iPhone review part 1
About the iPhone in general
The Apple iPhone is
very stylish in appearance.
Its large, bright, high
resolution, touch screen gives it the potential
to offer a new approach to a cell phone user interface, and
Apple has done a great job of building a reasonably
intuitive and friendly way to control the phone.
But, beneath the pretty
icons on the lovely screen, you'll find some regrettable
limitations on the phone's actual capabilities and
Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please
also visit the other articles listed on the right.
Apple's iPhone was first
released on 29 June, 2007, and has quickly become one of the
most sought after phones, and a desirable status symbol for
people who always feel the need to possess the latest and
greatest 'must have' gadgets.
Touted as finally bringing user
friendliness to cell phones, the iPhone does a good but not
outstanding job of handling normal phone calls, and offers other
functions and services with varying degrees of value and
For power users with special
needs (most particularly, those seeking high speed data service
and/or good email functionality) the iPhone will be a
disappointment, and for anyone seeking more than a day of
battery life between charges, the iPhone again disappoints.
At a current cost of $400 or $500 for
the 8GB and 16GB models and with no discounts for buying a new
service plan at the same time, the iPhone is far from cheap. But
with over 3 million units sold already, clearly neither the high
price nor the limited functionality is of concern to most
Will you be satisfied with the
iPhone? Read on to find out.
The Apple iPhone - What you
iPhone can be purchased direct from Apple (either online
or through one of their retail stores) or from the only wireless
company that has rights to the phone in the US, AT&T.
Most of the other typical sources for cell phones (eg Amazon)
are unable to sell the unit.
When you buy an iPhone, it
comes in a stylish cardboard box, with a mix of goodies
You get the phone itself (of
course), a stereo headset/microphone, a dock, a cable to
connect the phone to a computer, a power charger, some
documentation, and - last but not least - a cleaning cloth.
The stereo headset allows
you to play music from the phone, and does double duty as a
phone headset when you receive or choose to place a phone call.
It has a small microphone built in to the right hand cord.
Be sure to read the instructions (such as they are) - doing so
will reward you with the information that hidden in the
microphone housing is a click button that you can use to answer
phone calls and control some basic functions of the phone when
it is playing music, too.
Testing the headset showed
it to provide only poor quality audio into its headset, and to send a muffled poor
quality audio feed out to the person you were talking to.
It is a disappointing headset. Be careful not to lose it,
though - Apple will charge you $29 for a replacement. Yes,
that is a rip-off price; chances are Apple is paying less than
$1.50 each for these units that it now sells for $29.
And if you think you'll
simply buy an after-market replacement headset, be prepared for
problems. Although the jack and socket is semi-standard,
Apple has added a subtle little design limitation by recessing
the socket such that most normal plugs won't be able to fit down
the recess and into the socket at the end. You'll either
have to buy an adapter, or limit your choice of headsets to only
ones specifically designed for the iPhone (and therefore also
probably over-priced). For example,
Amazon.com sells discounted iPhone compatible
headsets for prices ranging up from $27.63 to $99.95.
Most people might decide the
best headset solution - when using the iPhone as a phone rather
than as a music player - is to get a Bluetooth headset.
Click to visit our
Bluetooth headset review section.
Dock and Connectors
Apple provides a weighted
docking base into which you can plug your iPhone. The
docking base holds the iPhone, tilted at an angle slightly off the
vertical, and its weight helps the iPhone to be held securely
without tipping over.
When you plug the iPhone
into the base, a connector fits into the iPhone's connecting
slot on the bottom of the phone, and there's a pass through
connecting slot on the back of the base.
A supplied cable has a
standard USB connection at one end and an Apple iPhone connector
at the other end. The connector is the same as
the one Apple uses with its iPods. And - don't lose it.
A replacement cable costs an outrageous $19.
Why would you use the base?
I have no idea. If you are prudent, you'll quickly put
some sort of carry case around the iPhone to protect it from
knocks and scratches and drops, and once you've done this, it
won't fit in the base. So, for most of us, the base is a
useless accessory (which might be why Apple gives it away rather
than sells it!).
The other accessory is
undeniably essential. It is a tiny little power supply,
measuring 1.75" x 1.75" by 1" and weighing only 2.1 oz.
There's a removable part with the actual plug that goes into the
wall; presumably this can be replaced by other plug pieces with
different prongs for other parts of the world, but don't ask me
where or how you'd buy them - Apple's website doesn't offer them. The two prongs fold over and lie flat and flush
inside the cube when not being used, making it easy to carry.
It is a multi-voltage power supply, so should work everywhere in
To get power to the phone,
you use the same cable as you'd use to connect the phone to your
computer, and simply plug the USB end into a USB slot on the
You can also charge the phone
by plugging the cable into a USB port on
You get two small little
booklets (4.9" x 2.8"). The first is titled 'Important
Product Information Guide' and contains largely a series of
legal disclaimers on its 17 pages of fine print text. Most
of us will leave that unread in the box.
The warranty is a one year
warranty and is not transferrable from the original purchaser.
The other little booklet is
titled 'Finger Tips' and gives you some information on how to
use the iPhone. The 18 pages of information here is well
presented, but because each page is mainly a color picture of
the iPod screen with just a short sentence or two of text, the amount of information is terribly limited,
and there's an enormous need for more information about how to
use the phone.
Strangely, Apple don't
provide any further documentation. There's no provided
manual, there's not a CD with a pdf version of a manual,
and neither is there any set of help screens on the phone
itself. What an appalling omission, and no wonder that the
best (and best selling) book on how to use the iPhone is titled 'iPhone:
The Missing Manual - The book that should have been in the box'.
If you buy the phone, be sure to buy a copy of the book, too.
It lists for $19.99 and
Amazon.com sells it for $13.59.
There is a
130 page User Guide that can be found after some searching
on the Apple website. In an affected style that quickly
becomes annoying, this document preciously refers not to 'the
iPhone' but to just 'iPhone' as if it were a person.
It is very disappointing
that there are no help files on the iPhone itself. With
so many gigabytes of storage, you'd think the very least they could
do would be to load the 4MB pdf user guide they offer online onto
the phone, and you'd hope they'd actually build a useful Help
application into the phone. Shame on them - their pride at
the alleged simplicity of their user interface probably prevents
them from providing the Help file assistance the phone (and us
users) still need.
The iPhone's Capabilities and Specifications
The iPhone measures 4.5" x
2.3" x 0.4", and weighs about 5.1 oz. This makes it
average in size for 'candy bar' design phones.
The color display measures
just under 3" x 2" and has a 3.5" diagonal. It has a high
resolution capability, with 480x320 pixels (just over 160 pixels
per inch in each direction). This is the same resolution
on the iPod Touch, and considerably better than on a regular
iPod (with a 2.5" diagonal display and a resolution of 240 x 320
pixels - half the resolution of the iPhone).
The display is touch
sensitive, but it only works with fingers. It won't work
with a stylus or other instrument, which is a disadvantage when
trying to type on the miniature keyboard that is shown on the
screen, and having one's fingers repeatedly hit the wrong keys.
The display is covered with
glass not plastic, and while it is reasonably scratch resistant,
it is probably prudent to place a protective sheet over its
surface. And while scratch resistant, it is of course as
fragile as any glass object is, and if you drop your phone,
there's a danger you'll crack the glass screen. Dropping
your phone is not covered under the warranty, and you'll be up
for about $250 to get the screen replaced. At the very
least, keep the iPhone in some sort of protective case;
hopefully this might prevent the glass from breaking if (or, in
my case, when) you drop it.
Some people speak
particularly highly of the
range of screen protectors and they do seem to offer the
strongest protection, indeed they claim their thin plastic cover
removes the need for a carry case as well.
In keeping with the concept
of 'simplicity', and similar to the design of the iPod, Apple
has very few buttons and switches on the phone. There's an
unlabelled On/Off button on the top, a similarly unlabelled mute
button and a volume control rocker on the left side, and a
button with a square symbol on it beneath the screen. This
mysterious button is a 'Home' type button that generally takes
you from wherever you were back to the main menu home screen on
All other functions and
commands are done by controls that selectively display on the
screen. This is usually fairly self explanatory, but
sometimes you'll find yourself wondering what to do next, and
the only way to find out is to experiment. No scroll bars
on some menu screens means you don't necessarily know that you
can move the screen display up/down/sideways to reveal more data
on the next page - this is a disappointingly unintuitive
over-simplification that will confound many users, especially
when using infrequently needed programs.
The interface is
inconsistent from program to program - for example, sometimes
there is a 'Back' button on the top left, sometimes there is a
'Done' button on the top right which means the same thing, and
sometimes there is neither. This is apparently because
different design teams worked on different parts of the phone
during the development process, and to keep details of the phone
secret, Apple didn't allow much communication between the teams.
Whatever the reason, it is
unacceptable that a device with a major claim to fame its easy
intuitive user interface should actually be so unintuitive and
inconsistent in function. Even now (Feb 08), almost nine
months after the phone's release, and with five new updates to
the software, Apple has apparently chosen to ignore these issues
and leave the inconsistent interface issues as they are.
The lack of buttons extends
also to no 'reset' type button. Most electronic devices
have a reset button hidden away somewhere, so if the software
crashes and freezes, you've got a way to reset the unit and
restart it. If your iPhone freezes (and, alas, it
sometimes does - it is far from a 100% reliable never crashing
device) you have to remember the three different ways to recover
from increasingly serious freezes. If you don't remember,
and you're not with your manual, what are you going to do?
You surely can't use the phone to call customer service while it
is frozen! Next time, Apple, please put a tiny hole in the
unit with a recessed reset button.
Talking about tiny holes,
the design intent, to make the phone into a beautifully
manufactured object that can be admired as a work of
technological art has only been imperfectly realized. For
example, if you want to change SIMs, you need to poke a long
narrow thing down a tiny hole to release the SIM holder and
cause it to pop out. This long narrow thing would have to
be either a thin paperclip or a needle of some description.
Typically I'm changing SIMs
in airports upon arrival/departure, and I seldom if ever have a
paperclip at hand. Designing the phone to require a
special piece of equipment (which is not provided with the
phone) in order to do something as basic and essential as change
the SIM over is very poorly thought out, and probably betrays
Apple's underlying desire to restrict your ability to change
SIMs and services with this phone (see section on
unlocking the iPhone, below).
Phone Bands and Data
The phone is a
quad band GSM
phone, meaning it will work just about anywhere in the
world. It also supports both GPRS and EDGE data services. GPRS is very slow; typically averaging
about 15k - 20k bps (slower than most dialup modems, which vary
from 28.8k - 56k bps).
EDGE data is much faster,
with theoretical maximum speeds of 236.8 kbps, and real world
speeds probably no more than 100 kbps.
EDGE data support varies,
with most of the US (where GSM is available) also offering EDGE
(GPRS is everywhere that GSM signal exists, EDGE requires a
little bit of extra equipment in each cell tower).
Internationally, it varies, with some unlikely places and
countries offering EDGE (rural Russia) but other places where
you'd expect to see it (downtown London) not providing it.
Many other countries have leapfrogged over EDGE, implementing
much faster ('3G') data networks instead of investing in EDGE.
The iPhone does not support
any of the faster 3G wireless data networks, although it is
generally anticipated that the next version of the iPhone will
add support for the much faster data networks.
But what it does offer, as a
type of compromise, is Wi-Fi support. The Wi-Fi support
however only works for downloading email and data; it doesn't
allow the voice phone service to switch through Wi-Fi to the
phone network - this is a feature that is starting to be offered
on some phones, and can reduce your airtime usage.
The iPhone also supports the latest
Bluetooth 2.0+EDR specification for communication with headsets.
Part 1 of a six part
series on the Apple iPhone - please
About the iPhone in General
2. Using the iPhone
3. iPhone limitations and
should you buy one
The iPhone 3G - what's new and what's different
to the iPhone
The Verizon iPhone 4
Related Articles, etc
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22 Feb 2008, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.