At last, I was able to afford an iPhone 3G without an expensive data / phone plan (meaning a much higher starting price). Of course, I've been playing with the device since then.
So far, I pretty much like what I see. While the capabilities of (some of) the built-in apps are certainly limited compared to some of their Windows Mobile and/or Symbian S60 and/or BlackBerry, the system indeed has huge potential, particularly now that a lot of new (and other, seasoned, particularly ones coming from competing operating systems) developers are switching / migrating to the new system. With the release of some long-awaited system hacking applications (for example, Backgrounder) that really enhance the usability and the extremely diverse usage areas of the device, it has indeed become a serious contender to the older, more established operating systems even for seasoned hackers and gadget freaks.
The following is more of a comparative review from a mobility expert knowing all the three major (hence the lack of the pretty much dead Palm OS) competing and current mobile operating systems: Windows Mobile, Symbian S60 and BlackBerry. My main aim is to provide an unbiased(!) comparison between these operating systems and iPhone so that you can see whether it's worth taking a more serious look at iPhone.
Note that I don't provide a comparison to Google Android because it still isn't being offered here in Europe. As soon as it hits the shelves, I'll try to get one.
Also note that I provide a lot of never-before-published tips and hacks. I didn't want to separate the sections of the article into separate articles. The chapter / section numbering will greatly help you keeping track of what is currently being discussed.
Some notes on the hardware first and how it compares to the best phones of the alternative operating systems.
1.1 The screen
1.1.1 Outdoor visibility
In this regard, the iPhone is definitely better than most other models on the market. It's probably only the screen of the BlackBerry 8800 (and, consequently, probably the screen of other BlackBerries) operating at maximal brightness (and, therefore, putting a high drain on the battery) that matches the very good outdoor visibility of its screen. It's considerably better than the current, 16-million-color (as opposed to the, in this respect, better old models like the N-Gage) Nokia phones using TFT screens (I couldn't test the OLED-equipped, brand new N85 in this respect as yet). I've directly compared to the N95. And, of course, it's WAY better than any contemporary Windows Mobile phone. Sorry HTC: you should work very hard on making outdoor visibility of your screens; particularly those of QVGA screens. Just for the record: outdoors, particularly in direct sunlight, it's almost impossible to make out anything on the 2.8" QVGA screens used in several HTC phones. The AT&T Tilt (HTC Kaiser) is particularly problematic in this respect.
Example outdoor(ish) shots:
(compared to the iPAQ 210 with strong external light, with the maximum and the minimum backlight. Note that the iPAQ 210 has, outdoor visibility-wise, a very bad screen: it's barely visible if you turn down the brightnesss)
(compared to the Nokia N95 (Symbian S60), the BlackBerry 8800 (BB) and the HTC Universal (WinMo) with minimal backlight, in direct sunshine. Don't be mislead by the BB's readability: it just can't be made dimmer by explicitly settting the backlight level)
Now, some shots of all phones set to maximal backlight level. As can be seen, the iPhone, along with the BlackBerry, are by far the best of the bunch.
(Note that the BB in the first shot is noticeably dimmer than the iPhone. This was caused by its sensor not correctly measuring the sunshine, which fell on the BlackBerry at a narrow ange. With the sensor correctly measuring the incoming light, the BB screen would have been much brighter.)
1.1.2 Polarization issues
While the screen certainly isn't as smooth, polarization-wise, as, say, the Sony LCD in the HP iPAQ hx4700 or the Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox 718/720 / N560 standalone PDA's or the HTC Universal phone, watching it in Landscape mode didn't cause me a headache, not even after hours of playing with the phone. Not so with the, in this respect, really bad Dell Axim x50v/x51v or the MIPS-based, old Casio Cassiopeia PDA's like the E-125. A big thumbs-up to Apple in this respect. (See THIS for more info on what polarization issues really are, what they result in etc.)
1.1.3 Minimal / maximal backlight level
As has been explained in for example my HP iPAQ 210 review, a phone, in order to be perfectly usable in total darkness, needs to let the user set as low minimal backligh levels as possible.
The iPhone excels in this respect too: when turning off the, by default, enabled auto brightness and sliding the backlight slider to the minimum, the brightness level is clearly lower than that of the iPAQ 210, which, in turn, is, minimal screen backlight-wise, already one of the best mobile devices out there. Interestingly (still with disabled auto-backlight), the maximal backlight level is higher than that of the (also very bright) iPAQ 210. You won't really make use of the latter, except for in extreme circumstances like using your iPhone as a torch. (There already exists at least one torch app for the iPhone, which makes the entire screen white. Unfortunately, it can't set the backlight level of the phone; you need to do this manually.)
1.2 The speaker
The iPhone only has a mono speaker. That's too bad – a multimedia phone should provide stereo speakers with built-in stereo widening like that of the Nokia N95. Apple, please take note!
However, on the plus side, it's way louder than the speaker of most other phones on the market. It's even louder than the Nokia N95! A definite plus!
In addition, the speaker is located on the lower edge of the phone and it's very easy to almost mute it by laying a finger on it. Solutions that have the buzzer in (BlackBerry 8800, HTC s310 / Oxygen etc.) the phone itself, this just can't be done.
Of course, this can also cause problems when you play in Landscape mode and, accidentally, your finger or palm covers the speaker, resulting in the sound's almost completely muting. No such problems exist with, say, the Nokia N95. However, this isn't that big a problem.
1.3 3D hardware acceleration
The hardware of the iPhone supports 3G acceleration and the games take advantage of it. In this regard, the situation is WAY better than on Windows Mobile or even Symbian S60. (Traditional Blackberry models don't have any 3G hardware acceleration. And, if future models do introduce it, I barely think it'll ever be utilized on such a "business" [read: no-entertainment, no-gaming] platform.)
It's pretty strange there're a lot more quality (!) 3D accelerated titles for the very young iPhone than to Windows Mobile or even Symbian S60. While it was four years ago that the first 3D accelerated Pocket PC, the Dell Axim x50v, debuted, there is still only a handful of games actually taking advantage of the hardware acceleration. Of course, one needs to admit that it wasn't until after late 2007 that Windows Mobile devices with 3D accelerated hardware reached mass market penetration, thanks to HTC's and, to a lesser degree, i-mate's completely switching to the (accelerated) Qualcomm platform; up until then, only the Dell Axim x50v, x51v and the really unpopular O2 XDA Flame had 3D acceleration.
On Windows Mobile, the standardization of the Qualcomm platform may help game (emulator) developers in the future to come up with hardware accelerated titles – as opposed to the still-current situation, when, basically, there're still three major hardware accelerated platforms (Intel 2700g for the Dell Axims, GoForce 5500 for the Flame and Qualcomm for the newer VGA HTC models like the Diamond and, hopefully, the Touch HD), requiring testing and bugfixing on all these platforms.
The same stands for Nokia's Symbian S60 platform. Nokia, lately, have invested a lot in developing new games under the umbrella of the new "Next-gen N-Gage" platform and the results are, with some games, pretty nice. However, the problem with S60 is the same as with Windows Mobile: the diversity of the models and their hardware capabilities – while, of course, there are only two iPhone models and they both are hardware accelerated.
While some (but not all – unfortunately, not even the current "flagship" N96 supports it) of the S60 handsets support hardware acceleration, other, N-Gage-compliant models don't and, at first, the N-Gage developers even announced they'd not release any games with 3D hardware acceleration support. Later, however, seeing the absolutely negative feedback from for example the 3D hardware acceleration-equipped N95 owners they have changed their mind announced they would support the vastly superior quality and speed. Nevertheless, not even the recently released ONE (see review & user remarks HERE) does support the 3D hardware. In addition, on S60, Java MIDlets (games) also take advantage of the 3D acceleration. However, they can't really match the speed of native C++ apps, not even with the really advanced and optimized MIDlet runner environment Nokia offers.
Finally, the screen resolution of the current N-Gage-compliant Nokia handhelds is QVGA only. With 3D hardware accelerated devices, the higher the resolution, the better. Even the 4-year-old x50v were able to flawlessly (!!!) render for example racing games like IonFX' GeoRallyEX (see THIS for more info) with very high FPS – at VGA (640*480) resolution. The HVGA (480*320) screen of the iPhone just can't deliver the same stunning visual experience when it comes to playing hardware accelerated 3D games. (Note that I'm strictly speaking of screen resolution, not quality! In the latter, the iPhone is certainly better than the x50v/x51v with its washed-out screen plagued by very bad polarization issues.) Playing 3D accelerated games on QVGA screens just doesn't really take advantage of the full potential of the underlying hardware: it would be capable of rendering the same game in much higher resolutions. Hope the Nokia folks do introduce high-resolution screens, backed with a 3D accelerated hardware, in their future high-end N-series S60 models – and not just "cheap" ones like the 5800 ExpressMusic.
As opposed to both competing (and, at least partly, 3D hardware accelerated) mobile platforms, iPhone developers have always been in a much better position. There has only been one chipset with guaranteed 3D hardware acceleration (as opposed to the three, vastly different chipsets on Windows Mobile) and, of course, the traditional users of the platform don't mind playing better games either, while this isn't as guaranteed with "business" platforms (Windows Mobile or even BlackBerry). Add the easy usage / accessibility of the Apple AppStore, the generally very low prices and the consequent high number of purchases to this, and you'll see why there already are a lot more hardware accelerated titles for the iPhone than on the other platforms. Finally, take into account that the iPhone isn't declared a business platform, unlike Windows Mobile and the BlackBerry. While, in the past, there have been a lot of nice games for WM, lately, the number of the new and remarkable titles have decreased. Except for some excellent titles like Orions, there isn't much to report on. This is particularly true when it comes to 3D hardware acceleration: there haven't been a single game released in the last one and a half years (Call for Duty II, released in January 2007, was the last title doing this) taking advantage of the 3D capabilities of the Intel 2700g or the Qualcomm. (Of course, FpseCE 0.10 will change this – but it's still not known when it is released. Just make sure you donate to them if you'd like to play PlayStation games on your Windows Mobile device. I've already donated to them – two times.)
I've tested several iPhone games with 3D hardware acceleration and found them excellent when it comes to the quality and speed of 3D rendering. (Game quality is another question: there're a lot of half-baked and/or plain bad games for iPhone. Nevertheless, even the cheapest, worst game takes advantage of the hardware acceleration – again, unlike on Windows Mobile or, if you look at non-Java, that is, native games, Symbian S60.)
1.4 Call recording capabilities
Unfortunately, just like with all BlackBerry models, it's impossible to record phone calls on the iPhone. There surely is SpoofAPP, but it's an external, commercial service (and only available to North-American customers).
In this regard, Symbian S60 is (still) by far the best platform, where I prefer ALON MP3 Dictaphone for S60 3rd Edition, which is, in my opinion, the best call recorder app. See my blog for a review and comparison to the other Symbian-based call recorders.
Frankly, I'm giving up on Windows Mobile when it comes to call recording. I've long been pushing HTC (and Microsoft to force HTC to do this) to enable call recording in all their models (and not just some rare models like the old, incapable s310 Oxygen and the "brick", "I in no way would purchase it" x7500 Athena). They just don't seem to listen. Well, after all, it's their business – I'll use the Nokia N95 for phoning, then...
Note that, while you can send the active session in the background without it being hung up and switch to a sound recorder application, you won't be able to press the Record button. Similarly, if you receive a call with the recording already activated, the resulting recorded file will be unplayable.
I've tested this with Griffin's iTalk and Sophiacom's YouNote (both free apps).
1.5 YouTube video playback quiality & performance; video playback battery life
Apple have spent a lot of time (see for example THIS) on explaining the H.264 and YouTube playback. As I'm a big freak of both YouTube and H.264, I've made some serious tests to find out how the iPhone fares in this respect.
The built-in YouTube player is pretty nice and performs pretty well playing back high-res 480*320 videos: in their full glory (that is, it plays full-res HVGA H.264 and not the dumbed-down QVGA-only Flash). See THIS: this screenshot has been taken on the iPhone. Compare it to the three screenshots of my YouTube bible and you'll see it's indeed the highest-res HVGA H.264 stream that is played back, and not the lower-res QVGA Flash stream.
Note that most stereo YouTube clips are played back in stereo – great news!
The videos played back OK; I haven't encountered any kind of stuttering. It seems the phone makes most of the H.264 decoding in hardware. This is pretty important as, otherwise, it'd have a much worse battery life while watching YouTube videos. In this regard, it's pretty similar to the Nokia N96. The latter, however, only has a lower-resolution QVGA screen.
I've also run some long-time tests to see what effect continuous YouTube playback using middle screen backlight and volume has on the battery life. I've got very good results: it took 3 hours and 23 minutes to reach the 20% battery warning level. Taking the much lower battery capacity into account (1150 vs. 2000 mAh on the iPAQ 210, where doing the same decreases the charge by about 26% an hour), this means hardware decoding results in approximately 70-80% battery life increase.
There was only very little additional heat generated I could feel on the back of the device. With a device using software-only H.264 decoding (like, currently, all Windows Mobile devices), I would have encountered prompt heatup and very bad battery life. Thumbs up Apple on this! (Please see my H.264 bible and YouTube bible for more info on all these questions.)
Note that, should you want the best battery life posible, you may also want to disable (turn them to OFF) the following two switches:
Settings - General - Network - Enable 3G
Settings - General - Location Services
Note that there's also an interesting article on the iPhone's power consumption HERE. Should you want to see the same for Windows Mobile and Symbian, you will want to check out my dedicated articles; for example, THIS.
I also recommend the following, related articles:
The iPhone 3G Battery Stress Test/Comparison: GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G, EDGE figures; NOT YouTube! Note that, as opposed to the Just Another iPhone Blog article linked above, it states actively used (that is, not just enabled location services) GPS is a heavy battery-killer.
iPhone 3G 'Dissected': this (among with a lot more articles) suggests the 3G model only has a 1150 mAh battery, while the original 2G model still had a 1400 mAh one.
1.6 The casing
It's a bit slippery – but it isn't very bad. I certainly prefer the "rubbery" feel of the Nokia N95 (Symbian S60) (NOT later models – that is, certainly not the N95 8GB or the N96!) or that of the HTC s710 (Windows Mobile standard) to it. I wish Apple improves on this issue as well. Nevertheless, there are a lot of inexpensive, high quality silicon and leather cases - and even some (seemingly) revolutionary ones like the ivyskin Retro and Xylo Touch-Thru. The iMat II is also pretty famous. But, of course, nothing can beat the OtterBox Defender.
Note that several people have reported the back collecting stratches very easily.
Unfortunately, the iPhone has a non-standard sync / recharge socket, while most other phones out there stick to the standardized miniUSB or microUSB. (Even Nokia is moving into this direction: while the N95 still doesn't support USB recharging, never, S60v3 FP2 models like the N85 and N96 do.) And, as an insult to the injury, the sync cable is, at least initially, very hard to remove from the phone – it, basically, cries for a cradle, which needs to be purchased separately (as opposed to the non-3G model). Fortunately, as time progresses, the cable gradually becomes much easier to remove. In addition, many people state (see for example THIS) the new squeeze tab-less cable won't cause any problems.
Note that early iPod Touch devices have been shipped with a cable with two squeeze tabs (very common with, for example, Dell Axim, Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox and Compaq / HP iPAQ PDA's) making it much easier to remove the cable. It was later when Apple switched to using the same cable as with the iPhone.
Unlike with (in this regard) some advanced Pocket PC's like the HP iPAQ 210, there's no way to set the maximal recharing Amperage on the iPAQ. This may turn out to be pretty disadvantageous with some desktop PC's or notebooks sensitive to high Amperages flowing through their USB ports.
1.8 Wi-Fi range
Average-to-good. It's much better than that of the Nokia N95 (Symbian S60) running the latest v30 firmware but clearly worse than that of the HP iPAQ 210 (one of the Windows Mobile PDA's with the best Wi-Fi range).
1.9 GSM (GPRS/EDGE) data range & low signal reliability
About the same as that of the BlackBerry 8800 and only a very bit worse than the v30 N95.
1.10 Bluetooth; dial-up; connection sharing
Bluetooth is one of the worst components of the iPhone. It doesn't support A2DP (audio over Bluetooth) or even dial-up connections. Fortunately, you can still access and use the iPhone as a modem over Wi-Fi using June Fabrics' PdaNet.
Note that there are other solutions too; for example, Addition's (commercial, costing $10) iPhoneModem (Cydia; see Chapter 3 below to see what Cydia is and how you can install it on your phone) and NetShare (see its AppStore removal story HERE). These, however, require you to use SOCKS proxy-capable clients. This not only limits the number of the client apps you can use, but also result in having to do some manual configuration on the clients.
Note that there's a project, iBluetooth, that is currently investigating seriously enhancing the Bluetooth capabilities of the iPhone. While, currently, noting is known of what they are going to implement, let's hope A2DP and/or DUN is among them.
Also see the following articles on tethering & related hacking:
Use Your iPhone's Internet Connection On Your Laptop (OpenSSH, SOCKS-based)
How To - Use iPhone as modem on Mac (Mac OS X only; also requires SOCKS)
How To Tether Your iPhone 3G For Browsing The Web Via Laptop (3Proxy and Terminal-based; also requires SOCKS proxying. Based on THIS, much longer article & tutorial.
1.11 The built-in camera
As you may have already guessed: it's worse than the cameras in most of the alternative models – even newer-generation (2007+) Windows Mobile devices are, particularly when it comes to closeups and macros, considerably better in this respect.
Pictures (non-closeups) taken under good light conditions are of average quality. They in no way can match the, in this regard, best phones (for example, the Nokia N95 / N82). An example pair of screenshot, the first taken by the iPhone, the second by the v30 N95 (click the images to get the original images; in this test, I haven't touched them so that you can see what for example compression is applied to each image by default; in this regard, unfortunately, the Nokia phones haven't been the best as the JPEG compression they employ outputs images at about 80-90% quality level to save space, which is unacceptable with some images requiring as little JPEG compression as possible):
Low-light performance is what you can expect of a camera with so small a CCD: noisy. Much noisier than that of the N95. Note that, however, the latter uses heavy noise reduction in form of getting rid of details; thus, resulting in a softer picture than with the iPhone. This can clearly be seen in the following shots:
(Canon DIGITAL IXUS 960 IS without flash, ISO 500; also see the EXIF data, just like with the two phones)
Just two pair of examples of closeups. The first pair is taken from the distance of about 40 cm (15"): an A/4 page; the second has been taken from 10 cm (the minimal focussing distance for the N95 in macro mode). This clearly shows there's absolutely no macro mode.
(As usual, click the thumbnails for large-size originals. All I've done is reducing their quality: with the exception of the N95 BlackBerry shot, to 50%. With the latter, I needed to use 10% to keep the file size down.)
Note that, as far as the A4 test shot is concerned, these two images have both been taken under bad lighting conditions; I let the Nokia use its LED "flash" (no flash on the iPhone). Note that the sharpness of the photo of same material will be equally bad under good lighting conditions; the following shot has been taken of the same sheet of paper, this time lit by the sun:
All in all, the lack of autofocusing and the effects of the mediocre-quality optics surely place the camera of the iPhone an "also run" category.
Let me provide you with some remarks on both built-in and third-party software. Of course, this is only a very superficial overview; I'll surely publish a lot more information in the future.
Synchronization is pretty much like how ActiveSync works for Windows Mobile, BlackBerry Desktop Manager for BlackBerry or Nokia PC Suite for Symbian S60. I won't elaborate on how it needs to be used. Instead, I only provide some comparison to other OS'es and provide some hacks for common problems.
First, it's much better than Windows Mobile's ActiveSync that it's capable of synchronizing email accounts. This would be more than welcome on WM, where, after a hard reset (or purchasing a brand new device), you end up having to manually create & configure (traditional) E-mail accounts. Not so with iTunes.
It, however, i pretty much a memory hog. ActiveSync, for example, is much smaller. Nevertheless, Nokia's and RIM's solutions are too comparable in size. Note that previous versions were generally slow(ish); I haven't had speed problems with the latest, 8.0.1 version, not even on my slow(ish) 1GHz ULV Centrino-based TC1100.
The system is pretty much similar to BlackBerry in that you must use iTunes (with BB, BB Desktop Manager) to install local IPA (on the BB, COD) files – you can't just directly copy them to your handset and install them there with, say, a file system browser.
Unfortunately, it's strictly only capable of syncing to one desktop only, unlike with ActiveSync for Windows Mobile – if you don't take into account syncing mail messages, that is. Not even file syncing is allowed with more than one desktop; that is, you can only back up your stuff on one desktop or install IPA files.
You can, nevertheless, use hacks described for example HERE. However, this hack requires you to stick to pre-8.0.1 versions of iTunes (see the comments in the original thread for more info on this problem.)
Another problem is that syncing can take ages: 8+ Hour iPhone Sync Timelapse Video; this can be helped at least on Macs.
Note that it (thorugh app synchronization) allows for backing up all your files to be absolutely safe, which is pretty important, should you accidentally delete your purchased apps from your iPhone. It, however, only backs up AppStore apps. Apps installed from Cydia (and the earlier Installer) apps need to be entirely redeployed. Fortunately, Cydia application reinstallation can be easily automatized with a tool (BigBoss' AptBackup) also available from Cydia. See THIS for more info.
2.2 Fighting the inherent problems with the operating system: the lack of multitasking
Probably we all know the biggest problem with the two iPhone models have always been the lack of the support for multitasking. This is really big a problem on such a sophisticated high-end handset and results in the same problems as on Palm OS.
So far, very few third-party applications (for example, MobileTerminal) have been able to run in the background. This is indeed a major problem: for example, you couldn't just run an instant messaging or IRC application in the background waiting for your partners' messages. The same stands for multimedia playback: while there are a lot of excellent for example radio streamer apps(*), you can't just make them run in the background while, say, you browse the Web with Safari in the foreground.
(*): Speaking of radio streaming apps, most of them are not only compatible with SHOUTcast streams (both MP3 and, fortunately, HE-AACv2 are supported by them), a format not very widely used by top, "serious" radio stations (for example, the Broadcasting Company of Finland), which, with RealOne's RealAudio gradually losing its market penetration, almost exclusively use the WMA format, but also WMA and MMS. Examples of apps like these are the free (!) and excellent Fstream or Weather Underground's WunderRadio (which is commercial - $5.99 -, but, nevertheless, excellent and well worth the price).
Backgrounder to the rescue (available in Cydia)! After installing, it overrides the functionality of the Home button: by long-pressing it in any program or game (but not on Springboard!), you can quickly switch between just minimizing (sending it into the background) and completely shutting down (the default approach) the application. Subsequent (short) Home button presses will, then, either minimize (but don't kill) or shut down the applications.
At first, it may not be clear how it is used. When you start an application or game (after installing Backgrounder), short-pressing the Home button will shut it down – as is the default. If you, on the other hand, long-press Home (instead of just short-pressing it, that is, letting the system shut the app down) and wait until "Backgrounding enabled" is displayed:
then, along with minimizing (hiding; NOT shutting down) the application, it'll also make sure subsequent Home presses will only minimize the same application instance. That is, if you re-enter the same app by tapping its icon and press Home again, the application will only be minimized (sent into background), not shut down.
Note that the manual suggests switch back to the default "shut down the current application" mode is done by just keeping Home pressed until "Backgrounding disabled" comes up:
However, this didn't work with me. I could only shut down apps I've allowed to run in background by long (10+ secs) pressing the Home button.
I've been hevily using running apps in the background. In general, it's really worth using: it pays off even when you don't use apps that must continuously run (for example, media players or communication apps like intant messengers). Just make sure you shutdown all the background apps should you want to run other apps needing every single CPU cycle (for example, games like Asphalt 4).
2.2.1 Forcing apps to always be started minimalizable
The official Backgrounder documentations mention, in the "Usage / Enable backgrounding for an application / By Default" section, that you can configure Backgrounder to start some pre-configured applications always minimalizable (backgroundable).
To do this, you'll need to create a simple text file named jp.ashikase.backgrounder.plist with the following contents:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
where look up programname in the following way.
1. go to the with the T-PoT plug-in (or anything similar with file search capabilities) private/var/mobile/Applications directory
2. press Alt-F7 and enter the name of your application into the "Search for:" field:
In this case, I want to make "Wunderradio" background-able; this is why I entered "Wunderradio" there.
3. wait until the search is completed (note: if you want to add several apps this way and are sick of waiting, copy the entire private/var/mobile/Applications directory to your, say, hard disk on your desktop to immensely speed up the search.). You'll be presented something like this:
4. Select the first (the directory) in the list below and press Enter twice. You'll be taken right to the directory. There, look for the file info.plist; in the following screenshot, I've highlighted it:
5. open the file for reading (in Total Commander, F3) and search for "CFBundleIdentifier". Copy and paste the string under it; it's of the form <string>programname</string>. In the following screenshot, it's too highlighted:
This is (<string>com.wunderground.WunderRadio</string>) what you'll need to enter in jp.ashikase.backgrounder.plist. Then, after the next starting of this application, it'll already be minimized instead of being shut down.
Note that you can edit jp.ashikase.backgrounder.plist any time and you don't need to restart Springboard to notice the effects.
After doing this trick, Backgrounder will always start Wunderradio (or any app you give it) in "minimalizable" mode. Then, you won't need to issue a long-press to enable background operation (and, then, to re-tap the program icon to re-enter it) – it'll be enabled by default. Shutting the app completely down will be made in the usual manner: just keep the Home button depressed for about 10-15 seconds, until the app is indeed terminated and you're returned to the Springboard screen.
Note that the above tutorial is meant for third-party apps. To do the same for built-in ones, you'll need to go to the private/var/stash/Applications.[Some garbled code] and not the private/var/mobile/Applications directory. Fortunately, there, you won't need to do any (time-consuming) searches as the directories are named after the application names:
After this, you will need to do the same as before: step in the given directory, look for info.plist and search for the string right under CFBundleIdentifier.
2.2.2 Caveats; programs that can't be run in the background
Apps like web radios, messengers or WebDAV servers (for example Discover) run just great when minimized.
You won't want to do this to for example games eating up a lot of memory / CPU time.
Also note that there're several programs that just can't be minimized, which is a pity. For example, it takes both Cydia and the standard AppStore a lot of time to restore the main / current page after restarts (with Cydia, this can even take 10-15 seconds!). Unfortunately, you can't run any of them backgrounded so that you can greatly speed up their loading when you switch back to them.
As far as Safari is concerned, Backgrounder seem to imlicitly support it (without any explicit configuration in jp.ashikase.backgrounder.plist). After installing it, Safari never again was shut down completely when pressing the Home button. This is really great as reloading the current Web page when switching back to Safari has always taken a lot of time.
2.2.3 Switching between background tasks (lack of task managers)
Currently, there are no task manager applications showing the currently running and in-memory applications, unlike all the other three major mobile operating systems (WinMo: either Settings/System/Memory/Running Programs or specialized third party tools like PHM's Alt-Tab [in Pocket PC PowerToys] or Today plug-ins like HTC Task Manager; Symbian S60: long-pressing the Menu button; BB: Menu button on home screen and Switch application). That is, you yourself must remember which apps you've sent in the background. To reactivate (maximize) them, again, just tap their icons. Then, you can already shut them down by for long-pressing the Home button even after the En/Disabled message box comes up. After about 5-6 additional seconds, the application will be shut down.
If you absolutely don't know what you've started and you just don't want to (re)activate all the possible apps you may have minimized, there is still a way to get everything sorted out.
126.96.36.199 Using the terminal to kill backgrounded programs
If you fully forget which app is running in the background and it's heavily slowing down your iPhone, then, you can save yourself having to reboot your phone if you aren't afraid of running two Unix commands on a local terminal. Don't be afraid: it's easier than you might think, even if you aren't a Unix guru.
To do this, install Allen Porter's "MobileTerminal" from Cydia:
Start it and tap the upper bar to switch to the preferences. There, disable multiple terminals (On/Off switch in the center of the screen) and, then, click (the remaining) Terminal 1. Disable Auto-Adjust and make sure the Width slider is pulled to the maximum (100):
Also, you can add the "ps x" command to the on-screen menu (which comes up with a simple tap anywhere on the screen except for the topmost taskbar) to avoid having to enter it all the time as can be seen in the following screenshot:
Note that you can hide/ show the on-screen keyboard by double-tapping the terminal screen (anywhere) and MobileTerminal is Landscape-capable.
Now, issue the 'ps x' command to get a list of all running processes. An example follows:
To see the full path in the COMMAND column, scroll the view to the right by swiping the active terminal screen at the bottom to the left (this means if the keyboard is visible, then, between it and the terminal screen; if it isn't visible, then, at the bottom of the screen):
Also note that, in general, you can safely ignore the rows with the "PID" less than several hundreds; in the screenshot, they're 17....47. You will never want to touch them. Also, the apps you want to stop start with either /var/mobile/ or, in cases (with either built-in apps or third-party system tools) /var/stash/ but not with /usr/bin or /System/Library. Also, just ignore the last few (two... four in general) list entries (either -sh or 'ps x' as the command).
After finding the program you want to stop, you can either just leave MobileTerminal to tap its icon and just shut it down by (extremely) long keep-and-holding the Home button.
Alternatively, if you aren't afraid of doing this, you can also use the "kill" Unix command to do the dirty stuff. Be warned: killing apps MAY result in their not saving their state, as opposed to shutting them normally.
To use the kill command, look up the PID belonging to the app you would like to shut down (it's in the first column). In the above example, Wordbook has the PID of 240. That is, just enter the
command. In the screenshot below, I demonstrate killing the process with the PID 651; this is why I've entered the kill 651 command:
There are, however, other (and, unfortunately, commercial) SSH clients that do; see for example THIS for a complete overview of them.
2.3 Video recorders
As you may have already heard, the iPhone, by default, doesn't allow for recording videos. Thanks to the enthusiast programmers all around the world, this problem too has been fixed.
There are two video recorder applications for the built-in camera: Cycorder and Videorecorder 3g, both Cydia-only. I've tested the former; it worked flawlessly. Highly recommended!
2.4 (Built-in) Safari
Safari, the built-in web browser, is the one so many Windows Mobile companies have been trying to reproduce for the Microsoft platform (with more or less success).
Dynamic zooming (with double-taps) works pretty great; so do manual zooming (with two fingers). Page loading times (over Wi-Fi) are pretty good. Also, its paging system (tabs) is pretty easy to use.
However, it has some major problems:
- it doesn't have any kind of (current page) caching, unlike all the other browsers out there. This means you'll always face lenghty reloads when you for example return to the previous page you've just left
- it doesn't support any kind of copy/ paste, which is really a pain in the back with for example non-clickable, long links.
- sometimes, it's very hard to switch between portrait and landscape mode – it just wouldn't rotate the page, no matter how hard you try
- it crashes much more frequently than for example Opera Mini (which has never crashed on me on my BlackBerry 8800 in the last few months; note that I've been using it a LOT.) Fortunately, it remembers the last page after restarting; however, this still is a nuisance.
- When it comes to in-page videos, it only supports YouTube. No Google Video, nothing else. In this respect, Flash Lite-based platforms are far better (Symbian S60 or Windows Mobile – note that the latter still hasn't received Flash Lite 3.1 officially; there is, however, a hacked version)
- No shortcut to quickly go to the end of the page. (Also see the Home / End virtual buttons or quickly scrolling the scrollbar on Windows Mobile or quickly scrolling with the D-pad in Nokia Web (S60) or NetFront (WM), in (automatic) map mode or, with Opera Mini, the #3 shortcut.) There is only one shortcut: tapping the uppermost part of the screen not only brings up the address bar, but also scrolls the page to the top.
- No online (!!) bookmark synchronization capabilities, unlike with, say, Opera. (The biggest reason I keep sticking to Opera on all my platforms is its ability to immediately sync my bookmarks between all my mobile devices and PC's.) You can only synchronize bookmarks with the desktop Internet Explorer (on Windows; on Mac OS X, with the "full" Safari, of course) and only through iTunes. The Apple folks should implement something like that of Opera between the iPhone version of Safari and all major Web browsers, including, of course, Opera.
- There're no goodies like in-page text searching or opening pages in a new tab, unless the original HTML markup instructs the browser to do so. (This would be very nice because of the need to completely reload everything upon returning to a Web page by using the back arrow.)
- The automatic switching between portrait and landscape can be a real pain in the back. Sometimes, it just doesn't switch when it should (this is the most important problem) and it, in some special cases naturally not thought of by the Apple folks, switches when it shouldn't (for example, if you would like to browse the web while lying on your side, in Landscape mode). Fortunately, the latter problem can easily be fixed by using the technology explained HERE. In a nutshell: when you turn from your back to your side, always keeping the iPhone in Landscape position in relation to your eyes, still rotate the iPhone another 180 degrees clockwise. Then, it won't rotate any more.
I really hope the Apple folks introduce some kind of manual switching between landscape and portrait modes to fix these problems. Note that it's not only Safari that actively switches between the two orientations when you don't necessarily want it to do so (and doesn't when you would like it to do...), but also some games; most importantly, Asphalt4. If you use the tilt control to control the car in the latter, there will be cases when you tilt your phone to either right or left so much that it switches to Portrait. Really annoying!
2.5 Third-party games
The iPhone is pretty strong at third-party games. Sure, most of the titles are very weak if you have grown up on Windows Mobile and its extremely good games - and, even more importantly, emulators. Nevertheless, there are some extremely well made games and, given the frequency new games are released for the platform (while both Windows Mobile and Symbian receive games far more rarely, let alone the, in this respect, worst BlackBerry), I'm absolutely sure the iPhone (along with the iPod Touch) becomes a very popular gaming platform, particularly with adults not really wanting to carry a Sony PSP or a Nintendo DS with them.
The biggest advantage of even current iPhone titles is the support for mostly local, Wi-Fi-based, head-to-head multiplay. Several titles support this; for example, the must-buy Asphalt4.
2.5.1 Tower Defense clones
(Please see THIS for more info on the game genre and the WinMo / Symbian implementation(s).)
188.8.131.52 Fieldrunners by Subatomic Studios
As of v1.0, compared to the WinMo / Symbian version of Towers Trap,
It looks far better with its animated 3D sprites
Has a much larger battlefield pretty hard to entirely build
No speed problems, unlike on most VGA Windows Mobile devices
It, however, lacks some special enemy units like invisible or lock-down "freezer", "icy" ones. This severely reduces the strategy you need to use.
The tower types you can use are also pretty limited; for example, all towers are effective against both air and ground enemies, which too reduces how versatile defense you need to build
The slow-down weapons ("Shock" in Towers Trap) have a far shorter effect
No sound at all
You just can't make the game faster by just letting the next enemy wave(s) in when the current one is still on the playground. This is a MAJOR problem and really reduces the replay value of the game.
Impossible to publish the high scores online
All in all, because of the heavily limited strategy options (limited unit and tower types) and the lack of the possibility of letting the next waves enter the field whenever the player wants, this game just can't deliver the same fun factor as Towers Trap on Windows Mobile or Symbian S60.
A screenshot showing how easy it is to beat the AI in Easy mode (there are 100 waves of enemy attacks). This would have been impossible with Towers Trap.
This is another Tower Defense clone. Frankly, I've found it pretty dull and uninteresting.
2.5.2 Car racing games
184.108.40.206 Asphalt4 Elite Racing by Gameloft
Without doubt, this is one of the best titles of all – a real must. This is the iPhone game I enjoy the most.
Probably the only cons of the game is that the accelerometer (a.k.a. gyroscope) doesn't work when playing in bed (that is, when the iPhone is hold more or less vertically) and it can't be re-tuned. In this regard, for example 3-D Vector Ball (which can be fine-tuned; review HERE) is far better.
Note that the in-game music is disabled by default. Make sure you enable it.
220.127.116.11 Cro-Mag Rally by Pangea Software
The biggest advantage of this title is that it's way cheaper than Asphalt4. Otherwise, I didn't find it much entertaining – Asphalt4 is way better in my opinion.
2.5.3 Some other games worth mentioning
Note that there are a lot of other titles! These are just some of the titles I've purchased and/or tested.
18.104.22.168 Star Wars Force Unleashed
A great title, albeit many say it's a bit short. Well worth a try.
22.214.171.124 VirtualPool by Celeris
It's just like on other mobile platforms (high-res, accelerated – see my review of the WinMo / Palm OS version; review linked HERE), pretty nice, albeit it isn't very cheap. Another review & video HERE.
126.96.36.199 Enigmo by Pangea Software
As opposed to Cro-Mag Rally of the same developer, I loved this title. It's of the same quality / speed as on the 3D accelerated Dell Axim x50v/x51v.
188.8.131.52 Strategic Assault by Xen Games
Many of my fellow Windows Mobile users may remember Xen Games – yes, they're the same folks that, back in 2001, released Interstellar Flames for Windows Mobile.
This RTS (Real-Time Strategy), while definitely isn't as fully-fledged as Isotope 244's Machines at War on Windows Mobile and is, more or less, a direct port of the Windows Mobile version of the same game, may still be worth checking out.
Also see THIS quick review.
184.108.40.206 Vector Ball by Gyrocade
A 3D Pong. Not bad at all; the tilt control can be fine tuned (if you use it and not just the standard touchscreen control) and, which is probably the most important, it supports head-to-head multiplayer. Well worth giving it a try.
Also see THIS review if interested.
220.127.116.11 3D Constructo Combat
This multiplatform game is pretty enjoyable on both Windows Mobile and mobile phones with a decent and compatible MIDlet manager and Bluetooth to play it over Bluetooth - like newer (2004+) Nokia models.
Unfortunately, the iPhone version lacks the most enjoyable and useful mode of the Windows Mobile / Java versions: multiplayer. Hope the developers soon fix this problem.
Their blog post also mentions tilt control has been ported back to the Windows Mobile version.
2.6 Some other applications
2.6.1 Night Clocks
Umlautllama's Nixie Clock $1 (AppStore): nice if you like old technology
NightTime free (AppStore): well worth a try
Apptism's Night Clock costs $1
I've tested several dictionaries. Of the one-language English ones, TranCreative LLC's WordBook (6 euros in the AppStore), WordNet-based dictionary is well worth purchasing and is pretty much a steal at 7 euros only. The dictionary has everything the underlying WordNet has to offer: synonyms, antonyms, hypernyms, hyponyms etc., and, as with the WinMo version, also contains pronunciation info for all words (unlike most other WordNet-based dictionaries; for example, MSDict's version on the BlackBerry). Note that, as with the Windows Mobile version, you'll need to tap the arrow [in the WM version, chain] icon to see the antonyms, hypernyms and hyponyms; by default, only synonyms are displayed. Compared to the WinMo version, it even lists the origin of a word.
Please see my dedicated roundup for more info on the Windows Mobile WordNet-based dictionaries. While they're WinMo "only", the roundup clearly shows what you can (and should) realistially expect of WordNet-based dictionaries.
I've also tested PONS English-German (bidirectional) dictionary. It's also excellent; has the spoken (non-synthetized) words for most major, non-compound words in both directions. Also, inflexions, irregular plural etc. are all marked for German, which will be pretty useful for students of German.
Paragon's Concise Oxford Dictionary has turned out to be pretty good too. So is the Duden German Explanation Dictionary – also from the Paragon folks.
2.6.3 Fun apps
At first, before completely and very thoroughly reading the description, I thought Markus Stöbe' TouchScan (0.79 euros, AppStore) was a "fingerprint recognizer" and was pretty disappointed at it not scanning the fingerprints at all (which, actually, would be impossible using the current cpacitive touchscreen technology). Afterwards, after reading the description more thoroughly, I've found out it's just a fun app.
2.6.4 Alternative SMS writing tools
iSMS, which used to be available on Installer only, has been pretty famous. Now that later iPhone firmware versions have received SMS mass-sending capabilities, however, it doesn't seem to be available any more. Its other major advantage was the included character counter.
There already are some emulators for the platform, thanks to one of the biggest "hacker" names, ZodTTD (Homebrew). I've thoroughly tested some of them.
psx4iphone (Cydia; current, tested version: 0.8.0): a PSX emulator. As with the other emulators, it requires the BIOS image, scph1001.bin, to be put in the ROMs directory of the device, along with other (uncompressed, non-Alcohol-format) ROM images.
Don't expect much from this emulator. It just isn't as fast as, say, the forthcoming FpseCE 0.10 (when it's finally released, that is). Note that it takes ages to boot it into FF7 (example video HERE); I've tested the disk image from Rom Hustler. Also see THIS for the official ROM compatibility list.
genesis4iphone (Cydia): a Genesis / MegaDrive emulator. Unfortunately, it doesn't at all support sound, unlike several Genesis emulators on Windows Mobile; most importanly, SmartGear. See THIS for more info on what games there are for the platform and how the Windows Mobile emulators fare.
NES (Cydia; current version: 2.3.1): this is a NES emulator. It has sound and, as one can expect (knowing the pretty underpowered hardware of the original NES consoles), it's working OK.
There is also an SNES emulator and a ScummVM interpreter for the iPhone. The former, as you may already have guessed, doesn't offer flawless sound (as is the case with SNES emulation on Windows Mobile and Symbian). The latter is reported to be perfectly OK.
To summarize this section, it should be pointed out that iPhone is still much weaker than Windows Mobile - or even Symbian. The former emulates almost all 8- and 16-bit computers and gaming consoles - and even some 32-bit ones like the PSX. And even the latter has significantly more emulators (for example, for the ZX Spectum).
I've written down the word "Cydia" (and, sometimes, the older and, nowadays, not very often used Installer) several times. Now, let's see what it is and how you can get hold of it.
No, don't be afraid of this! Without hacking (at least jailbreaking) your phone, it'll be far less capable: for example, you won't be able to install any video recorder application or Backgrounder. In addition, if you "just" jailbreak your phone, you won't lose your warranty. And, if you aren't sure jailbreaking doesn't result in losing your warranty, you can do as on Windows Mobile (cooked ROM's) or Symbian S60 (changed country code in order to be able to install other, for example, generic European ROM's): if you do need to get your phone serviced, you can always re-flash an official BIOS on it and, then, noone will notice your phone was jailbroken once upon a time.
Also note that jailbreaking has nothing to do with SIM unlocking. The latter is still impossible to do on the iPhone 3G, "only" on the first model (iPhone 2G).
Also, you will definitely want to install for example the Total Commander USB plug-in to quickly transfer files between the file system of your iPhone and your desktop PC – at 2-3 Mbytes / second; that is, well over USB1.1 speeds. This, however, also requires jailbreaking.
This step needs to be done first; providing access to the file system is second and, when needed, third is MobileInstall is the third.
To do this, you'll need to use QuickPwn by, say, following the Windows tutorial HERE. To summarize: just download the executable from HERE (the other two links in the article don't work; see the original blog for more), the ROM file from HERE (3G 2.1; for non-3G model(s) or other ROM versions see THIS). After decomressing the ZIP file, run QuickPwn.exe and just follow what is asked for. At the first run, you'll need to pass it the path of the just-downloaded iPhone1,2_2.1_5F136_Restore.ipsw; upon subsequent starts, it'll remember it. Otherwise, just keep pressing the big arrow icon in the lower right corner whenever it becomes active and, on the main screen, just do what is explained (switching to service mode via the power and the home button).
On a screen, you'll be shown the chance of installing both Installer and Cydia (and a custom boot image). Make sure (at least) the first two checkboxs are selected.
Note that the well-known ZiPhone is NOT compatible with iPhone 3G's, only with the non-3G models. Don't ever try to use it!
2. Provide access to the file system
a. The easiest way to do this is just getting the Total Commander (TC) plug-in T-Pot from HERE. If you've ever used any file system plug-in with TC (for example, the WindowsCE plug-in for Windows Mobile), then, you'll already know how this beauty is used. Also see THIS for a tutorial.
Note that if you didn't jailbreak your phone (see bullet 1 above), you'll only be able to access the multimedia directories on your phone and nothing else. If you do jailbreak the phone, you'll be able to access the entire file system.
Also note that some people state T-Pot is unreliable. It has never caused me any problems. If you can't make it connect, just shut down Total Commander and start it again; this will fix problems like this.
b. Should you, alternatively, want to go the "traditional" route, you'll need to install OpenSSH from Cydia and nothing else. Note that old, outdated tutorials like THIS also list some other stuff ("BSD Subsystem", "Community Sources") to be installed. That's not the case: OpenSSH is all you need. Note that, after installing, reboot may take a LOT of time (it took me about an hour). After installation, you will need an SCP client for accessing thru Wi-Fi; for example, WinSCP. See the above link for a tutorial; again, note that you'll only need to install OpenSSH and nothing else.
In addition, you can install SBSettings (from Cydia) to en/disable the SSH daemon (and other wireless units) on the iPhone, should you not need it. (It uses a GUI pretty similar to that of HTC's wireless en/disabler applet on WM) I, however, don't recommend it: its constantly popping up when you browse the web in Landscape mode will really annoy you.
Note that if you don't want to install OpenSSH + WinSCP, you can still access at least your media stuff via Wi-Fi, via a standard Web browser (meaning absolutely no need for installing third-party apps on your desktop). To do this, just get B-Base.mobi's Discover (free in the AppStore). Start it; it'll display the (local network-based) Web address you'll need to connect to this address (don't forget to add the trailing 8888 port number!) from any of your Web browsers. (The developers recommend IE or Firefox; however, Opera works great too.) Then, you'll be able to access / transfer the files in the public folders.
I very frequently use this app when I take screenshots on my iPhone (keeping Power pressed and, then, pressing (for not too long) the Home button; then, after the screen becoming temporarily white and a shot sound being played, just releasing the two buttons). Then, I just fire up Discover on the phone and select the given URL already stored as a favorite in my Web browser. No need to connect the iPhone to the USB cable at al.
c. Finally, if you don't want to use Total Commander, you still have other file browser desktop tools like enginsite.com's DataFreeway. They also allow for attribute / right setting. I haven't used it so I can't really comment on it.
3. Should you want to deploy.ipa files not originating from Cydia or Installer (set up by QuickPwn; see bullet 1) on your phone via iTunes, you'll also need to download and copy the hacked MobileInstallation file to your phone. See THIS for more info & the download links. (Notethat you don't necessarily need WinSCP or any SCP client to do the file transfer. The Total Commander plug-in explained in bullet 2a will work just fine.) After this, just reboot with e.g. SBSettings (Power / Reboot) or by just keeping the Power button down for a while.
Note that, if you don't do this hack, you won't be able to just drop unofficial (non-signed) ipa files into iTunes and, then, synchronize them to your phone. Everything else will work, though, which means you'll only need to do this hack if and only if you do want to deploy ipa files generated / created by others. You will, again, NOT need this hack to install anything from AppStore / Cydia / Installer!
3.1 Some other tidbits worth knowing of the file system
Safari favorites / history: under private/var/mobile/Library/Safari
Mail accounts: private/var/mobile/Library/Mail/Accounts.plist
Dynamic user dictionaries (contains words not present in the built-in library; also see the corresponding file, dyncompdict.dat, under Windows Mobile; see THIS and THIS): private/var/mobile/Library/Keyboard
4. Verdict: is it worth it?
First, it's up to you whether you consider iPhone worth taking a look at. I, myself, pretty much like the phone: it looks cool, it is very easy to use, has a LOT of great (!!!) games, a capable (albeit quite frequentally crashing) Web browser and, last but in no way least, has a very active hacker / programmer community. Thanks to the high number of programmers supporting the new platform (and, of course, the standardized and gaming-friendly hardware), it seems there are a lot more for example high-quality games released for the iPhone than on the other three major mobile platforms summed. However, keep in mind that it does have several shortcomings.
Would I switch to it for phoning purposes? I, who already have a Nokia N95 for this purpose, nope. The N95 is capable of recording my calls (a very important feature) and has an incomparably better camera, which can turn out to be highly useful with a device that always goes with me. In addition, it's considerably smaller (albeit far thicker) and also supports A2DP, should I want to listen to some music via Bluetooth. The iPhone, on the other hand, remains a great(!), new-generation all-purpose digital assistant; it's just that I don't really want to use it for phone calls and / or camera usage my N95 does far better. I, fortunately, can carry two (or, for that matter, more) gadgets with me. As I have several separate Internet subscriptions (also meaning separate SIM cards: one for calls and the others for unlimited data / BlackBerry access), this also means keeping more than just one all-in-ine device is pretty OK with me: I don't really need to have a connected Internet device and an A2DP multimedia / camera / call recording-capable phone in one device.
As your mileage may heavily vary (most of the people only want to keep a converged device with them and/or don't need A2DP or call recording or deccent built-in cameras), I think you should really consider whether the iPhone suits you or not. Again, it has great advantages (gaming, great, comparatively large and high-resolution, visible screen; multitouch, capacitive touchscreen etc.) and a lot of disadvantages (not the best camera, no A2DP, its Wi-Fi range could still be better, no call recording etc.).
Unfortunately, HTC's refusing to offer the Touch HD in the States (story & comments HERE) complicates the matters a lot. If HTC released the HD in the U.S., I would just state it's really worth going for as, in most respects (except for the great touchscreen and the even greater user interface – that is, the software), it's certainly superior to the iPhone. Again, not counting in the inferior and aged resistive touchscreen technology and the not necessarily 3D gaming- or H.264-decoding-friendly architecture, of course, when it comes to the hardware.
The lack of the US release of the HD, however, also means, in the future, it'll receive far less both official (from HTC themselves) and unofficial (from ROM cookers) support. I, myself, who basically only use these devices as toys and not as work devices (except for my Blackberry 8800 – but that's a business phone with no entertainment capabilities), I tend to base my purchase decisions on the popularity of a given model. Not only because being more popular means far better support and future bugfixes / upgrades, but also, as a tech writer, I prefer buying stuff that a lot other people have questions about so that I can provide first-hand help and answers. With US customers not being able to (directly) purchase the Touch HD, a lot of my readers simply couldn't have access to the device. That is, I'm seriously thinking of just getting a second-hand, comparatively cheap Diamond for cheap so that I can answer Americans' most common questions.
And you? I can't just tell you whether the iPhone is worth purchasing as I don't know your needs. If you need for example a great camera or call recording, stay away from it and get, for example, the Nokia N95 instead, which has both and is already very cheap, while still being quite up-to-date (HSDPA and stuff). If you don't need these but need great gaming capabilities, consider getting the iPhone. If you love testing new games and apps all the time and want a platform that continously receives a lot of new stuff, get it – today, it seems most of the new software releases are for the iPhone, followed by Windows Mobile, Blackberry and, then, as the fourth, Symbian S60. If you're in the US (meaning no HTC Touch HD for you), want something really-really cool, flashy, easy-to-use and don't want to wait for the touchscreen-enabled BlackBerry Storm (which, in my opinion, will have as bad third-party game support as previous BlackBerries – and, of course, it's still not know whether its interface will be as nice as that of the iPhone), iPhone should be the first on your list. If, on the other hand, you're a tech geek wanting as many third-party apps and games as possible, aren't afraid by the weaker future (un)official ROM support (because of the lack of the US distribution) and are outside the US and, therefore, can purchase the Touch HD with local warranty and 3G, in local shops, seriously consider the Touch HD.
I've made a quick chart comparing all these requirements and how the current flagship and/or popular models of each manufacturer is able to fulfill them. This may make your life easier. Note that this is just a quick chart and in no way incorporates all the information I've ever published on the three other operating systems. However, it already gives you a clue of what you can expect of each system.
The chart is HERE (sorry, it's just too wide to be inserted here) - make sure you click the link.
5. Final words
Note that this was just the beginning of my future iPhone comparison & tip & hacking-related articles. I'll devote several articles to explaining the differences between the iPhone and the alternatives in, say, how mailing is supported.