Apple iPhone

From the outset the most intriguing thing about the Apple iPhone hasn't been the phone so much as the interface: a high-resolution touchscreen on which your fingers do the talking: Tap an icon to select an application, spread them to enlarge the picture, slide your finger to move the cropped image into view, swipe the screen to reveal the next slide. It all feels so natural. For a handheld entertainer/communicator, the iPhone seems like the gadget that dropped in from the future.

It happened that we got hold of an iPhone for review just before Apple Chairman Steve Jobs announced the iPod Touch, the phone-less iPhone that I'd been wishing for since the day in January when he first announced the iPhone. Having used the iPhone daily for the last couple of weeks, I'm happy to report that in most respects this marvel in Swiss Army Knife miniaturization does not disappoint.

Setup Opening the snazzy black box reveals the iPhone, earphones (with microphone and squeeze control for pause/play), dock, dock connector to USB cable, USB power adapter, and a cleaning cloth. The iPhone can be charged through the USB connection on your computer or from a wall outlet via the AC adapter. You can bypass the dock in either case; the only advantage of using the dock is that the iPhone stands up and there's an audio line out for connecting to powered speakers.

Before you can use the iPhone, you must select a service plan and register it with AT&T. (This will not be an issue with the phone-less iPod Touch.) The least expensive plan is $60 a month entitling you to 450 minutes (5,000 night and weekend minutes), unlimited data (email and Web), visual voicemail, 200 text messages, rollover minutes, and unlimited mobile-to-mobile usage. Over two years, then, the least expensive plan works out to $1,440 in addition to the initial $399 price of the iPhone. Other plans are available if you need more minutes.

You need iTunes (version 7.3 or later) installed on your Windows or Macintosh computer. Anyone who has synched either an iPod or an Apple TV to iTunes will be familiar with the routine of selectively copying music, videos, podcasts, and photos to an iPhone. The main difference is the iPhone's relatively small capacity. After accounting for its operating system, an "8 GB" iPhone provides about 7.24 GB of flash memory for your content.

The iPhone home screen is a celebration of simplicity: 16 touch-screen icons for launching applications and one hard button for bringing you back. Also visible are the time and dynamic icons indicating battery capacity and cell-phone service and Wi-Fi access. Along the iPhone's edges are a sleep/wake button and a volume rocker for the built-in mono speaker (used by the ringer) or earphones. Neither is labeled. The earphone jack is recessed, making it impossible to use regular iPod buds or most other mini-pin earphones, though you can use the included buds with other devices.