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MINI MULTIMEDIA PLAYER
The iPhone doesn’t have a clickwheel, but it’s very much an iPod. All the controls are on the touchscreen. You adjust the volume by dragging your finger along a slider bar and control tracks by tapping. Cover Flow, which displays album art and lets you visually sift through your music collection, adds wonderful richness to the experience.
The iPhone’s iPod sounds like a 5G iPod, with full midtones, nice highs, and bass that doesn’t drop heavy enough for those who like to thump - that’s with the earbuds, of course. The built-in speaker sounds like your dad’s transistor radio, so skip it. The recessed headphone jack is a slap in the face. It prevents you from using an array of third-party earphones without an adapter. Belkin and Griffin Technology both sell adapters, or you can look for the Apple iPod shuffle Sport Case for the first-generation iPod shuffle. It includes a headphone adapter that works on the iPhone as well - and we recently found a Sport Case on eBay for 99 cents plus $4 shipping.
The iPhone’s 3.5-inch display is small, but it truly dazzles. Color bursts from the screen, and text detail is some of the best we’ve seen on any handheld device, let alone a cell phone. Skin tones look realistic and have a smooth texture in photos and videos, and we didn’t detect any ghosting. In fact, the image quality is so good that it’s possible to actually enjoy a 2-hour movie, despite the miniaturization. A commercial DVD movie that we ripped to our Mac using Handbrake (free) and then formatted for our iPod played on the iPhone flawlessly, just like movies purchased from the iTunes Store.
Don’t count on the iPhone to replace your point-and-shoot camera, however. Its 2-megapixel camera offers decent quality for portraits taken in well-lit areas, but if you’re snapping a photo under remotely challenging conditions - bright backlights, movement, dim lighting, extreme distance, or close up - the camera falters, producing streaky, noisy, blurry photos. The oversensitive shutter button, which displays on the touchscreen, “helped” us shoot several pictures without meaning to. There’s also a 1-second shutter lag. And if you’re expecting a video-camera feature, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
UNDER THE HOOD
iPhone activation and management is done through a USB connection to your computer and using iTunes 7.3 or later. If you already used iTunes to manage your iPod media, that will be old hat. With the iPhone, you can manage your Calendar and Address Book settings in iTunes too. The iPhone is compatible with Address Book, iCal, and Microsoft Entourage on the Mac, but syncing with Entourage is clunky at best because iTunes doesn’t access Entourage’s data directly. To sync iCal and Entourage, you have to have a calendar in iCal called Entourage. Then from within Entourage, you sync Entourage and iCal so that iCal imports your Entourage dates. Then iTunes syncs your iPhone from the info in iCal.
It’s no wonder the iPhone feels like it has the power of a subcompact Mac: It runs OS X, which takes up 700MB of the 4GB or 8GB of storage space. Unlike MacBooks and other modern Macs, the iPhone doesn’t use an Intel processor, however. It uses a Samsung-manufactured ARM chip that’s quite snappy; you can zip through the iPhone interface without any delays. Some tasks, such as opening email attachments and Cover Flow, feel even faster than they do on a 2GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook.
We also learned that you must be selective about what pictures, music, podcasts, and videos you put on the iPhone. After a few days, we’d already filled half of our 8GB iPhone with 205 photos, 333 songs and podcasts, and two movies. (Good thing we sprang for the larger storage capacity.)
In our continuous talk test, the iPhone’s battery lasted just over 7 hours with Wi-Fi off, and close to 4 hours with the Wi-Fi on. The iPod played music for nearly 23 hours and videos for 6 hours, 15 minutes. All good tallies, but they fall short of each of Apple’s published specs by about an hour. And, as with its iPod cousins, the iPhone’s battery can’t be removed. If you have to replace the battery, you must return the phone to an Apple Store (or send it in), which will replace it for $85.95 ($79 plus $6.95 for shipping). It takes three days, and the iPhone is returned to you stripped of all its data - so be sure to sync it with your computer first. If you need a loaner iPhone during the three-day period, Apple charges $29.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The iPhone is elegant. It’s exciting. And it’s the first device we’ve picked up in a long time that we just did not want to put down. The more we use the iPhone, the more we like it - EDGE network, warts, and all. For many users, the lack of a faster wireless data option is a deal breaker, and we can sympathize. But the iPhone does 98 percent of everything Apple claims it does so flawlessly, so well, that it’s hard to dwell on the downsides. The iPhone may be a first-generation product, but if this is a signal of what’s to come from Apple in the world of mobile devices, we can’t wait to see what the future holds. Welcome to the world Ai: After iPhone.
PRICE: $499 (4GB), $599 (8GB)
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4.10 or later, iTunes 7.3 or later, USB
Gorgeous design. Feels great in hand. Intuitive interface. Touchscreen controls work well. Dazzling screen quality. Displays standard-formatted webpages. Good Wi-Fi connectivity. Excellent audio quality for music and phone calls.
Sluggish Internet access via AT&T’s EDGE network. Bluetooth limited to headsets. No instant messaging app. Fixed battery. Safari browser doesn’t support some plug-ins. Calendar doesn’t support iCal To-Dos. So-so camera.