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Apple iPhone: much to love, a lot to lament

Living with the Apple iPhone for three months

Tons of talk time

The iPhone's rechargeable lithium ion battery lasted the maximum 10 hours in our talk-time tests, running 2 hours longer than Apple's own stated call time. The phone lasted only 4 hours, 21 minutes, however, when we viewed a 320-by-128-pixel version of Serenity at a 647-kbps bit rate - almost 2.5 hours less than Apple's stated video playback time. You can't remove the battery, so you'll have to ship the unit back to Apple if it needs to be replaced.

Apple says that the battery is designed to keep up to 80 percent of its charge after 400 full charge cycles, and that the company will replace the battery if the capacity falls below 50 percent during the one-year warranty period. To get the battery replaced out of warranty, you will have to send it to Apple and pay $86 (including shipping). You should be prepared to relinquish your phone for three days. A $69 extended warranty covers the battery and the rest of the iPhone's hardware for a second year.

Better mobile email

The iPhone's touchscreen text input is not ideal for people who need to compose a lot of email, but the device comes preloaded with settings for AOL Mail, Gmail, .Mac Mail, and Yahoo Mail, and it supports Exchange, IMAP, and POP3 mail. We easily set up access to a Gmail account and, to our surprise, a Lotus Notes IMAP account (mail only, however - we couldn't see our calendar or contacts).

On the PC, the iPhone syncs to your address book (Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail, or Yahoo), calendar (Outlook or Outlook Express), mail settings (Outlook or Outlook Express), and bookmarks (IE or Safari). Of course, it syncs to equivalent Mac apps too.

Some editors thought that messages displayed beautifully; others thought that some HTML messages were too small, and they didn't like being unable to rotate the screen for more width. Some people may quibble with Apple's decision not to let users see messages from multiple email accounts in the same window, but moving between accounts is easy. Another nice touch: deleted messages swoosh into the trash can at the bottom of the mail screen.

The Safari web browser delivers shrunken versions of desktop-style pages that you scroll and zoom in on to read. As a tool for reading web content - news sites, say - Safari looks terrific.

But there are problems. The touchscreen makes typing URLs and, especially, asterisked-out passwords tricky, and Safari's lack of support for Flash, Java, Real, Windows Media and other non-QuickTime multimedia formats made some sites function incorrectly, so they wouldn't load visual elements, or didn't let us listen to audio or even log in. Downloading web pages over AT&T's EDGE cellular data network wasn't as snappy as with Wi-Fi, but EDGE can certainly be usable for web browsing if you are not in any particular hurry.

nano-like sound

The iPhone comes preloaded with a YouTube player that currently plays about 10,000 videos that have been reformatted for the iPhone's screen. The device has a 2Mp camera, but it lacks a zoom and other adjustments, and the photos we took didn't seem very sharp; it won't capture video, either. It'll play video, which can look great, but you'll battle resolution issues. The video of Serenity, which appeared fine on an iPod, showed its warts on the iPhone. A higher-resolution (640-by-272-pixel) copy of Lord of War looked great but took up 1.35GB - or more than one-fourth of our test phone's 4GB of space.

As a music player, the iPhone sounds like a current-generation iPod Nano. The 4GB model turned in a particularly strong performance on our crosstalk test (of sound leaking between the left and right channels), tying Creative's Zen V Plus for the best score we've seen. It also matched the iPod nano's impressive score on our test of maximum usable output level. One significant drawback - you'll likely need to use an awkward $10 adaptor to plug music headphones (other than the ones that come in the box) into the iPhone's recessed port.

So should you buy an iPhone? Sure, if you want to own a beautifully designed phone/internet device/music player and are willing to put up with some occasionally exasperating problems. Everyone else, especially those who already rely on a PDA phone for messaging, should probably wait.

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