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Last Updated: Monday, 2 July 2007, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Hands on with the Apple iPhone
By Iain Mackenzie
Technology reporter, BBC Radio 1

Iain MacKenzie and iPhone

Thousands of people have snapped up Apple's much-hyped iPhone following its launch in the United States on Friday. We got a chance to play with the device and assess its impact as a mobile phone and iPod.

Does it live up to the hype? How does the touch screen user interface work? Should other mobile phone manufacturers be concerned?

LOOK AND FEEL

The iPhone undoubtedly looks lovely - from the front. That big glass touchscreen covers most of the face with the exception of the single main button.

Yes, it gets fingerprints, but it's a touchscreen - so get over it.

Crucially the screen is bright enough that you don't see any marks when you're using the iPhone.

I found the back of the handset quite disappointing. It's a sort of champagne coloured aluminium which has been given the look of brushed metal.

It felt a little cheap and certainly not as tactile as the rubberized finish on the HTC touch.

The iPhone is heavy enough that you feel this is a device that's got some substance to it. At the same time, it's lighter than some of the larger Windows Mobile smartphones.

OPERATION

The iPhone may have been over-hyped in some respects, but the operation is every bit as good as promised.

Programmes open and close quickly and beautifully. Switching from portrait to landscape more in certain applications is flawless.

Most impressive is browsing music in iPod mode. Coverflow works better than on any PC I've seen.

Shuttle back and forward between artwork with your finger, the iPhone never lags behind There's also nice little touches such as a fullscreen iris which opens to reveal the image when activating the camera.

KEYBOARD

This is the first of my main criticisms. Blackberry, Microsoft devices and everyone else who uses physical keyboards on their machines can breathe a sigh of relief.

PROS
Beautiful screen
Flawless running of applications
Touch interface works well, especially ¿pinch'
E-mail and web browsing are very simple

The iPhone uses a small on-screen keyboard. My indelicate thumbs hit the wrong buttons more often than the right ones.

The only way to really get it right is to point at each letter in turn with your index finger. How slow would that be?

There is some fairly sophisticated error correction, but it doesn't always get things right.

I'm told that keyboard technique improves after a week-or-so of using the iPhone. It would have to.

CAMERA

As mentioned before, the operation of the camera is as smooth and lovely as everything else on the iPhone.

CONS
Difficult on-screen keyboard
Poor camera specs and no video recording
Slow cellular data speed
Unlikely to have a wealth of 3rd party applications

However its specifications are not. Two megapixels seems badly underpowered these days.

That said Samsung's Blackjack produces better pictures from a 1.6mp camera than most devices with double the resolution.

Also disappointing is the lack of video recording. Given Apple's close working with Youtube, you'd think a video creation application would have been on the cards. Maybe that's one for a software upgrade.

E-MAIL AND WEB

Of all the applications, e-mail is the one that should make Microsoft's Windows Mobile people hang their heads in shame.

It supports POP3, IMAP and Exchange servers. Navigating an e-mail is, again, done by touch. Picture attachments appear embedded on the page and can be zoomed using the iPhone "pinch": dragging thumb and forefinger together on the screen zooms in. Doing the opposite zooms out.

The web browser is also a thing of great beauty. Full pages are rendered perfectly. Tapping and using the pinch zooms in and out. Landscape mode gives you plenty of screen space for viewing.

We were using the iPhone on a wi-fi connection where everything worked at a reasonable speed.

The real test will be using the iPhone on the slow 2.5G EDGE data network. One report claimed it took two minutes to load Yahoo.com. That, frankly is worse than useless. Roll on the HSDPA (4G) iPhone.

OTHER APPLICATIONS

Other notable applications include YouTube. A customised interface brings up a shortlist of top videos, most popular etc. YouTube runs in landscape mode and looks very nice indeed thanks to the site converting much of its content to the high quality h.264 video standard.

Good luck trying this on a non-wi-fi connection, however.

Google maps does what Google Maps does. The iPhone version is a very slick port and works well with the touchscreen.

There is the facility to view Word and pdf files, but no editing and also no copy and pasting of text between applications, which is a weird decision.

PHONE

Sadly, I can't comment on this as we weren't in a position to make any calls.

However don't expect to be doing any one press re-dialling. There are a number of "button" presses that need to be performed just to make a phone call - which is strange given the user interface simplicity.

There's also no multimedia messaging option or voice dialling.

CONCLUSION

Apple's claim that the iPhone is five years ahead of any other mobile is nonsense, in terms of actual tech specifications.

In particular, the antiquated data system lets it down badly. However, as a user experience it is probably about 10 years ahead.

Using the iPhone makes you feel quite angry towards other mobile manufacturers. What have they been doing? Fobbing us of with such truly awful interfaces?

However, I am conscious that where we do benefit on other platforms is the wealth of third party applications. I wonder when we will see a DivX player - one of the most popular video standards - for iPhone. When Apple deigns to give us one, I guess.

If Apple could sort out the camera, data speed and keyboard the iPhone would still not be perfect, but it wouldn't be far off.

IPHONE RIVALS

Rory Cellan-Jones compares iPhone rivals with Tom Dunmore, Editor in Chief of Stuff Magazine.




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