From the moment Apple announced its iPhone at Macworld 2007, the tech world hasn't stopped asking questions. Because Apple kept many iPhone details under wraps, we've been forced to speculate. Until now. Is the iPhone pretty? Absolutely. Is it easy to use? Certainly. Does it live up to the stratospheric hype? Not so much.
Don't get us wrong, the iPhone is a lovely device with a sleek interface, top-notch music and video features and innovative design touches. The touchscreen is easier to use than we expected and the multimedia performs well. But a host of missing features, a dependency on a sluggish EDGE network and variable call quality -- it is a phone after all -- left us wanting more. For those reasons, the iPhone is noteworthy for not what it does, but how it does it.
The 8GB iPhone has finally been launched in the UK. It will set you back £269 from the Apple Store or Carphone Warehouse. It's only available on the O2 network, on contracts costing £35, £45 or £55 per month.
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. 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 755p, 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. 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.
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.
The iPhone's phone book is limited only by the phone's available memory. Each contact holds eight phone numbers, email, Web and street addresses, a job title and department, a nickname, a birthday and notes. You can't save callers to groups, but you can store your preferred friends to a favourites menu for easy access. You can assign contacts a photo for caller ID and assign them one of 25 polyphonic ringtones. We should note, however, that there's no voice dialling and you can't use MP3 files as ring tones.
Other basic features include an alarm clock, a calculator, a world clock, a stopwatch, a timer and a notepad. There's a vibrate mode, but it's a tad light.
The calendar offers day and month views, and you can use the calendar as an event reminder or to-do list as well. The interface is clean and simple, though inputting new appointments involves a lot of tapping. There's no week view, however.
Bluetooth and wireless
The iPhone offers a full range of wireless functionality with support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Wi-Fi compatibility is especially welcome, and a feature that's absent on far too many smart phones. When you're browsing the Web, the iPhone automatically searches for the nearest Internet hotspot. Bluetooth 2.0 is also on board, which delivers faster transmission and a longer range than Bluetooth 1.2. You also get a range of profiles including file transfer, but an A2DP stereo-Bluetooth profile is not among them -- another item that's not necessary but would be nice to have.
Though Apple CEO Steve Jobs has explained the iPhone's lack of 3G support by saying the chipsets take up too much room and they drain too much battery, we'd like the option anyway. Yes, the Wi-Fi network is great when you can get it, but EDGE just doesn't cut it for all other surfing. EDGE Web browsing is so slow it almost ruins the pretty Web interface.
Messaging and email
For your messaging needs, the iPhone offers text messaging and email. As on many smart phones, a text-message thread is displayed as one long conversation -- a useful arrangement that allows you to pick which messages you'd like to answer. If you use another function while messaging, you can return to pick up that message where you left off. We just don't understand, however, why Apple doesn't include multimedia messaging (MMS). Sure, you can use email to send photos, but without MMS you can't send photos to other phones -- pretty much the entire point of a camera phone.
The iPhone's email menu includes integrated support for Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and Mac accounts. You can set up the phone to receive messages from other IMAP4 and POP3 systems. You can read -- but not edit -- PDF, JPEG, Word and Excel documents. Worse: you can't cut and paste text when composing messages.
Sandwiched between all the iPhone's features lives Apple's most amazing iPod yet. The display, interface, video quality, audio quality -- all of it is meticulously refined and beautiful. Unfortunately, it's trapped within a device that will cost you more than $1,000 (£500) a year just to own. CNET recently reviewed a Rolls Royce that had a top-notch umbrella hidden inside its passenger door. Buying the iPhone for its iPod feature is much like buying the Rolls Royce for its umbrella. Regardless, the iPhone is an exciting glimpse into what Apple hopefully has planned for its sixth-generation iPod.
On paper, the iPhone's iPod doesn't offer any features not already on a 5G iPod: podcasts, videos, music and playlists are all here, and content management with iTunes is identical. The difference rests entirely in the iPhone's interface. We've used other MP3 players that use touch interfaces, such as the Archos 704, iRiver Clix and Cowon iAudio D2, but the iPhone's unique integration of multi-touch technology and graphical user interface put it in a category all of its own.
From an iPod perspective, Apple's biggest triumph with the iPhone is the fact that it has returned album artwork back into the music experience in a way that goes beyond a token thumbnail graphic. Physically flipping through your music in the iPhone's CoverFlow mode really brings back the visceral feel of digging through a CD or record collection. It's a difficult feeling to quantify, but music lovers will appreciate how well the iPhone reconnects their digital music to a form that is both visually and physically more vivid. Even iTunes users who may already be jaded about using the CoverFlow mode on their computer will be surprised at how the experience is changed by using the iPhone's intuitive touchscreen.
Truth be told, there is one feature that is new to the iPhone's iPod -- the integrated speaker. While the iPhone's speaker sounds thin and is prone to distortion, it works in a pinch for sharing a song with a friend. Apple was also smart enough to manage its speaker volume independent of the headphone volume, so if you're listening to the speaker full-blast and then decide to plug in your headphones, you won't be deafened.
The bad news is that the iPhone's iPod leaves out the ability to manually manage the transfer of music and video content. Unlike any previous iPod, the iPhone does not allow an option for manually dragging and dropping content from an iTunes library directly to the iPhone device icon. Instead, the iPhone strictly uses defined library syncing options for collecting and syncing content from your iTunes library to the device. This should work out fine for most people, but for a device with limited memory the inability to manually manage content seems like a misstep. Our 8GB iPhone was already a quarter full after only a few hours of testing, giving us the impression that users will need to be vigilant at grooming their iPhone library.
The iPhone's music sound quality seems right in line with our experience using the 5G iPod. All the same equaliser presets are available, only now they are found on the iPhone's main Settings tab. The included iPhone earbuds did a passable job for casual listening in a quiet environment. Unfortunately, the iPhone's recessed headphone jack prevented us from using many of the test headphones we're familiar with. We were just barely able to squeeze the plug of our Etymotic ER6i earphones into the jack to do the comparison.
Watching video on the iPhone is not quite as luxurious as a Creative Zen Vision: W or Archos 504, but its wide screen and bright contrast beat the 5G iPod by a mile. Like previous iPods, video playback is automatically bookmarked so that playback resumes where you left off.
The Safari browser really sets the iPhone apart from the rest of the mobile phone crowd. Rather than trudging through stripped-down WAP pages with limited text and graphics, the browser displays Web pages in their true form. It's a completely and surprisingly satisfying experience to see real Web pages on a screen of this size.
To pan around a page, just swipe your finger across the display, and the page moves accordingly. Tap your finger on a link to open a new page and double-tap your finger to zoom in and zoom back out. You can use the arrows on the bottom of the display to move back and forth, while a multi-function button at the bottom of the display lets you open new pages and flick among them.
Google search is the iPhone's default search tool, but you can use Yahoo search as well. When searching for information or typing URLs, you use the on-screen keyboard. It's just like typing an email, except that the space bar is replaced with Web-appropriate language like '.com' and a slash. That's a nice touch.
Thanks to the accelerometer, you can tip the phone on its side for a more comfortable landscape view. It doesn't matter which direction you rotate the phone, as it will work either way. Most Web pages looked great on the screen, but really busy pages like CNN.com can be too crowded. And because you can zoom in only a set amount, some text can still be too small to read clearly. You can store bookmarks and sync your favourite pages from your PC, but it only works for Internet Explorer and not Firefox.
You can activate the iPhone's integrated YouTube player straight from the main menu via a coloured icon. Videos are organised using many of the same criteria on the YouTube site, including Featured clips, Most Viewed, Top rated and Most Recent. You can read the information attached to a video, such as the date posted and the poster's name, but you can't read comments. It doesn't appear, however, that the YouTube connection updates in real time. We uploaded a video of our own, and it didn't show up until a few hours later.
The iPhone doesn't have integrated GPS, but it does have a widget for accessing Google Maps. You can get directions by telling the iPhone where you are and where you want to go, but you can't get real-time directions with turns or traffic updates. The map interacts well with the calling functions as you find a point of interest and ring it in just a few taps. We also like that you can get the Google satellite view.
Additional widgets point to share-price information and weather reports. You can program your own tickers and receive information like a share gain or loss and see a chart of a share price over a time period. The weather function gives you a six-day forecast of your city.
Visual voice mail
One of the most intriguing features on the iPhone is the much-touted visual voice mail. iPhone's voice mail works much like a text-message folder in that it displays the caller's name or phone number and the time. What's even more fantastic, however, is that you can listen to the message instantly by pressing the individual message -- you don't have to call your voice mail first.
The iPhone's 2-megapixel camera offers a tasty interface with a graphic that resembles a camera shutter. You're offered no photo-editing options, which we didn't expect. That means you can't change the resolution, choose a colour or quality setting, or select a night mode. There's no flash either, and with no self-portrait mirror, those vanity shots are going to be tricky.
The camera performed well in our tests, however. Photo quality was excellent with rich, bright colours and distinct object outlines. White looked slightly too soft, but we approve overall. On the downside, you can't shoot your own video, which is disappointing on a phone of this price.
As we said earlier, the photo menu is attractive and easy to use, particularly due to the pinching motion. You can also flip between photos by swiping your finger across the display. When selecting a photo, you're given the option of assigning it to a contact, using it as wallpaper or emailing it to a friend.
Call quality was good for the most part, but it wasn't dependable. Though voices sounded natural, the volume was often too low, and the microphone has a sensitive sweet spot. When we moved the phone away from our ears ever so slightly, the volume diminished noticeably and we had to move the phone back to just the right place to hear clearly. The volume wasn't so bad that we weren't able to hear a friend who was in a crowded bar, but it could be better. The speakerphone was also too quiet, though conversations weren't too muffled.
CNET.com users have also reported volume problems, and a few people we called said they heard a slight background hiss. We didn't hear the hiss on our end, but more than one of our friends said they noticed it. Automated calling systems were able to understand us, but only if we were in a quiet room.
Our first test with the Safari browser was over CNET's internal Wi-Fi network. Web pages loaded in 5 to 10 seconds, though sites with heavy graphics took longer. It was a smooth experience overall, though it not quite as zippy as we had hoped. We thought that could be due to CNET's network, but it seemed to be more or less the standard.
Pages took about the same time to load on a home network and just a couple seconds longer in a café. When not using Wi-Fi, you're stuck with AT&T's EDGE network, which is just too slow to render the lovely Safari interface enjoyably. With speeds in the 50-to-90Kbps range, it reminded us of a dial-up browser. In other words, it's pretty intolerable. We can only hope Apple adds 3G soon.
The Apple iPhone has a rated battery life of 8 hours talk time, 24 hours of music playback, 7 hours of video playback, and 6 hours on Internet use. The promised standby time is 10.4 days. When we tested the iPhone with the Wi-Fi function turned off, we got about 7 hours, 20 minutes of talk time. When we tested it with the Wi-Fi activated, we came away with 4 hours less. Video time, however, clocked in at an impressive 7.5 hours.
We'll report additional test results as we get them. Just keep in mind that it's rare you'll be using just one feature for hours on end. As such, your battery life will vary widely as you switch between functions. Large colour screens such as the one on the iPhone tend to be battery drainers, so you'll most likely need to charge your handset every couple of days. According to the FCC, the iPhone has a digital SAR rating of 0.974 watts per kilogram.
Edited by Lindsey Turrentine
Additional editing by Nick Hide