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Hiawatha Bray

The iPhone: A gadget even a hype-weary journalist can love

Email|Print| Text size + By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / June 29, 2007

After the relentless buildup of the past six months, the temptation to trash Apple Inc.'s new iPhone is pretty much irresistible.

If only I could.

It wouldn't be fair; Apple and its partner AT&T Inc. handed me a demo unit just one hour before the iPhone went on sale. That's not nearly enough for a proper review, but plenty of time to deliver a jolt of wonder and delight. No doubt this is what the marketing masters at Apple had in mind, and, it has worked.

The iPhone is exactly as cool as you've heard, and then some. For it's not just cool; this phone is important, in the same way that Apple's first Macintosh computer was important. The Mac showed us a better way to interact with computers, and forced the entire industry to follow its lead.

Here we go again.

The thing has just three buttons. One puts it to sleep, one controls the volume of its better-than-you'd-expect speakers. The third ignites the iPhone's main menu, an array of elegantly self-explanatory buttons that glow against a deep black backdrop. From here on out, you control everything by touching those buttons, or the other buttons and windows that leap onto the screen.

Everybody knows about the touch screen. But you don't know how well it works. There's no tactile feedback, no click of a button hitting bottom.

You hardly care, so cleverly has Apple dreamed up smart visual substitutes.

Consider the QWERTY keyboard that appears when you need to type an e-mail address. Press a key, and a large tab appears over your finger, displaying the letter you're about to press. At a glance you see if you're about to make an error.

Get a load of the Safari Web browser. Of course, you can scroll up and down screen by stroking it with your finger. But you can also expand or shrink the text by pressing thumb and forefinger to the screen with a pinching motion. Everybody's heard of clicking on a Web page; I expect hipsters will soon speak of pinching their way through favorite Internet sites.

With another touch, the iPhone becomes an iPod. Flip the screen on its side, and the image turns wide-angle, showing off the cover art from the dozens of albums that'll fit its electronic flash memory. Or use the space to watch full-length movie downloads.

Lots of phones have music players and Web browsers, and there's this clever Korean phone with a video screen on a hinge, which changes into wide-screen mode like one of those Transformer robots you played with as a kid. But these other phones look like high-school science fair gadgets compared to the iPhone, an elegant marvel that even a hype-weary journalist has to love.

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