Below is a FAQ based on my first weekend of using an iPhone. It contains all the questions I had about the iPhone before I bought it, and everything that seemed worth mentioning after using it. If you have any additional questions, leave them in the comments, and I’ll get you answers as soon as I can.
Now let’s start with something easy:
Q: Should I get one?
A: In short, yes. If you’re ok with dropping this kind of coin on a device, I really haven’t found anything about the iPhone that would make anyone regret buying one, and I’ve been looking pretty hard. If you’re ok with the fact that Apple will probably release better iPhones in 9 months, you’ve got nothing to lose by getting one now.
Q: Is it worth the money?
A: That’s a subjective questions, but I would say mostly. The price will come down, and the specifications will go up, but after using the iPhone nonstop for many hours, I started to understand why it’s so expensive. It’s an extremely well made device which must have required an unbelievable amount of R&D, and clearly contains some very advanced hardware. The more I use it, the better I feel about the price. But $600 is still $600.
Q: Does it live up to all the hype?
A: Amazingly enough, it appears to. I don’t feel like any of the pictures, videos, or demos I’ve seen were significantly enhanced or doctored. The iPhone really is as advertised. If you have doubts, find your closest Apple store and try one out. They’re not trying to hide anything.
Q: Is it as slick as Steve Jobs makes it look?
A: Yes. Mine has more fingerprints and smudges than the ones on TV, but it’s actually as responsive, intuitive, and fun to use as Steve and others have made it look. The visual effects are stunning, and look way too smooth and impressive to be on a handheld device.
Q: Is it stable? Does it crash like every other smart phone I’ve ever used?
A: I’ve uncovered a couple of minor bugs, but so far, no crashes. I won’t know for sure until I’ve used it for several more days, and tried several operations while talking on the phone, but it appears to be the most stable smart phone I’ve ever used. (That’s more of a sad commentary on other smart phones than an endorsement of the iPhone.)
Q: Do you like the keyboard?
A: Yes. The party line was that it takes about a week to get used to the keyboard. It took me about 10 minutes, and I have remained happy with it. I can still type faster on my Sidekick (which has the best keyboard of any mobile device in history), but the "soft" keyboard of the iPhone has enough other advantages that it’s worth giving up a little speed. For instance, when you don’t need the keyboard, you reclaim all that space for things like video, or more intuitive controls. And the keyboard automatically adapts itself to what you’re doing so if you’re typing in an email address, it gives you an "@" key, or if you’re typing a URL in Safari, there’s a ".com" key. I’ve read several reviews which claim that the key to using the keyboard is learning to trust its error correction. I disagree. I very quickly got to the point where I make very few errors, and when I do, I realize it right away because of the key preview effect which shows you what you just tapped on. I do appreciate the error correction, but I don’t feel like I need it. A friend of mine also pointed out that if you use the keyboard in landscape mode, you get a little more surface area to work with. Good tip.
Q: Is the iPhone too big?
A: No. I heard rumors that Apple was using models with very large hands in advertisements to make the iPhone look smaller. I don’t think that was true. The iPhone is a perfectly reasonable size — smaller, even, than I expected. In terms of size, it compares favorably to any other smart phone out there. In fact, it doesn’t even seem that large next to my iPod Nano.
Q: How well does the iPhone do email?
A: Not bad. I have it pulling mail from three different POP accounts: Gmail, .Mac, and one from my own server. In general, I like the mail application, but it also has plenty of room for improvement. For instance, for some reason, it kept pulling down old Gmail messages from weeks ago rather than just email from my inbox. I had to delete about 200 messages, one by one, before finally getting my inbox into a usable state. It’s a slick UI, but it’s not particularly powerful. I’ve noticed that iPhone applications, while intuitive, don’t really offer advanced options which is ok for something like a weather app, but email is complicated enough that I’d like to be able to do things like "select all". There also doesn’t seem to be a way to add an attachment to an email, so if you want to send a picture, you have to start with the photo application rather than from mail, which isn’t always intuitive. I expect all these things to be fixed with software updates soon enough, though.
Q: Did they get the voicemail system right?
A: If you get a lot of messages, I honestly think the iPhone is worth buying just for its voicemail support. Over a year ago, I wrote an post entitled How voicemail should work and it’s as though Apple custom built the system just for me. It’s pretty close to perfect.
Q: Does the YouTube application work well?
A: It works well for killing some time while you’re waiting to board a plane, or to get a haircut. Since the videos all have to be re-encoded to work on the iPhone, you don’t have access to the entire YouTube library, so you basically just end up with all of the most popular videos. I hope to one day have access to them all at which point it becomes much more interesting, but it’s still fun.
Q: Does the Google Maps application know where you are?
A: No. The iPhone does not have a GPS chip in it, not does it use signal triangulation to approximate your location. The Maps application simply lets you search for locations, and get driving directions between points just like Google Maps. It’s still a nice application, and integrates nicely with your address book, but it needs some way of figuring out where you are (preferably both a GPS chip, and signal triangulation as a fallback) to live up to its full potential.
Q: Does my To Do list from iCal sync with the iPhone?
A: Unfortunately not. Events sync just fine, but not To Do list items. Strange. I ended up creating a note with my to do items, instead. I think this is something that’s going to be fixed with Leopard when all of the Apple personal information management applications get updated.
Q: Does the iPhone have iChat or any other IM client?
A: No, which in my opinion, is the biggest shortcoming of the iPhone. My guess is that AT&T makes so much money from SMS messages that part of the deal with Apple was that they couldn’t put an IM client on the iPhone. The SMS application has the feel of a chat application, and seems designed to encourage sending messages and making money for AT&T. I’m hoping that this agreement will expire eventually, and that iChat will be ported. IM on the iPhone makes a huge amount of sense, and seems painfully obvious, but since the data plan is included in the monthly cost of the iPhone while SMS messages cost extra, I’m not expecting it anytime soon. (Boy would I love to be proven wrong and see iChat appear in the iTunes store sometime soon.)
Q: Can the iPhone be used as a hard drive like iPods can?
A: No, for some reason, the iPhone doesn’t get mounted as a volume like iPods do. iPhones cannot be used as hard drives. Bummer. I hope this changes.
Q: Can the iPhone sync with iTunes over bluetooth?
A: Curiously enough, no. I can sync my 4-year-old Nokia with iCal and Address Book over bluetooth, but not my brand new iPhone. I don’t use bluetooth headsets, so for me, the appeal of bluetooth is wireless data transfer. I expect this will be fixed in a future software update, however, and even if it doesn’t, it’s not hard to plug in a cable which you need to do for charging anyway.
Q: Is the data service fast?
A: Apple decided to go with AT&T’s somewhat obsolete EDGE data network rather than their super-fast 3G network. Nobody outside of the Apple compound really knows why, although conspiracy buffs will tell you it’s so Apple can release a new 3G version and force us all to upgrade. Personally, I’m fine with the EDGE network. I don’t use mobile devices to browse the web — not even the iPhone. As long as I can occasionally retrieve information I need (the phone number of a restaurant, a price comparison), I’m fine. I use the data network much more for things like email which doesn’t require 3G. That said, faster is always better, so an update will be welcomed, but it’s not at the top of my list of features.
Q: Does the iPhone make a good iPod?
A: The best. Anyone want to buy an 8GB iPod Nano?
Q: How is battery life?
A: I’m probably not really going to have a good feel for battery life for a few weeks, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it. After fully charging the iPhone, I played with it nonstop for about four hours last night (playing music, playing and replaying cool visual effects, taking pictures, etc.), and this morning, I had more than half of my battery left. I’m guessing I’ll have to charge it every other day with moderate use. After using Sidekicks for years, and especially after using a Sidekick 3 which can’t even go an entire day on a single charge, the iPhone battery seems perfectly acceptable. I do wish the battery could be replaced without having to send the entire phone in, but Apple doesn’t appear to want to budge on that point.
Q: How is the antenna? Do you get a good signal?
A: I get a surprisingly good signal. I have another AT&T phone which is currently active — a Sony Ericsson with an external antenna — and the iPhone gets a better signal. In my house, I get no signal with a Nokia 6680, an intermittent signal with my Sony Ericsson, and a pretty good signal with the iPhone.
Q: Camera? Good?
A: The 2 megapixel camera is pretty good, though I’ll admit that I’m not an expert in digital photography. It’s better than what I’m used to, but not as good as some I’ve played with. It doesn’t have any type of zoom (digital or optical), but optical zoom adds bulk, and digital zoom is mostly useless (plus, a digital zoom could appear in a software update). It doesn’t have an LED flash, but I’ve never found them to work particularly well, anyway. I find that the iPhone camera suits my needs just fine. If I want to take a decent quick picture, I’ll use my iPhone. If I want to take a nice picture for posterity, I’ll use my digital camera.
Q: How does it compare to the Sidekick 3?
A: There is no comparison in terms of hardware. The Sidekick 3 is a poorly constructed device with great software. The iPhone is a well made device with great software. I think both could learn from the other. I’d like to see Sharp build a high-quality Sidekick, and I’d like to see the iPhone adopt some of the Sidekick’s wireless data synchronization features (I don’t see why I have to sync my iPhone — shouldn’t it just be able to automatically sync in real time over the network?). Honestly, if I hadn’t just moved to an area with no T-Mobile signal, I would have probably stuck with the Sidekick 3 for a while longer. But as long as I’m being honest, part of me was glad I had the chance to make the switch to AT&T and hence the iPhone. I used to think the Sidekick was the only game in town, and I was never happy with any other solution I tried (and I’ve tried a lot). I’m now a very happy iPhone user.
Q: What comes in the box?
A: iPhone, stereo headset with a simple integrated remote, dock, cable, USB wall charger, and some books I never even unpacked. That’s all you really need, though I picked up a light-weight skin for mine, as well.
Q: Sum up the iPhone.
A: The iPhone is just like OS X when it first came out: revolutionary, disruptive, and full of potential. It’s easy to forgive some of its shortcomings because what it does do, it does very well, and because as amazing as it already is, it’s easy to see how much more amazing it will eventually be. Whether it’s worth the money or not is up to you. The iPhone makes me grin every time I use it, and anything that makes you grin is, in my opinion, worth having around.
Post any additional questions in the comments, and I’ll get you answers as soon as I can.