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There are already a good number of accessories available for the iPhone. We're considering just having it surgically implanted.
After waiting more than six months, we finally got our hands on an iPhone. As we discovered, it’s a truly amazing device that’s easy to love. But as slick as it is, it’s got its failings. In this comprehensive review, we show you how to enjoy its considerable strengths and work around its major weaknesses.
A LITTLE PIECE OF HANDHELD HEAVEN
Our infatuation with the iPhone starts with its industrial design, a sexy combination of glass, chrome, anodized aluminum, and plastic. The iPhone is the monolith of mobile phones, deserving of a museum display, not the dark depths of your pocket. The glass screen is amazingly scratch resistant (unlike the display on any iPod we’ve ever met), but it’s still glass. Your biggest worry here might be cracking the screen, a fate too horrible to contemplate. Still, there are reports of it happening (just search Google for "broken iPhone screen").
Then you turn on the iPhone and start sliding your fingers across and tapping the touchscreen. The movements came naturally: Use a pinching motion to zoom in and out, flick the tip of a finger up or down for fast scrolling, and tap once or twice to select things and execute actions. All of the iPhone’s built-in functions and applications are accessible from the home screen, and many have built-in back and forward buttons. To get back home, you can always press the Home button.
The onscreen QWERTY keyboard, the source of much criticism, has its learning curve, but we found that it wasn’t as steep as some have made it out to be. Typing takes a bit of practice - the keyboard is small, so mistyping is easy, especially if your fingers, like ours, look a lot like bratwurst. You need to develop a sense of where your fingertip touches a key. We quickly discovered that if you tap on a key just slightly to the left of center, you hit the key you want; tap closer to the right and you’re liable to hit the key to its right. The keyboard’s predictive text, which guesses what word you’re typing before you’re done or if you’ve misspelled it, works amazingly well. Of course, you can forget covert text messages to your party buddies typed under the table during a dull meeting: The lack of tactile feedback makes typing without looking nearly impossible.
For phone calls, the iPhone’s sound quality is clear but a bit muted, and we didn’t experience static or dropouts (we suspect this is mostly due to the fact that, unlike in some areas of the United States, AT&T’s wireless voice coverage in Northern California is quite good). The speakerphone works admirably well; its audio is clear, and everyone we called had no trouble hearing us. The iPhone comes with a stereo headset with an integrated microphone, and you pinch a tiny button embedded in the cord to answer and hang up calls.
When you get a call, the iPhone displays the caller’s info (if he or she is in your contact list) or just the number, as on any cell phone. When you tap the voicemail icon at the bottom of the home screen -- which displays the number of messages you have as a white number inside a tiny red circle - you see a list of messages, allowing you to decide which message to listen to first. You can always take a call, even if you’re listening to music, watching video, checking email, or browsing the Web. When the call’s over, the iPhone returns you to where you were, without losing your place.
On the downside, the iPhone’s Bluetooth integration is so limited, we wonder why Apple even bothered. It can be used with a Bluetooth headset only, and can’t be used to transfer files with other devices, sync to a computer, or “plug in” to Bluetooth stereo earphones. Apple’s iPhone Bluetooth Headset costs $129.
Two more niggles: It doesn’t have one-touch or voice dialing, which means that making a call in the car isn’t any safer - and is perhaps even more dangerous -- than it was with our old cell phones. Plus, the vibrate feature is a bit weak. On the other hand, one stroke of iPhone genius almost makes up for both hiccups: a switch on the side that instantly silences the ringer.
WHAT A WEB IT WEAVES
Apple touts a Web-surfing experience on the iPhone that’s free of the compromises usually required with other smartphones. In many ways, Apple has earned its bragging rights. On the iPhone, webpages display as they would on any computer. Text and pictures look surprisingly spectacular - this isn’t the watered-down Web of WAP. Although pages appear “full size” at first on the iPhone (meaning text is teeny-tiny on its 3.5-inch screen), you just double-tap or use a pinching motion to zoom in. To fill in text fields, tap the field and the iPhone zooms in and calls up the keyboard.
Of course, the iPhone Web experience comes with a special set of caveats. Sites that requires Flash or Java plug-ins prompt missing plug-in messages. But the greatest obstacle to the iPhone becoming the ultimate portable Web experience is AT&T’s EDGE network, where wireless data speeds hark back to 56K modem days. Browsing the Web on a Wi-Fi connection is much faster, however. While not as fast as the speeds you get on a Mac, it’s a huge improvement over EDGE. Sadly, because AT&T’s faster (and more expensive) 3G wireless data network requires different hardware, a first-generation iPhone won’t likely be capable of upgrading to anything faster than EDGE.
Supported email services include Yahoo, Gmail, .Mac, and AOL. You can also enter settings for your own IMAP, POP, and Exchange accounts, although Exchange is IMAP only, and the server must have an update called “Rollup 3” installed. For all supported email services, you can view plain-text and HTML messages, move them to an established folder, and forward and reply to them. But you can’t mark emails as spam. Photos that are attached to emails display in the message, and attachments in Word, Excel, and PDF format are quickly and easily viewable (but not editable) by tapping on them. Setting up the iPhone to access email is quick and painless, but we did experience key delay while typing email messages.
The iPhone supports SMS text messaging, which is displayed on the iPhone in an iChat-like display. But the iPhone does not have any kind of instant messaging support - a truly baffling omission (see JiveTalk for iPhone: First Look or How to Instant Message on an iPhone for more).