Yes, the iPhone is sleek and sexy, and it has a slick interface that performs so many techno-tricks even confirmed Luddites are salivating. But there's no reason to junk your current handset - in fact, Your Phone is more than ready to meet the iPhone challenge head on.
You already can get many of the features that Apple's mobile phone offers - music, photos, and visual voice mail - in similar form for the vast array of mobile phones on the market today. Moreover, some of the downloadable applets that can run on assorted mobile phones are slicker and cooler, and go beyond what the iPhone ostensibly does.
Here's a sampling of some of the best ways to dress up your current mobile phone and avoid iPhone envy. While some of our favourite phone enhancements are free, others come with a nominal price tag of $US30 or less - even if you load up on a bunch of them, you still won't get anywhere near the $US500 to $US600 that Apple's thingamajig will set you back. And most of these apps will work with the gamut of mobile models, from all the major carriers - namely AT&T (formerly Cingular), Sprint/Nextel and Verizon - especially if they are Web-enabled.
• iPhone: Visual Voicemail lets you see a listing of voice-mail messages and choose which ones to listen to.
• Your Phone: Sign up with CallWave, a free service that sends copies of your messages to your e-mail. You see the callers and the message lengths in the subject line so you can select which to listen to, and you reply by text or a call back. It automatically creates a PC-based contact list, and notifies you of new messages through an SMS text note sent to your phone.
Alternatively, you can try the Web-based GotVoice, which grabs your new voice-mail messages, records them as MP3 files, and sends them to your chosen e-mail address. The messages are preserved on your phone's voice-mail service as well as in your GotVoice inbox. One-upping iPhone's Visual Voicemail, GotVoice works with multiple phones (say, your mobile, home, and work numbers), letting you see all of your voice mail wherever you access your e-mail. While the standard service is free, it is not free from advertising unless you pay around $US20 for a premium account.
• iPhone: Syncs music with your PC and the iTunes Store automatically.
• Your Phone: Having already released a bevy of music-playing mobile phones, other phone vendors are enjoying a head start on Apple, and can offer music features that the iPhone can only hope to have. For example, NormSoft's PocketTunes, a $US38 application for all Palm Treo phones, not only handles music downloads from Yahoo Music Engine, Napster To Go, and Rhapsody To Go (among other subscription services) but also enables Internet radio reception and can be pimped up with dozens of downloadable skins.
If you have a Windows Mobile-based smart phone from any mobile carrier, Mercora's M music player can give you remote access to songs stored on your PC and let you tune in to Internet radio broadcasts; all you do is download a small app to your phone and PC. The service costs $US5 per month or $US50 per year.
For live streaming of real-time television and radio, get MobiTV for any Java-enabled phone. If you're in an area with good reception, you can view TV programs that run smoothly, without static or hiccups. Currently a $US10-per-month subscription will get you dozens of broadcast stations and other content providers; lineups vary by mobile phone carrier.
Each of the major mobileular carriers also offers its own version of iTunes at competitive prices. Sprint's Music Store has reduced its track download price to US99 cents; AT&T, the carrier that handles the iPhone, isn't betting everything on that exclusivity: The company is offering free Napster To Go subscriptions (ordinarily $US180 a year) for its Sync and BlackJack phones.
• iPhone: Holds 4GB to 8GB flash memory storage.
• Your Phone: While the iPhone has an unprecedented amount of internal memory, it can't expand beyond that capacity. Most other phones can expand, via external memory card slots for microSD and miniSD media. Capacity on such cards currently tops out at 4GB, but that's expected to double shortly.
• iPhone: Features a photo-management application to adjust images for e-mail or to orient them in portrait or landscape mode for best viewing.
• Your Phone: Cameras of assorted megapixels are standard equipment on phones these days, but whether you get software to properly handle those photos varies. If you want to have iPhone-like capabilities, your best bet is to add third-party software.
MobilePanda's freeware MobilePhoto is a small PC program that lets you manipulate photos you want to transfer to your phone for viewing or to use as wallpaper. Just choose your phone model from a list, and it properly resizes shots to suit your handset's screen size. The app then uploads the modified shot to the phone via the Internet (adjusted photos are not stored locally, so you can't do a USB transfer, for example). MobilePhoto includes a surprising amount of photo-enhancement tools for a free program. Transferring single shots to your phone, however, costs US99 cents; you can buy a bulk package that brings the cost down to US39 cents per shot.
• iPhone: You can view and adjust Google Maps in any direction with a touch of your finger.
• Your Phone: Google Maps offers a mobile version for any Internet-enabled mobile phone. And while iPhones can view only the static maps, many other phones from the major carriers offer GPS mapping with traffic updates. Telenav, the leading GPS app, is available for most Java-enabled phones. It shows colour street maps and gives turn-by-turn driving directions by voice and on screen, alerts you with traffic reports, and intelligently reroutes you accordingly. Exact pricing varies by mobile provider but is generally $US10 a month for unlimited use.
Bonus tip: For a slew of free mobile-phone software apps, check out The Free Site's Mobile Phone Freebies. The site is filled to the brim with programs that work on lots of phones, just not the iPhone. So there.