A BlackBerry user, I stood in line to purchase an 8 GB iPhone for over 2 hours on June 29 -- frequently referred to as "iDay." I came home and activated the device flawlessly through iTunes, with the exception that I was given a different area code by AT&T's automated activation system. This problem was quickly corrected with a call to the AT&T store where I purchased the phone. With the iPhone up and running and fully functional, I had some playing ahemtesting - to do.
My mobile phone background is fairly simple. I've owned and operated one since the mid-90's, when gray Motorola flip phones with retractable antennas were commonplace. I'm now a third generation BlackBerry owner, using the 8703e on Verizon's wireless network for both work and leisure purposes. I travel frequently, where I rely on my cell phone for staying in contact with my office, contacting customers, and talking/texting/emailing friends. What are my must-have qualities for a good cell phone? My phone is required to stay functional 24/7, stand up to drops on concrete floors, have enough battery capability to prevent me from worrying, and it must come with email support.
Physical design and usability
The BlackBerry 8703e has a time tested proven design, distinct look, and familiar software. After all, why else would I be on my third generation BlackBerry? I knew what to expect out of my phone before even seeing it in the store. I knew that my BlackBerry would perform, and I could be up and running with email support before I left the store. These are the little things that users start taking for granted after years of use.
Home screen customization on the BlackBerry is a really nice feature and helps boost efficiency. Rearranging icons, making the ones I dont use disappear, and applying the latest and coolest themes are all pluses in my book. Beyond these slight customization features, however, is where the BlackBerry stops short. It's very corporate in design and use, and it lacks many of the popular features of mainstream smartphones.
The BlackBerry has sustained many drops in rock, concrete, and small water puddles with just a few scratches for such abuse. In fact, I just dropped the BlackBerry 8703e in a parking lot the other day while in a full sprint. The face has a small nick where it hit the rocks, but it held up better than you would expect. I can say that I would take my 8703e and push it off my desk onto the floor and not even worry about whether it would work when I pick it up. It will be hard to beat the ruggedness of the 8703e.
Will the iPhone hold up to the test of time and severe drops like my BlackBerry? There is no doubt that the iPhone screen face is more scratch resistant than the BlackBerry screen. To date, I have had a few small drops and bangs with no scratches or problems with the iPhone. Only time will tell if it will be as tough as the BlackBerry.
The old saying goes, You never get a second chance to make a first impression. When I first picked up my iPhone I was surprised with the solid feel and physical presence the phone had in my hand. The first few days I owned the iPhone, I carried it around as if dropping it would be flushing $600 down the toilet. I got over this fear after having the phone for a few days and not seeing the credit card statement. Eventually, you'll start handling it like a phone and less like a video iPod.
With iPhone, you must slide your finger across the screen to unlock the phone for use. This feature is for those times the phone is in your pocket, and you dont want it dialing your mom while you are having a good time out with your friends. The BlackBerry offers a similar lock, like most phones, but offers this functionality to the user as a choice. I like the choice on the BlackBerry because I dont necessarily want to slide my finger across the display every time I wake the iPhone for use.
Unlike the 8703e, the iPhone had a better feel and offered more control when using one hand. The 8703e is also both thick and wide, which makes it difficult for people with average to small-sized hands to secure a good grip for one-handed use.
With the iPhone, thumb functionality is vastly improved over the 8703e during one-handed use. This surprised me after just one week of use -- I can easily reach the entire face of the phone with my thumb. On the BlackBerry, this is not possible for me without readjusting my grip. I can do more with my thumb on the iPhone than on the BlackBerry, and with less buttons to push. This speaks volumes about the thought put behind the design of the iPhone, in my opinion.
The iPhones touch screen interface eliminates long scrolls and multiple clicks, which are often required to save preferences or open file attachments. I am able to access all the features of the iPhone much easier than the BlackBerry. For me, the iPhone's touch screen and elegant user interface hold a significant advantage over the BlackBerry's side-mounted click wheel, especially its ability to access frequently used applications without multiple clicks and scrolls. For example, surfing the web on the iPhone is a breeze using just your fingers (i.e., navigating up and down the page and accessing the link you need is no problem). However, on the BlackBerry you have to use the click wheel to scroll down through every image, link, and line on a webpage before arriving at the precise link location you'd like to activate.
Perhaps the biggest advantage Apple has given the iPhone is its hand agnostic design. By default, the iPhone does not favor a right or left-handed user. The iPhone relies on a touch screen interface and centered home button on the face of the phone, compared to the fixed click wheel on only one side of the BlackBerry. Even though I have become proficient with my right hand on the BlackBerry, by nature I'm a left-handed phone user. The iPhones touch screen interface increased my productivity almost immediately.
Phone and Contact Management
Making phone calls on the 8703e is, I would consider, fairly typical. You dial the number and talk to the person on the other end of the line. You can set individual ring tones for each contact and even download custom audio recodings of you or your friends for that perfect alert.
I rarely direct dial numbers on my phone. The BlackBerry has an ingenious program called Address Book. The program is easily accessible and available from the home screen. You have type-search ability, and it searches through two fields - the name and company name. This is great for finding contacts quickly and easily. You then scroll down to the number you want to dial, and the phone dials for you. The other nice feature on the BlackBerry 8703e is that you can download your own ring tones in the form of .mp3 or .midi. I love using clips from my favorite television shows as ring tones.
There are two negative features about the BlackBerry in the phone and contact management area. Sometimes the phone interface experiences lag when you try to dial a number. For instance, I just checked my voicemail and want to make a call. I may dial the first four numbers of the person I am calling; however, only the last digit appears on the screen to be dialed. This happens often on the BlackBerry and really shows how slow the phone can be.
The second negative feature is that the BlackBerry limits the number of fields you can have per contact. There is a maximum number of phone numbers that can be entered and any extras must go in the contact notes. This starts to present problems for those people who have a phone number for home, work, fax, mobile, and second mobile. I am forced to put the contact numbers that dont make the address book fields in the notes section, which leads to a small bit of aggravation because that number does not show up on caller ID as the name of the caller.
A faster responding interface and visual voicemail separate the iPhone from the BlackBerry. However, the iPhones wired headset and contact management need improvement to ensure a high quality experience for true smartphone users in the future.
The iPhone definitely has a faster responding interface when switching between programs and dialing numbers. The feeling of lag is not apparent at all when dialing numbers or contacts -- It's just "snappy."
Visual voicemail is an incredible invention and I love Apple for it. This option alone is worth the paid admission fee for the iPhone, in my opinion. Being able to view your voicemails, choose the one you want to listen to, and then tap it and hear it instantly is simply unbelievable. When checking your voicemail on the BlackBerry, like most other phones I imagine, you have to dial into the voicemail system. Then, you have to listen to the lady go through all the options. The bad thing about dialing for voicemail is that it takes time -- valuable time -- away from work and life. There are no words to describe the feeling you get with iPhone when you can delete, ignore at will, or listen to any voicemail you have on your phone, instantly.
The wired headset that accompanies the iPhone is also somewhat handy. You can listen to music and answer and talk without removing the headset. The person on the other end of the call may have problems hearing you in malls or loud places, and you may be required to hold the headset wire closer to your mouth to get better voice projection when talking to people in those situations. However, those are the only nice things I can say about the wired headsets. While being a feature that is very convenient, Apple really messed up when they supplied the same tired ear bud design that physically hurts my ears and delivers a sub-par listening performance when compared to other solutions. (This is discussed in the iPod section below in more detail.)
To access your contacts on the iPhone, you must tap the Phone icon and then the Contacts icon at the bottom of the screen. There is no type-search feature available when finding your desired contact in the list. This sometimes creates an impossible task of finding certain contacts in your list, and there is no acceptable excuse Apple can make for omitting a type-search feature.
Not having access to your contact list from the iPhone's home screen also creates two major problems. It takes too long to get to your contact list and it's confusing to find specific contacts inside the Phone program. I have over 500 contacts entered into my phone and scrolling through this sort of list with your finger is not optimal. A type-search enhancement and easier access to the Phone program are two improvements in which the iPhone is in desperate need.
The odd part about the missing type-search feature on the iPhone is that the phone offers this feature in Mail and Text (text messaging). If you decide to compose an email or text message, you can type-search to find your contact. The iPhone does not search two fields like the BlackBerry. It searches only one of two - the name or the company name. If the contact is designated as a company, the search checks the company name and not the name field. The missing type-search feature uncovers an inconsistency in the iPhones user interface that is annoying and conjures up good memories of the 8703e in my head when I'm trying to find a contact in my exhaustive rolodex.
On page 2: Internet, Maps, and Widgets; Email; Calendar; and Mac Friendly.
Internet, Maps, and Widgets
Browsing the Web on a BlackBerry is painful to say the least. I have yet to run into a BlackBerry user who loves the way his/her phone navigates the Web. Recalling a bookmark from the web browser on the BlackBerry is a time consuming process in itself. This part of the phone really starts to show the age of the BlackBerry software design. Web pages are formatted before they are downloaded to the phone for viewing. Since the BlackBerry is incapable of scrolling left to right, everything is formatted for vertical scrolling
While the BlackBerry does a great job of performing this function as designed, it does not deliver the powerful feel and convenience of the Safari web browser. If having a computer-type web browser like Safari was not enough, the iPhones landscape mode allows you to flip the phone on its side and see a wider view, surely to the delight of even the most nonchalant phone user. On the iPhone, you can use your finger to scroll in any direction on the page. Zooming in and out by simple finger strokes make browsing the Web an enjoyable experience.
Apple doesnt stop with the Safari web browser. Maps, stocks, and weather forecasts are a finger tap away. Maps is a program that initiates a Google experience on a mobile phone like no other. Need to find the nearest Apple store or just a place to eat? Want to add the restaurant to your address book with a touch of the finger? Two finger taps is all it takes to add the information you have looked up on your favorite restaurant to your address book. Step by step driving directions is a so-so feature that may help some people out of a jam, but it's not rich enough to warrant replacement of many small GPS units on the market today. Who wants to tap "next" to see where they have to turn? I dont because I value my low insurance premiums. It was a nice try at replacing GPS functionality but unfortunately does not come close.
Following AAPL these days? Tap the Stocks icon and see how well your stocks are doing. The same goes for the weather. Need to check the weather at home and where you plane lands today? Tap the Weather icon and easily browse through the 6-day forecast for both cities. While you are at it, set up multiple cities as you many want and keep tabs on several places of interest.
The only downside to browsing the web and viewing live content updates on the iPhone is AT&Ts network speed. The speed is not as slow as some would lead you to believe but can be aggravating when downloading and sending large files. Apple gets around the network speed issue by offering quicker ways to access the data you need.
The built in Google search option cuts down on search times by allowing direct access to a search engine without first having to load a web page. On iPhone, I was able to load most web pages within 10 seconds of the BlackBerry's load time -- and 10 seconds is worth the wait when you are getting a computer view of the web. Widget programs quickly present to-the-point data, giving the iPhone a big up side with these handy programs. The iPhone is light years ahead of the BlackBerry with Safari, Maps, Stocks, and Weather.
However, the iPhone drops the ball with one of the best features available on the BlackBerry - Internet tether modem. Take your BlackBerry, boot up windows, and connect it to the computer via a USB cable to surf the Internet on your computer at decent speeds. While I do not have the ability to tether my BlackBerry to the Mac operating system, starting up my Windows installation through Bootcamp is worth the trouble when I travel. Not having this option on the iPhone is yet another disappointment.
BlackBerrys infamous PUSH email and BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) combine to make an unequaled player in the mobile phone email arena. Meanwhile, iPhone's .Mac, IMAP, and POP email options are implemented well, but still don't compare with the BlackBerry email services in terms of speed and synchronization.
The iPhones mail program will sync .Mac accounts over Wi-Fi networks, which makes this feature nice for the office, home, and airport, but not feasible for users out of Wi-Fi network range. On the other hand, the iPhone's ability to access email accounts separately, but simply, really sets its mail application apart from those offered by BlackBerry. Each account is kept separate of other accounts so personal and work life can co-exist with better organization and routing clarity. The mail program on the iPhone is very Apple centric and gives Mac users a familiar feel.
The iPhones inability to perform over-the-air synchronization while on the go is where the Apple device really falters. Also of note is the poor method in which large file attachments are handled. Both these options give the iPhone a thumbs down for extreme users who need enterprise email support and/or receive large email attachments.
For instance, if you are emailed a 10 megabyte PDF document on the iPhone that you just want to forward to several colleagues, you must download the attachment and then forward it back out. With the BlackBerry email service, you can just choose to forward the attachment since the BlackBerry service does not force a download of attachments automatically. There is no long wait to see if the email went through before getting dropped or losing AT&Ts EDGE network. This gives the user of the new iPhone a slow and clunky feeling when forwarding out large attachments that are over half a megabyte in size.
The upside to the iPhones email package is the familiar look and feel of a computer-based email program. Unlike the BlackBerry where you have to use the click wheel extensively to view and/or open attachments, several types of email attachments on the iPhone are seamlessly integrated into the emails. To the casual user, iPhone email access will be sufficient, but for the corporate/extreme user, the email services will leave a lot to be desired. BES costs money, and casual users along with small businesses will never use the over-the-air synchronization. This gives the iPhone a foot in the door because most users will never experience the power of BlackBerrys full email services.
I have never been a fan of the BlackBerry calendar program. In fact, I try not to use it as much as possible. I only open it by accident or for those times I have to input a very important appointment that cannot be missed. It takes too much time and effort to get appointments in the 8703e. Monthly views are average at best, and daily views have a look that takes me back to 1999. Regardless of the 8703e downfalls, the BlackBerry's over-the-air synchronization is a feature that makes up for its below average calendar program.
By contrast, the iPhone shines with a calendar program that is superior in design, interface, and eye appea. It's also easily synchronization via USB cable. The program feels just like iCal, leaving Mac users feeling right at home. Entering and deleting appointments is quick and painless. Mac users will not know they are missing out on anything in this calendar program because it essentially delivers a mobile version of iCal for your pocket. Say hello to the Apple [i]PDA. Apple did well on the calendar program, and I find myself using it for all of my appointments. Still, over-the-air synchronization will have to be introduced to .Mac subscribers for this to completely dominate BlackBerry in this category.
The iPhone's Mac friendliness is one feature that cannot be overlooked. The Mac platform has been neglected by virtually every phone ever manufactured. If a phone supports Mac OS X, the implementation is usually an afterthought.
BlackBerrys PocketMac SyncManager for the Mac is sub-par and can sometimes do more harm than good when synchronizing in iCal. There is nothing spectacular or easy about the program other than it can keep your contacts up to date, but you must be sure you don't have too many phone numbers entered in one contact entry. Currently, this is the only solution I know of for the BlackBerry to synchronize directly with the Mac platform, excluding running the Windows operating system through Bootcamp and utilizing BES.
The iPhone is both Windows and Mac friendly. It synchronizes and works well with both platforms through iTunes. This is the first phone I have owned which has accomplished data synchronization tasks easily.
On page 3: Video iPod; Bluetooth; Battery Life; Cases; Wi-Fi; and Camera.
Unlike iPhone, the BlackBerry does not feature any digital media player functions. You cannot upload your song collection for listening pleasure, and, similarly, watching full length movies is not an option. This was never a big deal for me as I also have a 60 GB video iPod that I carry everywhere.
Upon getting the iPhone, one of the last parts I explored was the iPod section. After-all, I had an iPod, and I was skeptical of having a convergence device in my hands. I quickly learned that my skepticism was unwarranted, as the iPhone is simply the best iPod Apple has ever released. Listening to my music or watching movies has never been so simple and enjoyable. The first time I received a phone call when listening to music, I was pleasantly surprised at how the music faded out as I accepted the call. When the call had finished, the music faded back in exactly where it left off.
Watching movies is a totally different experience on the iPhone than on a video iPod. The wide screen and touch displays make for better viewing and control. The on-screen controls look like the same controls for watching videos and movies inside iTunes and Apple's DVD Player software.
The entire iPod experience on the iPhone is very intuitive even though the iPhone has a different menu layout compared to the previous iPods. The biggest surprise about the iPhone to me, was the iPhones iPod features. iTunes music and videos are loaded as if you had your iPod connected to your computer through iTunes, which is quick, painless and easy. I just wish the iPhone had a larger storage capacity since 8GB doesnt quite meet my personal needs when movies, songs, photographs, and emails are competing for the same space.
For me, the biggest disappointment and almost temper-flaring incident was finding out that not one of my many wired headsets are compatible with the iPhone. It seems Apple decided to make the access port around the audio jack smaller than normal. This prevents you from using your Bose noise canceling headphones, Apple in-ear head set, and I am sure countless other wired hearing devices. This will no doubt result in millions of dollars wasted to purchase a new headset or to upgrade to something that works via an adapter. This is a big disappointment as the ear buds that accompany the iPhone are just as bad as the ear buds that accompany each iPod. I have a collection of them in the basement because they are truly that bad.
BlackBerry's 8703e Bluetooth experience is one of flawless execution. At this point in the digital world, you would think the digital warlords could get a handle on other aspects of technology as that of Bluetooth. The only Bluetooth action my BlackBerry has seen was hands free connectivity within my truck. When using the hands free Bluetooth option on my BlackBerry, battery performance is degraded somewhat but not to the point I would deem unacceptable.
The iPhone performed just as well as the 8703e with the exception of battery life and having the feature hidden two layers deep from the home screen. Battery life was less than spectacular when the Bluetooth was turned on in my vehicle on travel days. Utilizing the hands free option via Bluetooth degraded iPhone's battery life to the point where I had to weigh usage time versus battery life.
Bluetooth connectivity is better managed on the iPhone since it keeps a list of the devices you have paired readily available for reference or deletion. This is a nice feature that the BlackBerry lacked. I could not find a way to turn off the discoverable Bluetooth mode on the iPhone unless I deactivated it before I exited the preference panel. This could be a cause of my poor battery life with Bluetooth enabled, but I have no way of knowing.
The BlackBerry gives about 4.5 hours of real talk time on good days with plenty of emails being sent and received and little web surfing taking place. Bluetooth affects battery life some but not enough to worry over. The BlackBerry does not have Wi-Fi to help drain the battery.
Four to five hours of continuous use meant I always had a charger or USB cable handy on heavy use days. I didnt worry about my BlackBerry's battery life when I was in the office or in a vehicle with charger. This is not all that bad considering it takes only 90 to 120 minutes to recharge a drained battery. I would only notice drainage when traveling via plane and I had no means to recharge the phone when I needed. By the end of the travel day, I would start to catch myself only making and accepting calls that had to be made. There is always the option to carry an extra battery and replace it when one runs down if you are on the go without the choice to recharge, which is a big plus for the BlackBerry.
The iPhone delivers on its claim of eight hours of talk time. I have exceeded this numerous times getting roughly eight to nine hours of talk time while having the phone check email once per hour; however, this was with no Wi-Fi use. When listening to music, surfing via Wi-Fi, and talking, I get an easy six to seven hours of use, which depends on how heavily you do each of these activities. I can say that when Apple claims 24 hours of audio playback, I have gone past 12 hours in airplane mode and had plenty of battery left. This is encouraging for those long international flights.
The BlackBerry line of products are known for their holsters or phone cases. I have only one accessory for my 8703e, a black plastic holster that clips on your pants pocket, belt, or desk draw handle. I can slide my phone in and out with the greatest of ease and not worry that it is going to fly out. To a lot of BlackBerry users, their case is as much a part of the experience as the phone itself. Most people roll their eyes over how picky I am about my phone holsters, but this is something I dont take lightly.
Therefore, the only accessory I have acquired to date are several holsters and cases for my iPhone. The iPhone really doesnt require a case for casual trips out to the movies as it slides in and out of my pocket easily due to the smaller size and slick build. However, at work, I need protection. Since the iPhone is new I didnt expect many holsters/cases to be available at the time of purchase on day zero. Was I wrong or what? I came home with two holsters and one case. As with my iPods, I find that using the Speck Tough Skin with holster clip is my case of choice for the time being. I like the fact that I can lay my iPhone down in the car and not worry about it flying all over the place because of the sticky rubber-like grip. When I do drop the iPhone, the case has extra padding in all the correct places to make sure I dont dent my $600 investment.
The year is 2007, and Wi-Fi is on the iPhone. I know it is not the first phone to debut the wireless technology, but after using it on a phone, I believe Wi-Fi should be built into every smartphone produced. For those times when you are at home, work, or at the nearest coffee shop and have access to a wireless network, you can read your email, your favorite news web site, or check your weather forecast for the day on your phone. The experience is fast, very fast, and in a small package that can be tucked away in a pocket easily. The 8703e does not have Wi-Fi built in, leaving no comparison to make. I can say that if I had Wi-Fi available on my BlackBerry, I am not so sure I would use it to surf the Web since it would still take extensive use of the click wheel to do so.
Wow! I finally have a camera on my phone causing years of withdrawal from using a BlackBerry phone. The 8703e does not have a camera, leaving those special times in everyday life lost. This is one of those missing features that makes the BlackBerry a little too business oriented.
The camera on the iPhone performs great in well-lit conditions. Low light situations present a problem, and the iPhone's camera will not perform well in these situations. Pictures sometimes appear dark and grainy. But in well-lit scenarios, the 2 megapixel resolution makes for good quality photographs from a phone. What it wont do is replace your 10 megapixel pocket camera anytime soon. Did I mention video cannot be recorded on the iPhone?
When photographs have been taken with the phone, iPhoto on the Mac is there to load the photographs into your photo library once you connect your iPhone over USB. This makes transferring photographs a breeze just like using any digital camera with the Mac.
On page 4: Needs Attention; Conclusion; and Rating.
After two weeks of continuously using the iPhone, I've come to believe that there are certain features that are crucial for Apple to develop in order to progress iPhone into a viable platform going forward. In no particular order they are:
1. Copy and Paste - This is no doubt the biggest feature missing from the iPhone. I dont think this needs explaining. Apple needs to get it done here.
2. Landscape keyboard - Apple should include the ability for the screen to rotate to accommodate a bigger keyboard. The iPhone has a landscape keyboard in Safari but that is the only place you can utilize the feature. Text messaging would be taken to the next level with a landscape keyboard as I find it more comfortable to type with the phone horizontal than vertical.
3. A file system that works like a portable storage device - The ability to download files and then store them for reference, emailing, or work off the iPhone like a thumb drive is essential. The iPods can act like a portable drive already and make this a no brainer for the iPhone.
4. Mass email deletion - This has to be addressed. Any BlackBerry user will notice this feature before the missing copy and paste. The ability to delete 2, 30, or 100 emails at a time is a must have feature.
5. Searchable contacts by typing when in the phone application - The iPhone does not allow for a type-search when making calls from the phone application. The type-search feature should search all present fields listed for the contacts.
6. Internet tethering - Having the ability to give your notebook computer Internet access via a USB cable or wireless connection cannot be underestimated. I find the Internet tethering ability on the BlackBerry addictive and convenient when traveling.
7. MMS - This is a feature the general populous is going to demand. The lack of pictures in their text messages is going to frustrate and give the phone a bad name among the less savvy phone crowd. I am used to it because no BlackBerry I have owned has supported this. This could be a big let down to potential phone buyers when the price comes down.
8. .Wav and .mp3 support in email - You cannot play .wav and .mp3 files in email attachments. This is a huge pain for those who have Vonage or a similar phone system that emails your voicemails to you from work or home.
9. Only one photograph per email allowed - There should be a way to select several photographs to email so you dont have to create separate emails for each photograph.
10. Weather widget ordering - You can order your world clocks but cannot order your weather widgets.
11. Message creation - When creating a text message or email, the same icon is used but they are placed in different corners of the screen. Consistency would be nice throughout the phone on similar tasks.
After two weeks with the iPhone I have never been more pleased with a phone. Apple has managed to produce a smartphone, PDA, and sleek video iPod all thrown in together. A mainstream phone with seamless integration on the Mac platform will be a relief to most Mac faithful users. The iPhone will offer perfect closure for the mobile phone community that will fulfill the needs of most users.
The iPhone and BlackBerry 8703e are both great phones that target different audiences. The iPhone will accommodate the majority of phone users alike who want a phone with PDA functionality, email, iPod features, and Wi-Fi capabilities. The BlackBerry will continue to dominate the corporate enterprise world where email functionality is king. Apple will be required to make great strides in its email services to penetrate the corporate audience with any real presence, in my opinion.
I am now an official iPhone convert, but I will miss features such as copy and paste, internet tethering, and mass email deletion that my BlackBerry offered. I feel that the iPhone is a great consumer product that will likely replace the term Crackberry as the cool reference used to describe what type of phone you have.
As a former BlackBerry user, I give the iPhone a four out of five rating.
Rating: 4 of 5
In the coming weeks, AppleInsider will expand its iPhone Review Series with reviews that compare iPhone to the Treo and Blackjack. If you've moved to iPhone from another smartphone and would like to contribute to the ongoing review series, please drop our publisher an email.