iPhone – Pros and Cons

And there it is, in all it’s glory and Appley goodness. Finally a phone that has it all, well, almost.

I’ve had a couple of cell phones in my day, and have worked and played with a couple of others. So far, the iPhone has the most (and best) features I want in a personal or corporate mobile smartphone. But it does have some limitations, and a couple of drawbacks.

Lets start off with what I like about it. It’s made by Apple. Now before all you haters start with the eye rolling and cries of “Fanboy”, I’d like to point out that Apple does make the best feeling, best constructed and, well, the most aethsteticly pleasing devices on the market. Sure, it’s expensive, but quality isn’t cheap. The iPhone is metal and glass, not metal colored plastic and film covered fragile touch screen like nearly every other smartphone out there. And the screen, it’s beautiful, and my god, it’s full of stars.

Externally it has 1 switch (mute), two buttons (home and sleep) and a two way toggle rocker (volume). All other inputs are done through the touch screen. That includes messing with icons, typing text, scrolling through music, contacts, pictures, videos (selection and playback controls), web pages, and… and… You get the point. Keying in text takes a bit of getting used to though. I have not found a sensitivity control for actuating the keyboard, and sometimes the phone picks up a click when you don’t think you’re hitting a “key”. Still, once you get used to it, and the eccentricities of the keyboard, it isn’t that annoying. Some nice features built into the OS and the display are the scrolling and zooming features. Yes, zooming. You can zoom in (and out) on pictures and text. That’s uber handy when you’re dealing with a small screen. Another cool feature of the screen is it’s positional adaptiveness. It knows which way is up, and adjusts the display according to it’s position. Pretty cool. It also senses when you have it next to your head and turns the screen off when it’s up to your noggin.

Damn, it’s an iPod too? Yes, wide screen too boot. I’ve had a bunch of iPods, and this one is by far the best. I can hear the haters now, “it only comes in 4 or 8Gb”. Take it from me, that’s plenty. My last iPod was a 60Gb video, and it had too much space. I have a pretty decent collection of music, and I could put my whole collection (30Gb) on it, plus ~50 full length movies. Who the hell is going to tote around that much media? I ended up swapping the 60Gb HD with the 30Gb drive from my Sony UX180P Ultramobile PC, and I still didn’t fill up 30Gb. Right now I have just over 300 of my favorite songs and 3 movies loaded on my 8Gb iPhone (plus a couple short videos and a ton of photos), and I still have over 2.5Gb free.

Yes, it browses the real internet, not the mobile internet. When I had my Treo, I hated browsing the internet. A lot of pages did not have a mobile version, and the Treo didn’t know how to display CSS correctly, so it ended up displaying a train wreck in text format. Safari on the iPhone doesn’t do this, it looks like what it’s supposed to look like. Well, that is if the page doesn’t have a Flash component. There is no flash plug-in for it yet. This kind of pissed me off since the commercials made such a big deal about YouTube videos on it. Yes, there is a YT section right on the main screen, but it’s some mobile version of YT. I tried going to my YT page and watching some of my vids, but right where the video was supposed to be was the “missing plug-in” icon. I suppose that if a page was based on flash, or had flash buttons, you can’t do anything on it. That kind of let me down. It does support secure sites (https), as well as php scripting and multiple open pages (quasi-tabbed browsing).

Sometimes I get documentation on websites, most of the time I try to get it in PDF format. To my knowledge the iPhone can’t open PDFs. This is also surprising to me since OSX natively prints to PDF, but (on the MAC) the preview app is what is used to view them. Preview isn’t on the iPhone, so I guess it kind of makes sense (I had to install Acrobat reader on my Treo before I could open PDFs on it). All the other smart phones have the ability to install applications, but the iPhone doesn’t. At first this seems like a serious limitation, and I agree to a point. In a perfect world applications would install cleanly and would not make the OS take a dump. Last time I checked, we don’t live in a perfect world. Nearly every PC and Mac I’ve ever owned has taken a dump to one degree or other because of a crappy app install, and every time an app gets installed it’s a crap shoot. Personally, I can live with the “no software install” idiosyncrasy of the iPhone. Still, it’s a limitation that I wish Apple would fix by including a flash interpreter and PDF reader in a firmware update.

Photos. Yes, it does photos. There is a very nice photo viewer app on it. I initially synced my iPhone to a PC (XP Pro), but I didn’t get a chance to check out how iTunes handled photos on the PC. When I got it hooked up to and synced with my Mac, I found that it can be set up to sync with iPhoto. And more specifically, iPhoto albums. One option was to sync all photos, or specific albums. I chose to do albums. I have a ton of pictures, and dumping all of them into one big bin just seemed stupid. I found that doing albums gives you better control over what is synced. Like I said earlier, you can zoom in on pix in the photo viewer. The built-in camera is a whopping 2 mega pixel, outputting to 1600×1200 jpg files. The color is pretty good (best of all the phone cams I’ve play with). Still, it’s a phone cam and suffers a few drawbacks, namely capture speed, no zoom, and no focus adjustments. What? You expected a Canon S5 in the iPhone? Sorry, no, but for what it is, it’s the best out there in my opinion. One very cool thing you can do with the camera has to do with your contacts (discussed later). You can take a picture of someone and assign it to a contact. During the assigning process it allows you to pan and zoom the pic so that it eventually crops it to make a nice fitting icon for the contact. One other nice feature regarding photos is the ability to email them. Being ever conscious of file sizes and transmitting large pictures over EDGE data networks, Apple coded the OS to auto compress and resize the emailed pic to a manageable size without compromising too much in the way of quality. Nice feature for shooting off some quick pics, while still letting you download the full quality originals to your sync partner computer. I think there’s also a slideshow feature in the photo viewer, but I haven’t tried it yet. When I dock the iPhone, iPhoto comes up and recognizes the iPhone as a camera and asks if I want to download the photos it has taken (not ones synced to the phone from iPhoto). If it encounters a duplicate, it gives the option to skip duplicates. I love the camera feature of he iPhone, especially for bloging and other hobbies. I will post the pics I took Sunday at the flying field, so check them out in the gallery if you want to see the raw pics it takes.

Maps on the iPhone. Yes, it has maps, but unfortunately it does not have GPS built in. If it does, I haven’t found it yet. Maps are cool, and useful, but only if you know where you are in the first place. the iPhone has Bluetooth, but it is very limited (discussed later) and does not support external BT GPS receivers.

Clocks, timers and alarms. Simply the best I’ve seen so far. Setting up my locale did not return a good hit on my zip code, so I had to settle for DC. But it does get it’s time from an internet time server. The alarms are easy to configure and are highly customizable. I have one set for weekday wakeup, none on Saturday and a different (time) wakeup on Sunday. Each can have a different alarm tone as well. There’s also a timer and stopwatch function (with split time).

Corporate and personal email. This is one big plus in my book. All of the smart phones I’ve used had a real problem with setting up email access, and nearly all of them struggled to keep up with contacts. The iPhone simply rocks in this department. When I initially activated and synced to a PC, it did sync my corporate contacts from Outlook at work. I was pleased with this at the time. When I got home I started thinking about the iPod features and decided to resync with my Mac. I initially thought that it would be a shame to loose that contact sync at work, but I would rather have the tunes, pics and videos from home instead. Here’s another reason Apple rocks (MS too with Entourage). ITunes syncs with Apples address book, and the address book can be configured to sync with an Exchange server. A short time later I had the Mac version of the Cisco VPN client installed on my Mac, and address book set up to sync with the Exchange server at work. Ta-Daaa, the best of both worlds. I then set up Entourage (Outlook for Mac) to access the server at work and all of my contact lists are now in perfect synchronicity. I can add a contact to the iPhone, sync it an the Mac and it syncs to the server at work, which then shows up in Entourage and Outlook at the office. Also, I can add a contact at work, or in Entourage, and it will sync down to the phone. One seamless contact list no matter where I go. So what about email? The iPhone easily handles setting up pop retrieval from nearly all pop servers I’ve tried. it also supports Exchange natively. However, it is a pull sync from exchange, not an Exchange push sync. This isn’t a big deal since the Treo was a pull as well. Windows mobile I believe is a push, but I’ve had numerous problems at work with the Windows mobile devices. Still, having the iPhone set up for Exchange and not pop retrieval is a pretty nice feature. If you delete something in the Inbox in Outlook, it will disappear on the next poll on the iPhone. It took me a little while to get the calendars to sync globally, but it is possible. I needed to update Office 2004 (Mac) to 11.3.3 (latest as of tonight) to get the sync services up to date so that it will sync with iCal, and thus sync to the iPhone. HERE is the blog post that got me pointed in the right direction (thank you Ted for the post). I set the sync services to merge the calendars and it now syncs both ways (iPhone -> Exchange -> iPhone). Very handy, but it needs syncing with the Mac to work. I think the calendar feature might suffer the same limitation when syncing with a PC as well (having to dock it to sync the calendar, but with less hoop jumping involved on the PC). But as it is, It’s working flawlessly. I now have my corporate email, contacts and calendar events syncing to the iPhone.

Now, for the bad news. The Bluetooth has some very serious limitations. The only thing the BT on the iPhone supports is hands free phone headset, but not stereo headset support for audio from the iPod, BT keyboard input, BT GPS support or BT file push. I’ve read that this is due to the BT stack being seriously hamstrung. I have all of these goodies which I use mostly on the Sony UX180, but it would have been nice to have the keyboard work so I could bang out some emails and blog posts, or the stereo headset for the iPod and phone features. Another apparent drawback to using the BT is the battery drain. I forgot and left the BT turned on today, and nearly drained the iPhone battery through the course of the day just listening to music for about four hours. Seems that I remember reading about this somewhere on the net. After today, it seems like they were right. At the very least, it would have been nice to be able to turn the BT on, do a vCard squirt and turn it off to save battery. Hopefully that will be in an upcoming firmware update.

Another drawback that I did not touch on earlier is the fact that the camera does not take video, only stills. You would think that Apple, creator of the awesome h.264 mp4 video format would have the made the iPhone capable of taking mp4 videos that would sync back to the iTunes library. That would have made the price tag a little more bearable. Hopefully that too will be included in an update.

The iPhone does not show up as a flash drive on either Mac or PC. I have no idea why this is, but it kind of bites.

Ring tones are limited with the canned ones that come on the device. Bad move Apple. Make an app that will allow users to customize this. I had one I bought from Cingular that was part of the soundtrack from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. I loved that ring tone, but it’s now a thing of the past (DOA on the Razr). There is a hack for adding custom ring tones, but there is the possibility of bricking the iPhone, and I just don’t feel like taking the risk.

As stated before, no ability to install software. This includes a reader for PDF files, and a flash interpreter to support websites that have embedded flash media (YouTube native especially). I have not tried to view embedded, or linked, mov/mp4 videos, so I can’t say if those work or not.

Conclusion: In my opinion, the iPhone is the best smartphone on the market, even with the shortcomings. It does what I want it to do. That is, get email, keep one consolidated calendar and contact list, provide video iPod functionality, browse most of the internet, and allow me to talk to people on the phone. It isn’t the computer in your palm that Apple touts, but it is far ahead of the other smart phones on the market. If I need to get on a “full bore” computer while I’m mobile, I’ll whip out the Sony UX (yes, it has Edge cellular too). But all in all, I love my iPhone for what it is, ’cause it does what it does very well.

2 Responses to “iPhone – Pros and Cons”

  1. Maydog75 says:

    Cool Review W! I can’t wait to drop test the bitch. Sounds like another instance of Apple being rushed to the plate but still putting out technology light years ahead of the game. They will fix those problems on the IPhone V2. I think I’ll wait ’till you get that one and buy your old one!
    BTW What fucking lottery numbers did you play?

  2. nofuelheli says:

    Nice post i will admit though the sandman got me for about 20 min right in the middle. I always fall asleep reading on the computer. WIerd.

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