Geek Chic of the Week: iPhone

On the day that Apple releases both the 3G and the 2.0 software, it seems appropriate to extol the virtues of one of my favorite new tools of the past year: the iPhone. As a relatively early adopter (when I can afford to be), I’ve had the phone since September 2007. And man, this thing keeps getting better and better.

My big gripe when it first came out was that I couldn’t customize my Home view (I didn’t care about links to Stocks or YouTube and wanted to get them out of my way). That’s now fixed. Not only can you rearrange the app icons, you can move them onto one of three homescreens and easily add shortcuts to WebApps (and now Apps) that you use more often.

From the very beginning, though, one of the best things about the iPhone is that there is almost no need for a user manual. My old phone (a Nokia 3650) was full of awesome cutting-edge features when I bought it, but I never used half of them because trying to interface with the thing was not intuitive. With the iPhone, things like merging two or more calls togther (which can be confusing as hell on other phones) are so easy it’s almost funny.

Another thing I didn’t like that when I took the phone to San Francisco last October it wasn’t smart enough to tell me where I was on a map (Before the trip I bookmarked spots I knew I’d be—the hotel, convention center, etc. so I could use the search feature to find coffee or food nearby. Pain in the butt.). That’s now fixed, too. And boy does it work! On a recent trip to France and Italy I used the “Pinpoint Me” feature several times on the streets of Paris. That, combined with a quick search on the word “Boulangerie” helped me score a sandwich in my time of need (It’s all about the saucisson, baby).

I shut down most of my email accounts while I was overseas to prevent myself from thinking about work, but kept one private account active on the phone and was able to get (and send) photos back and forth with my husband and child. Nothing cures a little homesickness like a picture of your sweet baby in the bathtub! The process of setting up the email accounts on my phone was really easy, and it appears that one of the biggest shortfalls of email on the iPhone (the inability to open attachments) is resolved, at least partially so, in today’s release. Depending on how connected I need to be at any given time, it’s simple to set the phone to check email often (every 15 minutes) or only manually. I’ve tweaked these settings many times depending on where I am and what kind of urgent messages I’m expecting. My one gripe about email on the iPhone is that there doesn’t appear to me much in the way of Junk filters. And it’s pretty annoying to get Viagra spam in the middle of Tuscany.

Before my recent trip to Europe, I downloaded Handbrake, converted two full-length movies and watched them on my iPhone during the flight. I also sync up unwatched TV shows and podcasts from iTunes (VH1’s Best Week Ever is the best free video podcast ever) and watch them on airplanes, in waiting rooms, or in any other boring locations where I want to be passively entertained. I can also keep up with This American Life podcasts and sync a few iTunes playlists up for audio entertainment. Even with my sad little 8GB first-generation version, I have yet to run out of room. (Except for that one time when I tried to put all of Gossip Girl, Season 1 on there. But that was just silly of me.)

Apps and WebApps
Again, when I first got the phone, you were limited to just what was on it. With the introduction of WebApps a few months ago, and Apps today, the opportunities to customize the phone seem nearly endless. Whether productiviy, finances, gaming—you can really make the phone your own.

Too Good to Be True?
So, what’s bad about it? First, you have to be disciplined about how available you allow yourself to be with this thing. It can keep you so connected that you can forget that sometimes you should be disconnected. Second, AT&T. Depending on where you live, having AT&T as your service provider may make you want to kill yourself. I’ve never had so many dropped calls in all my life. Third, the EDGE network is slow as molasses, but if you are in an area where you can jump on a wi-fi network with the phone, life is good. And the new 3G phones are apparently very zippy.

As for billing, I’ve heard horror stories about people receiving insane bills on their iPhones after international travel. Jury’s still out on this one; I signed up for an International Data plan during the month I was gone, and I turned off data roaming. I’ll update this post when my bill arrives to see if I did everything right, or if I have to take a second job at Starbucks to pay for my overseas usage.

Overall, I have to say: believe the hype. Not to sound like a total Apple dork, but they really got it right with this phone. Slowly but surely, this thing has become an accessory that I can’t leave home without. Pretty much all I need is my wallet and the iPhone. And, rumor has it, I might not need that wallet for much longer, either.

Oh, and one more thing: did you know this thing can make phone calls?