Preliminary grades: What my iPhone replaces
This is day four of using my new iPhone. I’m still getting used to it (and my typing on it is slow as of yet), but I think of it in terms of what other devices it replaces for me. The iPhone is a hybrid — and normally hybrid devices are inferior to the dedicated devices that they try to replace, so that you end up with a compromise.
With a combination fax/printer, for example, you have to ask yourself if the combo does a good enough job at both printing and faxing, or if in the process of making it a single device has introduced so many shortcomings that it’s worse than just buying a separate printer and a separate fax machine that can actually handle what you need.
But in the iPhone’s case, it’s not a compromise. I can legitimately head to a meeting or go on a trip with fewer devices and gadgets than I previously would have taken along.
- Phone: A-. Very capable cell phone. More thoughts (and quirks) below. Overall I’m happy to replace my previous phone and use the iPhone instead.
- Pager: B+. I used to carry a separate pager (remember those?). If I hadn’t dumped it previously, I could dump it now. Some issues though: When I get new page that’s long, I always have to scroll up to the top — for some reason it always shows me just the bottom by default. Also, a long page becomes even longer because the right fifth of the screen is taken up with a GUI widget that’s only shown haflway down the page. Most annoying of all (and probably not Apple’s fault), AT&T is assigning random numbers that the page is “from,” which seem to totally confuse the iPhone’s chat model. Deleting pages is one tap too many — tap Edit, tap the minus, tap Delete.
- Laptop: B+. Web browsing and e-mail are both very effective. You can’t edit spreadsheets or project PowerPoint presentations, so for some jobs I still need my laptop. But the web browsing is wonderful and intuitive. On the e-mail side, the default gmail settings totally blow (although I know a solution is coming soon, and you can always just browse to gmail.com), but the Yahoo mail settings work very well — the only things I’ve wanted to do that I couldn’t were to create a new folder, and to make some mail as spam. I can’t yet access my corporate e-mail, but that’s not the iPhone’s fault (although I suppose the native VPN support could be better).
- iPod: A-. Eight gigs isn’t close to enough to hold my music collection, so I’d need to bring my 80gig video iPod if I want access to all my songs (and Apple’d need to create a 300 gig classic model for all my videos). On the iPhone’s iPod player, I find it weird that I can’t see full info on a track (like its year, composer, or any notes I’ve added). But there’s enough space that right now I have loaded 1,161 of my favorite songs, and the interface is smooth enough that I have to agree that this is the best iPod I’ve ever owned.
- Boom box: C-. The speakers are not terrible, but also not loud enough to replace a boom box. I do think it takes too many clicks to pause a song (assuming you don’t have headphones on).
- Calculator: D. Only the basics (addition, multiplication, subtraction, division). Even my old cell phone’s lame calculator handled more than that. C’mon, Apple, couldn’t you have fit in a few more operations?
- Stock ticker: B. Some people carry a dedicated stock ticker device. The iPhone’s quotes are 15 minutes delayed, but you could always use the web browser and log into whatever service you use to get real-time quotes. And most day traders switched to laptops or pagers with custom alerts anyway.
- Flashlight: C. In a pinch, any cell phone can double as a flashlight (and sometimes the results are life-saving). The iPhone offers decent illumination; obviously not what it was designed for, but it can help you find your dropped keys on a dark night.
- Watch / Alarm clock / Stop watch: A. The time of day is shown on every screen. I don’t wear a watch anyway, but on a business trip I wouldn’t need a watch, or an alarm clock, or a stop watch — just the iPhone. I love the timer UI with its weird circular tumblers and an iPod sleep option. The alarm clock should let you wake to a favorite track, but I can deal.
- Camera: D+. It’s a 2 megapixel camera, but without a flash, pretty bad low-light performance, a pokey shutter speed, and no options for controlling camera settings whatsoever. You can take pictures, delete ’em, set them as wallpaper, associate them with a contact, or mail them off — and that’s literally it. For loading pictures taken on a real camera and showing those snaps to friends, the resolution is great and the slideshow transitions are beautiful — however, all the photo management (selection, orientation, cropping, etc.) has to be done on your PC ahead of time. On the iPhone itself you can’t even delete a photo that you sync’d onto it.
- GPS / map case: B+. Does this replace my TomTom or Dash GPS navigator? Not quite. There’s no GPS in the iPhone, so it can’t tell you when to turn, nor automatically show you on a map where you are, nor does it read out the directions. But you can type in a simple reference to a location (“Mountain View sushi”) and get a list — and show overhead satellite or street views with pins, plus get directions to or from. The map is a delight to browse; a slick implementation of Google maps at the palm of your hand. For a long road trip I’d want my on-dash navigator. For short trips, the iPhone is good enough to get you there and prevent you from getting lost. I love how it walks you through each step of the trip with an animation on the map.
- Datebook: C. Syncing with Outlook is giving me a few fits, and it takes way too long. Any updates throughout the day are not reflected unless I sync again. You can’t sync wirelessly, only via the supplied USB cable and dock. The meeting attendees aren’t included, just the meeting title, time, location, and notes.
- Address book: A. No need to carry your little black book. Once you get your contacts imported, the address function is quite handy and capable. Some of the fields I’d like to use (like a category filter) aren’t really exposed, but the address book is really quite good.
- PDA: B-. When I first starting using a Palm Pilot in 1997, the main functions I used were calendar reminders, address book, notes, the “to do” list, and games. Later came mail and expenses. I stopped using my Palm once wireless became common, and started carrying my laptop everywhere instead. But there are times I miss carrying a Palm. I’ve already covered how the iPhone can handle my calendar and contacts. The notepad on the iPhone is nothing special; you can’t import notes, and the only way to get your typed notes off the iPhone is via mail. I’d also like the notepad better if I could password-protect individual notes. There’s no “to do” list function on the iPhone at all. And there are no built-in games, although more and more web sites with free games are popping up. (Plus you could hack your iPhone and load on the various custom apps and games that are starting to spring up, but I’m not going to do that just yet.)
- Blender: F. There are a lot of references to the iPhone blending, but I don’t see anywhere I can put in the fruit and juice. I still need to carry my dedicated blender if I want a smoothie.
Extra thoughts on iPhone as a cell phone: As a cell phone, the iPhone is very good. The UI is clear and functional, much better than the UI of my Motorola SLVR L7 that it replaces. I can hear people clearly and I’m told they can hear me clearly, and the dialing performance is quick (almost too quick).
Holding a flat soap bar to my head is a little weird (and the screen gets dirty quickly), but it works much better than I expected. However, there are a few quirks and areas for improvement:
- Importing contacts needs to be more flexible. You can’t take them off the SIM of your old cell phone; iPhone doesn’t seem to use the SIM for saving or retrieving contacts at all. You can’t beam them over from your old cell phone via SMS or MMS or bluetooth or IR. For a Windows user like me, your only options are to enter them manually on the iPhone, get them from Yahoo (if you happen to put your contacts there), or sync them with Outlook Express or Outlook 2003/2007. I can’t stand Outlook and don’t use it beyond what I’m required to at work (where we use it for our calendaring). It took me two days to format my Palm Desktop contact list properly, export it as a CVS file, manually add headers, manually map the fields for importing into Outlook, and then sync with the iPhone. (Wonderful now that it’s done, but it was a lot of tedious work.)
- The recent call list doesn’t support separation by outgoing and incoming calls — it only shows all calls or missed calls. The iPhone’s a little too smart for its own good about collapsing calls into a single entry. If I call my brother Rob’s cell, then he calls me from his home number, then I call his work, then he calls me from his cell, that all becomes “Robert (4)” and then if I tap for the details, it only shows the times and that the most recent call was from his cell, not a list of who called whom and the duration.
There’s some more I have to say, including the need for a separate RSS reader, some concerns about battery life and recharge time, and some weird UI design inconsistencies (sometimes you confirm in the keyboard widget, sometimes in the upper right, sometimes the upper left). But this is already long enough for now.
Let me sum it up: The sum is greater than the parts. Overall, I love my iPhone.