August 1, 2007

iPhone in Australia

I've got an iPhone! I asked my sister to post it to me from Los Angeles express, because I knew until I got it I wouldn't sleep well. It finally arrived on Monday and to be truthful I haven't been able to focus on anything properly since then. Buying the iPhone was a calculated risk for me here in Australia but I figured even if I couldn't get it working as a phone at least I'd be able to activate it and use it on my home WiFi network, and as an iPod.

To say the iPhone is one of the most amazing consumer electronics devices ever released is spot on. It makes all other phones on the market look prehistoric. Think about it like this. Your normal phone is like a skateboard missing three of its wheels, and the iPhone is like the latest Ferrari. Sure, the broken skateboard will let you get from point A to point B but you'll be well shaken by the time you get there.

It's not the features of the iPhone (2 MP camera, WiFi, 8GB memory, iPod, Stereo headphone jack, large 9cm display, Google Maps, YouTube, Desktop class web browser and email client) that make it phenomenal, it's the completely radical new interface that puts it on another level. You do everything on the iPhone with your finger. To scroll up and down a list you simply flick your finger, to select an item you tap it with your finger, to zoom in on a photo you place two fingers together and then spread them apart. You have to see it to believe it.

You've also got to remember that this thing is the latest generation iPod. It makes the older style iPods with the scroll wheel look ancient. Now, you browse your music in CoverFlow mode with album art. Tap on the album you like and the cover swings around to reveal the track listing. Tap the track and the built-in speaker comes to life. Plug in the iconic white headsets that comes with iPhone and you are good to go.

At $500 USD the iPhone isn't cheap, but costs about the same as equivalent smart phones like the Blackberry Curve or the Motorola Q over the course of a two year contract. There has also been some discussion on the merits of the on-screen virtual keyboard. In my testing typing has been at least as fast, if not faster then on my Blackberry.

The iPhone however is not without it faults. For instance I don't think die-hard Blackberry users will want to wait until the email program is improved. You can't mass delete a group of emails for instance. Also, if you like installing third-party software on your phone forget the iPhone. It's a closed system at the moment. The only way developers can take advantage of iPhone is to write web 2.0 style applications that run it the browser. Luckily, I expect most of the short-comings to be fixed in subsequent software up-dates. It's also important to remember that this is a first generation product. Just imagine how good the iPhone will be in three or five years time.

Unfortunately the iPhone won't be available in Australia until 2008. While you are waiting for it check out the latest group of smart phones on the market. Most offer similar features to the iPhone, but lack the sophistication, elegance and thoughtful design that only Apple seem to be releasing these days.

Motorola Q 9h

This is Motorola's second generation Q and runs the latest version of Windows Mobile 6. It's claim to fame is its fast HSDPA connection that delivers true mobile broadband. The Q9 has a great keyboard with one glaring problem. The delete button is in the top set of keys (grouped with the answer and end call buttons) and not where it should be. This creates confusion initially, and then frustration when you realise the delete key also functions as the back key as well. It's schizophrenic. Also, the lack of WiFi is to be expected in an HSDPA phone, however data plans remain too expensive in Australia and will limit the usefulness of the Q. The Q 9h is available exclusively on Vodafone for $799.

Pros
Bright Screen
HSDPA
Stereo Bluetooth
Smooth syncing with your PC
2.0 MP Camera

Cons
Delete key in the wrong spot
Windows Mobile still too slow
No WiFi
No bundled Mac support
Proprietary charging/data cable

Samsung BlackJack

This is Samsung's first foray in to the smart phone market and it's a success. The BlackJack manages to cram a full size qwerty keyboard in to a device that only weighs 105 grams and is 11.8mm thick. The BlackJack runs Windows Mobile 5.0 (with talk of an update to version 6 in the works) and also runs on the HSDPA network. Like the Q you can read Microsoft Office documents but can't edit them. WiFi is also standard on the BlackJack which makes the browsing experience more tolerable when outside an HSDPA zone. The 2.3" screen is bright and crisp, and the keyboard has a great tactile feel with positive feedback and the predictive text function works a treat. The BlackJack retails for $899.

Pros
HSDPA
WiFi
Great keyboard
Comes with two batteries

Cons
Proprietary charging/data cable
No Mac support
Battery life with Bluetooth on limited

BlackBerry Curve

The Curve is like the BlackBerry curve with a full size keyboard. Unlike the 8800 (BlackBerry's business grade phone) the Curve's keyboard is easily the best to have ever shipped on a BlackBerry. The Curve also features a 2MP camera and a 3.5mm standard headset for using regular earphones. The Curve has a large, bright screen and features BlackBerry's market leading push-email solution that neither the BlackJack or the Q 9h can beat (nor the iPhone for that matter). The speakerphone is loud and clear and the battery life with Bluetooth enabled is excellent. The Curve retails for $739.

Pros
Great keyboard
2.0 MP Camera
Standard headphone jack
Built in Maps application can use a Bluetooth GPS module
Mac support

Cons
Multimedia functionality still too slow
No HTML email support

Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is a suite of productivity applications that let you perform common tasks like produce documents, spreadsheets and presentations. While Office is usually bundled with new machines buying it as a stand-alone product can be very expensive. That's why you should consider other alternatives before you make your decision.

One free alternative is called OpenOffice. OpenOffice is available as a free download from www.openoffice.org. It runs on all platforms (Mac, PC and Linux) and can talk the same language as other office suites, including Microsoft Office. That means you can exchange files, including those with .doc, .ppt or .xls extensions with others who are using Microsoft Office. As well as the regular office features, OpenOffice features also features a database program called Base and a program called Math that easily lets you create mathematical equations.

Another free alternative to Microsoft Office is called ThinkFree. Like OpenOffice, ThinkFree features a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications. ThinkFree is also compatible with Microsoft Office. Another nice touch with ThinkFree is the ability to save any ThinkFree document in to PDF format. You can do this with all the other packages as well but it requires installation of extra software. ThinkFree also offers ThinkFree Online which is an online version of its ThinkFree package and includes all the main packages.

Lastly, if you don't need a presentation package (like PowerPoint) then I suggest you try Google Documents and Spreadsheets. You don't need to download any additional software, just go to docs.google.com, sign in with a free account and start your document or spreadsheet. While Google Docs isn't a full featured word processor or spreadsheet program like ThinkFree Online I think it does most of the basic functions well enough, and you get the benefit of having all your documents backed up online all the time. Also, if you've already got a Google account you can access your docs by clicking the docs link at the top of any Google page.