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First Impressions

July 12th, 2008

Reader’s Digest version: it’s a nice phone.

Slightly longer summarized version: though the setup process is rather difficult, once in use it works like a charm.

Now for the hoary details. Images will have to wait for when I have time.

Form: I like the way it feels. Not the way it smudges, but the shape conforms to the hand just about right. It’s clearly not designed optimally for one-handed use; it’s too wide for the thumb to reach across. It’s obviously supposed to be a two-handed tool, at least most of the time. One Japanese keyboard layout does compromise, simulating the keypad experience, but mostly you need to have both hands free in order to get maximum use from it. The casing is smooth but not too slick, although that just may be my own hands and how they do friction-wise; but I do not fear this slipping out of my hands (though perhaps only experience will tell).

Basic Use: Once you get used to the variations of the Home button and the Sleep/Wake button, it’s pretty easy to turn on and off in ways appropriate for the situation. the wall paper is nice, but if it is only visible between turning on the phone and unlocking it, then it’s a bit fleeting. The buttons are just right, of course, and the multi-page Home screen is spacious enough for the time being. To rearrange your icons, just hold one down for a few seconds till they all wiggle (cute), then drag and drop to suit. Pull an icon to the edge of the screen to pull it to another page. Items that can be deleted grow a circle with an “x” at top left, familiar to anyone who uses widgets in Dashboard. Hit the Home button to settle them again. To move between pages, swipe the initial Home page right to left. (The pages do not loop.)

When using any app, you can quit by clicking the Home button, which takes you back to the Home screen. If you return to the app you left, it’ll start up where you left off.

Speed: I’ll have to find a web site based in Japan which tests for speed; a U.S. site netted dubious results. But I have few complaints. It’s slower than a full-fledged computer, naturally, but otherwise it works just fine. Web pages do not take unduly long to fill in (usually), and the maps work pretty well too. One gripe: I don’t know if this is just my phone, but I am getting regular keyboard freezes. Not fatal ones, and it’s just when I begin typing sometimes. What I type will suddenly stop and stay frozen, and nothing will move the action on the screen–but the iPhone will save the action you do while it’s frozen, and so all of those button clicks and taps and swipes will play out rapidly, and often destructively, when the keyboard jumps back into life. We’ll have to see about that. (A bug for the next firmware upgrade to solve?)

The Phone: Haven’t had much chance to use it. Seems to work OK. More on that later.

Email: SoftBank dropped the ball here, giving poor instructions for their service. GMail works fine, and I assume that Yahoo Mail, Exchange, and Mobile Me do as well. POP and IMAP I have had a few problems with, but they seem to work once you get the settings right–but there might be some frustration along those avenues. The most notable problem: there appears to be no junk mail/spam filter. While GMail seems to pre-emptively filter, my POP accounts don’t, and the spam goes unchecked into my InBox. Annoying. Looks like I’ll have to figure out ways to filter things at that level.

Browsing: Works as advertised. Web pages are pretty easy to manage despite the small screen size. Tapping on a link takes you there; tapping on a text field opens the keyboard, and fields can be navigated with a handy set of “Previous” and “Next” buttons.

iPod: For some reason, I couldn’t get any sound to play at first, but that problem disappeared on its own, and all works smoothly now. Finally I have a video iPod. Sweet. Now I just have to get (a) the media on the phone, and (b) the time to enjoy it. Already I have Olbermann’s Countdown subscribed to, though Keith is on vacation this week.

The App Store: It works very well. I haven’t ventured into the paid territory yet, but so far the free stuff comes down fast and easy; installing software is a breeze. Getting it to work may be a different issue. So far, the Currency app and the NYTimes app both crash upon starting. What does work for me: AOL Radio (who needs an FM receiver?), an audio Mandarin Chinese phrasebook (Sachi likes it, wants me to get the Japanese version), And EkiTan, an app which figures out which trains your should take and when, like Yahoo Transit Japan.

Which brings me to another point: if you have credit cards with billing addresses in both Japan and the U.S., you can purchase apps from both stores. Sweet!

One useless but irresistibly cute app: PhoneSaber. Does the Star Wars lightsaber sound when you wave the phone around.

Touch Screen and Typing: I’d give it 9 out of 10 stars, but part of that is my prediction of how I’ll get better with it. Already I can type fast; I find the virtual keys are not that hard to hit, and when I “use the force” and let the predictive typing feature overcome my neurotic desire to catch and repair typos, I can go even faster. Though, as I mentioned before, the “o” key too often becomes a “p.”

Tapping and swiping work OK, swiping better than tapping. Some taps don’t register as well, and it definitely helps if you tape straight-on instead of at an angle, and more so if the phone is in your hand and not in someone else’s.

As mentioned earlier, Sachi is having a hard time with her long nails (Steve Jobs would have rethought the stylus idea had he grown nails like Sachi’s), but I think she has too little trust in how useful the broad flat pad of each finger can be utilized; she tends to go for the tip of the finger more, and often resorts to the edge of her pinky. She prefers the keypad input to the keyboard more for the broader keys than for the convenient typing style.

You can easily switch between international keyboards. I have U.S. English, QWERTY Japanese, keypad Japanese, and finger-drawn Chinese input methods active. Tapping the Globe button cycles through them.

It’s 4 a.m. and I have got to crash. More tomorrow. Sachi and I will be using our phones to help us navigate to a lunch spot to eat with an old friend of Sachi’s, so we’ll get more real-world use. I am tempted to buy some kind of handlebar-mounted stand so I can use the GPS–but that temptation is tempered by the fear of the iPhone falling off and crashing on the concrete.

Anyway, more later. If anyone has questions, please feel free. Again, sorry for not proofreading.

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  1. July 12th, 2008 at 09:13 | #1

    The most notable problem: there appears to be no junk mail/spam filter.

    After ten months with an iPhone, I would say that the lack of any kind of client-side junk mail management–like you get with Mail.app, Thunderbird, and others–has been the most persistent annoyance. I can’t figure out why they haven’t included it. There shouldn’t be any technical hurdle, should there?

  2. Luis
    July 12th, 2008 at 10:46 | #2

    As far as I am aware, there should be no hurdles against it. But now that the App Store is open, maybe we’ll see a solution (unless Apple is dead set against letting developers fool with the Mail App).

    Otherwise, the best solution I see would be to filter your email through a GMail account, which could strip the spam before you get it. Or, perhaps on my domain’s CPanel, I should start looking at what spam software they have.

  3. Paul
    July 12th, 2008 at 12:06 | #3

    Server-side spam filters are usually better, anyway. I haven’t had a lot of luck using my iPhone with POP email, so I just stick with a Gmail account.

    I’m actually about to make a big jump and move to Google Apps for my email for my personal domain. I didn’t realize you could do it, but you can use Gmail as your email but have it going to your own personal domain. So you get all the bennies and interface of Gmail, but your friends only know they’re emailing “blah@blah.net”.

    Glad to see you’re digging the iPhone. I was surprised at the demand here; at least one AT&T store I talked to intentionally took about as many of the 3Gs they could reasonably store, but have another shipment coming on the evening of the 11th and will have more fresh ones on the 12th (they sold out prior to noon).

  4. July 13th, 2008 at 01:21 | #4

    I have pretty good server-side Spam filtering with my .mac (now Mobile Me) account, but some stray Spam still gets through (I would guess five or ten a week). In Mail.app (and the new Mobile Me Web Mail), it just goes into a junk folder and gets deleted.

    But on my iPhone, it stays in the inbox, and if I happen to mark it as read one way or another while trying to deal with it on the phone, the other mail clients will no longer treat it as Spam when they get it. This is hardly the end of the world, but the inconsistency is persistently irksome.

  5. ykw
    July 13th, 2008 at 01:37 | #5

    Perhaps Apple wants to push some things to the server so that their battery lasts longer. Junk filtering is an example. Perhaps that uses a lot of cpu cycles. The non-display electronics may draw a fixed amount of power for each cpu cycle, and not necessarly for how long the processor is on. The display may draw constant power per unit time that it is on. Turning down display brightness might help battery life. If one places unit in charger each night, then battery life might not be an issue. Perhaps iphone will become very popular in Japan since it is one way of doing stuff while on a train. It would be nice if persistent internet worked on trains and the subway.

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