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The best and most comprehensive iPhone review
 

The good: The Apple iPhone has a stunning display, a sleek design, and an innovative multitouch user interface. Its Safari browser makes for a superb Web surfing experience, and it offers easy-to-use apps. As an iPod, it shines.

The bad: The Apple iPhone has variable call quality and lacks some basic features found in many cell phones, including stereo Bluetooth support and 3G compatibility. Integrated memory is stingy for an iPod, and you have to sync the iPhone to manage music content.

The bottom line: Despite some important missing features, a slow data network, and call quality that doesn't always deliver, the Apple iPhone sets a new benchmark for an integrated cell phone and MP3 player.


Design
On with the review: the iPhone boasts a brilliant display, trim profile, and clean lines (no external antenna of course), and its lack of buttons puts it in a design class that even the LG Prada and the HTC Touch can't match. You'll win envious looks on the street toting the iPhone, and we're sure that would be true even if the phone hadn't received as much media attention as it has. We knew that it measures 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 wide by 0.46 inch deep, but it still feels smaller than we expected when we finally held it. In comparison, it's about as tall and as wide as a Palm Treo 755p, but it manages to be thinner than even the trend-setting Motorola Razr. It fits comfortably in the hand and when held to the ear, and its 4.8 ounces give it a solid, if perhaps weighty, feel. We also like that the display is glass rather than plastic.

Display
The iPhone's display is the handset's design showpiece and is noteworthy for not only what it shows, but also how you use it. We'll start off with its design. At a generous 3.5 inches, the display takes full advantage of the phone's size, while its 480x320 pixel resolution (160 dots per inch) translates into brilliant colors, sharp graphics, and fluid movements.

iPhone's iPod
Sandwiched between all the iPhone's features lives Apple's most amazing iPod yet. The display, interface, video quality, audio quality--all of it is meticulously refined and beautiful. Unfortunately, it's trapped within a device that will cost you more than $1,000 a year just to own. iPhone-tool.com recently reviewed a Rolls Royce that had a top-notch umbrella hidden inside its passenger door. Buying the iPhone for its iPod feature is a lot like buying that Rolls Royce for its umbrella. Regardless, the iPhone is an exciting glimpse into what Apple hopefully has planned for its sixth-generation iPod. Apple has redeemed itself following the Motorola Rokr E1 debacle.

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On paper, the iPhone's iPod doesn't offer any features not already on a fifth-generation iPod: podcasts, videos, music, and playlists are all here, and content management with iTunes is identical. The difference rests entirely in the iPhone's interface. We've used other MP3 players that use touch interfaces, such as the Archos 704, iRiver Clix and Cowon D2, but the iPhone's unique integration of multitouch technology and a graphic user interface put it in a category all its own.

From an iPod perspective, Apple's biggest triumph with the iPhone is the fact that it has returned album artwork back into the music experience in a way that goes beyond a token thumbnail graphic. Physically flipping through your music collection in the iPhone's Cover Flow mode really brings back the visceral feel of digging through a CD or record bin. It's a tough feeling to quantify, but the real music lovers out there will appreciate how well the iPhone reconnects their digital music to a form that is both visually and physically more vivid. Even iTunes users who may already be jaded about using the Cover Flow mode on their personal computer will be surprised at how the experience is changed by using the iPhone's gesturally intuitive touch screen.

Truth be told, there is one feature that is new to the iPhone's iPod--the integrated speaker. While the iPhone's speaker sounds thin and is prone to distortion, it works in a pinch for sharing a song with a friend. Apple was also smart enough to manage its speaker volume independent of the headphone volume, so if you're listening to the speaker full-blast and then decide to plug in your headphones, you won't be deafened.

The bad news is that the iPhone's iPod leaves out the ability to manually manage the transfer of music and video content. Unlike any previous iPod, the iPhone does not allow an option for manually dragging and dropping content from an iTunes library directly to the iPhone device icon. Instead, the iPhone strictly uses defined library syncing options for collecting and syncing content from your iTunes library to the device. This should work out fine for most people, but for a device with limited memory the inability to manually manage content seems like a misstep. Our 8GB iPhone was already a quarter full after only a few hours of testing, giving us the impression that users will need to be vigilant at grooming their iPhone library. An external memory card slot is another one of those "nice to have" features.

Touch screen
Fortunately, we can report that on the whole, the touch screen and software interface are easier to use than expected. What's more, we didn't miss a stylus in the least. Despite a lack of tactile feedback on the keypad, we had no trouble tapping our fingers to activate functions and interact with the main menu. As with any touch screen, the display attracts its share of smudges, but they never distracted us from what we were viewing. The onscreen dialpad took little acclimation, and even the onscreen keyboard fared rather well. Tapping out messages was relatively quick, and we could tap the correct letter, even with big fingers. The integrated correction software helped minimize errors by suggesting words ahead of time. It was accurate for the most part.

Still, the interface and keyboard have a long way to go to achieve greatness. For starters, when typing an e-mail or text message the keyboard is displayed only when you hold the iPhone vertically. As a result, you can only type comfortably with one finger, which cuts down on your typing speed. Using two hands is possible, but it's pretty crowded to type with both thumbs while holding the iPhone at the same time. What's more, basic punctuation such as periods or commas lives in a secondary keyboard--annoying. If you're a frequent texter or an e-mail maven, we suggest a test drive first.

We also found it somewhat tedious to scroll through long lists, such as the phone book or music playlists. Flicking your finger in an up or down motion will move you partway through a list but you can't move directly to the bottom or top by swiping and holding your finger. Also, the lack of buttons requires a lot of tapping to move about the interface. For example, the Talk and End buttons are only displayed when the phone is in call mode. And since there are no dedicated Talk and End buttons, you must use a few taps to find these features. That also means you cannot just start dialing a number; you must open the dialpad first, which adds clicks to the process. The same goes for the music player: since there are no external buttons, you must call up the player interface to control your tunes. For some people, the switching back and forth may be a nonissue. But for mutlitaskers, it can grow wearisome.

Criticism aside, the iPhone display is remarkable for its multitouch technology, which allows you to move your finger in a variety of ways to manipulate what's on the screen. When in a message, you can magnify the text by pressing and holding over a selected area. And as long as you don't lift your finger, you can move your "magnifying glass" around the text. You can zoom in by pinching your fingers apart; to zoom out you just do the opposite. In the Web browser, you can move around the Web page by sliding your finger, or you can zoom in by a double tap. And when looking at your message list, you can delete items by swiping your finger from left to right across the message. At that point, a Delete button will appear.

Thanks to the handset's accelerometer (a fancy word for motion sensor), the iPhone's display orientation will adjust automatically when you flip the iPhone on its side while using the music and video players and the Internet browser. Also, a proximity sensor turns off the display automatically when you lift the iPhone to your ear for a conversation. All three are very cool. We wish, however, that you could change the sleep time on the display. It goes dark after a short 30 seconds, and you must unlock it using the onscreen slide bar.

Bluetooth and wireless
The iPhone offers a full range of wireless functionality with support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The Wi-Fi compatibility is especially welcome, and a feature that's absent on far too many smart phones. When you're browsing the Web, the iPhone automatically searches for the nearest Internet hot spot. Bluetooth 2.0 is also on board, which delivers faster transmission and a longer range than Bluetooth 1.2. You also get a range of profiles including file transfer, but an A2dP stereo Bluetooth profile is not among them--another item that's not necessary but would be nice to have.

Though Apple CEO Steve Jobs has explained the iPhone's lack of 3G support by saying the chipsets take up too much room and drain too much battery, we'd like the option anyway. Yes, the Wi-Fi network is great when you can get it, but AT&T's EDGE network just doesn't cut it for all other surfing. EDGE Web browsing is so slow, it almost ruins the pretty Web interface. More on this to come.

Safari browser
The Safari browser really sets the iPhone apart from the cell phone crowd. Rather than trudging through stripped-down WAP pages with limited text and graphics, the browser displays Web pages in their true form. It's a completely and surprisingly satisfying experience to see real Web pages on a screen of this size. Our only regret is that the browser does not support Flash or Java. To pan around a page, just swipe your finger across the display, and the page moves accordingly. Tap your finger on a link to open a new page and double-tap your finger to zoom in and zoom back out. You can use the arrows on the bottom of the display to move back and forth, while a multifunction button at the bottom of the display lets you open new pages and flick among them.

Google search is the iPhone's default search tool, but you can use Yahoo search as well. When searching for information or typing URLs, you use the onscreen keyboard. It's just like typing an e-mail except that the space bar is replaced with Web-appropriate language like ".com" and a slash. That's a nice touch.

Browser speed
We tested the Safari browser using the iPhone's Wi-Fi over iPhone-tool.com's internal network. Web pages loaded in about five seconds, though sites with heavy graphics took longer. It was a smooth experience overall, though it not quite as zippy as we had hoped. That could be due to iPhone-tool.com's network, so we're going to test more hot spots over the next few days. When not using Wi-Fi, you're stuck with AT&T's EDGE network, which is just too slow to render the lovely Safari interface enjoyable. With speeds in the 50-to-90Kbps range, it reminded us of a dial-up browser. We'll try it again in more places as well.

Battery life
The Apple iPhone has a rated battery life of eight hours talk time, 24 hours of music playback, seven hours of video playback, and six hours on Internet use. The promised standby time is 10.4 days. According to the FCC, the iPhone has a digital SAR rating of 0.974 watts per kilogram.



 
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