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Thursday, August 07, 2008

iPhone 3G First Impressions

No bars.

That’s my initial impression of the iPhone 3G. I have no bars in my South Side office. None. Nada. Occasionally one. Once in a while, the 3G icon lights up to taunt me into thinking I can pick up my email or watch that YouTube video. But then just as quickly it drops to Edge, and soon after gives up altogether.

Those of you who’ve been following my relentless assimilation to all-things-Mac over the past year will probably be alternatively relieved/irritated that I haven’t fully imbibed the Kool-Aide. Yes, my household has become progressively Apple-ified. I have a new iMac, my daughter (at some urging from myself) spent probably twice the price of a new PC on a mid-level Macbook, 4 of my kids now own iPods of some sort, and my wife has two. And now, the iPhone.

I’ll paraphrase my friend, who on Facebook wrote something like, “My iPhone is great for everything except making and receiving phone calls.” That about sums it up. You can review the criteria I had for this thing when I was agonizing over a new smart phone. I didn’t really mention the ability to make or receive phone calls because I thought that would be implicit in the definition of a smart PHONE. You know, something that you use to make PHONE CALLS. Sadly, I’m not sure the iPhone should be classified as such a device yet.

I thought initially that the problem was just unique to my building. I’ve had less than optimal reception down here. But generally, I have been able to get calls. Mostly from my mother, who has a knack for calling me whenever I’m in the room with a patient. Usually doing something that shouldn’t really be interrupted by a personal phone call. I’ll give you an example:

ME: OK, Mr. Smith, if you’ll assume the position, we can get down to the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Mr. Smith: Doc, I really hate this part.

ME: You and me both.


ME: Er.

Mr. Smith: You need to get that, Doc?

ME: Well…probably I should…it’s my mother.

Mr. Smith: Hey, no problem, go talk to your mom. I can wait.

ME: Ma? Yeah. I’m fine. FINE. FIIIINNE! Yes. I’m good. I can’t talk. I CAN’T TALK. I’ll call you back. Yeah. OK. Yeah. OK. Yeah, g’bye.

The truth is I make it a point to answer my mom’s phone calls because I’m always worried she’s calling to tell me someone has died. Also because if she can’t get in touch with me, she assumes that I died.

So it was in this light that I decided to preemptively contact her to give her my new phone number. Yeah, I know, I could have ported my old number. But for some reason it wasn’t working, and as I stood around in the middle of the mall at the AT&T booth for over an hour trying to figure out who to call to release my 14 year old mobile number, I just gave up. So I called my mom one morning to give her the new number. It was not pretty.

ME: Ma?

Mom: WHAT??

ME: Ma? It’s me, Mark.

Mom: WHAT??

ME: Can you hear me?


ME: Mark. MARK!

Mom: Markileh, is that you?



ME: NO, I’m FINE!!





That was actually a pretty good call. Most calls from the office don’t even make it to the dialing stage. In fact, I’m not even sure my mom got the correct number, since I haven’t had any more interrupted Pap smears.

Initially, I thought the problem was with AT&T’s network, as the signal does improve as I move out of the neighborhood. But even at home, I’m noticing a discrepancy between the iPhone and other phones. For example sitting in the kitchen, I get one bar while my wife has three on her Motorola Razor, which uses the same network.

There are some other minor problems which probably wouldn’t have been an issue with a Windows Mobile phone. I need to sync with my Mac at home, since that’s where all of my iTunes music is. But that means that I can’t also sync with my office PC for appointments and contacts. I COULD choose to pay Steve Jobs ANOTHER $100 a year for Mobile Me, which would let me keep all my calendars in sync, but a) I think I’ve given him enough money, b) I don’t think I should have to pay for this, and 3) my wife has tried the service and is unimpressed in the extreme with its performance and reliability.

So the current fix is to export contacts and appointments from Outlook in a format that iCal or Apple Address Book can read, mail them to my gmail account, and then remember to download and import them later to my iMac when I get home. Obviously, this has “major screw up potential” written all over it, and I need to come up with a more fool-proof system for this.

In all it’s a shame, because what does work on the iPhone is very cool.

It has successfully replaced 3 of my other gadgets (old phone, iPod, and PDA). We’ve discussed its merits as a phone. It should be noted though, that the bluetooth works nicely with my car.

It ably replaces my iPod, although it does have half the storage capacity, which forced me to go through my library and pick and choose songs instead of dumping the whole thing in. This in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I had a lot of crappy music in there. I still have a lot of free space on the iPhone, and I may go back and liberalize the collection a bit.

As a PDA, it is certainly not as robust as my Dell Axim was. Aside from not having the convenient Outlook integration I had before (see above), it’s just harder to enter data into, and I found the stylus was much more precise for manipulating the touch screen than my finger or thumbs. But I am getting much better at it as time goes on. Some useful applications are not available to me, and I’m constantly watching the app store to see if alternates become available. Most distressing is the fact that solitaire, which has been free on every computer and handheld I’ve ever owned since the 80’s, now costs about ten bucks for a decent version. Sheesh!

The GPS is cool, when I can get a decent signal for it to work. Here’s an example of when it came in handy: Last week we decided to take a family trip down to Kenosha where they had a reenactment of a European trader/Native American gathering with role-players in costume and authentic gear, tents, demonstrations, etc. Plus Pirates. I realize Pirates don’t really belong in this Great Lakes setting, but whatever. It was the Pirates that brought us out.

So I got the directions over the internet on my iPhone and followed them down to the place. We found a parking lot off the beach and got out and decided to walk. There were no traders/Indians in sight. So, just for the heck of it, I decided to fire up the GPS on the iPhone, which told me that we had parked probably 10 blocks north of where we wanted to be. Not only that, but I had the option of loading satellite imagery into the map (it’s basically Google Maps) and could see both the parking space where we were, and where the gathering was supposed to be. Normally, it would have been 25 minutes and a lot of sweating and kvetching before we found out we were in the wrong place. Afterwards, my wife did a search for “ice cream” on the same map, and a bunch of pins appeared listing all of the nearby places. Of course, none of them were kosher, but you see the appeal. We did find a CVS and got some prepackaged stuff.

It takes great, 2 megapixel pictures:

Videos look very good on this thing, much better than they do on the computer. Provided you load them via wi-fi. Loading YouTube over 3G or Edge gets you a much more stuttery, low-rez version that’s not really fun to watch.

The medical software I needed is available, but it’s not as full-featured as the PDA version, and is missing the CME module, which is what I was actually using. But I’ll give them time to update it.

It needs to be charged once a day at least, according to my current usage (admittedly high because of the new goofing around factor), but it’s really nice that I can sit it in my car’s iPod dock and it will charge as I drive. So I no longer worry about a few in-car phone calls draining my phone. Which is good, because I think it’s one of my office manager’s policies to page me every time I get onto the highway. Also, I still have nightmares about the time I got into an accident in a snow storm and watched my phone slowly die as I waited for AAA to call me back.

Although the TuneFlex is not designed for the iPhone, it does work with an iPod Touch so hopefully nothing bad is happening. And it’s nice that it pauses the music when a phone call comes in, which didn’t happen before. So from that perspective, it is a success.

I’m certainly willing to give AT&T and Apple more time to fine-tune things. It’s distressing that it’s not very reliable as a phone, but that is why I still carry a pager, and the truth is I do most of my calls from land lines anyway. No, NOT bad spines! LAND LINES! LAAAANNND LLLIIIINEEEESSSS……….


RaggedyMom said...

You seem to have the most complicated life, ever. Which is kind of awe-inspiring.

But does something like the iPhone actually eventually make life less complicated? Or just find new ways of cataloging the insanity? I hope you get to working out the kinks in this thing ASAP.

When I see your mom around town (inevitably) I'll let her know that your kidney stones and spine situation are much better.

PsychoToddler said...

I don't know if I have the most complicated life, ever. But it would be fair to say that I do complicated things. Like, I just taught myself how to use Pro Tools, a cryptically documented, unintuitive, professional recording studio software package, and I'm proud to say I've done pretty well with it.

It's a relief to know I can still do that with this almost 42 year old brain.

As for the iphone--I think getting rid of gadgets on the bat-utility belt is good for my posture, so I'll give it an overall thumbs up.

Talking on the phone is so overrated, anyway.

Jack said...

And to think I could of have purchased one of dem fancy doohickeys.

Eli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eli said...

Thought you might find this interesting:
iPhone 3G's Sluggish 3G Could Be Caused By Lousy Chipset

I'm enjoying my Moto Q9c (with GPS, Google maps, easy Outlook integration, etc.) And it's a good *phone*, too. (But I don't use it for music.)

wanderer said...

1) Mobile Me is available for $76.99 on Amazon. It has worked flawlessly for me (admittedly on a Mac), but is supposed to work with Outlook. Many of the initial glitches with its roll-out have been resolved (which is when I think your wife tried it). Sounds like it will simplify your life significantly.

2) Be careful comparing bars between non-3G phones and your iPhone. 3G is able to use more than one cell tower to triangulate its signal, and fewer bars does not necessarily mean worse quality calls. Also three bars with one manufacturer doesn't necessarily equal three bars with another.

3) Soltaire is now available for free on the App Store! And its nice. You should also try Pandora, which I think you'll enjoy.

aoc gold said...

O wind , why do you never rest,

Wandering, whistling to and fro,

Bring rain out of the west,

From the dim north bringing snow?

~by wow powerleveling

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