- Multi-touch navigation, fantastic display, great handheld video player, impressive browser, durability and build quality
- Lack of 3G/HSDPA, no instant messaging/office applications, gets warm with constant use, iffy text entry
If you want to love this much-hyped gadget, you'll find plenty to drool over. The iPhone is expensive and comes with some major drawbacks, but it's hard to be patient once you've seen one - the future of mobile devices is here and it's called an iPhone.
Music and Video
Right off the bat with the iPhone, it's clear that this isn't your father's iPod. Apple built a completely new interface for the iPhone's music player, adding touch and tilt sensitivity to elements of its iTunes and iPod interfaces.
Syncing seemed relatively slow compared to other iPods we've used. Transferring 2.2GB of music and video to the device took just over 11 minutes, for a rate of just over 3MB/second.
For the most part, browsing a music library is a joy. Tilt the iPhone on its side with the iPod app going, and it flips into Cover Flow mode to let you flick through your albums with a quick gesture of your finger. (Be sure to have iTunes update your cover art before you sync your library, as any holes in your cover art will make for some ugly blank spots in the Cover Flow progression.)
We didn't see any of the load-time issues with Cover Flow that we experience regularly in the Windows version of iTunes, though they may still exist in libraries larger than the 4GB on our test unit. Tap an album cover, and it flips around to display a list of tracks. Tap any one of those to start it playing.
Tilt back to vertical, and your volume and play controls overlay the bottom of the screen. Tap the screen to bring up a progress indicator that lets you scrub through to any point in the song. That's actually one area where the iPhone falls behind the iPod - with its acceleration-sensitive scroll wheel, you can easily pinpoint the right section of a track without any microscopic finger movements. Finding the right area on the iPhone's progress bar is much trickier, which can be a bit of a pain on longer tracks such as podcasts or full-length concerts.
While we quickly learnt where the different controls reside, it still bugs us a bit that functions like the volume slider are locked to a single orientation of the player. Still, if Apple's planning to move all of its MP3 players to this type of interface, as the continuing rumours of a touch screen video iPod would seem to indicate, the iPod's future is in good hands.
We never expect much out of the internal speakers or the earbuds that come with a phone or MP3 player, so let's just get those out of the way: the iPhone's internal speakers aren't too bad. While we wouldn't want to listen to music on them, as they distort fairly quickly on any high-register sounds, they're fine for dialog-heavy video playback. The earbuds are fine, too. If you've heard Apple's classic white iPod earbuds, you'll know what you're in for here.
So what's the iPhone really sound like? If you want a quick demo, borrow an iPod nano (2nd Generation). We couldn't hear much to distinguish it from a current-generation nano on either Shure's E500 PTH in-ear phones or Sony's MDR-V900 over-the-ear headphones. In our listening tests, the iPhone held up well compared to most flash-based players. We rate its overall sound quality just behind that of Creative's excellent Zen V Plus (1GB) and almost exactly even with the current generation of iPod nano players.
Our objective audio tests bear that out, with the iPhone generating scores nearly identical to the nano. The 4GB iPhone we tested turned in a particularly strong performance on our crosstalk test, tying the Zen V Plus for the best score we've seen. It also tied the nano's impressive score on our test of maximum useable output level. These results aren't bad, but when we compare the iPhone to an 80GB iPod, there's a noticeable lack of bass with the equaliser turned off. Cymbals, guitar, and any hiss in the recording sound just a touch brighter and more prominent than we'd like, which makes for a slightly more fatiguing listening experience. Female voices in particular, such as the "Live from Austin Texas" recording of Neko Case that we used for some of our testing, sound a bit harsh compared with the better hard drive players.
Overall, the iPhone sounds quite nice for a flash-based MP3 player. One significant drawback: Though Apple built in a standard-size jack instead of the mini-headphone connector you find on most cell phones, you can't just plug in the great set of headphones you bought for your iPod. The iPhone uses a three-segment headset connector that normal headphones can't plug into, which means lots of us will be springing for an annoying adapter as our first iPhone accessory. Yuck.
Here's how nice the iPhone's screen is for video: for the first time, we are looking at the videos we encoded for our iPod thinking "Boy, we really compressed the heck out of that, didn't we?" Next time we encode video, we'll have to go with some higher-quality settings. And that's where video on the iPhone gets a little tricky. Back on an 80GB iPod, the 530MB, 320x128 pixel version of Serenity we used as a demo looks just fine. Transfer it to the iPhone's beautiful 480x320 pixel display, and the low resolution really starts to show its warts. A 640x720 pixel copy of Lord of War we downloaded from the iTunes Store looked great, but at that resolution takes up 1.35GB, or one-third of the 4GB model's capacity. Even with an 8GB iPhone, TV shows are a better bet.
Once you get the video quality dialled in, though, the iPhone makes a great video player. We'll have to follow up a little later with battery tests during video playback, but every other aspect of iPhone video was top notch. Tap the screen during playback to activate it's on-screen play controls. There's an icon in the top-right corner that lets you automatically zoom in on widescreen movies if you can't stand the letterbox effect. The same progress indicator from the music side of the player lets you scrub through to your favourite parts of a video, and the iPhone showed very little lag when jumping from one point of a clip to another.
The iPhone has a select handful of extra apps. Some are more noteworthy, for reasons good and bad, than others.
SMS messages look like emails do on the primary screen; then in conversation, they appear in fun balloon form. Unfortunately, you can't send picture messages, though. Instead, you have to send images via e-mail.
The note application is fashioned after a yellow legal pad. Tap out your notes on the keyboard, and then save them to the device, or send them via e-mail. When you do send a note via e-mail, everyone will know where it came from: the bottom of the note we sent to our phone had a "Sent from my iPhone" tag-line tacked on. The clock is full-featured, with a world clock, stopwatch, timer, and multiple alarm settings (useful if you need reminders during the day, or to set up different wake-up calls for different days of the week).
Google Maps is conveniently integrated into the iPhone, as is Yahoo's six-day weather outlook and stock data. You also get a dedicated YouTube application (separate from the iPod video playback capabilities). Right now, only about 10,000 YouTube videos have been reformatted to accommodate the iPhone's screen; the company plans to have the entire library converted by end of year, though. YouTube videos load quickly, and we found the image quality as good as (or even better than) the source material as viewed on a PC.
When we left the device paused on a YouTube video, first the screen intelligently dimmed, then the phone shut off entirely. When we came back and powered up again, the YouTube video was right where we left it. We experienced the same level of resume when using other phone features, as well.
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