I decided that if I got into the MA program and had a guaranteed two more years in Japan I would go out and get a nice new cell phone on a two year contract. I previously had a fairly mediocre (but very cheap) smart phone when I was living in the US the year before last in the form of the Samsung Blackjack, and although its functionality was very limited compared with these newer models, having the Internet in my pocket was an amazingly useful thing. Weighing my options between Windows Mobile phones (still a disappointing OS overall, despite some impressive hardware), Android (not in Japan yet), Palm Pre (not out yet anywhere) and the iPhone, I ended up going with the iPhone.
This is the first Apple product I’ve never actually bought, but looking at it objectively there was simply no better choice at this time. Although having a music/video player, web browser and phone all in one unit was attractive enough in and of itself (particularly since my 60GB Creative Zen Vision:M is on its last legs, with the case literally cracking apart) there was a single feature that absolutely sold me when I saw it: the ability to switch between input languages just as easily as you do on a PC. Perhaps Android or the most recent version of Windows Mobile also allows this, but I had never before seen a phone that would easily and without hacking allow the installation of more than just English + one other foreign language, but picking up a friend’s iPhone I was able to immediately add a Chinese IME, without having to install any extra software from, to look up a character.
Here are some of my impressions so far, in no particular order.
- I can’t get over the multi-language features. Yesterday I switched to Korean just to let a Korean girl I know type her name in hangul into the address book.
- Being able to download new podcasts over the air is amazing.
- The touch interface is excellent for almost everything, but typing takes a LOT of getting used to, and can never be as good as a decent physical keyboard. This is particularly true for Japanese, which does not have the ability to compensate for your typing mistakes when using the full keypad in the same way the English IME does. While one can also use a telephone style numeric keypad for Japanese entry, without the tactile feedback of a traditional phone. Anyone who uses a mobile phone in Japan knows how easy it is to enter Japanese one-handed and without even looking at either the keys or screen much, and the iPhone really just isn’t as good at Japanese text entry.
- They have added “emoji” as one of the three keyboards (IMEs) under the Japanese language section, but in fact someone in any other country could install JUST the emoji IME without the actual Japanese language. I think Apple should start encouraging that, perhaps even set it as a default, and get credit for introducing a new feature to the non-Japan market.
- Battery life is really insufficient. I’m absolutely going to have to get a battery pack and spare wall outlet charging cable to carry around with me. When the same device is phone, web browser, music player, ebook reader, game player, etc. you can really suck through the battery FAST. I would be extremely happy with 50% or 100% more battery life in exchange for a couple more milimeters of thickness.
- The included headphones are absolutely terrible, but I accidentally destroyed my good old Sony headphones so it looks like a trip to the electronics store soon.
- I found a great free Chinese dictionary app called Qingwen, and a usable Japanese one called Kotoba! which uses the Jim Breen JDIC file (Qingwen uses a similar file, for Chinese.) There is also a $9 app for sale that uses the Eijiro (ALC.com) dictionary, and some commercial dictionaries, including 大辞林 and 漢字源, as well as Japanese to English ones.
- The New York Times app isn’t bad. It downloads new articles in text format and allows you to browse them offline, resize the font, etc. The free Sankei app that lets you view the paper as it is in print is cool for like a minute, before you realize that having to slide around a phone screen over an image file of gigantic broadsheet newspaper is a totally retarded way to read it. Nice job making it free, now how about delivering in a usable format?
- Although integrated email app works fine with gmail over IMAP, I wish it used gmail style threading and its other unique features. The Android mail app offers those native gmail features (since it was written by Google) and their iphone web page is excellent, but unfortunately there is no way to get that interface in a way tied to the new mail notification of the iPhone OS mail application. Hopefully Google will deliver a proper Gmail client once iPhone OS 3.0 arrives, with its notification API.
- Seriously, still no copy/paste function? How was that not in 1.0? At least it’s coming this summer.
- The lack of an infrared data port is seriously annoying. This is how EVERYONE exchanges contact information in Japan, and it’s way more convenient than any other method.
- On a related note, the iPhone address book is fairly weak, offering an annoyingly small number of different data fields. This is in contrast to Japanese phones, which have an insane number of fields on the order of a Facebook profile, even including crap like zodiac signs or blood type. (This is an even bigger problem for gmail itself, which has a truly and surprisingly lousy address book.)