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Telephone meets touch-screen Internet appliance

iPhone is a desktop telephone married to an Internet browser. Object: Internet cruising.

November 2, 1998
Web posted at: 10:30 AM EDT

by Mike Hogan

(IDG) -- Big Planet's iPhone reminds me of that commercial in which a guy eating a chocolate bar collides with a jar of peanut butter. Voila! The Reeses Peanut Butter Cup is born. Yum.

The iPhone looks as if someone carrying a touchscreen portable PC tripped over the telephone cord and landed on the phone. The result is a fairly large desktop telephone with the usual handset, speaker, and phone keypad. But it also has a good-size (6-by-4-1/2 inches) touchscreen with stylus, Internet scroll keys, and a retractable QWERTY keyboard.

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A phone of many talents

Obviously, it's a telephone and does all the usual telephone stuff -- call waiting, three-way conversations, speaker phone, voice mail, a 100-entry call log, even display of Caller ID information on its screen. It's also a lot easier to set up than a PC.

I took it out of the box and just plugged in the handset and telephone lines, as well as its lunch box-size AC adapter. (Just kidding -- but it is large enough to knock a couple other adapters off your power strip!) As soon as I plugged in the AC adapter, the screen lit up and I found myself with a menu of options.

The big Planet Web site was just a registration screen away. Control buttons on the side of the phone let me adjust screen brightness and contrast. A light blinks whenever you have e-mail, voice mail, or a call (in case you want to turn off one of its ten ring tones). IPhone is compatible with POP3 e-mail compatibility. It includes 2MB of DRAM -- enough room for at least 200 e-mail addresses, but no attachments.

IPhone is ready to go right out of the box because it includes an integrated plug-and-play HTML 3.2-compatible browser and preprogrammed Internet access through Big Planet's nationwide Internet service provider.

It offers three different levels of service in all 50 states: AccessOne, Access Unlimited, and AccessPro. AccessOne gives you ten hours for $9.95 per month, while Access Unlimited allows unlimited browsing for $19.95 per month. Both also require a monthly charge of $4.95 for iPhone use. AccessPro's $24.95-per-month fee includes unlimited Internet access, iPhone use, multiple e-mail accounts, and content filters.

Browse the Web on your phone

The browser -- which resembles neither Internet Explorer nor Netscape Navigator -- is entirely functional. Pick up the telephone handset and a speed-dialing pad/address book pops up. Since the Internet blossomed, I have a tough time working without two PCs -- one for my suite of productivity applications and another dedicated to e-mail, faxing, and Internet research. iPhone could replace one of those.

At $299, iPhone is cheaper than a Net PC -- although there's no way to run computer applications, capture interesting Web pages, or even transfer contact records to a PC. It has a jack for a $39 full-size keyboard, but the built-in keyboard is no worse than most Win CE handhelds and sufficient for its main purpose: typing e-mail messages and making entries to the phone book and bookmark lists. It does lack Esc and Delete keys, which is pretty inconvenient. But I found the stylus and touchscreen combination to be a more natural way to navigate Web pages than mousing around; this setup will probably have more appeal for non-PC users too.

The iPhone is an intriguing concept, but it has two problems. The first is minor: The phone is a bit oversize as today's telephones go -- perhaps in order to accommodate its 16-shade gray-scale, 640-by-480 touchscreen display. And then there's Big Planet's Internet access pricing: Why pay a premium of $5 a month forever to the company that just sold you a $300 telephone?

Still, iPhone offers quite a few conveniences, and is definitely to be taken seriously. According to International Data Corporation, smart appliances like iPhone and handheld PCs will outsell desktop PCs for Internet access from home by 2001 by about 17 percent.

The iPhone was created by InfoGear Technology and manufactured by CIDCO. It's available through the Big Planet Store on the Web (see link below).

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