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iPhone: The Definitive Review For Lawyers

By Neil J. Squillante | Monday, August 20, 2007

TechnoScore: 4.7 out of 5


Lawyers love their BlackBerrys and to a lesser extent their Treos. But lawyers also love their iPods. The iPhone combines BlackBerry-like communications with an iPod plus other features not found on either.

Should you choose an iPhone for your next or first smartphone? Find out below in my review.

Don't Waste Your Time Reading This Review ...

If your law firm has already invested in the BlackBerry platform — and by this I mean BlackBerry Enterprise Server, not the devices themselves — you may not want to waste your time reading this review as no amount of begging and pleading will likely persuade the powers that be to switch to the iPhone or even support it. (Of course, you could buy an iPhone on your own dime, and synchronize it with your office computer on the sly — or with your home computer.)

RIM realized a long time ago that the secret to a law firm's heart lies in its Microsoft Exchange server. Theoretically, the iPhone is Exchange-compatible out of the box, but only if you configure your Exchange server to support IMAP, an email protocol. Even if you do that, the BlackBerry has the iPhone beat in one key area — "push" versus "pull" synchronization of your contacts, calendar, and most importantly, email.

For some, push versus pull is a distinction without a difference, but others consider it critically important so let me explain what it means.

Push works like a phone call — the BlackBerry alerts you as soon as email arrives on your firm's Exchange server. Plus the BlackBerry wirelessly synchronizes your calendar and contacts, again from your Exchange server.

Pull requires that you manually check your email or have your iPhone check it every few minutes. Also, synchronizing your calendar and contacts requires tethering your iPhone to your computer with a cable. If you use IMAP email, however, the email on your iPhone will exactly match the email on your computer, including sent mail, drafts, trash, and all other folders — instantaneously and wirelessly.

If you walk into a store and buy a BlackBerry, it will work like an iPhone (though you can sync via BlueTooth in addition to USB). Only BlackBerrys that connect via BlackBerry Enterprise Server have the push synchronization abilities noted above.

I have never used a BlackBerry or Treo so my iPhone is my first smartphone. If you switched from BlackBerry or Treo to iPhone, please supplement my review with your own.

Is That an iPhone in Your Pocket ...

Regarding physical form factor, the iPhone stands alone. It's the thinnest smartphone available. In fact, it's even thinner the the Razr, which is not even a smartphone. It's also thinner than the iPod.

Thinness enhances mobility. Apple understands this principle better than any other company. In fact, industrial design seems like an afterthought at many companies.

Look Ma, No Scratches ...

Unlike the iPod, the iPhone does not easily scratch thanks to its use of glass for the screen and metal for the body. You won't need to invest in a case, which in my opinion, would defeat the thinness factor.

Reach Out and Touch Me ...

The iPhone's touchscreen in conjunction with its interface sets it apart in an industry dominated by styli and thumbwheels. The iPhone contains only one button on its face, which takes you to the home screen. From there, you just press the application you want to use. You can run multiple applications simultaneously.

As a hunt and peck typist who uses 3 fingers, I can report that the much-debated (often by people who haven't used it) on-screen keyboard is a nonissue. Actually, it's a plus because it has virtually no learning curve. Most people start with their index finger and eventually graduate to their thumbs. I use both methods depending on the application.

For example, I use my thumbs when writing email, but my index finger when entering URLs, passwords, etc. in the Web browser. The latter is slower but more precise. The keyboard's "predictive text" technology has an uncanny ability to correct mistakes. As many others have said, just type and let the software worry about what you enter. Of course, this technology is useless for passwords or URLs (unless the URL is in your bookmarks), which explains why I use the more precise text entry method for these items.

I tested my typing speed using the iPhone Typing Test and scored 23 words per minute. That compares to a score of 35 wpm using a standard keyboard. I rarely type 35 wpm in real life because I don't use outlines. Instead, I write, think a little, write some more, etc.

The Big Four ...

Apple placed the four most prominent applications across the bottom of the iPhone — Phone, Mail, Safari, and iPod.


The phone is far superior to any mobile phone I've ever used. Thanks to "visual voicemail," you can randomly access voicemail messages like email, and even retrieve them after deletion.

The Phone's best feature, though is Favorites — people you frequently call. Thanks to an intuitive interface, adding people to this list from your address book requires no training.

When you place a call, an on-screen menu enables you to use the speaker, put the person on hold, conference in a third person, or mute your end of the call. The speakerphone volume varies between being just perfect or a little too low depending on whom you call. I have yet to use a BlueTooth headset, but plan to buy one soon—probably the BlueAnt Z9.


Email is a dream come true for this email addict. After many painstaking hours, I converted years of email from POP to IMAP. With IMAP, you store your email on a server, which means it's identical wherever you access it — Outlook, Webmail, BlackBerry, iPhone, etc. By contrast, POP stores your messages on your hard drive.

Traditionally, POP held a key advantage — the size of your mailbox is relatively unimportant because you download your new mail onto your hard drive. But the tide has turned thanks to Gmail, which began a revolution in mailbox size. Ironically, Gmail does not support IMAP, but thanks to its influence our email provider ( offers 1 GB mailboxes standard. We upgraded to 2 GB for a nominal fee. (In the next issue of TechnoGuide, I'll provide step-by-step instructions on how to switch from POP to IMAP.)

The iPhone's Mail application is robust. For example, it displays the HTML version of our newsletters perfectly. In fact, it's better than a desktop application in that you can set it to always download graphics rather than have to do it email by email. It lacks two features I regularly use — Resend and BCC. I suspect Apple will add BCC in a software update. I don't know about Resend.

Regarding attachments, you can read Word and PDF files, and view images such as photos. You can also forward attachments you receive, and email your own photos.


The Safari Web browser on iPhone is just like Safari on Mac (and now Windows) with two significant exceptions — it does not yet support Flash and it's unstable.

Flash is a nonissue since it will likely arrive via software update someday plus the iPhone comes with a YouTube application that actually works better than YouTube on the Web.

But the stability problems are a sore point. Some people seem to have better luck than others, which may stem from the Web sites you visit or whether your iPhone is a "5" or a "7". I have a "7" and inevitably experience a crash every session. One crash that everyone seems to experience occurs when you play the iPod and then try to surf. Fortunately, turning off the iPhone and rebooting seems to help. I'm confident that Apple will improve stability with a software update.

When it works, though, Safari is just as thrilling as Mail. For example, I checked an eBay auction while standing on the boardwalk on Coney Island two days ago. I don't have a dedicated computer at home because I like having everything in one laptop. Lately, I've left my laptop at work because the iPhone has everything I need at home — email, Web, and media — plus phone of course.


The iPod lacks a few features, but it's still "the best iPod ever" to quote Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Because of the touchscreen interface, you can more easily create On-the-Go playlists, rate songs, and scroll though a long list. Using these familiar functions with a different interface makes you realize the importance of user interface design.

If you use an iPod, you'll feel constrained by the 4 or 8 GB of memory (I have the 8 GB version), but if you use an iPod nano or an iPod shuffle you won't miss a beat.

The iPhone should work with your iPod accessories. It works with my iPod HiFi at home and my Kensington FM transmitter in my car. Other people have encountered problems.

The killer feature on the iPhone's iPod is its video implementation Large and razor sharp, the screen makes for compelling viewing. I should note that album art, photos, and text also look great on the screen.

The Other Apps ...

Regarding the other bundled applications:

SMS makes this form of communication simple to use, but it doesn't make up for the lack of a chat client. For the time being, I use Meebo's new Web-based iPhone chat client. Other options include BeeJive and FlickIM.

Calendar is extremely well-implemented. The List view gives you a quick run-down of your upcoming events.

Photos takes full advantage of the touchscreen interface. If you work with photos in your cases, it's an excellent way to review them without the need for a laptop.

Camera takes surprisingly good photos. I shot some nice aerials on the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island despite rocking back and forth. I've placed two of these photos below.

YouTube, as I noted above, works better on the iPhone than on the Web. The videos look better as well thanks to the superior QuickTime H.264 encoding.

Stocks works well. Those who use a Mac will find it familiar.

Weather also works like its Mac counterpart. It's more useful than you might think because it shows you what's happening right now (e.g., rain), which is great if you're in a window-less conference room.

Maps, like YouTube, provides a superior experience on the iPhone than on the Web. I've never gone to Coney Island. Hence, my last-minute trip before it closes for renovation. In the past, I would have printed directions from Google Maps. Instead, my friend simply read from the iPhone's screen while I drove (we still took one wrong turn, but that resulted from poor signage, not the iPhone).

Clock might not excite most people, but I'm a heavy user of my iPod's Alarm and Stopwatch. For example, we used the stopwatch to test printing speeds for the eBook we recently published, BlawgWorld 2007 with TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide (PDF file). The iPhone's Stopwatch is better than the one on the iPod, but the Alarm is inferior because you cannot choose an iPod playlist, only a ringtone. I hope Apple adds this capability in a future update.

Calculator is what you would expect.

Notes is useful for jotting down a number that you don't want to enter into your address book. While the iPhone doesn't (yet) synchronize to your notes in Entourage or Outlook, you can email them to yourself or others—or even to Google Docs.

Legal Apps ...

No legal applications currently exist for the iPhone because Apple does not currently permit third-party software programs. Thus, you cannot directly synchronize your case management software with the iPhone.

But, the iPhone has a computer-grade Web browser. Therefore, Web-based legal software will work on the iPhone just as it does on your computer as long as it doesn't rely on Java or Flash.

In an article entitled, Legal Startup Has its Eye on the iPhone Bandwagon, the Houston Chronicle recently covered Advologix, an iPhone-compatible Web application that handles case management, time-billing, online marketing, and more.

We ourselves use a Web-based application called PeerViews Mail to operate TechnoLawyer. It works well on the iPhone except for one feature that requires Java. In fact, I plan to publish this newsletter using my iPhone.

Other Noteworthy Items ...


As an existing AT&T customer, I had no activation problems. It took less than 5 minutes in the comfort of my office. I plan to switch one of my landline numbers to the iPhone, but have not started the process yet.


If you've used an iPod, you will not have to learn anything new. Just fire up iTunes.


I've always preferred in-ear sound-isolating earphones so instead using the earbuds that Apple includes I bought a pair of Shure's new SE210 earphones and accompanying Music Phone Adapter. With this combination, you can answer your phone and silence the iPod with a button on the cable. The cable also has a microphone. The new SE series has a modular design that enables you to integrate devices like the Music Phone Adapter without excess wire. Shure is way out in front of its competitors in this new product category.


The lack of a user-replaceable battery doesn't bother me. Like my iPod, I suspect my iPhone's battery will die long after I've upgraded to the next version of the iPhone. So far, the battery has taken me through en entire day and then some, including heavy iPod use and Web surfing.


The iPhone connects to the Internet using WiFi if available or AT&T's Edge network. WiFi works well, but don't expect it to rival your computer in terms of speed.  AT&T's Edge network leaves much to be desired in New York. Your mileage may vary. I plan to swing by the Apple store to see how mine stacks up against a display model for an apples to apples comparison (ha) to make sure my iPhone does not have a defect. You can try these speed tests:

iPhone Speed Test

iPhone Network Test

My iVerdict ...

I overheard a lawyer discussing how he wanted an iPhone, but planned to wait for the next version. Life is short. If a smartphone would make you more productive now, buy one now.

If you place a high value on industrial design, user interface, tightly-integrated software, a real Web browser, and an integrated iPod, look no further than the iPhone. If you use a Mac, ditto.

If you place a high value on price, 3G data speeds, and third-party applications, consider the BlackBerry or Treo instead.

The one comparison I cannot provide concerns email. I like how the iPhone handles email, but don't know how it stacks up against the BlackBerry or Treo. However, please look below for some photos of the iPhone's Mail application in action from the perspective of a heavy email user.

Finally, and most importantly, if you buy an iPhone, BlackBerry Curve, Treo 750, or some other smartphone, please post your own review.

I used to say that once you use a laptop, there's no going back to a desktop. Similarly, once you use a smartphone, there's no going back to a cell phone.

Other Noteworthy iPhone Reviews

Finis Price, iPhone Review for Attorneys, TechnoEsq

Anonymous, My iPhone Experience, Briefly, Practical Lawyering

Ernest Svenson, iHeaven, Ernie the Attorney

iPhone in Action: Mail




iPhone in Action: Safari


iPhone in Action: Camera



About TechnoEditorials

A TechnoEditorial is the vehicle through which we opine and provide tips of interest to managing partners, law firm administrators, and others in the legal profession. TechnoEditorials appear first in TechnoGuide, and later here in TechnoLawyer Blog. TechnoGuide, which is free, also contains exclusive content. You can subscribe here.

Topics: Email/Messaging/Telephony | Laptops/Smartphones/Tablets | TL Editorial
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