Lots of thoughts on my new iPhone

Bill Loguidice's picture

Well, after seeing what seemed like every Tom, Dick and Harriet with an iPhone during our trip to San Francisco and noting that several critical barriers (Outlook synchronization, coming Slingbox support, etc.) had fallen over time for the device, as well as my wife getting a new LG Shine in a pinch because the battery on her Samsung Blackjack II had bit the dust, I decided now was as good of a time as any to change phones from my own Samsung Blackjack II to a white 16GB iPhone, particularly since if you go with a refurb on the AT&T site you can save $100 off the price (and this applies to either the 8GB or 16GB model). The fact that we were already AT&T customers sealed the deal.

First off, the adjustment from a device with a "real" keyboard to a device with a virtual keyboard was not too bad, and certainly the touch screen is a big help, though it could sometimes be a bit more responsive. With my fat thumbs, I find it's easier to use my index finger, and if I hit more to the left of the letter, rather than in the middle or to the right, I find the accuracy of hitting what I intended to be near perfect. It of course looks amazing, but you know Apple nails that nearly every time these days.

With that out of the way, let's go into what I lost in the initial translation from the Samsung Blackjack II to the iPhone. First, was the ability to sync everything with Microsoft Outlook, meaning e-mail, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes, though for notes sync I did need to purchase a third party program, which wasn't always perfect. The iPhone does all of those except for tasks and notes by default. I don't use tasks, so I only needed something to sync my notes. There really isn't a truly elegant solution for doing that, but I purchased MyChapura KeyNotes in the iTunes store, which costs $9.99 per year and seems to do a reasonable job of handling the syncing at this point (though it's a bit of a kludgy process), and is a nice replacement for the default notepad application on the iPhone, which does not sync with anything. (I also need to find a way to disable the access warning that Outlook gives on my Vista laptop at home every time this application wants to sync. I was able to eliminate that in the past and I need to see how to do that in this case.)

Second was the built-in voice recorder of the Blackjack II, which was also a feature in all Windows SmartPhones. Apple chose to ignore this. With that said, I again turned to iTunes and found a wide range of apps to perform this function. The one I eventually settled on - and it works beautifully - was Recorder - which was only .99. The nice thing is that there are a few ways to sync or transfer recordings, including wirelessly on the same wireless network as your computer or via e-mail. Regardless, it works great and is actually superior in most ways to what I had on the Blackjack II.

Third was the ability to record video on the Blackjack II. I never used this much, but it was a nice option and seems inexcusable on the iPhone. I have not found an app to add this functionality as of yet, and who knows if there is sufficient OS access or capabilities to add this through official means. On the plus side, the photos it takes are decent and seem better than what I was able to capture on the Blackjack II.

Fourth, adding direct e-mail access seemed awkward and clumsy for my POP3 accounts, like the one I use on Armchair Arcade. Since I already had Google Mail set up to pull my Armchair Arcade and personal accounts, I just acquiesced and set the iPhone up to poll that. It works incredibly well, so I consider that an improvement, with the only downside that I can't seem to set up a custom signature (it just uses a default "sent from my iPhone").

Finally, I had hacked together a reasonable way to use my Blackjack II as a laptop modem (through Bluetooth no less), without AT&T detecting it when there was no wireless network present. I see no way at this point to tether the iPhone either officially or unofficially (and I don't want to bother jailbreaking the thing), but since it has an amazing Web browser and full wireless network access, this is much less of an issue than it was previously.

So what did I gain? When I switched from my previous Windows Smartphone to the Blackjack II, I lost the ability to access wireless networks. With the iPhone, this is no longer an issue, and in fact works perfectly and seamlessly, unlike that other phone (bizarrely, being on a wireless network is the only way to access the app store directly on the iPhone; typically you'd use your PC anyway, though).

I also love the menu system on the iPhone and the one touch access to everything. When I click on the Weather icon, I can see a nicely formatted weather report that was previously synced. There's plenty of other stuff like that, like the Maps icon, which is like a GPS-lite, which does a great job of zooming in on your present location and then telling you what's around based on your search criteria. It's doesn't direct you there in real-time, but it does provide you with directions. Frankly it's easy enough to put the address provided into my car's "real" GPS (in any case, our Director of Photography in San Francisco used his iPhone a few times to help us find things, which is when I became impressed with the feature and its usability). My Blackjack II did have a real GPS in it, but it was kludgy and without lots of hacking, required a monthly fee from AT&T. I passed then because it was more trouble than it was worth, particularly with sound and screen issues, and it was simply easier just to use my car's GPS.

The Safari Web browser on the iPhone is superior to the crippled Internet Explorer on the Blackjack II. As the commercials more or less say, with just a few exceptions, this is not the mobile Web, this is not a modified form of the Web, this is the "real" Web. The nice screen, the iPhone's automatic rotation ability to use it in landscape mode and the one tap zoom in function all make it the most pleasurable Internet experience I've every had on a portable device. Even Armchair Arcade looks and works exactly like it's supposed to! (and speaking of that, it's a shame that Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks), doesn't yet work on any version of Safari, as that's my links syncing app of choice, just like Firefox is my browser of choice. Luckily I have a shortcut to Foxmarks on my iPhone's browser where I can go directly to it, but I still have to occasionally re-enter my password)

There's no reason for me to go into all the other apps and functionality on the iPhone, as it's well documented, well, everywhere, but needless to say, it's elegant and well designed just like the phone's exterior. The best part of course is the iTunes synchronization and store, which trumps everything else out there by a country mile. Podcast synchronization and automatic updates and pushes of the latest episodes (say of GameRADIO, Pro Bodybuilding Weekly, Passenger Seat Radio, etc.), is just brilliant. So, besides music and podcasts, I also have all of my Audible audio books on there. And yes, it saves your place. So yeah, as an "iPod", the iPhone is wonderful. And yes, that store has piles and piles of apps, ranging from free to a few dollars to a bit more, but most stuff falls in the former range rather than the latter. It makes stocking up on things (too many things) very, very tempting.

So far I've only tried a few game demos and made one purchase (besides music and the aforementioned apps). I'm trying to refrain myself from buying too much and overloading myself. My first purchase - for $2.99 - was Digital Chocolate's Crazy Penguin Catapult, which truly is a game that you can learn instantly but is harder - but fun - to master. Essentially you need to launch your penguins from a catapult to take out the polar bears. There are strategy and puzzle elements and plenty of action. It also has great animated pixel graphics, with tons of character. In short, this is a must own. Perhaps the most interesting part is that the whole game is played with a simple tap or finger drag on the screen (the latter just on the map screen), so it's really a "one button" type of game. Wonderful! In any case, I can't wait to try more, including some of the higher priced $4.99 games like that cool Battlezone update and Wolfenstein 3D. The only sucky part is that not everything has a free lite/demo version, so that makes me hesitate on things like Wolfenstein 3D...

The only other major app I can think of wanting specifically at this point is something to allow me to listen to my XM satellite radio stuff. I was able to listen to my Sirius account on my Blackjack II with a nice hack program, but again, I'd prefer to go the official route on the iPhone.

We have an old 60GB iPod that was actually Christina's, an iPod Photo with the click wheel and no touch screen. So it's nice that we're finally able to free some of that previously purchased music (there's a big difference between having music on a device with you all the time versus one that you need to remember to keep charged/bring with you). The other nice thing is that some of the films we got on Blu Ray, like Wall-E, have digital versions on the disc that work with iTunes, so I need to remember to transfer a movie or two, so big plus there (particularly since the aforementioned Slingbox app - which allows me to watch my home TV and DVR from anywhere is still not quite ready yet).

(minor aside--I used my Blackjack II as my alarm clock. The iPod serves that function just as well - if not better - at least so far)

Finally, there was my odyssey with getting a screen protector. First, I tried my arch enemy, self-adhesive polymer film. I've tried this on a wide range of devices and it's always the same thing - either I misalign them or I can't get all the bubbles out. My experience with trying to stick it on my iPhone was the same, so $9.99 down the tubes, particularly since you have to be careful not to get any fingerprints or dust on the adhesive side (and good luck with that).

Then I tried this, a clear acrylic shell, which ultimately added too much bulk and made button and earphone jack accessibilty an annoyance (I'm in fact returning it to RadioShack after I'm done posting this--wish me luck).

What I'd really, really like is some thin, clear, slightly rubbery skin to slip the iPhone into (an iPhone condom?) that keeps the screen covered (but still usable - at least that acrylic shell kept it usable), but I'll keep my eyes open in general for something superior to those other two options. For now - and perhaps for the life of the phone - I'll just be extra careful and go au natural (it looks better than way anyway). I don't mind finger smudges, but I do mind scratches.

Anyway, I hear amazing things about the next iPhone OS update, so who knows what nifty new features and capabilities will be added shortly. Even with the lack of being able to record video (and I rarely used it on my other phone), I think I ultimately feel like I'm not missing out on really anything from my previous phone, and gained a whole bunch of additional functionality and easy access to hundreds of thousands of programs. It will be fun and maybe even productive... Any questions, just ask, and if you're an iPhone owner too, be sure to share your stories, favorite apps, etc.

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Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Magnets
Matt Barton wrote:

Magnetic? Aren't magnets and data storage a no-no?

That's what we've been told and I think it was true at one point (floppy disks for instance), but I think low power magnets are safe with modern electronics. Hell, even passing through the detectors at the airport these days, modern laptops and other electronics fare just fine.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
My first app is

My first app is here:
http://www.dvrpics.com/
I've got an update on the way, some more apps in development for myself and for a client.

The 3.0 stuff is supposed to be "confidential" (like, I can't share screen shots or tell you about bugs in the beta firmware) but Apple has announced pretty much everything publicly.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Skype on iPhone

Hmmm...Some interesting reading: Skype iPhone app is released and all hell breaks loose for FCC and AT&T. Not sure if this is just yellow journalism or not, but it has certainly piqued my interest.

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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
I'm not sure what the deal

I'm not sure what the deal is with Skype for iPhone in Canada. I read in one article that is was a patent licensing issue. There are other VOIP apps that work just fine here.

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