posted by Thom Holwerda on Sun 22nd Nov 2009 17:37 UTC
IconA few weeks ago I explained that because Palm is still not selling the Palm Pre here in The Netherlands, I decided to buy an iPhone 3GS. Well, we're a few weeks down the line now, so let's review the darn thing.


Introduction

I bought the iPhone 3GS 16GB, the white model. In The Netherlands, T-Mobile ships the iPhone, and it offers a number of specific all-in-one iPhone contracts, all lasting two years. My contract ran out, so I had the opportunity to enter into a new agreement. These are the details:

  • 29.95 EUR per month
  • 150 text messages
  • 150 minutes
  • unlimited data
  • 2048Kb/sec download
  • 384Kb/sec upload
  • iPhone 3GS 16GB price with this contract: 99 EUR

If you're new to T-Mobile, you'd have to pay the 26.95 EUR connection fee too, but since I was already a customer, I didn't have to. T-Mobile offers good coverage even in my own small rural home town, but your mileage with them may vary in my country. I have never had any problems, at least, over the past 4 years.

I also insured the iPhone for 6.95 EUR a month. This insurance is handled by a third party, and covers everything from broken screens to water damage. If the phone breaks, the insurance company will pick it up wherever I am in the country, have it fixed/replaced, and deliver it back to me.


Hardware

Comparing the iPhone to competing phones currently on the market, it becomes quite clear that the build quality of the iPhone appears to be miles ahead of that of the competition. Of course, it's hard to measure build quality objectively, so all I have to go on is holding them in my hands and using them - but doing that, the iPhone feels more solid, robust, and sturdy than other phones.

The design of the iPhone is not necessarily its strong point. I'm personally not a fan of rounded corners and smooth curves, as I prefer sharp edges and straight lines. There's no accounting for tastes, obviously, and at least the colour combination (black front, silver bezel, white back) is very nice to look at.

This design does have its negative consequences, too, however. Because of all the smoothness and curviness of the iPhone, using the device often feels like handling a wet bar of soap. I am continuously afraid the darn thing may slip out of my hands, and with the iPhone being more expensive than god this isn't a very comforting feeling. I know it would've messed up Apple's design principles, but some anti-slip measures would've been nice.

Hardware-wise, I think I like the display most. It is crystal clear, very sharp, and the colours are quite vibrant. The ambient light sensor ensures brightness is always at a comfortable level, so you don't have to fiddle with settings to get it right. The size and pixel density are about right, even though the design of the iPhone does leave room for a larger screen.

Then there's the oil-resistant coating Apple is boasting in its promotional materials. I never really thought it would matter in the slightest, but this coating indeed helps a great deal in keeping the screen smudge-free. The coating doesn't keep the screen clean - it only makes it easier to clean smudges, as it prevents them from sticking to the screen. When comparing the 3GS to the 3G, the differences are quite obvious.

There are two problems I'd like to address about the hardware, though. First, the external speaker. It's located at the bottom of the device, and especially in landscape mode, it gets covered way too easily by your hand, at which point the sound is muffled to an inaudible level. The second point is the connector through which you connect the iPhone to other devices or its charger. The connector is overly complicated (with little metal hooks to keep it in place) and flimsy. I don't understand why Apple didn't simply choose micro-USB, as it's smaller and most likely, a lot less expensive to implement.

Overall though, the hardware of the iPhone is top-notch, and clearly something the competition should aspire to. It suffers from the usual Apple-isms, yes, but when push comes to shove hardware-wise, I'd rather carry an iPhone around than any of its competitors.


iTunes

Before I dive into the software aspect of the phone itself, I believe I should cover the means with which you synchronise your iPhone with your computer. As most of you will know, this process is done through Apple's very own iTunes - and I know these are easy shots to take, but this has to be one of the most horrible pieces of software known to man.

Let's start with installing iTunes. Not only does it install QuickTime alongside with it (on Windows, obviously), but it also installs Apple's auto-update tool - whether you tell it to or not. During the installation, WinPatrol is having a field day notifying me of all the background services that get installed. These services are used to drive iPhones and iPods; a task which could've just as easily been achieved using Windows' standard and native AutoPlay features (connect iPod => load iTunes => sync). Apple is clearly choosing the hard way here, for no apparent reason.

iTunes itself is a slow and heavy program; it takes 14 seconds to load up. Compare this to Windows Media Player 12, which has the exact same library of music, but takes only about two to three seconds to load. I'm talking about a quad-core 4x2.2Ghz 4GB of RAM Windows 7 64bit machine taking 14 seconds to load a music player. This is unacceptable.

To make matters worse, iTunes isn't even worth the 14 second load time. The interface looks horribly out of place, has slow responsiveness and bad performance, and is in general unpleasant to use because it doesn't respect any of the UI conventions on Windows. I thought iTunes on the Mac was bad enough already - but the Windows version defines a whole new level of suckiness.

Apple would do good to make iTunes a true Windows application, instead of this abomination that lingers somewhere between Mac and Windows. iTunes should be the program that leads Windows users into the promised land of the Mac - and exactly this program is horrible. It makes little sense to me.

Table of contents
  1. Introduction; Hardware; iTunes
  2. iPhone; Goodness
  3. App Store; Badness; Conclusion
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