I’m now 42, which of course is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. I’m delighted by some friends’ gifts of Amazon gift cards to help load up my Kindle with new books. That device is revolutionizing my reading, which is a major component of my lifestyle. But my birthday gift to myself, courtesy of the AT&T Deathstar, is my new iPhone.
A week and a half after its nationwide release and a few days after my old cell phone contract with another carrier had expired, I went in quest of an iPhone at my local AT&T store. They were, as expected, out of stock. At the end of a forty-minute endurance test they managed to order me one (actually two, due to an ordering snafu on their part), which arrived two days later. Others in town have waited more than a week for theirs, so I presume my prompt service reflected lesser demand/greater supplies for the 16GB white model I was seeking.
It took almost another hour for me to pick up my new toy and escape the Death Star’s minions, but all great quests require patience and endurance. And I have not been disappointed.
Two days of messing about with the handheld wonder, including loading it up with various applications, leave me delighted with its capabilities. It is ridiculously easy to use and puts the internet in my pocket.
I’ve made and received calls, which have come in clearly despite my residence getting only a few bars of AT&T signal strength. I told the phone to sync with my Gmail contacts list when I hook it to my Windows XP computer running iTunes. That worked like a charm, allowing me to edit my contacts far more easily than on my old phone’s keypad or the iPhone’s better-but-still-annoying virtual keyboard. I shifted frequent contacts into the easily-accessed favorites list and find that I don’t yet miss voice dialing, although I’ve added (but not yet tested) an application that claims to do that.
Listening to podcasts and music is better than on my iPod Nano for the most part. The touchscreen interface allows far easier access to the album listing when playing a song, the cover art is much more visible, and the volume control buttons are quite handy. My one complaint thus far is that it is harder to navigate within a lengthy podcast. I can tap the screen during playback to see where I am in the recording, but sliding the playback position back and forth lacks the fine control I have with my Nano’s scroll wheel. The iPhone forgot where I was in a podcast once when I paused it to go shopping, but remembered on other occasions. Hopefully that glitch will remain quite infrequent.
At home, using my wireless network, the internet is blazing fast on the iPhone. The EDGE network which I have to use here in Bartlesville when out and about is far slower and a bit annoying. I used the 3G network in Tulsa yesterday and that did indeed speed up the browsing, but it put a noticeable drain on the battery life. So I only plan to use 3G when I’m annoyed by EDGE surfing and consequently want a very quick way to turn 3G on and off from my home screen, rather than navigate through several layers of menus.
The iPhone is a wonder at rendering large web pages and allowing you to quickly zoom in and out to fit its small screen. But I’ve already reconfigured my bookmarks in its Safari web browser to use the mobile versions of my favorite websites since those load faster and require no zooming. I have Safari on my Windows XP machine and make most of my bookmark changes there for convenience – they automatically sync back and forth with the iPhone when it hooks up to iTunes. At first I wanted my iPhone to sync with my Firefox bookmarks, since that is my real desktop browser. But now I like having Safari running with its own mobile-oriented bookmarks. And when surfing on a desktop I can quickly tag webpages in Google’s notebook or my new Instapaper application for later viewing on the iPhone.
I do find it extremely annoying, however, that the iPhone lacks Adobe Flash, which is used by some websites for animations and even menus and controls. But there is nothing like running around on shopping errands with the internet instantly accessible. I can check prices and availability on the web or with the iPhone’s Save Benjis application, and I can get directions and maps using the phone’s GPS and cell tower triangulation capabilities. The GPS is not turn-by-turn and doesn’t yet rival standalone units for navigation, but it will nevertheless be quite handy on vacations.
Email and Calendar
I’m using Gmail on the iPhone and it easily configures for that use. My friend Josh Williams alerted me to a workaround to get push Gmail that I may try. I haven’t tried out Apple’s MobileMe service, which has been plagued with startup problems and failed to impress Walt Mossberg. It would be interesting if my employer enabled ActiveSync so I could access my work email and calendars more easily on my iPhone, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Plus that puts me in a higher-cost data plan if AT&T discovered I was using Microsoft Exchange in that manner. So for now I’ll stick with WebAccess for my work email and the kludge of publishing my work calendar from Microsoft Outlook from my office desktop to Google Calendar.
I’m not tempted to read electronic books on my iPhone since my Amazon Kindle has a much better display and interface for that purpose. The Kindle is a lousy web browser but a superb text reader.
I haven’t had enough time to really give the iPhone applications a fair trial, so I’ll refrain from reviewing most of them. Here are the apps I’ve loaded and am trying out, in order of familiarity thus far:
Google Mobile App – a must have, with improved functionality for Google’s many web applications
Remote – fantastic remote control for my Apple TV, adding functionality I never enjoyed before
Facebook – youngsters don’t use email much these days, preferring instant messaging and Facebook; I refuse the former and endure the latter
Instapaper – quickly store webpages for later browsing
iWant – quickly locate nearby services (restaurants, gas, etc.)
BoxOffice – movie locations, showtimes, ratings, etc.
Break – Breakout game
Pandora Radio – my favorite way to discover new music
Save Benjis – look up online prices for items by barcode and model numbers
Evernote – note-taking with text, photos, etc.
Exposure – Flickr photos
WHERE – various location-based services in an interface I find annoying thus far
WordPress – blog from anywhere
Units – unit conversions
SpeechCloud Voice Dialer – voice dialing on the iPhone
myLite Colored Strobe and Flashlight – turn your screen into a light
More Cowbell! – enhance your songs the Bruce Dickinson way
AOL Radio – various stations