We have been putting the Apple iPhone to the test ever since it was launched in the UK. Here’s our verdict on Apple’s mobile phone and iPod, couple with the contract that O2 insists you take out.
One area where EDGE functions perfectly well though is with the built-in applications. The Stocks, Weather, Google Maps and - most importantly - Mail, all work without a glitch under EDGE, and perform adequately under GPRS. Even YouTube videos play back reasonably well under EDGE (although the iPhone doesn’t allow you to load YouTube videos under GPRS).
Of course, the presence of Google Maps throws up another missing feature of the iPhone, the lack of built-in GPS (Global Positioning System). Unlike 3G this feature is hardly ubiquitous in mobile phones, however, it’s very much a consumer technology of the moment and is a big selling point of the iPhone’s main rival, the Nokia N95 (which we notice now comes with 8GB of built-in memory to directly match the iPhone.)
The style matters
But for all these failings, the iPhone has met with almost universal acclaim in the Macworld office. While it may be sorely missing some features, the large screen, multi-touch input, effective email, fantastic web browser and the wonderful animated interface (Core Animation and the stripped-down OS X system at work) make up for a lot of shortcomings. While the iPhone lacks the many features found on other phones, it offers something in abundance that no other phone on the market possesses - style.
Of course, this opens up the handset to accusations of style over substance; that the large screen and animated menu gloss over what is a fairly standard device. But we’re not convinced the style of the iPhone interface is a bad, or even insignificant thing. While the fantastic menu design gives the iPhone a visual flair we’d associate with Apple, it also provides a level of interaction sorely missing in other mobile phones.
Your finger does almost all the navigation, because the iPhone has only four hardware buttons. Once you power it up, sliding your finger across the screen unlocks the phone. Pinching, a two-finger movement, zooms the part of the screen framed by the pinch. Flick or drag your finger to scroll through menus or web pages. The screen will auto-rotate content between landscape and portrait mode, depending on which application you’re using.
For any feature that requires text input, the iPhone displays an on-screen keyboard that you can toggle between qwerty text keys and numbers/symbols. It’s still no match for the hardware keyboard you get on a BlackBerry or Treo, but it certainly beats any standard mobile phone keypad.
Most importantly, perhaps, the iPhone works well as a phone. Touch-screen dialling is easy enough, although getting to a numeric keypad requires two taps of the phone icon (the first tap just brings up your contacts). We found this two-step process annoying when attempting to dial a number directly. The iPhone lacks voice dialling, and we’re not convinced we could successfully dial blind, as we can on a hardware keypad.
Most calls sounded good, although the speakerphone is faint (as are the headphones when used for audio calling, oddly). The device also gets overly warm with constant use, and you’ll need to wipe smudges from the glass screen frequently with the included cloth. The screen is smart enough to darken and deactivate some controls while you’re on a call, so you don’t accidentally press something with your cheek. We also loved the visual voicemail feature, because it lets you choose which voice messages (identified by number or address-book name) to listen to first. However, we wish that the phone also had multimedia messaging and instant messaging capabilities (it allows SMS text messaging, of course).
The SMS text messaging uses an iChat style interface, which comes as a revelation. Never before has SMS chat been so great to look at, and so easy to perform. The only problem is that - like the free iChat - it encourages you to text away, which stands at odds with the measly 200 free text messages included in the basic £35 per month contract. After they’re used up you will be paying 12p a text - or be forced to upgrade to the £45 a month contract to get 500 free texts.
Visual Voicemail is another impressive feature, albeit in a less immediately dynamic way than mobile internet or email. After setting up the system it records missed calls and messages in an email style interface. It enables you to quickly skim through messages to home in on the one you want, which is a much faster and more impressive system than phoning up your voicemail and pressing the delete button endlessly.
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