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Clever iPhone Tricks

Did you know you can dictate e-mail messages to your iPhone? That's just one of the tricks up our sleeves.

I'm now the owner of an Apple iPhone 3G, after waiting out the first-generation model.

Overall, I'm thrilled with the smart phone. My first week with the iPhone 3G wasn't trouble free, however. For more on that, see my blog.

This week I'd like to share with you three benefits to iPhone ownership you might not have considered. Trick number one can be performed with any e-mail-enabled cell phone, but it's especially useful with first-generation iPhone and the 3G models. Number two works with any iPhone. Number three works with iPhones and iPod Touches with the iPhone 2.0 software installed.

1. Your iPhone Is a Dictation/Transcription Machine
Not everyone loves the iPhone's screen-only keyboard. It's a bit taxing if you need to compose an e-mail longer than, say, two sentences. But there's an easy workaround thanks to Jott, a free voice-to-text transcription service that I recommended in April.

If you've set up a Jott account and imported your contacts, you can dial Jott's toll-free number, dictate an e-mail, and tell Jott to send it to one of your contacts. But what if you need to send a longish e-mail from your iPhone to someone who isn't among your Jott contacts?

Rather than typing out the e-mail on the iPhone's keypad, try this instead. First, dial Jott. Tell the service you want to Jott yourself (send yourself an e-mail). Start speaking; you've got up to 30 seconds. When you're done, stop talking. The service will ask if you want a reminder. Say no, and hang up.

Within a few minutes, you'll receive an e-mail from the Jott service on your iPhone. Your voice message will have been transcribed into text and added to the body of the Jott e-mail message. In most cases, the transcription will be surprisingly accurate--unless you called from a windy or noisy environment. You can then forward the Jott e-mail to whomever you want.

You'll need to do some cleanup work first, however. You should change the subject line of the e-mail to something the recipients will recognize. Also, I'd recommend removing the "Begin forwarded message" line and the boilerplate that Jott embeds in each e-mail. Since the iPhone can't highlight a block of text for deletion, you'll have to hold down the backspace key to wipe out the extraneous stuff. Still, this is easier than typing several sentences on the iPhone's keypad.

Worth noting: You can use the Jott phone service to compose blog posts, Twitters, create calendar entries, and more; read "Jott for iPhone" for details. Also, there's a new Jott application available for the iPhone from the iTunes App Store. However, the free application simply records your voice memos, then sends transcribed versions to the iPhone's Jott application and posts them online to your Jott account.

Because the iPhone lacks a copy-and-paste function, you can't copy text from the Jott application into a message in the iPhone's Mail program. However, you could use the Jott iPhone application (or the telephone service) to dictate a memo for copying and pasting using your computer. To do this, dictate the memo. Then, when you're back at your computer, log into your Jott account using a Web browser. Copy and paste the transcribed memo text into a Word or other document.

2. Your iPhone Is an Exit Strategy
We all go into appointments or find ourselves in situations from which we'd like the opportunity to extract ourselves gracefully, if needed. One example is an obligatory meeting with a long-winded business colleague. Your iPhone is can help you get out of situations like this.

Here's how: Open the Clock program, select Timer, and set the iPhone to go off in 10 minutes, 1 hour, or whenever you may need to escape. The iPhone's Timer uses one of your ring tones to alert you when the time's up. Because it will sound like someone's calling your iPhone, you can glance at the phone with a quizzical expression, pretend to answer, listen attentively, feign a horrified look, and then say, "I'm so sorry, that was my dog walker, and it seems my dear Cujo just broke his leash and...well, I've got to run."

3. Your iPhone Is a Weather Station
An iPhone is like a tiny weather station in your pocket, thanks to WeatherBug (available for free through the iTunes App Store). WeatherBug gives you the current temperature, wind speed, wind chill temperature, humidity, dew point, precipitation level, and highs and lows for the day. Plus, you can view a map of the current weather radar for any spot on the globe, though this feature needs some tweaking.

Also, you can view updated Webcam images from within WeatherBug. Many of the Webcams are located at schools, and the information they offer is, literally, all over the map. For example, one of the three Webcam images closest to my San Francisco neighborhood is a shot of the pavement at an elementary school in Pleasanton, across the bay and several microclimates away. The only information that this Webcam provides is that school's not currently in session. Though WeatherBug could stand some improvement, it's a nice complement to the Weather app preinstalled on iPhones and iPod Touch players.

More Favorite iPhone Tricks
Next week, I'll review three iPhone apps for travelers.

In the meantime, have you found an unexpected use for your iPhone (either the original or the 3G)? If so, please share them with me.

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips
Can You Get XP on a New Laptop? That seems like a simple-enough question--but getting a straight answer is another matter entirely, as Christopher Null reports. Though Windows XP was officially taken off the market on June 30, there are loopholes that enable computer vendors to continue configuring machines with XP instead of Vista. But the computer makers' Web sites and sales reps often offer conflicting information about which of their machines can be configured with XP, or even if they offer XP as an option.

Gotta-Have Gadgets for Mobile Professionals: Among the 12 devices for travelers is Planon's Printstik PS910 ($300). The Printstik is a portable printer weighing only 1.5 pounds and powered by a lithium ion battery. It slips easily into a notebook bag and can print from a smart phone, handheld, or notebook via USB cable or Bluetooth. The Printstik prints black-and-white documents on thermal paper.

New Ultrathin Lenovo Laptop: Lenovo is taking aim again at Apple's MacBook Air with its latest ultramobile laptop, the ThinkPad X200. The new laptop weighs 2.95 pounds with a four-cell battery or 3.58 pounds with an optional nine-cell battery that provides up to 9 hours of battery life, according to Lenovo. The laptop has a 12.1-inch screen; comes with either a 64GB solid-state drive or a hard drive up to 320GB; an optional optical drive; and is powered by Intel's Core 2 Duo chips running between 2.26 GHz and 2.40 GHz. The X200 starts at $1199 and will be available in August.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog.

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