iPhone review roundup: does Apple's cellphone live up to the hype?

Over at our sister site, MYiTablet, we're gobbling up all the iPhone news and rumours we can lay our cellphone-greedy hands on, so if you're in any way excited by the prospect of Apple's first mobile and the launch on Friday you'll be wanting to pay it a visit.  Obviously top of the reading list today are the four big iPhone reviews, and we've put together a summary of them all just in case you were in two minds about raiding your bank account or waiting patiently like teacher always told you to.


Check out the summary after the cut...Walt Mossberg called the iPhone "the most beautiful and the most radical smartphone I have ever tested" and went on to explain that, despite initial keyboard misgivings which saw him want to "throw it out the window" after the first three days, after a couple more all his frustrations were assuaged.  In fact now he claims to hit speeds hitherto only reached on his Treo (we'll assume that he's pretty fast on that).  His biggest critique, then, is not so much for the iPhone itself but the network it's lumbered with: AT&T's coverage isn't country-wide, and if you're not well served by the-carrier-formerly-known-as-Cingular then it might be worth keeping your money in your piggy bank.

Of course, like everyone else the lack of 3G cellular broadband proves to be the unpleasant foil to the nippy WiFi, Walt pretty much saying that the excellent browser is severely let down by the slow EDGE connection.  Even seamless switching to whichever connection is available and faster doesn't save the situation, an opinion shared by the New York Times' David Pogue.  In a funny and well-produced video review David describes the slothful load times the phone suffers: "The New York Times's home page takes 55 seconds to appear; Amazon.com, 100 seconds; Yahoo, two minutes. You almost ache for a dial-up modem." 

David seemed to be a good example of that coverage issue Walt was concerned about; he was obviously stuck in a less-than-stellar area and suffered patchy call quality and those ponderous download times.  Still, the iPhone made a good impression nonetheless, with the Safari browser sending him into paroxysms of delight while durability of both the glass screen and metal casing was pleasantly high.

Edward Baig at USA Today calls the iPhone a prodigy, albeit one that needs to grow up.  He gives it a middling 3.5 out of 5, primarily it would seem for the lack of 3G and the rest of the features needing 'rounding out' with IM (although he notes that SMS conversations are threaded), GPS (though Google Maps give directions that can be manually flipped through), support for Flash websites (a common complaint) and better use made of the camera (which has neither flash nor video recording capability).  The keyboard gets another grudging thumbs-up together with the advice to "trust the device" and its predictive correction function, and his glee over the high-res screen just goes to show that you're well-rewarded for losing a traditional keypad.

From the sound of it, Steven Levy over at Newsweek Technology had to be coerced into playing with his iPhone thanks to a delayed flight, but he comes out of the experience happy: "one of the most hyped consumer products ever comes pretty close to justifying the bombast."  Pretty close is something we're hearing a lot of, but Steven's pro list is certainly heavy.  Ease of use rates very highly, as does general convergence of bringing together cellphone, PMP and internet terminal; he also reserves praise for the durability and engineering of the iPhone as well as the super-streamlined setup process which uses iTunes.

He's a little more reserved about the memory capacity; 4GB or 8GB sounds like plenty, but as Steven points out heavy music users "will be unhappy at the limited capacity."  The absence of a mobile iTunes client to download new music is another point of criticism: "what's the use of having Wi-Fi on an iPod if you can't go to the iTunes store?"  And for all Walt, Edward and David's content with the keyboard, Steven admits to getting nowhere close to the speeds he could manage on a traditional smartphone keyboard.  Still, he's right that heavy email users (particularly those who send a lot rather than just receive) might be better off sticking to their Blackberry. 

Battery life tended to be a case of "charge it overnight", with total talk-time managing just over seven hours in Walt's tests while David got five solid hours of video viewing or 23 hours of music (with WiFi permanently connected).

So in these learned men's opinion, should you run down to your nearest AT&T or Apple store and buy an iPhone?  None of them come away disappointed or even less than excited by the long-awaited, much-hyped cellphone, and all of them are quick to point out that the few flaws or stumbling blocks this first version has don't undermine what is likely a market-changing handset.  The safe bet, they say, is to wait until the second incarnation – likely with 3G, GPS and more – but the gut reaction?  Buy one: you won't be disappointed.

Our man Vincent Nguyen will be at the 55th Avenue Apple store in Manhattan for the launch, giving out a variety of iPhone accessories and other prizes.  Make sure you drop by and say hello if you're in the area!

Review summary via MYiTablet  – dedicated to all things Apple and touchable!