The Great iPhone Test

Ever since the iPhone was first announced, I dreamed about owning one. I held out on the first-gen iPhone because I wanted faster Internet speeds. Therefore, when the iPhone 3G was announced, I was out of excuses. Even then, I still managed to put off getting one until early this month; but with the new year came a desire to try a new phone, so trusting in AT&T’s 30-day return policy, I procured myself a shiny new iPhone and commenced the great iPhone test.

Now this test basically consisted of three parts: first, I wanted to see how the AT&T service worked in my area; second, I wanted to find out if my life would be improved by some potentially awesome iPhone apps; and third, I wanted to see if the hardware was really as awesome as it was cracked up to be.

Before I go further, though it pains me to do so, I’m going to spoil the ending and tell you my decision on the phone before I explain the reasons behind my decision. After a two-week period, I decided to take the phone back and return to my crappy Motorola SLVR. Now here are my impressions:

First, the pros-

  1. Webkit-enabled Browsing – This was awesome. I used this functionality more than any other on the phone. I used it to approve affiliates on the go, look up addresses and phone numbers, pass the time when I was bored, and win arguments with my brother.
  2. Integrated iPod – It was really nice to have music on the go without having to carry two devices. I appreciated the fact that I could use my headphones as a hands-free set as well. Really nice, seamless integration here.
  3. Cool apps – There are some undeniably cool apps ranging from the useless but funny (The Lightsaber App) to the incredibly useful and effective (The Facebook App) It was great to be able to access everything from financial data to fitness programs via apps.
  4. Google Maps – This saved my bacon a few times. While I had the phone, I took a trip to Vegas and used my iPhone’s integrated Google Maps GPS functionality to navigate around. Worked like a charm and saved me a lot of time wandering around.
  5. Threaded SMS conversations – No having to dig through a ton of text messages just to find out what your friend is referring to from a long-past conversation? Priceless.
  6. Cool Factor – Let’s face it, when you whip one of these sexy little devices out of your pocket, you have instant geek street cred. This phone honestly makes you a little bit cooler.

And now for the cons-

  1. Keyboard/Touchscreen – This was, by far, my biggest drawback for the phone. Any kind of data input was slow and painstaking. And forget about doing anything on the go. I had to turn my full attention to the phone to get the information typed in properly. The predictive text was pretty good, but not enough to overcome the inherent cumbersomeness of the interface. Some kind of voice dial/voice recognition would have gone a long way here.
  2. No Flash – The crappiest part of an otherwise amazing web browsing experience. There are videos on sites other than YouTube that I’d like to watch. Graphs on analytics dashboards I’d like to see. Games I’d like to play. Sadly, I can do none of these things on my iPhone.
  3. Multitasking – or lack thereof. It sucks to lose information on one app in order to use another app. You may also add the lack of copy & paste to this part of the list.
  4. AT&T Service – Forget the adage “you get what you pay for.” The switch from my Verizon plan to my AT&T plan represented a rather large increase in my monthly bill. Throw in an additional $300 bucks for the phone, and this phone became a significant investment. Sadly, the quality of cell phone service didn’t reflect the additional cost I was shouldering. I dropped calls fairly regularly, and on one occasion, couldn’t place calls for almost a half-hour. In addition, the 3G was pretty spotty. So while I’m sure that AT&T has a reason for claiming to have more bars in more places, they didn’t have more bars where I wanted to be.

Ultimately, I could have gotten over all of my concerns except for the problem with the touchscreen. It prevented me from effectively entering data into the apps I had been hoping to use to improve my workflow and productivity. It made it harder to place calls while driving. It was awkward to use, and difficult to learn, and frankly, the curve was just too steep to make it worth it to me. Is this the last time I’ll test an iPhone? In this iteration, probably. However, I have a great respect for Apple’s design ethos, and I think that as they continue to make improvements to the phone, it could easily become a “killer app” for my life. In the meantime, my loyalties are open for other smartphone makers such as Palm to swoop in and capture with the right product. We’ll see what happens.

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