Informal iPhone 3G Review

I’ve been using the iPhone 3G (16 GB) for about four months, now. I’m about to describe my real-life experience with this device. This review is not all-encompassing – I’m going to describe my own perceptions of using my iPhone. Your experience may be different if you use it in different ways. I’m also not going into great detail in the mechanics of using the phone – you can find that information readily elsewhere on the net.
One of the key things to know about this is that my primary computer is a MacBook Pro. Additionally, I have a membership with MobileMe ($99/year), which is useful in this context for synchronization, and, of course, I have an account on iTunes. These and the iPhone work together to increase the utility of all of them. I should mention that I had previously set up my MacBook Pro to synchronize contacts, favorites and iCal calendar information to MobileMe, for the purpose of keeping it backed up. When I first got the iPhone, the first thing I did was set up synchronization with MobileMe; a couple of minutes later, all of my contacts, calendar and internet favorites, were on my iPhone. No kidding – plug in my MobileMe account info, wait a couple of minutes, and it’s all there. I began to be impressed.
You can also synchronize and recharge by hooking it up to your computer’s USB port. iTunes runs and allows you to configure the synchronization. I set mine up to do contacts, email, calendars, and favorites via MobileMe over the internet. If you don’t have MobileMe, you can use iTunes. I use the iTunes method to check for software updates and synchronize music, applications, and photos. Charging takes about half an hour or less, once a day.
I have owned high-end Hewlett Packard PDA’s, and various smartphones. The iPhone 3G is the first such device I have ever used that is actually very useful and convenient. For me, it is worth the money.
Using the iPhone is very easy indeed. The external controls consist of a button at the upper right edge that puts it to sleep; a toggle switch on the left side at the top that toggles between vibrate and audible ring; a volume bar just below that; and one button on the lower face to wake it up or return to the main menu. I wear the iPhone in a holster on my belt. The controls are accessible without taking it out of the case. In a movie theater, for instance, I can put it on vibration by feel and without pulling the phone out to see what I’m doing. Excellent design and control layout.
Push the button to wake it up. Slide your finger across the face as indicated, and you are presented with a screen of icons, with phone, mail, web browser and iPod at the bottom. Signal, network, time and battery indicators are along the top edge of the display.
The phone access is the simplest of any cell phone I’ve ever owned. Start the phone application by picking its icon; pick the person who I want to talk to out of favorites or out of the general contacts database. This is the easiest phonebook access of any cell phone i’ve ever owned.
I live out in the boonies, so when I am at home I am limited to the Edge network. This is slow enough that I don’t do all that much internet access while at home. In most places in the nearest city, and anywhere in Dallas or New York City, 3G is available, and it is reasonably fast while browsing the internet. When at work, i connect via Wi-Fi, which is fastest of all. In airports and such, it will offer to connect to any available WiFi network, but I have personally avoided networks I don’t have a warm fuzzy about.
The web browsing is amazingly good considering the size of the device. I’ve used it to see what was on at the local movies while traveling from one city to another as the group I was with decided which movie to go see, and when. I use it to check the weather, read blogs, look up wikipedia articles, and most anything else I normally do, although when I browse on the iPhone it is more of a convenience thing – serious browsing I do on my laptop. For the quick look-up of information, the internet access and the Safari browser is fine.
The onboard camera is a 2 Megapixel camera without flash or zoom. However, it is extremely handy to use; push the icon to start the camera; the screen turns into a viewfinder; click button to take picture. The picture goes onto the film roll. Later on, when synchronizing with the MacBook, the pictures are seamlessly loaded into my iPhoto library. 12,167 pictures and counting. I carry a subset of these in the photo application on the iPhone – mostly pictures of my granddaughter. When my new grandson was born, I emailed the first picture from the iPhone to several relatives including my younger son in New York, right there from the hospital within minutes. These go by email – not via the phone service.
The GPS is useful as a road map, finding where you are, and it can even display satellite photography of your location. It can also find businesses, for instance, in your area and show you where they are, although I haven’t used it like that very much. Signal acquisition of GPS function seems to be much faster than my dedicated Lowrance GPS, probably because the iPhone also triangulates on cell phone towers.
The iPhone is a full-featured iPod. I am not often in a situation where this is useful to me, but a few nights ago I was at an auction with some friends; this is not my bag, so I occupied myself with listening to music. It’s great! Enough said.
Of the applications that come with the iPhone, I frequently use; Phone, Mail, Safari (web browser), Maps (GPS), Weather, Photos, Camera, Contacts. I also use others, but these are frequently used.
Here are a few of the applications I have purchased and/or downloaded for free for the iPhone; these are the applications I have found useful and of good quality:
PCalc – extremely useful calculator – supports algebraic or RPN operation. I’m an old-time Hewlett-Packard calculator addict – I love RPN calculator operation. But this calculator is probably the best on the market even if you use algebraic mode.
Air Sharing – allows you to put files from your computer onto the iPhone. I use it to put reference PDF’s related to my work on there so I will have them anywhere.
1Password – keeps up with passwords on websites. Synchronizes with the version on my laptop.
FlightTrack – Want to keep up with the flight status of an airplane flight? This application lets you enter the airline, flight number and date; it displays flight data including delays, altitude, speed, and even shows a map of the flight path indicating where the plane is. When my son flies in from New York, this is very useful since we have to drive three hours to meet him.
WriteRoom – very nice notepad. Supports portrait or landscape mode; in landscape mode, the keyboard is enlarged which makes it easier to type on.
Wund – Weather Underground. Actually this is an iPhone formatted web site, but it works great.
NIV Bible by Olive Tree Bible Software – this is the most expensive program on the iPhone at $25, but it’s a great version of the Bible. The text is easy to read, and navigation is easy as well.
Clinometer – Ok, this may be useful for some people, but I got it because it’s nifty. Use your iPhone as a level, either on an edge, or laying it flat which displays a bubble level. Great display.
To summarize: I use the iPhone off and on all day, every day. I’ve owned many cell phones including smart phones, and they invariably wound up being used just as phones. The iPhone is actually a multi-purpose tool with unlimited uses, just as my laptop is. Marvelous. And I still have 14 gigabytes of free space on it.
I’ve probably missed half of it. Good equipment, though.
-Popgun

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