Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve been a long-standing fan of the Windows Mobile Smartphone. I’ve always owned Windows Mobile devices, including my last phone – a HTC HD2. Unfortunately, with that device dying a death and Microsoft slowly killing off support for Windows Mobile, it’s now time for me to upgrade. But to which device? Android, iPhone or Windows Phone?
A few weeks ago I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, an Android device and a Windows Phone device for a few weeks at a time each, and use them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.
You can read my original blog post on the “experiment” here (go on, have a read – I’ll wait here for you).
For clarification – and to head off the hundreds of e-mails I’ll get about using an iPhone 4 instead of an iPhone 3GS, and a HTC HD7 instead of a HTC Pro, and any one of a million Android devices instead of the one I choose… the idea of the experiment is to get a feel for how each of the mobile Operating Systems looks and feels in day-to-day use. It’s not a handset –vs- handset comparison, more an OS –vs- OS round-up.
With that in mind, for the past three weeks I’ve been using an iPhone 3GS. How did I find it?
One of my main justifications for resisting the iPhone for so long is the “Apple Tax”. In terms of comparison with other Smartphones – you pay a lot for both the handset and network carrier tariff to own a new iPhone.
My way of avoiding the “Apple Tax” for this experiment was to procure an old iPhone 3GS. Yes, I know the iPhone 4 is faster, slimmer, sexier – but remember that I’m testing the O/S, not the handset.
Setting up the iPhone was simplicity itself. I was connected, making and receiving phone calls and text messages, hooked up to Wi-Fi, sending and receiving e-mail and installing Apps really quickly.
My only niggle here is the fact I could only do this once I’d hooked the iPhone up to my PC through the frustrating iTunes software. But for simply installing the ‘phone and syncing the odd update and Podcast, iTunes did it’s job.
I like the fact you can start the device without having a SIM card present (I’m still using the iPhone without a SIM as a glorified iPod Touch at the moment) but hot-insert a SIM and you’re on-line. I’d have preferred a more convenient mechanism for getting to the SIM holder than having to carry paperclips around with me to pull the SIM slot out with, but this is a niggle.
The ability to hot swap SIM’s was very useful to me during the experiment when I needed to return to my HTC HD2 briefly for certain things – such as using a Sat Nav. I tried using Google Maps on the iPhone as a Sat Nav, but I found the 3GS screen too small to use in-car and so I yielded to temptation and used my HTC HD2 with Alk Co-Pilot for journeys, before swapping back to the iPhone when I had reached my destination.
In-Car use with the iPhone was also frustrating due to the fact the iPhone has no quick access to a Bluetooth Switch. If I wanted to use my In-Car Bluetooth Hands free kit with the iPhone, I needed to go into Settings > General > Bluetooth to do so. It was frustrating and could have been made easier by having an app that allows one touch on/off of Bluetooth – but apparently Apple forbid this in their Terms of Service, so no 3rd Party app is available to do this. So I was constantly forgetting to turn Bluetooth off and so it was draining my battery life.
Talking of Battery life. The plus side of the iPhone is that because it’s so versatile, with so many cool apps and features – I was using it a lot more than any Smartphone before it. In fact, I was using it a worrying amount. iPhone addiction? The downside is, as a result of this constant usage and without regularly hooking the iPhone up to an external power source, the battery depleted before a full days use.
Being the party animal that I am, from a full charge at 4pm, and with a night out on the town including taking photos of friends, checking in to Facebook places, updating Twitter, taking and receiving the odd phone call and sending the odd SMS – by 2am the iPhone had run out of juice. And it’s not like you can pop in a spare battery as the battery compartment is sealed.
I know there are ways around this, and I’ll give a nod to the iPhone 4’s increased battery life – so this goes down as handset failure rather than an O/S failure.
Talking of cool apps – the iPhone has them. In spades. This is where I fell in love with the iPhone and started to find myself overlooking all of its niggling shortcomings. The ability to carry around all my passwords securely, check train times, search for flight prices, scan barcodes, do price comparisons, read the latest news, buy stuff on eBay, read Kindle e-books, sync files, make Skype calls and play cool casual games (I’m virtually addicted to Words with Friends now) all made the iPhone much more than a mobile phone. As I said, I felt almost addicted – trying out new ideas (I’m now using FourSquare and other Geo-Location apps, for instance) due to the vast amount of free and cheap (79p) apps on offer, and then using them a lot.
I appreciate this will come as no surprise to anyone who’s used an iPhone, but I can tell you know that having come from the Windows Mobile platform where there are virtually no cool apps – this is a revelation.
(I can also give you a peek into the future of this experiment and tell you that a few days into using a Windows Phone, and I’m pining for my old apps which simply aren’t available on that platform)
E-Mail and Productivity
Using e-mail on the iPhone was enjoyable. E-Mails loaded quickly and were easy to read. I use Microsoft Exchange for business e-mails, and GoogleMail for personal e-mails. Both were very easy to setup, and I like the iPhones support for GoogleMail features – such as allowing me to Archive off old e-mails easily.
The ability to see both e-mail accounts in a single unified mailbox was a nice touch too. It made scanning e-mails simple.
Replying to e-mails (and SMS, for that matter) was easy, the iPhone on-screen keyboard simple to use and very good at correcting mistakes and predicting words.
I did miss the ability to “Send As” an e-mail address from the iPhone. I have a number of personal e-mail addresses in Googlemail, but the iPhone didn’t allow me to choose which mail to send messages from. I found workarounds for this, but they were clumsy and kludgey.
I also found the iPhone Calendar fairly slow and unintuitive, and the lack of support for Exchange Tasks and Notes was frustrating. Again, 3rd party apps exist to bridge the gap – but it’s really surprising that this isn’t natively supported by now. When out on the road, I found the iPhone an incredibly good device for consuming information – but for creating it? Not so much. I found myself e-mailing myself ideas, notes and appointments rather than using the familiar Tasks and Calendar – and then when I got back to my Desk I was putting them into Outlook “properly”.
I also found the iPhone Contacts navigation slow and clunky. With over 2,000 contacts in my Outlook address book, what I really wanted to do was tap the screen and start typing a name to be found – but the “All Contacts” screen didn’t have a dedicated search option unless I’m being dumb and overlooking something obvious – EDIT: Thanks Hilary and Bryony for pointing out that there is a search feature in Contacts, top right hand corner of the screen! I’d still like to start typing a name and for it to appear, as this would feel more intuitive, but at least I’m able to search now!
Then there’s using the iPhone as an erm… phone! Compared to other handsets I’ve used, I found call quality a little poor at times and the ‘phone getting hot against my ear during long calls.
At this stage you may get the impression that I didn’t like the iPhone. I’ve acknowledged that it has many shortcomings, and doesn’t seem to be “Best of Breed” in any particularly category other than it’s 3rd party app support.
But the reality is – I loved using the iPhone. It is simplicity itself to start using and I like the way that it “just works”. It does have lots of niggles, and due to Apple’s locked down attitude – you can find it hard to work around those niggles. But you know what? None of those things are show-stoppers. I found nothing wrong with the iPhone (perhaps other than Battery life) that would stop me using it as my main phone on a day-to-day basis.
My thinking is that owning an iPhone is like falling in love. In most new relationships you start off deeply in love, often overlooking your new beau’s shortcomings because you like so much else about them. But then, over time – you get used to those new features, they become expected – and then you start to get irritated about the shortcomings.
Ok – so I’m not going to be writing for Mills and Boon anytime soon, but my gut feeling is that I’ll be this same way with the iPhone – overlooking its shortcomings for now, but as time grows on finding they become more than an irritation.
For now though, I’m in love. And I can secretly tell you that a few days in to using the second phone in my experiment, a HTC Pro handset running Windows Phone 7, all I can think about is the iPhone…
Thoughts on Windows Phone coming in a couple of weeks.