature of how it is used it will smudge a lot but it cleans up easily. It also feels like it has some sort of coating that makes it very smooth to slide a finger or two across the screen like it has just the right amount of friction. Hopefully that won’t wear off over time.

The iPhone is advertised as a ‘buttonless’ phone but there are actually five hard buttons.The sleep button, home button, up and down volume buttons and the ringer switch. The fit and finish of the phone are great. The clarity of the built in speaker is good though volume can be a little on the light side. The phone can be a bit slippery. It would be easy to drop so a thin case with a bit more friction might be practical but I haven’t yet seen a case meant to be on the phone full-time that actually looked good.

The real concern is how will that screen stand up to abuse. Reports on the net indicate that the answer is very well. In my case, rather than use a “made for iPhone” case I’m uisng a generic cellphone case. I didn’t like any of the form fitting cases designed to stay on the phone while in use and the ones you were supposed to take the phone out to use fit so tightly that extraction was awkward. Instead I’m using a generic phone pouch allows the phone to fit in loosely but without too much slop. It clips to a belt loop or other attachment point and is handy. Though the clip is really a bit tight for belt loops it works well enough for now until a better solution comes along.

The only real physical shortcoming I see is the headphone jack. It’s recessed in such a way that most headphones won’t fit. I don’t know why it was done this way. Perhaps it helped keep the attachment securely connected or perhaps it was seen as a way to sell iPhone specific accessories. Either way, it’s mildly annoying.

The earbud/mic supplied in the box works well. I’ve been using them the last week to listen to the iPod while taking metro back and forth to work. I give them an ‘ok’. I’ve made telephone calls with them also and had no complaints about audio quality and I could certainly hear the caller clearly.

Bluetooth connections were a snap. My Prius connects to the phone as soon as I boot the car and connection quality has been excellent. I haven’t found a way to send the phone’s directory over the Prius but the Prius implementation fo the phone directory isn’t all that useful to begin wtih so I haven’t tried that hard.

WiFi connections are nice and speedy but Edge connections can be painfully slow. Sometimes Edge isn’t too bad but often it feels like waiting for water to boil.

There are some things I’d like to see:

I’d like to see the contact list exposed on the home page. You can get to it through the phone app but it’s useful enough in non-phone specific ways that it deserves a spot on the home page.

I’d really like to see a file repository. Whether the iPhone ever shows up as a disk when it’s mounted or now doesn’t really concern me though I’d like it. But I really want a way to drop files on the phone and to be able to browse and open them on the phone. I can read MSWord, Excell and PDF file son the phone but only via email or web pages right now. Give me the ability to have a local file store on the phone.

You can’t customize ringtones. There is a list of canned ringtones but a bunch of them are amazingly annoying (seemingly a universal cellphone law). I’m not a ringotne fanatic but it would be nice to choose my own.

The obvious “killer app” for iPhone is VOIP. It would be really nice to make VOIP calls over a WIFI connection when available bypassing the cellular network. Given that ATT already markets a VOIP service this is an obvious tie in. If it was seamless as to which service was used (at the point of call initiation) that would be incredible.

The Google Map app fairly well pleads for a GPS. It’s user interface would need some additional work to make that competitive with the standalone GPS products but it could easily be done. Oh, and give us the “hybrid” view on the map. I really like that view on the browser based google map and I miss it on iPhone.

The weather app would benefit from weather alerts and weather radar and also the ability for a more detailed forecast. And give me the ability to rearrange the list of cities

I’d like to see a voice note app where you can record little audio annotations and store them. I could see myself using that to take short notes that would be a hassle with the notes app.

The most annoying bug has to be the volume getting out of sync between the touchscreen display and the hard buttons. The display will indicate the volume is at its maximum level but the volume will be low. If I adjust the volume down using the touchscreen (but not the buttons) the volume suddenly jumps up to what the display indicates. I don’t know what conditions create the bug but I’ve learned how to recognize when it’s occurring and fix it. Hopefully a fix will be coming out for it.

So, after two, actually nearly three weeks, I’m still very happy with the phone. It does what it is supposed to do and while it may not be perfect, it’s so much better than any multifunction phone I’ve used that I wouldn’t want to go back.

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