This story is part of , CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice around Apple’s most popular product.
Editors’ note: Fifteen years ago, Kent German reviewed the original iPhone. He , and he had opinions — lots of them. At the time it was clear Apple had broken radical new ground in phone design. Sure, that first model was missing some common phone features, but the interface was far ahead of any other phone at the time. Eventually, Apple caught up with things like photo messaging and 3G, and it countered with innovations of its own. On the 15th anniversary of the iPhone’s birth, let’s take a trip back to what we thought all those years ago.
June 30, 2007
THE GOOD The Apple iPhone has a stunning display, a sleek design and an innovative multitouch user interface. Its Safari browser makes for a superb web surfing experience, and it offers easy-to-use apps. As an iPod, it shines.
THE BAD The Apple iPhone has variable call quality and lacks some basic features found in many cellphones, including stereo Bluetooth support and a faster data network. Integrated memory is stingy for an iPod, and you have to sync the iPhone to manage music content.
THE BOTTOM LINE Despite some important missing features, a slow data network and call quality that doesn’t always deliver, the Apple iPhone sets a new benchmark for an integrated cellphone and MP3 player.
The iPhone’s display is the handset’s design showpiece and is noteworthy for not only what it shows, but also how you use it. From the moment Apple announced its iPhone at Macworld 2007, the tech world hasn’t stopped asking questions. Because Apple has kept many iPhone details under wraps until very recently, we’ve been forced to speculate. Until now. Is the iPhone pretty? Absolutely. Is it easy to use? Certainly. Does it live up to the stratospheric hype? Not so much.
Don’t get us wrong, the iPhone is a lovely device with a sleek interface, top-notch music and video features and innovative design touches. The touchscreen is easier to use than we expected, and the multimedia performs well. But a host of missing features, a dependency on a sluggish EDGE network and variable call quality — it is a phone after all — left us wanting more. For those reasons, the iPhone is noteworthy not for what it does, but how it does it. If you want an iPhone badly, you probably already have one. But if you’re on the fence, we suggest waiting for the second-generation handset. At $599 for the 8GB model and $399 for the 4GB model, it’s a lot to ask for a phone that lacks so many features and locks you into an iPhone-specific two-year contract with AT&T. We’ll be more excited once we see a version with — at the very least — multimedia messaging and 3G.
The iPhone boasts a brilliant display, trim profile and clean lines (no external antenna of course), and its lack of buttons puts it in a design class that even the LG Prada and the HTC Touch can’t match. You’ll win envious looks on the street toting the iPhone, and we’re sure that would be true even if it hadn’t received as much media attention as it has. We knew that it measures 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.46 inch deep, but it still felt smaller than we expected when we finally held it. It fits comfortably in the hand and when held to the ear, and its 4.8 ounces give it a solid, if perhaps weighty, feel. We also like that the display is glass rather than plastic.
At a generous 3.5 inches, the display takes full advantage of the phone’s size, while its 480×320-pixel resolution (160 dots per inch) translates into brilliant colors, sharp graphics and fluid movements. Fortunately, we can report that on the whole, the touchscreen and software interface are easier to use than expected. What’s more, we didn’t miss a stylus in the least. Despite a lack of tactile feedback on the keypad, we had no trouble tapping our fingers to activate functions and interact with the main menu. As with any touchscreen, the display attracts its share of smudges, but they never distracted us from what we were viewing. The onscreen dial pad took little acclimation, and even the onscreen keyboard fared rather well in our testing. Tapping out messages was relatively quick, and we could tap the correct letter, even with big fingers. The integrated correction software helped minimize errors by suggesting words ahead of time. It was accurate for the most part.
Still, the interface and keyboard have a long way to go to achieve greatness. For starters, when typing an email or text message the keyboard is displayed only when you hold the iPhone vertically. Also, the lack of buttons requires a lot of tapping to move about the interface. Since there are no dedicated Talk and End buttons, you must use a few taps to find these features. That also means you can’t just start dialing a number; you must open the dialpad first, which adds clicks to the process. The same goes for the music player: Since there are no external buttons, you must call up the player interface to control your tunes. For some people, the switching back and forth may be a nonissue. But for multitaskers, it can grow wearisome.
Criticisms aside, the iPhone display is remarkable for its multitouch technology, which allows you to move your finger in a variety of ways to manipulate what’s on the screen. When in a message, you can magnify the text by pressing and holding over a selected area. And as long as you don’t lift your finger, you can move your “magnifying glass” around the text. You can zoom out by pinching your fingers together; to zoom in you just do the opposite.
The iPhone’s only hardware menu button is set directly below the display. It takes you instantly back to the home screen no matter what application you’re using. The single button is nice to have, since it saves you a series of menu taps if you’re buried in a secondary menu. On the top of the iPhone is a multifunction button for controlling calls and the phone’s power.
Located on the left spine are a volume rocker and a nifty ringer mute switch, something all cellphones should have and which is a popular feature of Palm Treos. On the bottom end, you’ll find the speaker, a microphone, and the jack for the syncing dock and the charger cord. Unfortunately, the headset jack on the top end is deeply recessed, which means you’ll need an adapter for any headphones with a chubby plug. Is this customer-friendly? No.
Unfortunately, the Phone doesn’t have a battery that a user can replace. That means you have to send the iPhone to Apple to replace the battery after it’s spent (Apple is estimating one battery will keep its full strength for 400 charges — probably about three years’ worth of use). The cost of the replacement is $79 plus $6.95 shipping. No, you don’t really need a removable battery in a cellphone, but like many things missing on the iPhone, it would be nice to have, especially for such an expensive phone.
Messaging and email
For your messaging needs, the iPhone offers text messaging and email. As on many smartphones, a text message thread is displayed as one long conversation — a useful arrangement that allows you to pick which messages you’d like to answer. If you use another function while messaging, you can return to pick up that message where you left off. We just don’t understand, however, why Apple doesn’t include multimedia messaging. Sure, you can use email to send photos, but without multimedia messaging you can’t send photos to other cellphones — pretty much the entire point of a camera phone.
The iPhone’s email menu includes integrated support for Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and Mac accounts. You can set up the phone to receive messages from other IMAP4 and POP3 systems, but you’ll need to sweet-talk your IT department into syncing with your corporate exchange server. Yet the iPhone does offer a way to connect with your VPN. You can read — but not edit — PDF, JPEG, Word and Excel documents. Worse: You can’t cut and paste text when composing messages.
Sandwiched between all the iPhone’s features lives Apple’s most amazing iPod yet. The display, interface, video quality, audio quality — all of it is meticulously refined and beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s trapped within a device that will cost you more than $1,000 a year just to own. Regardless, the iPhone is an exciting glimpse into what Apple hopefully has planned for its sixth-generation iPod. Apple has redeemed itself following the Motorola Rokr E1 debacle.
From an iPod perspective, Apple’s biggest triumph with the iPhone is the fact that it has returned album artwork back into the music experience in a way that goes beyond a token thumbnail graphic. Physically flipping through your music collection in the iPhone’s Cover Flow mode really brings back the visceral feel of digging through a CD or record bin. It’s a tough feeling to quantify, but the real music lovers out there will appreciate how well the iPhone reconnects their digital music to a form that is both visually and physically more vivid.
The bad news is that unlike any previous iPod, the iPhone doesn’t allow an option for manually dragging and dropping content from an iTunes library directly to the iPhone device icon. Instead, the iPhone strictly uses defined library syncing options for collecting and syncing content from your iTunes library to the device. Our 8GB iPhone was already a quarter full after only a few hours of testing, giving us the impression that users will need to be vigilant about grooming their iPhone library. An external memory card slot is another one of those “nice to have” features.
The Safari browser really sets the iPhone apart from the cellphone crowd. Rather than trudging through stripped-down WAP pages with limited text and graphics, the browser displays Web pages in their true form. It’s a surprisingly satisfying experience to see real Web pages on a screen of this size. Our only regret is that the browser doesn’t support Flash or Java.
The iPhone offers a full range of wireless functionality with support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The Wi-Fi compatibility is especially welcome, and a feature that’s absent on far too many smartphones. When you’re browsing the Web, the iPhone automatically searches for the nearest internet hotspot. Bluetooth 2.0 is also on board, which delivers faster transmission and a longer range than Bluetooth 1.2. You can use Bluetooth for voice calls, but you don’t get an A2dP stereo Bluetooth profile — another item that isn’t necessary but would be nice to have.
The iPhone has a widget for accessing Google Maps. You can see the satellite view — nice — and get turn-by-turn directions between two points, with traffic information. We tried mapping routes from CNET’s offices to various places and received accurate directions. We also like that you can get the Google satellite view.
Additional widgets are YouTube and stock information and weather reports. You can program your own tickers and get information like a share gain or loss and see the chart of a share price over time. The weather function gives you a six-day forecast for your choice of cities. No games are included on the handset.
The iPhone’s 2-megapixel camera offers a spiffy interface with a graphic that resembles a camera shutter. You’re offered no camera editing options, which we didn’t expect. That means you can’t change the resolution, choose a color or quality setting or select a night mode. There’s no flash either, and with no self-portrait mirror, those vanity shots are going to be tricky. The camera performed well in our tests, however. Photo quality was excellent, with rich, bright colors and distinct object outlines. White looked a bit too soft, but we approve overall. On the downside, you can’t shoot your own video, which is disappointing on a phone at this price.
Visual voice mail
One of the most intriguing features on the iPhone is the much-touted visual voice mail. iPhone’s voice mail works much like a text-message folder in that it displays the caller’s name or phone number and the time. What’s even more fantastic, however, is that you can listen to the message instantly by pressing the individual message — you don’t have to call your voice mail first.
The Apple iPhone has a rated battery life of eight hours talk time, 24 hours of music playback, seven hours of video playback and six hours on Internet use. The promised standby time is 10.4 days. In our talk time test, we managed 7.3 hours of battery life.