Apple's iPhone Gets Mixed Reviews

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The iPhone went on sale Friday, after much hype. But by Saturday, the long lines were for people who wanted to try the phones, not buy them. Everybody was curious but slow to buy as there were concerns about the carrier; No. 3 AT&T. Sentiments are mixed as to whether it has lived up to its promise.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Mondays, we focus on technology. And today, the year's most talked about device is finally in customers' eager hands - at least, into the hands of those who endured the lines at Apple and AT&T stores to buy an iPhone when it went on sale Friday. There were those who said Friday should have been declared a national holiday. One tech blogger invented a weekend cocktail - the iPhonetini. And in case you're wondering, it's a type of apple martini. To find out if all the anticipation was worth it, we're joined by NPR's digital culture correspondent, Laura Sydell. Good morning

LAURA SYDELL: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And Laura, you were among the crowds at Apple and AT&T stores in the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend, so describe the scene for us.

SYDELL: Well, actually, by Saturday, the lines were gone to actually buy the phone. The big lines were for people who wanted to try them, because they had it set up and they actually had a demo going on in the store where you could sit around and watch an employee show you how the whole thing worked. So everybody was really curious what was this thing going to be like, including me. I have to try one. And there were a lot of people - they were interested in trying, but not buying it. They were a little concerned about the carrier, AT&T, which is ranked number three by consumer reports, so it's not necessarily the best carrier. And they were a little suspicious of the fact that it doesn't have a keyboard.

MONTAGNE: You mean people waited in line and went through all the brouhaha just to test it out?

SYDELL: Well, I don't think they were waiting in line outside the store, but they were standing around and waiting just to try one.

MONTAGNE: Okay. And given the iPhone madness, what was the verdict from customers who tried it out or even bought it and started using it?

SYDELL: Well, you know, it's interesting. I would say that there were a lot of people - you saw these people, they loved it. They'll love anything Apple does. And it is - it's a pretty cool-looking device, but there were some people who are a little bit wait-and-see. They're not sure yet if they're going to buy it. It's a little slow, and people have commented on this and you noticed it when you tried it, that the network is a little bit slow. So some people were thinking, I'm not so sure about this.

They also don't like the fact that you can't put a memory card in it, so if you take pictures, you can't just put a memory card into it and look at the pictures you took on your camera. You can only look at the pictures that you took with your iPhone on it. And so some people didn't like that. So I would say there were some people who were a little mixed.

MONTAGNE: And even though it seems like everyone on the planet is enthralled with the iPhone, it's not available to everyone on the planet, or even everyone in the United States. Is that an issue you heard about this past weekend?

SYDELL: Well, yeah. In fact, there are certain states where there are no Apple stores and no AT&T stores. So if you leave in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, you just can't get one. So I feel sort of bad for those people. All this hype, and they have to go out of state to buy one.

MONTAGNE: And then with all the hype about how the iPhone will change the cell phone industry, Apple CEO Steve Jobs says the keyboardless screen would take phone technology to the next level. From what you saw and heard this past weekend, what do you think about that idea?

SYDELL: You know, it's hard to predict. Some people said, you know, I just - I've got to have a keyboard. But myself having actually tried the phone, there is something very compelling about it. It's got this beautiful three and a half inch screen. And when things come up on it, when you see a contact come up and you can just press it, it's so easy. So I guess I would say I could see how it could change things.

MONTAGNE: Laura, thanks so much.

SYDELL: Okay. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's digital culture correspondent, Laura Sydell. And if you think you really do need the iPhone, you might like to make a trip to npr.org where you can explore seven factors to consider before you buy.

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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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