I was never really a big fan of cell phones. They are quite costly, you have to deal with cell phone salespeople (one step away from used car salesmen in my opinion), and when it comes down to it I don’t like talking on the phone all that much.
After much deliberation I decided to cancel my old cell phone service and get an iPhone. A couple of things led me to this decision: First, cost-wise it made sense. I need a backup Internet connection for business purposes and was paying AT&T ~$60/month for cellular Internet plus ~$50 a month to Verizon for cellphone service; the iPhone costs ~$70 a month and replaces both of those. Second was the convenience of a device small enough to fit in my pocket yet having capability equivalent to a small computer.
After using it for several days I have to say the iPhone is nothing short of phenomenal. There have been three times in my life where I was completely blown away by a piece of technology; the first was my first personal computer (the Radio Shack TRS-80), the second was when I experienced the first Macintosh computer (with its revolutionary mouse and graphical user interface), and the third is this iPhone. This is one electronic device that lives up to and exceeds its hype.
The iPhone’s interface is unsurpassed in usability and ease-of-use. This is truly one of the few very sophisticated electronic devices that a non-computer person can pick up and use (and I have several non-computer friends that have iPhones as proof of that), but is still capable enough for a power-user like me.
The iPhone has been reviewed to death, but let me just make a few personal-experience comments, good and bad:
- The Web browser: I’ve tried Web-browsing features on other cell phones and the experience they offer is so limited it’s almost worthless. The iPhone’s Web browser does it all. There hasn’t been a page I’ve tried that doesn’t look and function like it’s supposed to, including complex Web server control panels and even Amazon.com. It doesn’t support Flash (the website animation software), but since I find most Flash-based websites and advertising banners annoying it’s not something I miss.
- The keyboard: My previous phone had a flip-out “thumb” keyboard. I never thought the iPhone’s touch-screen keyboard would be usable for anything but slow pecking, but I was completely wrong. It’s much easier to “thumb type” with than the physical keyboard of my previous cellphone, and although it’s more prone to errors the iPhone’s software generally does a great job of figuring out what I meant to type and making corrections in real time. The result is that I’m typing about twice as fast with better accuracy vs. my old cell phone.
- GPS: The iPhone comes with a ton of great goodies right out of the box, and one of my favorites is the built-in GPS that interfaces with Google Maps. Here’s a typical example of how I use it: The other day I was in an unfamiliar area and needed to find a pet store. I started the Maps application on iPhone and it instantly located my position via GPS and gave me a zoom-able street map of my local area. I hit the search button, typed “pet store,” and got several “pins” dropped on the map of nearby locations that matched my search. Touching a pin brings up a small flag telling me the name of the store at that location, and touching the flag brings up a page with contact information for that store. I touched the phone number and called the store to find out when they closed, then touched the “directions” button and got turn-by-turn directions to that store with the route highlighted on the map. Amazing.
- Apps: While the iPhone surpasses any other phone I’ve come across right out of the box, the number of add-on applications (or “apps”) is truly amazing. There are literally tens of thousands of applications you can download to extend the capability of your phone, from utilities to games to musical instruments, and many are free or available for only a dollar to two. Here’s one example: I had a dozen or so of those store “club cards” clogging up both my wallet and key chain. I discovered an app called CardStar which lets you store all of those club cards electronically on your phone. You just enter your card’s ID number, and when you select that card in the future CardStar generates a bar code which the store can scan. No need to carry all those plastic cards around anymore, and I am no longer reluctant to sign up for new cards. And CardStar is free!
- The battery: The battery life is often bemoaned in reviews, but I think it’s fine. The problem is that if you’re constantly using your phone—and as capable as the iPhone is you likely will be—it runs out the battery in a few hours. The thing is, the iPhone battery lasts longer than either of my two laptops batteries, and the iPhone is much smaller and doing the same work a laptop would. The main issue I have with the iPhone battery is that it is internal and therefor not changeable. A car charger is a must (a good, inexpensive car charger I found is the Griffin PowerJolt SE).
- Picture messages: Here’s one of the few scratch-my-head disappointments I had with the iPhone. While you can send text messages to other phones, you cannot send picture messages (technically referred to as Multimedia Messaging Service or MMS). This is a capability I’ve had on other phones for years now. The iPhone sort of makes up for it with its excellent e-mail app and the ability to attach pictures to e-mail, but why they’ve left out on a feature which is included on much lesser phones is baffling. NOTE: As of this writing AT&T is adding MMS capability to iPhones and is supposed to be available September 25.
- Configurability: While the ability to add apps makes this the most configurable cellphone ever, there are some configuration options that are surprisingly not available. One is the lack of ability to import sounds for use in events like new e-mail and text-message notifications; you are stuck with a limited number of built-in sounds. You can import your own ringtones, but even then there is a roundabout trick to doing it (which I’ll blog about at some point in the near future), and the ringtones can only be used for a limited number of non-phone-ringing events (like the alarm clock sound).
- AT&T: One of the notable aspects of the iPhone is that if you want an iPhone and live in the USA you must use AT&T as your carrier. (There are illicit ways to hack the iPhone to allow it to use other carriers, but I’m not willing to do that.) My experience with AT&T thus far has been mostly positive. I often find that inside buildings the signal is not strong enough for data (like Web surfing and e-mail), but all things considered I find it acceptable and am willing to live with occasional patchy reception. AT&T has a reputation for problems, but as I said my experience has been positive.
- It’s an iPod too: While other phones have music playback functionality seemingly added as an afterthought, the iPhone is the best iPod you can get. It’s probably a little too bulky to use on a jogging track (not something that bothers me), but in most music-playing/video-watching situations the iPhone is fabulous.
If I didn’t have one of the new models of the iPhone (the 3Gs to be exact) I’d have more to complain about. Only recently did the iPhone add features commonly found on other phones like voice dialing and video recording. Cut-and-paste is another recently-added feature that I could not have lived without. However, the new iPhones have nearly everything I could ever want and more, and for the first time in my life I feel like I’m finally getting my money’s worth out of my cell phone bill.