I am now the proud owner of a shiny new Apple iPhone 3GS. My impressions so far are overwhelmingly positive, but it does have some significant flaws.
I’ve looked longingly at other people’s iPhone’s for some time. When they first came out 2 years ago (remember the lines?), I was hesitant: How good were they really. I spoke to a bunch of colleagues, and the overall impression I got was mixed. It was a big step, certainly, but there were some small issues that detracted from the overall feeling that you’d made the right choice.
I had a Nokia N80 before the iPhone was released, which was big and clunky in comparison, but it had better cameras, removable battery and storage, and I could talk to it from Linux, sortof. And there were no locking/Jailbreaking type issues. The N80’s main speaker died, so I replaced it with an N95 just before the iPhone 3G was released. I bought it on a plan, figuring that it’d basically pay for itself over the 2 years of the mobile plan. This ended up being fundamentally, horribly wrong, for reasons I’ll go it in a minute.
But the N95 was a decent improvement over the N80. It does 3G, Bluetooth and WiFi. It presents as a USB Bulk Storage device over a standard USB/micro-USB connector, so I could transfer files to and from Linux easily enough.
Annoyance with Nokia
The big issue I had with the Nokia is its user interface. It sucks. This is from someone who had a Nokia P7 waaay back in analog days. I had a Nokia when I worked for Vodaphone. I can’t remember the model, but its user interface was universally acknowledged to be superior to others on the market. It was easy to use.
Somewhere along the way, Nokia lost the plot. I had a Sony-Ericsson something at one stage, the first I’d seen with predictive text, which I thought was super-neat, but other things were getting more difficult to do. There were a lot more menu steps between the main menu and whatever I wanted to do.
With the N95, this had pretty much reached its zenith. There are something like 6 menus between the main screen and actually sending a text message to someone, not including opening the phone in the first place. I’ve never liked flip-phones or slidey phones, and after a year, the N95’s slide is getting loose. If you open it the wrong way, you get landscape media mode.
And when you do step through the menus, to, say, open the music player, it has to boot the application, which takes ages. This is for a core application on the phone. Bugger the potentially fun uses of people writing apps for the Symbian (anyone? anyone? Bueller?), I don’t want to have to wait 10 seconds for the music player to boot. Because while it does, I can’t get at anything else on the phone.
Searching for a contact is sub-optimal. The GPS takes several minutes to figure out where you are, if you stay rock still and have 30 satellites available. Using the internet with the inbuilt browser is tricky, and just drives it home how much better things would be if you had an actual computer to use instead.
In short, most of the stuff I use the phone for on a regular basis was at best irritating and at worst infuriating. Those iPhone folks just seemed to have it better.
How right I was.
The Joy of Design
The iPhone is beautiful. It feels solid, but not heavy, in your hand. The build quality is superb, somehow living up to the pricetag of near $AUS1000. The N95 cost more, back in the day, but is a bit plasticky. This thing, much like the BlackBerry Bold, just quietly asserts that it is a quality device.
But the user-interface. Oh My!
There’s a reason people loved showing off the Apple touch interface. It’s amazing if you’ve never used one before. It just makes everything so easy. It’s mostly intuitive, with a couple of little tricks that you quickly learn, and then use without being conscious of it. Getting to things is super easy, and it pretty much just does what you expect it should do.
This is the essence of great design. Unlike my N95, the easy things are easy to do, and the difficult things (like setting up a static IP address for WiFi connectivity, or an IMAP mail account) are suprisingly easy to do as well.
Browsing the internet is a joy. The Facebook app from the App store is clean and easy to use. TweetDeck for iPhone operates much the same as the desktop version, and is a joy to use.
Everything looks pretty, it’s easy to read, and things Just Work.
The built in accelerometer, and now magnetometer, are suprisingly awesome. Just as people came up with all kinds of interesting ways to use the accelerometer (lightsaber app, anyone?) I can’t want to see what people do with the magnetometer.
So let’s run through my litany of woe ragarding the N95 and see how the iPhone compares:
User interface: iPhone wins. End of story.
Predictive Text: iPhone has it and it’s easier to use or override.
Sending a Text: Easier to get to and full QWERTY keyboard makes the iPhone faster for me. I can already type, so I don’t need to learn a new mobile-typing skill just for text messages, and to stop the phone from thinking that I wanted to say ‘in’ when I meant ‘go’. Oh, and the iPhone’s conversation style interface makes the back-and-forth of texting much better.
Speed: iPhone is fast. I’ve not felt annoyed that something wasn’t starting quick enough so far.
GPS: iPhone again. It works, and it’s fast. Oh, and it integrates with the camera, automatically geo-tagging things. Awesome.
Search: There’s a pretty good global search on the iPhone. No such thing on the N95, and the contact search is only ok. I can’t seem to search the iPhone for a phone number and have it find the related contact, which is a shame. I believe the Windows based smartphones do that really well.
Internet: A joy on the iPhone.
Camera: The Nokia’s is 5 megapixel and takes a slightly better photo than the iPhone. The iPhone compensates by having smarter software (in the 3GS), and it’s a little bit easier to use. The Nokia has a second camera in the front so you can take photos of yourself easier. I’ve used that exactly once. Still, I’ll give this one to the Nokia by a nose.
Ok, so the iPhone is pretty awesome, right? Yep, but it’s far from perfect, and has a few bits that annoy me.
I bought my phone unlocked, which is how they should be everywhere. I still had to activate it. Having to connect to a PC in order to use the device at all is stupid.
Data transfer is hard
Getting things into and out of the iPhone are hard for me with Linux as my main operating system. VMware Server 2 doesn’t seem to work properly with the USB drivers for Windows XP, so I have to boot into my gaming PC if I want to use iTunes. This will get solved when a jailbreak is released for the 3GS, which won’t be far away.
Having to jailbreak is a drag when all I want to do is use something I’ve bought and paid for. This encourages piracy, because if you do the illegal thing, it’s easier. Way to punish those of us who actually give you money, dumbass. Speaking of which:
Custom Ringtone Format
The Nokia N95 wins here. On the Nokia, you can select any audio file on the device as a ringtone. On the iPhone, I apparently need to use some custom Apple file format, designed to lock you into buying ringtones from Apple.
And iTunes won’t let you turn your own music into a ringtone, unless you bought the song through iTunes. Zuh? So I actually shell out cash for a CD, and you’re punishing me? Dumb.
There are ways around this, apparently, but I’ve yet to quite work them out. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
Jailbreak should fix this problem for me, too.
There’s no FM radio tuner in the iPhone. You’ll need a separate attachment thing, like my other half has for her iPod. I don’t listen to the radio much, so this doesn’t bother me. And with 32GiB of storage, I can put in quite a few tunes and Podcasts.
Overall, I’m happy with my purchase. The proprietary lock-in things are stupid and annoying, but I knew about most of them.
Once the jailbreak is available, I should be able to get data sync happening with Linux, which will be good. I’ll keep you posted on that front too.
Anything else you’d like to know about?