I bought an iPhone yesterday.

I’ve been a long-time Sprint customer, but have recently grown dissatisfied with the CDMA technology used by them. After my trip to Barcelona, I realized that a GSM phone would be much more useful to me, should I do any more traveling abroad (something I very much want to do!). I recently renewed my contract with Sprint, though, so canceling my contract to change carriers would likely incur a hefty penalty. Needless to say, I was quite pleased to read about how to avoid the Sprint early termination fee, and began planning my transition to AT&T.

As previously stated, I’m interested in smartphones. A phone-only cellphone doesn’t have much appeal to me. I’d been looking at purchasing a Blackberry Bold, and had done a fair amount of research on the device. The convergence of GSM, WiFi, and GPS really appealed to me. The only thing holding me back was the cost: with a purchase price of $299 online, or $399 in-store, I found it excruciatingly hard to justify the purchase.

Last weekend I spent some time at an AT&T store playing with the demo model of the Bold. I took Mike along with me for moral support, and his comments and observations were well received. Mike poo-pooed the Bold pretty quickly, mostly because he found the interface to be lackluster. “Everything looks like a web page. They could at least apply some CSS to spice it up!” he opined. I didn’t entirely share his view, but it did make me look a little more critically at the device. On the way home from the store, I realized that the Bold’s interface is, in fact, pretty boring.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing; but a smartphone is as much a mobile computer as it is a phone, and I don’t like boring computers. I like my computers to have some personality. I like to customize my computer interfaces to reflect my sense of playfulness and my aesthetic. I’m sure I could find some ways to do that with the Bold, but out of the box it’s a very staid device.

I didn’t spend much time considering the Blackberry Curve, the previous model of Blackberry. I know someone who has one, and who loves it. He uses T-Mobile, and thoroughly enjoys the UMA feature, which allows him to make calls over a WiFi connection. (Why more carriers don’t support this, I don’t understand: it still consumes plan minutes, and lessens the burden on the cellular radio infrastructure. There must be a lot of back-end routing that makes this less-than-desirable from the carrier’s perspective. Pity.) The lack of GPS really turned me off from the Curve. The soon-to-be-released Curve 8900 does offer a GPS, and presumably a more modest purchase price than the Bold; but alas it’s not yet available on carriers in the U.S., and I only had a couple days to play the get-out-of-Sprint-free card.

So yesterday I walked into the AT&T store and purchased an iPhone 3G. The fact that it was half as much as the Blackberry Bold was probably the largest factor in making the purchase. It was with no small amount of trepidation that I completed the sale: I had not forgotten my complaints against the iPhone from last year. I was also torn as to whether to pay full price for a new phone at the store, or to buy a refurbished model online for half the price. In the end, the thought of a full one-year warranty on a new phone, coupled with my intense desire for instant gratification, won out.

Not to be underlooked, though, was my intense fear of losing my current phone number. I didn’t want my number to get lost in the shuffle were I to complete the transaction online. If something were to foul up in the number porting process while at the AT&T store, at least I could feel better by having a human being at which to yell. Thankfully the transfer went off without a hitch, and Larry, the AT&T store employee, had to bear no such abuse from me.

As for the iPhone itself, I like it so far. The form factor makes it not unpleasant to hold. I like the easily customizable home screen. Most things are extremely intuitive, if not downright enjoyable. The mail application is acceptable, but not great. It’s much easier to read mail on the iPhone than it was to use ChatterEmail on my Centro. I find the browser interface to be absolutely superb, and using the iPhone-optimized versions of the various Google services on which I rely is vastly superior to the mobile versions served to the Palm. The on-screen keyboard is convenient, but not entirely easy, to use. I suspect that it will take me some to really gain proficiency with it.

As a long-time Palm user, I found it somewhat unsettling that the iPhone calendar application doesn’t seem to support categories. I categorized all my calendar items on the Palm with “personal” or “work”. After a moment’s reflection, I realized that while I categorize events, that categorization doesn’t really help me too much. I don’t think I’ve ever filtered my list of calender items by categorization, so why was I doing it? Similarly, the lack of categories or tags for phone contacts is also a real mental hurdle. I really, really like to organize my contacts, and have a dozen categories defined in my Palm address book. I do often find myself listing all contacts from a certain category, so there will be a learning curve to adapt to the iPhone.

My biggest concern about using an iPhone is that I use GNU/Linux on my computers, so I don’t have an officially supported mechanism for syncing the iPhone with my computer. In essence, the iPhone will be a stand-alone mobile computer that supplements, but does not entirely integrate with, my primary laptop. I think this will be okay because the iPhone App Store works pretty darned well from the iPhone itself. The only shortcoming I experienced thus far was that to use the App Store one needs a valid iTunes Music Store account. Luckily I had such an unused account from some time ago. (Unluckily, I had forgotten the password, so I had to install iTunes onto a Windows XP virtual machine in order to recover it. And then I had to supply credit card details so that I could actually gain access to the store. As John observed when I complained about this, “Welcome to their world. This isn’t Ubuntu, Scott.")

I have no doubt that the iPhone will be a mixed blessing in terms of conveniences and headaches. I’m approaching it with an open mind, and a real desire to make it work. It might be the “gateway drug” to get me to purchase a Macintosh computer so that I can enjoy full synchronization, though I’d like to avoid that expense for as long as possible.

I’ve just successfully terminated my Sprint account, and managed to have the early termination fee waived. The support agent with which I originally spoke claimed that not all customers would be assessed the increased administrative fee, so I couldn’t use that as an excuse to break my contract. Further, since I had already ported my numbers, I had willfully broken the contract and had earned the early termination fee. It’s important to note that the Sprint surcharges, taxes, fees, and other charges support page says this:

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