Round Robin Roundup
The Smartphone Round Robin contest is over. Here are our last thoughts and responses about the the iPhone. After the break are the winners of the contest and the bulk of the article.
I'd like to say that the Smartphone Round Robin was an excellent idea. It was a lot of work, too, but hopefully it ends up being something useful for those of you that followed it while it was going on, or to anyone that ends up here long after this moment has passed.
And if you're not ready to say goodbye to the round robin just yet, we'll all be chatting about the round robin for the Mobile Computing Authority podcast tomorrow, that podcast should be available next week.
First and foremost I'd like to congratulate our winners. I'd like to offer a W00t to grand prize winner RickMG, who wins the smartphone of his choice that exists now. W00ts as wel to our 3 runners up Antoine of MMM, Bla1ze, and LFD153, who win $100 of coupons at one of our Smartphone Experts stores. Dieter will be contacting you via your forum email address later today.
And now, to the last paragraphs and responses. I'd like to start by saying that all of the editors are smart about mobile devices. If they have something to say about the iPhone, good or bad, there's a kernel of truth to be found in what they said regardless of whether I agree with them or not. There are some warts with the iPhone, at least some of which can be attributed to the youth of the platform. The iPhone is honing features and functions at a much faster rate than the other smartphones, and firmware updates are coming relatively fast and furious.
We all agree that the media and browser functions (video iPod, Safari web browser, YouTube, iTunes wi-fi) are best-in-show. Everyone mentions the 3rd party apps that are due in February, around 2 months from now. The lack of 3rd party apps is clearly on everyone's mind, including mine. Probably more so for me, since I use the iPhone on a daily basis. Everyone mentioned the hardware keyboard: while it wasn't their preference, they all got used to it. Only Dieter mentioned the thin-ness of the form factor, which I found interesting.
Dieter of WMExperts
Two Words: Media and Internet. These are the iPhone's strengths and *boy oh boy* is the iPhone good at them. The browser is the best you've ever seen and the best you're likely *to* see for quite awhile. Sure, the lack of 3G data speeds stings a little, but the iPhone handles WiFi pretty well and that helps ease the pain. Of course, it's a stupendous iPod. The form factor is definitely impressive (and thin!), but still never feels comfortable as a phone to me.
As for the rest, well, I have to say it's a mixed bag. Although I think the soft-keyboard on the iPhone does a reasonably good job, I still much prefer a physical keyboard if only because it enables better one-handed use. The email is atrocious and the rest of the applications are nothing special -- which is pretty much why I turned the iPhone down. Windows Mobile excels where the iPhone stumbles (and vice versa). But if you have hope that will change (the iPhone is very young) or don't care too much about email and PIM apps, you'll love that browser and that iPod.
Dieter and I have talked about the pros and cons of the software keyboard. Speaking personally, I'll never go back to a hardware keyboard if I can help it. I have no issues using it one-handed, though I do prefer to type with two hands (right thumb and left index). The biggest gripe I've heard from Dieter about the keyboard is that he has to keep his eyes on it to use it. Though we disagree, it's a form factor preference for both of us.
He's also right about Mail being a mixed bag. I think 'atrocious' is an exaggeration, but checking email takes more swipes and keypresses on the iPhone than other smartphones. On the other hand, only the iPhone renders HTML email fully of all the smartphones in the round robin. If I had to guess, he doesn't like the five swipes it takes to go from one inbox to another and he wants a mass-delete.
Dieter is probably the biggest PIM user among us, and his PIM gripes are on target for a business user, though I think he'll be mollified in February. The big PIM problems (lack of Notes syncing, no To-Do lists at all) will be fixed with firmware updates and 3rd party software.
"Nothing special, huh? The Settings app is actually one of my favorite things about the iPhone, that I don't have to dig all over the place for settings. I'd argue that many of the remaining "nothing special" apps are rendered special just by the screen real estate available (Photo, Camera, and Maps). SMS gives threaded messages but lacks multiple recipients and MMS. Clocks has repeating alarms at least; Weather, Stocks, and Calculator... nothing special. These apps are all simple, functional and usable, as intended.
Jennifer of TreoCentral
The iPhone excels at media with its gorgeous, large screen and music and video playing capabilities. The iPhone is tops out of the box and is so simple to set up and get going right away. The graphics are beautiful and the multi-touch technology is mind blowing. Safari is the coolest and most complete mobile web browser I've seen and it blows the rest out of the water without a doubt. You can view webpages as they're supposed to be seen, as opposed to the watered down versions out there.
It has to be said that the iPhone is currently lacking 3rd party apps, but they are coming soon. The keyboard experience wasn't the greatest but it's just something that people will have to get accustomed to since it's a flat surface and there's no tactile feedback. Lots of practice really helps. The non-user replaceable battery is a big minus. It would be so much easier to be able to replace our own batteries rather than have to send them off to Apple. The iPhone being locked in to AT&T probably doesn't make a lot of people happy since many don't want to have to switch carriers. But the iPhone has a super web browser and will be getting 3rd party apps soon and the music and videos are wonderful, so if don't mind switching carriers, and if you don't mind waiting for the 3rd party apps to start showing up, the iPhone might just be the device for you.
Jennifer is absolutely right about the out-of-box experience. The iPhone starts out being easy to use and never stops being easy to use. For some, that will always be a good thing. Some others may wish for more power later on.
Our opinions differ on the battery: I don't have any problems with the not-user-replaceable battery. The iPhone gets 8 hrs of talk time, compared to the Treo 680's 4.5 hrs. After 300 charges, the iPhone's battery will still charge to 80% of its original capacity. Also, due to the fact that the battery is built-in, the iPhone doesn't fly into a bunch of pieces when I drop it. Jennifer is absolutely right that there's a trade-off, however.
Jennifer's totally right that the iPhone being locked to AT&T is a big minus. AT&T isn't the worst carrier I've ever used, but it's not the best either. Visual voicemail is a big draw, but that's not enough to convince me that I wouldn't rather be back on T-Mobile. I don't have smartphone remorse; don't get me confused there, but I definitely have carrier remorse. If I could have spent another $100 or $200 for an unlocked iPhone when I purchased it, I would have. I don't think the world is too long from using MMS messages for a standards-based version of visual voicemail anyway.
Kevin of CrackBerry.com
Of the three 'competitor' smartphones I tried in the Round Robin, to my surprise I found the iPhone to be my favorite. My conclusion is that you can achieve a great user experience by going either No Touch (BlackBerry) or Full Touch (iPhone) on the operating system. The iPhone's out of the box user experience was the best of the group – within 25 minutes I had my entire Round Robin Checklist crossed off: music added, PIM data synced, movies watched, etc., and the iPhone's web browsing and full out email viewing capabilities are second to none. And while it does take a lot more concentration to use the iPhone's soft keyboard compared to a physical keyboard, I became quite adept at tapping out my messages.
iPhone dislikes? I had a few. Compared to the BlackBerry the iPhone user experience is incredibly slow. What should be simple tasks like checking and responding to emails or placing calls take a lot of effort and time. The lack of push email is unacceptable to a BlackBerry user (they should really get BlackBerry Connect going on the iPhone) and the screen to screen transitions quickly got on my nerves. Considering this is Apple's first smartphone, I was really impressed by it. As they open up to 3rd party apps and further refine the device I only see it getting better... which says a lot as it's already pretty darn good. Just be sure to have a BIG data plan.
Another day, another excellent point of view. The BlackBerry interface is a lot faster than the iPhone. The iPhone uses visual cues to let you know what's going on, so you don't get lost as easily and think "what just happened?" It's one of the reasons that the out-of-box experience is so excellent and that the iPhone is easily the champ in the usability department -- if a feature is too hard to use, no one will use it. What good is a feature if no one will use it, or if someone requires extensive training to use it?
The iPhone does require more swipes and taps for calls, but that's because the iPhone doesn't really place the value of one app above the rest. The BlackBerry definitely does, and functions beyond phone and email on BlackBerry definitely suffer because of it. I think the iPhone manages more functions effectively than the BlackBerry does because of this approach (and you can always double-tap the home button to go to the phone screen).
I agree with him that push technology across the board would be nice. As it stands, only Yahoo! mail offers push technology with the iPhone, and it's not "true" push like the BlackBerry's push or Microsoft Exchange's push.
The default plan with AT&T is an unlimited data plan.