20 hours with the iPhone: A full, hands-on evaluation...so far

I took the plunge, bought an iPhone and, after testing all of its features, am finding a lot to like and relatively little to complain about.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
6 min read
iPhone Crave

As I mentioned in my previous iPhone post, I took the plunge Friday night and drove down to my local AT&T store for a nice new iPhone. So, with some time on my hands as my girlfriend watches more YouTube videos than anyone else who has ever seen the site, I thought I would give you some insight into my experience with the iPhone and my impressions at this point.

When I got to the AT&T store, I was asked to stand outside the door until one of the seven sales kiosks became available. Within five minutes the security guard opened the door for me and I was well on my way to getting a new cellie. As I mentioned in a previous article, I am a Verizon Wireless customer. And for a string of reasons, I feel compelled to keep my relationship with Verizon running, so I now have two phones, two plans and two bills. Great.

After a five-minute wait while the sales representative made sure another iPhone was in stock, I had the box in front of me and credit check behind me. A couple minutes later, I was on my way home with a new toy.

Once home, I needed to install the new iTunes update, which took about 10 minutes. After a quick reboot, I connected my iPhone to my MacBook and it was immediately recognized. After a quick run-through of my address and billing information, I was sent a confirmation that my iPhone had been activated and I was free to use it the way I saw fit. All in all, the process of going to the store and calling some people took about a half hour--much quicker than my previous trip to a cell phone store, when I bought my Treo from Verizon Wireless.

As a guy who is dedicated (or is it obsessed?) with his e-mail, I spend quite a bit of time typing away on my Treo. Because of this, I spent the better part of last night learning how to use the virtual keyboard. I am happy to report that after just one night with the iPhone, I have been able to (almost) master the art of two-thumb typing on the device, and believe it or not, it's actually better than typing on my Treo.

Which brings me to another topic: e-mail integration could have been the most rewarding experiences I have ever had while using a mobile device. When I first brought my Treo home, I had to go through the agonizing process of inputting my username, password and POP server information. As many Verizon customers know, outgoing mail servers (SMTP) need to be networked through Verizon servers in certain areas, and unfortunately, I am in one of those areas. So, after a week of calling Verizon asking why I wasn't able to send any email, I finally had the outgoing mail server set up and ready for use. The iPhone was nothing like that.

As soon as the iPhone was connected, it recognized all of my Mail settings and immediately integrated them into the phone. In seconds (seconds!), I was using the exact same mail application on both my iPhone and my laptop. Wow.

So far, I have connected the iPhone to two different Wi-Fi networks, and the ease with which it switches from AT&T's EDGE service to my Wi-Fi network is gratifying, to say the least. YouTube videos are slow when I use the EDGE network (obviously), but I was still able to get them to run after a while. Unfortunately the EDGE network is slower than my EV-DO, but believe it or not, it's only nominally slower on most major Web sites.

Sure, a 5- or 10-second wait may be a big deal to some, but I personally couldn't care less. That said, if I needed Web site information quickly on a page that wasn't too big, I would probably choose my Treo. But if the Web site was larger, I would take the iPhone any day. Why, you ask? Because navigating a stacked and screwed up Web site is probably one of the most annoying aspects of using a smart phone, and the iPhone doesn't do anything of the sort. Simply put, Web pages look great.

At this point, I have not yet charged the iPhone. On any given day, I usually receive well over 50 calls on my Treo and check my e-mail every 10 or 20 minutes. This usually means a nightly charge for Uncle Treo. But now that the iPhone is in the mix, I expect those calls to be cut in half for both phones, and although e-mail will be checked on the iPhone from now on, I don't see a significant enough drain to warrant a daily battery charge. In fact, after calling and receiving a number of calls and a conservative estimate of one or two hours on YouTube, my iPhone is still half-charged out of the box. This is one heck of a feat, if you ask me.

Which brings me to one of the best aspects of the iPhone: the iPod. With a simple click of the mouse, I was able to tell the iPhone to sync all of my music onto its hard drive. Because I'm not much of a music aficionado, I have about 600 songs from a bunch of artists no one has heard of. All told, my music library is about 3GB. In a matter of minutes, my entire library was loaded onto my iPhone, and I'm currently listening to some of my songs through the device's built-in speaker, which, surprisingly, sounds quite good. The iPod gives you the same options as the current iPods, but throws in some Front Row and Apple TV flair by allowing you to flip through your album art. I wish fewer taps on the touch screen were required to maneuver through the iPod menu, but all in all it's still a great experience.

Another topic I should mention is the ease of integration between my Mac Address Book and the iPhone contacts. In a matter of seconds, I sent my entire Treo contact list to my MacBook via Bluetooth and used the iTunes sync to send that file to my iPhone. I now have a complete replica of my Treo's contact list--a good 200 people--and didn't have to spend the hours it would normally take to input all of those people.

Ringtones on the iPhone are nice, but like many others, I would have liked to use some of iTunes' songs. Oh well. I guess in this business we win some and we lose some.

My biggest complaint so far is not really an indictment of the iPhone itself, but of the features it lacks. Talk about lack of faster Internet access and no GPS has been driven into the ground, so I won't go into that here. But my major complaint is the lack of iChat or another third-party chat client. For a full-featured phone that provides much of the same experience I have on my MacBook, there is no reason to leave iChat out. I know it supports SMS and I have 200 messages with my plan, but chatting is different and should have been thrown in.

The iPhone, much like the iPod, is a landmark device. The iPod had no significant rivals after it went on sale and the iPhone has no significant rivals today. The iPod changed an industry and the iPhone has most definitely changed the cell phone business. The iPod had faults that have been addressed in later iterations and the iPhone has faults that I hope will be addressed. But for all of the bad, the iPhone has an awful lot of good. And it is for this reason that I consider my iPhone, after 20 hours of use, the most significant technological achievement in the past 20 years.