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The iPhone review: week one


It's been just over a week that I've had my iPhone, and so I figured it was about time for a review.  I'm using an unlocked 8 gig iPhone running on Rogers wireless.  Before continuing I'd like to make a few points, take them as warnings, about using unlocked iPhones.

- the iPhone uses a heck of a lot of data so unless you have a 200+ MB data plan don't even think about using it for data from your cellular carrier.  I'm clocking about 10 MB a day of data usage.

- the newest update to the iPhone will lock the phone back up.  I am waiting to update my phone until the hackers figure out a way to unlock this update.  However means that any new iPhone might come with this firmware and thus not be unlockable.  See here [hip] for more information on unlocking the iPhone.

Now onto the review.  I've decided that the best way to handle reviewing such a complete device is to review its individual components (iPod, phone) on their own and then do a section on the complete package.  Let us then start with, the phone.

The Phone

No matter how slick the iPod interface might be, and it is slick, no matter how cool the Wi-Fi might be, and it is cool, if the iPhone sucked as a phone it would not even be worth considering.  I'm pleased to declare that as a phone the iPhone is golden.  Okay so maybe if I just wanted a phone I'd pick a smaller one, but the call quality is great and I've not yet had a dropped call or any sort of weird audio problems. 

What helps distinguish the phone experiance from other handsets I've used is how the calling intergrates into the rest of the features.  If you're on a webpage in browser and see a phone number, a simple finger push will let you call the number.  Contact information is infinitely editable, and easy to customize.  Some contacts that I've had to split into two or three different contacts on the BlackBerry since it only gives you the option of putting telephone numbers under a limited number of catagories (home, office, fax, mobile) I've been able to combine for the first time ever.  When a call comes in a bright high quality picture of the caller appears on the screen, assuming I've added a photo to their contact.

The extended phone features, email and web, are also great.  Though it eats a lot of memory (which is why AT&T customers have been offered cheap unlimited data plans) the Safari browser is the best portable browsing experiance I've ever experianced.  The wireless EDGE network is slow, but not as terrible as people have complained about.  Still the difference is significant when compared to Wi-Fi, and if it were not for Wi-Fi I probably would dislike web browsing a lot.  Still knowing how good Safari can be, I'm okay when EDGE slows it down.

Email is the only place that I feel is a step down from the BlackBerry.  Since I'm using an unlocked iPhone on Rogers I don't have the push email being offered through Yahoo on AT&T, and moving from being on a BlackBerry Business Enterprise Server (BES) it is noticeable.  Still setting it up to get email from two of my accounts (Gmail and .Mac) was easy to do, and though its not instant the phone does grab the email once every 15 minutes for me which is good enough for personal accounts.

The onscreen keyboard took a bit of adjusting to, especially after using the large phsical keyboard of the BlackBerry 8800.  Still Apple's error correction software is incredibly good, changing words when you miss individual buttons and amazingly I've yet to find an instance where it is regularly off of what I am trying to type.  That the Mail application won't let you type using the landscape keyboard format that Safari offers is an oversight, and hopefully will be fixed in a future update since the larger keyboard is better.

The best part of the phone is that for the first time something works seamlessly with my Mac.  There's been work arounds and software to use the BlackBerry, all of which worked to a degree but never as smoothly as I'd come to expect with Mac software.  Syncing the iPhone with iCal and the Address Book application was easy and quick.  The only real work was that I had to sit down with my BlackBerry and update all the information in those two applications manually because I had stopped syncing my BlackBerry with my Mac a few months ago. 

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The camera has not impressed me, but then again other than the camera on my Sony Ericsson K790 (3.2 mega-pixels) no camera in a cellular phone ever really has. As you can see from the examples here dealing with anything other than sunlight situations gets a bit hard for the camera.  It doesn't help that when you email a photo from the phone the software compresses it to a smaller size to save on bandwidth, thus without a third party application it's sort of annoying to use for moblogging.

Having said that I bought a camera specifically for portable situations [fkr] so that I would not have to rely on my camera phones anymore. 

What's left?  The iPod silly...  That after the jump.

iPod + YouTube

Having talked about the sort of features that most PDA phones have standard (phone, browsing and email) let's now move onto the iPod portion of the iPhone.  Since I can not update my phone's software without locking it back up, and thus making it unable to work in Canada, I do not have the wireless iTunes music store application to try out. 

The first thing I noticed was YouTube, and I was quick to play around with that .  It's basically YouTube, which is sort of a weird and warped online version of America's Funniest Home Videos.  If you like videos of cute cats or people getting hit in the balls by things, this is your application my friend.  The interface is good, and generally quite responsive but searching is a bit of a pain if you're looking for something specific from the archives (something that's apparently been fixed with the latest software update).  The picture quality looks a bit bad, since actually the videos are shown at a larger size than they are by default on your computer, it's not the iPhone's screen or the phone but rather the lower quality of YouTube.  YouTube is where the slower EDGE speeds is particularly annoying, since loading up a YouTube video takes a minute or less with Wi-Fi and might take five minutes or more with EDGE.

It's when you get into the iPod interface and load up some video that you notice how great this screen is.  I use Handbrake [hb] to take TV shows and movies from DVDs, and the quality on the iPhone is incredible for a handheld device.  Clear, sharp and bright.  Watching videos on the iPhone is enjoyable, something that it never was on the iPod.  The fact that the iPhone has a speaker allows for watching videos without a headset, which while in a half an hour wait at the border meant that Lydia and I got to enjoy an episode of 30 Rock.

Granted 8 gigs is a bit small for me, but I've got the new 160 gig iPod classic to compensate.  I just have to get better at juggling what I want to listen to onto the phone and taking what I'm not going to listen to off.  The iPhone is the best iPod Apple makes, bar none.  I have not used the touch yet, but I think already after a week I'd miss the external speaker that the iPhone offers.

All together now: conclusions

So it's the best iPod I've ever used, and I've used a few, and the best cellular phone I've ever used, and I've used a lot, so is it the best thing ever?  Pretty darn close.  It does have a few issues.  Some of those are due to Rogers such as expensive data rates making EDGE usage financially insane for the average person.  Some of those will probably be corrected in future software updates such as not being able to use the landscape version of the keyboard in the Mail application.  Battery life is a bit low, I can't see getting more than a day or two of regular usage out of the phone.  The camera is not great.  But those are nitpicks, and are going to be an issue with any device that I use as both my main music player and my main phone.

Everything works together so well.  It's clear at times using Windows devices, or even BlackBerries (which I generally have loved) that features were developed individually and do not always play well together.  As the music fades out and the phone starts to ring you realize that the iPhone was built with a single vision of how a phone should work.  What a vision that is.

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