iPhone 3GS impressions

2 January, 2010 § 1 Comment

iPhone 3GS impressions

have been fiddling with my new iPhone 3GS for just under a month now and thought it time to jot down some thoughts about it. this is not intended to be a review because there are many outstanding and informative reviews out there on the web, but if anyone has any particular questions i’d do my best to answer them.

what i was looking for

first things first, i don’t use the iPhone as a phone. my Sony P1i has that role and does it magnificently i should say. so though it may come across as an oxymoron, what i was looking for was a portable device that would give me internet access on-the-go. though the P1i can do that too, i wanted a screen that was slightly bigger and more vibrant, but not as large as a netbook. i currently have a data card with an unlimited data plan in the iPhone and have internet connection as and when i wish, especially when commuting and when i’m lazing around in bed without wanting to bootup the old desktop.

qwerty or not-qwerty

coming from the P1i, i struggled with the question of whether or not i could live without a qwerty keyboard. that made me examine what i intended to use the device for, since it was not going to be used as a phone, that meant limited messaging on Fring, and the occassional email. i figured that if i wanted to do stuff on with a qwerty keyboard, i would go back to my P1i for that (2.5 years have made me quite handy with the half-button qwerty keyboard design) or find a proper workstation.

tested the keyboards of the Nokia E72 and the Nokia N97 mini; both didn’t feel as good as the Blackberry Bold which the office assigned me. so i decided to give a pure touchscreen phone a shot.

p/s: sadly, the Motorola Droid has not emerged here yet or it would have been a serious contender against the iPhone.

operating system

the P1i uses the UIQ platform which is now defunct but very similar to Symbian. with the launch of the Nokia N900, there is uncertainty as to how long (or brief) Symbian will be around for and i really didn’t want to hop on the bandwagon of a disappearing OS so it was down to android vs apple.

the android devices that have flooded the market in recent months seemed interesting enough (though none really caught my attention save for the Sony Xperia X10 that is only due for release in 2010), but having seen the lagginess of the android OS on the HTC Hero in action on my friend’s device, i was not too impressed.

although variety of applications available was a consideration, for me, i wanted a device that could deliver as seamless a mobile internet experience as possible i.e. no lagginess and ease of navigation within the device menu. have tested the iPhones used by some of my friends and not once have i encountered the lagginess seen on the Hero.

content management

that left the question of whether or not i could live with iTunes.

when i got a 1st generation iPod nano, the first thing i did was install Rockbox on it. i’ve never looked back. the one thing which really cripples the end-user experience is, in my view, the desire by manufacturers to control HOW we use the device. controlling what we can do with a device we paid good money for is sad enough, much less telling me how i should or should not load content into my rather expensive gadget.

so the compromise with iTunes was this. i would use it (since apple doesn’t give me a choice) to manage all content on my iPhone except for my music. sorry apple, i listen to music my way. some days i feel like .ogg, some days like .flac. some days i want to listen to radio (which you clearly have a dim view of). and most days, or rather make that every day, i wish to drag-and-drop music into my music player unsorted, untagged and run with it.

battery life

my grandmother remarked that it was silly that such an expensive device needed to be charged every day (on average) or even more than once in a day. she uses a tiny Samsung clamshell for occassional calls now and then (to me of course) and only charges it once in a couple of weeks (!). but therein is the explanation for why the iPhone appears to guzzle energy like no tomorrow.

the way i see it, part of the iPhone experience is to have data access at the touch of the button. 3G usage really drains the battery very quicky, especially if you enable push notifications to your iPhone. to conserve battery life, i’ve disabled push email notifications, and only enable push for instant messages via Fring when i launch the Fring application. i’ve also reduced the brightness of the screen to approximately 15% when i don’t really feel a need to indulge in the vibrant display which the iPhone is capable of. though, in my view, colours and pictures look much better when the brightness is set to a minimum of 50%.

when i don’t require data access, i make it a point to set the device to airplane mode which helps to conserve energy.

build and design

grease magnet. period.

feels real good in the hand though. and there’s something about a shiny (minus the grimey) white device that makes it stand out amongst all of my little black toys. the proprietary port is a minus point for apple though. they don’t even make the same type of proprietary ports across their own devices (!). sigh. i now need a cable for my iPod nano and another one for my iPhone. thanks a bunch apple.

there is a standalone physical switch at the top left corner of the iPhone for toggling between silent and non-silent profiles. i considered this a very thoughtful addition and it has come in very handy indeed. phone and headphone volume controls are handled by the same physical buttons just beneath the profile toggling switch. i’m glad there are tactile buttons for this, using the volume slider when in iPod mode on the iPhone is unbearable.

internet tethering

with an unlimited plan data card in the iPhone, it becomes a nifty internet modem for my computer. tethering is so easy, i didn’t need to refer to the manual. it is activated simply by connecting the iPhone to the USB port on my computer, going to Settings > General > Network > Internet Tethering on the iPhone, then selecting the USB option in my case (there is an alternative Bluetooth connection available).

applications

right now, i’ve installed two dozen or so free applications on the iPhone. the first thing i noticed about the applications is that they handle so well on the iPhone. the layout and design of common apps like Flickr and Facebook are thoughtful and intuitive, and really make the user experience fun and seamless. there are a couple of games that are pretty fun, i’m currently enjoying FS5 Hockey (an air hockey game), Tap Tap Revenge 3 (a music rhythm game) and Tap Sudoku (the classic game with rather lovely art).

with the Stanza app, i have been reading ebooks in bed and don’t think i will ever covet a Kindle. there are loads of free books available and you can customise the typography and layout of the words as you choose. what i particularly enjoy is the animation that resembles the experience of reading a physical book. to turn pages, you swipe a finger across the screen and the page will flip over as if you had just turned it over from corner-to-corner. bookmarking is done by touching the top right-most corner of a page, it leaves a virtual “doggy-ear” on the bookmarked page of your book.

websites too seem to have customised views for the iPhone, the Soccernet and Picasa Web Album pages render beautifully and are a joy to browse.

sound quality

as mentioned, i do not use the iPhone as my primary music player. i have a dying Cowon iAudio U3 and a 1st gen iPod nano for that. my primary earphones and headphones are the Audio Technica CK9 and ATH-AD900 respectively. the iPhone has no problems driving either. the sound from the iPhone is decent, by this i mean better than an old Creative V100 i once had lying around, but nowhere as gorgeous as the U3 and nano.

from what my ears tell me, bass is a problem for the iPhone. not that there isn’t any bass, but that bass reproduction is not realistic. there does not seem to be any distinction between the string bass jamming with Diana Krall, the electric bass accompanying Brandi Carlile, the sound of the tom-toms etc. in short, the bass drum on the drum kit sounds poofy. bass drums are not supposed to sound like marshmallows.

still, i’m not fussed about this because the iPhone is not meant to be a dedicated standalone music player; vocals and mids sound nice enough for casual listening whilst. no jazz or classical for me on the iPhone.

summary

if i could sum up my user-experience of the iPhone 3GS to date it would be: FUN. the iPhone is fun to use as a device for internet on-the-go. i could think of the many things the iPhone cannot do, or could do better but that would be to distract myself from the joys of actually using the device. i cannot get over the dismal battery life so easily though and if i were to consider another Apple device, battery life must improve. oh, and please don’t force me to use iTunes.

p/s: for the grease magnet reason mentioned above, this post is devoid of pictures so as to protect readers from trauma.

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