One week with an iPhone

by Michael Alderete on 7/6/2007 · 4 comments

Last Friday I bought an 8 gigabyte iPhone at an Apple store. I’ve been using the phone for a week now, and overall, while there are certainly flaws and omissions, it is a spectacular synthesis of hardware and software excellence. No other handheld device I’ve used even comes close, including the seven previous iPods I’ve owned. It’s a major advance in mobile phones, and in computing generally, and while I certainly look forward to getting the 2nd generation product, I’m going to love this 1st generation device all on its own.

Beyond that general impression, I have a few specific things I thought would be worth writing about.

Buying and Activation Was Painless

I wasn’t willing to camp out or wait in line more than an hour prior to the store opening. But in spite of having 200-250 people ahead of me (a line long enough that it had to be split into two, with us “overflow” people being in a second line outside the mall), once the store re-opened at 6pm it only took about an hour to get to the front of the line, and about 4 minutes to actually purchase my phone. My overall time commitment was about 2 hours. Apple, and presumably the mall folks as well, did a terrific job of managing the external queue, and the customers inside the store.

Once out of the store, I actually had Real Life Activities planned, so I didn’t even open the box to look at the unit until almost midnight. My activation process, unlike a few I’ve read, was quick and smooth, no hiccups. And although I was transferring my number from another wireless provider (goodbye Verizon!), it transferred with no further intervention from me; within an hour I could make calls, and about a day later I could receive them. All in all, a very satisfying and convenient process — which is kind of amazing given that there are three major businesses involved, including one (Verizon) who has every incentive to make the process hard.

What Other People Are Saying

There are a number of other online reviews and personal experiences; here are a few that are both thoughtful and I (mostly) agreed with:

(The NYTimes and WSJ reviews are also good, but their for-pay nature makes them harder to link to…)

Audiobooks on iPhone Notes

A few things I haven’t read elsewhere. First of all, the main reason I got the phone was to keep Aldo on Audiobooks current on listening to audiobooks on an iPod. I’m happy to report that the iPhone is a superb audiobook playback device. It is in most ways a major leap forward, making my 2nd generation iPod nano look primitive. There are also a few serious flaws, which I hope will be corrected. I’ll have more details on both sides of the coin in a post tomorrow Sunday soon.

Second, getting the 8 gigabyte version of the iPhone is a no-brainer. Previously I recommended the 4 gigabyte iPod nano as the best iPod for audiobooks. 4 gigs of memory is plenty of room for audiobooks, podcasts, and a modest collection of music. This is because the iPod nano’s screen is small enough that it’s not very interesting for photos, and nanos cannot play video at all, so you don’t need much, if any, room for these media.

The iPhone’s screen and features, however, are such that you’ll almost certainly want to have a collection of photos, and videos have never looked so good on such a small device. As a result, the percentage of space I allocate to audiobooks has gone from 75% to 50% of the total capacity, making the extra space much more necessary. For only 20% more cost, you get double the capacity. Yeah, it’s an extra $100, but if you’re already spending $500 on a phone, you can spend $600 just as easily. Get the 8 gig model.

Third, you can listen to an audiobook over the speakerphone. The audio fidelity and volume are not good enough for music (IMHO), but are decent for listening to spoken word, at least in a reasonably quiet environment. This is really cool, especially because…

Fourth, while the built-in microphone and click-control of the included iPhone headphones are very, very cool, I had forgotten how much I hate the standard iPod earbuds. Uncomfortable, and they won’t stay in my ears. Just awful. But I don’t want to give up the microphone or one button control; it’s far too useful when listening to audiobooks, where you need to pause playback to talk to someone. Audiobooks are different from music; you can’t just pull out an earbud and miss a few minutes of the track while you talk. But hitting pause on the iPhone itself is a multi-step process, once the screen sleeps and locks. The click-control makes that a non-issue…except it means you have to use the included headphones.

This is a huge opportunity for Shure, Etymotic, and the other makers of high-end headsets (my wife likes her Shure E3c set, and I was about to buy the new Shure SE210, which fit great at Macworld Expo, but they don’t have a mic or controls). I am totally ready to buy a whole new set of nice headphones to work with my iPhone, but only if it has the built-in mic and controls.

Other iPhone Notes

Fifth, while others have complained about AT&T’s “2.5 gen” EDGE network, my experience has been better. Maybe my expectations were lowered by the universally negative comments, but personally I found it amazing that I could be on vacation in a semi-rural town (~2500 official population) this past week, and have a usable version of the Internet in my pocket. Yes, it could be faster; I wouldn’t want to do my daily surfing on it. But to pull out the phone to get a definition of “second cousin, twice removed” while drinking margaritas on the deck, or to read MacInTouch while lying in a hammock, it was a perfectly adequate implementation of a capability that is, or ought to be, mind-blowing.

Finally, 373 contacts on my phone is too many; finding a phone number on the phone is slower and harder than it should be. Not horrible, not hard, just not graceful. (Favorites are only useful if you keep the list very short; I’m trying to keep mine to one screen, no scrolling.) My first attempt to improve this was a Smart Group in Address Book that only included contacts that were useful on an iPhone, that is, those with a phone number, email address, or URL:

This reduced the total number of contacts to 363 — not exactly a huge improvement.

More fine-grained groups on the iPhone do help, but Address Book needs some small-but-significant improvements to make my groups more useful with my iPhone. Specifically, I want to be able to exclude a set of contacts that are not useful on my phone, because they are old or or people I am not ever likely to call (but need to keep for e.g. twice-yearly mass mailings).

To do this, I need a way to create Smart Groups that exclude contacts which are in another group. That is, I have an “Old / Hide” group of contacts, that I manually maintain, of those contacts which I want to hold onto, but which I don’t want to carry around with me. But for that to be useful, I need to be able to create Smart Groups that subtract this group out of it. You can do this with Smart Playlists in iTunes, but there is currently no way to do it with Smart Groups in Address Book.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Carmatter July 11, 2007 at 10:23 am

Were you able to get the smart group to sync? I made a smart group of just entries with phone numbers, but it doesn’t show up as an option for syncing, and doesn’t appear on my iPhone when I sync all groups.

Reply

Alderete July 11, 2007 at 11:11 am

@Carmatter: Hey, you’re right, none of my Smart Groups appear in the Contacts sync settings. I guess I didn’t think winnowing out only 10 contacts was enough to bother with, so I didn’t even try it. But looking at it now, there’s not a single Smart Group in the list of available groups to sync. So the improvements required here are more substantial than just in Address Book itself.

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Matt Bethe July 12, 2007 at 9:53 am

I am looking for information about how to include a ‘Smart Groups’ or ‘Smart Groups’ list on my iPhone. I see that you need a smart group that you can’t create, but don’t worry. The iPhone doesn’t seem to allow me to use my Smart Groups!

I have several Smart Groups in my Address Book, but I cannot find a way to view these in my iPhone. :(

Reply

John Terdik August 21, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Can the iPhone sync with MS Outlook (2003 or 2007) - I need my contacts (all 1000 of them) my calendar, todo list, notes. I could care less about surfing the web or any email processing. This may change in the future but I doubt it. I’m really concerned about your comment that finding names is difficult. With my current phone (touch screen), I can access a keyboard as part of the screen and start typing in a name (first or last) and as I enter characters the results list reduces in size. Normally when I’ve entered 3-5 characters that is enough to select from what I see on the screen. From your comment I suspect that the iPhone has nothing like this.

Have you tried the GPS functions? For me this would be a major plus.

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