iPhone review part 3
iPhone limitations, and should you buy
The Visual Voicemail
service is a truly innovative and positive new development,
offered on the iPhone.
Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please
also visit the other articles listed on the right.
In the third part of this
review, we look at some of the miscellaneous extra functions the
iPhone has, and talk about some of the missing functions the
iPhone should have.
Don't get us wrong. The
iPhone is a good phone, and with its ongoing updates via
software, it is getting better. The new iPhone 3g has
further improvements, too. But we don't yet consider
either the original or the new 3g version of the iPhone to be
the ideal perfect phone in all respects.
Using the iPhone (continued
from part 2)
Using the iPhone for other
The iPhone comes with some
other applications already loaded, including common things such
as a Calendar program which can be synchronized with your
Outlook calendar. The Calendar program is very basic and
has some problems with it - for example, a multi-day event only
shows up on the first day when you're looking at the month view
of your calendar.
You can also synchronize
your Contacts List with Outlook.
The iPhone has a potentially
useful Notes program for storing notes about all sorts of things
you might wish to occasionally jot down and/or refer to.
But. Why, oh why, did they not provide synchronization
between their Notes program and the Notes feature of Outlook?
How stupid is that? They synchronize contacts, calendar,
and even to a limited extent, email from Outlook, but don't also
synchronize the notes?
This is even more
frustrating because it forces you to type all notes into the
iPhone using the phone's despicable miniature keyboard, and
means you lose any notes you had in Outlook. There's also
no way to take your iPhone notes and use them on your main
computer. This is yet another example of shoddy and
incomplete thinking on Apple's part.
The phone has a 2 megapixel
camera built in to it (1600 x 1200 resolution), and takes
pictures of a quality common to camera phones (ie not very
good). Here's a cropped but otherwise unretouched portion
of a picture I took of my daughter in the car - if you
link, it will open in a new window. You'll notice
'picture noise' and lack of sharpness in the image.
But - get this : If
you take a picture and then send it via email to someone, the
phone 'helpfully' reduces it in size down to a very compressed
and small 640 x 480 pixel image. There's no way the phone
will allow you to send the full image as an email attachment.
Why is this? One can
only guess that it was some sort of a deal insisted on by AT&T
so as to limit the amount of data bandwidth that would be taken
up by sending larger pictures. It is very unfortunate that
there isn't even an option to send the larger size image.
So how can you actually do
something with the full size picture you just took?
Warning - your brain will hurt if you try and read the next
sentence : You can copy photos from the iPhone to your
computer via Windows Explorer, but not from your computer to the
iPhone; on the other hand, you can copy pictures to your phone
through iTunes but not from your phone, and you can't delete
pictures that are synchronized over to the phone through iTunes.
Confused? So you
should be. Apple's inane and unnecessary copy protection
sacrifices user flexibility and simplicity.
The phone doesn't come with
a built in GPS device, but it can use a clever method of cell
tower triangulation and reference point Wi-Fi networks to
computer approximately where you are, and to show your location
on a Google Map image as part of its mapping program.
The Google based map program
is wonderful, and just like on the web based service (maps.google.com)
you can choose between map or satellite views, and you can also
display local traffic information on the map too - definitely a
great service when you're negotiating through the freeways in
In addition to the range of
programs Apple provides with the phone, there is a small but
growing variety of third party applications available, most
currently being offered for free. Initially Apple refused
to allow other developers to write software for the iPhone, and
restricted extra software to web based programs, but it is about
to open up the system (in Feb 08) to allow the full development
of free-standing applications.
I've added some lovely extra
applications already, ranging from games (Blackjack) to useful
business functions (a wonderful HP-12C emulator that shows a
true-to-life image of the calculator on the screen) to the
useless but fun (a bouncing ball that uses the built in
accelerometers in the iPhone for you to control its bouncing by
waving the iPhone around). There are even some free
e-Books and reference libraries, plus a program that actually
does allow you to email full size pictures taken by the built in
camera. Take that, Apple!
Battery Life and Charging
One of the big weaknesses of
this phone is its very short battery life. Although it has
impressive official battery life ratings - up to 250 hours
standby or up to 8 hours talk time, this assumes no data or
internet usage. If you're using the internet, the phone's
battery life drops to a measly 6 hours.
Recognizing the phone's
ability to double as an iPod audio or video player, it is also
rated at up to 7 hours of playing video or up to 24 hours of
These battery life ratings
are of course invariably somewhat optimistic, and - like all
rechargeable batteries - each successive charge sees the battery
delivering slightly less life than the previous charge.
Apple says that the battery can be charged about 400 times
before its maximum life is reduced to 80% of its original
If you use your phone a
reasonable amount during the day - checking email, a bit of
internet browsing, and a few phone calls - chances are that
you'll find the battery is getting dangerously depleted by the
end of the day, and even if the battery gets you through one
day, it won't last through the end of a second day. So,
for most of us, daily charging will become an unavoidable ritual
Note also that the battery
life display is a bit deceptive. Once you get to 20%
battery remaining, you can very quickly drop from 20% to 10% (in
only a few minutes on one occasion) and then from 10% to 0 in
way too fast a time as well.
Having to charge your phone
every day is inconvenient and not 'state of the art'.
Charging the battery is
slow. With my Blackberry, my rule of thumb is 'one minute
of charge buys me an hour of extra battery life', and so if I
suddenly find myself low on charge, I only need to plug the
phone in for a few minutes to top it up safely. Quick
charging is particularly helpful because I often just top the
phone up while driving in the car with the car charger.
But the iPhone takes 2 - 3
hours to slowly build up to about a 90% charge, and to go from
90% to 100% can take that much extra. Being as how you're
going to be all the time needing to charge your iPhone, it is a
shame that the charging process isn't a little quicker.
Some people still travel
with spare phone batteries. If this is you, then you're in
for a disappointment with the iPhone. You can't replace
the battery. It is sealed inside the unit, and replacing
the battery involves sending your phone back to Apple, and
paying $85.95 for a new battery and shipping the phone back to
you. With daily recharges, a battery will probably last
you more than one year but less than two.
This is a huge amount of
money just to replace a battery, and being without your phone
for some days is another unwelcome inconvenience too. This
is a very user-unfriendly design limitation on Apple's part.
Exclusivity with AT&T and
Unlocking the iPhone
Apple has signed a five year
exclusive marketing contract with AT&T in the US, and has
'locked' its phones so that they will only work with an AT&T
provided account chip (or 'SIM' as it is called).
Subsequently, Apple has signed agreements with service providers
in other countries, and in each case has again signed an
exclusivity contract and is only releasing its phones with a
lock/restriction to work with that one wireless company's SIMs.
For a brief while, Apple was
compelled to make the phones it sold through T-mobile in Germany
unlocked, but as of now (Feb 08) a court ruling has overturned
the lower court and now Apple and T-Mobile are free to restrict
the phones only to T-Mobile again. It seems that possibly
in France Apple may have to unlock the phones, but commentators
believe that Apple will only partially unlock the phone,
allowing it to work with other French wireless companies, but
not with other companies around the world.
Probably the reason Apple is
doing this is because it stands to make a profit not just from
selling the phone but also then gets a cut of the monthly fees
paid by the phone user to the wireless company. It is
estimated that in the US, Apple gets about $10/month as a
kickback from AT&T on every iPhone contract. When you
consider that AT&T are requiring a minimum two year contract
with iPhone signups, this means Apple not only makes a generous
profit from selling the iPhone in the first place, but it then
gets a second 'bonus' of $240 or more per phone once it is put
However, phone enthusiasts
have rebelled, and not very long after the iPhone was released,
a hacker came up with a way to defeat Apple's locking procedure,
enabling the phone to be unlocked and used on any GSM network,
anywhere in the world. Apple retaliated and each software
upgrade release makes the phone incompatible with previous
unlocking techniques, and relocks the phone. But within a
month or so of each software upgrade (and there have been five
in the first nine months), the hacking community has defeated
the new locking process and phones are being happily unlocked
We provide an
unlocking service ourselves, as do many other companies.
Unlocking the iPhone has
been very common, much to Apple's chagrin (it doesn't get its
revenue share on an unlocked phone, of course), with some
estimates suggesting that a quarter or more of the iPhones sold
to date having been unlocked and now being used on other
wireless services and in other countries. To date (Feb08)
more than 4 million iPhones have been sold, and it is expected
that 10 million will be sold by the end of 2008.
Many of these iPhones have
been shipped and sold in other countries where there is not yet
an official iPhone reseller; I've seen them being ostentatiously
displayed in some quite out of the way places in Eastern Europe
The following is far from a
complete list - I've seen lists of over 50 items missing or not
properly implemented on some website reviews, but here are a few
of the things - in addition to those mentioned in the text -
that I feel should be present on the iPhone :
There is no removable memory
(ie SD card or similar) option.
The camera doesn't support
video - a sad omission for a device that supports video
No GPS capability.
Battery life is too short and
batteries can't be replaced other than by returning the unit
No onboard Help service.
It can't take an external
Email limitations in just
about every respect.
No chat clients (for eg MSN
or Yahoo Messenger).
Can't use the iPhone as a
hard drive storage device.
iTunes based restrictions on
copying pictures and music to and from the phone.
Doesn't synch with Outlook
Notes or Tasks.
Cut and paste text feature
Needs MMS message support.
Needs stereo Bluetooth for
playing audio through Bluetooth stereo headphones, the
ability to use Bluetooth to connect the phone to your laptop
(and use the phone as a wireless modem) and the ability to
transfer files via Bluetooth.
Which iPhone is Best
The iPhone was originally
released in June 07 with two versions - having either 4GB or 8GB
of storage, and priced at $499 or $599. In September, the
4GB unit was discontinued and the price of the 8GB unit reduced
to $399. In January 2008, a new 16GB model was introduced,
with a $499 price.
If you are not planning on
using the iPhone to store and play video, you probably don't
need a 16GB unit, and if you're not using the iPhone to play
music at all, then even a 4GB unit would be plenty - but be
careful if buying a used 4GB unit; make sure the price is right,
because you might need to replace the battery before too long
(at a cost of $86).
Most people should choose
the 8GB unit, accordingly.
The iPhone is perhaps the
most successful cell phone ever, in terms of both pre and post
release publicity. And while not the best selling phone
unit out there (in part due to Apple's own restrictions on how
and where it is sold) it is one of the most popular phones, with
a projected user base of 10 million units by the end of 2008.
The promise of a simple
user-friendly phone interface that finally brings some
understandable extra features to phones which, until now, many
people have only ever used for placing and receiving phone calls
has been realized in part.
But, the phone is full of
limitations and weaknesses. These limitations would be
acceptable in a $50 phone, but not in a phone which sells for
$500, and are doubly unacceptable in a phone that makes such
bold promises in terms of how good it is.
So - should you buy an
iPhone? You have, sort of, four options - not to buy an
iPhone, to buy an iPhone, to buy a competing phone, or to wait
until a better and/or less expensive iPhone comes out (perhaps
in June 2008, being the one year anniversary of the first iPhone
release, perhaps later this year in time for the Christmas
If you're not a 'power user'
and if you need a new phone today, and if you're comfortable
with the concept of spending a lot of money to get a phone that
is part fashion statement as well as part phone, then why not do
so, and join the millions of others who have already happily
done so (the iPhone's user satisfaction level is much higher
than other advanced phones).
If you use your phone a lot,
and if you anticipate using the data services, then the battery
life will be a problem. And if you are choosing between a
Blackberry or iPhone for email, then the Blackberry wins
If you don't actually need a
new phone at present, and are still somewhere in the middle of
your current phone contract period, don't rush out to buy an
iPhone. There's nothing revolutionary about it, and it
still does ordinary things in a more or less ordinary way.
Looking to the future, we
hope to see new iPhones that address some of the omissions and
weaknesses in the present iPhone, that have still more memory
(ie 32 GB instead of 16GB, and maybe even 64GB), better battery
life, video as well as still picture taking, and high speed data
support, and hopefully all of this at the same or lower price
than the current iPhone.
The iPhone is a bizarre mix
of the imaginative and inventive alongside the really stupid and
idiotic. Most people are best off not
buying an iPhone at present.
Part of a series on the
Apple iPhone - please also visit the other articles listed
at the top on the right
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22 Feb 2008, last update
26 Jun 2019
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.