So if you didn't know yet, I broke down and bought myself an iphone.

For the full year of iphone 1.o I went from pointing out its shortcomings, to accepting it as a pretty solid offering, to constantly reminding myself it wasn't an option due to uncertainty in future plans and a required 2 year commitment to less than stellar AT&T.

When 2.0 (3g) came out, my defenses were slowly beaten back one at a time - the headphone jack became a usable standard headphone (not recessed), the app store opened at least a few doors that were previously closed by the proprietary apple software, the 3g made internet-anywhere something worth using, the GPS made me tingly.

I still tried to avoid it, but the chief reason not to get it was all about money. The initial cost, the increase in my monthly bill, and the anticipated early termination fees. I tackled the money issue by saving up my allowance and participating in a few studies around campus, and the allure of the iphone allowed me to eventually decide to just jump in and work it all out later.

Now, most of you probably do not care about anything to follow in this post, but for the 2 that do, I'm going to write a tiny little review to add to all that has already been written about the iphone. These are the things that I was not clear on from reading reviews online or playing in the apple store, some things that annoy me, some things I love, and just a little synopsis of my first week with the new phone. In so doing I might also explain the reasons why I chose to move beyond my windows mobile PDA and Sprint Samsung cell phone combination.

Maybe I should start there actually.
Reasons for purchasing in the first place:

  • Phone + PDA -- well this is obvious, but I was tired of having things in both pockets. simplify.
  • Integrated GPS -- My old PDA, a Fujitsu Siemens Pocket Loox 720, purchased in October 2004, was paired to a later purchased OnCourse bluetooth 339 GPS receiver. It was neat but it didn't get a ton of use primarily because it wasn't always with me. Having GPS integrated really steps up the utility.
  • Integrated decent camera. I had cameras on both my PDA and my cell phone. The one on the PDA was worse than awful. The one on my phone was usable, but it's far from being even a substitute of a substiute of a real camera. The difficulty with getting pictures back off the phone made it the last thing I wanted to use. More on the camera later.
  • The best internet browser on a phone/pda I've seen. I was running windows mobile 2003 SE on the Loox. I used internet explorer with the spb plus add-on so you could have multiple windows, view in full screen, etc. I also played with opera. I read in forums that the newer iterations of opera usable with WinMo5+ are as good as safari on the iphone, but I haven't had a chance to use it myself. I think a big plus if I'm not mistaken with the newer versions of opera is flash support, which the iphone currently lacks. Anyway, the zooming in and out, the form filling, lots of things with safari are pretty phenomenal.
  • A real media player. I used my Loox (with a 4gb compact flash and 1gb SD card) to listen to music and watch movies. It has a great screen and certainly works well enough to use for these tasks. But it was never fluid. Apple does know what they're doing in a few ways when it comes to making this phone + media player concept work together. With the PDA, I never found a solution for listening to music that guaranteed I wouldn't brush up against something and change the song (or worse, the song would play fine, I'd pull the PDA out an hour later and find that Wifi had been activated and then left on the whole time and my battery was depleted).
  • The apple community. Really meaning the popularity. This is really nice because it means there are a lot of people clamoring for accessories and advances, applications that do everything they think a phone/PDA/camera/media player should do. Before I was depending on a very small community of people who were trying to get the most out of their PDAs-- the Loox was imported from England, so accessories weren't exactly easy to find.
Okay with that out of the way, allow me to move on to some things I love and might not have known about before purchasing:
  • The music control from earbuds. When you use the apple-included earbuds, you can insert them into a sleeping iphone, click, and start playing music where you last left off without doing anything else. For some reason I find this to be amazing. On the same note, when you take the headphones back out, the music stops playing. The click on the headphones is genius (once to pause/answer call, double click for next song), minimal, efficient.
  • Filling out forms is nice. When entering an address for a contact, for instance, the first letter of each word in the "street" field is capitalized, same with "city", then you move to "state", and it automatically capitalizes both letters. I know, such a simple stupid thing, but it's nice when somebody actually thought about that when they wrote this software. and then when you go to "zip" the keyboard auto-changes to number format. beautiful.
  • Filling out forms is nice. When filling out information in a website, a small bar appears above the keyboard with "previous" and "next" (the same as hitting tab on a full computer).
  • Little drop down tabs in internet sites actually work. A nice little scroll-bar pops up in the bottom, blown way up so you can actually read it and choose which option you want.
  • Google integration. Gmail is set up easily with the Mail application of course, but I love the page. I'm impressed when using gmail that it works mostly as on the desktop-- when you start typing an email address in the "to" field, all of the stored addresses (on gmail, not in contacts) pop up just as they do on a computer. But mostly I love the reader. I love that it starts with headlines. I'm surprised to find that when I click on an interesting story, that story just expands, everything else is left alone (I expected the browser to move to that page entirely, meaning a lot of clicking "back" after I read a story). And it gets better. When you do decide to read a story on the original page, it actually opens in a new window! love.
  • Good "hold" function. Love that when I'm playing music I can dance* or rub into whatever I want and the music keeps playing, I don't accidentally open any programs or have the volume suddenly skyrocket. *I don't ever actually dance while listening to my iphone.
  • Love double-clicking the home button while doing something else so I can quickly pause or change the song without exiting the program I'm currently using (this is when using my fancy bose headphones that Alli got me instead of apple buds).
  • itunes song information is transferred back to my computer. So when I decide that I overrated a song with 5 stars, and it should be 4, the next time I sync, the computer learns this and adjusts. Or when I use my 2-week old playlist (discussed below), the "last played" information is transferred back to my computer, so recently played songs will be removed from my 2 week old playlist. This takes the experience up a notch. ipod 1.0 might have done this for all I know, but it's very nice.
  • GPS apps (the idea anyway) -- like the app called where, complete with gasbuddy for finding nearby cheap gasoline, or urbanspoon to find nearby restaurants. excellent ideas, though each has issues which I could, but won't, write another post about.
  • The form factor. it's nice, small, sturdy, but with a big pretty screen.
Things that let me down a little:
  • The camera. Yea, I know, a 2 MP camera on a cell-phone, you can't expect much. And I didn't. And then I used it in the store, read reviews, talked to friends, and my expectations were raised. So far I'm underwhelmed. There is no flash (I knew this of course), and as such you're just not going to get terribly good shots indoors. It's also just not... friendly. Having to open the camera app, then use the touchscreen to take pictures-- I've only taken a few, but it's too easy to accidentally press the button-- no way to rest your finger on it, then look away from the screen, wait for the right moment, then press. A tactile button really beats this. The viewfinder seems a little slow to me (if you move it, the picture lags behind the movement). It needs to be held pretty still to get a good shot. There's no way to take video at all.
  • The GPS (maps application). I'm not sure who to blame here, but it's a little slow to update. A few days ago I walked about a half mile while it told me I was 2 streets over. After I put it to sleep and woke it up a few minutes later, it found me in the right place, maybe this was just an anomaly. However, it just doesn't seem to really accurately follow me, like it's only concerned with checking it's location and re-plotting me every minute or something. I have a feeling this is less to do with the quality of GPS and more to do with considerations for battery life/bandwidth usage/something else I haven't thought of related to google maps. More research is warranted to get to the bottom of this. I still love the GPS, don't get me wrong.
  • Safari doesn't go quite full screen. There will always be the bar at the top showing you signal strength, connectivity (edge, 3g, wifi), time and battery remaining. There will always be the bar at the bottom of the screen that allows you to click back, forward, add bookmarks, open bookmarks, or switch to or open new windows. This may have a lot to do with just how to implement. Still, I'd think apple could come up with some gesture to easily do this, and extra real estate for browsing is always appreciated.
  • Safari doesn't have an "open in new tab" option. This would be very handy. This is why I love that it works so well in google reader (and other websites in which links are made to open a new window).
  • Emails don't always display and reflow well. I'm not sure why. There's an option for minimum size text, but still I get emails sometimes (often I think it's because they are html of some sort) which are too small to read. I have to zoom in to read them, but the text does not reflow. So I end up in the worst imaginable state of email reading. one line at a time, all the way from the left, scroll right. scroll down and left, read next line. repeat. get headache. Filed under things that really annoy me, but fitting into this paragraph: email doesn't support landscape view!!! why not?
  • Let's just stick to that point. Landscape format is not universal. It is unclear which programs will and will not work with landscape, you just have to tilt and find out. Most of the apps I've played with do not, but some could benefit from this. It wouldn't hurt maps, email, calendar... I'm glad apple has tried to get the most out of portrait orientation, as constantly turning the device on its side can get annoying, but adding in landscape can be nice sometimes.
  • The apple way. The proprietaryness. The need to use itunes to move content. For a long time these things were the straws that kept me hating on apple. apple: "here, pay a lot for this fancy device that could do so much more if we opened it up. Use it exactly as we tell you to. Use this program. click here. no, not there." There is of course a positive side to this, as it makes for an easy store-front to purchase music and deliver content from. I've slowly let itunes into my life and I do enjoy it for the ratings and smart playlists, the podcasts, or just for finding new music. I got the 16gb iphone and made an 8gb smart playlist composed of songs that have not been played in 2 weeks and are not rated 1 or 2 stars (not all of my collection is rated yet), and this has worked quite nicely.. provided of course I sync, which in general I'd rather avoid as much as possible.
  • AT&T. I think my actual download speeds were better with sprint's evdo network. I think everybody in the US has been complaining about their "3g" speeds. It's not driving me crazy, probably because I read enough before hand to know what to expect, but sometimes it is pretty annoying. Tonight, as Alli and I were walking along looking for a specific dock for instance, and trying to use GPS to assist, despite full signal 3g connectivity, the portion of the map where we were actually located would not download. I also opened safari real quick and tried to open a page, nothing. so, something wasn't telling the truth. I'm hopeful AT&T will improve this in the future. My call quality and general service have been pretty much fine thus far.
  • That screen sure does get smudgy, and doesn't clean so easily. I wonder if there is a screen protector out there that would reduce the smudginess but retain sensitivity and beauty.
  • Back to itunes-- it annoys me that there aren't more options for moving content. If I have a season of shows, I can choose to move unwatched episodes or new episodes, but not episode 3. I think this is only the case with itunes purchased content though, as I see my American Dreams that I encoded is recognized as individual movies.
  • Lack of a hard scroll wheel. I had one on my Loox (not an actual wheel, but an up/down button on the side anyway). A hard button can really improve the one-handed ability to read a book, a long webpage, zip through contacts, or other things. Apple's trying to be minimalist and make just about everything work through the touch interface, but I think a neat setting to be able to change would be use of the volume controls. Perhaps a rapid double click on one of them would change their purpose from volume to scrolling. I actually don't find the volume controls to be that good either-- if in my pocket, it's not so easy to reach in and press the right one. This is I'm sure a small price to pay so that I don't have accidental key presses. The volume buttons just don't travel very far or have a good tactile feedback to them though.
Things that drive me crazy:
  • The battery meter. A tiny little icon in the upper right corner. Is that 60% charge or 90% charge? should I go ahead and finish watching this movie knowing I'll have plenty of battery left to make a 1 hr call, or should I cut it off and conserve? Maybe somebody could write a simple app to give us some more information here, ideally with an estimated time to battery drain?
  • Copy/paste. everybody's favorite complaint. Apple decided to leave it out, anybody's guess as to why. In one week I've had no less than 5 instances where I wanted to copy and paste something. You can usually get around it, but I mean, come on.
  • Alerts. There are really not enough options here. Along the lines of copy/paste, there is no way to take 1 single appointment, copy it, and paste it to a new date. Windows mobile had no problem with that task. For a repeating alarm, you can repeat every day, every week, every 2 weeks, every month, every year. what about every 3 weeks? what about the first tuesday of every month? what about every wednesday, unless there was a holiday preceding, in which case it is now thursday? okay, the last example might be tough to implement, but the other scenarios are real-life ones that I used on my Loox. can't do it here. yet. I see pocket informant is working on an app.
  • Alerts. Once the phone does buzz to remind you to do something in 15 minutes (which by the way, the default is not to have any alert, and as far as I'm aware, that default setting can not be changed-- but usually if I'm taking the time to put it on my calendar on my phone, it's because I need reminding)-- well it buzzes (or sounds an alarm, but I live with my phone in vibrate mode, a custom I wish would be adopted by my fellow church/movie/seminar/public transportation-goers)-- once. for a fairly short period of time. missed it? too bad. Luckily, the next time you turn your phone on, the alert will greet you, but if you were truly busy and missed the alarm, there would be no second warning. There is no way to change this. I think the PDA functionality is basic, so I'd like to see this improve.
  • Mass storage. This goes to the itunes-centric apple plan. Actually I don't care so much about the mass storage. In some ways it's nice that I don't ever see the file structure behind the system. But there is one thing that bothers me-- The apple OS has a pretty nice ability to read .pdf, .doc, .xls, and .ppt files. But they assume the only reason I'd ever want to look at one of these is in an email attachment or as a link in a website. I recently took a whole blog along with me on a plane trip, all printed to pdf files for easy viewing, worked pretty nicely. not on iphone. well, actually there are a few programs in the app store that are supposed to allow me to do this (datacase, mobilefinder, files, filemagnet). I'll probably buy one of those, but I think this ability should be part of the OS, not an add-on. The ability to carry a few other files of any format wouldn't hurt either.
okay maybe a few other tiny things I'd like:
  • wifi sync would be nice. zune can do it, surely apple can too.
  • placing apps to the left and right of the home screen would be nice. If I have 3 screens of apps, another screen is only 1 swipe away at max, not 2. I also think it would probably be better if pressing the home button always brought you to the main home screen instead of the one you were on, but I'm sure others would disagree.
  • more apps that don't require internet connectivity. I loved having wikipedia stored on my PDA, I could get to the data in a heartbeat, anywhere. same with a dictionary, multiple translations (including Greek and Hebrew) and loads of notes on the Bible, and maps of the entire US. Some of this is in the app store, but I think most people are developing and thinking about that "super-fast" 3g network-- why use storage when you can use bandwidth? of course there are tradeoffs, my loox wikipedia is now over a year old, but there's still a ton of good information there which doesn't really change.
  • The GPS is a point where someone could really stand to make a network-free program. geocachers would appreciate this, but so would anybody driving through Vermont. Or just rural areas.
  • I wish pandora would play in the background while I do something else. Pandora is a website that plays new music for you based on music and artists you choose. But if you've read this far, odds are you knew that.
  • Safari page caching, this is a fairly minor thing, but I wonder if anybody is working on it. It actually turns out that opera mini running on my samsung A900 worked pretty well. In the last few months, I've moved more and more away from bringing the PDA with me at all, saving me pocket space, and made do with the phone. Of course, rendering is hit or miss, but one thing I LOVE about opera mini is the way it caches pages. When you click a link, the browser loads a new page as usual. Then, when you hit back, the stored page just pops right back over on top of what you were viewing. There's always a refresh button if you need it, but 99% of the time, when I hit back, it's to hit another link, I don't need a refresh, and this vastly improves the speed of browsing. Apple and windows mobile could both take a lesson from opera mini here. And if my little samsung phone could do it, then so could apple without requiring bloat.
  • And well, all the general stuff: more format support would be great, A2DP bluetooth profile for wireless headphones would be nice, ability to tether to a laptop, ability to make a VoIP call (on wifi of course)- yes the last one should be coming.
I know, I really sound like a complainer here. I love technology, but it consistently lets me down. I love this phone, I really do, but I also want others (and ideally apple and other cell phone and gadget-makers) to know where there are shortcomings and room for improvement. Otherwise I'd have no reason to use google reader to check gizmodo for the next latest and greatest toys and app store updates.