For a brief moment at the end of June, owning an iPhone, the holy grail of telephony, was enough to transform ordinary mortals. Women loved you. Men feared you. Small children burst into song when you entered the room. But two days after the product launched, the lines were gone, and anyone with $500 could get one. But—with the bloom now off—should you?

As a pure objet d'art, the sleek iPhone with its gorgeous display is nearly irresistible. Interacting with the device is delightful, with the touch-sensitive screen performing tricks that still amuse long after they've become second nature.

And this is one terrific iPod. The touch-screen music interface is first-rate, particularly when scrolling through album covers. And while other iPods play video, this is the first to make the exercise worthwhile, with a screen large enough to watch movie-length entertainment comfortably.

As a phone/wireless data device, the verdict is less enthusiastic. Making a call immediately greases up that beautiful screen. Contact and calendar synchronizations are smooth, but notes, to-do lists and other data synchronization aren't supported. The voice message system is brilliant, though. Audio message files are sent to your phone where you can listen in any order, even without a phone connection.

The deal breaker for portable e-mail addicts is the keyboard, or rather, lack thereof. The iPhone displays a picture of a keyboard on the touch screen and you tap letters with no press-the-key feedback. It's painfully clumsy, and switching keyboard displays every time you enter a punctuation mark only adds to the frustration.

The effortless Web surfing you've seen on TV is done with a Wi-Fi wireless network. When you use the slow AT&T cellular data connection, pages routinely take over a minute to update.

While the iPhone now allows downloading ringtones, you still can't download games, or any other add-ons for that matter, and there's no instant messaging client. The camera is awful, and other features found in far less expensive smartphones, including GPS navigation, voice dialing and document editing, are MIA.

Finally, in time-honored Apple fashion, you can't replace the battery yourself, meaning no carrying spares and an expensive repair bill after 300 to 400 charges.

The bottom line: this first iPhone is a digital trophy wife, attractive and envy inducing but expensive and tough to live with after the initial flush of acquisition fades. The next-generation iPhone, on the other hand, will probably justify a long-term relationship.

Visit www.apple.com/iphone.

Electronics Good Life Guide

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