Hi-Mobile.net sent us in an unlocked iPhone for testing. We used the iPhone for almost a month now and it’s time to write an editorial-type article on the… unlockiness of it all.Before getting on the editorial section, let’s describe the already well-known product first. It is a quad-band GSM and EDGE phone, it has a 3.5″ 16:10 480×320 touchscreen, 8 GB of storage out of which 128 MBs are free for the operating system to use and save files/information into, Bluetooth 2.0, WiFi, 2 MP camera, an accelerometer and a proximity sensor. In the box we found a stereo headset, a dock, a USB power adapter, a USB cable, a cloth to clean the screen, a manual, but no… paperclip. Believe it or not, I don’t have a paper-clip in my home, and so it was a bit of a problem to remove the SIM tray at different occasions and try out different SIMs.
The iPhone came pre-activated with firmware 1.0.2, it was able to function without a SIM if required, and it had the Installer.app pre-installed. Using the iPhone is a real pleasure. The paradigm of touchscreen-based user interfaces as shifted from “make widgets as small as the eye can see” to “make them as big as a finger can precisely touch”. And all this without sacrificing too much real screen estate. More over, the multi-touch tricks help out with the overall usability of applications. It’s no secret: using the iPhone is a joy. I was a Windows Mobile Pocket PC user, but the iPhone’s usability just makes so much more sense.
In our experience, Google Maps worked great, YouTube too. In fact, the kind of quality we get with iPhone’s version of YouTube is higher than the one you get on our web browser, it seems that the resolution used is higher. Watching videos on the iPhone screen is a very comfortable experience. Mail worked with our POP3 email account, although we would have preferred a faster way to delete old emails from Trash rather than one by one. Weather, calculator, notes and stocks, all worked beautifully. It would have been useful for the camera app to have a few more options, but I have a feeling that these are coming soon.
Regarding the iPod functionality, it’s the most beautiful and functional iPod ever. However, I would have preferred if the volume slider was not immediately accessible, as one night by mistake I moved my finger over the screen and the volume went to 100% in an instant, and I might have damaged my ears (no, I am not kidding). Obviously, I used the volume-limit option, but that was after the fact. The included earbuds are pretty good, but they don’t fit in my ears and given the iPhone’s known non-friendly jack, I could not use any of the 3 headphones I had around. I will need a converter to use those and I am not too hot on the idea of using converters.
The Safari experience was overall pretty good, except two things: Mobile Safari loses the session to mobile MSN Hotmail and I need to re-login every 2-3 hours, while the desktop Safari version does not have this problem (for the mobile Hotmail that is). The second thing that’s missing is of course Adobe Flash, although I have a feeling that this is coming.
Regarding the text input system, much have been said about it. It’s not the best experience or learning curve in the world, but I think that it’s usable after you get used to it. Of course, a T6-like support like this one might be a good idea for Apple to employ.
The iPhone has an excellent reception, amazing call quality and battery life. Possibly the only phone that has all three strictly phone-oriented features at once at such a high level. We tested the phone with both our AT&T SIM and a Greek Vodafone one! We even received an SMS message from Vodafone, in Greek, a language that the iPhone was able to render flawlessly (while many other phones we’ve seen in the past didn’t always could). The usability of using the phone application was excellent, and it was way spiffier than let’s say, HTC’s TyTN-II phone app which was lagging and had ugly re-draws. WiFi worked well with our Netgear router too, and Bluetooth with our headset. Unfortunately, the Bluetooth functionality ends there, there is no file-sending, no A2DP/AVRCP support or PAN support.
Speaking about the things that are missing and we would like to see in the future, are: cut/copy/paste support, a file picker/manager, a speed or voice dial option, UPnP, internet radio, iChat AV, a voice recorder, video recording, and… games! Regarding the hardware, a better headphone jack placement, removable battery, 16/32 GB storage, 640×360 16:9 4″ touchscreen, true GPS, video-call camera, tri-band 3G, flashlight for the back camera, and maybe a move to a standard mini-USB connector — an FM radio would be nice too. As for the upcoming SDK will hopefully bring native third party VoIP, media, and multi-IM applications.
However, the missing feature that’s really bugging me is the fact that iTunes doesn’t let you manually manage your music library as it allows you to do so for the iPods. The iPhone has less than 8 GB of music storage and I have about 15 GBs of music. I need and want to manage it manually, but the only thing I can do to go around this limitation is use playlists — and that’s not how I want to go about it.
Now, you are probably thinking: so, is the unlock deal a good one? Well, yes and no. Using the Installer.app we were able to try out a number third party applications, including the Apollo IM, a very cool Terminal app, Sudoku and a few other ones. These are apps that seriously add to the overall experience. More over, by getting an unlocked iPhone, you don’t have to pay AT&T homage every month and that potentially can save you thousands of dollars. On the other hand, you are stuck on 1.0.2 firmware (and soon on 1.1.1). Hi-Mobile offers no support whatsoever regarding future firmware upgrades, not even a guide on how to do it yourself. Even worse, even themselves don’t seem to know the exact method used by their supplier to unlock these phones, and this can be problematic if you want to unlock these phones by yourself, because many upgrade applications require you to know that information before you continue with the actual upgrade. So basically, you will be kinda stuck in the firmware version you bought the iPhone to. Except if you are feeling adventurous of course and you don’t mind throwing $600 down the drain in the event the upgrade goes sour.
It is my belief that in time Apple will eventually offer unlocked versions of their phones. You can either wait for this to potentially happen, or buy an unlocked phone today. It’s a great device to use, but it doesn’t come without its limitations.