Hands on: Five things I love, and three I don't, about the iPhone

It may not be perfect, but it's darn close

Like many others in the U.S., I finally got my hands on an iPhone last night. While I agree with much of what's already been said about the device, in the short time I've had it, I've tried to find some features, both positive and negative, that may have been missed so far. So if you're trying to decide whether to buy one, or whether to pick between the $499 version with 4GB of memory or the $599 model, with twice the standard RAM, this is for you. (For another early take on the iPhone, see "First look at the iPhone: Tomorrow's technology today.")

Five Things I Love

  1. The screen. It is the best screen you've ever seen on a device this small ... and not just barely. The resolution is perfect for its size, it is noticeably brighter than its competitors, and the viewing angles are simply amazing. Four or five people can all watch a show at the same time, and the people on the sides aren't going to have to squint or lean over to see clearly. I tested this out myself with a YouTube video and five friends in a dimly lit bar. I also had no problem watching a full-length movie for over an hour before I went to sleep last night.

    In addition, the screen is extremely blemish-resistant. After 20 minutes of use with oily fingers, the screen tends to get a bit blurry. One wipe with the enclosed cloth, and the screen is like new. The surface is also firm and crisp. As your finger slides across the screen, it has an evenly smooth surface to work over.

  2. The battery. The iPhone is fairly dense (read: heavy for its diminutive size), and I have a feeling it has a lot to do with that battery. The bright screen has to use a significant amount of wattage, and its wireless capabilities and operating system also take a hit. But the battery lasts forever. After watching YouTube videos for a few hours, browsing the Web and making some calls with the Bluetooth headset, the battery wasn't even half gone. Other phones would be sitting on the charging station by this point.
  3. YouTube. This is the killer app for this phone (so long as you have Wi-Fi and don't have to rely on AT&T's EDGE network). The quality is many times better than the flash videos you're likely used to from a desktop Web browser. Without knowing for sure, I would bet that a lot of the videos shown have been encoded by YouTube/Google at or above the iPhone's native 480-by-320-pixel resolution. The special YouTube for iPhone application is also very intuitive. As more and more YouTube movies make their way onto the H.264/iPhone-compatible format, this will only become more popular. Again, YouTube plus the iPhone = killer app.
  4. Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Yes, you can open Word, Excel and PDF files in Quick Look, but you can't edit them. Never fear, Google docs and Spreadsheets do work on the iPhone. Who needs Microsoft Office now? With the spanning and pinching abilities you have on this browser, you may forget that you ever needed separate office applications to do simple office tasks.
  5. Google Reader. Yes, there is a lot of Google in the iPhone. You could almost call it the GPhone ... or has that moniker been taken? Anyway, Google Reader on a laptop? Awesome for keeping up to date with your feeds. On the iPhone, it's a fantastic home page to begin your browsing experience.

Three Things I Don't Love

It's not all love for iPhone, though I wouldn't call these concerns deal-breakers. You've probably already heard various pundits talk about slow EDGE network speeds, no replaceable battery, no iChat, the lack of tactile feedback on the keyboard, the high cost for both the iPhone and the data and, oh my, the two-year AT&T lock-in. I have some less obvious complaints.

  1. The iPhone is not for Unix people. Apple always touts its Unix roots when noting the security and scalability of Mac OS X. There has always been a command-line interface in Mac OS X (the Terminal app) since it was first released as Cheetah. There's nothing like this on the iPhone. I hope Apple will release something down the road to fill this gap. Until then, maybe an enterprising application builder can figure out a way to get an external Secure Shell client to work in Safari. Also, there is no tilde on the keyboard. That is going to stop some Unix geeks in their tracks when deciding whether to buy an iPhone. As discussed elsewhere already, the multitouch virtual keyboard is not made for lots of typing, and the predictive texting isn't going to help when typing Unix commands.
  2. Even though it is small, it is heavy. A few of the people I was with last night remarked that it was much heavier than it looked. While this gave them a sense that it is a solid piece of machinery, it also would preclude them from putting it in their shirt pockets. The petit bunch will also have issues with it jumbling around their pockets and would instead opt for carrying the device in a briefcase or purse.
  3. The docking station is old-fashioned. No progress has been made on a docking station since the original iPod docks debuted. By now, I'd expect to see the iPhone synching wirelessly or at least have some Space Age charging dock that would snap in via magnets or charge like an electric toothbrush. The current dock requires great aim in getting the charger in the iPhone port. Once in, it is a bit sticky coming out and may require that you hold down the dock as you pull up on the phone. The iPhone Dual Dock is available with the Bluetooth headset, which allows you to charge both the iPhone and the headset at the same time.

Although you can always find faults with even the best of devices, this is a sick piece of tech -- sick as in great. Its interface is indeed far ahead of the competition; this is the future of portable communications and entertainment. The hardware matches this experience, stuffing an impossibly large number of features into one of the slimmest phones on the planet. Yes it has a couple of shortcomings, but it is so much closer to perfect than its nearest rivals that it is hard not to justify buying out your current phone contract and making a beeline to the nearest Apple Store to join the iPhone crowd.

Seth Weintraub is a global IT management consultant specializing in the technology needs of creative organizations, including The Paris Times, Omnicom and WPP Group. He has set up and managed cross-platform networks on four continents and is an expert in Active Directory/Open Directory PC and Macintosh integration.

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