With its groundbreaking interface, the Apple iPhone is the best portable media player ever made, and it browses the Web like a champ. We've never had this much fun testing a handheld, but as a voice phone and a messaging device, it will leave you craving more.
Make no mistake-using your fingers to zoom, skip, crop, and edit is Sheer joy. Pinching and Sliding through the menus is just as cool as the commercials make it seem. The real pleasure of the iPhone, however, is in how seamlessly everything works together. For example, one function, the YouTube browser, always seems to mesh with other important features such as e-mail and text messaging.
The iPhone is available in two models, 4GB ($499) and 8GB ($599), and its multimedia capabilities are astounding. The scroll wheel of previous iPods is replaced by the multi touch screen, and the payoff is huge. We can't emphasize enough just how much the iPhones interface, which allows you to sift through your tunes using the beautiful Cover Flow view or a standard test list, is a huge leap forward for browsing music. The hardware is less impressive. The built-in speaker (mainly for phone use) can be used for music and movies, but sounds lousy. Volume controls sit conveniently on the left-hand side, but the headphone jack is recessed, which makes it all but impossible to use a standard stereo, headset without an adapter.
Audio and Video
The iPhone syncs easily with Macs and PCs using iTunes 7.3. For music, we successfully loaded and played AAC (128, 256, and 320 Kbps), AIFF, Apple Lossless, MP3 VBR, MP3 (192,256, and 320 Kbps), MP364, Audible, and WAV files. We had no luck loading a MIDI ringtone or OGG files, and-surprise! There’s no WMA support, either. The iPhones audio quality is fantastic, provided you upgrade the cheap earphones that come with it. As for battery life, our audio tests yielded 22 hours 15 minutes (with Wi-Fi off)- 1 hour 45 minutes shy off its rated life.
When you're watching videos, the resolution is impressive-just fine enough for YouTube to not appear too bad and for iTunes movie downloads such as High Fidelity to look amazing. In fact, the iPhone made a 3OGB iPod playing video seem puny and less sharp-no small feat. We’re happy to report that syncing with iTunes is accomplished quickly and easily. For photos, the iPhone can open and view just about any type of image you can throw at it- JPG, PNG, TIFF, no problem.
The iPhone as a Phone
The iPhone is in essence a super-advanced iPod, and sadly, despite its name, it is not a very good phone. To dial a number, you have to click at least four times, but usually six: power button, unlock swipe, phone icon, and then, if you're lucky, both on you’re “favorites" screen and the name of one of your favorites. Otherwise, you have to tap "keypad" and start dialing. Fortunately, the virtual keypad's buttons are huge, so it's easy to type on.
Call quality was the worst we’ve heard on a high end device in years. Earpiece volume is a bit understated, and the speakerphone is downright quiet. Voices through the earpiece are a bit muffled, but comprehensible. Transmission, on the other hand, is vile. We got static in our in-ear feedback, and calls made with the iPhone sounded hideously compressed on the other end. We had two dropped calls and significant audio wobble. Inexplicably, at one point we got the distinctive dit-dit-dit of GSM RFI interference over our own call.
We're not going to put these audio issues on AT&T, either, since our BlackBerry Curve made much clearer calIs at the same time, in the same place. Reception also leaves something to be desired. Basically, as a handset, the iPhone is complicated to dial,difficult to send text messages with, and missing all sorts of features that are usually taken for granted in high-end multimedia phones nowadays, including picture messaging, IM, and voice dialing.
Internet in Your Pocket
The iPhone Internet experience is loads of fun. The screen displays HTML pages gorgeously (even over EDGE!). The trouble is that the Internet is now loaded up with Flash, streaming media, and other plug-ins. The iPhone can't hit many of these rich experiences, so while the browser is the best a phone ever had, it’s not desktop-quality and some sites are off-limits. One bonus: You can witch a selection of YouTube videos through a special built -in browser, and they look great over both Wi-Fi and EDGE.
E-mail looks fine, for what it does-basic POP/ IMAP e-mail, including multiple accounts, embedded images and links, and very limited DOC.XLS, and graphic attachment support. You can check accounts manually or poll them up to every 15 minutes. We tried the iPhone with Yahoo!, Gmail, Mac, and generic IMAP accounts, successfully enough. When it comes to corporate e-mail, though, you're still better off with a BlackBerry.
The iPhone comes loaded with mini applications-so-called “widgets”- that show weather, stock info and Goole Maps. There is also a Notes widget that lets you type notes that you can then e-mail, but you can't sync them to anything. The widgets are all beautiful and easy to use, but alas, they’re all you get-unlike every other phone on Earth, the iPhonecomes with no games and no way to buy them. Furthermore, third- party developers have been forbidden to write programs for it. That’s why we don’t consider it a true smartphone.
When you boil it all down, the Apple iPhone is an iPod with Internet, YouTube, beauty ful graphics, a camera, and a huge screen-and oh yeah, it can also make calls and check e-mail. When Apple eventually releases an iPod with all these features except the phone, it will blow away the competition. As it stands right now, the iPhone is a truly amazing (and expensive) toy.
Apple iPhone: 4 GB ($499), 8 GB ($599)