Saturday, June 30, 2007

iPhone initial overview review

Well I'm sure that readers of this blog all want to know about the maps on the iPhone, but I thought I would start with a general overview of my initial reaction to the iPhone, and then I'll do a separate post shortly with more on the maps - though in one sentence the maps look great and panning and zooming is very interactive and intuitive, but there are a number of little niggly details that counterbalance the cool parts leaving me somewhat neutral - impressed by some things, but overall left feeling that it could have been better (and this is aside from the obvious drawback of not having a GPS). But more on that shortly.

So first impressions - the physical design is great, right down to all the small details like the packaging, as is typical with Apple products. Compared to my Blackberry 8800, it is about the same height but not as wide and not as deep - but it's quite a bit heavier, with a very nice, solid, quality feel in your hand. Small details like the way that you unlock the phone by sliding a virtual button across the screen feel surprisingly satisfying somehow. The general user experience is excellent on the whole, with a lot of nice innovations which you can see in the Apple videos, like the way that you can flip through photos just by dragging them with your finger, and rotating the device will rotate a photo accordingly. Typing feels a little clumsy at first, but there is a pretty good autocorrect feature which does a good job of figuring out if you hit the button next to the one you meant to press, and once you get used to that you can go quite a bit faster. But in general my BlackBerry wins on ability to type, which I would have expected. I'll do a test a little later and time some typing on both to quantify this. Now this may seem like nitpicking, but one thing I was quite disappointed in is that some of the "new and cool" user interface features are not implemented consistently across all applications, which is really rather disappointing given Apple's perfectionism about the user experience, and the fact that they have kept the iPhone a "closed system", and one of the main justifications for this was to ensure a seamless user experience. Maps is actually particularly guilty of not leveraging some user interface features it should have done, and I'll come back to that in my more detailed review shortly.

Initial setup was easy (apart from an incredibly bad experience with the AT&T non-help desk, which I won't go into details on now - but the short version is that my phone is on a family account, but my number was once a number on a business account, and you can't use an iPhone with a business account, and their system can't cope with this and wouldn't let it add the iPhone to my existing account so I had to create a new one ... they will be receiving some irate emails from me shortly!). But as far as the synchronization with my existing contacts, calendar, mail accounts and bookmarks on my Mac, that was all seamless via iTunes (with one slight glitch on my gmail which I fixed - won't go into the details, but if anyone reading this is having a problem receiving mail from a gmail account, email me and I'll send you the info). Copying over some photos, music and movies was a piece of cake too.

The screen quality is excellent, and especially nice for photos, videos and maps. The ability to zoom in and out on images or maps by "pinching" in or out with two fingers, and then pan around by dragging, is very intuitive and definitely one of the features I like. The web browsing experience is pretty good - rather than try to reformat web pages as most other mobile systems with small screens have done, Apple maintains the full formatting of the original web page and lets you zoom in and out easily to see details. With most web pages, looking at them in landscape mode the text is legible without having to zoom in (assuming you have decent eyesight!), though clicking on closely spaced links typically requires you to zoom in (which you can do by pinching or double tapping). So web browsing can be a bit fiddly at times, but in general it works very well once you get used to the user interface.

So far I have mainly been using the WiFi connection for my testing, with my fast Internet connection at home, and this has worked very well. I did a brief test with a YouTube video over EDGE rather than WiFi and the video size and quality was automatically reduced, but still acceptable - though not nearly as good as the YouTube video quality over WiFi, which is really excellent (it looks better than on my laptop). I have been very impressed with the YouTube support - though you only have access to a subset of videos at YouTube, there have been a few favorites of mine that I couldn't access (though this one, which is a particular favorite of mine at the moment, is available). I'm not sure how they determine what is available, or whether this will grow over time. I'll do more testing with EDGE on other applications in due course.

Oh yes, I believe it's a phone too :) !! So far no problems on that front - though in a quick test of the speaker phone, the speaker didn't seem very loud.

So in overall summary, a thumbs up from me - lots of cool features and interesting user interface innovations. But a number of niggly details which could have been better on the usability, and especially on the maps - and that's aside from the obvious missing features like GPS, no 3G network, etc (which have been covered extensively elsewhere). Maps review coming soon, I promise!


Unknown said...

Could you share how you got your gmail working?
It was working for me last night, but now I can't access the POP server from my iPhone (can from Mail, though... weird). Yahoo is acting flakey too.

Peter Batty said...

Hi Paul-Michael, I went through a frustrating process with accessing the gmail pop service when I got myself a BlackBerry 8800 a little while ago, and at the same time I got myself a MacBook, and I wanted to be able to access the pop server from all of these (and now my iPhone too). To cut a long story short I discovered that if you want to have more than one pop client accessing your gmail, you need to set up the pop clients to connect to with your user name with "recent:" appended to the front. So for example, I use a user name of in all my pop clients, rather than just Your password remains the same. Now on the iPhone, it assumes by default that you want to use "recent" mode, so if you have set mail up on your Mac to explicitly use recent, you need to turn this off on the iPhone (or presumably it tries to connect with recent:recent:peter.batty ...). To do this on your iPhone go to Settings, Mail, select your gmail account, Advanced, and then set "Use recent mode" to off.

Hope this makes sense - let me know if it works!

Aaron said...

Hi Pete

The only thing preventing you seeing all the YouTube videos is the time it's taking them to encode them all into H.264. So, they're part of the way through which are what you can see now (and I'm guessing new uploads are using this going forward), and are predicted to get through the whole back catalog in a couple of months (September or October I think, if my memory serves me right).

Peter Batty said...

Thanks Aaron!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your gmail experience. I really appreciate it.

I'm still having some issues connecting at all to their pop server, as have some other gmail users. But, the "recent:" thing is something I didn't know before. Thanks.

Peter Batty said...

Hi Paul-Michael, you're welcome. I've found gmail's pop (and smtp) to be a little unreliable. One other thing you need to be careful with is that you are using an SSL connection with the right port numbers set in the advanced options - I think I needed to change these with some mail clients to match what Google wants.

Unknown said...

Someone suggested that the iPhone's auto-capitalization was affecting the password entry.
Apparently that was the case, because after I (temporarily) turned off this feature and re-entered my password, gmail's pop authenticated me.

Thanks for the help.