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iPhone Review: 'Flawed, But Absolutely Beautiful'

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.

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