The Apple iPhone's UK launch date is just around the corner but, after all the build-up, is it worth your hard-earned cash? We found out whether the iPhone lives up the hype by testing it against two of its closes rivals - the Nokia N95 and HTC Touch.

Apple has finally announced the UK release date for the iPhone – British consumers can get their hands on the highly anticipated handset on 9 November. But, as all technology junkies know, the hype surrounding new products often doesn't match the reality. So it's fair to ask: is the iPhone as good as they say? In particular, does the device's much-discussed touchscreen interface really make using the iPhone simpler and more intuitive?

Everybody will have an opinion, but what's needed is something more objective and definitive. So we asked an expert in the field – usability consulting firm Perceptive Sciences – to compare Apple's new baby to two of its rivals.

The results of the tests were unequivocal: while the iPhone is not the most feature-rich device, when it comes to usability, Apple's handset lives up to its hype.

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The phones

Besides the iPhone, the two other products in this usability comparison test were selected for two reasons: they were already on sale and they had competitive feature sets.

In particular, the testers needed a touchscreen phone to compare to the iPhone and a more traditional button-based phone with strong multimedia capabilities.

The most obvious contender is the HTC Touch, a Windows Mobile device that has both standard button-based navigation and touchscreen capabilities. This device has a 2.8in screen, 240x320 resolution and a 2Mp (megapixel) camera. It also supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

HTC Touch review here

Nokia's N95, based on the Series 60 variant of the Symbian platform, provides the more traditional type of button-based navigation only, but it's a multimedia powerhouse. It boasts a 5Mp camera and can create
VGA-quality 30fps (frames per second) video. It supports many types of media playback and has a long list of other features including built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS – the test device even came with a barcode reader. It has a 2.6in 240x320-pixel display.

Nokia N95 review here

Obviously, Apple's iPhone is the best known of the three devices. It has received much attention for its 3.5in 320x480 display and its touchscreen interface – you use your fingers for most tasks. It's based on the Mac OS X
and comes with a built-in 2Mp camera.

Apple iPhone - the definitive UK review here

The tests

Perceptive Sciences designed this test to be as objective as possible, according to researchers Tom Thornton and Tim Ballew. This is particularly important, they said, because of the high level of attention the iPhone has received; it would be easy for that hype to influence the results of more subjective tests.

The company brought in 10 testers who had never used any of the three devices. They were asked to perform a series of tasks on each device with quantifiable results, such as the time needed to find and use the on/off switch. Other tasks included setting the phone to vibrate, making a call, saving a phone number to the contact list, sending a brief email, taking a photo and finding a website using the device's built-in browser.

Based on the test results and Thornton and Ballew's observations, each phone was given a score of between one and five (five being the highest) in five categories.

It's important to remember that these are usability tests, not tests of functionality. Perceptive Sciences took a broad look at the features on each phone, but generally they were interested in user-friendliness. For instance, the Nokia N95 is justly famous for its strong feature set. But did this contribute to or detract from overall usability?

It's also important to note that the tests focused on how easy it was to pick up the device and use it out of the box. "People can eventually learn to use any device," Ballew said. "But that's not true usability. We wanted to see how long it took to work out how to use the phones. That's the difference between learnability and usability."

The results

In terms of usability, the iPhone blew away its two competitors. Its overall score in the usability tests was 4.6. The HTC Touch was a distant second with a mark of 3.4, while the Nokia N95 scored just 3.2.

"Testers were typically able to perform specific tasks about twice as quickly on the iPhone, which is pretty remarkable," Thornton said.

On the following pages we've prepared a breakdown of how each device scored in the five sometimes-overlapping categories, along with comments from the researchers.

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The Apple iPhone's UK launch date is just around the corner but, after all the build-up, is it worth your hard-earned cash? We found out whether the iPhone lives up the hype by testing it against two of its closes rivals - the Nokia N95 and HTC Touch.


Navigation refers to how simple it is to make your way through the operating system and how easy it is to find and select specific applications. The clear winner in this category was the iPhone. One reason for iPhone's high marks is its simplicity, Ballew explained.

"It has one top-level menu, and it has only one button, which lessens the learning curve," he said.

The HTC Touch did reasonably well in this department. It uses Windows Mobile, which looks and acts somewhat like the familiar desktop Windows. People can choose between standard Windows Mobile navigation and using the device's touchscreen capabilities.

The Nokia N95, on the other hand, suffered from too much complexity, even for basic tasks. "People had a hard time turning it on," Thornton said. "Only 30 percent of our sample group could switch it on right away."

And once turned on, navigation was confusing to some users.

"You can access different menus from different locations, which can be disorienting," Ballew said. "And common features are hard to find – turning the sound down, putting it on vibrate, things like that."


Usability is similar to navigation, but it specifically refers to how intuitive and pleasing the interface is. This category also includes such issues as how clearly icons are labelled and how easy it is to find applications and files.

Once again, the iPhone received perfect marks.

"The iPhone's touchscreen feature makes it fun to use," Ballew said.

"What's more, the screen layout is simple and intuitive and most of the labels are clear. And the file structure is transparent – you don't see a list of files unless you go into iPod functionality. Even then, a lot of people are familiar with iPod functionality."

The HTC Touch, by contrast, was confusing to some users. "Its icons are small, hard to see and not particularly intuitive," Thornton said. "It was hard for people to see the keyboard and to type, while the screen isn't brilliant. Testers tended to have far more visual trouble with the HTC Touch than with the iPhone."

Some testers even had trouble making a phone call with the HTC Touch, Ballew said.

While the Touch had some rocky aspects in this category, the Nokia N95 was almost uniformly difficult to use for beginners. "Some of the button functionality and labelling wasn't intuitive," Ballew said. "And there were external problems such as the power button being hard to find and use and the camera not functioning as expected – that really hurt its score."

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The Apple iPhone's UK launch date is just around the corner but, after all the build-up, is it worth your hard-earned cash? We found out whether the iPhone lives up the hype by testing it against two of its closes rivals - the Nokia N95 and HTC Touch.


Ergonomics refers to such issues as size, weight and shape, as well as the placement of switches and buttons and the quality of the display. Once again, the iPhone led the way in this category – but not as decisively as before.

"The iPhone is nice and thin, but it's otherwise a bit large," Ballew said. A minor concern is that there's no tactile feedback from the iPhone screen, he added.

Overall, the HTC Touch scored well in this category, but with some caveats. "There are a limited number of buttons, which is a good thing," Ballew said. "The screen is pretty small, though, and the display isn't that good."

The Nokia N95 has a solid, satisfying feel, the testers said. "It's fat, but it's pretty light. And it has a fully fledged camera," Ballew said. "The display is nice, too."

Look and feel

Look and feel refers to subjective issues such as the device's aesthetic appeal, how pleasing various graphical design elements are and its colour and style. Once again, the iPhone received perfect marks.

"It's clean and plain, and that large screen increases the appeal," Ballew said. "It has a minimalist design, which made people feel it was a high-end phone."

The Nokia N95 didn't trail far behind the iPhone in terms of look and feel.

"The outside look of the Nokia is very nice," Ballew said. "And incorporating a fully fledged camera makes it seem high-end. On the inside, it has nice animated icons. So the look and feel is pretty nice."

The HTC Touch suffered because its screens were sometimes confusing. "The home page is different to the start menu, which is confusing," Thornton said. This problem is shared by virtually all Windows Mobile devices.


Functionality refers to what some consider the bread and butter of the device – its applications and how complex and customisable they are. It also refers to the quality of subsystems within the device, such as the camera.

In this area, the Nokia was the clear leader.

Ballew was impressed by the N95's feature set, but pointed out that this contributed to its relatively poor usability scores in previous categories.

"It's right on the verge of 'feature bloat'," he said.

"I'm not sure when I'd ever use the barcode scanner. And some of the features are hard to set up."

In particular, it took four hours for testers to set up Wi-Fi on the N95 – a fast, simple task on both the HTC Touch and the iPhone.

The HTC Touch also did well in the functionality category, as do most Windows Mobile devices. "You can easily add new applications or widgets," Ballew said.

"The screen quality probably decreased the ability to use some of the functionality, however."

By contrast, this is one area in which the iPhone did not excel, with Ballew criticising the device's feature set.

"The camera functionality, for example, is pretty basic. We're starting to see more third-party apps, but they're web-based, and some aren't very good."

However, Thornton stressed that some of the iPhone's functionality was extremely well implemented. The bottom line in this category is that there often are trade-offs between the impressive features and the usability.

Quick links

The Apple iPhone's UK launch date is just around the corner but, after all the build-up, is it worth your hard-earned cash? We found out whether the iPhone lives up the hype by testing it against two of its closes rivals - the Nokia N95 and HTC Touch.

The phones

APPLE'S iPHONE proved the simplest device for testers to get to grips with. Typically, they were able to perform tasks twice as quickly on the iPhone as on the two handsets we compared it with. The one area that the iPhone didn't excel was in functionality, with only a basic camera and a limited feature set.

Navigation: 5
Look and feel: 5
Usability: 5
Functionality: 3.5
Ergonomics: 4.5

Overall: 4.6



NOKIA N95: The 5Mp camera marked out the Nokia N95 as a high-end, desirable product, but testers had trouble setting up the Wi-Fi on this phone. Also, while they liked its design, they found navigation an issue, not least because Nokia has crammed in so many features.

Navigation: 2.5
Look and feel: 4.5
Usability: 2
Functionality: 4.5
Ergonomics: 3

Overall: 3.2

Nokia N95

Nokia N95

HTC TOUCH: A poor-quality screen and smallish icons let down the HTC Touch, although its strong feature set and easy Wi-Fi set up were commended. Being based on the Windows Mobile operating system meant some items were familiar – but testers weren’t convinced by the touchscreen.

Navigation: 4
Look and feel: 3
Usability: 3
Functionality: 3.5
Ergonomics: 3.5

Overall: 3.4



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