WSJ's Mossberg calls iPhone a 'breakthrough handheld computer'

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Despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer, writes the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, who on Tuesday published the first official review of the inaugural Apple handset.

In particular, the renowned technology columnist praised the Apple device's software for setting a new bar for the smart-phone industry, noting that its clever finger-touch interface works well, though sometimes adds steps to common functions.

"[iPhone] offers the best Web browser we have seen on a smart phone, and robust email software," he wrote. "It has the largest and highest-resolution screen of any smart phone we've seen, and the most internal memory by far. Yet it is one of the thinnest smart phones available and offers impressive battery life, better than its key competitors claim."

Excerpts and points of particular interest from the review have been compiled below, though readers are encouraged to check out Walt's full review, which was compiled over a two-week period with help from fellow journalist Katie Boehret.

On the upside
  • The iPhone's virtual keyboard "turned out in our tests to be a nonissue." After five days of use, Walt "was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years."
  • iPhone does work overseas, but only via an AT&T roaming plan.
  • The initial iPhone model cannot be upgraded to use the faster [3G] networks.
  • When you have access to Wi-Fi, the iPhone flies on the Web. "Not only that, but the iPhone automatically switches from EDGE to known Wi-Fi networks when it finds them, and pops up a list of new Wi-Fi networks it encounters as you move."
  • iPhone is thinner than the skinny Samsung BlackJack.
  • While iPhone does pick up smudges, it didn't acquire a single scratch during the two-week period, even though it was tossed into Walt's pocket or briefcase (and Katie's purse) without any protective case or holster. "No scratches appeared on the rest of the body either."

On the downside

  • "The phone is about as long as the Treo 700, the BlackBerry 8800 or the BlackJack, but it's slightly wider than the BlackJack or Treo, and heavier than the BlackBerry and BlackJack."
  • "While the iPhone uses the standard iPod port on the bottom edge, it doesn't recognize all car adapters for playing music, only for charging." Walt claims Apple is considering a software update to fix this.
  • "There's no overall search on the iPhone (except Web searching), and no quick way to move to the top or bottom of pages (except in the Web browser)."
  • "There's also no way to cut, copy, or paste text."
  • "If you are playing music while doing something else, the lack of hardware playback buttons forces you to return to the iPod program to stop the music or change a song."
  • "The error-correction system didn't seem as clever as the one on the BlackBerry, and you have to switch to a different keyboard view to insert a period or comma, which is annoying."
  • "It can also handle corporate email using Microsoft's Exchange system, if your IT department cooperates by enabling a setting on the server."
  • No BlackBerry email services but Yahoo Mail's free BlackBerry-style "push" email to iPhone users "worked fine."
  • iPhone can view, but can't edit or save Word or Excel files.
  • "Its battery life is excellent. In our tests, it got seven hours and 18 minutes of continuous talk time, while the Wi-Fi was on and email was constantly being fetched in the background."
  • Under the same conditions, Walt got 22 hours of music playback, over 9 hours for Internet usage, and seven hours — enough to watch 4 average movies — for video.
  • The phone interface takes more taps to reach than on many other smart phones, because there are no dedicated hardware phone buttons. You also cannot just start typing a name or number, but must scroll through a list of favorites.
  • "Voice call quality was good, but not great. In some places, especially in weak coverage areas, there was some muffling or garbling."
  • "While its two megapixel camera took excellent pictures in our tests, it can't record video."
  • "Its otherwise excellent Web browser can't fully utilize some Web sites, because it doesn't yet support Adobe's Flash technology."
  • Can't use songs on iPhone's iPod as ringtones.
  • "Apple says it plans to add features to the phone over time, via free downloads, and hints that some of these holes may be filled."

Read Walt's review in full over at The Wall Street Journal. Alternatively, readers can check out his video review.

David Pogue of the New York Times has also posted his own iPhone review.


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