Fusion Candidate

The new iPhone is leading the race to merge the telephone and Internet access.

Judging from this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where technology manufacturers display their very latest creations, the next electronic device to invade the home will be the Webphone. I saw six new models scheduled for release in 2000. Equipped with a display screen and keyboard, Webphones allow you to make calls, to send and receive e-mail, and to access the Internet, all without a personal computer. For now, the best of the bunch is the iPhone from InfoGear—a second-generation model that began shipping to stores last October. (Departures reviewed the first-generation iPhone, manufactured by CIDCO for InfoGear, in the May/June 1998 issue.) In fact, iPhone is so good it captured the prestigious CES 2000 "Innovations Best of Show" award for on-line/Internet technology. Of course, "best" does not mean "perfect." Here's what I found.

$399—plus Internet access.

The Design
Sleek and attractive without being bulky. Would look fine in a home or office.

Couldn't be simpler. Just plug in the iPhone using the power-adapter cord, connect it to a standard (analog) phone jack, and complete the on-line registration form.

What You Can Do With It
Send and receive e-mail; receive voice mail; browse the Internet and bookmark Web sites; store names and phone numbers (800 numbers maximum) in an electronic Rolodex; keep track of calls you've received in an on-screen call log; forward calls; make conference calls (as long as you have two phone lines).

How It Works
Your messages and phone numbers, as well as basic iPhone software, are stored in the phone's 2Mb of internal storage space. But there's no hard drive, so all other software is stored on InfoGear's on-line server. That means never having to worry about the iPhone system crashing because of memory overload—and never waiting for iPhone to boot up.

Internet Access
You can use your own Internet service provider and pay an additional $4.95 per month (it's mandatory) to InfoGear for the use of the InfoGear network. Or you can pay InfoGear $9.95 per month for 10 hours of Internet access and one e-mail address, which it will provide, or $19.95 per month for unlimited access and one e-mail address. (The iPhone can manage up to four e-mail addresses.)

On-Line Speed
As fast as many of the latest personal computers, thanks to the internal 56-Kbps modem.

The Display
Fine-if you're willing to settle for 16-level gray scale only (no color) and 640 x 480 VGA pixels of resolution (my laptop can show up to 1,024 x 768 pixels). The screen is 7.4 inches wide and is backlit. I found it sufficient for e-mail and quick Internet searches, but would not want to use it for extensive Web-surfing.

Very comfortable to use—the keys are full-size—and conveniently placed: It slides out from under the phone, making it easy to store.

The sound quality is good, and it's full-duplex, which means you can toggle back and forth between the speaker and the handset without getting cut off.

Same as on a standard phone (number dial buttons, hold, redial, flash, speaker, volume), plus arrow buttons to scroll through Web pages.

On-Screen Menus
Well-organized and easy to use. You access on-screen buttons by touching the display with the stylus included, or with your finger. The main menu has eight touch-buttons that access iPhone's settings, your phone directory, the Internet, e-mail, and specific categories of Web sites, such as shopping, which InfoGear has compiled. There are also two fields at the bottom: in one you type in a specific Web address and the site appears; in the other you type a stock's symbol, and information on the stock's performance is displayed.

Other Conveniences
There are two phone jacks, so you can talk on the phone and browse the Web at the same time. (Of course, you need two separate phone lines to do this.) When not in use, the screen fades to black; to pull it up again, you simply touch it. When there's a voice-mail or e-mail message, a message-indicator light on the top right of the device lights up. You can also access messages remotely by calling in.

The Inconveniences
It's not cordless. And if used often, the touchscreen requires daily cleaning to eliminate fingerprints.

InfoGear Technology Corporation: 650-568-2900.