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. On the other hand, the letters of the alphabet are displayed on the right side of the screen. By pressing a letter you can go directly to any songs or contacts beginning with that letter.
The lack of buttons, however, 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 number keypad first, which adds 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 nonissue. But for mutlitaskers, 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.