Sunday, July 08, 2007

iPhone Review Part 1 - The Hardware

I've had an iPhone for just over a week now and have had a chance to really put it through it's paces. I'll start first by detailing the hardware and construction of the device. One of the challenges of reviewing this device is the tight integration between hardware, software and user interface - all work together so well, that it's difficult to talk about one without considering the others. Although the device is not perfect, it does live up to the hype and is a game-changing device. Apple has - with this one product - changed the way we interact with technology, browse the web, activate our devices and dramatically altered the expectations we have of similar devices.

Let's start by looking at the iPhone hardware. The construction of this thing is top-notch. It feels very substantial in the hands - solid with no rattles - much different than Treo or Blackberry devices I've used in the past. It's a little smaller than a 3 x 5 index card and about as thick as two cd cases stacked together. The face is almost completely all screen
- except for a physical (home) button at the bottom
and the headset ear piece at the top.
The screen is probably the first thing you'll notice - its bright and beautiful under just about any lighting conditions - indoors or out - these pictures just don't do it justice. The iPhone has a sensor that detects ambient conditions and adjusts the contrast and brightness appropriately. As most of you already know, another sensor shuts the screen off when the iPhone is placed against your face to make or receive a call - battery life; and another set of sensors cause the screen to adjust its orientation (portrait or landscape) to that of the iPhone. In addition to the single button on the front, there are four other buttons - a ringer off switch on the left hand side along with a volume up/down rocker that adjusts volume for phone, music and video.
At the top is a sleep/wake button that can also be used to power the iPhone off and on.
The headphone jack is also at the top. Because it is slightly recessed this jack may not accommodate all existing headphones, possibly requiring an adapter. The back of the iPhone is mostly metal, except for a small plastic portion at the bottom,
which houses the antenna - no metal=better signal strength. At the bottom you'll find the standard iPod dock connector and two small speakers - yes that's right you can listen to your music, watch your videos and make calls without earbuds or headphones. Also on the back of the iPhone - on the top-left - you'll find the integrated 2 mega-pixel camera. The camera does not have a flash and cannot record video (maybe a software upgrade) but takes surprisingly good pictures.

The last piece of the iPhone hardware that I'd like to talk about is not actually part of the iPhone, but instead part of the included earbuds. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've seen the white iPod earbuds that have become ubiquitous since the introduction of the iPod in 2001. The earbuds included with the iPhone have a little plastic "box" on the right earbud line about 6 inches from the earbud. The ingenious little "box" is a marvelous piece of engineering and user interface. In addition to housing a microphone - which provides really clear call quality - the "box" is also a remote control for the iPhone. A single click will accept an incoming call or terminate an existing call and also switches between incoming and on-hold calls - i.e. cal-waiting. If you're listening to music, a single click will pause or resume the music and a double-click will move to the next song in your playlist. To decline an incoming call, click and hold the remote - which will also switch to an incoming or on-hold call and end the current call.

Overall I'd give the hardware a grade of A+, not necessarily because it's flawless, but because there's nothing else like it - not even remotely close. Everyone else is playing catch-up, at least for now. Keep in mind that I'll review the wireless functionality - which is a deal-breaker for many - separately. As far as the hardware goes, the only quibble one might have is the recessed headphone jack - especially if your $300 noise-canceling headphones don't fit.

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