The iPhone: hands-on and first impressions.

11Sep07

I finally got to play with the iPhone yesterday but it wasn’t much of an experience since most of its features were not available. There was no SIM card inserted so forget about trying out the phone feature. I tapped on the iPod button but there were no audio or video files in the iPhone. I wanted to try out Safari but no open Wi-Fi was available.

So I was pretty much restricted to fiddling around the menu, typing on the virtual keyboard and using the photo application. I’m going to focus on those.

Interface and screen.
To protect the 50,000 peso iPhone, they wrapped it in what I think is cling wrap. Does a pretty good job of protecting it I guess but I was concerned that it might mar the touchscreen experience. It didn’t. Even through the cling wrap the screen looked gorgeous. At half the brightness, the screen looked crisp and clear. Since I’ve seen the screenshots of the iPhone I more or less knew what to expect from the home screen. What I didn’t expect was the responsiveness of the screen. I’ve used Palm PDAs before and I have experienced stubborn icons that needed to be tapped twice or thrice to open. The iPhone wasn’t like that. Just gently brush the screen with your finger and the application opens instantaneously. It was really responsive and it became a bit of a problem as I’ll explain later.

I couldn’t do much of anything except to tap on icons, open the app then click the home button. The home button though seems to need a bit of pressure. I’m guessing it was perhaps because of the cling wrap. I went to the setup menu and fiddled around with settings like brightness, Wi-Fi, etc.

All in all, the screen is fantastic, the interface intuitive. It was plain fun even just using the touch screen.

Photos.
One of the things that sent a collective “Ohh…” in the audience when Steve Jobs demoed the iPhone back in January was the Photo app with the pinching and the flicking. There were only two photos and that’s no good when I want to go flicking. So I tapped the camera icon and just snapped a couple of shots around the place. With enough pictures I then tapped on one photo in the album. The picture enlarged to fill up the entire screen. Then I did the magic. I placed my index finger and thumb on the screen and then spread them apart. That zoomed in on the picture. Tracing my finger around the screen moved the picture around. Amazing! Double tapping the screen resets the picture back to filling up the screen. I had trouble there though. Sometimes when I double tapped instead of returning to the original size, it would bring up the controls for the app. Maybe it was again because of the cling wrap or I wasn’t used to the controls yet.

When I wanted to view the other images, all I had to do was flick my finger to the left or to the right. It was really fun viewing the photos that way. When I reached the last of the photos, the iPhone does a rubber band like thing that makes the last photo keeping snapping back into its place.

I then remembered another feature: landscape mode. When Apple released the iPhone guide in their website, some called the videos as fake because of how snappy and responsive the iPhone was. They said that the video was surely doctored. When the iPhone did come out, the silence from the critics was deafening.

Switching back and forth from landscape mode to portrait mode was painless to say the least. It was quick and snappy. The finger pinching of course still worked.

Virtual keyboard.
i was curious how effective the virtual keyboard was. I tapped the SMS icon and with Jobs’ voice echoing in my mind “Trust the keyboooooard,” I proceeded to type first SMS message on the iPhone. I took care not to press too hard on the screen, not because I was afraid of breaking it but rather, they said it was sensitive enough that a gentle tap was enough to register an input. Again, thinking that the cling wrap might result to a less sensitive screen, I tapped a little harder. I was surprised. I seemed that the cling wrap didn’t affect the sensitivity of the keyboard at all. I tried a much lighter touch. It still worked. Cool.

i then proceeded to actually type something. How will I do this? Hold the iPhone in one hand and use my right index finger to tap a message. How amateurish. So I did what the iPhone video guy did, held the iPhone in both hands and used both of my thumbs to type. I was sort of reluctant to do this since I was afraid I might drop the iPhone. Tap. Tap. Tap. Damn. Delete. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Oops. Delete. It would seem that trusting the keyboard wasn’t working. Is it because I wasn’t trusting enough? I tried a couple of more times.

I managed to tap out a sentence but not without deleting every now and then. The period trick suggested by David Pogue worked well. But my first time experience with the virtual keyboard, I wasn’t too happy . But I had to remind myself; Apple said it would take a week’s worth of using the virtual keyboard to become really proficient at it. Maybe I was being too hard at myself. Maybe I was being too hard at the virtual keyboard.

I quit the SMS app and opened the Notes app. I was going to give it another try. Still using the two-thumbs approach I still had difficulty in typing out a message. Perhaps a week’s worth of using the iPhone is indeed needed.

There is one annoying thing about the virtual keyboard which may be one reason why I am having a bit of difficulty using it. When using a real tactile keyboard or keypad, my natural tendency is to press one key and then slide my thumb over the other key. This is something akin to like touch typing on a keypad. But on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard, tapping then sliding your thumb to another key will result in miss typing a key. I think I need to un-learn the click-slide-click approach. With the virtual keyboard I must lift my thumb above the virtual keyboard even just so ever slightly.

My general impression: I like it but not enough to really want it. The 2 megapixel camera and the lack of a video seems to rankle at me. Another thing is the weight; even if it eliminates having to carry two devices, it has enough heft in my pants pocket to bug me. Getting a holster is maybe the solution. Still, I’m in no hurry to go grab an iPhone. Getting one now will mean having to unlock the iPhone. That’s not something I’m willing to do either. Why? That’s for another post.

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