After almost a year, the iPhone is my best tech purchase. I was one of the suckers who bought an 8 GB iPhone for $599. When Apple dropped the...

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After almost a year, the iPhone is my best tech purchase.

I was one of the suckers who bought an 8 GB iPhone for $599. When Apple dropped the price to $399 shortly thereafter, it stung a little; the $100 credit the company offered to early purchasers eased the pain somewhat.

The current lineup is more affordable: $399 for the 8 GB model and $499 for a 16 GB unit. That’s still a lot of money, but not bad compared with other smartphones.

But you know what? Even at $599, the iPhone has been my best technology purchase of the last year. Here’s why.

Ubiquitous Internet access. When you buy a house, the real-estate agent doesn’t ask if you want electricity included as an add-on. You just expect it to be there when you plug in a lamp. That’s what it’s like to have the Internet available on the iPhone, wherever you are.

AT&T’s Edge network isn’t a stellar performer, but I’m rarely looking up high-bandwidth material — and when I need better access, I can switch to a Wi-Fi network. Driving directions and real-time traffic conditions are in the Maps application and Google searches on anything are always at my fingertips.

Much credit is due to both Apple and AT&T for hammering out an affordable, unmetered Internet-access plan, so I’m not always wondering if checking my e-mail is going to result in overage charges.

I’ve found that Internet ubiquity on the iPhone isn’t just helpful when I’m out of the office or stuck in traffic. In fact, lately most of my iPhone Web browsing occurs on my couch, often in the middle of the night during my infant daughter’s feedings.

I’ve become adept at balancing baby in the crook of my arm, bottle in my right hand, and iPhone in my left hand — to pass the time and sometimes to help me stay awake.

Much of that time is spent catching up on news and blogs at m.newsgator.com, a mobile-friendly (meaning the format has been optimized for reading on a smaller screen) aggregation of the RSS feeds to which I subscribe. On my Mac I use NewsGator’s Mac software NetNewsWire (free), which synchronizes the read status of my feeds with the server.

I’ve also bookmarked mobile versions of sites such as The New York Times (mobile.nytimes.com) and Facebook (iphone.facebook.com).

When I’m in a more communicative mood, I use PocketTweets (www.pockettweets.com) to post messages and stay current on the Twitter streams that I follow.

The late, late show. To my surprise, as a new dad I’ve also watched several movies on my iPhone, usually in half-hour chunks. I haven’t had much opportunity to sit down and watch a DVD, so the capability to rent movies from iTunes as digital downloads has enabled me to watch films I thought I would end up missing (including some movies, such as “The Kingdom,” that I know my wife has little interest in watching with me).

I’ll echo others’ criticism that the 24-hour limit imposed on iTunes movie rentals once you’ve begun watching them is too brief. I managed to catch the first half of “300” before the movie disappeared from my phone.

What the iPhone doesn’t yet let me do is rent movies directly from iTunes. I can purchase music, though, which I’ve done on occasion when I’ve decided to buy an album (often inspired by listening to songs in the KEXP Music That Matters podcast) and knew that I’d forget about it by the time I returned to my computer.

Software updates, SDK. Those are all things I can do now, but another reason the iPhone has been my best tech purchase is that it’s not a device locked into its purchase date. The iPhone is a computer (running OS X, in fact) that happens to be small: I don’t want to toss away a perfectly functional device when the next major software update comes along.

For the iPhone, that update will be version 2.0 of the operating system in June. And now that an iPhone SDK (software development kit) is finally available, we’ll start to see third-party applications that go beyond what Apple has provided.

There are exceptions to the advantages I’ve listed so far, of course.

It’s annoying to switch between accounts in Mail, as is scrolling through the contacts list; the capability to copy and paste text would be helpful; and I desperately want color-coded calendar categories that synchronize with iCal, rather than having all of my calendars grouped together on the iPhone.

But those are all items that can be applied in future software updates or third-party applications.

Personally, I hope someone creates an application that lets me remotely control iTunes on the computer that plays music through the living-room stereo, for those times when a sleeping baby won’t let me get up from the couch.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.