iPhone review: Hype meets reality
The iPhone was really handy when I needed to check a ferry schedule during a road test I gave the fascinating new gadget Saturday. A printed version of...
Seattle Times staff columnist
The iPhone was really handy when I needed to check a ferry schedule during a road test I gave the fascinating new gadget Saturday.
A printed version of the schedule was somewhere in the car. But I didn't have to root under the seats because I was carrying an iPhone.
I was among the thousands of people who lined up Friday across the country for what Steve Jobs promised would be the first fully usable browser on a cellphone, the Internet in my pocket.
To participate in this technology revolution and help advance the state of the art requires a commitment of at least $2,000 for the lovely device and mandatory wireless service.
After that, you weren't going to find me dumping out the glove box in search of information I could now reach out and touch on the Web. Even if it was The Seattle Times' money.
It took about five minutes to get sailing times. The slow wireless network was part of the problem.
Jobs has said you can overcome this by piggybacking on Wi-Fi networks, but nobody was sharing their network in the part of Magnolia where I was. Besides, we're paying AT&T $2 a day for iPhone service.
I also had a hard time navigating with the iPhone's touch screen. Once the ferry Web page had loaded, I tapped the schedule link and waited a minute for that page to load, then realized I'd accidentally tapped on a link telling me about the boat. It took three tries to load the Bremerton schedule, and a few more tries to get Bainbridge Island's.
Maybe I'm not used to it yet or too old-fashioned, but I dislike the browser. It doesn't have stop or home buttons, so if you tap the wrong link you hit the back arrow and return to the previous page.
I wasn't precise in my tapping and kept going too far back. I'd wait for the wrong page to load, then go forward to the one I wanted and try again. With all the zigzagging, it was like trying to find a book in Seattle's nouveau downtown library.
You can zoom into Web pages nicely, but you're still looking at them on a screen that's a bit smaller than a business card.
Flash-heavy pages don't work, so my daughter couldn't spend time at Barbie.com when we drove around Puget Sound, after missing the ferry.
Apple has been telling people the iPhone takes some getting used to, but this is my first impression.
I had a similar experience in 2002 with the first Tablet PCs developed by Microsoft. They had dramatically improved screen technology for recognizing handwriting, but it took time for users to train themselves to use the input system.
Five years later, Tablet PCs still haven't taken off, but the input system has improved. This year, Microsoft put the technology into its standard operating system, and PC makers are just starting to make mainstream systems with touch controls, like the Hewlett-Packard TouchSmart PC.
It really is transformative to use finger taps and flicks to control a computer, instead of reaching for a mouse, stylus or keyboard. After you figure it out, you wonder why they all aren't so easy to use.
But reality sets in when you realize that while you're seeing the future, you're still on the bleeding edge and there's more work to be done.
Apple fans may not be troubled by the sort of hiccups I experienced. They'll probably be thrilled to have an iPod that does so many more things, or a portable Mac-like experience.
Apple had to refresh its music-player line. It also had to compete with phones that are getting music storage and playback capabilities comparable to the most popular iPods.
In that respect, the company did a fantastic job.
If you're an iPod user who has spent years enjoying the device and thinking how cool it would be if Apple could put a phone and a Web browser inside, your day has come. You can experience the rest of the world through the little screen and white earbuds.
If you're just looking for a phone that can play music, consider the iPhone, but there are cheaper phones with comparable song capacities that work as well or better as phones.
Call quality was fine, but no better than on my cheap T-Mobile Samsung or Nextel BlackBerry.
It's fun to dial with the touch screen, but there were shortcomings. Amid stalled traffic at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, I tried calling my parents and using the speakerphone. Even at maximum volume, I couldn't hear what was being said.
The iPhone makes it easy to view and e-mail photos, but its camera doesn't zoom, take video or capture as many pixels as some other high-end phones. It will soon seem rudimentary.
All the iPhone extras take a toll on battery life. On Saturday, after charging overnight, mine lasted 3 hours and 50 minutes. It had been used for eight minutes of calls, 45 minutes of music playing, 73 pictures, maybe 30 minutes of browsing and lots of examination by family.
If you're looking for a pocketable computer, the iPhone is the state of the art. It will take time for other computer companies to produce devices with so many features and a comparable interface in such an elegant package.
It's amazing how much technology is stuffed between its crisp display and its brushed metal back. The bundled applications are nice and easy to control. The hardware feels terrific and looks great, even though the screen is constantly smudged by fingers.
But the look and feel don't overcome what I think are limitations in its usefulness as a computer. Apple deserves particular scrutiny here, because it's locking buyers in for two years, during which the category of handheld computers is likely to take off.
Led by Intel, Nokia, Microsoft, Sony and now Apple, the tech industry expects us all to soon carry tiny wireless computers.
Apple just raised expectations for the size, power and elegance of these devices, but the iPhone's not perfect. Entering text on the touch screen feels too challenging to use for composing even a long e-mail.
Price, mandatory service plan and limited applications will also prevent the iPhone, as it stands, from becoming the computer in everyone's pocket.
Still, if you can't wait for this kind of device, go for it. You'll probably like it a lot. You'll experience the future of portable computing, and you'll push the industry ahead.
Just remember this is only the first of many remarkable portable computing gadgets that will appear before your contract expires.
Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or email@example.com.
About Brier Dudley
Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
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When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.