iPhone review part 2
Using the iPhone
Phone calls offer some
helpful options on the screen during the call and make it
easy to control your phone and call.
Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please
also visit the other articles listed on the right.
In the second part of this
three part review, we look at issues related to using the
While the phone has been
greeted by near universal popular acclaim and delight, for
'power users' there are some limitations and disappointments,
particularly in the area of its keyboard and email management.
Note - some (many) of these
limitations have been addressed with subsequent releases of the
Using the iPhone
Turn the iPhone on, and its
beautiful bright clear screen smiles at you, inviting you to
start doing things with itself. This is not a phone to
languish in your pocket, this is a phone that encourages you to
play with it any time you're bored.
Using the iPhone as a Phone
You'd think that all cell
phones, these days, have pretty much mastered the very simple
functionality of how to make a call and receive a call.
For sure, the traditional keypad and two buttons (for starting
and ending calls) is about as basic and simple as it can get,
and the real points of differentiation start to appear when
considering issues such as how to store and retrieve phone
numbers from your phone's memory, and any other 'value add' type
features also offered.
Strangely, even as a basic
phone, the iPhone is not always as good or as simple as it
should be. For example, when the phone is in standby mode
and a call comes in to it, the only prompt you are given is
'Slide to Answer'. There's no apparent way to reject the
call or to mute its ringing (both functions are possible, but
neither is offered to you on the screen, and if you don't take
the time to download Apple's manual and read it carefully,
you'll never know how to do these things).
Talking about ringing, a
disappointment on this phone is the lack of ringtones.
Many features that generate a sound when triggered (eg,
receiving mail, or calendar alerts) have a pre-programmed sound
that you can't customize at all. You can only customize
two different events - the ring sound itself, and the sound for
an incoming text message. There are only 24 sounds to
choose from for ringtone, and 6 sounds to choose from for
incoming text messages.
Okay - so maybe you think 24
sounds are a lot to choose from? Not so. Many of the
offered ringtones are totally inappropriate - for example,
there's a Harp tone, and while it makes a beautiful sound, you'd
never hear this as a ring tone if the phone was in your pocket
and you were in even a moderately noisy environment.
Remember - you can never have a ringtone that is too loud or too
obtrusive, because on occasion, you'll find yourself in noisy
environments where you just simply can't hear your phone
Another nice ringtone
feature offered by some phones - a ringtone that starts off with
medium volume, and then gets louder and louder if you don't
first hear it and respond - is not offered on the iPhone.
One very nice feature of the
phone part of the iPhone is its 'Visual Voicemail'. This
feature (which only works if you have AT&T phone service)
presents you with a list of voicemail messages on the screen;
you can then pick and choose which messages you want to listen
to. This is nicer than the traditional type of calling in
to voicemail and having to listen to all messages in sequence.
If you're using your iPhone
for a data type application, or if you're synchronizing it with
your computer, the iPhone won't accept incoming calls, and the
first you'll know of having missed a call is when (if!) the
caller leaves you a voicemail message and you're notified of new
voicemail waiting for you.
This can cause annoying
misunderstandings - 'I called you but you never answered your
phone'; 'What do you mean, you called me; my phone never rang'.
When you're adding new phone
numbers into the phone's memory, there is a disappointing
omission. In other phones, I've formatted the phone
numbers by adding spaces and dashes to make a number easier to
read. I find this helpful if I'm needing to read a phone
number rather than just place a call - for example, if
trying to check if you have a number correct, or if giving a
number to someone else, or dialling the number from a different
phone. What do you find easier to read :
+14253832171 or +1 425
This is even more apparent
with international numbers that can have many more digits, for
+1447717486398 or +44
Unfortunately, although the
iPhone correctly auto-formats US numbers, it doesn't format
international numbers, and doesn't allow you to add spaces or
dashes (or brackets) to format the number yourself. This
is another small detraction from what you'd hope with a well
thought out user friendly interface.
Another missing feature is
the ability to voice dial. Most better phones these days
will offer one of two types of voice dialing features. The
simpler method allows you to record a person's name and then you
can simply say to the phone 'dial John Smith' and if the phone
recognizes the name as one you've already recorded, it will then
dial the call using the number stored. The other method
uses voice recognition; you don't need to record people's names,
the phone is clever enough to translate from what you say to the
most likely name in its directory.
This might sound like a
useless gimmick, but it is very helpful if you're driving in the
car. You don't need to take your hands from the wheel or
eyes from the road to dial a phone number, making it a definite
safety enhancement. Unfortunately, the iPhone doesn't
support either type of voice dialing - a disappointing and
surprising omission from a phone that claims to be state of the
art, and which costs $500 to purchase (when did you last spend
$500 on buying a new cell phone).
There is a workaround to
this, if you have service with AT&T (which of course most - but
not all - US subscribers do). Sign up for their $5 a month
voicedial service, which provides similar functionality, but
through their system rather than from your phone.
The iPhone doesn't have a
particularly sensitive receiver in it. Several times I've
found myself in a location with no signal, even though my
Blackberry would reliably get a reasonable strength signal from
the same cell tower. This is frustrating, and something
Apple definitely needs to enhance.
Using the iPhone as an iPod
The iPhone is functionally
identical to the iPod Touch (and vice versa), with the only
major difference between the two units being the iPhone has
a phone capability and EDGE data service as well. Just
about everything else is the same.
So - in theory - an iPhone
is a true two-in-one device, giving you all the
capabilities of an iPod plus all the capabilities of a
sophisticated phone, too. Does this mean you can retire
your iPod (or choose not to buy one)?
In theory, yes, it would
seem to mean exactly that. Indeed, the iPhone cleverly
integrates its phone and its music playing capabilities, making
it easy to pause the music to make/receive phone calls, and
saving you needing to juggle between different headsets and
units. This can mean one less gadget to buy, one less
gadget to carry, one less gadget to keep charged, and so on. These are all good plus points.
But, in practice, my feeling
is that you are probably still better served with both a phone and a
separate music/video player, whether it be an
unit, or something else completely. In addition to a gut
instinct that causes me to prefer having two different devices,
there's also one practical issue I can point to, and that is
The iPhone has very limited
battery life, and if you're in a situation where you're wanting
to use it for playing video or music, too; the additional
battery drain caused by this might be such as to put you into
battery crisis mode while you're hours from an opportunity to
recharge the unit. That would mean you'd end up anxiously
conserving battery life and not playing any music/video at all.
But if you have two separate devices, you don't mind running
your player's battery down to zero, whereas you
never want to ever let your iPhone's battery even get as low as
an indicated 20% (which seems to be, in reality, much less than
So the good news is the iPhone is every bit as good as an iPod for playing music and
video, but the bad news is that, until the iPhone gets a
considerably improved battery life, you're probably best advised
not to use it in both roles, for fear of running critically low
on battery at an inconvenient crisis moment.
There's another reason for
not yet using the iPhone for your entertainment needs. If
you're interested in storing and viewing video, you'll be less
than fully happy with both the small screen on the iPhone (3.5"
compared to 4.3" on, eg, an
Archos 504) and you'll also find the maximum 16GB of storage
on the iPhone restricts you to only storing a very few movies.
Apple claims that you can store up to 20 hours of video in 16GB
of space, but you'll probably want to store your video in better
quality, and you'll want to save some of your 16GB for music
tracks, pictures, and other iPhone data needs. If video is
your thing, you need to get the largest screen and highest
capacity disk possible.
Oh - one more thing.
Maybe you already have an iPod, and think 'oh good, I can copy
my music onto my iPhone too, with no hassle or bother'. If
you think that, you'd - alas - be wrong. The blindingly
inconvenient copy protection built into Apple's iTunes music and
video management makes it impossible to share your music on two
devices, even if the files you're trying to share are music
tracks that you own yourself, not just restricted files you've
bought from Apple's iTunes store.
Using the iPhone for Email and
These days, many of us find
increasing value in being able to access the internet from our
cell phone - either to access regular webpages, or to use web
In theory, the iPhone would
seem well designed for internet access, and this is one scenario
where the theory seems supported by the reality. The phone
has a couple of really clever innovative features that make web
page browsing vastly better than on most other phones, and its
Safari web browser does a good job of displaying most web pages
The first very clever thing
is that if you turn your phone 90° in your
hand, so the display is no longer in a vertical orientation, but
instead in a horizontal orientation, the iPhone will
automatically rotate the image on the screen to match the
phone's new placement, and will then use the extra space/width
to better display web pages, which otherwise are generally too
wide to fit on the screen, which, when normally held, is tall
and narrow rather than short and wide.
this automatic screen rotation only works on web pages, not on
any other applications.
other very clever thing is the ability to zoom in or out on a
web page. In default setting, the browser attempts to
squash the entire web page onto your screen, and with many web
pages being written with a requirement for 800 - 1000 pixels of
width, this makes for a very miniature version of the page when
squeezed onto a screen with only 320 or 480 pixels.
in or out, you simply place two fingers on the screen and move
them apart, or together, and the screen contents expands or
contracts to match your finger movement. This is a lovely
and very useful feature, and works in some of the other display
programs as well.
browsing is a plus. But now for email, which, alas, earns
a very big minus for all but the most infrequent of email users.
are lots of problems with Apple's implementation of an email
program. Two are particularly worthy of note. First,
the program doesn't download each message, but instead just
downloads the message header and perhaps the opening few words
of the message as well.
means that when you go to read a message, it isn't already
pre-loaded onto the phone and able to be instantly opened.
Instead, once you attempt to read the message, you then have to
wait - perhaps 30 seconds or more - while the content of the
message is then retrieved. If you're using a Wi-Fi
connection, this is usually fairly quick, but if you're
somewhere with only GPRS signal, and it is a long message, this
delay might be minutes in duration. Even worse - if you're
out of signal, you can't do anything at all until you get back
contrast to this, the Blackberry downloads a large chunk of each
email - usually all that you need in most cases - so reading
through emails with a Blackberry is fast and convenient.
It is neither with the iPhone.
second big disadvantage is that the phone will store a maximum
of only 200 email messages per account. If you get more
than 200 emails a day, this means there's less than a day of
emails on your phone - you have no email history and can't look
back for earlier emails (oh, I should mention there's no
'Search' feature on the iPhone either, so whenever you're
looking for anything, expect problems).
you get fewer than 200 emails a day, you're still limited to
only the last 200 messages (and, yes, this includes spam
messages too). It is completely inexplicable why Apple
chose to limit its email program to a 200 email capacity
(remember the phone has up to 16GB of storage) and makes the
phone useless to any 'power' email user.
wait - there's more. If you choose to send an email, get
ready for a terrible little virtual keyboard. The phone
displays a picture of a keyboard, and you tap keys with your
fingertips. Although some people have described my fingers
as being long and slender, my finger tip typically spans three
keys on one row, and seemingly randomly selects either the key
I'm aiming for, or one on either side of it, and sometimes even
triggers a key on the row above or below if I'm being really
Although the actual size and spacing of the key pictures is
bigger than on my Blackberry keyboard, because they are just
pictures, you've no physical sense of which key you're pressing,
and the keyboard ends up being terribly error prone.
does have a clever utility that guesses what the word you mean
to type should be, and usually (but not always) guesses
correctly. This allows you to speed your typing up a bit,
but if you're typing an unfamiliar word (for example, a person
or company name) it is useless.
bad keyboard is all the more frustrating because Apple could
have very simply made a big improvement to the keyboard's
usability, but inexplicably has chosen not to. By enabling
the screen tilt function, same as already exists on the web
browser, this would give the phone much more space to show the
keyboard buttons, allowing them to be bigger and making it
easier to type the right letters. What lack of logic
caused Apple to expand the keyboard to an almost usable size
when using the web browser program, but not when using the email
program. Most of us use a keyboard very much more in email
than when browsing the internet.
problem when sending emails is that you can't send attachments
with your email.
still more. Although the email reader does a good job of
displaying formatted emails (and is greatly superior to
Blackberry in this one respect), it doesn't intelligently
re-wrap long lines, meaning that if you zoom the text size to a
readable size, you'll be having to pan left and right across the
screen to read each line of an email. If you reduce text
to the size that it doesn't spill off the edges of the iPhone
screen, the font is too small to read. What were the Apple
designers thinking of when they allowed this disfunctionality to
make it to the final unit, and why haven't they corrected it in
any of the five sets of enhancements and fixes released to date?
very least, Apple should have enabled the same screen tilt
detection that it has on the browser program to make it easier
to read 'wide' emails.
are other limitations in the email program too - for example,
there's no way to delete multiple emails at once. You have
to select and delete emails one by one.
while the iPhone bravely promised to play an attached .WAV file
in an email I received, it wasn't able to do so. What's
with that? Here's a unit that does double duty as an iPod
music/audio player, and it can't play a standard .WAV audio
file? It also doesn't display .TIF files.
is probably the iPhone's greatest Achilles heel. It would
seem Apple has no interest in providing a usable solution for
people wishing to read email on their phone.
Using the iPhone for other
The iPhone comes with some
other applications already loaded, including common things such
as a Calendar program which can be synchronized with your
Outlook calendar. The Calendar program is very basic and
has some problems with it - for example, a multi-day event only
shows up on the first day when you're looking at the month view
of your calendar.
You can also synchronize
your Contacts List with Outlook.
The iPhone has a potentially
useful Notes program for storing notes about all sorts of things
you might wish to occasionally jot down and/or refer to.
But. Why, oh why, did they not provide synchronization
between their Notes program and the Notes feature of Outlook?
How stupid is that? They synchronize contacts, calendar,
and even to a limited extent, email from Outlook, but don't also
synchronize the notes?
This is even more
frustrating because it forces you to type all notes into the
iPhone using the phone's despicable miniature keyboard, and
means you lose any notes you had in Outlook. There's also
no way to take your iPhone notes and use them on your main
computer. This is yet another example of shoddy and
incomplete thinking on Apple's part.
The phone has a 2 megapixel
camera built in to it (1600 x 1200 resolution), and takes
pictures of a quality common to camera phones (ie not very
good). Here's a cropped but otherwise unretouched portion
of a picture I took of my daughter in the car - if you
link, it will open in a new window. You'll notice
'picture noise' and lack of sharpness in the image.
But - get this : If
you take a picture and then send it via email to someone, the
phone 'helpfully' reduces it in size down to a very compressed
and small 640 x 480 pixel image. There's no way the phone
will allow you to send the full image as an email attachment.
Why is this? One can
only guess that it was some sort of a deal insisted on by AT&T
so as to limit the amount of data bandwidth that would be taken
up by sending larger pictures. It is very unfortunate that
there isn't even an option to send the larger size image.
So how can you actually do
something with the full size picture you just took?
Warning - your brain will hurt if you try and read the next
sentence : You can copy photos from the iPhone to your
computer via Windows Explorer, but not from your computer to the
iPhone; on the other hand, you can copy pictures to your phone
through iTunes but not from your phone, and you can't delete
pictures that are synchronized over to the phone through iTunes.
Confused? So you
should be. Apple's inane and unnecessary copy protection
sacrifices user flexibility and simplicity.
The phone doesn't come with
a built in GPS device, but it can use a clever method of cell
tower triangulation and reference point Wi-Fi networks to
computer approximately where you are, and to show your location
on a Google Map image.
In addition to the range of
programs Apple provides with the phone, there is a small but
growing variety of third party applications available, most
currently being offered for free. Initially Apple refused
to allow other developers to write software for the iPhone, and
restricted extra software to web based programs, but it is about
to open up the system (in Feb 08) to allow the full development
of free-standing applications.
I've added some lovely extra
applications already, ranging from games (Blackjack) to useful
business functions (a wonderful HP-12C emulator that shows a
true-to-life image of the calculator on the screen) to the
useless but fun (a bouncing ball that uses the built in
accelerometers in the iPhone for you to control its bouncing by
waving the iPhone around). There are even some free
e-Books and reference libraries, plus a program that actually
does allow you to email full size pictures taken by the built in
camera. Take that, Apple!
Battery Life and Charging
One of the big weaknesses of
this phone is its very short battery life. Although it has
impressive official battery life ratings - up to 250 hours
standby or up to 8 hours talk time, this assumes no data or
internet usage. If you're using the internet, the phone's
battery life drops to a measly 6 hours.
Recognizing the phone's
ability to double as an iPod audio or video player, it is also
rated at up to 7 hours of playing video or up to 24 hours of
These battery life ratings
are of course invariably somewhat optimistic, and - like all
rechargeable batteries - each successive charge sees the battery
delivering slightly less life than the previous charge.
Apple says that the battery can be charged about 400 times
before its maximum life is reduced to 80% of its original
If you use your phone a
reasonable amount during the day - checking email, a bit of
internet browsing, and a few phone calls - chances are that
you'll find the battery is getting dangerously depleted by the
end of the day, and even if the battery gets you through one
day, it won't last through the end of a second day. So,
for most of us, daily charging will become an unavoidable ritual
Note also that the battery
life display is a bit deceptive. Once you get to 20%
battery remaining, you can very quickly drop from 20% to 10% (in
only a few minutes on one occasion) and then from 10% to 0 in
way too fast a time as well.
Having to charge your phone
every day is inconvenient and not 'state of the art'.
Charging the battery is
slow. With my Blackberry, my rule of thumb is 'one minute
of charge buys me an hour of extra battery life', and so if I
suddenly find myself low on charge, I only need to plug the
phone in for a few minutes to top it up safely. Quick
charging is particularly helpful because I often just top the
phone up while driving in the car with the car charger.
But the iPhone takes 2 - 3
hours to slowly build up to about a 90% charge, and to go from
90% to 100% can take that much extra. Being as how you're
going to be all the time needing to charge your iPhone, it is a
shame that the charging process isn't a little quicker.
Some people still travel
with spare phone batteries. If this is you, then you're in
for a disappointment with the iPhone. You can't replace
the battery. It is sealed inside the unit, and replacing
the battery involves sending your phone back to Apple, and
paying $85.95 for a new battery and shipping the phone back to
you. With daily recharges, a battery will probably last
you more than one year but less than two.
This is a huge amount of
money just to replace a battery, and being without your phone
for some days is another unwelcome inconvenience too. This
is a very user-unfriendly design limitation on Apple's part.
There are of course
strategies you can adopt to extend the life of the battery.
For example, turn off the Bluetooth any time you're not using
it, and turn off the Wi-Fi any time you're not using it.
Set your email to only synchronize when you open up the email
account, rather than to do it regularly in the background.
Dim the display brightness. Reduce the number of stocks
tracked, and the number of cities you receive weather forecasts
for. And so on, and so on.
But, what you're doing here
is making major reductions in the functionality and convenience
of your phone. What is the point of offering these
features if you're then told not to use them to best advantage
so as to get a useable battery life?
Exclusivity with AT&T and
Unlocking the iPhone
Apple has signed a five year
exclusive marketing contract with AT&T in the US, and has
'locked' its phones so that they will only work with an AT&T
provided account chip (or 'SIM' as it is called).
Subsequently, Apple has signed agreements with service providers
in other countries, and in each case has again signed an
exclusivity contract and is only releasing its phones with a
lock/restriction to work with that one wireless company's SIMs.
For a brief while, Apple was
compelled to make the phones it sold through T-mobile in Germany
unlocked, but as of now (Feb 08) a court ruling has overturned
the lower court and now Apple and T-Mobile are free to restrict
the phones only to T-Mobile again. It seems that possibly
in France Apple may have to unlock the phones, but commentators
believe that Apple will only partially unlock the phone,
allowing it to work with other French wireless companies, but
not with other companies around the world.
Probably the reason Apple is
doing this is because it stands to make a profit not just from
selling the phone but also then gets a cut of the monthly fees
paid by the phone user to the wireless company. It is
estimated that in the US, Apple gets about $10/month as a
kickback from AT&T on every iPhone contract. When you
consider that AT&T are requiring a minimum two year contract
with iPhone signups, this means Apple not only makes a generous
profit from selling the iPhone in the first place, but it then
gets a second 'bonus' of $240 or more per phone once it is put
However, phone enthusiasts
have rebelled, and not very long after the iPhone was released,
a hacker came up with a way to defeat Apple's locking procedure,
enabling the phone to be unlocked and used on any GSM network,
anywhere in the world. Apple retaliated and each software
upgrade release makes the phone incompatible with previous
unlocking techniques, and relocks the phone. But within a
month or so of each software upgrade (and there have been five
in the first nine months), the hacking community has defeated
the new locking process and phones are being happily unlocked
We provide an
unlocking service ourselves, as do many other companies.
Unlocking the iPhone has
been very common, much to Apple's chagrin (it doesn't get its
revenue share on an unlocked phone, of course), with some
estimates suggesting that a quarter or more of the iPhones sold
to date having been unlocked and now being used on other
wireless services and in other countries. To date (Feb08)
more than 4 million iPhones have been sold, and it is expected
that 10 million will be sold by the end of 2008.
Many of these iPhones have
been shipped and sold in other countries where there is not yet
an official iPhone reseller; I've seen them being ostentatiously
displayed in some quite out of the way places in Eastern Europe
Part of a series on the
Apple iPhone - please also visit the other articles listed
at the top on the right
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22 Feb 2008, last update
21 Jul 2020
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