Mental Ward

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MiPhone

Well, I've done it now. Gone and enlisted in the iPhone army. Seeing as how I'm a buck private, much of this may be old news. Still, I'm excited about it, and wanted to pass that excitement along for those of you considering joining Steve's Army.

I used to have a Cingular 8525, but found it to be less than ideal. As a texting device, it was fabulous. The problem is that I'm not a texting addict, like my daughter; I believe she'd give up air before texting. I'm old-fashioned, I guess -- I like calling and talking to people. You know, that whole wacky "interaction" thing.

One of the things I really wanted was the ability to surf the Internet. In that regard, the 8525 was, like most Windows Mobile devices, a letdown. Most mobile-enabled versions of Web sites are lame in the extreme. Almost no graphics, lousy navigation, and nothing but the most popular stories are what you get with the majority of them -- and that's from the ones that actually have a mobile version of the site available. The ones that don't are pretty much useless for cellphone browsing. That included most of the ones I like to visit. So, after paying for the unlimited data plan for a few months, I killed it, since I wasn't using the Internet functionality.

In addition, the 8525 is bulky and heavy, the cellphone equivalent of lugging around a 60-pound pack. It did have a number of features I liked, including a mobile version of the Office suite. On the whole, though, I didn't use many of its capabilities. Essentially, it was just a phone for me. If I wanted just a phone, I would much rather use my old Razor.

So last week I took the plunge, and got a black 16GB iPhone from my local AT&T store. Since then, it's been my near-constant companion. Here's what I like about it:

-- GPS. It's hard to quantify the value of GPS. I used it to direct the kids and me out to a Barnes & Noble bookstore Saturday. It worked flawlessly, even without the turn-by-turn directions you'll get on a Garmin or TomTom (and that ability is undoubtedly on the way). And yesterday, on the way to Gettysburg, I found every McDonald's on the way simply by typing the company name in the search field. Again, this is no big deal for many of you used to GPS on a daily basis; for me, it's a revelation of historic proportions (yes, I know I sound like a fanboy. Hard not to, in your first few iPhone days). It also means I have no need of a separate GPS.

-- Full Safari Web browser. Absolutely fantastic stuff. I can view every Web site as it was meant to be viewed. Some sites, like ESPN and Google, have iPhone-tuned sites; even better. But those that don't are still eminently usable. I discovered that my little town in north-central Maryland does not yet have 3G (d'oh!), but I was told that it's coming soon, possibly as early as next month. When that happens, I'll rejoice, but for now, Edge is good enough (and I'm quickly learning where the wi-fi spots are in my area). It may take longer to load than 3G, but at least I'll see each site as it was meant to be seen.

-- App Store. Is there any doubt that this is the future of smartphones? So far I've downloaded 11 apps, a mixture of productivity, games, fitness and news apps. My personal favorites:

  • Scrabble (the best game of all time for editors/writers). Works flawlessly. But the "average" setting for a computer opponent means makes it feel like you're playing against William F. Buckley -- it seemingly knows every word in the dictionary. I downgraded to an "easy" opponent.
  • FileMagnet. This program transfers programs between a Mac and the phone.
  • RunKeeper. Using the GPS function, RunKeeper tracks your time, pace and distance. Then, when your run (or bike ride) is over, just hit "Save" and your workout data is sent to RunKeeper's Web site, where it not only shows you that information, but provides a map showing your route. Very impressive.
  • Cro-Mag Rally. I'm not a big fan of video games; for whatever reason, I've just never been able to stick with one for long (except Microsoft Flight Simulator, but that's probably because I'm a private pilot). Cro-Mag is a standard race game, with a cool twist: you tilt the iPhone around to steer. It's like using a Wii in that regard, and really ramps up the fun. And, given the small screen size, it doesn't make me nauseous the way my kids' PS2 does.

There are literally thousands of apps available now, and more coming on board seemingly hourly. And they aren't, for the most part, expensive (of course, they do add up. Remember when you first started using iTunes, and you thought "Hey, this is cheap!" Then you looked at your store receipt a week later and realized you'd downloaded $200 worth of songs, a buck at a time? It's insidious.) This makes the iPhone a platform (yeah, a closed one, but as of now there are no lack of developers, it seems), expanding its usefulness a hundred times over a Razor or BlackBerry.

One other thing I really like about it: I use reading glasses, and it was very hard to see the phone numbers to dial on my 8525 without the glasses. The iPhone's buttons are huge and easily readable without my glasses. A small, but for someone like me with old eyes, important hidden advantage.

And, of course, it's an iPod, too. Believe it or not, the first one I've ever owned (not sure I should even admit that; but hey, we're all friends here, right?).

What do I not like about it? I'll get back to you.

Posted by Keith Ward on 09/02/2008 at 12:48 PM


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