Friday, August 24, 2007

Early thoughts on the iPhone

Earlier this week, I was suddenly struck with an overpowering desire to own an iPhone. I was kind of surprised. I had survived through the initial hype without feeling all that compelled to get one, and there hasn't been any recent news about it (this was before the iPhone was "unlocked" [I use the quotation marks because, contrary to mainstream media coverage, there was already a simpler exploit available that used a modified SIM card instead of physically altering the iPhone itself]) to bring it back to mind. I guess it was a slow-developing kind of realization that it was a great phone. Several people around the office have picked them up, and I've just been really impressed whenever I used one.

As previously noted, I've wanted to switch phones and providers for a while. My Sprint contract has been up for a few months, and this seems like a good time to take the leap and grab a 408 area code. I did some hemming and hawing early in the week until I finally said, "Screw it," and ordered the darn thing.

Part of what tipped me over the edge is the fact that Apple is now selling refurbished iPhones on their web site. They knock $100 off the price, and they still come with a full one-year warranty.

Ordering was a surprisingly good experience. The refurbished phones were listed as shipping in "1-2 Days". I opted for free shipping, which guaranteed delivery in "5-10 Days". I figured, this'll be fine: I'll get my phone sometime next week if I'm lucky, and have plenty of time to get ready. I placed the order Wednesday night, and it arrived around noon on Thursday morning. Ah, yes. There are benefits to living in the Valley.

Enough background: on to the phone itself!

I'll admit that, despite Apple's good reputation on refurbished products, I was a tad apprehensive when I opened the box. I needn't have been; other than a sticker on the back of the box that identified it as refurbished, there was no way I would have known it wasn't new. The unit itself came in pristine condition with no smudges or scratches, and had all the manuals, accessories, and packaging in perfect condition.

The first thing I noticed about the iPhone is how good it feels in the hand. It's slightly taller and wider than my previous flip phone when closed, and is thinner than the original Motorola Razr. The weight is perfect for me; it has a tiny bit of heft that keeps it from feeling fragile, but is still light enough that I can hold it for a long time without really noticing the weight. It has the perfect level of construction that I've come to expect from Apple hardware. The edges are softly rounded without a lot of extra ports, and the glass surface feels great.

Yeah, let's talk about that surface next. The reviews are right about how well the touch interface works. Part of this is due to good technology, and part to good design. Things are laid out in such a way that it's really easy to get what you need. And best of all, having everything done through touch frees up practically the ENTIRE SURFACE to serve as an amazing, attractive screen. I'm reminded of how impressed I was when I first saw the Sony PSP screen; this manages to meet or excel that. The colors are vivid, and the sheer size of the thing makes it even more impressive.

I haven't talked too much on the phone yet. Big surprise - everyone knows how much I hate cell phones. :-) But so far I've been pretty happy with the call quality. I called my old cell and left a long, rambling voicemail; when I listened, it came across pretty clearly.

There's still a lot left to look at. Honestly, I haven't even synced any music or video to it yet, so I can't even comment on that. I figure I'll give a quick rundown now, and revisit the issue a week or a month later.

So far, the things I most like:
  • Google maps. It's a great application anyways, and integrates beautifully with the rest of the phone.
  • That gorgeous screen.
  • Outlook syncing! I've never used a PDA before so this is new to me, and I can already sense that it may change the way I live my life (hopefully for the better).
  • Intuitive and CLEAN interface. There's one physical button on the whole thing, and it does exactly what you want it to.
  • Looks and feels great.
Software features I most want:
  • True Google mail. They only offer POP3 access, so it doesn't have the standard gmail features like archiving, tagging, etc. And it doesn't sync with the online account, so you can't really manage your mail. I'll probably end up using the web client for gmail, which is a shame, especially since Google has such a wonderful mail client for J2ME phones.
  • The first point is a specific instance of a more general request: support for downloadable third-party applications.
  • Stereo bluetooth.
  • LBS.
Top hardware features I most wish it had:
  • GPS
  • Removable memory card
That's it for now, I guess. By now I should have emailed my new number to most of you; if not, let me know and I'll shoot it your way.

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