The first of a few iPhone reviews.

Now, obviously the iPhone is better than my old phone, an XDA Exec hopelessly laden down with the crud that O2 load onto it. But the reason for its inclusion here is so no-one gets the impression I’m leaping on an Apple bandwagon. I’d love to have waited until G2 of the iPhone, but I’d have gone raving mad in the duration having to carry on using the XDA. I had it for 21 months. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemies.

But enough of that. The iPhone…

First off, it really is as fast as the demo videos you see. It’s brilliantly responsive. If you’re working on something, it doesn’t suddenly hang for a couple of seconds then tell you you’ve got an incoming call, it just switches immediately. Pressing buttons always results in the action happening there and then.

Now this may seem strange, but on the old XDA, when I typed in a new number to dial in the phone app, not only did the numbers not appear on screen until up to a second or two afterwards, but the touchtone-phone-sound accompanying the numbers was totally unrelated to either keypresses or the numbers appearing on-screen. Ridiculous but true. The entire phone worked like that – it had a 400MHz processor and couldn’t even keep up with me typing.

Safari is a joy to use – double clicking doesn’t just zoom in, it zooms to the exact level required to fit the content you click on into the width of the screen. I presume this requires reasonably good markup to do, but it’s worked for every site I’ve tried it on so far. Rotation is fast and it doesn’t do it when you don’t want it to. Sites render nicely and the antialiasing means the resolution feels a lot higher than the paltry-sounding spec of 480×320.

The XDA, oh where to begin. It seemed to advertise itself as IE 3 in the user-agent string, and that’s not far off the mark given how it rendered stuff. You could view either at 100% or fit-to-screen – no other choices – and it required opening a menu to do it. Rotation (of any screen, not just IE) took 4-8 seconds.

Wifi is pretty good, it can connect to most things my laptop can. However, I have a very weak signal in one room in the house, and if the iPhone loses it for a bit then it takes quite a while to get connectivity back (even if you walk right up to the access point). Either you switch wifi on/off, or after a while the iPhone switches wifi off itself then immediately reconnects again. But then, the XDA seemed to suffer from the same problem.

Finally for this review, some little things.

Good little things:

  • When typing you can press the space bar twice to get a period-space.
  • Double-tapping the home button (in any app) takes you to your favourite contacts (or whatever else you configure).
  • When you come back to an app, it’s exactly in the state in which you left it
  • The screen switches off when the phone’s next to your ear during a conversation
  • It has a “vibrate only” switch on the case (hmm, only took manufacturers 5 years to make it as functional as my old Treo, then…)

Bad little things:

  • Once you’ve brought the on-screen keyboard up there’s often no way to get rid of it without leaving the section you’re in. For instance, in an SMS conversation screen, if you accidentally press the “reply” box a keyboard pops up, and there’s no way to cancel that except by leaving the conversation screen and coming back into it.
  • Although the on-screen keyboard changes dynamically (e.g. gives you common URL characters when typing in the address bar in Safari) it doesn’t always give you the best option, e.g. the keyboard for the username field in Mail doesn’t think to give you a period or an @
  • SMSes have no character count, and no warning when you go over 160 characters. Possibly the most annoying feature I’ve found so far. I’ll be complaining to O2 about that.
  • When scrolling or resizing, if you go too far (e.g. past the top of the page, or zoom as far out as you can) then it doesn’t just stop, it lets you go too far then bounces back once you let go. This will take a while to get used to, since my instinct is that because I’ve scrolled further up, there must be something there, and I’m missing it.
  • Even if I tell iTunes not to sync any music, I can’t manually drag songs over to the phone – I have to set up a special playlist to sync, or have no music. This is different to the iPod’s behaviour, where switching off auto syncing let you copy songs manually.

That’s it for now. I need to go make a proper masthead for this site…