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Apple's iPhone was released in June 07, and - as anticipated - has quickly become an industry-paradigm changing device.

A gorgeous design, lovely screen and clever user interface give the phone great 'sex appeal', in keeping with Apple's reputation for innovative and state of the art design and user-friendliness.

Unfortunately, for 'power users' the glamour of the iPhone is skin deep, with dismaying limitations to the functionality offered.

 
 
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Apple 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 usefulness.

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 usefulness.

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 purchasers.

Will you be satisfied with the iPhone?  Read on to find out.

The Apple iPhone - What you get

The 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 included.

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.

Stereo Headset

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 the world.

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 charger.

You can also charge the phone by plugging the cable into a USB port on your computer.

Documentation

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 pdf format 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 Invisible Shield 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 the phone.

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 also visit

1.  About the iPhone in General
2.  Using the iPhone
3.  iPhone limitations and should you buy one

4.  The iPhone 3G - what's new and what's different
5
Competitors to the iPhone

6.  The Verizon iPhone 4

 

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Originally published 22 Feb 2008, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
Related Articles
About the Apple iPhone in general
Using the iPhone
iPhone limitations and should you buy one
The iPhone 3G - what's new and different
Verizon's iPhone 4 part 1
Verizon's iPhone 4 part 2
Competitors to the iPhone
Should you choose an iPhone or Android phone series

How to Choose extra Apps for your iPhone
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About Bluetooth
How to Choose a Bluetooth Headset


 


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