iPhone Review -- Smartphone Round Robin

Ah, the iPhone. For better or worse, the iPhone has become the starting point for many consumers looking to buy a smartphone. In a sense, it's become the standard for everyone to measure themselves against. Because of its position at the forefront of consumer's minds and the fact that it's in everyone's pocket, that's completely fair. But because of Apple's sometimes senseless decisions in dealing with all things iPhone, it leaves the rest of us a little uneasy.

Regardless, the iPhone is undoubtedly a cultural phenomenon and has been ever since it was released in 2007. Apple kicked down the door with the original iPhone, upped the ante with the iPhone 3G, and is continuing to count each and every dollar with the iPhone 3GS. To call it anything but successful is to not give it fair credit; the momentum it continues to hold is simply amazing.

So yes, the iPhone is ridiculously successful but don't think it's all peaches, ponies, and paradise--the iPhone platform is far from perfect. There are issues and shortcomings with the iPhone. Oh yes there are. We'll take a look at everything in the full review below!

Hit the jump to see the iPhone reviewed from an Android Perspective!

A Look at What's Changed

It's funny that for a device that literally changed everything 3 years ago, so little has really changed about the device itself. What made the iPhone originally great has been largely left untouched--the UI, Mobile Safari, iPod--all still great, all still the same.

Even the design of the phone hasn't changed, your eyes aren't fooling you if you think the iPhone 3GS looks exactly like the iPhone 3G because well, it is the same. And to drive in that point, last year's model and this year's model have both maintained the same shape of the original iPhone. Imagine, this is a phone that has been roughly the same (design-wise) for some 3 years now.

So what has changed hardware-wise from last year to this year? Apple has added video recording, a better camera, a crazy fast processor (similar to what's in the Droid), double the hard drive space (from 8GB & 16GB to 16GB & 32GB) and from our point of view, that's about it.

Software speaking, and to be fair, that's what makes the iPhone the iPhone, everything has been finally brought up to speed. iPhone 3.0 hits all the bullet point features of smartphones and introduces some new features of their own. Finally, (finally!) smartphone users all around were placated when Apple finally (finally!) introduced copy & paste, video recording, MMS, voice dialing and all the other commonplace bullet points that the previous iPhones have lacked.

We'll be honest, the iPhone OS is ridiculously fast and stable--in fact, we'd argue that the iPhone 3GS is the performance standard for all powerful smartphones--completely capable of anything you throw at it, speedy in its processes while rarely suffering any breakdown or *gasp* crashes. To call it the gold standard may be painting too rosy of a picture but it's not that far off.


Same familiar front face, same high grade plastic backing. Last year, we gave high praise to the iPhone 3G design because it combined simplicity and great design without being in-your-face about it. It's an iconic design that has helped dramatically change the 'expected' look of a smartphone. And since everyone is pretty much familiar with the styling of the iPhone, we're going to use this space to offer improvements. Yes, though the iPhone is still a wonderfully styled phone, now that it's 2010 there is definite need for improvements.

So where can the iPhone 3GS improve? Number one on the list has to be its screen resolution. The iPhone, which was once the standard for screen size and resolution, is now woefully inadequate. Look at the Droid screen or the HD2 screen and you’ll think your iPhone has gone blurry. It’s not even close. The 320x480 resolution is nothing to blink at but 854x480 is where everyone is headed. There are many Android devices that have clearly superior screens than the iPhone's. The next iPhone can't possibly simply stay the course.

Another idea to improve the hardware of the iPhone is to introduce a 'gesture area'. We know it’s not really an ‘Android feature’ but we loved the gesture area from the Pre/Pixi so much that it really makes no sense for the iPhone to not have it. Since Apple refuses to add hard buttons to the iPhone, they should absolutely take advantage of all that empty space next to the home button. A simple ‘back’ gesture would do wonders for the iPhone.

We also wouldn't mind an indicator light--Apple can do this, just look at their MacBook Pro line. Everything else we would complain about seems to be stuff Apple has gone in a different direction with--no flash with the camera, no expandable HD space, no replaceable battery, etc. If you're looking for those features, don't look towards the iPhone.

But one thing that Apple gets absolutely right with the iPhone is the camera. The camera now has tap-to-focus which allows for some really great shots. Simply, tap the area you want to focus and it'll re-distribute light and focus to that area (it's really wonderful). The Camera’s UI is clean and intuitive to use, but most important of all, the camera is so much faster than an Android camera. Our Android cameras look good on paper, as in they list flash and high megapixels and sometimes even have a dedicated hardware button, but the iPhone’s camera is clearly superior. It’s not the best camera available on a smartphone but it’s nearly good enough for any day-to-day situation. Video recording is also easy, and quality is great.

What we might be most jealous of though is all that hard drive space, boy, it can make an Android user woozy. You mean you can install as many apps as 16 GB/32 GB will allow you to? There’s no allotted space to max out? Screw expandable storage, I want real, usable storage! With the thousands of apps that are available now on all the platforms, the available space to download apps is the most underrated aspect of a smartphone.


Let's be honest here, there's no other smartphone OS that's as easy to use as the iPhone OS. The iPhone UI is incredibly intuitive and incredibly simple. Being intuitive is always good. Being simple comes with some shortcomings. We've previously made the argument that actions in the iPhone are shallow--buttons are overlaid on the screen, there's no real 'menu' or depth of action--this is good for users who like in-your-face action buttons, but sometimes a menu button is necessary for deeper fields of action. You can't solve everything on one page.

As Android has matured, whenever I use the iPhone, I almost cry about the lack of customization. Sure, you can move apps around wherever you want and maybe change your lock screen wallpaper, but hey, that's about it. With Android you can add widgets that are customized to your liking, shortcuts that can directly do whatever action you want, adjust your settings however you like, and do even more with apps like Locale. With HTC Sense, you even have the ability to completely overhaul your phone with the press of a button!

I don't know what Apple can do, but they've rendered their homescreen experience (and it's a reach just calling it that) to the point where it's merely an application launcher. Maybe I'm too used to the Android way of things but can you imagine if the Android homescreen was simply just the app drawer? Wouldn't that be such a sad, sad sight? Maybe Apple can add the option to hide less-used applications for only searchable purposes, or maybe they can make their icons 'live' to offer important nuggets of data, I don't know, I just know I miss my homescreen.

You can't just not customize the homescreen, you can barely customize the overall user experience. For example, I detest landscape mode--in browsing, in typing, in anything--with Android it's simply a checkbox in the settings to turn it off, with the iPhone there's absolutely no way to turn it off systemwide. You also can't even easily turn on/off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, you need to go into settings to get it right. The universal search in the iPhone is incredibly useful but it lacks web searches, a biggie for a device so closely associated with its internet browsing ability.

The way notifications are handled on the iPhone simply pale in comparison to Android. Notifications either stop your present task and force you to address it right away, or you just become notified of 'something' and have no idea what it is. In short, it's pretty much the worst type of notification possible. When there's detail, it demands immediate action, when there's no detail, you have no idea what to act on. And considering how cool an idea push notifications is, you'd think they'd make the system to handle notifications a lot better.

Fact: the iPhone lacks third party multitasking. That's a huge deal for some users and non-existent for others. The option to do it would be great but exiting and jumping into a new applications on the iPhone is so quick and push notifications is good enough, that it's an almost serviceable workaround (almost). Would I want a way to multitask? Absolutely. Do I miss it immensely when I use an iPhone? Not really, but that's me. If you're deeply invested in multitasking, mark my words, the iPhone 3GS is not for you (but you probably knew that already!).

But let's not get carried away, the iPhone still has some awesome touches in its software--multitouch being chief among them. Multitouch is something we’ve wanted on Android since Android launched without it. Now that we have hardware AND software clearly capable of doing it, it bothers us to no end that we don’t have an official multitouch solution. Yes, there are browsers, hacks, and even Android phones that allow it but come on Google, if it takes your lawyers vs their lawyers, it’s still worth it to make it platform-wide. The user experience in Maps and the Browser is so, so, so much better with multitouch.

Lots of Positives & Problems

We're on Android 2.0.1 right now, officially. Or is it Android 2.1 with the Nexus One? Or is it Android 1.6 with the G1? Or Android 1.5? Yeah, you get the point. Our OS updates are a mess right now. Apple, having only to deal with one carrier, neatly moves all their users to 3.x in one swift iTunes update. Do I want to plug in my phone to update? Not really, but if that's what it takes to have reliable updates, I'll do it everytime.

And having all their iPhones on the same OS version and their iPhones having the same screen resolutions, there's little to no problem developing applications. You don't need to target a certain OS or screen resolution because it's all standardized. That's a beautiful thing that Android can probably never have because of our varied form factors and OS versions.

But that'll obviously be an issue that Apple will have to address in the future. Like we said before, it's time for Apple to bump the screen resolution and in doing so, will they leave previous iPhone users behind? We'll have to wait and see.

But the big dark cloud hanging over everything that's good and great about the iPhone is that AT&T performance in the US leaves a lot to be desired. And that's really putting it nicely. In bigger and more condense cities like New York or San Francisco, performance is downright awful. Locking themselves onto one carrier handcuffs them. If AT&T doesn't work for you, don't get an iPhone 3GS. Trust us, at the end of the day you want a phone that works first, then works for you second.

We'd be foolish to forget about the iPhone App Store. Yes, the iPhone and its App Store has a gazillion applications right now and yes there's a lot of awesomeness in there but there's a bit of downside too. Admittedly, the very best iPhone apps certainly outpace applications on other platforms and the game selection on the iPhone is nearly DS/PSP-worthy--the app store is truly amazing. Luckily, us Android folks benefit from the iPhone App Store. How? Because of Apple's app approval process. The highly questionable app approval process (which turned down Google Voice and other apps) is turning off app developers left and right, we're sure developers will jump to Android Market (which only has a bazillion apps rather than a gazillion).

Final Thoughts

Make no mistake, I'm a huge fan of the iPhone and am sincerely thankful for its introduction some three years ago. It's very likely that I will own one for the rest of my life for its media capabilities alone. If it seems as if I was too tough on the iPhone, it's only because I expect a lot from the platform. But after becoming so familiar with Android, it's hard to go back to a phone, any phone, that can barely handle notifications, can't run widgets and offers very little customization. I want my phone to be mine, not Apple's. Android has simply changed my needs in a smartphone to the point where the iPhone isn't enough anymore. But that's me.

For those of you considering the iPhone? It's a great phone that can pretty much do everything you expect it to and because of 'there's an app for that', it can do more things other phones can't. There's definitely a number of users where the iPhone won't work at all--if you need a physical keyboard, if you need multitasking, if you need a replaceable battery, if AT&T is horrendous in your area--don't get an iPhone 3GS, look somewhere else. But if that doesn't apply to you, get an iPhone, despite my complaints, it's still one of the best options on the market.

Or you can remember that everything the princess phone can't do, Droid does. =) We kid.

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Casey Chan
  • The Droid is the best phone out....PERIOD! Don't get fooled by the new Nexus One and Iphone!
  • Are there seriously already Droid fanboys? OK, I won't get "fooled" by a phone with better specs and minus the crappy Moto construction...
  • I won't speak in extremes, it comes down to preferences. Personally the keyboard trumps the spec upgrades, but that's all me. I hated motorola and railed against then for years but the Droid is a very sturdy reliable device. I have no idea about HTC since this is my first smartphone since Kyocera's Palm phone, but I've been nothing but in love with my Droid, even when comparing it to the fantastic iPod Touch experience I've had. I definitely wouldn't choose even the iPhone 3GS over it.
  • You say this: >>I won't speak in extremes, and then you say: >>I hated motorola
    >>I've been nothing but in love with my Droid
    >>I definitely wouldn't choose even the iPhone 3GS over it. I'm just saying...
  • I recently dumped my 3GS and AT&T and went back to Verizon and got the Droid. The droid is IMO Verizons answer to the iphone finally. I do love the droid. The real reason i left was .....well....AT&T is horrible to put it lightly. What good is an Iphone if you can really only use it at home with your Wi-Fi? I did love my Iphone....it is a great phone but you cannot beat the Verizon Network. Now they have the droid!!!! Get one...you WILL love it
  • Well I love the iPhone but once the droid came out and I found out you can do so much more with it I had to have it and I dont I love the droid a lot so if you want a smartphone that allows you to have a lot more freedom then the droid is what you want.
  • Thanks for the very interesting review. It does confirm what I already thought, that the iPhone is still holding the crown, even if barely. And that the competition is running behind and is now very close. They will even get ahead in a while, because they don't have the iPhone shortcomings. The years to come are going to become very very interesting, and it's all the best for us! NB: I am in France where all carriers have the iPhone. So I cannot judge for the AT&T crap... We have the chance to have only GSM/3G carriers, so they all fit!
  • "In short, it's pretty much the worst type of notification possible." Hahahaha! I love that quote from this review, and I totally agree (and I am an iPhone user who loves my 3GS). That's one of the main reasons while I am jailbroken. I really hope this is something Apple addresses in the next iteration of the OS or the next iPhone. I thought this was a really good review, and very fair in its praises and criticisms.
  • I liked you review... I'm an iphone 3GS user and it's really sad the way apple cripples the phone. Most of the things you talked about: customization, multitasking and widgets can be done if you jailbreak your phone. The 3GS handles multitasking really well, and it hardly ever crashes, even with big apps like games and stuff. That's why a person who jailbreaks hardly ever go back to a standard Apple iphone. I probably wouldn't change to an android phone right now, but I like the fact that it's bringing Apple some competition. That way, we only hope the iphone gets better and better. Also, congrats on the Smartphone round robin iniciative, it let's us take a peak at other platforms and compare what's happening out there.
  • Nice review. You addressed all the gripes most people have with the phone. Honestly, if it wasn't for jailbreaking, I would be miserable with my 3GS. Jailbreaking gives you complete control and there are apps that address almost every problem you listed (multitasking, customization, settings toggles, etc.). Apple would be wise to include some of these features in the next gen iPhone.
  • the iphone was evolutionary in its time, but its time is fading. it was nothing revolutionary. it did many things other phones did, it just streamlined it and packaged it in a way that made people want it. the only things this article states that the iphone does better than a droid is multitouch and stability. since ive never had multitouch, i dont miss it. Stability on an iphone is easy, since every version runs the same system upgrade, and they all have the same resolutions (no matter how far behind its getting). the iphone may hold the crown in sales numbers and amount of ibots that blindly love a company that doesnt love them back, but google takes the cake in the smartphone market. Unless the next iphone is a major upgrade, expect apple to fall to a #2 position worldwide in a year or 2. stability is something that google needs to work on though. the system is too splintered with different versions. They need to work on getting that as uniform as possible. as of right now there are handsets releasing with 1.5, 1.6, and 2.1. Thats just simply ludacris as 1.5 might have the most stable apps, but it doesnt get all the apps because of lack of features. 2.1 might get all the apps but its the least stable as many a Droid user can tell you. Not all apps are optimized for every version. Force closing is too common. By the end of 2010, Google needs to force all handsets, base Android or custom like the Motoblur(Cliq) to be on the same OS release... otherwise they will never achieve any stability.
  • I am the IT Director for my company. I have an iPhone 3G. As a matter of fact, we have a great number of employees with iPhone 3Gs and 3GSs. This has been the easiest smartphone EVER for my to integrate with my network. Everything from WiFi to Email has worked wonderfully. I have a couple of people using Android phones. They are both happy with their devices. The only issue I have is the lack of Exchange Email support on Android phones. I love the iPhone, but I also understand it is not for everyone. I think the greatest achievement of the iPhone is making other handset providers wake up. Now that they have, Apple will be even more innovative to ensure the iPhone stays in the forefront. As for service with AT&T...I love it. It is great here in Memphis. I hear all the complaints about the service in even larger metro areas. The funny thing is that whenever we go to trade shows in these larger metro areas (including such places as San Francisco and Chicago) those with Verizon service usually end up giving up on using their phones or data cards, and end up borrowing from those of us on AT&T.
  • I'm sure others have said this before, but a jailbroken iPhone answers most of its shortcomings. Limping my 3G along, I slapped on a nicely designed theme, picked up a free video recorder (which isn't available for the 3G) from the "jailbreak app store", got an app to allow user controllable backgrounding with a simple intuitive UI (hold the home button longer to un/background)... and, of course, the killer app SBSettings (SB - SpringBoard ~ iPhone desktop; which gives the ability to control WiFi, 3G, Edge, BT, GPS, brightness, kill processes and more by simply swiping across the top of the screen from any app). And for the geeks amongst us, there's just something satisfying about SSHing to your mobile phone and poking around the file system. I'll continue to use my 3G until the next iPhone hardware upgrade, but I might eventually have to pick up an Android phone if I can swap the SIMs. I really like what Google has done and can't wait to see what they come up with next (have you seen Google Sky Map with a magnetometer and GPS enabled device!?). Bottom line.. Apple, and now Google, are setting the bar pretty high that Microsoft, RIM and other mobile OS developers never came close to touching. What are these devices? Pocket computers with a phone program. Period.
  • ha.. Like microsoft ever stood any ground to begin with.. and RIM is still the choice of most businesses and departments.
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  • A very good review, I must say & totally agree. If it was not for Apple, probably nobody would have thought about Touchscreen Phones!! I would like to point an error in your review on performance of the iPhone. By introducing a faster processor to run just one app, it is obvious that all of the system's resources as diverted to running that app efficiently. That is the no.1 reason why the user experience is the best in iPhone & it is also the reason why the phone never crashes. It is common sense, use any phone to do just one thing at a time & I can guarantee for lifetime that it shall never crash!! Android & Symbian offer multitasking & I appreciate that the processors r equipped to handle much more without crashing. Thats where I hate Apple completely.
  • The software update/upgrade problem on the droid is with google. They no not released 2.1 on anything but their own phone.
  • Brilliant review - and I completely agree with you, however not with a particular comment. @ anonymous < top of screen comment section, how is the DROID the best phone out, period? It lags and comes with the classic 'Motorola Smell' of cheap highly produced plastics when the back cover is taken off. I have a HTC Hero, i'm running Android 2.0 on it - I did this myself, and i'd rather have this than the Droid. Also, your DROID will break when I drop it down the stairs, my HTC Hero didn't < not even a broken screen! As for the Nexus vs the iPhone the Nexus sways it for me, because it multi tasks - and does so efficiently. How come your not comparing the Palm Pre anyway Android Central? WebOS is the best software on any mobile phone in the world. Regards, Jakk
  • I'm an android fan but I believe the iphone and droid has superior touch screens. The other android devices' touch screens are finicky and not very accurate :/
  • As a long time Mac user the iPhone is a good companion for someone who already has a Mac or is planning on buying a Mac. Everything just syncs well. I am really anticipating the iPhone 4G and the upgrades that will come with it. http://www.diverse-group.com/menu/blog.html