iphone_4s_web.jpgSAN FRANCISCO — I felt nervous and a little giddy sidling up to the counter at the Apple Store on the first day the new iPhone went on sale last month.

I'd just given the iPhone 4S a rave review, and I was going to buy one for myself. It was about to be my first iPhone and only my second smartphone.

I hadn't bought a cellphone since October 2008, when I got the first phone running Google's Android software, the G1, on its first day on sale. I really liked the G1 at first and because it never died, I kept using it.

But over the years, smartphones have moved light years ahead. I wanted it all.

Finally, the iPhone 4S was announced in October. I reviewed it and was impressed enough with the hardware and new software to brave the launch-day crowds and get a white 16-gigabyte model that runs on Verizon Wireless' network. It cost me $199 and will tie me up with the carrier for two years.

Now, several weeks later, I'm happy with my decision.

The iPhone 4S isn't perfect. I really wish, for example, that Apple would let outside developers offer keyboard apps for the device. Yet it's a fast, fantastic smartphone. Despite complaints from other users that they've been experiencing poor battery life, I haven't noticed any problems so far. And Verizon's service, while costlier than what I had with T-Mobile, is reliable for calls and transferring data.

One of my favorite parts of the device is Siri, the built-in “personal assistant” that responds to your voice in a soothing, robotic female tone. It can do everything from scheduling meetings to texting friends to telling you how many calories you'll burn if you bike 100 miles (4,455, assuming you're a 159-pound male).

Most impressive to me are the little things. For instance, if I ask her at midday to set an alarm for 7 o'clock, Siri knows I mean 7 p.m. (She'd set it for 7 a.m. if I issued the same order in the evening). I've used voice-recognition software before, but never anything like this.

Weirdly, I often find myself saying “thank you” after Siri completes a task, almost as if she were a friend doing me a favor (her responses range from “that's nice of you to say” to “your wish is my command.”)

I'm digging the organizational features, such as the Notification Center, which gives me a quick glance at missed calls, appointments, weather and more when I swipe down on the screen.

Also, the camera is great. At a recent Portishead concert, I was able to snap plenty of detailed shots very quickly, even in the low light of an outdoor evening show.

Not long after I switched, I got a tempting offer in the mail from T-Mobile. Come back to us, it pleaded, and we'll give you any smartphone for free.

For a moment, I imagined returning to T-Mobile's welcoming arms and snagging a new Android smartphone. I'd pick an expensive one, naturally, as the letter said I could have any one I wanted. The iPhone's not for everyone, I reminded myself, and there are plenty of people who are happy with other handsets.

Then I remembered why I switched to Apple's gadget — and changed networks — in the first place.

Most people won't get their hands on as many phones as I have as a gadget reviewer, but chances are they share my desire for getting the best product at the best price.

For my money, the iPhone 4S gives me the right combination of brains, beauty and reliable service.

Photo: Courtesy of MAcrumors.com

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