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Marc Wandschneider is a professional software developer with well over fifteen years of industry experience (yes, he really is that old). He travels the globe working on interesting projects and gives talks at conferences and trade shows whenever possible.

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Oct 15, 2008 | 02:59:43
My iPhone is dead, long live my iPhone
By marcwan

I bought an 8GB first generation iPhone 10 months ago, and have generally been thrilled with it, especially after it was jail-broken and I installed iCosta on it, which allowed me to enter Simplified Chinese characters for use here in mainland China. I had planned to, sometime after a full year of ownership, write up my experiences with the phone and general thoughts.

The theft of said iPhone in Delhi a week ago pretty much put an end to those plans. I had just taken a night train from Rishikesh in the Himalayas to the Nizamuddin station in Delhi, and was suffering from something not unlike dysentery. As I stood around in a daze at the pre-paid taxi stand trying to get a ride to the airport with my phone casually stuffed into a pocket, I must have been bumped by one of any number of people trying to get me into their taxis to who knows where and had it lifted. When I got to the Delhi airport, it was no longer in said pocket. I am sure it did not fall out of my pocket in the taxi because after I lost my camera that way in Mumbai, I started checking the back seats of cabs diligently!

So, I was without a cell phone for a week, and had some time to reflect on my unexpectedly short period of ownership. I was originally thinking I would wait until mid-late next year before looking at what the current offerings were, since the 3Gs didn’t appear to be that huge of an improvement over the first generation.

In short, my impressions of the iPhone were as follows:

  • It is awesome. I’m maybe not as fan-boy as this guy , but right from the instant I was eating dinner in a Thai restaurant and saw a friend walk in with one of them in her hand, I was sold on the form factor and huge glass screen. I find myself constantly playing with my phone, whether it be to check the weather, re-read my SMSes for the hundredth time, or otherwise just play a quick game of backgammon (note: computers can play a perfect game every time. If you set the difficulty level to “high”, be prepared to be quite depressed). This feeling of awesomeness has never worn off.
  • The glass keyboard is no substitute for a real tactile one. I owned a Treo in the past, and it doesn’t take long to develop fast, error-free typing skills on those. No matter how much practice I get typing on the iPhone, conversely, it’s a minor hassle, more so for Asian languages, where there is no room for error at all in terms of character guessing.
  • The camera is pretty ghetto. I’ve taken some nice photos with the iPhone, but really, will always carry a real camera around with me.
  • There are two missing applications, in my mind: MMS and video recording. I got around MMS by using SwirlyMMS, which has evolved into a truly excellent application over the year. This requires a jail-broken phone, but since I live in China, this was a requirement anyway. There are a couple of video recording applications that cost some money, but I haven’t bothered yet.
  • Apart from the camera, the iPhone is replacing many devices in my electronics stable. I now no longer bother with watches or alarm clocks – the phone does both of these well – and I rarely carry around pen and paper now either. I just take notes in the “Notes” application (well, “备忘录”on mine) whenever necessary.
  • The speaker is a bit quiet on the phone. I missed a huge number of calls and SMSes because I never heard them while the iPhone was in my pocket or bag.
  • The iPhone has completely obsoleted the cool little red iPod nano I have. I feel quite bad for the little guy, because it’s really a wonderful little piece of electronics. The flipside to this is that when you add video to the equation, 8GB is simply not enough. I have maybe 90 minutes of some cartoons, a few episodes of “The Soup”, and some music, and my iPhone is stuffed.
  • The device is generally quite sturdy. I have had a few heart stopping drops flat onto concrete from 3-4’, with no real damage at all. However, the phone got a huge scratch on the glass when I put it into one of those airport security plastic boxes for running through the X-Ray machine.

But really: given how much time I spend with the phone, the impressions are extremely positive. I constantly recommend it to anybody who asks.

After arriving in Beijing, I went out and purchased a new iPhone, this time opting for a 16GB 3G phone. I plugged it into my Mac, and iTunes (after upgrading to a new version grrr) offered to restore all my settings, which I accepted. The loss of my old phone was not a big deal in most regards—I had my contacts, calendars, and such things backed up to my laptop. The Notes application, however, supposedly did not do backups, and I was devastated at the loss of all the notes I had taken during my recent month of yoga in Mumbai. To my absolute joy, all of these notes were waiting for me upon restarting after the restore! My general impressions of this new iPhone:

  • I don’t like the plastic case. It comes across as cheap, and the form factor of the aluminum one was both thinner and had a nicer feel. The new one does feel lighter, for some reason, however, despite only a 2g difference.
  • The 3G data access is wicked. I struggled to use 10MB per month with the old iPhone, whereas I might see myself going to the unlimited plan with the new one.
  • The speaker is much louder, so I miss a lot fewer calls and SMSes now. The downside to this is that I no longer miss the spam messages I get here in China. Fortunately, these are still reasonably few.
  • My new phone, with its built-in Chinese translation and excellent Chinese Pinyin IME input mode, is the perfect worldwide phone. Except that on restarting it, it doesn’t seem to find any cell networks unless it’s in English mode. Go figure.
  • The 2.1 software is nicer than the 1.1.4 I was running before, although probably not significantly. The improvements in locale and translation support are phenomenal, but those using the phone in English probably wouldn’t even notice. Other changes are nice, but really just minor tweaks.

If you’re the owner of a first-generation iPhone and thinking about upgrading to the 3G phones, is it worth it? Absolutely not. If you suddenly lose, destroy, or otherwise find yourself no longer in possession of your first-gen phone, should you upgrade? In a legitimate market scenario, you probably don’t have any choice, but in a place such as here in China, where markets still carry the older phones, the choice is a bit tougher: the older phones sell for a couple hundred dollars less than the 3G phones, and do look nicer. For me the space and newer software with better Chinese support were the key selling points. It might not be enough for others.

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