iPhone Experience

Impressions after a few days with my iPhone:

First of all, realize that I think the most practical piece of computer hardware to come along in the last ten years are Palm PDAs, and the only thing they have over the Apple Newton is that they’re faster, and they fit easily into my pocket. I use them to store my calendar, my address list, and (most importantly) my extensive want list of comics, books, CDs, and other items I collect. And I can back up the data onto my computer (which is critical in all three cases).

By contrast, I have fairly little use for a mobile phone: I’ve had a low-end phone for a while, but I mainly use it to coordinate with Debbi, and in case of emergencies. I don’t use it for work, and I sometimes forget to take it with me, and rarely miss it. So it’s handy, but far from essential. I use my land line far more than I use my cell phone.

So I suspect I’m an unusual customer for an iPhone. On the other hand, since I was gifted with one I was certainly interested enough to activate it (and even paid an early-cancellation fee on my existing phone to do so!).

The hardware is nice: The form factor is fine for a handheld computer, a little taller and narrower than my PDA, and a lot thinner. As a phone it feels funky, a solid rectangular object, but I’m used to a clamshell enclosure that curves around my cheek and where the mike is closer to my mouth. I’ll probably get used to that difference.

The glass screen is surprisingly durable, I’d expected I’d scratch it within the first few days of use, but it’s still pristine. I tend to carry my stuff in my pockets rather than in a belt holster, so I bought a MarWare Sidewinder for it. It comes with a belt clip and a wrap for the earphones, as well as a clear film for the screen, which seems to work well. (Note to self and others: When applying plastic film to iPhone, do so in a cat-hair-free zone.)

Voice quality seems fine, although I think my old Verizon service was somewhat clearer. My impression is that voice quality will vary widely depending on where you are and, well, your personal preference. People seem very opinionated when it comes to wireless services.

Making calls is really slick and easy: Just find someone in your address book and hit their number. Or dial a number. And it brings up a palette of several options while a call is in progress, so you don’t have to remember what button to hit to put a call on speakerphone.

The user interface is responsive enough that I almost never feel like I’m waiting for the phone to do anything, although sometimes I do wait for it to get data from the network.

The “mechanical” aspects of the UI work well for me: My fingers aren’t small (though they’re not huge), and I find the general buttons and the pop-up keyboard to both be pretty easy to use. I’m getting better with the keyboard: Mainly I had to train myself to hold the phone level, rather than at a slight tilt to the side, and that made keypunching much more accurate. That’s a much easier hill to climb than, say, learning Graffiti. I rarely have to hit anything twice because I “missed” the first time, but I do sometimes. Not enough to annoy me. On the other hand, I have a hard time seeing myself doing extensive typing (e.g., journal entries of any length) from the phone.

Scrolling is simple, and the zoom gesture is really cool.

Network connectivity: WiFi connectivity is easy to set up (although if you have a 14-character password for your home network, like I do, then typing it in while you’re still getting used to the keyboard is a bit tricky; it took me three tries), and the phone is good at locating a network when it’s in a new location. EDGE connections feel (to me) to be about half as fast as WiFi, which is fast enough to look up maps, but a bit slow for surfing the web.

Google Maps is the killer app on the iPhone. It’s got the street maps, satellite view, traffic info (depending on your location), easy scrolling and zooming, directions, and bookmarks. It’s the first feature of the phone I used which made me glad to have the phone: When we went minigolfing on Saturday and found our destination was closed, I looked up the location of a nearby minigolf course which I’d seen, and found directions for it. It’s easy to envision finding other destinations in the same way (one of the iPhone ads already does so).

The Safari web browser is pretty handy, although I suspect it has some subtleties I have yet to figure out. I had some early problems with it crashing on me several times, but it’s stopped. I did reboot the phone when it happened, so maybe that cleared up whatever the glitch was.

Mail is a nice convenience, although it’s not something I really need. Since it doesn’t have mailbox filters, you’ll need server-side filters in order to make good use of it. Unfortunately, my Dreamhost e-mail (i.e., the address for this site) requires a security certificate to access, and I can’t find a way to set up such a thing on the iPhone. That’s a bummer.

The biggest weakness of the iPhone, for me, is that you can’t synchronize the Notes to your computer. As I said above, I keep extensive notes on my PDA, mainly for my collecting hobbies (but for other things too), so this is the biggest obstacle to my simply replacing my PDA with the iPhone. Because I simply can’t afford to lose this data. I could perhaps create a Web page with the info and access that with the phone, but then I couldn’t really add to it while I’m out shopping. Hopefully this will be one of the first issues to be addressed.

(To be fair, I haven’t dived very deep to see if there are ways to work around these issues. Maybe there are. I’m not real interested in “hacking” my phone, however.)

Syncing addresses and music is exactly as trivial as you’d expect it would be. Mail accounts, calendars and Safari bookmarks all gets synced, too.

I haven’t used the camera, photo albums, voice mail or text messaging much yet. I haven’t used the calendar at all (until I can replace my PDA with the phone I may keep using it for my calendar). I also haven’t really used it as an iPod yet, although Cover Flow is a pretty nifty way to scan through all your music on the thing.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the phone: It’s useful as a phone, it’s very useful as a map program, and its has a lot of other features come in handy from time-to-time. While I really wish it could sync Notes, it’s still very polished for a first-generation piece of hardware.

Oh, and the first software update for the phone is available.