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And Yet More On the iPhone

The iPhone is not the coolest thing I've seen this summer--that honor goes to Shanghai's 268-mph magnetic-levitation train. But it easily comes in second.

As I wrote in today's review, the iPhone is quite the little piece of work. My own Treo 650 looks like a Bronze Age product next to it, and the BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones I've been testing recently seem almost as lame. The iPhone constitutes a swift kick in the rear for competing smartphone developers who have spent most of this decade in idle.

And yet I don't plan on buying an iPhone. In addition to the reasons I outlined in the column, AT&T's network doesn't extend to the subway parts of Metro: I can't go back to using a phone that goes dead every morning and evening.

(Not that waiting to see if Palm will ever stop microwaving the same old designs, Research In Motion will stop flunking User Interface 101 and Microsoft can be bothered to design for customers who aren't IT managers isn't exasperating too.)

In my review, I tried to focus on the most important details about the iPhone. Below you'll find the bits that Didn't Make The Paper (if I may steal Barry Svrluga's phrasing):

* The box alone is beautiful--a slim black rectangle, far smaller than the enclosures most other phones show up in. Inside, there's the iPhone itself, the smallest power adapter I've ever seen, a dock, a USB cable and a set of headphones that include a hands-free microphone. A getting-started manual and cleaning cloth are hidden inside an envelope.

* The iPhone's touchscreen--Apple wouldn't identify the technology inside it--only responds to fingertips. Pens or other smartphones' styli won't work, nor will fingernails (as one colleague found to her dismay).

* Besides Metro, AT&T's network also has plenty of holes in the countryside. Most of southwest Virginia is devoid of service, going by the maps on AT&T's site, as are large swaths of West Virginia.

* I synced the test iPhone with an iMac running the latest version of Mac OS X and a Dell laptop running Windows XP. The experience was much more pleasant on the Mac, since iTunes syncs to the programs most Mac users already use--Address Book, iCal, Mail, Safari. In Windows, iTunes seems stuck in a Microsoft-only world; it ignores Firefox Web bookmarks and Thunderbird e-mail settings.

* The iPhone can display, but not edit, Microsoft Word and Excel documents and Portable Document Format files. Conversely, iTunes doesn't provide you with a computer-editable copy of any notes you jot down in the iPhone's Notes program (although it does back them up automatically).

* I'm really not happy with the way Apple is locking out third-party developers from the iPhone. I don't think this does users or Apple itself any favors: Think of how limited a Mac would be if it only ran Apple's programs. And Apple's suggested alternative--writing interactive sites for the iPhone's Safari browser--ignores the fact that we all have to take our phones offline on occasion.

* The iPhone's headphone jack appears to be the same gauge as any other portable music device's, but it's deeper, making it unusable with most other headphones without plugging in an adapter. (My iPod's headphones did work, though.)

* It was easier to conduct my own battery-life tests after reading Apple's hyper-detailed documentation of how it came up with its battery-life estimates:

Video Playback: Testing conducted by Apple in May and June 2007 using preproduction iPhone units and software. Video content was a repeated 2 hour 23 minute movie purchased from the iTunes Store. All settings were default except: Call Forwarding was turned on; the Wi-Fi feature Ask to Join Networks and Auto-Brightness were turned off.

* Here's the fine print on iPhone battery replacement: $79, plus $6.95 shipping and handling, with a three-business-day turnaround promised.

* While your iPhone's in the shop to get a new battery, you should be able to pop its SIM card into any other AT&T phone; the review iPhone's SIM card functioned properly inside an AT&T BlackBerry. (Trying a T-Mobile SIM in the iPhone only yielded an "Incorrect SIM" error message.) You could alsorent an iPhone while yours is out of commission, but that will push the new-battery cost past $100.

* Curious about what's inside an iPhone? See this teardown, including an estimate of what all those components cost Apple in the first place.

* If you want to make your crummy old phone look a little more like an iPhone, see the TechCrunch blog's list of hacks and add-on programs.

Please share your iPhone thoughts below--and then we can talk about this further in my Web chat at 2 p.m. today.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 5, 2007; 9:27 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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