Is the iPhone Really a Bad Phone?



Writing Monday for the eWeek blog, AppleWatch, Joe Wilcox gave the iPhone a D in telephony and a C for battery life, saying he simply could not recommend the device as a phone. Despite singing the praises of Apple’s mobile platform he gave it an overall grade of B- and seemed mighty pleased to announce that everyone in his family has rejected the iPhone in favor of an iPod Touch + some other cell phone.

I find Wilcox’s assessment curious and wonder how many of the other 8 – 10 million iPhone owners feel their device is so disappointing from the telephony and usability standpoints that they’d actually prefer to carry two devices around instead of one. Follow me after the jump to learn what Wilcox thinks is so bad about iPhone and where my own assessment takes me in response.

Initially, Wilcox’s review seems to imply the iPhone doesn’t play well with AT&T’s 3G network, complaining of too many dropped calls. But I find that a real chicken and egg conudrum. As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, where no providers and no devices are immune to the dropped call phenomenon, I have certainly not found the iPhone to be any less reliable than say, a Motorola Razr or a Palm Treo, two very popular devices I have extensive experience with.

His next realm of distaste is for the audio quality of calls on iPhone, which, again, is a performance area which can be affected by a service provider just as easily as by a deficient device. Speaking once more from my own experience, I’ve never had a single person complain about sound quality on a call with me using my iPhone, and I have found volume and call quality far superior, especially in speakerphone mode, than with a half dozen other phones I’ve used in the past several years. In fact, one thing many people have complained about in the past on calls I’ve been on while outdoors, has been the sound-degrading effects of the often windy conditions around the Bay. Those complaints have dropped dramatically since I began using an iPhone six months ago.

Wilcox doesn’t say what kind of battery life he gets on his iPhone, but whatever it is isn’t enough. He longs for a swappable battery, like on T-mobile’s G1, and says he knows people who charge their iPhone “2 or 3 times a day,” but I’m not so sure. I use a healthy mix of phone and internet services, camera, iPod, and even gaming now that my eight year-old has discovered I’ve been reviewing games for this website. I consistently get 5 to 5 1/2 hours of actual usage out of each full charge, which seems in line with Apple’s claims for the phone battery; certainly not poor enough performance to rate a C on the report card.

Eventually Wilcox fesses up to what he really doesn’t like about the iPhone, or to be more accurate, what his teenage daughter doesn’t like about it. No video. Kludgy SMS/MMS. Somewhat tired complaints having not so much to do with the phone as phone, that he uses to launch into a fond appreciation for the Nokia N79’s flair for “fashion, style, creativity and content creation.” All of which may be true, but somehow seems off the mark from where he started, which was critiquing the iPhone’s qualities as a phone.

Would people be excited if the iPhone had a 5 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera and video capability? You bet. Have 8 – 10 million people been somehow fooled into buying an iPhone thinking that’s what they were getting? No.

In the end, Wilcox concludes:

“If there was time travel back to July, I wouldn’t buy iPhone–but I would get an iPod Touch. Strange and unexpected: All three members of my family have had and given up iPhones. I’ve sold two now that [I] purchased for myself. My wife’s iPhone went back to AT&T during the 30-day return period for refund. She couldn’t stand the dropped calls.

I don’t know where the Wilcox family lives, but it sounds to me like their complaints may be better directed to AT&T than toward Apple.

Teasingly, Wilcox says he’s waiting to reveal his moblie phone of choice in another post, but I’m willing to go out on this limb: A phone is used to make and receive phone calls and the iPhone handles that task on a cellular network just as well or better than any mobile phone I have ever used.

The iPhone may be lacking some of the sexiest multimedia functionality that appeals to the MySpace/Facebook generation, but when taking into account the range of functions made possible by Apple’s mobile platform, and in view of the metastasizing universe of third party applications for the device coming on line every day in the AppStore, I say Apple’s iPhone is – hands down – the best, single most valuable mobile device a person could own today.


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69 responses to “Is the iPhone Really a Bad Phone?”

  1. Niels K. says:

    Agree – I used before the combination of an iPod Touch and Blackberry Pearl.
    Advantage BB Pearl: Longer battery life (but I didn’t do as much with it and therefore it doesn’t really count) and reliable push-mail (with a gmail-account)

    Advantage iPhone: 1 device less in my pockets – and all the stuff from the iPT in my cell phone + being able to use all the apps from appstore which need mobile connectivity even though I don’t have a wlan in reach.

    Btw. my iPhone has usually enough battery power for one day and if I see that it gets low, I switch off 3G, push (for calendar), check my mails manually and don’t start games – just listen to music and receive and do calls. If I’m near to my computer it’s in the dock anyway…
    oh yes – and the syncing problem I had with most phones before are completely solved because it’s the first phone that syncs w/out any problems with my apple-devices (even though SE-phones were rather good regarding this). Here in Germany I don’t have the problem with dropped calls…but I actually I had it with none of my phones.

  2. Jon T says:

    Trouble is, when the iPhone is perfection in many or even most things it does, it makes the less than perfect areas get all the more attention.

  3. Rik says:

    I agree. The phone function is terrible. I have five times as many dropped calls as my wife and business partner, both of whom have other AT&T phones. I love everything else about it, but the dropped calls have gotten infuriating!

  4. A says:

    “complaining of too many dropped calls”
    What kind of phone networks do you have over there in the US? (^_^)
    I live in Sweden and have owned a iPhone 3G since day one and have never had a dropped call…

  5. Asd says:

    Also agree. My previous phone was an old Treo and the reception on it was crap compared to the iPhone. The iPhone reception is great where I live and I’ve never had a call dropped. Battery life is as advertised. What’s great about it is that I didn’t use it as an iPod until recently and found that it uses very little power compared to my older iPod. As Niels says, 1 less device in my pocket. When I bought this device I came in knowing that it didn’t have certain functions but for me they weren’t important. I don’t send texts (why would I when I can send email for free) and I don’t need video ( I rarely use the still camera). I’d suggest that Wilcox do a little more research before plopping down a few hundred bucks on a gadget purchase.

  6. j.c. says:

    Visual voicemail on the iPhone is enough for me personally to give an A+ rating.

    As a phone, the iPhone is better than every other device I’ve ever owned – sure it’s not perfect, but what is? The audio quality is excellent, my battery life is excellent, the user interface is far superior to anything else on the market… how could anyone possibly rate this a D?

  7. raj says:

    >As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, where no providers and no
    >devices are immune to the dropped call phenomenon, I have certainly not
    >found the iPhone to be any less reliable than say, a Motorola Razr or a Palm

    I live in the Bay Area too. I was with Verizon for 10 years before switching to the iPhone 3G on AT&T, and before the switch, my wife and I don’t ever recall having a *single* dropped call. Now, a full 30% are dropped calls or garbled reception. I simply avoid making calls on the iPhone that require me to give out important information such as phone numbers and account numbers.

  8. Andreas says:

    To be young, oh to be forever young….

  9. Jeff Lewis says:

    I have an iPhone 3G and it’s been a terrible experience. I regularly miss calls. For some reason, it doesn’t work in the US even with 3G turned off. It crashes – a LOT – more than my Windows Mobile MDA ever did.

    Most of the advantages of the iPhone really come from having been delivered about the same time as relatively easy to obtain and relatively fast cell data became available (although up here – it’s still not cheap). Nothing on it cannot be done on a WinMo phone – even the UI could be done (and has been, alas).

    But in the end, the thing that makes it different from an iPod Touch is that it’s a *phone*. And if that doesn’t work well – then it’s not a good phone.

    I’m planning on buying a Samsung Blackjack II next week and putting the iPhone back into its pretty box. Fortunately, I didn’t pay that much for it having used loyalty points to cover more than half the cost.

  10. Core says:

    I would and DO go for iPod Touch + a BlackBerry.
    Nothing beats eMail functionality on a BlackBerry. I “only” use the BB Pearl, but even on the Pearl, wrinting a mail is super comfortable.

    Sorry, but the iPhone just can’t beat that.
    If it had a comfortable keyboard (maybe something to slide open) and if it would not be LIMITED to one service provider in my country… I might buy it.

    But forcing me to buy from T-Mobile (yuck) and only having a touch screen makes the iPhone a NO GO.

    Writing this comment on a MacBook, really loving Apple’s stuff… but… no iPhone… thanks.

  11. firesign says:

    never had a problem with the phone part of my 3g. never had a dropped call or poor call quality. it’s a lot better than my blackjack 2 was.

  12. Pedro says:

    Something serious is going on in the US. Even Portugal has a better internet service.

    My guess is, the dropped calls are an american or server issue. not apple’s fault. sad really, funny too. should u guys be way ahead?

  13. David H says:

    The phone gets a C,
    the AT&T network gets a C,
    this is a bad combination but it is not the end of the world.

    Carrying a single object is most important to me.
    All the things that everybody who loves the iPhone, loves, make me deal with its mediocrity as a straight telephone.

  14. AppBeacon says:

    I posted on his story as well. I pointed out that I use a cheap-o phone and and iPod Touch for my needs. I just wanted to make it clear that has nothing to do with my opinion of the iPhone. I’ve never actually used one short of playing with one in the Apple Store.

    For everyone that doesn’t really use a phone to it’s full extent (such as me), there really isn’t much sense in paying the AT&T service charge for the iPhone. Just get the cheapest phone you can get and enjoy the iPod Touch.

  15. Hotcurry says:

    I Have to agree with the guy in Sweden, I live in the UK and I very rarely have a dropped call, I can’t remember the last time. it is certainly no more frequently than any other phones I have used.

  16. Atomicon says:

    I love my 3G iPhone, and my wife loves hers. We’ve had them for about two months and I’ve had exactly one dropped call. I think the phone’s performance has to be a function of the network you’re on. I live in Portland, Oregon. Better 3G up here? Maybe…

  17. Iceporky says:

    I lived in Singapore and I have never had a dropped call with my iPhone 3G. I’m an engineer, so I see technology gadgets come and go. But I think iPhone is in a league of its own. For folks like Wilcox, I can’t help but think that they are missing out on one of most well-engineered and designed products out there.

    Before my iPhone 3G, I used a O2 XDA IIi. Don’t get me wrong, O2 XDA lli is a nice phone, and I enjoyed using it. But iPhone 3G is the one that blows my hair back.

  18. vdb says:

    dropped calls are due to network, on my old operator network I had one every week or so … they constantly push a call from 3G to gprs … during that switch the risk you drop a call is high … especially if you are receiving a mail in the background
    new operator, zero issues ….

  19. Guntis says:

    What kind of phone networks do you have over there in the US? :-(
    I live in Latvia and have owned a iPhone 3G only one week, but so far have never had a dropped call… And none of my friends have complained about this problem too. Seems AT&T network problem.

  20. Mark says:

    Same here – I live in the UK and have had an iPhone on O2 since May. Never had a dropped call or bad sound quality. I regularly switch between 3G, Edge and GPRS as I move around, without an issue. This is an ATT network problem, not an iPhone issue.

  21. hans says:

    totally agree. amazing device, but really sucks as a phone. i haven’t had any trouble with dropped calls or anything, and battery life has been a non-issue for me up to this point, sinch i dock it every night anyways. my annoyances stem from the phone specific features. for example, from lock to dialing a number, it takes a slide, the phone icon, the keypad icon, then dialing. on most other phones, it’s just unlock and dial. then, there’s no native voice dialing, and no reject call button. it just isn’t easy to use as a phone.

  22. chicago user says:

    Definitely dropping a lot of calls and get a number of crashes with software. There is certainly room for improvement on both the network side (lots needed) and Apple’s side for better stability. But even so I have never used any phone, including a Treo, anywhere near the amount the wife, daughter, and I use our iPhones. Dozens of games and useful little apps with much better functionality than the Treos we used in the past. I haven’t used my portable laptop since getting this because I check email on the go and surf internet sites I enjoy on the the phone. Hard to compare battery life to other phones because I have never even come close to using another phone as much as the iPhone.

  23. american says:

    im a mac fan, own 4. that said, iPhone absolutely NEEDS:

    1) MMS. duh.
    2) SMS forwarding
    3) SMS re-sending

    …the other stuff (flash, copy & paste, etc) can wait. but having OLD functionality found in nearly ALL cells, is a must.

  24. PH says:

    My iPhone works great as a phone.

    Of course, my iPhone is on T-Mobile, USA. Hacked 1st gen iPhone — the best.

  25. HD Boy says:

    After the iPhone 3G release (July 2008), we had similar iPhone problems in Sacramento — many dropped calls and a fair number of application crashes. Initially, in our home office, we had just one or two bars of signal strength. Also, I traveled to Indiana and Kentucky in September, and much of Indianapolis was a giant “No Service” area for AT&T 3G.

    We were not happy about this, but had faith in Apple.

    Six months later (in December 2008) I can report that Apple and AT&T have been very responsive to tech support calls and quick to issue engineering trouble tickets to follow up on these and other problems. Customer service has been exceptional. In the Sacramento area, a combination of software updates from Apple with local network tower tweaks by AT&T resolved almost all of our dropped call problems by early October. During the period before the fixes, AT&T was extremely generous in issuing call credits and discounts to the monthly service fees.

    The key was: we meticulously documented our dropped problems and often called AT&T support. Then, AT&T support seemed to have a goof system to escalate the complaints to engineers, who actually called back while working on the problems (something Sprint never did once during eight years as a customer).

    To be sure, the iPhone 3G battery life is short — too short. But battery life limitations are the same with all current 3G phones. We often just keep our two iPhones in cradle chargers at home or in the car. (We have chargers in each car and four strategically positioned around the house). Bluetooth headsets provide sufficient coverage to restore freedom of movement. Frankly, no brand of 3G phone can yet last through a long 10-12 hour workday, so the difference between a product that delivers four hours of usage versus one that lasts 5 hours is almost meaningless — they all need to be recharged sometime during a busy day. That’s just the state of cellular power requirements and battery technology right now.

    In my experience, the phone’s benefits (call quality, versatility and truly great software) far outweigh any technical problems. Even with the problems, the iPhone 3G call quality always has been exceptional– and never a question mark. This includes using the speakerphone, the regular headset speaker or a good Bluetooth headset (Plantronics Voyager 520a).

    After six months, I can say that the Apple iPhone 3G has proven to be the very best cell phone I’ve ever owned and I would not hesitate to purchase another. It is a versatile and powerful, handheld computer, iPod, Internet/e-Mail device, and so much more. The iPhone is a joy to use.

    Do yourself a favor. Run (do not walk) to pick up one of these groundbreaking, once-in-a-lifetime devices. Once you do this, you will understand why so many people rave about Apple products.

    Become a part of a historical shift that is forcing the cell phone carriers to change.

  26. historydoll says:

    I *love* my iPhone but it is really lousy as a phone. I work in a Broadway theatre, where most of us have offices in the basement. My Treo, on Verizon, got very good reception down there; my iPhone gets almost none. And it’s not AT&T: one of my stagehands, also in a basement office, switched to AT&T so she could have an iPhone, but the reception was so bad that she switched to a Blackberry, but stayed with AT&T–and her reception is now fine. It’s just a lousy phone. Apple, are you listening?????

  27. historydoll says:

    I *love* my iPhone but it is really lousy as a phone. I work in a Broadway theatre, where most of us have offices in the basement. My Treo, on Verizon, got very good reception down there; my iPhone gets almost none. And it’s not AT&T: one of my stagehands, also in a basement office, switched to AT&T so she could have an iPhone, but the reception was so bad that she switched to a Blackberry, but stayed with AT&T–and her reception is now fine. It’s just a lousy phone. Apple, are you listening?????

  28. Neil Anderson says:

    Joe’s daughter would love an iPhone if it were available in pink.

  29. scott says:

    A “5 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera” would in fact get me very excited. I am holding out for the 5th generation when the iPhone gets it all together.

  30. davida says:

    I have had ATT service since 1998 (Pacific Bell, Cingular, ATT), and it always was terrible. I had a Palm Treo and Verizon from work, and the phone worked better than ATT. Having said all that, I love my IPhone, and would gladly suffer some minor inconveniences than carry that brick again. Get the IPhone on Verizon, and that would be interesting.

  31. drew says:

    well said my friend

    -proud owner of the iphone 3g

  32. Art G says:

    Yes, I agree about one thing.
    The Apple should not make the iPhone exclusive to AT&T.
    Right out of the box, I should be able to use it with any service that provides a sim card.
    Sure I could get a hacker to “unlock” it for me… and void the warranty, but i’d rather Apple remain independent of any one particular service provider.
    My iMac works with any internet service provider and doesn’t force me to use ATT DSL, so why should my iPhone force me onto AT&T mobile network.

  33. Haroon says:

    True! I own iPhone, iPod touch, nokia e90, blackberry pearl. iPhone is rated least and nokia at top. As for apple iPod is good only lacking copy paste and search features. Iphone apps in my opinion are a joke. None useful. Browser lacks flash and other multimedia support. Camera without any settings, bluetooth useless, messaging crap, basic text editing and search features absent. Poor as business device. Absolutely no compatibility with any other device e.g. BB, nokia, samsung, Sony Ericsson. Apple is just good at speed, touchscreen and auto-rotate but other vendors have come out with devices offering all these features. My wife uses nokia 5800 which is an excellent affordable device and offers more function than iPhone. Nokia rules in overall function and offerings

  34. Haroon says:

    And absolutely no multitasking. U can’t keep instant messenger open and check email or use another app.

  35. Woopesh says:

    I returned my iphone 4 as it was a really bad phone. All my friends complained I sounded ill. It kept losing reception in my bedroom when i never had problems before. Then the ear speaker was so qieut i could hear people talking to me on the street. I changed to a htc desire, and it was immediately different. My voice sounded normal, i could hear my callers in the street and i got rock solid reception in my bedroom again. Shame android isnt as good as iOS. Both phones were using thesame simcard on the same network in the same places… the difference had to be the phone hardware.