Thông Tin Công Nghệ

Vậy là đã gần một tuần sau khi iPhone đến với công chúng, phần lớn người hâm mộ tại Mĩ đã có trong tay con dế yêu của mình. Bài viết này sẽ đánh giá toàn diện iPhone sau khi đã "sờ tận tay, day tận mặt".

Những tin tức đầu tiên về iPhone xuất hiện tháng 12/2004, khi giới truyền thông loan tin rằng Apple đang hợp tác với Motorola cho một loại điện thoại mới. Khoảng mười tháng sau, dưới cái bóng của iPod, chiếc ROKR E1 lại thất bại ê chề, mối quan hệ với Motorola tan rã. Tiếp tục những lời đồn đại, để rồi tháng giêng năm nay, tại Macworld 2007, Steve lần đầu tiên giới thiệu iPhone, sản phẩm được quảng cáo nhiều nhất trong lịch sử.

Đây là bài đánh giá iPhone nếu bạn cần tìm hiểu.

{mospagebreak title=Phần cứng, giao diện, bàn phím}

The last six months have held a whirlwind of hype surrounding the iPhone the likes of which we've rarely seen; an unbelievable amount of mainstream consumer electronics users -- not just Engadget-reading technology enthusiasts -- instantly glommed onto the idea of a do-it-all smartphone that's as easy to use as it is powerful. The fact is, there's only a very short list of properly groundbreaking technologies in the iPhone (multi-touch input), and a very long list of things users are already upset about not having in a $600 cellphone (3G, GPS, A2DP, MMS, physical keyboard, etc.). If you're prepared to buy into the hype, and thusly, the device, it's important that purchase (and its subsequent two year commitment to AT&T) not be made for features, but for the device's paradigm-shifting interface.

The hardware


Industrial design

We're just going to come out and say it: the iPhone has the most beautiful industrial design of any cellphone we've ever seen. Yes, it's a matter of taste, and while we imagine some won't agree, we find it hard to resist the handset's thoughtful minimalism and attention to detail.

The edges of the beautiful optical-grade glass facade fit seamlessly with its stainless steel rim; the rear is an incredibly finely milled aluminum, with a hard, black plastic strip at the bottom, covering the device's antenna array, and providing small, unsightly grids of holes for speaker and mic audio. On the rear is the slightly recessed 2 megapixel camera lens, a reflective Apple logo, and some information about the device (IMEI, serial, etc.) in nearly microscopic print. (Sorry, iPhone engravings don't seem to be available yet for online customers.)

The iPhone's curves and geometry make it incredibly comfortable to hold. It fits well in the hand horizontally and vertically (completely one-handed operation is a snap in portrait mode), and its slim profile lets it slip into even a tight pocket with little effort. The device feels incredibly sturdy and well balanced -- no end seems any heavier than another. Every edge blends perfectly with the next (which will probably help fight gunk buildup over time), and holding the device to one's ear is comfortable enough, although not as comfortable as, say, the HTC Touch.

Our only real complaint with the device's design isn't one we take lightly: Apple went to the trouble of giving the iPhone a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, but the plug is far too recessed to use most headphones with -- we tested a variety, and were highly unimpressed with how many fit. What's the point of a standard port if it's implemented in a non-standard way? Apple might have at least included an extender / adapter for this, but didn't. Luckily, the iPhone earbuds sound very decent, and also include a minuscule, clicky in-line remote / mic -- but that's not going to alleviate the annoyance for the myriad users with expensive Etys or Shures who have to pay another $10 for yet another small part to lose.

The display

The iPhone features the most attractive display we've ever seen on a portable device of this size, by far and bar none. While its 160ppi resolution isn't quite photorealistic, the extremely bright 3.5-inch display does run at 480 x 320, making it one of the highest pixel-density devices around today (save the Toshiba G900's mind-popping 3-inch 800 x 480 display). But pixel density doesn't necessarily matter, it's how your device uses the screen real estate it's got. Instead of printing microscopic text, as Windows Mobile often does with high resolution displays (see: HTC's Universal and Advantage), iPhone text looks smooth and natural in every application -- everything on-screen is eminently readable.

The screen also provides an excellent outdoor viewing experience. With optical properties reminiscent of transflective displays, the iPhone remains completely readable (if a only bit washed out) even in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, the display's viewing angle left a little something to be desired, and the rumors about the glass face being an absolute fingerprint magnet are totally true: this thing picks up more smudges than almost any touchscreen device we've ever used. Honestly though, we'd attribute this to the fact that unlike most other smartphones, you are exempt from using a stylus on the iPhone's capacitive display, meaning you must touch it with your bare finger to do almost anything.

Thankfully, like the rest of the phone, the glass face feels extremely sturdy, and one should have absolutely no hesitation in wiping it off on their jeans or sleeve -- we've yet to produce a single scratch on the thing, and we understand others testing under more rigorous circumstances (like deliberately trying to key its face up) have also been unable to mar its armor.

The sensors
One of the more unique features in the iPhone is its trio of sensors (orientation, light, and proximity -- the latter two are behind the glass right above the earpiece) which help the device interact with its user and the world at large. Some of these sensors are more useful than others. The light sensor (for dimming the backlight) is great for saving power, but its use doesn't compare to the the other two sensors, which worked like champs. The proximity sensor, which prevents you from accidentally interacting with the screen while the iPhone is pressed against your ear, switches off the display at about 0.75-inches away; the screen switches back on after you pull away about an inch. This very useful automatic process took a little getting used to from us oldschool touchscreen users, who have long since grown accustomed to diligently turning off the screen while on a call, or holding our smartphones to our ear ever so gently.

The orientation sensor also worked well enough. Although you can't turn the phone on its head, when browsing in Safari you can do a 180, jumping quickly from landscape left to landscape right. The iPhone would occasionally find itself confused by the odd angles one sometimes carries and holds devices at, but in general we didn't expect the orientation sensor to work as well as it did.

Button layout

Despite the iPhone's entirely touchscreen-driven interface, all of its external buttons are mechanical and have a distinct, clicky tactility. There is, of course, the home button on the face, which takes you back to the main menu; along the left side of the unit is the volume up / down rocker (which is clearly identifiable by touch), and a ringer on / off switch -- something we wish all cellphones had, but that far too few actually do. Turning off the ringer briefly vibrates the device to let the user know rings are off; it's worth noting that turning the ringer off doesn't turn off all device audio, so if you hit play on a song in iPod mode, audio will still come out the speaker if you don't have headphones inserted.

On the top of the unit is the SIM tray (each unit comes pre-packaged with an AT&T SIM already inserted), which pops out by depressing an internal switch with a paperclip. Finally, the largest perimeter button is the sleep / wake switch, which does as you'd imagine. Press it (and swipe the screen) to wake up the device, or press it to put it to sleep; hold it (and swipe the screen) down to shut it off completely. (You can also use it turn off the ringer - -one click -- or shunt a call to voicemail -- two clicks -- if someone rings you.)

The headphones

The iPhone comes bundled with a standard set of iPod earbuds, but there are two differences from the kind that comes with your regular old iPod. First, these earbuds don't have the small plastic cable separator slide that helps keep your cables from getting tangled. Second, on the right channel cable about halfway up you'll find a very slim, discreet mic / music toggle. When listening to music, click it once to pause, or twice to skip tracks; when a call comes through, click it once to pick up, and again to hang up.

That same in-line piece also picks up your voice for the call, and it sounds pretty good -- some people on the other end of the line said it sounds even better than the iPhone's integrated mic. For those worried that there would be issues with interference, put your mind at ease. We heard absolutely no cell radio interference over the headset, even when we wrapped it four times around the iPhone antenna, and sandwiched it between a second cellphone making a call. The headphones are an essential and amazing accessory that makes the seamless media and phone experiences of the device possible. We only wish Apple managed to integrate an inline volume switch in there too, since that's really the only essential control it lacks.

Unfortunately for us, iPod headphones just don't fit our ears, so no matter how good they may sound, they're unusable since we can't seem keep them in longer than 30 seconds. (We typically prefer canalphones, they can't really go anywhere.) Since the included headphones are the only ones on the market right now that can interact with the iPod function, have an inline mic, and, of course, listen to audio, you're kind of stuck with Apple's buds if you want to get the most out of your iPhone. The same also applies to the expensive phones you invested in, which probably won't fit in the recessed jack anyway: even if you get an adapter, you still won't get the full experience.

Apple's included headphones are about 42-inches long (3.5 feet), just about the perfect length to reach from your pocket to your head with a little extra slack. You'd be surprised how many cellphone manufacturers screw this up with bundled headphones that are way too long, or way too short.

The dock, charging

The included dock is up to par for Apple's typically high standards -- it feels very solid and sturdy with no visible mold lines, and is capped on the bottom by a solid rubber base (with a nearly hidden vent for letting sound in and out of the iPhone's speaker and mic) to keep it in place. On its rear is the usual cable connector and line out. We thought the dock props the iPhone way too vertically -- about 80°, significantly more upright than the stock iPod dock we compared it to. If you're using it on a desk, you'll probably wish Apple angled it back a little so you're not leaning over to fumble with your phone like some miniature monolith.

Charging the iPhone is an easy enough affair. Pulling power from its adapter (and not a computer's USB), we were able to quick-charge it from 0% to 90% in just under two hours, but it took us almost another hour and a half to get that last ten percent. We also twice ran into this weird bug, where charging the iPhone from 0% power would deactivate the screen. The only way to recover was to soft-reset the phone. No big deal, just irritating. It's probably also worth mentioning that going from totally shut off to fully booted, the iPhone is up and running in under 30 seconds.

Other accessories
Apple also includes a microfiber polishing cloth -- a welcome addition, but the device's sturdy glass will stand up to rubs on most of your clothes, so don't bother carrying it along if you're planning to just brush off some dust or residue left by your face / ears / fingers, etc. Also included is an extremely small power brick, and USB connector cable. Worth noting: the iPhone connector cable doesn't include tensioned clips, like most iPod connectors -- just pull it out, nothing messy to get caught and broken, and fewer moving parts in general.

User interface


If there's anything revolutionary, as Apple claims, about the iPhone, it's the user interface that would be nominated. Countless phones make calls, play movies and music, have maps, web browsers, etc., but almost none seem able to fully blend the experience -- which is part of the reason people flipped out at the idea of an iPhone. The device's user interface does all this with panache, but it's not without a number of very irritating issues. Before we get into those issues, however, we should quickly rundown the functions of the iPhone's primarily gesture-based input system.

iPhone gestures
Drag - controlled scroll up / down through lists
Flick - quickly scrolls up / down through lists
Stop - while scrolling, tap and hold to stop the moving list
Swipe - flick from left to right to change panes (Safari, weather, iPod) and delete items (mail, SMS)
Single tap - select item
Double tap - zooms in and out (all apps), zooms in (maps)
Two-finger single tap - zooms out (maps only)
Pinch / unpinch - zoom in and out of photos, maps, Safari

As you can probably already tell, gestures in the iPhone are by no means consistent. By and large one can count on gestures to work the same way from app to app, but swipes, for example, will only enable the delete button in mail and SMS -- if you want to delete selected calls from your call log, a visual voicemail message, world clock, or what have you, you've got to find another way. Swiping left to right takes you back one pane only in iPod, and two-finger single tap only zooms out in Google maps -- none of the other apps that use zooming, like Safari, and photos.

These kinds of inconsistencies are worked around easily enough, but add that much more to the iPhone learning curve. And yes, there is definitely a learning curve to this device. Although many of its functions are incredibly easy to use and get used to, the iPhone takes radically new (and often extremely simplified and streamlined) approaches to common tasks for mobile devices.

Another rather vexing aspect of the iPhone's UI is its complete inability to enable user-customizable themes -- as well as having inconsistent appearances between applications. Users can set their background (which shows up only during the unlock screen and phone calls), but otherwise they're stuck with the look Apple gave the iPhone, and nothing more. This is very Apple, and plays right into Steve's reputation as a benevolent dictator; he's got better taste than most, but not much of a penchant for individuality.

Even still, Apple's chosen appearance varies from app to app. Some apps have a slate blue theme (mail, SMS, calendar, maps, Safari, settings), some have a black theme (stocks, weather), some have a combination blue / black theme (phone, iPod, YouTube, clock), some have a straight gray theme (photos, camera), and some have an app-specific theme (calculator, notes). Even the missing-data-background is inconsistent: checkerboard in Safari, line grid in Google maps. There's little rhyme or reason in how or why these three themes were chosen, but unlike OS X's legacy pinstripes and brushed metal looks, there's really no reason why the iPhone should have an inconsistent appearance between applications.

Keyboard

Since its announcement, the iPhone's single biggest x-factor has been its virtual keyboard -- primarily because the quality of its keyboard can make or break a mobile device, and of the numerous touchscreen keyboards released over the years, not one has proven a viable substitute for a proper physical keyboard. We've been using the keyboard as much as possible, attempting to "trust" its auto-correction and intelligent input recognition, as Apple urges its users to do in order to make the transition from physical keys. (The iPhone uses a combination of dictionary prediction and keymap prediction to help out typing.)

The whole idea of a touchscreen is a pretty counterintuitive design philosophy, if you ask us. Nothing will ever rid humans of the need to feel physical sensations when interacting with objects (and user interfaces). Having "trust" in the keyboard is a fine concept, and we believe it when people say they're up to speed and reaching the same input rates as on physical keyboards. But even assuming we get there, we know we'll always long for proper tactile feedback. That said, we're working on it, and have found ourselves slowly growing used to tapping away at the device with our stubby thumbs.

As for the actual process of typing, one hindrance we've had thus far is that despite being a multi-touch system, the keyboard won't recognize a second key press before you've lifted off the first -- it requires single, distinct key presses. But the worst thing about the keyboard is that some of the methods it plies in accelerating your typing actually sacrifice speed in some cases. For example, there is no period key on the main keyboard -- you have to access even the most commonly used symbols in a flipped over symbols keyboard. This is almost enough to drive you crazy. (We really, REALLY wish Apple would split the large return button into two buttons: one for return, one for period.)

Caps lock is also disabled in the system by default, but even if you enable it in settings (and then double-tap to turn it on), you still can't hold down shift for the same effect -- it's either caps on, or you have to hit shift between each letter. Also, whether you're in upper or lower case, the letters on the keyboard keys always look the same: capitalized. (This makes it difficult to see at a glance what case of text you're about to input, especially since when using two thumbs your left thumb always hovers over the shift key.) Oh, and don't hit space when typing out a series of numbers, otherwise you'll get dropped back into the letter keyboard again.

We also found the in-line dictionary tool to be more cumbersome than helpful. Supposedly, to add a word that's not in the dictionary, type in your word, then when you get an autocorrect value, just press on that word and the word you typed will be added to the dict file (uhh, ok). But you can also accidentally add words to your dictionary by typing out a word, dismissing the autocorrect dropdown by adding another letter, then backspacing over it. Yeah, for some reason that adds a word to the dictionary file, too. And believe it or not, this confusing little problem caused us to add a number of bum words to the dict file (which you can only keep or clear in its entirety -- and no you can't back it up, either).

On the up side, the horizontal keyboard (which is only enabled when typing into Safari while browsing horizontally) is a much more palatable experience. The keys are far larger, resulting in drastically fewer typing mistakes. (We sincerely hope Apple will enable horizontal input for all its iPhone apps that require keyboard input.) The horizontal web keyboard also has very convenient previous / next buttons for tabbing through fields. The keyboard you're given when entering URLs is one of the most brilliant bits we've seen in the device, and is an incredible time-saver. Since there are almost never spaces in URLs, instead users have shortcuts to ".", "/", and ".com". Finally, the magnification loupe is the best touchscreen cursor positioning method we've seen to date in a mobile device. Too bad you can't highlight and cut / copy / paste text with the iPhone.

So what's the long and short of the keyboard story? We're still getting used to it, but for a touchscreen keyboard it could have been a lot worse -- and a whole lot better. Some among the Engadget staff have been able to pick it up quickly, others, not so much -- your mileage may vary. We have to wonder though, what would it take to get Steve to give us a proper physical keyboard for this mother, anyway? (We already smell the cottage industry brewing.)

 

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Phone and contacts


Apple broke rank during its ubiquitous iPhone advertising campaign in the last few weeks -- typically the company doesn't go out of the way to highlight the specific functionality of its devices, instead choosing to sell products with iconography and emotion. But the bottom line Apple made is that the iPhone must live up to it's name: before anything else, it's a phone. And it has to be, because if it's an awful phone, no one's going to use it as their phone, get it? Well, Apple obviously succeeded here. We found nearly everything about making and receiving calls on the iPhone to be dead simple -- scratch that, pleasurable, even. It's almost enough to make us call home every weekend. (Almost.)

While finding contacts might have been improved, calling contacts is as far from a chore as we've seen on a mobile. What the iPhone contact app most needs is use of the keyboard to hone in on names, like Windows Mobile's excellent Smartdial feature -- even the device's own SMS app has a keyboard-based contact finder. Instead, you're given just two options for finding your pals' contact cards: flicking up and down the list, or using the alphabet column on the right side, which makes short work of scrolling through hundreds of names.

However, the pleasure of the elastic scroll-drag motion isn't to be underestimated. Despite the fact that the iPhone has no haptic feedback, traversing lists of emails, text, and songs has a nearly tactile feel due to the interface's "rubber band" effect. You can swing through about 60 contacts with a quick swipe -- traversing long lists without a scroll wheel is feasible, but if you've got a few hundred people in your address book, you'll probably soon be jonesing for keyboard-based contact search.

Call functions are organized into five categories

Favorites - Apple's take on speed dial. A simple list of your favorite contacts. Adding favorites is very simple -- every non-favorite contact has a huge button allowing you to add them to the list. The list can be re-ordered by tapping edit, then using an icon on the right to drag each entry around.
Recents - Shows a list of all or missed calls, and the call time / date. Incoming and outgoing calls are not differentiated, annoyingly. Missed calls are highlighted in red. Like some phones, unknown numbers have the region of call origin displayed (i.e. if you missed a call from a 415 area code number, beneath the digits it says "San Francisco, California" -- very handy!).
Contacts - Your contact list, with your phone number listed at the top. (Having your number listed at the top is deceptively clever -- how many times have you needed to show someone your phone number in a loud area? For us, often.) Users can select to show all their synced contacts, or just select groups. (Creating contacts on the iPhone easily syncs back to the desktop.) Pushing against the final contact does not return the user to the top of the list, as is the typical expected behavior.
Dialpad - The usual 12-key. You aren't presented with contact list-assisted dialing, but if you punch in a known number the device will give you a small prompt confirming who it is you're dialing (i.e. "Ryan Block, mobile"). From this pane users can add a dialed-in number to a new or existing contact -- users can also add numbers from the contacts pane, with the added option of plus and pause dialing. Note: numbers dialed in during calls are lost -- so prepare to take down proper notes in your phone, you can't just dial them in and save them for later, like some phones.
Voicemail - Visual voicemail pane. Visual voicemail allows for email-like voicemail interaction, using caller ID and small voicemail files (transmitted to the phone automagically in the background). Visual voicemail quality leaves a lot to be desired, but we'd argue the functionality itself supersedes the audio fidelity, poor though it may be. Also in the VV pane: a speakerphone toggle and voicemail greeting option pane where you can select and locally record a new VM greeting (and transmit it back to AT&T for playback). Sorry, you can only set a single outgoing message; you can't record multiple and swap them out for various occasions (i.e. on vacation, or whatever).

Dialing a number is extremely simple: in a contact card (or in an email, or anywhere else) tap the number you want to call and it dials. That's it. In-call functions are also very simple: users are presented with just a few common options: mute, keypad, speakerphone on / off, add call (which brings up the contact list), pause, and contacts (presumably for finding someone's contact info to read into phone). Incoming calls present obvious prompts: ignore, hold call & answer, and (in a huge red button) end call & answer. Users can conference up to five calls on a single line -- the sixth call gets put on hold.

Using a Bluetooth headset is also super easy. If it's paired and powered up you'll be prompted with an audio source button instead of the speakerphone button. Tap that and you can choose which audio source you'd like to use. Note: even with a Bluetooth headset active on your phone, visual voicemail will only play into the iPhone.

Call quality
As GSM handsets go, the iPhone's voice quality can only be described as "unremarkable." Not bad, but not particularly stellar, either. Anyone stepping down from a UMTS handset will likely notice a slightly more "compressed" sound than they're used to, but the call clarity is good -- we noticed virtually no static hiss in the background. We were able to get decent volume out of the speakerphone's bottom-facing grill (particularly when set on a hard surface) but even at full volume the earpiece was a little soft for our liking. Realistically, we could've used a couple more notches -- the ability to turn it up to 11, if you will -- for use in loud environments.

Likewise, folks on the other end of the call reported decent, if not good, sound quality from us. Background noise was within acceptable limits -- something that's more often a problem for candybar devices than for clamshells -- and we were coming through with plenty of volume. If anything, the most chintzy aspect of the iPhone's voice is its inability to use data while talking, and vice versa (no Class A EDGE or 3G, hint hint), but we digress.

Ringtones and vibration
We're still kind of bummed you can't (yet) add custom ringtones or even use MP3 ringtones with the massive library of tracks your iPhone is walking around with, but the default sounds are all pretty good. In fact, as far as ringtones go, they're definitely above average. (We have a feeling we're going to be hearing a LOT of "Marimba" in the coming years.) When you turn the ringer off with the side switch, the device enters vibration mode (duh); we found the iPhone's vibration totally suitable for pocket use -- both standing up, moving, and sitting down. But in-bag use is a whole 'nother game, and few phones (including this one) could rattle enough to catch our attention from inside a sack.

Mail

There's no other way than to come out and say it: we are extremely disappointed in the iPhone's email app. So much so, in fact, that despite the keyboard and the rest of the things the iPhone lacks in the features department, its mail support may be the largest factor in killing its status as a productivity device. Don't get us wrong, the application is just fine for anyone who wants to do light email, but it lacks the power and convenience that frequent-emailers require.

For starters, if you've ever been out for an hour or two and checked your mail from your phone only to find a good 50 messages waiting for you, your iPhone nightmare has just begun. Scrolling through messages is just as easy as in other lists, but opening even a small, simple message has a noticeable delay -- the same kind of delay you get moving from one message to the next (with the up / down arrows), or deleting each message with the trash can button (which only appears with the message open).

One may take it for granted, but mobile email deletion can be a serious problem. The only other methods of message deletion is a swipe over the message to be deleted, then tapping the delete button; or tapping the edit button, then tapping the minus button, then tapping the delete button for each message to be erased. Maybe this doesn't sound too extrarodinary, but using the swipe-delete or edit-minus-button-delete on even a dozen or so messages is incredibly tedious.

We suspect even a moderate email user won't be able to delete 20 emails on their phone without fantasizing about throwing their iPhone across the room. If you can delete 50 emails in one sitting, you deserve to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Oh, and you have to manually delete all these messages again from the trash, there's no empty trash button (only an auto-delete option buried deep within settings, which removes deleted emails never, or after a day, a week, or a month). We kid you not.

Which brings us to our next serious email matter: the iPhone's complete lack of integration with Mail.app, OS X's powerful-enough mail client. We expected that if you're an email user, when you plug in your iPhone and iTunes says it's "syncing your mail accounts," that means it's actually comparing and moving messages between the device and Mail.app. Not so. In fact, the iPhone does not interact in any meaningful way with Mail.app, other than to simplify the setup on the iPhone by copying account settings over from the desktop client's settings. Specifically:
  • The POP mail you read on your iPhone does not show up as read in Mail.app after sync.
  • Sent messages on your iPhone are not synced to Mail.app's sent folder (you can automatically CC, but not BCC, yourself on every outgoing iPhone message, though).
  • Filters in Mail.app are not applied to incoming mail on the iPhone.
  • The iPhone keeps its own set of non-contact addresses you manually enter -- these are not copied over from Mail.app.
What's more, the iPhone mail application has a number of other harsh shortcomings:
  • There is no BCC.
  • Messages on IMAP cannot even be marked as read.
  • No ability "mark all / selected" as read.
  • No empty trash option.
  • There is a save to draft, but there is no spellcheck. (We suppose that's because Apple thinks spellcheck should be inline with auto-correction as you type.)
  • Users can only download and view the latest 200 messages from their server -- there is no "retrieve all" messages option. This is a very bad thing when you just got off a trans-continental flight and it's time to triage some serious email.
If we haven't already driven the point home, for heavy email users such as ourselves, the iPhone didn't even come close to cutting the mustard. Email is, in fact, the weakest aspect of the whole device. While the Yahoo push-IMAP worked beautifully (and we do mean flawlessly -- push mail was delivered instantaneously), the Gmail integration requires POP access, and basically has similar issues with fetching messages, magnified by the different organizational requirements the web mail service has. One Engadget editor called the Gmail integration "a crime against humanity" -- and let's be frank, it's not "years ahead of everything else," it's actually years behind even the simple Java Gmail app Google released a while ago.

To us, a productivity device is anything that helps us Get Things Done while we're out and about, and email, web, and SMS are the holy trinity on a smartphone device. If any part of that trifecta is crap, the whole device may as well be crap. And unfortunately for us, even if you can put up with the keyboard, the Mail client is so awful it actually makes us wish Apple made a Foleo for the iPhone. An iFoleo, if you will. Anyway, if you're anything like us, this is a major, major dealbreaker.

Safari

Ease of use aside, there's no question that the iPhone's build of Safari serves up the most true-to-PC web browsing experience available for a phone today. Opera Mini and S60's native browser (which happens to be based on the same core as Safari, coincidentally) do commendable jobs, but the iPhone has taken it to the next level. Anyone who has used the Nokia 770 or N800 internet tablets will be roughly familiar with what the iPhone is trying to do here: render a page faithfully without trying to work any fit-to-screen magic, and give the user convenient options for zooming in on text.

Of course, it could be argued that the iPhone shouldn't even be trying to present a PC-like rendering of pages because it necessitates zooming. Emphasis on "necessitates" here -- you really can't go to any mainstream site on the iPhone and expect to glean useful information from it without dragging, double tapping, pinching, and unpinching your way around. Zooming in on a page produces an interesting transient display artifact: everything looks really fuzzy for just a moment, as though you've overzoomed on a low-resolution picture. (Microsoft's new Deepfish browser has a similar effect on zoom-in.) Granted, after a while the browsing motions become a little more natural, and we'd always prefer to have the option of seeing and interacting with sites that don't have dedicated mobile versions. WAP is supported, but Safari isn't detected as a mobile browser, so you need to specifically navigate to the WAP version if the site you're trying to visit has automatic browser detection.

Bookmarks are supported and automatically synchronized with Safari on the host computer; adding a new bookmark is a simple matter of hitting the "+" button in the address bar, naming the bookmark, selecting a destination folder, and hitting Save. Mobile Safari's meager four-button toolbar along the bottom edge dedicates a button for this, along with forward, backward, and tabs. The tab implementation is pretty clever -- all you see on the tab button is a count of the number of tabs currently open (or nothing if your current page is the only tab). Tapping the button takes you to a Cover Flow-esque display that shows a small view of each tab; flicking left and right changes tabs and tapping opens a tab. A red X in the upper left and corner of each tab's display allows you to close it.

Of all the iPhone's wares, Safari most thoroughly implements rotation detection, which makes sense considering that most sites are designed with a landscape display in mind. The phone can be held vertically, 90 degrees clockwise, or 90 degrees counterclockwise, and the currently displayed page will be rotated (complete with a nifty animation, naturally) to fill up the screen. Safari is also the only iPhone app to implement the horizontal keyboard, which some will find far easier to use than its more ubiquitous vertical counterpart. One small complaint we have here is that if you have the keyboard up and rotate the phone, the page and keyboard won't reorient -- you have to manually close the keyboard with the Done button, at which point the page will do its thing and you can bring up the keyboard again in the correct orientation.

On the iPhone, Safari is boiled down to the very most basic set of features necessary to do its thing, but the rendering engine is true to the original, for better or for worse. Take Gmail, for example; just like Safari on the desktop, there's a screwy looking little box immediately to the left of the subject line of each email in the inbox if you have personal level indicators enabled. It works, but it's a very Safari-esque experience -- Safari users will feel right at home, but folks coming from other browsers might run into the occasional surprise when hitting up sites optimized for Internet Explorer or Firefox.

On the subject of Gmail, Ajax-enabled sites are hit or miss. One gotcha is that there's no gesture to simulate a double-click, so it's impossible to open up a new IM window in Meebo by double-tapping a contact, for example (though we were able to initiate one using the IM Buddy button on the buddy list). Google Documents worked okay for reading text and spreadsheets, but we weren't able to edit anything. A good rule of thumb here: if it's not designed specifically for the iPhone, keep your expectations to a minimum until you try it out yourself.

Unfortunately, Safari seems to share more than just a rendering engine with its distant S60-based cousin. Specifically, we've had some problems with stability -- the browser will often unceremoniously disappear from time to time. We have no problem opening it back up (and the offending page works the second time more often than not), but it's still a pain in the ass. It seems like the number of open tabs (and hence, memory consumption) might be at least one of the culprits, but we've yet to find any reproducible scenarios. Mobile browsers aren't typically the most stable pieces of software around, so we've gotta say we're not terribly surprised. Here's hoping future firmware updates shore up the goods just a little bit.

iPod / media functionality


Historically, we haven't been huge fans of the iPod. We've found its interface generally simple, but irritating to navigate; its lack of numerous basic features other devices have long since had, like the ability to create multiple playlists on the go, has persisted as the iPod has undergone very conservative functionality additions through the years. Whereas our biggest complaint about the iPod -- its dire lack of codec support -- hasn't been addressed in the iPhone, its user interface definitely has.

Playing back music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc. has never been easier on an iPod, or more more seamlessly integrated into a phone. Most of the iPod interface has been revised to take advantage of the iPhone's massive touchscreen, so navigating artists and albums in lists is simple, where before it was a tedious, thumb-joint-popping experience. Tilting the device horizontally allows you to browse your music in Cover Flow mode, a novelty of breakthrough proportions. Tapping an album in Cover Flow mode lets you select which track to play.

When browsing in list mode, you get the same alphabet column on the right as you do with contacts. Again, keyboard search would have been nice here, but it's still far more livable than the click wheel. If you put your iPhone in sleep while listening to music, when waking it up instead of your usual background on the unlock screen you'll see the cover art of the album you're listening to, and the name of the track beneath the current time -- an extremely useful bit of glanceable information, saving you from having to dig through your mobile to see what's playing.

The media integration with the rest of the device is obviously far better than on any mobile we've seen to date -- but it's not without its issues. It's wonderful seeing SMS messages pop up while watching movies, for instance, but if you load up a YouTube video while listening to music, the audio automatically fades out when the video starts, but doesn't come back when the video ends. This is counter to the phone experience, where an incoming call pauses your music and brings it back when the call is over. We also noticed that even while under heavy load multitasking, the music would never skip or falter, just crash.

We managed to continuously crash the iPod app while listening to music and doing other things, namely browsing. We wouldn't call it incredibly unstable, but we wouldn't say it's rock solid, either. Movie playback did seem very stable though, even when skipping around and playing video for long periods of time. (It may also be of note that even when playing video for hours on end the device hardly ever even got warm to the touch.) The biggest upshot we found on the media playback, though, was the iPhone's Herculean battery life. We've seen other reviews' media playback results vary, but ours seemed to jump far ahead of even Apple's lofty expectations.

Playing relatively high bitrate VGA H.264 videos, our iPhone lasted almost exactly 9 freaking hours of continuous playback with cell and WiFi on (but Bluetooth off). Yeah, we had to pick our jaws up off the floor, too. So by our tests, you could watch a two hour movie and drain off a little more than 22% of the battery -- totally acceptable for trip-taking and the like.

Our music testing showed similarly outstanding results. Playing back 160-192Kbps MP3s, our iPhone pushed about 29 hours and 30 minutes music playback. To put that in perspective, the Apple claims the iPod nano gets about 24 hours playback on a full charge, and the iPod a scant 14 - 20 hours.

To do a little simple math, you could watch two hours of video, listen to 8 straight hours of music, and still have only drained off less than half your device's capacity -- that is, if your iPhone's battery works as well as ours. (Read: your battery life may differ.) Still, if that's a good estimate of what users can expect from their device's power drain, you should have little issue making the iPhone your music and video player, in addition to your cellphone.

 

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SMS


Sporting a bubbly, iChat-like interface, the SMS app mercifully threads messages, an idea Palm hatched for its Treo devices many moons ago. Users of the threaded setup became immediately addicted to it, making it difficult to move back to plain old flat SMS (darn you, Palm!) and leaving us wondering why other manufacturers didn't follow suit. Granted, the inherent 160-character limit and sometimes exorbitant per-text rates have always left traditional SMS with a paper disadvantage against data-based instant messaging, but ultimately the Short Message Service's worldwide ubiquity has crowned it the "killer app" for mobile textual communication anyway. So why not make it all purty?

Indeed, if we had to boil the iPhone's SMS down to a one-word description, "purty" would certainly be a finalist. The app's simple enough; messages from numbers that don't already have a "conversation" going get added as a new entry in the main grid. Swiping to the right on a line item here presents an option to delete the conversation entirely, while tapping it opens the bubbly goodness. At the very top, call and contact info buttons appear for contacts already in your address book; contact info is replaced with add to contacts for numbers that aren't. Below the conversation, a text field and send button do exactly what they imply. Hitting send brings up a progress bar that prevents you from doing anything else in the SMS app until the current message has been successfully sent, although you can still hit the home button and use other apps.

When a message is received, you get a popup with the contact name (or number) and the message text, regardless of whether you're on a call. If you're anywhere but the standby screen, you also get ignore and view buttons; ignore will return you to your previously scheduled programming, while view sends you straight to the conversation. Like Mail, SMS shows a red circle near its icon when there are unread texts.

The cutesy, drop dead simple interface doesn't come without a price, though. First of all, the SMS app is about as configurable as a DynaTAC 8000 (yep, that's pre-Zack Morris for you young'uns in the audience). Don't like your messages threaded? Sorry. Want red bubbles instead of green? Tough luck! We guess SMS alerts from our bank warning us that our checking account balance is under $50 are somehow less bothersome when presented in a shiny, rounded bubble, but we'd at least like the option of going old-school if we're so inclined.

Secondly, there's no rhyme or reason to when timestamps appear. That's fine -- we get the idea, they appear when there's been a significant lapse in communication -- but we want to be able to hold down on a specific bubble to get that level of detail then. And finally, SMS offers no character counter or multi-message warning, features available on virtually every other handset on the market. The phone seems pretty smart about reassembling multiple messages into a single bubble, but that's still no reason to lull us into the false sense that this is a true IM service, especially when AT&T's default package for the iPhone only has 200 messages. And believe it or not, some of us still don't have devices that can reassemble multi-text messages anyway.

Calendar


The iPhone's calendar may possibly be the most usable we've ever seen on a cellphone -- but most of the credit there may be due to the device's massive screen. Most cellphone calendars are difficult to use, but not for lack of effort, it's for lack of screen real estate. The iPhone's huge, high res display makes it possible to get a month-view while also having enough room to show each day's events below. Dragging your finger around the days of the month instantly loads those appointments; all in all the calendar is very snappy, far more so than the mail client.

Too bad we still had major problems syncing appointments made on the iPhone back to our our desktop iCal calendar. It just wouldn't happen. Appointments we created on the iPhone refused to show up on the desktop, and about half the time during sync our iPhone-created appointments would actually get deleted entirely from the device. (This may be something screwy with our phone, so we'll assume it's not expected behavior.) Appointments created on the desktop sync over fine, however, and we had no issues there -- so just be sure that you never need to make an appointment in your iPhone calendar when you're on the go. Kidding!

Another issue we had with the calendar is its refusal to inherit color coding from desktop calendars, or in any way display in which calendar an appointment was made. If you're anything like us, you have a few calendars, like one for personal, work, birthdays, spouse, etc. Well, if that's the case then it sucks to be you, because all those calendars' appointments look exactly the same in the iPhone (and unlike desktop iCal, you can't set a time zone for an appointment). The iPhone calendar also lacks a week-view mode, but supplants a pretty useful appointment list instead. We wish we could take a short appointment list summary and drop it in our unlock screen -- the day's appointments is some incredibly valuable information that you shouldn't have to start, unlock, and then hit calendar to retrieve.

Photos and camera

So here's how we're picturing that this went down inside Apple HQ: there's like a couple months left before the iPhone's release, and suddenly the team realizes that they haven't created the software for the camera. They then proceed to spend five weeks on cute animations and one week on actual functionality. Yes, yes, we're quite sure that's a gross exaggeration, but we just can't remember the last time we've used a phone camera with this little functionality. Then again, maybe that's a good thing for some.

When the Camera app is opened, you get a giant viewfinder and two buttons along the bottom. The large button in the middle snaps the picture and the smaller button to the left moves you to the camera roll, which is simply a special photo album within the Photos app. We understand that packing a larger sensor or a decent flash would've sacrificed more thickness and battery life than Apple was willing, but that's still no excuse to leave us without even a single configurable parameter for the camera. No scene selection, no digital zoom, no destination album, nothing.

Pressing the shutter button causes a shutter animation to collapse momentarily over the viewfinder; a moment later, the just-taken picture becomes translucent and collapses down into the camera roll icon. Both animations are kinda cool but totally unnecessary. The viewfinder's refresh rate is decent -- but not even close to real realtime -- and it's far from the best we've seen. We'd estimate it's humming along at 7 or 10fps.

Enough grousing, though; on to picture quality. For two megapixels, no autofocus, and no flash, we're about as impressed as we can be. Compared to the Nokia N76 -- another 2 megapixel cameraphone we've recently spent some time with -- the iPhone's pictures consistently came out clearer and with far less pixel noise. That said, it's still a lousy sensor by even ultra low-end dedicated camera standards, so we'd recommend this not be used in the field for anything but the occasional candid shot.

As we mentioned, snapped photos hightail themselves over to the Photos app. The iPhone appears as a digital camera to the computer, so it'll bust open iPhoto on the Mac while PCs can configure it to import to a folder. Photo albums already on your computer (in iPhoto, Aperture, or a particular folder) can be configured to be automatically synced to Photos as well.

When Photos first opens, the user is asked which album to browse; the name of the album is shown along with the number of pictures in the album. Tapping an album brings up a flickable thumbnail view of all photos within it. Here you can either tap a particular picture to bring it full screen or tap the play button at the bottom of the display to kick off a slide show. Slide show options are configured in the iPhone's settings: duration to show each photo, transition effect, repeat, and shuffle. The transitions are, for lack of better verbiage, freaking awesome ("Ripple" is our favorite).

Calling up an individual photo brings up a view that is navigationally very similar to Notes, an app that we'll be taking a look at shortly. The photo dominates the screen, while buttons at the bottom allow you to export the photo (to wallpaper, email, but only in VGA, or a contact), move to the previous / next photos, kick off a slide show, or delete the pic you're looking at. Unlike Notes, however, the interface disappears after a moment to allow you to see the entire picture unobstructed by the user interface; pinching and unpinching here will cause the displayed picture to zoom in and out.

Photos also offers a couple extra goodies here that Notes does not. First, the iPhone can be rotated here as it can in Safari -- but interestingly, it can be rotated in all four orientations versus Safari's three. Second, swiping left and right moves from photo to photo. If you tap and hold, the movement will stop even if you're halfway between two photos (think of it like a roll of film), but flicking fast will not spin through multiple photos like with textual lists (iPod, Contacts, etc.). Why the left and right swipes weren't implemented in Notes, we don't know, but we're pretty bummed about it.

YouTube


Having rolled out YouTube support for Apple TV recently and given the service its very own icon on the iPhone's home screen, it seems Apple has suddenly decided that the mother of all video sites is a key part of its entertainment portfolio. Though it's a fairly impressive and particularly feature-rich component of the handset, it's not a perfect reproduction of the desktop YouTube experience (not to suggest we won't still be capable of wasting hundreds of hours on it, of course).

Opening YouTube presents an interface whose flexibility and searchability is really rivaled by nothing else on the iPhone -- not even the iPod app. Along the bottom is a toolbar with five buttons: Featured, Most Viewed, Bookmarks, Search, and More. More is really a catch-all for three other buttons that wouldn't fit on the toolbar: Most Recent, Top Rated, and History (though the toolbar can be reconfigured using the edit button, like the iPod). Lets walk through these one at a time.

Featured, Most Viewed, Most Recent, and Top Rated all roughly equate to their equivalent lists on the YouTube page, though not exactly one-to-one. We're guessing the differences are thanks to YouTube's and Apple's inability to re-encode every single video into an iPhone-friendly format in a timely fashion. Most Viewed is further divided into All, Today, and This Week with toggle buttons at the top.

The grid view used in both of these views is fabulous, featuring a thumbnail of the video, the name, rating, number of views, length, and the uploading user's name. Tapping the blue arrow to the right of the video brings up yet more information in a new screen, including the full description, date added, category, tags, and a list of related videos. You also have Bookmark and Share buttons here; the former adds this video to your Bookmarks view, while the latter creates a template email with the video's URL embedded.

Bookmarks contains a list of all videos that have been bookmarked on the device. Note that this is not the same favorites list found in your YouTube login -- in fact, it's not even possible to log in to one's YouTube account on the iPhone (unlike the Apple TV). The grid view here is the same one found in Featured and Most Viewed with the addition of an edit button at the top right; tapping it allows videos to be removed from the list. Inexplicably, the wipe gesture used in SMS and email isn't used here either, but rather the red circle that makes a few appearances throughout the phone.

Search is, well, a search function. Tapping on the field at the top calls up the keyboard and search results appear in the grid underneath. It appears to use essentially the same logic as that on YouTube's website, though just like Featured and Most Viewed, you'll get fewer videos here since not everything has been re-encoded to the iPhone's liking just yet. History simply shows a chronological list of the most recently played videos on the device -- and rest easy, it can be cleared with a Clear button in the upper right.

Moving on to playback, this is where we're struggling a bit. We want to like this app over EDGE, we really do, but as we mentioned before, it's just a little too flaky to be much fun. Load times are long -- 15 seconds or longer, with an occasional spike as high as one minute in our testing -- and we'd sometimes get mysterious error messages saying that videos can't be played. Add in the fact that the playback resolution and bitrate is automatically "optimized" (read: scaled way down) for EDGE, and frankly, it's just more trouble than it's worth.

Over WiFi, though, it's a different story altogether. Videos load quickly and the resolution seems perfectly suited for the iPhone's glorious display. During playback, controls include a scrubber, done button for returning to the video list, and a toggle switch for moving between a letterbox and stretched view (this bearing in mind that the iPhone's aspect ratio is wider than YouTube's) all along the top. At the bottom you get a volume control, bookmark button, previous and next buttons for moving to different videos in the grid, play / pause, and an envelope icon that fires up a template email the same as the share button found when viewing a video's details. For some reason, the YouTube app forces video lists to be shown in portrait and playback to be landscape -- the rotation sensor has no bearing here whatsoever, same as in iPod playing video.

Stocks

Stocks bears some striking resemblances to its cousin, the Dashboard widget of the same name. The main displays are virtually indistinguishable, though the iPhone version trades its Mac equivalent's blue background for black. Like Weather, Stocks loses its Dashboard data provider (Quote.com in this case) and adds a "Y!" logo in the lower left that, when tapped, takes the user to a Yahoo! Mobile page with a variety of information for the highlighted stock. The performance graphs at the bottom take several seconds to load, and like everything else, take longer over EDGE -- a little more than twice as long in our informal testing. Interestingly, the longer time spans took longer to load, which means they seem to actually be loading more data in the background instead of aggregating it at a lower resolution on the back end. Over EDGE, 2-year stock graphs took on average around 7 seconds to load, while on the other end of the spectrum, 1-day graphs took about 2.5 seconds. Averages -- DJIA, for example -- seem to take marginally longer. Data never appears to be cached here, so every time you tap on a different time span, you've got to wait for the data to load again.

Configuring Stocks is a simple affair; the only options are adding / removing stocks and selecting whether price changes should be displayed by value or percentage.In both cases, positive changes are shown as a green box and negative are in red. Companies can be added by symbol, full, or partial name; a results grid shows symbols that match your entered term. Annoyingly, there's no way to change the order in which stocks are listed, except but to re-enter them in the desired order.

Google maps

Using Google maps on most smartphones is an absolute pleasure. The Windows Mobile and Palm OS Gmaps apps are just fantastic -- and the iPhone ranks among them. Apple supposedly spent a lot of time working on this one (Google has historically released all its own mobile apps), and it shows. Map loads are reasonable even over EDGE (and expectedly snappy on WiFi), and being able to easily search Google local, pull up a number and address in a contact card, then call that location and route directions to it, that is an amazing mobile maps experience. Too bad the iPhone can't make use of a Bluetooth GPS receiver (wink, wink Apple!).

We wish the maps app recognized a search for "home" so we could return to a default location at or near our residence (without typing it in), but users can set map bookmarks for repeat use. The traffic alerts system is also pretty impressive, but it doesn't work for all roads and freeways, so your mileage may vary (har) on that. Pulling up the satellite view on the iPhone is a thing to behold -- the crisp display shows an extraordinary amount of detail for such a small device.

Our biggest complaint about the maps app, though, is something we mentioned earlier: inconsistent gesture input. Gmaps is the only app in the iPhone where two-finger single tap zooms out. This is something one can get used to, but it's still pretty disorienting, and we've found ourselves inadvertently trying the Gmaps two-finger zoom out in other apps, obviously with little result.

Weather


Anyone familiar with Mac OS X's preinstalled weather widget will feel right at home here (right down to the static Sunny / 73° icon, which we would've much preferred be updated regularly for our home city). Naturally, the layout is more vertical on the iPhone to accommodate the taller screen (and coincidentally, it seems you can't hold the phone sideways to get a landscape version of the widget). While the Dashboard widget uses AccuWeather as its data provider, the iPhone has made the jump to Yahoo! with a new "Y!" logo appearing in the lower left -- an homage to Apple's newfound relationship with the company to launch that push-IMAP email, perhaps. Pressing the logo pulls up Safari and directs you to a Yahoo! Mobile page with weather, news, events, and Flickr photos for the selected city.

Configuration for the widget is about as basic as it could possibly get: hit the ubiquitous "i" icon in the lower right, select your cities and your preferred unit of temperature, and you're done. In light of the simplicity and overall lack of configurability of the phone, we're a little surprised they even bothered to offer a unit selection since the device is currently only offered in the US, but we know not everyone grew up here, and we're certainly not complaining. After you've selected your cities and hit done, you're returned to the widget's primary display. Multiple cities are indicated as small dots at the bottom of the screen, while flicking left and right changes cities. Notably, the order you enter cities is the order they'll appear -- there's no way to change that without deleting and reentering, like stocks.

Clock

Jet setters and chefs should appreciate the Clock widget, one of the better implementations of a world clock and timer (among other things) we've seen on a phone. Clock bears little resemblance to its Dashboard cousin (but that's not a bad thing). It also shares a rather unfortunate trait with Weather in that its icon doesn't reflect reality -- the time is permanently fixed at 10:15. We suppose the decision to keep it static was made because you can clearly see the time at the top of the home screen anyway, but it would've been a nice touch anyway considering that the Calendar icon reflects the actual date.

At the bottom of Clock there are four buttons: World Clock, Alarm, Stopwatch, and Timer. All four function pretty much the way you'd expect. The World Clock function is great in that each selected city shows its name and an analog clock followed by a digital clock and an indication of whether the locale is yesterday, today, or tomorrow (crazy International Date Line antics!). Unlike Weather and Stocks, cities can be reordered here by dragging on the "ribbed" area at the right while in Edit mode.

The Alarm page lets you add pretty much as many alarms as you like (we had ten going). The functionality here is great; for each alarm you can select what days it's active, what sound should be played, whether Snooze is available, and the alarm's name when viewed in the grid of all alarms. The time is selected with a slot machine-style series of rollers, one each for hour, minute, and AM / PM. Once options are set up and you return to the grid, each alarm can individually be turned on and off with a switch. Having any of them set to active causes a clock icon to appear in the status bar at the top of the screen.

Stopwatch and Timer are both extraordinarily simple goodies, but even so, it's still possible to make them extraordinarily unintuitive. Thankfully, the iPhone's aren't. Stopwatch simply gives the time broken down in minutes, seconds, and tenths (plus hours on the far left when you get that far) with a start and reset button; when the time is all zeroes, Reset is grayed out. Hitting start turns the left button to stop and the right button to lap. Pressing lap will add the split time to the grid directly below the buttons along with an indicator of the lap number. Hit stop, and the start and reset buttons return. Hitting Rreset will clear split times as well. The sleep behavior of the phone seems a little indeterminate while the stopwatch is running -- sometimes the screen dims, sometimes it sleeps, sometimes it stays wide awake. We couldn't nail down what (if anything) determined the phone's behavior here. Happily, you can leave the Clock app and go about your business and the stopwatch will continue running -- you can even use other parts of the Clock app itself.

As for Timer, you're presented with two slot machine-style dials, one for hour and one for minute. Below, a button asks you which sound should play when the timer expires, followed by the start button (which changes to cancel once the timer has been kicked off). Unfortunately, you cannot run multiple timers simultaneously.

Calculator

There's very little to be said about the Calculator widget -- and let's be honest, that's exactly how a simple calculator should be. You enter your digits, you do your arithmetic, and you get on with life. This particular widget has undergone a full redesign from the calculator found in Mac OS, taking on darker colors for the buttons and the background and a blue, 3D-look display. Gone are the segmented digits, replaced by a traditional smooth font (in other words, Apple wasn't too concerned about making this thing look exactly like a physical four-function calculator).

Missing from the iPhone, though, are dedicated scientific / graphing calculators, or, perhaps more usefully, a tip calculator. We think any would be nice to have, and this device definitely has the necessary screen real estate to make them functional and visually appealing. In fact, the iPhone's screen is so big that a simple four-function calculator looks just a little too sparse, although it certainly makes the buttons easy to press.

Notes

Font look familiar? It should -- the iPhone Notes app ganks the Marker Felt font, perhaps best known as the default font in Stickies. Frankly, we could do without it, or at the very least we'd like an option to change it to something a little simpler and less Comic Sans-like (the iPhone's systemwide font would've been just fine, thanks). Adding a note is accomplished by clicking the "+" button found in several iPhone apps; the new note is automatically timestamped and titled based on the first line of text that you write. While editing, two buttons appear in the title bar directly above the yellow pad -- both save the note, but the Notes button kicks you back out to the list of all notes, while the done button keeps you in a read-only view of the current note. We really would've liked a cancel button here, too.

In the read-only view, four icons appear at the bottom of the screen in the same casual, fun style as the font. The far left and right icons move from note to note (seems like there should be a swipe gesture here that'll accomplish the same function), the envelope creates an email with the note as the body and the first line as the subject, and the trash can predictably deletes the note. Strangely, there is no other way we can find to delete a note -- you must be looking at it to trash it. Also, we found ourselves instinctively rotating the phone from time to time in Notes, but sadly, you won't find any landscape mode here. And why no drawing capability? We're not asking for handwriting recognition or anything fancy like that, just the ability to doodle would've been a fabulous feature.

Settings


It's no secret, our favorite part of any cellphone and device is the settings area. We often find ourselves running to the settings before even making a call on a new phone or playing back some video on a new media device. When it comes to settings, by and large the iPhone doesn't disappoint. We won't go over every nook and cranny (we could do a feature on just the menus and submenus and subsubmenus... in this thing), but here are some highlights:

Airplane mode - Super easy toggle, works instantaneously.
Usage - Doesn't show percentage of battery remaining (lame), but does show all of your current usage stats, like standby time since last charge, etc.
Sound - Comprehensive yet simple sound behavior settings, lots of toggles.
Date & Time - Has a setting for time zone support on / off in calendar, convenient if you do / don't travel a lot.
Network - VPN settings (supports L2TP and PPTP); WiFi settings allow you to select DHCP, BootP, or static IP address, as well as no, manual, or auto HTTP proxy.

Bluetooth - Extremely straightforward and usable interface for Bluetooth; discoverable is switched off by default, but turned on only for the duration of time you're in the Bluetooth menu. Pairing is very simple, although we kind of hoped it would use the Sidekick system of attempting common Bluetooth PINs so you don't have to remember which your headset uses, 1111, 0000, etc. Oh, and you can pair your iPhone with most anything, but don't expect it to actually do something once paired -- almost all Bluetooth profiles are disabled.
Keyboard - Allows you to enable / disable auto-capitalization and caps lock.
Mail - Add, delete accounts (types include POP3, IMAP, Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, .mac, and Exchange IMAP, but not Exchange EAS), auto-check messages (manual, 15, 30, or 60 minutes), message preview (0 - 5 lines), CC myself on / off, signature, etc.
Phone - Contact sort / display order, call fwding, call waiting, caller ID (no option to only show ID to known contacts), and way at the bottom, the awesome AT&T services menu that remembers the codes for things like checking bill balance, viewing minutes, etc.
Safari - Set your search engine (Google, Yahoo), on / off switches for JavaScript, plug-ins (what plug ins?), pop-ups. There's also a cookies menu, and clear history / cookies / cache buttons.
iPod - Audiobook speed, EQ, volume limiter, etc.

iTunes, activation, and sync


As with the iPod, setting up and syncing the iPhone in iTunes is meant to be an incredibly easy experience, and for the most part it is. You're (obviously) required to have iTunes 7.3 to get it going, bet starting the guided activation setup is as easy as plugging in your phone. Although a huge number of people had understandably maddening issues during launch that caused them to be unable to use their new phones for up to a couple of days, we were able to burn through a number of different types of activations (new AT&T customer, existing AT&T customer, non-ported number, ported number, etc.) on about a half dozen phones, each in under 10 minutes -- none had any issues. It stands to reason that as the initial sales glut for the iPhone fades, this process will only become more stable.

Once your device is recognized by iTunes, you can select which contacts groups, calendars, music, movies, podcasts, etc. you want to drop onto the iPhone. It took us under a minute to sync a couple hundred contacts, and not much more to do a few hundred calendar appointments. We moved about 1.5GB of music and movies over to the device in about 10 minutes -- that's a little more than 2.5MB per second. Not unbelievably fast, but if you wanted to completely refresh the entire capacity of your iPhone, that process would take under 50 minutes, which is reasonable enough. Syncing photos with your desktop is less automated than we would have liked. On a Mac, users are expected to pop open iPhoto and import manually. iTunes also backs up your iPhone's non-synced settings, such as SMS conversations, notes, call history, contact faves, sound settings, and so on. We tried it out, and sure enough, it worked well enough -- even saved our browser history. WiFi passwords? Naw, not so much.

Not surprisingly, syncing to a PC is a different experience than syncing to a Mac. PC users shouldn't expect to have the iPhone take advantage of all of Vista's new iLife-like lifestyle software suite (Windows Mail, Calendar, Address Book, etc.), users can only use Outlook (not Outlook Express) to sync content. On a PC sync worked perfectly, strangely enough (considering it worked less than perfectly on a Mac). Outlook was kind enough to copy contacts and calendar appointments back and forth with ease. It was almost eerie watching an iPhone interact better with a PC and Microsoft software than with a Mac and Apple software, but kudos to Cupertino for not leaving Windows users out in the cold on this one.

Data performance


Apple and AT&T are banking that a two-line attack of WiFi plus a recently-enhanced EDGE network is going to quell the call for 3G in the iPhone -- in its first iteration, anyway. We see at least three problems with that approach. First, UMTS employs a more advanced vocoder than 2G does, so we're losing out on the opportunity for moderately improved voice quality. Second, on its best day, EDGE is sill an order of magnitude slower than HSDPA on its worst day (we're talking about both throughput and latency here, with the latter often being a better indicator of perceived speed). Third -- and perhaps most importantly -- AT&T's EDGE network can't support simultaneous voice and data. Read: if you're moving data to or from your iPhone, calls will go straight to voicemail. Big time bummer. The thought of browsing with Safari on the iPhone's magnificent display while chatting on Bluetooth is a seductive one, but it ain't gonna happen.

That being said, is EDGE bearable for the iPhone's core services? We'd sorta expected that Apple would've fine-tuned all of the iPhone's first-party apps to behave reasonably well regardless of what kind of data network you were feeding on, but we found that wasn't necessarily the case. Browsing in Safari was a generally satisfying experience (thanks partly to the fact that typically-large embedded Flash objects don't load), ditto for Mail, Weather, and Stocks, but YouTube really tried our patience.

For a couple hours after activating the phone, we couldn't play videos period -- possibly because YouTube's and Apple's servers were being hit so hard by new owners putting their handsets through their paces -- but once we could finally get things going, we were left disappointed by load times, buffering issues, and errors. To put things in perspective, videos consistently started playing within four seconds on WiFi, whereas YouTube frequently ran over fifteen seconds. Our high was a staggering 58.1 seconds!

We guess we could live with an average of fifteen seconds, though, if they always ended up playing. They didn't. When on EDGE, we'd estimate that 10 to 15 percent of the videos we try to play churn for a few seconds then bring up a message simply (and unhelpfully) informing us that the movie can't be played. Maybe the oddest bit of all this YouTube drama is that the videos run at a much lower resolution on EDGE than they do on WiFi, obviously in an attempt to make load times reasonable and streaming possible. Perhaps that sitch will improve over time with better encoding, better EDGE, and firmware upgrades -- but for now, we're declaring YouTube a WiFi-only app.

On that note, WiFi is a breath of fresh air that turns the iPhone into a data-munching powerhouse. Annoyances like slow load times in YouTube and Maps melt away, generally giving the device a very different feel. The iPhone's WiFi implementation is seamless but moderately annoying out of the box; by default, the phone regularly prompts you if you want to connect to the strongest available network, which gets old really fast, especially when walking down the street. This can be turned off from the WiFi settings, which is prominently placed near the top of the settings app -- second item, in fact, right after the Airplane Mode toggle.

Other WiFi settings include a switch for the WiFi radio (not to be confused with Airplane Mode, which'll also disable the cell radio and Bluetooth) and a list of nearby SSIDs which is automatically populated when you enter the screen and refreshed about every eight seconds. Next to each network's SSID is an icon indicating whether encryption is being used, a three-bar signal strength indicator, and a blue arrow that you tap for advanced configuration (more on that in a moment). Simply tapping the SSID will connect you to the network, or if a WEP key or WPA password is necessary, you'll be prompted.

After the connection is successful, the "E" icon in the status bar is replaced with a signal strength indicator -- not the most obvious way of showing that you're connected to WiFi, but sure, we get the point. If a particular network requires advanced configuration, you can tap the blue arrow at the far right which displays the IP address, subnet mask, gateway, and so on (if you're already connected), allows you to choose a method of IP address acquisition (DHCP, BootIP, or static), and set an HTTP proxy if necessary. If the network is already "remembered" for the phone, a "Forget this Network" button appears at the top to kill it from your preferred list.

Wrap-up


We're not huge fans of "conclusions" in reviews -- or number systems, or one liner pros / cons / bottom-lines for that matter. Devices have become so feature-rich over the years that potential buyers' decisions can be made or broken on the support, quality, or integration of just one or two features. For us that's exactly the case with the iPhone -- although the list of things it doesn't do is as long as the list of things it does, it's only a few small, but severe, issues about the device that truly galvanizes our opinion of it.

It's easy to see the device is extraordinarily simple to use for such a full-featured phone and media player. Apple makes creating the spartan, simplified UI look oh so easy -- but we know it's not, and the devil's always in the details when it comes to portables. To date no one's made a phone that does so much with so little, and despite the numerous foibles of the iPhone's gesture-based touchscreen interface, the learning curve is surprisingly low. It's totally clear that with the iPhone, Apple raised the bar not only for the cellphone, but for portable media players and multifunction convergence devices in general.

But getting things done with the iPhone isn't easy, and anyone looking for a productivity device will probably need to look on. Its browser falls pretty short of the "internet in your pocket" claims Apple's made, and even though it's still easily the most advanced mobile browser on the market, its constant crashing doesn't exactly seal the deal. The iPhone's Mail app -- from its myriad missing features to its un-integrated POP mail experience to its obsolete method of accessing your Gmail -- makes email on the iPhone a huge chore at best.

For us, the most interesting thing about the iPhone is its genesis and position in the market. Apple somehow managed to convince one of the most conservative wireless carriers in the world, AT&T (then Cingular), not only to buy into its device sight-unseen, but to readjust its whole philosophy of how a device and carrier should work together (as evidenced by the radically modernized and personalized activation process). Only a few days after launch it's easy to see June 29th as a watershed moment that crystalized the fact that consumers will pay more for a device that does more -- and treats them like a human being, not a cellphone engineer. Imagine that.

But is the iPhone worth the two year contract with the oft-maligned AT&T and its steep price of admission? Hopefully we gave you enough information about the iPhone's every detail to make an informed decision -- despite the iPhone's many shortcomings, we suspect the answer for countless consumers will be a resounding yes.

 

(theo Engadget)




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