This is the concluding section of this comprehensive UK iPhone review. We’ve previously covered the build of the iPhone & its interface; how it is to use it as a phone, texting on it and emailing; Its Web Browser, iPod-ness & Google Maps.
Firstly You Tube. Well, I was sceptical. I’m not particularly interested in roller skating dogs, or Chinese students miming to East 17, and besides expected it to be a tediously slow affair over EDGE. But, surprisingly, it works – with very little delay at all. Some people will love this I think, but probably not me.
Now, video loaded up from a PC. I took (sensitive readers might want to look away now)… a full episode of Top Gear. Converted it for the phone, and synced it via iTunes. Although the iPhone display is stupidly small by tv-watching standards, the resolution – horizontally at least – is heading towards full broadcast standard definition. And so the video quality utterly shines. I can see myself using this on my commute. If nothing else, I can temporarily forget about ropey EDGE coverage… which brings me on to…
Connectivity – GPRS, EDGE, WiFi
So, if GPRS browsing is slow, EDGE very usable, and Wi-Fi predictably excellent, what will you actually get?
If the leaked plans I’ve seen are correct, O2 will have so far upgraded about 3000 cells for EDGE. Out and about in London, coverage is generally good. Not excellent mind. Perhaps 80% during my walk around town today. Out of town though it’s incredibly patchy right now, in my experience. On my long daily commute, I’m seeing new cells light up with EDGE every day, but there are vast tracts where it’s still GPRS. An unofficial source is saying that O2 will be up to 40% coverage by Christmas, and 90% in a year.
If you are usually in areas that don’t have EDGE yet, you *might* still like the browsing, but you really need to try it out on sites you regularly go to, before you buy. If you don’t have a regular hangout, and just want general surfing, GPRS is likely to be very painful.
O2 have tried to mitigate, with the free access to 7500 Cloud Hotspots. So does this work in practice. Nowhere near as well as it could, and for one very silly reason. The Cloud website cannot show you hotspots on a map. If you want to find a hotspot quickly, on the move, it’s as good as impossible unless you already know where one is. This is an appalling omission by The Cloud.
For City of London workers though, there is something that sounds incredible. 90% WiFi coverage. Does it work? My starting point was Bank. Outside the Old Lady, it lit up immediately. After a one-off entry of my phone number to authenticate on the cloud web site, the iPhone would now auto connect to the Cloud. Off down Threadneedle street, all good.
Now backtracking towards monument, still browsing. Now let’s test it a bit more: Off down a side street. Still connected. Finally, down an alley, it did indeed vanish. So far, very impressive. But, back on the main road towards Monument, it went – coming back in patches. Very usable if you aren’t moving, but less so if you want to walk and surf. Overall, perhaps not as good as the Cloud suggest, but still impressive.
Summary: So, is it a keeper?
It’s certainly got its flaws. The text messaging ‘holes’ are stupid. The connectivity from O2 has issues right now. The Cloud really aren’t helping anyone use their service. And it’s gobsmackingly expensive. The ‘real’ cost of the phone is somewhere north of five hundred quid, with the extra – over the £269 retail cost – buried into the O2 tariff.
But the touch user interface is something else. It’s not a novelty feature. It’s not just a pretty face. It’s absolutely and utterly the right way to use a handheld device. Almost every task becomes quicker. Not a little bit quicker. Not even just “twice as quick”. The orders of magnitude are incredible. And, of course, if you do want a pretty face, you’ve definitely got it in the iPhone.
And when you’ve got the connectivity, the browsing experience is unreal. It really leaves other mobile browsers for dead. Again, this isn’t “twice as good”. It’s just on another level completely.
So, for me, it’s a keeper. It’s flawed, but I just can’t go back now. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.