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Usability test: Does iPhone match the hype?

Users try out the iPhone, HTC Touch and the Nokia N95

By David Haskin
September 21, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - We all know that in the technology world, the hype about new products often doesn't match reality. So it's fair to ask: Is the iPhone as good as its hype? In particular, does iPhone's much-discussed touch-screen interface really make using the device simpler and more intuitive?

Everybody will have an opinion, but what's need is something more objective and definitive. So an expert in the field -- Perceptive Sciences, an Austin, Texas-based usability consulting firm -- was asked to examine and compare the iPhone and two competitors.

The results of its tests were unequivocal: While the iPhone is not the most feature-rich device, this group of experts found that when it comes to usability, iPhone does, indeed, live up to its hype.

iPhone, HTC, Nokia

The phones

Besides iPhone, the two other products in this usability comparison test were selected for two reasons: They were available, and they had competitive feature sets. In particular, the testers needed a touch-screen phone to compare to the iPhone and a more traditional button-based phone with strong multimedia capabilities.

For now, there are few touch-screen devices available. One that has received a fair amount of publicity is the LG Prada, which is not yet available from a U.S. cellular carrier. LG declined to participate in these tests.


Timothy Ballew, seated, and Tom Thornton of Perceptive Science observe as tester Mindy Cambel tries out a smart phone.

Another is the HTC Touch, a Windows Mobile device that has both standard button-based navigation and touch-screen capabilities. Like the Prada, it isn't offered yet by U.S. carriers, but HTC still agreed to participate in this test. This device is based on the Windows Mobile 6.0 platform, has a 2.8-in., 240-by-320 resolution display and a 2-megapixel camera. It supports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

While the HTC Touch currently isn't available from a U.S. cellular carrier, the company has indicated that it will be before the end of the year. An unlocked GSM version of the Touch is currently available from numerous resellers for between $450 and $600.

Nokia's N95, based on the Series 60 variant of the Symbian platform, provides only the more traditional type of button-based navigation, but it is a multimedia powerhouse. It boasts a 5-megapixel camera and can create VGA-quality, 30-frames-per-second videos. It also supports many types of media playback and has a long list of other features including built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, not to mention a bar-code reader that came with the test device. It has a 2.6-in., 320-by-240 resolution display.

Unlocked versions of the Nokia N95 are available for between $600 and $700.

Obviously, iPhone is the best known of the three devices. It has received much attention for its 3.5-in., 480-by-320 resolution display screen and its touch-screen interface, in which you use finger gestures for virtually all tasks. Based on the Mac OS X, it comes with a built-in 2-megapixel camera.



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