iPhone: First Impressions

Tuesday Jul 3rd 2007 by John Welch
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Our resident Mac guru gives his impressions about his brand new toy.

Yes, I got an iPhone. This should come as no surprise, but just in case, yes I got one, on the release date. In fact, I was about 14th in line. No, I did not sit there all day. I got to my local AT&T store about 2:30, kicked back with a new book, fresh from Barnes & Noble, and relaxed. At some point, I had dinner delivered from the pub across the street. Waiting in line need not be synonymous with misery.

Okay, okay, I know, you don't care about that. So the iPhone. First, I have to say I knew before I bought it that I'd have a tedious activation process. I live in Missouri, and my Sprint number was the same one I'd gotten almost ten years ago in Massachusetts. For some reason, this creates drama when you want to port it over. The reasons given are about markets et al., but nonetheless, I knew it would take a day, at least, to get this resolved.

I was correct to within about 30 minutes. I bought my phone at 6:24 p.m. on Friday, I had my activation issues resolved by 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. I know activation has been a bee in people's bonnets with regard to the iPhone, but I have to say that everyone from AT&T that I dealt with was courteous. They seemed to understand that for me to change the only cell phone number I've ever had would not be a minor issue. The last step in the chain was the young man at the AT&T store in Zona Rosa who sat down for a solid hour, attacked the problem, and beat it black and blue until I had what I needed. SIM cards went in and out, calls got arcane, but at the end, he turned to me and said "It'll be ready to be re-activated in iTunes in three minutes. Don't do anything with it until then, and pick the "moving an existing AT&T line" option." I don't know the details of what he did, but he did it right.

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Now, I've been a Windows Mobile user for just over two years, and a Palm user for 3-4 years before that (both worked reasonably well), and this is, by far, the most painless Mac-phone sync I've ever had. It.Just.Works. Mail accounts, contacts, calendar data, flawless. I love the Mark/Space guys, but man, this is what it should be. The only way it could be better is for it to work via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. But that's the only sync problem.

Web viewing? Again, my previous phone was a 3.5" screen. Nothing to even touch this. Mobile IE barely rendered anything written for a browser newer than Netscape 3. iPhone Safari? Well, at least as well as Safari 3 on anything. Mail? Well, I never could get Pocket Outlook to successfully send mail from any of my IMAP accounts; the iPhone? Not even close to a problem. (I'm sure there's some complicated procedure for making it work, but sending email is a well-solved problem. If I have to do any setup beyond mail server DNS name and optional SMTP AUTH info, then your client is broke.) The settings are what I wish more phone settings were. Logically laid out and easy to get to. Nice big buttons. To avoid a laundry list, everything I've tried to do just works.

The keyboard has been no problem for me, but then again, I've never been a particularly skilled or fast thumb-boarder, so your experience may differ. I will say the way the "keys" give you "pop-up" feedback makes password entry far easier than I've had on any phone I ever needed to enter a password on. (I'm an IT guy, my passwords are rather complex. This is important.)

Wireless performance has been solid. Admittedly, my previous phone was a 1xRTT Sprint rig, not an EV-DO phone, but my work phone is EV-DO. Is EV-DO faster? Certainly. Is AT&T's new "Uber-EDGE" better than what people thought it would be? Without a doubt. It's definitely fast enough for email, and even web browsing doesn't return you to the halcyon days of 56K dialup. The iPhone is quite agressive about finding and using Wi-Fi when possible, and the battery life, thus far, has been complaint-free for me. It moves well between EDGE, open Wi-FI, and WPA2 WiFi. No real problems at all there.

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But what about the most important thing, namely, is it a good phone? For me, so far, it's a clear "yes" with the one caveat that applies to any phone: Coverage quality. AT&T's coverage in the land of Sprint, aka Kansas City, MO, is not as nice as I'd like it to be. (Then again, Sprint's not perfect either, and I should be picking up Sprint signals in my fillings here.) But it's not completely horrid either. As far as voice quality, it's fantastic. Clear as day, even when I'm losing coverage. According to my fiance, this is the first time I've talked to her on my cell where she had to look at the caller ID to tell I was on a cell phone. If AT&T can get their coverage improved, then I'll be an even happier scooter.

The thing I keep coming back to with my grand not-yet-three-days of use is this: It.Just.Works. It has had absolutely no rude surprises, no unexpected data loss, nothing. It is literally the best smartphone I have owned, and I've been living that life since 2001. It's pretty, with a great UI, and a lot of care taken to making the cell phone experience not suck, and I can tell you that for me at least, the iPhone is proof that you can get people to use a phone because of the design, not in spite of it.

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