All 8 entries tagged Iphone

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September 16, 2008

iPhone firmware upgrade

Firmware version 2.1 came out last week while I was away, so I just this morning got around to thinking about upgrading. If you read the Apple iPhone forums, there’s so much whingeing about the device, and about how each firmware upgrade makes things worse not better, that it isn’t an easy decision. When you think about it, though, these are a vocal minority. For every complaint on the iPhone forums there must be many, many more satisfied people who just don’t feel the need to say anything. That’s the nature of people. They complain when things go wrong, but don’t often praise when things go right.

So I hit the button and installed version 2.1. The process took just about 15 minutes and so far everything seems fine. I’ll know by this evening if the promised battery life improvements are there. If anything bad happens, you’ll be the first to know…!

September 11, 2008

VOIP on the iPhone

Writing about web page

Just last week I discovered Truphone. And today I find myself in Helsinki wanting to call home and being able to do it at a cost of just 3p per minute via the hotel’s WiFi. Brilliant! Call quality is fine. It just works. And with £1 free credit for signing up I might not have to spend any money at all on calls while I’m here.

There are versions of truphone for Nokia and other phones. They allow incoming calls too via a new UK number so callers don’t have to spend a fortune to call you either. For the iPhone, because the app can’t run in the background that doesn’t work, sadly.

But still it could save you some money if you are travelling.

August 13, 2008

iPhone 3G battery life, a practical experiment

I’ve just got back from a couple of weeks away. One of those weeks was in a tent away from any mains electricity, so I had no choice but to carry out a little battery life experiment. I was not in a 3G coverage area and there was no nearby WiFi, so both of those were turned off. Location services were turned off too, and finally I turned off both push and fetch for my email accounts, instead fetching manually when I felt the urge.

I did check my email at least once a day, and usually twice, and I did a little surfing to check weather forecasts and other stuff. But otherwise it was just a phone for the week.

I got the 20% warning after 4 days, which was a little better than I was expecting and suggests a total battery life under these conditions of 5 days. In contrast, my previous phone, a Sony Ericsson K750i, ran for 12 days before the battery died, and that’s with its original 4-year-old battery.

So, the iPhone did better than I thought, but if you regularly find yourself away from power for days on end, you might be better off with something else!

I didn’t let the battery run down completely, but instead turned to my FreeLoader to top-up the iPhone. I had charged it up before I left, and that was enough to half-fill the iPhone’s battery, giving me another couple of days. In the meantime, I left the FreeLoader charging itself back up in the sun (well…) and just about managed to keep things going by recharging every night from whatever the FreeLoader had managed to pick up. It turns out that the first half of the week was really sunny (when I didn’t need it), and the second half wasn’t (when I did), which didn’t help this process. With the weather as it is at the moment I would have eventually run out – the FreeLoader couldn’t quite keep up.

Now, most of the time I’m within easy reach of power and the iPhone’s battery life isn’t a big problem. I do occasionally find myself away from power for a few days and I was concerned that I’d need another phone for those situations but it seems not. I can get by for a week using the FreeLoader. That’s a bit of a relief!

July 22, 2008

iPhone first impressions

Follow-up to I admit it, I cracked… from Steve's blog

[This turned out to be a bit longer than I expected – sorry about that:-]

I’ve had the device for a little over a week now, so it seems a good time to post my first thoughts, which are on the whole very favourable.

First, let’s get some of the well publicised shortcomings:
  • No MMS. Yes it seems bizarre that a modern phone doesn’t do MMS, and I don’t understand how Apple could have thought it was a good idea to leave it out. But, I’ve only ever sent one and received two, so for me it isn’t a big deal. If you are addicted to MMS though, this could be a big problem.
  • No copy & paste, or indeed text selection of any kind. This I’d a bit of a pain, I concede, but only a bit. I don’t notice most of the time. Replying to emails, and having to delete large chunks of the included original is the main time I wish it was there.
  • Bluetooth is useless. Largely true. You can connect to a Bluetooth headset for making calls. But not in stereo for listening to music. You can’t send or receive pictures, music or contacts via BT. Nor can you connect a laptop to use the iPhone as a modem.
And some whinges flying about that either aren’t true, or at least aren’t for me:
  • The battery life sucks. If you run it with everything turned on, and use it all the time, then yes, the battery doesn’t last a long time. But most people seem to be comparing it to a phone, which would normally have a battery life measured in large fractions of a week. This isn’t a phone, so that’s an unrealistic expectation. If you switch off and/or don’t use all the non-phone functionality, the battery life is not surprisingly much closer to that of a phone.
  • Exchange sync doesn’t work. Well, you need ActiveSync enabled on your server, but as far as I know, once that is done (and it is on by default for version of Exchange that support it) it does seem to just work. For me at least. My iPhone beeps to indicate a new incoming message typically a few seconds before the Outlook running on my PC. And stuff created on my iPhone appears very quickly in Outlook.

OK, now that that’s over, let’s move on. For me, getting an iPhone was (hopefully) the end of a long search for a PDA to replace a Palm m505 that I had used for ages, but which was getting progressively irrelevant in these days of web services. I was using it less and less, and wanted a “PDA 2.0” equivalent. So, how does the iPhone match up? In particular, I’m looking at two different areas of functionality – web-based services and PDA functionality.

As far as PDA functionality goes, the connection to Exchange gives me contacts, calendar and email that is automatically synced and accessible from my PC and via the Exchange web interface too. The notes app on the iPhone does not sync with Exchange. Not that Exchange/Outlook’s notes functionality is that great. Being able to sync with OneNote would have been perfect. This was actually a bit of a problem for me, as taking notes on a PDA was something I did a lot. Then I discovered Evernote. This is a web-based notes app with Windows client and an iPhone client, but of which sync with the web, and therefore with each other. And all free, at least for low usage. Taking and storing lots of notes will eventually take you to the point where you have to pay, but even that is not a lot. That pretty much covers PDA functionality for me.

If you don’t have access to Exchange, you can still sync email, contacts and calendar with a local Outlook, which I’ve done for years with my Palm devices. Or pay for MobileMe. Or there are ways of faking push email using free services. Or if you are sure you’ll always have online access one way or another (part of the point of an iPhone, after all) you could just use Google’s web services.

Which brings us neatly to web functionality. The iPhone version of Safari is pretty good. With the exception of Flash, which doesn’t (yet) exist for the iPhone, everything seems to work as well as you’d expect, and generally better. The screen is small, but the multi-touch interface makes it very easy to zoom in on relevant sections of the page, and rotating the device to landscape can help a lot. I haven’t found a web site yet that I can’t use. That said, Safari has crashed on me a few times for no obvious reason. Going back to the same website immediately afterwards generally works fine. I suspect some sort of memory-related issue (leak?). Some sites detect the iPhone and present a “mobile-optimised” version of their site. Sometimes that is good, and sometimes I’d rather use the original. There isn’t usually a way of choosing. But that’s not the iPhone’s fault.

The lack of Flash is a pain, for me. Some people are enjoying browsing the web without Flash adverts and splash screens getting in the way. I’m not. There are a few sites that use Flash to present video (BBC News, ITV’s live channels, etc.) that I can’t use. For me, the sooner flash is available the better.

One thing some web service providers are doing is producing native iPhone apps to access their services, rather than providing a mobile-optimised site. I’ve already mentioned Evernote above. This approach lets them use local iPhone data, like adding camera pictures to notes or using the microphone to record voice notes. There’s a local Facebook app (and a MySpace app if you are a teenager:-), a Twitter app, etc.

Which again brings us neatly to the next point of interest – the App Store. Going back to my Palm days, there was (is) a huge development community developing applications for the Palm platform. Many are free. Those that aren’t are generally reasonably priced. And many of them are very, very good. Apple are clearly hoping to foster the same sort of developer community for the iPhone. They’ve got off to a good start. The app store has a fair amount of fluff in it, but there are gems hiding in there, even free ones. The Evernote app is great. There’s a app, if you’re a user. An eReader app, giving you access to lots of electronic books, both paid for and free. Lots of games, predictably. Finding, installing and upgrading apps is typically Apple-like, quick and easy. You can do it over the air, as well as through iTunes. You even get upgrade notifications, and can upgrade apps, over the air. It is too early to say how well this is going to take off, but there is a fair variety of apps there already so it has got off to a good start.

And finally the two areas of functionality that give the device its name – music and phone. Both of them just work, as far as I can tell. You can make and receive phone calls and texts (but not MMS and mentioned right at the beginning). And the iPod app plays music as you’d expect. The built-in speaker is actually loud enough to use without external speaker in small rooms, or for just one or two people to listen to. It is just mono, though. There is one niggle I have with the phone/iPod functionality so far:
  • I can’t see a way of forwarding a contact’s details as an SMS message – something I’m used to doing on my previous phones. Nor can you send them via Bluetooth as I said above, and of course copying and pasting into an SMS message doesn’t work either. A minor irritation for me, but an irritation nonetheless.

In summary, then, there are a few things about the device that annoyme. Things that Apple could have done differently. Fortunately, since they are all software features, there is a possibility that they will be fixed in future software upgrades. Lots of other people are moaning publically about the same things, so let’s hope Apple is listening. But in general, it is doing what I expected of it, and doing it well. And the UI is really, really nice. It is a pleasure to use! It is even a pleasure to hold!!

And since I’ve never been much of an Apple fan, that’s something I never expected to say of an Apple device. I hope this doesn’t spread, or I’ll have a MacBook Air on my shopping list next…:-)

July 16, 2008

iPhone 3G battery life

Follow-up to I admit it, I cracked… from Steve's blog

After a just a few days of playing with the new toy, my main problem with it was the battery life. I seems to get somewhere between 24 and 36 hours between charges. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised because I’m doing so much more with it that I ever did with a phone. I have WiFi & 3G enabled, and push email from Warwick’s exchange and 15 minute polls of my gmail account. And that’s before I do any surfing and other stuff. When you take all that into account, actually 36 hours between charges isn’t too bad. And the buzz on the web seems to suggest that the iPhone’s battery life is at least as good as, if not better that, most other similar smartphones.

But it does still leave me with a problem. Every once in a while I’m away from power for more than a couple of days. For example, for a week during the summer I’ll be in a tent in the middle of a field. Not a power socket in sight. Am I going to have to carry another phone to make sure I can last the week?

To try and answer that question I ran an experiment today. I turned off all the smart stuff. No WiFi. No 3G. No push or pull of email. No surfing. Just a 2G phone. As it happens, I had no calls either. The phone was configured like this after a charge yesterday evening and 24 hours later the battery indicator hadn’t moved from the green 100% full state. That’s good news. I take that to mean at least 4 days of use, and probably more, if configured just as a phone. I don’t plan on running the experiment that long, though. I can’t leave all the fun stuff turned off that long! I’ll find out for sure when I’m in my tent:-)

Actually, I do carry a FreeLoader which has an internal battery charged from solar panels, but also chargeable separately. In this country, this summer, I expect the solar panels to be useless but I’ll at least have one full re-charge for the iPhone. That should get me through the week, possibly even with a little spare for fun stuff!!!

I admit it, I cracked…

Writing about web page

I couldn’t resist. I got one. I was fortunate enough to get my order in on the O2 website last Monday morning before it fell in a heap, so no queuing for me on Friday. Nice Mr. DHL brought it straight to my door. As you probably heard, the activation process was not entirely robust and I spent from 3:00pm to about 4:30pm trying to activate the thing with no success. Eventually I gave up for a while, and when I got back to it at 8pm it worked flawlessly, and very quickly. I’m not sure I understand why it needs activating in the first place, but by all accounts I got off lightly.

My first impressions are generally very good. The UI is just brilliant. I love everything about it. It is a joy to use. The screen is much lower resolution than the Nokia N810 I had on trial at the start of the year, and lower than I expected to be happy with, but actually it is fine. I think I even prefer it to the Nokia screen. The multi-touch interface is brilliant, although there are one or two places where it doesn’t quite work. Physically the device is nice to hold – helped I guess by the rounded edges. It isn’t too heavy, so doesn’t feel like a brick if you carry it in a shirt pocket.

On the whole, the built-in apps work as expected. I’ve had Safari crash on me a few times, for no obvious reason. It doesn’t affect the rest of the phone, though, so it is only mildly annoying. The push email/contacts/calendar functionality works perfectly with our Exchange server. In fact, the iPhone generally beeps at me just a couple of seconds before my Outlook client tells me of a new email. I’ve only played with a few of the apps from the app store, and so far only the free ones. Mostly they are OK, but I’ve deleted a couple because they are flaky and crash too often. There are a few non-free ones that a quite tempting and reasonably priced. It seems like the app store could work quite well. It even told me last night about an update to one of my apps, and happily downloaded and upgraded it when I told it to. And that was without having to go through iTunes.

Pretty much my only problem with the device so far is the battery life. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but with everything turned on – WiFi, 3G, push email from Exchange and 15 minute polling of gmail, plus random browsing throughout the day, I don’t get much more than a day from the battery. This is no worse than the Nokia, but I’m used to my phone lasting a week between charges. Of course, this is more than a phone, and I’m not using it as a phone. Most of the battery tests elsewhere on the web suggest the battery life is actually pretty good when compared to other similarly capable smartphones. I’ll just have to get used to charging it everyday. I think a dock beside my bed, so it charges overnight, would work quite well.

Every once in a while, though, I’m away from power for a while. Charging it every night could be tricky during my week in a tent over the summer, for example. You can turn off all the fun stuff and just have it work as a plain 2G phone. I’ve currently got it configured that way to see how the battery copes. It is looking good so far.

I’ve not had time to do anything much with GPS & maps, other than check that it works. It gets a GPS fix pretty quickly, even indoors, and the maps do what you’d expect from Google maps.

I’ll run through the main apps in more detail once I’ve had more time to play with them and figure out what I like and don’t like about them. Watch this space.

June 09, 2008

Is my PDA wait finally over?

Writing about web page

The iPhone 3G seems to tick all the boxes, and if the UK pricing rumours turn out to be true then I think I’m going to have to be in a queue somewhere in July 11th. I can’t believe I’m saying that about an Apple product:-)

February 25, 2008

BBC iPlayer to go mobile…

Follow-up to BBC iPlayer from Steve's blog

Apparently “within weeks” the iPlayer will be available for the iPhone & iPod Touch. I guess this is just the streaming version rather than the download and watch offline version, but still, with a reasonable net connection you’ll soon be able to watch Torchwood on the move…:-)

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