To iPhone or not to iPhone?

There’s no denying that one of the hottest items this holiday season is going to be the iPhone. Apple have no doubt already sunk millions of extra advertising during the holiday season upon the million & millions they’ve already spent, and that doesn’t even include the ridiculous amount of “word of mouth” that Apple’s mobile internet device (MID) and phone will end up getting.

The question you have to ask is “should it”?

Should Apple be getting all of the good press or the good hype over its hybrid media device?

[singlepic id=4 w=200 h=240 float=left]It’s a hard call to answer whether it should, but I know a lot of people were put off by the heavy price they’d have to pay – on and offline – with the iPhone when it came out. For the same reason, a lot of people have been waiting to see if any other companies could come out with something “as good” with a dash “much better” thrown in for good measure by Christmas time.

If you’re unsure what’s out there and you’re thinking of taking the Apple plunge, then this little guide might help you out. As someone who reviews devices in ridiculous numbers and has an iPhone (and is objective to it), I know all too well what the cost of having a device like the iPhone is.

I say “cost” not just because it will cost you a lot of money. It will, there’s no denying that. Whether you worry about the high cost of an iPhone, the impending doom for downloading information that goes way over your bandwidth cap, or spending money on the sheer amount of games, toys, and programs found in Apple’s AppStore, the “cost” of the iPhone is a lot higher than most people realise.

Then you have the problem of what the iPhone can and can’t do.

“Can’t do?” I hear you say to yourself, my brain overcoming its natural human levels and throbbing at the thought of other people questioning Apple’s marketing engine! “But the Apple iPhone is that wondrous device that can make phone calls, answer phone calls, check email, write & read SMS, surf the web, play games, take pictures, listen to music, watch movies, and a whole lot more!

“What can’t the iPhone do?”

The iPhone cannot do a few basic functions which mobile phone handsets have had in them for at least 2-3 years. For some reason, Apple had the idea of not throwing these things in so you’re left confused & bewildered when someone tells you what they lack or worse, you find out after buying one.

[singlepic id=5 w=200 h=240 float=left]MMS
Like to send multimedia messages? You know the sort: you take a picture of something in a shop or in the street and want to send it to a friend, or maybe you record a video and just want to send it to a mate’s mobile phone.

Well, while you can take a photo and send an email from the photo, you can’t send an MMS from that message nor attach the photo while in the iPhone’s Email application. It might sound strange that a multimedia handset as feature rich as the iPhone lacks the ability to send video, pics, or sounds to another handset… but that’s sadly the case here.

Copy & Paste
Like to copy & paste information from a website to your notepad or maybe – if you’re blogging – from your phone to a website? Well it can’t be done here as there is no copy & paste.

My Nokia from 2 years ago can do that… but not my iPhone. Go figure.

Rejecting A Call
This is something I’ve only recently discovered and it’s bugging me to no end: if you get a phone call while your phone is in your pocket and your iPhone is on standby with the screen off, you can’t actually reject the phone call. You pick the phone up out of your pocket, the screen turns on, and you’re given one option of sliding the little green button to pick up & answer. No call reject, merely just answer. Drives me nuts.

[singlepic id=8 w=200 h=240 float=left]No new Bluetooth
Bluetooth has come a long way in the past couple of years. We’re no longer dependent on that single one-piece headset that you have sit in one ear so you can listen to audio in mono. No, now with modern phones we have a technology called A2DP or “Advanced Audio Distribution Profile.” This technology (also known as Bluetooth Profile 2.0) allows for a more advanced use of the Bluetooth communications technology, namely the transmission of stereo.

Devices like Bluetooth handsfree speakers, Bluetooth stereo headset (with or without microphones), and advanced Bluetooth teleconferencing devices all use A2DP which makes the quality great. It’s brilliant to know that there’s a standardized profile out there that all phone makers are adhering to when creating their phones.

All handset makers except for one.

Yup, you guessed it: Apple.

The iPhone lacks A2DP, a feature which is surprising to be overlooked because wireless stereo – an audio quality which one might expect a device based off of the iPhone to have – would have been brilliant and used here.

Now it might sound like I’m ragging on the iPhone right now and I’ve probably turned off pretty much every Apple fanboy on the Internet right about now (good, because I don’t play to fanboy dreams), but there is a lot of good on the iPhone.

While I personally don’t think much about the iPhone as a phone – and I wouldn’t buy one if you use a phone as a “phone” – it is a fantastic Mobile Internet Device. MID’s are expected to become huge over the next few years as people find new portable ways of connecting to everyone’s favourite global superhighway.

This makes the iPhone perfect for browsing the web, watching YouTube, checking out the social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace with its dedicated applications, listening to music, checking out a podcast or a video, going through your pictures, playing a few games, using it as a calendar or alarm clock, or generally just skipping the laptop altogether and pulling out the portable computer that is the iPhone.

If all of this sounds like what you want, then go out and buy one immediately. Apple will love you for it and you’ll probably love your purchase (at least until your first phone bill comes). If, however, you’re curious to see what else there is in the marketplace that remotely competes, read on to see what’s on offer.

Already we’ve gone through the in’s and out’s of Apple’s iPhone, a device so swamped in praise & criticism that it’s often hard to tell just who’s loving it, who’s hating it, and why everyone’s doing what on their iPhone!

There are a lot of different companies all trying their hands at competing models, a section of the market many in the tech-world are calling “iClones.” This is. for the most part, unfair to these companies are quite a few of these devices are better in many ways and are hardly “clones” as you’ll soon see.

*Please note that with all of these, I’m not telling you what you should buy but rather giving you some choices for what else is out there. As always, head to a store & play with the device to see if you like it or not as that is the only decision that really matters.

[singlepic id=11 w=200 h=125 float=left]Samsung Omnia
Samsung’s Omnia is probably one of the best – if not the best – iClone on the market in Australia at the moment.

Running off of a Windows Mobile platform with its own customised interface (so you basically don’t have to fiddle with a “Start” button), the Samsung Omnia takes some of the best technology and mashes it together to make a fantastic little phone handset while retaining a sense of business-y looks.

While it doesn’t have the same slick interface as Apple’s iPhone, features like a 5 megapixel camera, a proper GPS (not just an Assisted GPS (A-GPS) like the iPhone has, 8 or 16GB of memory with more available via the upgradable microSD slot, haptic feedback, WiFi b/g, HSDPA, TV-out, and DivX support. A fantastic phone that also supports handwriting recognition, it’s a shame that multimedia playback isn’t the Omnia’s strong-point let down by a somewhat slow application and the required cable to plug your own headset in to a 3.5mm headphone jack.

That said, it’s more feature rich than the iPhone and possibly less expensive too. Definitely worth taking a look at if you’re after a phone and a capable computer, not just a mobile internet device.

[singlepic id=6 w=200 h=240 float=left]LG Renoir
Running off of an interface powered by Adobe’s Flash, the LG Renoir is one of the more unique handsets you can find in the country at the moment. It doesn’t follow the same design characteristics as most of the crowd and that much is obvious from how it looks. A three-inch touchscreen with one of the best implementations of haptic feedback I’ve ever seen – a technology that simulates button pressing by vibrating every time the touchscreen is pushed, the LG Renoir is a refreshing handset in the sea of iClones.

Decked out with an 8 megapixel camera that sports blemish correcting feature and geotagging, you actually will find that you’ll want to take photos with the Renoir. An accelerometer for auto-rotating and a customisable start screen help to make this a very user friendly device and if it weren’t for users requiring an extra cable (like the Samsung Omnia) to plug their own set of headphones in, you could really see this being a brilliant iPhone competitor tried and true.

[singlepic id=13 w=200 h=240 float=left]Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
Dubbed the “SEX1” because of the letters that make up its name, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 is a whole new device that aims to really let people customise its interface.

While it won’t be out until early next year and will probably be a little more than most people will expect, the Xperia X1 will come with a high resolution 3 inch screen running at 800 x 480, higher than that of the Apple iPhone. A QWERTY keyboard slides out from underneath the touchscreen above it, a design that will probably prove popular with people uncomfortable with the iPhone’s portrait-oriented keyboard and will provide some competition against HTC’s very solid albeit very slow Touch Pro Handset.

I know I’m looking forward to getting my review unit and I’ll have more for you on this as time goes on.

[singlepic id=9 w=200 h=240 float=left]Motorola ROKR E8
One of the more surprising phones of the year (for me, anyway) has been the Motorola ROKR E8. A touchscreen in the way that most people don’t realise it’s a touchscreen, the ROKR (pronounced “rocker”) has two separate screens – one touch-enabled & one not – sitting over the front of its design.

On the top is the main screen you use just like a regular phone handset. This small squarish-rectangularish box will let you navigate using the buttons beneath it. These buttons beneath it, however, are where the ROKR E8 really becomes interesting because… they’re not really buttons.

These buttons are actually a series of bumps and push mechanisms sitting on top of a low resolution touchscreen that will change depending on what you’re doing. The Motorola ROKR E8 features “haptic feedback,” the same technology found in the Samsung Omnia & LG Renoir noted above (as well as the Samsung F480T found below), so what when you press this low resolution button-touchscreen, it feels as if the buttons are real tactile buttons you can press just like your regular handset. The touchscreen on the ROKR actually takes the place of the buttons and works for different settings.

When the phone is in its “phone” mode, you’ll see your regular phone handset with numbers & letters. When the ROKR E8 switches to a “music” or a “video” mode, the buttons fade away and change to a play button, a pause button, and so forth & so forth.

There are downsides however and a lack of 3G, WiFi, and a fairly slow processor seem to make up the bulk of them. However the handset is slick, easy to hold, pocketable, and has a 3.5mm headphone jack so that anyone can plug into it easily.

While not the same type of touchscreen as an iPhone, this inexpensive phone is a great alternative if you’re looking for a music-enabled handset and are on a budget.

[singlepic id=10 w=200 h=240 float=left]Samsung F480T
Seen as a “small Omnia” when I first got it, the Samsung F480T seems like a cheaper, less-feature rich version of Samsung’s celebrated iPhone competitor that the Omnia is.

And that’s basically what it is as it has a similar customisable start screen just like the Omnia but instead runs on an interface that looks to have been designed in either Java or Flash. This won’t make sense to most people but what you can take from this is that it’s a fair bit slower than its big brother, the Samsung Omnia.

That said, it has a 5 megapixel camera, touch interface, A2DP, and a really nice feel to it. One thing you’re sure to like is the size, as this mini-Omnia is barely three-quarters the size and easier to carry around.

Much like the Omnia, the F480T sadly requires its own breakout cable to plug your headphones into but it could still prove to be a decent iClone if you can find one for a good price.

[singlepic id=7 w=200 h=240 float=left]LG Viewty
Before the iPhone came out in Australia, LG released the Prada. Named – and branded – with the “Prada” name that has adorned fashion for much of the 20th and 21st centuries. LG were quick to note that they’d been planning their touchscreen phone for longer than when the iPhone was announced, a fact which might have been true but didn’t help the Prada from being a slow piece of junk that didn’t even emphasise that you had spent money on an object labeled “Prada” because the logo was always at your ear and not on the back to be shown to the rest of the world.

A few months after the Prada, LG released the Viewty, a touchscreen phone that actually became one of LG’s better phones in the past few years. It had a long list of features that in some ways actually overshadowed what the iPhone had and – if it wasn’t for the thickness or cost – might have actually become a solid competitor to the iPhone.

Interestingly, you can now get the LG Viewty on prepaid at just under $300. I saw this a few weeks ago and was very tempted to get one if only to have one in my arsenal if friends ever needed a new phone. While nowhere near as slick as the Apple handset, the LG Viewty is literally packed with features including a 5 megapixel camera, a video recording function capable of recording at 120 frames per second (giving you an ultra slow playback), DivX playback, and microSD support.

If you can find one at a price point that suits you or you see a prepaid option, it’s a great beginner’s iPhone that won’t break the bank.

I would be lying if I were to say that these are all that’s out there… which is why I’m not. There are loads of handsets stuck under the moniker of “iClone” and they include models from companies like HP, iMate, Nokia, and BlackBerry as well as more models that’ll be out right after Christmas and into the new year from the companies I’ve talked about here.

Likewise, Apple will probably release a new iPhone some time into next year hopefully with all the current issues fixed but with a whole bunch of others that reviewers like myself will be quick to comment on.

Ultimately, all that matters in the end is what you want so go to a store and try the phones you want to try. In the end, it’s your opinion that matters most.