It took me a while to get this iPhone review up, since I was busy driving back to the Apple Store and exchanging my new, slightly-defective iPhone for another.
Although I was super eager to explore my new gadget and write up an iPhone review, the iPhone I originally purchased had something loose in the USB port that brought it out of charge mode with even the slightest movement of the USB cable, so I was forced to return it.
I was the first person to go back to the store to report an iPhone-related problem, they told me, so the issue is most likely a rare one.
I’m not going to lie, though: the hassle of going back to the Apple Store was almost worth the thrill of unboxing two shiny new iPhones yesterday.
Click on images in my iPhone review to see them full-size.
The iPhone and I first meet in the Apple Store in Miami, Florida at 6:30pm. A friendly Apple Store employee introduces us:
I purchased the iPhone for a total of $640.93, including sales tax.
iPhone Review & Unboxing
iPhone in Box
iPhone Box Contents
All the contents of the iPhone package fit nice and snugly inside the box.
iPhone & Included Accessories
The iPhone comes with a charging dock, a USB cable, an outlet charger and a pair of headphones with built-in microphone.
Starting Up iPhone
Upon activating the iPhone, a futuristic-looking Apple logo appears on the screen. The iPhone is now powered on.
There’s no denying it: the Apple iPhone is fun. It packs all your favorite widgets in one super-portable device, and it’s got some great functionality — most notably: the iPhone’s multi-touch screen, an accelerometer, and an on-screen keyboard. But the iPhone is not without flaws.
Continue reading my iPhone review for a full breakdown of the iPhone’s features, its downsides, and what you might expect if & when you get your own Apple iPhone.
Also in my iPhone review: I’ve addressed the questions you asked about the iPhone (see underlined sentences in the review).
Press the power button atop the iPhone and in precisely 16 seconds you’ll be at the home screen, where you can choose from 16 icons, each of which opens up a powerful widget.
1. iPhone SMS Text Messaging
The iPhone’s text widget is as seamless as you’d expect it to be. It lets you track conversations with any given person, separating her words and yours by silver and green speech bubbles.
So instead of clicking into and out of your text inbox and outbox and trying to remember the sequence of your conversations, iPhone’s SMS app shows all the text messages between you and a particular person at once, on the same page. All you have to do is flick through it.
iPhone’s SMS tool makes it seem obvious that that’s how SMS text messaging should be.
So what about the on-screen keyboard? I’m with Walt Mossberg on this one. iPhone’s keyboard at first makes you feel like giving up. The keys are small and the spell correction doesn’t always guess the word you had in mind – though it’s pretty accurate nevertheless, and you can probably expect it to become smarter in time, reducing errors caused by mistaps.
As you touch the virtual keys, the letters become magnified. If you see when a key is magnified that you tapped the wrong one, you can slide your finger (without lifting it) over to the correct key and let go of it to select it.
As I use the keyboard more, I find myself making less mistakes. If Mossberg is correct, I’ll be typing away like a pro in 5 days.
One downside for me about iPhone’s keyboard in the SMS widget is that it cannot be used in landscape mode. This is the case for most of the widgets that use the on-screen keyboard, except for the Safari browser (see point #15).
Another bummer about iPhone’s SMS app is the lack of a copy/paste feature. If you enter text in the wrong field by accident, for example, you can’t move it over to another field. Your only option is to rewrite it.
At first, I had some trouble figuring out how to move the blinking cursor in between letters in order to correct typos.
For example, say you spell thanks ‘thnks’ by accident, how do you move the blinking cursor in between the ‘h’ and the ‘n’ to insert an ‘a’?
Then I realized that if you tap and hold the word you’d like to correct, a magnifying glass appears, letting you move to the desired letter within the word. Pretty cool.
A potential privacy issue with iPhone’s SMS text messaging feature: when you receive a text message, no matter what you’re doing on the iPhone, the name of the sender pops up on the screen, along with their message. To my knowledge, there’s no way to keep the content of incoming text messages tucked away.
This was a bad idea on Apple’s part. Imagine you’re showing off your iPhone to a group of people — if you’re an early adopter, it’s gonna happen a lot, I promise — or someone else is navigating with Google Maps while you drive, and you receive a text message about something you’d rather be kept private. It will show up on the display.
Some messages you just don’t want people seeing, which is why Apple needs to allow the option to keep text messages where they belong… in the SMS app. (Update: Here is a workaround I discovered.)
2. iPhone Calendar
The iPhone calendar lets you organize your schedule by month and by day, to the hour. Just tap the day or hour you wish to work with and tweak preferences like titles, locations, start and end times and alert settings for each event.
Setting times of the day is easy and fun; just flick two slot machine-style wheels to your desired hour and minute.
You can also view a list of just your upcoming events, instead of a full calendar. The iPhone lacks a Tasks or To-Do list feature, but the calendar can sort of make up for it.
3. iPhone Photos
Tapping the Photos icon takes you to your Photo Albums page, where you can view a Camera Roll (all saved pictures that you’ve snapped from your iPhone camera) and any other albums that you’ve synced through iTunes.
You can scroll through albums, thumbnails and individual photos. The iPhone is very responsive to screen flicks when in the Photos app. You can flick through hundreds of photos pretty quickly if you want to, without any problems.
The multi-touch zoom works well, but it’s best if you use the tips of your fingers. At times placing my fingers flat yielded little response. But I imagine this, too, is a matter of getting used to.
4. iPhone Camera
For dedicated photographers, the iPhone’s camera leaves much to be desired, but the average user will find the photo quality more than acceptable in well-lit situations.
One problem with the iPhone camera is its slight lag time, which several times throughout my iPhone testing and review resulted in blurry photos. Upon taking a photo, you hear a “snap” sound. If the person being photographed moves away too shortly after the “snap” sound, the picture may appear blurry (of course, the more ambient light, the less likely it is that this will happen).
Another disappointment for me about the iPhone camera is its lack of a zoom feature. Most basic camera phones have a zoom feature. Why doesn’t the iPhone? If you want to get a closeup of someone, the only way to do it is to move close up.
5. YouTube on iPhone
YouTube on iPhone is straightforward and simple. It’s basically a list of videos with thumbnails, beneath which there are icons to view featured videos, most viewed videos, bookmarks, video search and more.
One thing lacking is the ability to comment on YouTube videos with the iPhone.
A note about EDGE: streaming videos via AT&T’s EDGE network IS possible, and it’s now FAST, too. AT&T reportedly upgraded its EDGE network right before the iPhone release, and users have been reporting much faster download speeds.
I can confirm that. Loading a 5 and a half minute YouTube video takes just under 10 seconds, and it streams continuously. I’m so happy with the new speed of the EDGE network that I could care less about 3G! (Update: This is no longer the case for me. In fact, EDGE can be rather slow at times. I think it may depend on the area you live in.)
iPhone does not have a video camera, so you can’t record videos straight from your phone and post them on YouTube like some people had hoped. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; imagine the flood of low-quality, low-resolution videos that would permeate YouTube if iPhone’s run-of-the-mill camera recorded video.
(Update: I’ve changed my mind. Read why I think the iPhone should have a video camera.)
6. iPhone Stocks widget
The iPhone’s Stocks app is pretty basic. You can enter a stock symbol and view its progress on a graph in 1-day, 1-week, 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, 1-year or 2-year intervals.
There’s not much more to it. I like the usability of the Stocks app, because it doesn’t require more steps than are necessary, unlike the Phone app, in my opinion. Scroll down to point #13 to see what I mean.
In my opinion, the Stocks app wins the simplicity award, of all the apps I cover in my iPhone review.
7. Google Maps on iPhone
Google Maps on the iPhone works great. Search for any location in the world and find street-by-street directions. You can view maps in Satellite mode, which will literally show you the streets you’re driving on, and when and where to make turns.
Alternatively, you can choose to view a MapQuest-style numbered list of text directions.
As expected, the iPhone does not have GPS. It cannot detect where you are. It simply looks up maps and tells you how to get from place to place.
8. iPhone Weather
The iPhone’s Weather widget, which is powered by Yahoo!, is just what you’d expect. You can program different cities into your iPhone and flick through pages detailing the highs and lows of your favorite cities over a week’s time.
An image of a cloud lets you know the conditions on any given day (sunny, partly cloudy, thunderstorms, etc.). And you can program the widget to show either Fahrenheit or Celsius temperatures. Pretty simple and straightforward.
9, 10 & 11. iPhone Clock, Calculator and Notes
The iPhone’s World Clock displays the local times in cities of your choice. You can add and delete cities, and drag them around to re-order your list.
The clock widget also features an alarm, a stopwatch and a timer that alerts you with your ringtone of choice.
I love the alarm clock’s ability to program and save different alarms, which you can configure to ring on whatever days of the week you want. The iPhone alarm clock also has a snooze feature.
The calculator on the iPhone is perfect. The number buttons and the display are well-sized, and Apple doesn’t add more buttons than it needs to, just your basic arithmetic functions.
iPhone’s Notes widget lets you write down thoughts and ideas, organized within the lines of a yellow notepad. Adding a new note is as simple as tapping the “+” sign and typing it into the keyboard.
New notes are labeled with the date and time when they are written. It’d be nice to have the option to change the dates of notes, though. That would make it more friendly for To-Do lists, since you could organize your schedule for upcoming days.
Alternatively, you can use the iPhone Calendar app to do this, as I mentioned before. But that can be limiting since To-Do lists aren’t necessarily events suited to a calendar.
12. iPhone Settings
From the Settings page, you can adjust sounds and ringtones. Unfortunately, there’s no option to use songs you’ve purchased off iTunes as ringtones. Why not? I think if you pay for the song file, it should be yours to use as you please. Maybe Apple has a ringtones store in the works. (Update: Apple now lets you convert certain songs into ringtones for $0.99 via iTunes.)
If you put the iPhone on silent mode, you can choose whether to keep vibrate mode on or off. While other iPhone reviewers have said iPhone’s vibrate feature is weak, I think it vibrates just the right amount to be felt in a pocket, but not so much that it can be heard by other people. The vibration for text messages, however, is weak.
One thing I can’t figure out is how to set SMS text messages to vibrate mode while calls are on the ring setting. I’ll be disappointed if this option doesn’t exist on the iPhone.
In Settings, you can also adjust your wallpaper, Wi-Fi on/off, phone, Safari and iPod settings and more. It’s just a matter of tapping the setting you’d like to adjust and changing it.
13. The Phone
The iPhone’s phone aspect is great for organizing your contacts (you can sync them from your Yahoo!Mail or Windows Address Book), but in my opinion, the phone requires one-too-many steps to dial a number.
To call one of your friends, you must 1) tap the Phone icon on the home screen, 2) tap the Contacts button at the bottom, 3) tap the name of the person you want to call and 4) tap the number you want to dial.
It’s useful to have individual contact pages for each person, because you can organize phone numbers, home addresses, e-mail addresses and website addresses. But what if I just want to make a call?
Apple should add a small button next to each contact name that allows you to automatically dial that person’s primary phone number. That would allow you the option to not view the rest of the person’s contact info, so you can just make a call. Afterall, the iPhone should be a phone first, and then a sweet media player and organizer.
(Update: After an iPhone software update, you can now double tap the home button to reach your list of favorite contacts. Thanks for the shortcut, Apple.)
The sound clarity of phone calls is average and probably depends on AT&T’s coverage in your area. The volume is adjustable via the buttons on the left of the iPhone.
14. iPhone Mail
The Mail application lets you easily send and receive e-mails, provided that you configure your mail client for POP3 access. If you don’t want to do that, you can simply access your e-mail via the Safari browser.
iPhone’s Mail application can be configured to access numerous mailboxes (from Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL, .Mac Mail and others). iPhone lists your inbox messages very elegantly, with unread messages displaying a blue dot next to them.
I sent an e-mail to my Gmail address from my laptop, and the message appeared in my iPhone inbox several seconds before it appeared on my laptop.
One major drawback of the Mail application is the lack of a mass edit feature. If you want to delete 20 messages, you’re going to have to delete them one-by-one.
Another disappointment is that PDF and Word documents cannot be viewed in landscape mode, since it’s difficult to read and maneuver through condensed text on the iPhone’s upright narrow screen. I couldn’t imagine getting through a full eBook on my iPhone.
(Update: PDF files can now be viewed in landscape mode.)
15. iPhone’s Safari Browser
The iPhone’s Safari browser renders websites almost as it would on the actual Safari browser (some page elements differ slightly), except for its lack of Java and Flash support. Because of AT&T’s EDGE upgrade, I had no problem loading pages quickly when in my car.
Safari loads websites much faster over a Wi-Fi network.
The iPhone’s browser is rotatable, so you can view pages in landscape mode. I like that the on-screen keyboard in the browser can be used in landscape mode as well, since it makes the keys larger and more accessible.
The graphics in the Safari browser are clear and pristine, as you’ve seen them on the iPhone ads. In fact, the iPhone display overall is very color-rich and high-resolution. iPhone’s Safari can also display Chinese fonts and those of other languages.
One feature I love in Safari is the ability to “Share” a web page with a friend via e-mail. This is very much in the spirit of Web 2.0.
You can’t connect a Bluetooth mouse to use within iPhone’s Safari, probably because there is no cursor.
16. iPhone’s iPod
iPhone’s iPod really is the best iPod ever created. It’s easy to flick through albums, songs and videos. And Cover Flow feels like you’re actually sorting through real albums.
The iPod’s volume can be adjusted either with the hardware volume buttons or on the screen.
What I love most about the iPhone’s iPod is that if no headphones are plugged in, songs are played through the iPhone’s speaker, and they sound great! The iPhone speaker is audible enough to set down on the table and listen to with a small group of friends (indoors; outside it’s not so loud).
The iPhone syncs seamlessly with iTunes, but I’ve got to wonder why Apple didn’t integrate a “mini iTunes” on the iPhone for downloading music and video directly from the phone.
(Update: An iPhone software update upgraded the iPhone to include an iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, around the same time the iPod Touch was released.)
*Bonus* – In Line @ the Apple Store
Crowds lined up in front of the Apple Store in Miami’s The Falls shopping plaza.
The Miami Herald published a front-page article on the iPhone headlined: “The iPhone Effect.”
If you found this iPhone review helpful, share it with someone you know.
For more on what’s wrong with the iPhone, read my article, “25 Things Wrong With the iPhone.”