Review: iPhone 3G - Top Apps, Gripes, and Gadget Love | Page 3

Media: Sweet (But What about Slow Transfer?)
As a portable media player, the iPhone is nearly all I could ask for. Music playing, as anyone with virtually any iPod knows, is about as good as it gets in a portable device. Videos were smooth, crisp, and easily watchable. The stereo music accompanying games like Aurora Feint was fantastic.

I was disappointed that I couldn't get a model with more than 16GB of RAM. Videos—especially feature films—chew up a lot of space, and if you have a lot of music (I do) and photos, you can fill up 16 GB mighty fast.

If I had a 64GB iPhone, I could keep all my music and photos, and enough video to last me a few days on the device, with room left over for apps and data. That'll be, I presume, next summer's splurge.

On the other hand, even my initial sync that copied about 4GB of data onto the iPhone took what seemed to me like an extremely long time (I didn't time it, but I estimate it was about a half hour). If data transfer speeds over USB 2.0 can't be improved, maybe I don't want 64 GB of data on my phone after all!

Applications: The App Store
Third-party applications (which also work on first-generation iPhones upgraded with Firmware 2.0) are one of the best things about the new iPhone. Although some tools were previously available on iPhones that had been "jailbroken," the iTunes App Store now has hundreds of legitimate, Apple-sanctioned products that do tremendously useful things. Many of them are even free.

I've used only a handful so far, but a few I'm particularly jazzed about include these:

Evernote: Among other things, Evernote lets you snap a picture with your iPhone's camera and put not only the photo, but an indexed copy of any text in the photo (thanks to OCR software that runs on their server) in a searchable database that you can access from the device of your choice. You can also record voice memos, create to-do lists, and more.

Jott: Another note-taking tool, Jott takes a different and very clever approach. You record your voice, tap a button, and Jott creates a transcription of what you said, putting it in a to-do list.

Linguo: There are other, more elaborate foreign-language dictionaries and phrase books, but Linguo is cheap ($2.99), covers 17 languages, and provides good basic translations in whatever direction you need. It even includes audio recordings of many common phrases (though only in English, German, Spanish and Italian—not French, unfortunately for me).

Mocha VNC: A (nearly) full-featured VNC [virtual networking computing] application on your iPhone! This really knocked my socks off—a few taps and I was controlling my Xserve's virtual display from my iPhone. It's been a long time since VNC seemed magical to me, but being able to do screen sharing from a pocket device is way cool.

NetNewsWire: I'm an RSS junkie, and this lightweight version of my favorite desktop Mac news reader automatically syncs all my subscriptions and read articles with the online service NewsGator.

Twitterific: This iPhone version of the popular desktop Twitter client for OS X makes it easy to tweet (and keep up with the goings-on of friends and coworkers) when you're on the run.

Having said that, I have to say that a few things about the current incarnation of the App Store are a bit under-ripe. To wit:

• You can't try before you buy. Sure, lots of apps are free and most of the rest are inexpensive, but I hate that in many cases you can't know what you're getting or how well it'll meet your needs without making a purchase. And unfortunately...

• A lot of the apps are lousy. I've downloaded quite a few apps that crashed repeatedly, had ugly and unusable interfaces, or were just stupid for some other reason. There are some real gems, no question, but the selection is very uneven.

• Beta testing? Anyone? As far as I can tell, it's not possible for iPhone developers to release preliminary versions of new applications for wide-scale public beta testing—it's finished app in the iTunes Store or nothing. So it's no wonder some of the existing apps aren't better. This is an odd and unfortunate hole in Apple's app distribution system, and it needs to be fixed.