Apple's much-hyped second generation 3G iPhone landed in the UK on July 11. Here's PC Advisor's first review of the Apple iPhone 3G.
Check your mail
We're treating email separately to other internet applications, because we think this is an area that needs particular attention.
At the moment the king of mobile email is RIM with its BlackBerry platform. The BlackBerry, it's fair to say, is an email device that's had other functionality tacked on the back for good measure. It could similarly be argued that the iPhone 3G's email functionality feels a little bit tacked on.
On the BlackBerry, you have your choice of seeing all your messages from all your accounts (plus SMS) in one big inbox, or having them separated out into separate lists. If you choose the latter, you can go straight to each separate inbox from its own icon on the main screen.
On the iPhone 3G, however, you have to have all your accounts separate, and you access them by clicking on the Mail icon on the main screen. Clicking on that brings up the various different accounts, and you tap the account you want and then tap 'Inbox' to see your new messages — three clicks to achieve what you can do on the BlackBerry in one. For a company that prides itself on user interface design, this is a problem.
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Of course it's no problem at all if you only have one email account, so let's move on.
When reading a message, you have five icons at the bottom of the screen: a circular arrow for 'refresh' (useful if an email is taking a while to load); a folder with an arrow on it for 'move to a new folder'; a trash can; an arrow pointing up and to the left, universally understood to mean 'reply'; and a square with a line in it, which means 'compose a new message'.
The 'move to a new folder' option is only useful if you have an IMAP account and you've created folders using your desktop computer. There's no way to create new folders using the iPhone. Or at least none that we could find. If you have a POP account, you have the Inbox, Sent Items and Trash. And that's it.
You may notice that we didn't list an icon there for forwarding a message. We puzzled over that one, until we discovered that tapping the 'reply' icon gives three options: Reply, Reply All and Forward. It's not quite of the order of clicking Start to shut down, but it's getting there.
We mention the placement of the 'compose new message' icon because in the email application it's in the lower righthand corner of the screen. In the SMS application it's in the upper right corner of the screen. In the email application the upper-right corner of the screen is either arrows for moving between messages or, if you're in a list view, it's the 'Edit' button for deleting or moving messages en masse. Having the 'compose' function in one app in the identical location to where one finds the 'delete' function in another app seems a bit un-Apple to us.
The ability to delete and move emails en masse is a new feature of the iPhone 3G email client. We can tell you that an email client that has no mechanism for marking a message as read without actually opening it (such as, for instance, the iPhone 3G) is irritating.
And then there's notifications. The BlackBerry allows an incredible amount of customisation in how you're notified that you've received a message. For any given contact, you can specify a different (customisable) sound to play if they send an SMS or to each of your different email accounts, as well as custom ringtones. Some might say the BlackBerry offers a bewildering array of options in that regard, but once you're used to working with them it's useful.
iPhone 3G, on the other hand, lets you set custom ringtones. And that's it. You can choose from a set of pre-installed sounds for SMS notifications, but can't add your own. And for receiving mail you're restricted to one sound and one sound only. You can turn it off if you want.
We could go on, but we won't. The short story is that if Apple wants to compete with RIM for the email power-user market it needs to do a lot better than this. Or if it can't it should let someone else develop a proper email client for the iPhone 3G.
NEXT PAGE: Oh yeah, the iPod > >