The first solid info anyone heard about the iphone was in December 2004, when news started to trickle out that Apple had been working on a phone device with Motorola as its manufacturing partner. About ten months later, under the shadow of the best-selling iPod nano, that ballyhooed device debuted -- the ROKR E1 -- a bastard product that Apple never put any weight behind, and that Motorola was quick to forget. The relationship between Apple and Motorola soon dissolved, in turn feeding the tech rumor mill with visions of a "true iPhone" being built by Apple behind the scenes. After years of rumor and speculation, last January that device was finally announced at Macworld 2007 -- and here we are, just over six months later -- the iPhone, perhaps the most hyped consumer electronics device ever created, has finally landed. And this is the only review of it you're going to need.
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 (there's no word on an Australian release for these). 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 115mm tall by 61mm wide by 12mm 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 750, but it manages to be thinner than even the hugely influential Motorola Razr. It fits comfortably in the hand and when held to the ear, and its 135g weight gives it a solid, if perhaps heavy, feel. We also like that the display is glass rather than plastic.
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 89mm (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 colours, sharp graphics and fluid movements.
In true Apple style, the iPhone's menu interface is attractive, intuitive and easy to use. In the main menu, a series of coloured icons call out the main functions. Icons for the phone menu, the mail folder, the Safari Web browser and the iPod player sit at the bottom of the screen, while other features such as the camera, the calendar and the settings are displayed above. It's easy to find all features, and we like that essential features aren't buried under random menus.
Fluid animation takes you between different functions and you can zip between them quickly. Much has been made out of the iPhone's touchscreen, and rightfully so. Though the Apple handset is not the first phone to rely solely on a touchscreen, it is the first to get so much attention and come with so many expectations. Depending on what you're doing, the touchscreen serves as your number keypad, your keyboard, your Safari browser and your music and video player. Like many others, we were sceptical how effectively the touchscreen would handle all those functions.
Fortunately, we can report that on the whole, the touchscreen 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 touchscreen, the display attracts its share of smudges, but they never distracted us from what we were viewing.
The on-screen keypad took little getting used to, and even the on-screen keyboard fared rather well. Tapping out messages was relatively quick, and we could tap the correct letter, even with our big fingers. The integrated correction software helped minimise 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, 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 full stops or commas live in a secondary keyboard -- annoying. If you're a frequent texter or an email fanatic, we suggest a test drive before you buy.
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 dialling a number; you must open the keypad first, adding 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 non-issue. But for multitaskers, 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.
The iPhone's only hardware menu button is set directly below the display. It takes you instantly back to the home screen, no matter which application you're using. The single button is nice to have, since it saves you a series of menu taps if you're buried in a secondary menu. On the top of the iPhone is a multi-function button for controlling calls and the phone's power. If a call comes in at an inopportune time, just press the button once to silence the ringer, or press it twice to send the call to voice mail. Otherwise, you can use this top control to put the phone asleep and wake it up again.
Located on the left spine are a volume rocker and a nifty ringer mute switch, something all phones should have and which is a popular feature of Palm Treos. On the bottom end, you'll find a pair of speakers and the jack for the syncing dock and the charger wire. Unfortunately, the headphone jack on the top end is deeply recessed, which means you will need an adaptor for any headphones with a chubby plug. Is this customer friendly? No.
Unfortunately, the iPhone does not have a battery that a user can replace. That means you have to send it to Apple to replace the battery after it's spent. (Apple is estimating one battery will last for 300 to 400 charges -- probably less than two year's worth of use.) No, you don't need a removable battery in a mobile phone, but like many things missing on the iPhone, it would be nice to have, especially for such an expensive phone.
Contrary to earlier reports, the SIM card is removable via a small drawer on the top of the iPhone, but it's still unclear whether you'll be able to swap SIM cards in and out of the iPhone. If that's the case it's troubling, as it completely defeats the biggest advantage of using a GSM phone with a SIM card. Some people have multiple phones and like to change the SIM card between their different handsets. Also, it looks as if you can't use the SIM card to import contact information from another handset.