Kicking It Up a Notch in the Smartphone Game
Thanks to the Smartphone Round Robin, I have now been without my BlackBerry Curve for over a month! I started out with the Windows Mobile/AT&T Tilt and from there moved onto the Palm Treo 680. With the Round Robin beginning to wind down, I am finally finishing up with my last smartphone of the month, the Apple iPhone.
My iPhone Initial Impressions article received a lot of feedback from the CrackBerry.com community. It is very apparent the iPhone vs. BlackBerry match-up is a topic of great interest to both existing BlackBerry users and those in the market for a new smartphone. Observations and comparisons between the two devices arise frequently in the CrackBerry forums addressing the popular iPhone vs. BlackBerry debate.
Due to this interest, I’ve taken my time with getting this final impressions article up (Dieter actually wanted them up this past Friday!). For most of Round Robin I have been around home, “playing” with my new smartphones, which I think has worked ok in allowing me to find the strengths and weaknesses of both the Tilt and Treo 680. But it also means I was never too far away from my desktop computer which made coping without my BlackBerry a bit easier. But for the iPhone I wanted to ensure my final impressions were as complete as possible by giving it some real world use. Luckily, circumstances came up that allowed for this. I went out of town from Thursday to Monday night (kicking some butt in a curling bonspiel!) and though I did take my laptop along for the trip, I never took its power cord, which quickly forced me to rely on the iPhone for everything! So how did the iPhone hold up? Read on for my closing thoughts on the iPhone!!
Don't forget, a comment to this post counts as an entry in the Round Robin Contest! Be sure you're logged in before you comment. The Round Robin comes to an end this Sunday, December 9th at Midnight, so get your final comments and forum posts in for your last chances to win a new Smartphone! Winner will be announced December 12th.
Evolution of Use
For both the AT&T Tilt and Treo 680 I spent a lot of time talking about how the way I physically held each device and navigated its functions actually changed over the course of the week. With both devices I grew much more proficient as time went on; looking less like a newbie and more like an expert by the time I was ready to move onto the next phone (though that darn slider form factor on the Tilt still felt alien to me).
With the iPhone there has been no evolution to the way I use the device. I’m a little faster with it now than I was on day one, simply because I know where all of the settings/options are, but am still using the phone in the exact same manner (hold it in my left hand, tap with my right index finger). With no keyboard shortcuts to program/learn and only one method of input, Apple really has limited the way in which you use the phone.
Whether this is good or bad I think will be determined by the individual user. It definitely keeps things simple and allows for the phone to be learned quickly (a great thing), but as I mentioned in the first impressions article it also makes for a rather slow user experience (a bad thing). It actually takes a lot of time to do anything on the iPhone – make a call, check and respond to email, browse a webpage (though a beautiful browsing experience, it does takes a lot of time to actually use the browser), etc.
As for typing on the keyboard with no keys, I don’t love it, but I don’t hate/mind it either. It takes a lot more concentration to use the touchscreen keyboard than a physical keyboard – it’s easy to make mistakes, and when you make mistakes that the automatic spelling fixer upper doesn’t pick up on you are forced to go back and fix it on the spot (again taking up a lot of time) as the word it will have automatically inserted will be nothing like you the word you were aiming for. I much prefer the methodology of the BlackBerry (leave the typos in and run spell check at the end to catch any errors (or if you’re emailing someone you don’t need to impress just leave the typos in!).
I’ve been told and read before to just put faith in the iPhone’s spelling auto corrector and just type! While it does do a good job if your English is relatively proper, it seems I tend to use a lot of slang and umm… swears in my emails which the iPhone doesn’t deal so well with at first encounter. Oh, and if you email your significant other and sign off xoxo, be sure to double check that’s what makes it into the email before you actually send it! :-)
Despite the shortcomings of the soft keyboard, I still didn’t mind it. Because it is more of a chore to send a message on the iPhone than on my Curve I found my emails and text messages did grow shorter and more to the point (which for those who get emails and texts from me appreciated that fact – words are free and I type fast so I tend to go on and on and on and on – a trait inherited from my mom!).
If you send over 10 messages a day on your mobile device I wouldn’t recommend the iPhone (or any phone with a soft keyboard for that matter), but if you read messages more than you send them and response time is not of critical importance, the soft keyboard can and does get the job done.
The Round Robin Challenge Check List
When it comes to the Round Robin check list, the iPhone really dominates. From firing up the iPhone for the first time, I was able to cross off the tasks in the following list in about twenty five minutes:
1. Editors must use their assigned smartphone as their "main brain" and may not use any other smartphone OR music device (such as an iPod) for one full week: Other than the lack of push email, BlackBerry Messenger and voice dialing, I was able to do on the iPhone all of the basic things I do on my BlackBerry… it just took a lot longer to do (though it did look pretty doing it). The iPhone does lack GPS but am guessing that an updated Google Maps should offer their newly-released My Location (which I did quickly test out on my BlackBerry and found to work amazingly well!).
2. Editors must attempt to sync their phone to their computer, syncing all PIM data: I synced the iPhone to my Mac to load it up with music, and to my Dell to load it up with all my Outlook data. Syncing through iTunes on both computers has been an easy experience. Two thumbs up.
3. Editors must attempt to set up their email on the smartphone: Easy. It only took a couple of minutes to IMAP up my Gmail account to the iPhone. It is “pull” email rather than “push” email, but it does work. BlackBerry Connect on the iPhone would be a huge and welcomed benefit. I don’t think RIM will lose too many existing customers to the iPhone (unlike the Palm, where it seems that current iPhone owners are seven times more likely to have owned a Treo than any other phone in the past), but if they do I guarantee those past BlackBerry owners who switch to iPhones would stay on their BIS plan just to take advantage of BlackBerry Connect’s “push” capabilities.
One person commented to the iPhone First Impressions article that you can download 3rd party software which gives the ability to set how often the iPhone checks for email (the built in defaults are manual checking, or auto-checking every 15, 30 or 60 minutes). But even if you set the iPhone to check for email once a minute, it still would be pull email…. you’d still be waiting and you’d waste a lot of bandwidth as it would be checking for messages every minute whether you have any waiting or not. Oh, and you’d kill your battery life much quicker – from both the constant checking of messages and the fact that the display turns on briefly while doing the email checking. It’s all about Push!
4. Editors must attempt to use their smartphone to get directions at least once: Google Maps worked great for me on both the AT&T Tilt and the Palm Treo 680 (and of course on my BlackBerry Curve as well). The iPhone was no exception. A nice thing here was I did not have to download Google Maps as it is native to the phone.
5. Editors must attempt to use their smartphone with a bluetooth headset: Easy to do, though the Bluetooth menu is a little buried in the OS (under Settings > General > Bluetooth). I think Bluetooth is pretty huge these days – it should really be under Settings > Bluetooth or else even have its own application icon. The iPhone did pair up with my Bluant Z9 headset easily though.
The big drawback? I still cannot believe the iPhone does not have A2DP Stereo Bluetooth support. This just BOGGLES my mind. For such a media/entertainment oriented device, I just cannot understand how this got left out on the iPhone. Is it a hardware limitation? Is it in the works but the software just wasn’t done yet and they wanted to get the iPhone to market? Is it easily doable but intentionally left out (Apple sells headphones but not Stereo Bluetooth headsets and they see this is as a way to make more money until they release their own Stereo Bluetooth headset)? I haven’t dug into this, but would love to know the real answer here.
6. Editors must attempt to install at least 2 3rd-party apps (if possible) on their smartphone: Wow. The JailBreakMe.com AppSnapp Installer is the best smartphone software manager I have ever used or seen. All of the available apps are listed in an easy to navigate directory, and you can install/uninstall apps with a couple easy taps on the screen. There are not many apps available right now, but I do love the premise of this installer. Definitely something that RIM should look into doing if they haven’t already. I installed iPong, a different calculator, Sketches (like Etch-a-Sketch), and SMB Preferences which allows you to change up the the themes/settings of the home screen (a.k.a SmartBoard). I put in a Holiday theme that is going nicely with the foot of snow that is sitting outside. I don’t understand why you can’t reorder the shortcut locations on the SmartBoard though – definitely an improvement that needs to be implemented asap.
7. Editors must attempt to play a game: iPong. Kinda fun, but not great. I’m sure there will be some cool games out for the iPhone in the near future though. As I mentioned in the first article, the alarm clock dial (which spins like the wheel on the Price is Right) is good for hours of fun.
8. Editors must attempt to browse the internet: The iPhone’s Safari web browser is slick. There’s a small learning curve to the app (first you need to know that Safari is the web browser - I leant the iPhone to a non-Mac familiar friend this weekend who didn't realize that, and second, getting the knack of how much to zoom in and out effectively so you can both read text on the screen and click links accurately), but it makes for full web browsing on a mobile device. This is both very good and very dangerous at the same time.
I love the fact I can visit CrackBerry.com and see the site as it is meant to be seen (I don’t need to visit the / site). It’s dangerous, because it gulps up bandwidth. I’m really scared to see my Rogers bill this month. I’m on the $60/25 meg data plan, which with my BlackBerry Curve I normally use about 11 – 14 megs of. I just checked the Usage page on the iPhone (a great feature that every smartphone should have by the way) and it is showing I have sent 6MB and received 53MB over the EDGE Network. And that’s in under two weeks of use. Data is currently a RIP OFF in Canada. If Rogers plans to start selling the iPhone here in 2008, they are going to have to figure something out as average cell phone users looking to buy a new phone are not going to be willing to pay $100+ per month for data on their new iPhone.
9. Editors must attempt to add music to their smartphone and use it as their music device: As mentioned, syncing up to iTunes was easy. I filled up my 4 gigs of storage immediately. I’d like to see more like 40 gigs of internal storage or the ability to expand memory with microSDHC cards.
10. Editors must attempt to watch a video on their device: The YouTube web app works great. It would be great if the YouTube player was integrated into Safari though. For example, if you check out the iPhone First Impressions article, you will notice I have two YouTube videos embedded into the article. When viewing that page on the iPhone, the YouTube videos are not displayed at all. Ideally I’d like to be able to click on that video and have the iPhone’s YouTube app launch and play it (or even just have it play within the webpage).
All in all, the iPhone really breezed through the checklist above. There is no doubt that the out-of-the-box user experience for the iPhone is solid.
Working through the checklist and using the device for nearly two weeks, I have found the stability of the iPhone to be pretty rock solid as well. I did have to reboot it a couple of times (hold down the home key and on/off key on the top right corner of the phone for a few seconds) though to fix up some minor glitches that appeared. Two times within the Safari web browser links quit working (tapping a link never opened the new page) even though scrolling and zoom functions were still working. On another occasion the entire touchscreen became unresponsive. In both cases the reboot fixed the problems.
The iPhone as a…
As a communication tool the iPhone simply does not compare to the BlackBerry. Things like placing a phone call or sending an email are actual tasks on the iPhone – you need to set out and do them, whereas on the BlackBerry you don’t need to even think about it. With the BlackBerry you can manage email very quickly, place calls easily (start dialing off the keyboard directly from the home screen) and run every instant messaging program known to mankind.
The more I use the iPhone, the more I am surprised that Apple chose to call it the iPhone. It’s more of an iGadget. Yes, it does function as a phone, but the Phone really isn’t an integrated part of the device. It’s treated just like any other application. If you’re already in another app and decide to make a phone call, you need to return to the home screen and launch the Phone app to place a call. It doesn’t matter where you are on the BlackBerry, if you hit the talk button you are going to jump right into the phone app. Considering that a lot of iPhone buyers are going to be upgrading from feature phones to the iPhone, I think many will be surprised to find that pretty standard phone features (like contacts and recents) are two clicks away from the home screen instead of being right there. Add the fact you need to turn on the display and “Slide to Unlock” and you’re really four movements away from very basic phone functions.
I’ve also found that it is easy to make mistakes on the iPhone when trying to call/use it in a rush. Last Wednesday I spent a few hours waiting at the hospital (part of my real world use iPhone testing) and needed to place calls to family members to update them on how things were going. While trying to pump out the calls as fast I could, I found myself making a lot of mistakes – I accidentally dialed the wrong contact more than once while scrolling through the address book as fast as I could. On the dial pad I found myself mis-tapping. And another pain in the butt I discovered was the added to step to dial an extension. I used the keypad to dial my brother on his office line. When it came time to put in his extension I had to:
- pull the phone away from my ear (normal with all phones)
- wait for the proximity sensor to realize the phone wasn’t by my head anymore and turn the display back on (added time)
- hit keypad on the phone to bring up the number pad once again (added step)
- then dial his extension (finally!)
At that moment I was REALLY wishing I had my BlackBerry with me. Yes, the iPhone can get the job of communicating done, but the BlackBerry gets it done FASTER.
One last topic on the iPhone as a communication tool – Voice Quality. In Jennifer’s review of the iPhone she commented on how much better the reception and voice quality of it was over her Treo. For myself, I experienced the opposite. I never told anyone what phone I was using, but several times I was ask what was wrong with my voice – the comment was always that I sounded kind of “digital”. With the people who brought this up I called them back later on my Curve and was told I sounded much more “natural”. As for incoming voice quality, it was fine.
I don’t need to spend much time on this one as you already know the conclusion… the iPhone does a great job of music (it is an iPod), video (amazing display), and web browsing (it’s nearly like web browsing on the computer – just needs plugin support). Just as the BlackBerry is the strongest “communicator” in the Smartphone Round Robin, the iPhone is the strongest “entertainer”.
The BlackBerry does a pretty good of playing videos and music (and with apps like FlipSide Media Player is doing a “prettier” job of getting those tasks done). The default web browser
sucks at best is lackluster, and even though Opera Mini is good, after using the iPhone I want expect full web browsing to be on all smartphones by the end of 2008. RIM has always treated email as the away-from-the-office capability everyone needs. That’s no longer the case - at least to me…I think web browsing is equally important. I want the full out WWW at my fingertips.
When I was out of town for the weekend, the iPhone’s web browser is what kept me from needing my laptop. I had James cover the CrackBerry.com blogs for me (thanks James!), and even though I was far from a computer I was able to visit the site and see exactly where things were at – text, images, formatting, comments…everything exactly as it is meant to be! If I was on my BlackBerry I would have been going back to the hotel between games to check out the site. Sure, I could have got the text and images, but it’s just not the same. And for those who argue that browsing the full web is expensive (sucks bandwidth), while the point is valid I’d still like to have the option to see the web in all it’s glory.
Speaking strictly about unhacked iPhones: I'll just say that the iPhone feels like it's not quite a smartphone, that it's still just a super-charged featurephone that happens to have a gigantic screen and a (soft)QWERTY keyboard. It's some combination of a lack of a user-accessible file system, a lack of 3rd party apps, a lack of tweakability. The iPhone seems like it comes from a world of iPods rather than a world of work.
Now - add in the fact that the iPhone is now “hackable,” that an SDK is coming and people will be able to develop 3rd party apps for it and a lot of those hassles disappear. The OS the iPhone runs on is fully UNIX (or fully OS X, though I'm not enough of a software engineer to be able to say just what makes OS X ...OS X), so I sincerely doubt that there will be a smartphone feature or need that won't be fulfilled by some app.
Is the iPhone a smartphone? Before it was hacked and 3rd party apps became available, my answer was “not sure, maybe, not really, could be, but not quite.” Now it's “I guess so, but I'm much more comfortable saying that if it's hacked.” In 6 months the answer will be “Obviously.”
The iPhone hasn’t been around for very long, so it’s easy to nitpick on all the things the iPhone can’t do. This is where Treo people are happy to be Treo people – everything a Treo can’t do out of the box, it can do with the help of a little 3rd party software support. The BlackBerry is now getting there too. Software titles have really picked up for the BlackBerry over the past year, which is a trend I’m sure will continue.
The point of all this? The iPhone is a “smart” phone, and given a bit of time will be on the same page (at least from a consumer point of view) as Windows Mobile, Palm and BlackBerry in terms of all the little things the iPhone is capable of accomplishing.
Way to Break the Ice/Pick up Girls
I’ve now taken the iPhone “out on the town” for a few evenings of fun. Wow, does it EVER get attention. Keep in mind I’m in Canada, so while you do still see the occasional iPhone out here, it is very few and far between – the vast majority of people have yet to see one up close and in person. Based on the reactions I have gotten to the phone, I am sure that will change quickly once it hits Rogers.
There’s no doubt the iPhone has flash and sex appeal. The bright screen fired up in dark room is hard to miss. Since having the iPhone in my possession I have now counted 37 walk ups – that’s 37 strangers stopping me in public to get a better look at my phone. Pretty astonishing.
I have now concluded that the BlackBerry “gets respect” while the iPhone “gets attention”. If you’re trying to get a table in a crowded restaurant, pull out the BlackBerry and you’ll get treated as an important person working on important things and might just be able to finagle your way into that already reserved spot. Once you’re seated and hoping to get the attention of the cute brunette across the restaurant from you, checking the weather on your iPhone might just be enough to have her come over and talk to you.
Honestly, if I ever found myself single I would probably pick up an iPhone and carry both my BlackBerry and iPhone on me at all times - just so I could pull out both Attention or Respect from my pockets whenever I need it.
In my iPhone First Impressions article I went into detail on the iPhone user experience and the goods and bads of the device. My Final Impressions haven’t really changed, but they have been amplified. More than ever, I think the iPhone is a poor phone/communication device. But also more than ever, I have grown to really appreciate where the iPhone excels. As soon this review is published I’ll be going back to my BlackBerry…and believe me, I am so looking forward to that. But at the same time, the aura I have always seen around my Curve is going to shine a little less bright, simply because I know I won’t be able to see the web on my Curve the same way I could on my iPhone.
We’re starting to see lots of rumors surrounding the 9000 Series BlackBerry, and the initial specs look promising. My wish for this new BlackBerry? I want it to be a device that both Gets Respect and Attention all in one!