I really thing I should get some credit for this: I managed to wait until March 2008 to buy myself an iPhone. I didn’t rush out and wait in line on the day they shipped. I didn’t buy myself one when the price fell. I even bought my wife one first, in December for our anniversary. Admittedly, I was in a car on the way to the nearest Apple store when Steve first announced the iPhone last January, before he bothered to mention that it wouldn’t ship for 6 months, but it’d be totally unfair to count that against me.

More seriously, it took me quite a while to convince myself that it was time to retire my trusty Nokia E61. The E61 served me well for almost 2 years, but it was time to swap. In theory the two phones are fairly similar–fairly large screens, WiFi, EDGE (the E61 does 3G in Europe, which doesn’t help me much here), and Safari-ish browsers. In reality, they’re a wonderful demonstration of why feature checklists are worthless. Here are the things that I care about most:

  1. The iPhone is hands-down better for reading and writing email via Gmail. The native IMAP client is good enough, and the iPhone version of the Gmail web interface is vastly better then the version that we feed to the E61, even though they’re running very similar WebKit-based browsers. The E61’s keyboard is better, but the HTML edit box in Gmail’s mobile web interface is so bad that it cancels out the keyboard advantage.
  2. The browser is better. It’s faster, it doesn’t crash on every third Amazon page that I try to load, and the touchscreen scrolling is better than the joystick on the E61.
  3. It’s actually usable as a music and video player. In theory, the E61 can play movies and music, but (1) there’s no easy way to copy content onto it (unlike the N-series phones, it doesn’t come with an iTunes plugin), (2) out-of-the-box it only supports wacko video codecs, and (3) the UI’s bad.
  4. It’s easier to charge. My E61 has never charged right; swapping batteries and chargers never made a big difference. The iPhone, on the other hand, uses a semi-standard connector and charges via USB. It’s easy to find iPod cables and USB jacks, but finding a spare Nokia charging cable is tough, at least around here.
  5. I’m never, ever going to have to see Nokia’s stupid “which network connection do you want to use?” dialog box again. For some reason, Nokia decided that asking the user before letting apps use the network every single time was a good move. It’s smart enough to know which networks are available, and which ones I’ve configured it to use, but it’ll still show me a list with one or two choices every time. Bleh.
  6. The on-screen phone keypad includes letters. It’s a stupid thing, but the E61 doesn’t give you an easy way to dial vanity phone numbers, because there’s no way to tell which numbers map to which letters. I mean, can you tell me off the top of your head which numbers you need to press to dial ‘1-800-884-SOIL’?

The E61 wins a few points, though:

  1. It comes with a SIP client that’s actually be useful at home for me.
  2. It’s open, and you can install useful software.
  3. The Nokia podcast client does a great job of copying new episodes of Escape Pod for me on the fly.
  4. It’s louder. That makes it harder to miss calls.

SMS is kind of a push between the two; the E61’s ringer is louder and it has a better keyboard, but it takes way too many button presses to do anything.

So, for now I’m using the iPhone. Yeah, I could have waited for the 3G iPhone or Android, whenever they appear, and I may swap for one (or both?) of them when they’re available. From everything that I’ve seen, Android’s programming model will be vastly better than the iPhone SDK, at least for the weird types of things that I care about, but it’s not shipping yet.