Apple's iPhone: Worth the Wait

Aside from a few surmountable glitches, the device beautifully combines several accessories into one sleek package

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Finally, most everything you need packed into one compact gadget

The Bad: AT&T's poky data network, typing without a keyboard, and price

The Bottom Line: An extraordinary device with minor flaws

By now, there have been thousands of untold "iPhone moments," when the discovery of this or that feature on the insanely anticipated device provoked a moment of sudden happiness.

Mine occurred after loading the device with an episode of a TV show from iTunes. I was contentedly watching, headphones in ears, when the sound faded inexplicably. A split-second later, the video paused for a ringing sound, a few notes of marimba, to indicate someone was calling. It was a nice touch, a classy, proper transition as if someone had just tapped me on the shoulder to say, "sorry for interrupting."

Surprises Along the Way

You see, it's the little things, the thoughtful touches of civility, simplicity, and convenience that so often distinguish Apple (AAPL) products from those of its rivals. And the iPhone offers many of these thoughtful touches.

Another occurred when I opened the weather application, having previously entered four cities in the preferences tab. At first I only saw the weather for one city, but not the other three. Then I remembered the finger-sweeping motion used in the music-browsing feature, which roughly replicates the sensation of flipping through a stack of old record albums. I swept my finger across the screen, and went from the weather in New York to that in Los Angeles, then Miami, then London. That sweeping motion? It shows up again when perusing photos, while a vertical sweeping motion allows you to browse other items such as e-mail messages and contacts.

This is nothing short of an extraordinary device. It's fascinating to use in every respect, from watching video to reading Web sites to just checking the weather.

Some Pitfalls

Enough of the gushing. What's wrong with it? The wireless Internet connection from AT&T (T) is a definite bummer when you want to do something like look at a Google (GOOG) map. This experience, and that of watching YouTube videos, improves substantially when you use a Wi-Fi network instead, as I did at home. I was able to do both over the cellular network, but at a pace one could only describe as tolerable at best, frustrating at worse.

I also gritted my teeth a few times typing e-mail messages by thumb with the on-screen keyboard. I will admit my accuracy improved with time, as did the device's ability to correctly predict the words I intended to type. In one instance I typed the words "to write" and got "tovarite," and far too often I hit an "o" when I meant to hit an "i."

Patience, practice, and short messages will be the order of the day when typing e-mail messages on the iPhone, especially if your thumbs are accustomed to the physical keyboards of the BlackBerry (RIMM) or the Treo (PALM). And for longer e-mails, I say it won't be three months before someone like Think Outside, a unit of Mobility Electronics (MOBE), creates a Bluetooth keyboard that will make iPhone typing a more comfortable experience.

Some Improvements

My other complaint came when the phone rang while it was resting in its dock, syncing to iTunes. I didn't know what to do, since Apple's instructions for the iPod say never to disconnect that device mid-sync. So I let the call go to voice mail. Apple subsequently told me it's fine to pick up the iPhone and answer a call, though the sync will start over when you return the device to the dock.

Despite the network's weakness on data connections, I found voice call quality to be exceptional. Someone who called me from an iPhone, who had been struggling of late with calls that never sounded loud enough, said he was notably impressed with the sound. I felt the same way.

The Verdict

Should you ditch your current smartphone? That depends. If you are a heavy e-mail user, it may be worth testing the typing feature at an Apple or AT&T store to see if it is to your liking, especially if you're a longtime user of a device with a physical mini-keyboard.

Aside from that, I can't see significant cause to eschew the iPhone if you're inclined to get one, except perhaps the price: $499 for 4GB of storage capacity and $599 for 8GB. (AT&T's calling and data plans start at about $60 a month.)

If you already own a smartphone and carry an iPod or something like it for music, you may bristle at the price. But if you're looking to upgrade, an iPhone is comparable in cost since it unifies two devices into one nicely integrated package—albeit imperfectly if you use your smartphone for corporate e-mail (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/29/07, "Not Everyone Wants an iPhone"). Add in the reclaimed space in your pocket or purse, and you're looking at a bargain.