Usability test: Does iPhone match the hype?

Users try out the iPhone, HTC Touch and the Nokia N95

Usability/Information Architecture (IA)

Apple iPhone 5

5 out of 5

HTC Touch 3

3 out of 5

Nokia N95 2

2 out of 5

Usability/IA is similar to global navigation, but it more specifically refers to how easy and fun the interface is. This category also includes such issues as how clearly icons are labeled and how easy it is to find applications and specific files. Once again, the iPhone received perfect marks.

"iPhone's [touch-screen] feature makes it fun to use," Ballew said. "Plus, the screen layout is simple and intuitive, and most of the labels are clear. And the file structure is transparent -- you don't see a list of files unless you go into iPod functionality, and even then, a lot of people are familiar with iPod functionality."

The HTC Touch, by contrast, was confusing to some users.

"It has a bunch of icons that are small, hard to see and not intuitive," Thornton said. "And it was hard for people to see the keyboard and to type. Also, the screen isn't brilliant. We had one [tester] who had had her eyes dilated a few hours earlier -- we kept her in the test because she represented a person with imperfect vision. She had trouble with the HTC Touch but not with the iPhone."

Some testers even had trouble making a phone call with the HTC Touch, Ballew said. "That's pretty basic functionality, but we had people who couldn't complete a call at all."

While the Touch had some rocky aspects in this category, the Nokia N95 was almost uniformly difficult to use for beginners.

"Some of the button functionality and labels weren't intuitive," Ballew said. "And some external stuff like the power button being hard to find and use, and the camera not functioning as expected, really hurt it."

Ergonomics

Apple iPhone 4.5

5 out of 5

HTC Touch 3.5

5 out of 5

Nokia N95 3

3 out of 5

Ergonomics refers to such issues as size, weight and shape, as well as the placement of switches and buttons and the quality of the display. Once again, iPhone led the way in this category but not as decisively as in the previous two categories.

"The iPhone is nice and thin, although it's a bit large," Ballew said.

A minor issue is that there's no tactile feedback from the iPhone screen, he added. "People are used to keyboard click, and it wasn't there," Ballew said.

Overall, the HTC Touch scored well in this category, but with some caveats. "There are a limited number of buttons, which is a good thing," Ballew said. "The screen is pretty small, though, and the display isn't that good."

The Nokia N95 has a solid, often satisfying feel, the testers said.

"It's fat, but it's pretty light, and it does have a full-fledged camera," Ballew said. "The display is nice -- better than the HTC, although not as good as the iPhone."

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David Haskin

Computerworld

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