Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, I’ve gone over to the dark side. I now own a piece of Apple tech. Okay, it’s not my first, where I got donated an old eMac to play with a while back (the ones that blow capacitors out all the time — meaning it was a time bomb anyway). But don’t worry, I won’t be sucking Steve Jobs’ ween any time soon. My choice for hardware upgrade for work was between yet another shitty Blackberry, or an iPhone — and given that one can do VPN and one can’t, my choice was obvious. The fact that I had to pay for my hardware upgrade, making it technically *my* phone, just on work’s data plan, means I did directly contribute to Apple’s bottom line personally. But we’ll let that fact slide for the time being.
The Retina display is very nice, though it’s certainly not all it’s cracked up to be in one respect — giving the extra pixels to the phone’s display smooths edges and does in fact make “pixellation” completely disappear, but it does not in any way add to the amount of information you can see on the screen at a time. I’ve found myself very regularly holding the phone disquietingly close to my face, to the point where Jodi told me once not to arch my head so far forward lest I give myself some sort of neck injury. It’s certainly brighter than my old Blackberry Curve 8320. I can tell mostly because when heading to bed, I often use my phone as a flashlight after having turned out all the other lights in the house.
The big killer app is VPN access, as I said earlier. Apparently you can connect a Blackberry to a VPN, but as far as I can tell, only in situations where it’s associated with a Blackberry Enterprise Server. We don’t have one at our workplace, using BIS exclusively, so I’ve never had the option of connecting my older BBs to VPN. Besides, without some way to connect to a server either via SSH or RDP, it would be useless to connect it anyway. That said, the iPhone works splendidly with our VPN solution. I’ve already installed five or six free RDP and VNC apps and gotten connected to my work desktop over 3G, and it’s surprisingly responsive. I can already tell though that, as I expected prior to obtaining this piece of tech kit, the onscreen keyboard is going to take some getting used to. If I can’t find an SSH app to connect to some of my servers, I’ll have to use puTTY on my work Windows box, and I will likely go blind between trying to see what’s going on in the SSH window and getting used to the keyboard that’s simply laid out differently than my muscle memory expects. In landscape mode, the keyboard is way wider spaced than I am used to, and in portrait mode, very slightly smaller-spaced. But not by much. Just enough that sometimes when I try to hit L, I hit backspace instead. SSH will be a real bitch on this phone. I shouldn’t complain though — at least now I’m capable of doing it at all! Meaning no longer will I be expected to dash home to get to my laptop in order to put out a fire when I’m out somewhere. Now I just lose points with my friends and colleagues as I put out those same fires from my phone while ignoring them!
The mail app that comes stock with iOS 4 is absolute crap compared even to older Blackberry tech, e.g. the 7250 I had strapped to my hip for three years prior to my last upgrade. The only good thing it’s got going for it is the ability to connect to Exchange, meaning I can set up my personal Gmail with push capability. It can’t “mark all as read” though, nor can it be filtered as to what comes to the phone. And the worst part is, you can’t set the return address to something other than the default for the account, meaning I can’t set my work domain’s email address and check the external server I have my work forwarded to, without exposing to the people to whom I email that external mail server’s domain. I’ve downloaded a third-party app that appears to have those capabilities and more, by the name of ibisMail, though it cost $3.99. I’m not used to paying for software if it’s not a video game, honestly. Being a Linux guy, I’m used to being the beneficiary of other geeks’ largesse in releasing their software under the GPL. I don’t know that I’ll adjust to that particular paradigm.
The camera functions are exceptional for a phone — easily better than any legitimate phone I’ve ever bought. Now, granted, I’m no Ben Zvan, but still. The cost for the hardware upgrade is probably slightly less than the last camera I bought, and you can’t exactly connect to an RDP server with a camera. The front-facing camera is slightly grainy in house lights at night, but I haven’t tried out Skype with it yet to see how it works. If Skype can even do it — I suspect Apple’s keeping the camera functions locked down for Facetime users only. Oh well. We’ll see how it works. This IS just a first impression post after all, right?
Compared to the Blackberry 8320, the iPhone 4 is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of usability. But that’s like saying a sandwich is leaps and bounds ahead in nutritional value to a slightly slimy rock. It’s simply not a fair comparison to make.