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Buy a Smart Phone Now, or Wait for iPhone?

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about whether to buy a smart phone now or wait for the iPhone, boosting the range of a wireless connection, and removing junk programs that come with a new computer.


I am in the market for a new smart phone. Should I wait for the Apple iPhone? When will it be available and when will you review it?

Apple says the iPhone is on track to go on sale in “late June,” and I expect to be able to test it and publish a review around that time. There will also be many other reviews around then that you can consult.

I stand by my earlier advice, which is that people shopping for a smart phone, who can wait until then, and who could imagine shelling out $499–the iPhone’s base price–should wait to read the reviews of Apple’s first phone and take a look at it before making a decision. However, if you need a smart phone now, or can’t imagine spending that much, then you can ignore the hype and buy a BlackBerry, or a Treo, or another competitor.

Three other key factors could also make you reasonably ignore the iPhone. It will lack a physical keyboard, relying on virtual keys that appear on the screen, so if you prefer a real keyboard, the iPhone would be a nonstarter for you. Also, it will only work on the AT&T wireless network (formerly Cingular) in the U.S. So, if you prefer another wireless carrier, forget the iPhone. Finally, it will only operate on a relatively slow network technology, called EDGE, so if you want a smart phone that operates on the fastest cellular networks, the iPhone is the wrong choice, even though it will also include Wi-Fi wireless networking.

The wireless connection to my wife’s Windows XP computer keeps going down. The computer is about 75 feet (but through three walls) from my Dell Truemobile 2300 router. Should I assume I need a better, more powerful router? And, finally, will it also connect to my MacBook Pro laptop?

A more powerful router might help, but wireless reception varies greatly depending on home construction and layout. You might look for a new router that features a technology called MIMO, which I have found in my tests can improve both speed and range. Even with a new router, you might also have to move its location. There are also various boosters and repeaters that can be used, though some of these require more technical expertise to install than most folks have.

One good method for extending the range of a wireless connection is to buy a set of so-called powerline adapters. These carry your network signal over plain old electrical lines, and some models allow you to create a wireless network by plugging a wireless router into such an adapter in a distant room. I described these adapters in more detail in a column you can find at: ptech.allthingsd.com/20060817/powerline-adapters-access.

In my own home, I have used both MIMO routers, and powerline adapters, successfully with mixtures of Windows and Apple Macintosh computers, including the MacBook Pro, and various Dell, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard laptops.

Can I remove the junk programs that came with my new computer–the ones you call “craplets”–by using the “Add or Remove Programs” control panel in Windows?

Yes, but that is a tedious manual process and may not get them all. Also, in Windows Vista, that control panel has been renamed and is now called “Programs and Features.”

Instead, I would suggest first downloading and running a free program specifically designed to eliminate craplets, the crippled trial programs and advertising come-ons that are now packed into so many new Windows PCs. This program is called “The PC Decrapifier” and can be found at pcdecrapifier.com. If this program misses a few of the junk items you want gone, you can then use the manual method.

* * *

Because of the volume of email I receive, I can’t routinely answer individual questions by email, or consult on individual problems or purchasing decisions. I read all questions I receive and select three each week to answer in the column.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com


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