Usability test: Does iPhone match the hype?

Users try out the iPhone, HTC Touch and the Nokia N95

Look and feel

Apple iPhone 5

5 out of 5

HTC Touch 3

3 out of 5

Nokia N95 4.5

5 out of 5

Look and feel refers to subjective issues such as how the device looks, how pleasing various graphical design elements are and its color and style. Once again, the iPhone received perfect marks.

"It's clean and plain, but it has that large screen, which increases the appeal," Ballew said. "It has a minimalist design, which, interestingly, made people feel it was a more high-end phone."

The Nokia N95 didn't trail far behind the iPhone in terms of look and feel.

"The outside look of the Nokia is very nice," Ballew said. "And incorporating a full-fledged camera makes it seem high end. On the inside, it has nice animated icons. So the look and feel on both the outside and inside is pretty nice."

The HTC Touch suffered a bit because its screens were sometimes confusing.

"The home page is different than the start menu, which is confusing," Thornton said. This problem is shared by virtually all Windows Mobile devices, he added.

Functionality

Apple iPhone 3.5

5 out of 5

HTC Touch 3.5

5 out of 5

Nokia N95 4.5

5 out of 5

Functionality refers to what some consider the meat and potatoes of the device -- its applications and how complex and customizable they are. It also refers to the quality of subsystems within the device, such as the camera. In this area, the Nokia was the clear leader.

"It has a really nice feature set," Ballew said. On the other hand, he stressed, its strong feature set contributed to its relatively poor usability scores in previous categories.

"It's right on the verge of feature bloat," he said. "I mean, I'm not sure when I'd ever use the bar-code scanner. And some of the features are hard to set up." In particular, Ballew said it took four hours to set up Wi-Fi on the N95, which was a fast, simple task on both the HTC Touch and the iPhone.

The HTC Touch did well in this category, as do most Windows Mobile devices.

"You can easily add new applications, new widgets," Ballew said. "The screen quality probably decreased the ability to use some of the functionality, though."

By contrast, this is one area in which the iPhone did not excel.

"It has really basic functionality," Ballew said. "For example, the camera functionality is pretty basic. We're starting to see more third-party apps, but they're Web-based, and some aren't very good."

However, Thornton noted that some of the functionality the iPhone did have was extremely well implemented. That was particularly true with the ability to use the Safari browser to see a whole Web page on-screen, then to zoom in on what you specifically wanted to see.

"People were faster and more successful in getting to a Web page with iPhone," Thornton said.

The bottom line in this category is that there often are trade-offs between the feature-richness and usability, Thornton said.

David Haskin is a contributing editor specializing in mobile and wireless issues.

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