Yet Another iPhone Review
May 25th, 2010
I've had an iPhone for about two months now. Here are some notes on
- I bought
an Otterbox Defender from Amazon UK
about a week before the phone itself showed up. It's sturdy and
well-made, to the point where people tend to make thoughtful "Hmmm."
noises when they inspect it, usually indicating a desire to own such a
case. I've been asked if it's a military issue iPhone, if it's a tank,
etc. I gave it to my 18-month-old niece to play with, and afterwards
wiped the jam smudges off with a damp cloth. I've dropped it and
banged it off things without any harm. About the only negative is the
fact that its hard shell extends a little too close to the dock
connector, so not only can you not dock it (due to the case
thickness), but I've also tried two different dock extenders so far
and neither of them fit the hole - nor does the offical Apple A/V
cable. Caveat emptor!
- The single most annoying thing about the keyboard, specifically in
SMS mode, is that the SEND key is where I expect BACKSPACE to be, and
I've sent at least one half-written message on account of this; I'm
gradually getting used to this, though. That aside, I find the
keyboard surprisingly easy to use in either portrait or landscape
mode, and the autocorrect is a good deal better than the dictionary
learning on my old phone, which would typically forget words it didn't
know which I used frequently, but remember one-off typos.
- The appstore is, as I'd read previously, something of an
overfilled cesspool, but there's plenty good stuff in there if you
know what you're looking for. Some apps are disappointing in how
little they make use of the phone's features - it's more a land grab,
to say they've got an iPhone app, than an actual iPhone app. That
aside, it would be nice to have a way of showing my app usage (akin to
the Windows control panel that shows you when you last used a given
software package), and a way to guide me towards rating all apps that I've installed and not rated.
- The chat display is kinda neat. The default range of tones is appalling, though, such that if you've got two iPhones in the house you'll be hard-pushed to find a tone other than the default that you can use for one of them.
- Use as a phone
- This was initially a bit weird, given that it's about twice the
width of my old phone. Someone in the office, on hearing me talk about
using it as an actual phone, asked, "Is there an App for
that?"... I've had some issues with the Contacts app (or that bit
of it which shows up in the phone) around default gestures, resulting
in at least three accidental phonecalls. I've also had MobileMe sync
do some destructive editing for me, but that's possibly due to my
incautious disregard of the Sync Confirm dialogue box.
- This is very slick. It's got good tracking, and even better is
that it degrades to using the cell ID as a locator if it can't get a
- Two games that will eat your life: Words with Friends and
Bejeweled 2 (especially in Blitz mode). Bizarrely,
Bejeweled 2 is not as good in some respects as Palm version;
the latter has a bunch more gameplay modes and some unlockable
features if you play long enough. On the other hand, it doesn't have
Blitz mode. Just one more game!
- Facebook and social media in general.
- The Facebook app is good. The app-to-site sync should be much
better, though; if I visit the site from my browser and acknowledge
the notifications there, I shouldn't see the same notifications on the
app - and it's inconsistent about displaying the notification bar at
the bottom of the screen, too. Twitter really needs a stronger
server-side persistence model to support desktop and mobile use, which
means you again wind up seeing things twice unless you use one of the
apps that uses a third-party server or whatever to keep things in sync
for you; on the whole, I've kinda lost interest in posting to twitter,
and as a read-only medium I tend to trawl it in the evening from my
laptop rather than from the iPhone. The Flickr app would be really
good if it didn't feel the need to default to slideshow mode. And the
foursquare app is straightforward and does most of what it should
(although I was disappointed that I needed a desktop to add a picture
to my profile). The Waze app is also fairly straightforward, although
I've found it to be a bit crashy when the network connection isn't
100%, and their website is an absolute terror to work with.
- The default "sent from my iPhone" signature is annoying. Really
now. One of the other things I don't like about the Email app - that
your accounts are kept separate - is being fixed in the OS 4 revision
coming out later this year. That aside, I dislike that there are no
data detectors, and no progress window or status bar to show you what
the hell the phone is doing while the little dial spins around
frantically before telling you you've got no mail.
- I'm having no luck with this - it can't seem to interact with my
MacBook, for example. And by interact I mean doing the brutally simple
"send file via Bluetooth" that every other Bluetooth-capable
device seems to manage without any problems. The fact that I would
even need to try and figure this out is an indication that it's poor,
because frankly it should Just Work. But perhaps Bluetooth isn't part
of Steve's Plan.
- I've been using my own RSS toy for several years, the principal
features of which are that it never misses an update (within some
reason), it keeps the updates until I've read them (even if they're
gone from the original site), and it tracks revisions to articles as
if they were separate articles (something I've been meaning to make a
little smarter). As such, there isn't actually an RSS toy for the
phone that would work for me, so I've made some minor changes to my
own so that it runs a little better under the reduced screen
real-estate on the iPhone. It's already targetted at Safari, so that
wasn't a problem. One RSS-alike that I do make extensive use
of is Instapaper; I
wrote about Instapaper on the desktop back in March, and I've
since purchased the app to put it on the iPhone, and frankly it's
sheer genius. Of particular note is that clicking a link in the iPhone
version gives you a choice of opening it in Safari, or tagging it onto
your Instapaper reading list.
- Ignore the iPhone notepad, and use Simplenote. This is, as
the name suggests, a simple note-taking app with a companion website
and support from several desktop tools. Write a note on the app, sync
it to the site (this happens automatically on the premium version, I
think), visit the same app on the site or with your choice of desktop
client, and there's your note. If you've got automatic sync working,
this is truly awesome in action; you can work up a document whenever
and wherever the mood takes you, without needing to worry if you've
got the latest version or not.
- Random UI notes
- Any app that doesn't have orientation detection, and corresponding portrait/landscape flipping, should have a very good reason for this. Even ones that are locked to one orientation or another should at least cope appropriately with the phone being upsidedown - I'm looking at you, Youtube! The corollary to this, however, is that orientation lock should be a feature of the phone, not the individual app; using the phone while lying on your side becomes highly irritating otherwise.
It'd also be nice to be able to lock a page of apps in place; load it
up with kids' games and give the phone to the young 'un without fear
that they'll accidentally dial Alpha Centauri.
That's it for the moment. I'm sure I might have a few more comments
after another few weeks or months of playing with the thing, but I'm
never very good about updating these pages once I've written them...
update: how could I forget to mention the app I've been
raving about since I got it to anyone standing close enough? Jamie
Oliver's 20-Minute Meals is an absolute gem for those of us who'd
rather cook at home. You've got a list of recipes, each with a clear
list of required ingredients and utensils; the recipe steps
come as index cards which you can flip over to see a picture (although
this feature isn't necessarily as useful as it could be), and which
lend themselves very well to being flicked from one to the
next while you're cooking; there are video clips on basic cooking
techniques like chopping things and preparing your working area; and
there's a shopping list which you can populate from the recipes and
tick things off from as you pick them up. It could do with the ability
to add custom recipes, and to know that a lemon belongs in the fruit &
veg section even if you added it manually rather than via a recipe,
but in general this is one excellent app.