Yup. I got an iPhone. After the price drop last Tuesday (and a tempting jaunt by the Fifth Avenue store Saturday afternoon) I just couldn't resist.
I am not an Apple fanboy. I have only ever owned one Apple computer which I was never too happy with. I have had an iPod for about a year and a half and I love it. After reading countless articles and listening to months and months of tech podcast commentary I was certainly interested in the iPhone. After playing with a friend's I was extremely impressed with it, however $599 is a lot to spend on a phone.
A week ago Apple decided that it was going to drop the 4GB version to $299 I began to seriously consider it. It was nearly time for my Sprint contract to expire and I'd need to sign a new contract and upgrade from my dying phone anyway. So why not upgrade to the hypeyest phone on the planet? I mean, besides switching from one provider to another being the worst thing in the world. So, much like considering skipping a class when you're in college, there was no turning back. I had begun to consider getting an iPhone and I ended up getting an iPhone.
Sprint, my previous provider, was already in my bad graces after giving Jen a horrible time of cancelling her contract. The reason she was canceling: after being a customer for 8 years and losing her cell phone they were exceptionally rude to her and tried stalling her when she needed a new cell phone. A new cell phone she stated she was fully willing to pay for! All she wanted was her account information and phone updated so she wouldn't have to go without it for too long.
Of course Sprint gave me a hassle about transferring. They had recently changed my terms of service so I called them on it and told them I was switching to AT&T. They did a moderate job of offering me perks and benefits to stay with Sprint. Finally admitted that what I really wanted was an iPhone. As soon as they heard this they transferred me to what I can only assume was the "Official Sprint 'Oh Crap, The iPhone!' Spin Department".
The woman I spoke with at Sprint was nothing short of amazing. She was very nice and willing to help me in any way. In fact she was readily armed with an offer for anything I mentioned. Here's what she offered me to stay with Sprint:
- Unlimited free text messages forever.
- The ability to call any three numbers with unlimited minutes for free forever.
- Pretty much any new phone I wanted.
- A great deal on Sprint's Mogul which can "do anything the iPhone can do."
- An increase in minutes and decrease in monthly bill.
Sounds pretty good. But none of that is an iPhone. And since my monthly bills have been through the roof with Sprint recently, I was much more comfortable moving over to AT&T where I had a better plan and rollover minutes which would make my monthly bills overall much more affordable. I understand Sprint's stance on all of this but some of those offers would have been nice before I mentioned that I wanted to leave.
So, after the price drop on Tuesday, purchasing on Saturday, activating the same day and playing with it for about four days, here's my take on the phone. In keeping with tradition I'm well behind the curve and this comes 11 weeks after every other review has been completed.
The overall layout is pretty good though I'd enjoy having some ability to edit which applications show up on the main page (e.g. removing Stocks, Weather, etc. as you can do on the Wii) but since there aren't enough applications to fill the interface yet it doesn't seem to matter. The YouTube application is nice, though it suffers from choppy, difficult load times just as the webpage has lately. The camera is not bad for a phone camera and the Photos application is tons of fun to play around with.
Having Google Maps on a phone is a feature you instantly cannot live without. I've only had the phone for three days (only two of which I left the house) and it's come in handy twice. You can create a great set of bookmarks complete with the ability to call up a phone number and call the location on your map. The only thing that could make it better would be the ability to use your saved locations from your own Google login. I'm not sure why you have to recreate them all on the phone.
Increased Volume Output
The volume output on the iPhone vastly exceeds that of the iPod. I usually listened to things at about 75% volume on the iPod when I was on the subway, now I can tone that down to about 50-60% in noisy environments. This is incredibly useful for Real Time with Bill Maher, which is the most shoddily produced, impossible to hear podcast that has ever been made. Funny considering it's from a major cable network with a fairly large budget. Yet, somehow, teenagers are able to produce better sounding podcasts using twelve dollars worth of equipment purchased at Radio Shack. But enough about HBO's poor podcast sound quality, the iPhone fixes their terrible, terrible problems.
Something about voicemail has always annoyed me. I hate getting voicemail. I hate leaving voicemail. I hate calling someone, having to listen to some insanely long message (that for some reason I cannot skip through), then having to listen to the woman explain to me how voicemail works (Oh, I have to wait until after the beep! Ooooh!), and then having to listen to a long list of options of other things I can do besides leave a message. I hate getting voicemail for similar reasons. I hate having to call myself; I have having to enter my pin number; I hate having to listen to a message only to not hear something then have to goofily scroll through the message imprecisely; I hate forgetting to delete a message then accidentally finding it in my saved messages six months later. Basically I have hated everything about voicemail ever. Until now.
iPhone's voicemail is perfect. It pops right up when you have it. You simply click on the voicemail and it plays it, instantly. It doesn't tell you who it's from or what time they left the message or ask you if you want to call the person back. It doesn't have to since it displays that information right in the voicemail announcement you just clicked on. It leaves you a list of all your messages. You click through them in whatever order you want, listen to them through the speakers, and you can scroll forward or backward any way you'd like. It's perfect. It's almost like the iPhone doesn't ignore the fact that technology, and computers have advanced since the common cell phone features of 1998.
I was unsure about the touch screen. There are some things lacking with no tactile interface. I can no longer just reach in my pocket quickly to change songs or volume, I must remove it to accomplish these simple things. However, then I get to look at my iPhone and so far that has kept me happy enough to do this without complaining. The touch screen typing requires a lot less practice than I'd been led to believe. Also, I can't imagine how anyone who's been using a number pad to type could find this to be a step down. I don't seem to have any more or less typos than I do when I'm using a computer keyboard.
The contacts list is easily the best I've ever seen. I no longer dread looking up or inputting people into my phonebook, a task that on every other phone I've ever used is for some reason unbearable. It's also just so easy to organize everyone with pictures, varied phone numbers, etc. I've only owned a few cell phones but all of them were horrible. My last phone actually made it so that you could not see the last digit in a phone number. So if I went through my contacts to look for a phone number so that I could call on a land line I would not be able to see the last number unless I went into the edit menu and scrolled all the way to the right. Unlike my old phone it's like someone actually tested the iPhone for usability. Fancy that.
As put by everyone else, it's the best iPod ever made. The interface is great and scrolling through the music library is even easier with the touch screen than it was with the scroll wheel. Overall it's not a huge difference from an iPod. Seeing full album art while browsing is helpful if you're feeling too lazy to read words but overall it's pretty much like a standard iPod with a better user interface.
Signing up for a cell phone is always a huge pain. Transferring numbers is something you usually go into expecting a huge headache to accompany you. The iPhone activation is the easiest thing I may have ever done in my life. It all works through iTunes (a program that I kinda hate, but what choice do I have?) and takes only a few very short minutes. This is another of those moments where you wonder why no one else has made activating a phone this easy. When the activation process was complete I spent the next hour being amazed at how quick and easy it was. I have spent every remaining hour since getting angry at all the time I wasted in the past doing this same simple process.
Some applications are not that great. Both Yahoo applications -- Stocks and Weather -- are just okay. Both have a relatively clunky weblink at the bottom which just opens a Yahoo! page in Safari. The page in Safari seems like it could maybe be optimized to look a little better on the iPhone rather than just being a little cluttered and boring looking.
Safari isn't terrible. The ability to flip around and zoom in and out is pretty great. However, much like Opera for the Wii I find it only to be useful in emergency situations. Since my Wii is by my computer I never use the Wii browser. With Safari it can be very handy in a situation when you're away from a regular computer but it isn't something you really want to sit and browse at while at home. The first time I take a train or bus I'm sure I'll move this one into the pros column.
The battery life is not super. It's about 2-3 hours. I think including a clock with the exact number of minutes you have on your phone may be a bad idea. While it probably has the same battery life as my old phone, my old phone just sorta died and you never knew how long the charge lasted. While it's convenient to know how much time you have it also reminds you how little time you have left. Sort of like if you had a little clock in the corner of your vision reminding you how much time you had left to live. Okay, maybe it's not that bad.
The headphone jack thing is just inexcusable. It's a standard 1/8" stereo mini jack like any headphone. However, it's designed so that you can only fit an Apple headphone cable into it. The part just above the metal jack tapers just enough to fit the Apple brand but not enough to fit anything else you may own. I hate the standard iPod ear buds as they do not fit in my ears properly so I was out of luck. So I came up with an uber hack where I took a razor blade and shaved down the plastic so that my headphones would fit in. I'll post a tutorial soon. (Note: Actually, that's a lie. I won't post a tutorial at all).
200 Text Messages
The AT&T plans only offers 200 text messages which is not that many. To upgrade costs $10.00 a month and upgrades to 1500 text messages. I wouldn't mind upgrading to about 300 or 400 but an extra $10.00 for 1500 is crazy. If I were a fourteen-year-old maybe it would be worth it but as I am not of the text message generation I can't justify the cost.
The iPhone has the worst speaker interference of any phone I've ever encountered. This happens with a lot of phones, yes, but nothing like with the iPhone. I can barely have this phone in the same room without a buzzing, whirring noise in my speakers happening ever fifteen minutes. That wouldn't be that bad under normal conditions but considering that it's a phone that you have to plug into your computer it's more than a little annoying. So I've had to keep the phone on my couch on the other side of the room most of the time and only bring it over when it's time to sync and charge. After I turn my speakers off, of course.
Let me preface this by saying that I hate ringtones. I absolutely despise them. My hatred of them is completely irrational and I openly admit that. When I hear someone's phone ring in public I instantly hate that person and, regardless of the specific ringtone, pass judgment on them. That judgment is always hatred of some variety. If it's a silly factory preset ringtone, I hate that person for having an annoying and uninspired ringtone. If it's someone using a song clip then I hate that person for their shitty taste in music. Alternately I may choose to hate that person for ruining a prefectly good song by turning it into a ringtone.
Put simply, I only have patience for one tone: a simple digital ring that goes Brroo! Brroo!.
That being said, and taking into account my completely irrational stance on this, the iPhone ringtones suck. I am trying to view this from the position of someone who is into ringtones. Even from that position the built in ringtones are pretty crappy. Considering the level at which this phone is executed I think the quality of the on board ringtones is completely unacceptable. And why should they be any better when Apple is now selling ringtones for $0.99 each?
There are 25 ringtones ranging from Marimba to Xylophone (in a weird alphabetical order where the alphabet begins with M then goes from A to X). All of them are awful. What's more is that there is no simple digital phone ring. There is a loud, annoying, old telephone bell ring like we had when I was growing up. There is an annoying dog bark, a church bell tower, a stupid piano blues riff, crickets, ducks quacking, a car horn, a motorcycle, a 50's sci-fi theremin and a handful of terrible midi creations.
I don't necessarily blame the iPhone as much as I blame the terribly inflated ringtone market. How it got to this point I am not sure. People routinely pay, pay, for ringtones in excess of two dollars. I can't even imagine a scenario that would allow me to pay anything for a ringtone, let alone multiple dollars. Maybe if a two dollar ringtone was a recording of someone telling me the hidden location of a five dollar bill I may consider it.
There are new hacks coming out everyday to allow ringtone workarounds, but the plain fact of that matter is that the iPhone is an exceptional device that has amazing capabilities and it should be able to make any mp3 a ringtone without a hack. If you have a song in your library you should be able to turn it into a ringtone. Curently you cannot do that unless you pay $0.99 to turn a song that you already paid $0.99 for into a 30 second ringtone for their phone. Wow.
If the iPhone had the simple ability to turn any mp3 into a ringtone, I would record the simple digital phone ring on my crappy old cell phone and make that my ringtone. Instead I am forced to be constantly be annoyed by a silly marimba.
In conclusion, the iPhone is not perfect, but it's really close. The criticism it draws is only due to the fact that it is such an incredible device that it demands a much higher level of scrutiny than just some average phone. The iPhone's great triumph is that it is exactly where cell phone and handheld technology should be right now. The fact that every other company has seemed to ignore technological advances or any sort of innovation for the past decade leaves them with a lot of catching up to do. The iPhone has the communication ability that other phones do not, but more importantly it has the simple features that other phones do not. Sure, you can argue that it's a little more advanced than it has to be but those bells and whistles will only wow people temporarily. It is the simple functionality and features that will make it so that people cannot go back to a normal, hobbled and poorly designed phone.
Phones should have advanced to this point naturally over the past ten years, but they have not. Apple releases its first phone and instantly catches the industry up to present day, giving users things they've always wanted whether the realized it or not. It turns normally laboriously mundane tasks (e.g. voicemail) into the simple functions they really should be. That is the truly great thing about this device. The entire industry can only benefit from being forced to match Apple's move or continue to offer us the same crap we've been forced to pay for for all these years.