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Brand-name reviews give iPhone the thumbs-up

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Apple's iPhone doesn't - or shouldn't - find its way into the hands of consumers until tomorrow evening US time, but that hasn't prevented units finding their way into the hands of the brand-name reviewers like the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg.

Walt is generally quite keen on Apple products, and the iPhone proves no exception: "Despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer," he cries, adding: "Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry."

The WSJ review team were impressed by the iPhone's big screen, its battery life and skinny casing. They like its Wi-Fi capability too, but would have also liked to have seen a faster cellular data transfer technology - 3G, in other words.

The New York Times' David Pogue was more scathing, describing transfers over the phone's AT&T Edge connection as "excruciatingly slow". He also mentioned a Consumer Reports survey which ranked AT&T network quality as last or second to last in 19 out of 20 major US cities.

Still, he too liked the iPhone's slender waistline and the battery life: David said he got five hours' video playback and 23 hours' music listening in, even with Wi-Fi activated. Web surfing and email browsing are major pluses for the iPhone, and all the reviewers highlighted these features for a thumbs-up.

Steven Levy, writing in Newsweek, reckons these activities feel more like working on a computer than on a phone: "The message content shows up vividly. It nicely manages JPEGs, HTML and PDFs. The iPhone can also open Word and Excel attachments, though you can’t edit them."

He also found pockets packed with keyrings and coins had little effect in the iPhone's casing. Pogue, likewise, found his two-week-old iPhone unmarked, adding that smudges wipe off the glass front easily.

Pogue wasn't so happy with typing on the iPhone, noting "the BlackBerry won’t be going away anytime soon". But Mossberg "was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years".

Levy's verdict: the iPhone "comes pretty close to justifying the bombast", he says before name-dropping the Apple CEO, who apparently called him up a couple of days ago.

So what else can we glean from all these favourable reviews?

  • The two-megapixel camera's not bad but doesn't shoot video
  • Around 700MB of the 4GB or 8GB on-board Flash memory is taken up with system software
  • There's no memory expansion
  • There's no mobile version of iChat
  • You can't send MMS messages
  • Typing works, but it takes some time to get the hang of
  • Lack of 3G is a limiting factor
  • Third-party apps will only work in the browser
  • You can select songs as ringtones

Our take is that most of these issues are going to bother a younger audience much more than the older, well-heeled folk who'll be able to afford the iPhone. And there's little here that can't be fixed with a software update.

Obviously Register Hardware was hoping to have early access to the latest revolution in mobile computing, but given our relationship with Apple that was never going to happen...

The Register's Bill Ray contributed to this report

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