iPhone: The $1,975 iPod
Apple's and AT&T's high-price gadget is a heartbreaking triumph of greed over genius
Safari lacks the ability to adjust a Web page's text size, relying on zoom to make text large enough to read. When Safari's auto-zoom feature — which zooms and centers on a column of text or a group of controls — works, it's marvelous. When it doesn't work, you end up pinching and spreading and scrolling this way and that to read and operate HTML form controls.
Web sites must be designed for iPhone because its browser does not restructure HTML, especially forms, for use on its display. All modern mobile browsers, including Internet Explorer and BlackBerry's standard browser, have view options that can reorganize text into a single scrollable column. iPhone will zoom a column of text to fit the screen width, but you have to scroll to the top of the next column manually.
Safari will not store or open local HTML, XML, or script files, and in fact, iPhone allows users no access to its storage at all. Even the cheapest iPod can be accessed as a USB storage device, but arbitrary file system access to iPhone is prohibited. The only path between your PC or Mac and your iPhone is a USB cable and a copy of iTunes.
iPhone is barely passable as a phone, with an extremely weak speaker, comparatively poor signal clarity, and radio frequency interference so powerful that when I tried to attach an iPod voice recorder, iPhone would not support it but still suggested that I shut down the wireless features (activate Airplane mode) to reduce interference.
I can't overstate the interference issue. I'm wearing a pair of noise-reducing headphones, and whenever iPhone polls for e-mail or checks in with the cell tower, I pick up the buzzing and chirping familiar to BlackBerry users who set their devices down too close to the bedside radio. But iPhone's interference can be heard through a tuned-in FM radio from a fair distance away. It is loud. Steve Jobs attributed iPhone's delay to market to FCC testing. I can understand why.
As a phone, iPhone is stunningly innovative in some very practical ways. Its dial pad is big and easily readable. Each digit you dial lights a halo around your fingertip when you make contact. That contact requires only a feather touch, and you can easily dial and scan your Contacts database with your thumb (although it's optimized for righties). For quiet times, a flip of a side-panel switch kills the speaker, not just the ringer — Apple got this right — and activates the first truly silent vibrating motor I've encountered in a phone. People won't be able to tell how you knew you had a call coming in. That's the fringe benefit of a virtually seamless case.
Answering an incoming call is supposed to be as easy as raising your iPhone to your head. That never worked for me, but your head may vary. In any case, if you add up what iPhone does, and what it's supposed to do, it appears you have a phone that you can operate one-handed and safely answer in the car. But no. iPhone lacks voice dialing or commands, so you can't use the phone truly hands-free.
While you're on the phone, even the freshest face will leave an oily smear on the display, and during every call, you're bouncing a hypersensitive touchscreen full of active buttons against your face. The side of my face matches the contour of the phone, but an assistant with more angular features was always muting his call with his cheekbone.