iPhone Review: 'Flawed, But Absolutely Beautiful'

Apple's iPhone features a touch screen

Apple's iPhone features a touch screen — which means there's no keyboard. Using the screen does take some practice, says technology writer David Pogue. Apple hide caption

itoggle caption Apple

Seven Things to Consider Before Buying an iPhone

Apple's iPhone isn't even in stores yet, but already, consumers are lining up to preorder the gadget. But do you really need the iPhone? Read our list of factors to consider before you buy an iPhone.

Attention, Apple lovers. It's finally happening: On Friday evening, the iPhone goes on sale. Since Apple announced it was going to create a phone, six months ago, there has been a feeding frenzy over every crumb of information about the phone.

Here, a few more crumbs — from New York Times technology writer David Pogue. He is one of only a few tech gurus who managed to get their hands on the iPhone before its official release. He spoke with NPR's Renee Montagne about his test drive of Apple's latest gadget — a cell phone, a music player and much more. The iPhone costs $499 for the 4-gigabyte version, and $599 for the 8-gigabyte version.

Here are Pogue's iPhone impressions:

It is an amazing device. It's not quite living up to the hype of the mania — I mean, nothing could. It is flawed, but it's absolutely beautiful.

It's less than half an inch thick, about the size of a regular cell phone. It's an all-glass surface, so it's a touch screen. There's only one button on it, and that takes you always to the home screen, where you see icons for all the functions, which are: cell phone; iPod — both audio and spectacular video; e-mail; Web; camera; calendar; address book; stopwatch; calculator; Google maps; driving directions; and on and on. It's really a computer that fits in your shirt pocket.

The iPhone's software is what it's really about. It's beautiful, it's animated, it's 3-D. You touch one fingertip on the album covers of your iPod collection, and you flip through them as though they're in a racket at the record store. Or you have a list of phone calls, and you flick your finger upward and they [spin] like a roulette wheel. That's how you navigate these big lists. It's all about using the touch screen in really amazing ways.

There is no keyboard. It takes practice. The screen is solid glass; there are no physical keys. How do you e-mail without a keyboard? And the answer is, of course, that [the iPhone] displays a little, tiny typewriter keyboard on the screen. And it is slow going, especially at first — you're tapping keys with your big, fat, fleshy finger that are much smaller than the finger itself. It does take practice.

It's spectacularly easy to use. It's not hard to navigate because there's only one button. You never can get lost, because that one button always takes you back to the starting point.

However, my gripe is that there's no way to change functions without going all the way back home. In other words, you can't go directly from the calendar to the Web browser; you have to go back to the home page in between.

Similarly, if you just want to make a phone call, you take this thing out of your pocket, and it could be as many as six button pushes to place the call. You push one button to wake it up; one button to unlock it — when it's in your pocket, it turns off all the buttons so it won't trigger calls accidentally; then one press on the home button; then one press on the phone button; and so on. That can be a lot of steps. I sort of wish there was a short cut.

Answering calls is very simple. [It's] one touch when a phone call comes in. The microphone is on the white ear bud cord. It's just a little, tiny bulge in the cord that you can also squeeze, and it's a little clicker. If you are wearing the ear buds, you pinch the cord: One pinch means "answer the call;" two pinches means "send this call directly to voicemail." If you are listening to music, that clicker pauses the music or, if you click twice, skips to the next song.

I'm not so much bothered by the price. I mean, there are $750 cell phones out there. For $500 — or $600, for double the memory — you're getting a cell phone, an iPod and a computer.

The biggest problem is that Apple chose to partner with AT&T. Both Apple and AT&T strenuously suggest that their network coverage has gotten so much better over the last few years. And you know what? I just don't experience that.

The cellular coverage is not good in my experience. And worse — much worse — the Internet coverage is not good. In other words, this cell phone is so powerful because it can get online anywhere. When you're in a wireless hot spot, it's really, really, really fast. But when you're not in one of those hot spots, you have to use AT&T's Internet network. And all I can tell you is it makes you long for the days of a dialup modem. I find it very frustrating when everything else on this phone is so spectacular.

This summary contains portions of the conversation not broadcast on NPR. Pogue's responses include minor edits for clarity.

Seven Things to Consider Before Buying an iPhone

The Apple iPhone

Apple's iPhone is a cell phone, music player and much more. Apple hide caption

itoggle caption Apple

Apple's iPhone isn't even for sale yet, but already, consumers are lining up to purchase the gadget. But do you really need the iPhone? Here are seven factors to consider before you buy:

1. The Cool Factor: As is true for many other Apple products, the iPhone's biggest "I want that" factor is its sleek styling. "If you love Apple, you love their gadgets, you have an iPod, you'll be one of the first in line," says Kent German, senior editor for cell phones at CNET.com, a technology news and reviews site.

The most eye-catching detail is, of course, the touch screen interface. You use your fingertips to access all of the iPhone's features: the music player, Web browser, calendar, etc. And of course, there's no keyboard, so to send e-mails, you'll need to get used to typing on a touch screen. "It takes practice," says New York Times technology columnist David Pogue, who has already tested out the iPhone.

2. Multimedia Mojo: It's a cell phone, it's a music player, it's a camera, it's a Web-enabled device, and much more. Ask yourself if you really need all that high-tech bling. (According to Forrester Research, most consumers say that what they want in a cell phone is that it actually work, last long and be easy to use.) If the answer is yes, then you should know that, according to Pogue, the video capability is "spectacular."

German notes that while other cell phones also offer an mp3 player, the iPhone is the only one that syncs automatically with iTunes, the world's most popular music-download system. Of course, you do have to buy the song on your computer first, then transfer it to the iPhone.

3. Interacting with the Office: Then there's the straight-laced stuff to consider, such as how well you can work on the iPhone. If you're a BlackBerry user who's always sending e-mails back and forth while away from your desk, getting used to the keyboard-less typing could take some time. "You'll really want to test that process before buying," German says. He notes that it's not yet known how well the iPhone will work with corporate servers to access e-mails and address books, or how it interacts with other computers. "If it does that well, then we might see a larger business audience," he says. But for now, he says, "Apple is certainly positioning this device for multimedia, for listening to music, for taking photos and for surfing the Web."

4. Internet Ease of Use: Because the touch screen essentially spans the length of the iPhone, users will get a wider viewing area than what the typical Internet-enabled phone offers. And the browser renders Web pages in full html — which means sites will look as they do on a regular computer.

Speed is another issue altogether. In wireless hot spots, Pogue says, getting online is a breeze. Otherwise, you're forced to rely on AT&T's wireless network — and that can make you "long for the days of a dialup modem," Pogue says.

5. Cell Phone Carrier: The iPhone can only be used with cell phone service from AT&T. "AT&T is the largest carrier," German says. "It has a very widespread network. It has the largest number of customers. So it is a natural choice for Apple."

Still, roughly two-thirds of U.S. cell phone users don't use AT&T. And Pogue says his biggest gripe with the iPhone is AT&T's wireless cell phone and Internet service, which he calls "not good." If this is an issue, take heart: German notes that a strong debut for the iPhone could possibly prompt Apple to adapt it to work with other cell phone service providers.

6. Price: The iPhone will set you back $499 for the 4-gigabyte model, and $599 for the 8-gigabyte version. Beyond that, there's the service plan to consider. AT&T announced this week that its iPhone service plans will start at $59.99 a month, with a minimum two-year contract. There's also a $36 activation fee. And if you have to switch service providers, you may have to pay an early-termination fee as well.

7. Other Options: If you're ready to spend at least $500 for a cell phone, what else should you consider? In the $500 to $800 price range is the Prada-branded cell phone from LG and the HTC Touch; both also feature a touch screen. German says the Nokia N95 is a "really powerful smart phone" with a 5-megapixel built-in camera (the iPhone's camera is 2 megapixels); it also has a music player, e-mail capabilities and "other productivity applications." And if what you want is a phone that does double-duty as an mp3 player, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia all have phones that fit the bill.

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